150 Years Ago: Saturday, November 15, 1862

George W Randolph (Year Unknown)
Source: Library of Congress

George Randolph has only been the Confederate Secretary of War just short of eight months. During this time he has helped reform the department, improving procurement of supplies and implementing the conscription law. He has helped strengthen southern and western defenses, but is constantly in conflict with C.S.A President Jefferson Davis. Davis had at one time been an experienced military leader, earning great distinction in the Mexican War. This experience leads him to be more vocal and involved in the South’s military strategy, much to the frustration of Randolph. With his health weakening due to tuberculosis, Randolph submits his resignation.

As if he doesn’t have enough to deal with, C.S.A. President Davis often receives letters from citizens with various requests, which can range from the practical to the absurd. Today he receives one from Mary Jane Lipscomb:

Dear Sir-

I am compelled by necessity to call your attention to the following state of facts, and the peculiar situation in which events have thrown me, must be my apology for this intrusion upon your time.

I am the wife of Joel Q. Lipscomb now a Soldier in the Confederate service. 1st Battalion Alabama, Artillery. Immediately upon the passage of the Conscript law– before any exemptions were made known, and under the impression that he would be compelled to go into the service at any sacrifice he proceeded to Mobile and entered the service under Gen. [John H.] Forney–where he is now stationed.

We have a farm in Choctaw County, Alabama with over forty negroes thereon, now entirely without a superintendent, negroes running at large, with the usual confusion and destruction in such cases, and your Excellency must be aware of the fact, that through the agency of the Conscript law, the male population of the country has been taken away, hence the utter impossibility of procuring an overseer or superintendent at all reliable.

I have been compelled to leave my home in Choctaw County and come here to reside temporarily with my Father untill some one could be had to control our slaves. Thus your Excellency will see that I am eighty miles from my home– our farm and negroes, like a ship without sail or rudder, that a general wreck and destruction must ensue without relief. I have sought in vain for aid. I addressed a Petition to the Hon. Secretary of War setting forth all these facts; that officer has not found time to answer in any shape, and I am left the only and last alternative of appealing to both the Justice and magnanimity of the Government to afford relief before irreparable ruin overtakes us, and I know of no other avenue now, through which to approach the Government, but to go directly to its Head who controls the temporal destiny of us all– I therefore ask that an order be issued from the proper authorities directed to the proper Military officer that my said husband be detailed set-apart or exempted under the Conscript law to take charge of our said farm and negroes as the produce raised upon said farm under proper management will be worth much more to the country than the Services of individual, Your Excellency will please be so kind as to let me hear from this, either forward me an order to be presented to Gen, Forney or forward it to that officer. Your Excellency is doubtless in constant attention to the ponderous business of the Government with that undying solicitude that could alone be upheld by a love of Freedom Constitutional liberty and the great principles of self Government yet I hope your Excellency will find time enough amidst all this, to give me a hearing and grant me the relief sought for.

N. B. (meaning “take special note”) It is thought by many that we will have trouble here about Christmas holidays, with our slaves, growing out of the Emancipation Proclamation of the Lincoln Government.

In Washington City, U.S. President Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase head to the nearby Navy Yard and meet up with the yard’s commandant, John Dahgren. Lincoln is fascinated with technology and is there to witness a test of the new Hyde rocket (invented by Joshua Hyde), which carries a war head with an adjustable time fuse. After the fuse is set everyone takes a step back; instead of launching the rocket blasts apart while in place and releases a puff of fire. The test is a failure but the miracle is that no one is hurt in the process.

John Hay, one of Lincoln’s personal secretaries, has scandal on his mind. The talented White House gardener, John Watt, has been involved in financial schemes that include double-billing Congress and attempting to extort money from the Lincoln family. Yet Watt is a personal friend of First Lady Mary Lincoln; he has made himself available as someone who can help her “navigate the political landscape” to get what she wants. And what Mary wants is the best of everything when it comes to possessions. Mary is unsuspecting, as she is told it’s how things have always been done. In fact, Watt is currently with Mary in New York City assisting her with more purchases. But it appears that Watt’s days might be numbered, as Hay writes in his diary that “Hell is to pay about Watt’s affairs. I think the Tycoon begins to suspect him. I wish he could be struck by lightning.” (TCWP note: “Tycoon was an affectionate nickname given to the President by the White House staff; it is a Japanese term that means “military leader.”)

Time for prayer and religious worship is important to many men who serve in the Union army, especially when one considers the dangers they face on and off the battlefield. In Washington City, President Lincoln issues a General Order respecting the observance of the Sabbath day in the Army and Navy:

The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in military and naval service. The importance for man and beast of the prescribed weekly rest, the sacred rights of Christian soldiers and sailors, a becoming deference to the best sentiment of a Christian people, and a due regard for the Divine will, demand that Sunday labor in the Army and Navy be reduced to the measure of strict necessity.

The discipline and character of the national forces should not suffer nor the cause they defend the imperiled, by the profanation of the day or name of the Most High. At this time of public distress adopting the words of Washington in 1776, “men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.” The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended: “The general hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”

About The Civil War Project

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. This site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or other individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.


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