150 Years Ago: Sunday, December 7, 1862

U.S. Brigadier General Rufus B. SaxtonSource: Library of Congress

U.S. Brigadier General Rufus B. Saxton
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. Brigadier General Rufus B. Saxton is currently acting military governor for the Department of the South. Originally from Massachusetts, his father Jonathan Ashley Saxton was a feminist and abolitionist writer.  At age 20, he received an appointment to West Point from which he graduated in 1849. At the time, he was one of the few cadets that was anti-slavery. He is considered handsome, courteous and affable; both a gentleman and a soldier. He sees the growing issue of what to do with former slave refugees and proposes the following:

“The prospect is that all the lands on these sea islands, will be bought up by speculators, and in that event, these helpless people may be placed more or less at the mercy of men devoid of principle, and their future well being jeopardized, thus defeating in a great measure the benevolent intention of the Government towards them.

To prevent this, and give the negroes a right in that soil to whose wealth they are destined in the future to contribute so largely, to save them from destitution, to enable them to take care of themselves, and prevent them from ever becoming a burden upon the country, I would most respectfully call your attention to the importance of the immediate passage of an act of Congress, empowering the President to appoint three Commissioners, whose duty it shall be to make allotments of portions of the lands forfeit to the US…to the emancipated negroes…”

Rufus will order the refugees under his jurisdiction to settle on abandoned lands; he will issue each laborer two acres of land and provide them with tools to plant crops for their own consumption. In exchange, they will produce a portion of cotton for U.S. government use. He will appoint several superintendents to oversee the blacks’ welfare, and private relief associations quickly organize to provide additional supplies, supervision and education. Time will tell if his efforts are successful, but transitioning former slaves to a life that is there own is a problem no one knows how to best approach/resolve.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes is still waiting with over 100,000 men to see what their orders are from Commanding General Ambrose Burnside: “We are still in camp at the unknown place. Plenty of snow, ice and cold. Colonel Wheaton has gone to Washington for a few days.

Former U.S. Commander George B. McClellan continues to catch up on his correspondence. He sends a letter to Edward Everett, who had written him on November 17 with his support and tribute of admiration for McClellan’s conduct during his time in leadership. McClellan writes:

“I cannot express too warmly my very grateful appreciation of your kind feeling and good opinion of me, and I assure you that the approval of such as you far more than compensates me for whatever of abuse and detractions I may have undergone.

I am content to await the arbitrament of the future, conscious that I have at least endeavored to do my best for the cause of our country and that my mistakes were not intentional.”

McClellan also writes to August Belmont, the national chairman of the Democratic party. Belmont, who is originally from Germany, is very loyal to the party but historically has been one of the easier Democrats to work with; he has often advised U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on economic policies between the U.S. and Europe and is very pro-Union. The one thing Belmont and the President do disagree on is their confidence in McClellan. Belmont had been the one leading the charge for McClellan to be re-instated this past September, stating that someone as trusted and respected as McClellan was needed given the lack of confidence citizens had in the war department and administration regarding the conduct of the war and the outcomes to date. Even though he supports the Union, Belmont has already started thinking about who should run against Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential election. He has set his sights on Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (a former Democrat turned Republican, but a discouraged one who thought he deserved to be President over Lincoln); but now Belmont sees McClellan as a strong contender. With the popular McClellan no longer being utilized in the Union army, Belmont sees an opportunity. He had sent McClellan copies of letters he had written to Lincoln and other administration officials in an effort to make him feel important and “in the know.” It is the first step in grooming McClellan for a potential run. In response, McClellan writes that “In reading them my greatest regret is that the administration could not be induced to act in accordance with your views – some such policy as that you urged must yet be adopted or we are lost.

On a bitter cold day in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, twelve miles southwest of Fayetteville, the Confederates try to regain control of northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri. Confederates under Major General Thomas C. Hindman and Missouri “Bushwacker” leader William C. Quantrill are defeated in an encounter with U.S. Major General James G. Blunt and Major General Francis J. Herron.

There are 1,251 Union casualties out of 10,000 engaged; Confederates lose 1,317 out of 10,000. After the battle, the Union troops will find many unwounded Confederates frozen to death on the battlefield.

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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. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or 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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