Benjamin Butler

This tag is associated with 10 posts

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, December 23, 1862

Lieutenant Colonel William McCulloughDied in Coffeeville, Mississippi Source: McLean County (Illinois)

Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough
Died in Coffeeville, Mississippi
Source: McLean County (Illinois)Dear Fanny

Dear Fanny,

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend,
A. Lincoln

The Army of Virginia troops had watched the people of Fredericksburg lose their possessions and homes during the Union raids on December 12 and many have been collecting money to give to the citizens to help them rebuild their lives after the devastation. C.S.A. Lieutenant General James Longstreet asks his assistant to write a letter of thanks to Colonel James B. Walton and the men of the Washington Artillery battalion:

By direction of the lieutenant-general commanding, I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your check for $1,391, the contribution of the troops of your battalion to the fund for the relief of the Fredericksburg sufferers. In making this acknowledgment I and directed to express his admiration for the generous and feeling manner in which your command has responded to the call for relief. The members of the Washington Artillery show that they have hearts to feel as well as hearts to fight.

U.S. Major General George B. Meade has reason to celebrate, as he has been given the 5th Corps that had been temporarily under Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield. The 5th Corps had taken a beating at Fredericksburg with over 2,175 killed, wounded or missing, and while many are new recruits they are Pennsylvania men just like Meade. In turn he loses his 1st Corp men, but that particular corps has been quite depleted and he is excited about his new assignment. He throws a party for himself and invites Major General John Reynolds and other officers to join him. He jokingly writes to his wife Margaretta in Philadelphia that “It was unanimously agreed that Congress ought to establish the grade of lieutenant general, and that they would all unite in having me made one, provided I would treat with such good wine.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has done nothing with the bill he received from Congress over a week ago that would admit West Virginia as a new state. He sends his Cabinet members a short note regarding the matter:

Gentlemen of the Cabinet: A bill for an act entitled ‘An Act for the admission of the State of West-Virginia into the Union, and for other purposes,’ has passed the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and has been duly presented to me for my action.

I respectfully ask of each [of] you, an opinion in writing, on the following questions, towit:

1st. Is the said Act constitutional?

2nd. Is the said Act expedient?

From Vicksburg, Mississippi, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issues General Order No. 111, a proclamation declaring U.S. Major General Benjamin Butler a felon and insisting that he be executed immediately if captured, without a military trial. Butler had been acting as military governor of New Orleans since early 1862 and though he had a few friends in the city, many of his actions outraged most Southerners. In fact, he was often called “the most hated Yankee in the Confederacy.” Butler had worked to remove all signs of the Confederacy from the city and ordered civil officers, attorneys and clergy to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. He had, to the disgust of the locals, enlisted former black slaves as Union soldiers. And to top it off, he had issued General Order No. 28, which stated that any woman who insulted Union troops would “be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.” It was a sly way of stating that if a Southern lady was going to act unladylike – for example, slap a Union officer – then under this order the Union officer would be allowed to slap her back. The wording also implied that women who acted unladylike were “prostitutes.” The proclamation was met with great support from Confederate supporters; as for Butler, it certainly was not going to change the way he conducted his affairs that he felt had been successful to date in keeping a key city of Rebels under Union control.

Though C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston has been traveling with Davis for several days, he has been unsuccessful in getting Davis to agree with him on the best use of troops. Perhaps frustrated that his words are not sinking in, he writes a letter to Davis, once again requesting permission to use troops in Arkansas led by Lieutenant General Theophilius Holmes to protect Vicksburg instead of taking from General Braxton Bragg’s forces in Tennessee:

Our great object is to hold the Mississippi. The country beyond the river is as much interested in that object as this, and the loss to us of the Mississippi involves that of the country beyond it. The 8,000 or 10,000 men which are essential to safety ought, therefore, I respectfully suggest, to be taken from Arkansas, to return after the crisis in this department. I firmly believe, however, that our true system of warfare would be to concentrate the forces of the two departments on this side of the Mississippi, beat the enemy here, and then reconquer the country beyond it, which he might have gained in the mean time.

U.S. Major General has been attempting to feed his soldiers and restore his lines of communication and supply after C.S.A. Cavalry officer Earl Van Dorn’s raid on his Holly Springs, Mississippi base, but he has been unsuccessful. He can no longer continue the expedition into Mississippi and capture Vicksburg by a long overland route when he does not have the tools necessary to do so. He officially starts to move his troops back north into Tennessee as U.S. Major General William T. Sherman and his men continue to head to Vicksburg by water.

150 Years Ago: Friday, November 28, 1862

The First of Many Former Slaves Enlist in Union Army under Major General Benjamin Butler

The First of Many Former Slaves Enlist in Union Army under Major General Benjamin Butler, May 1862

Far away in the Union occupied city of New Orleans, Louisiana, Major General Benjamin Butler has been overseeing the occupation and military efforts with little input from Washington City. Even though the general idea of black men being able to enlist in the military has not been approved by Congress or the President, Butler has taken it upon himself to allow former slaves to enlist within regiments under his control. The New Orleans Delta publishes a letter from one of the black soldiers enlisted:

We arrived at this place (Lafourche Landing) on the 1st instant, eight hundred to eight hundred and forty-five strong, only about thirty men having fallen out, and these from sickness. We have not, as yet, had the pleasure of exchanging shots with the enemy. But we are still anxious, as we ever have been, to show to the world that the latent courage of the African is aroused, and that, while fighting under the American flag, we can and will be a wall of fire and death to the enemies of this country, our birth-place.

When we enlisted, we were hooted at in the streets of New Orleans as a rabble of armed plebeians and cowards. I am proud to say, that if any cowardice has been exhibited since we left Camp Strong, at the Louisiana Race Course, it has been exhibited by the rebels. They have retreated from Boutee Station beyond Terrebonne Station, on the line we have marched, burning bridges and destroying culverts, which, no sooner than coming to the knowledge of Col. Thomas, of the 8th Vermont Regiment, have been repaired as quickly as they have been destroyed.

I am not of a disposition to claim for our regiment more than its share of praise, but I venture the assertion that there is not a regiment in the service more willing to share the hardships of marching and bivouacking, and more desirous of meeting the enemy, than this regiment, led by Colonel S. H. Stafford and Major C. F. Bassett.

As Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his men near their final destination of Fredericksburg, Virginia, he receives a letter from his wife (Mary) Anna from Charlotte, North Carolina. She lets him know that he is the father of a baby girl, born November 23, who is named Julia Laura and looks a lot like her father. “Julia” is named after his mother who died when he was seven, and the middle name “Laura” is after his younger sister. Most importantly it appears that Anna and Julia are healthy; this is a relief to Jackson, who lost his first wife in childbirth (the son was stillborn) and his first daughter with Anna, named Mary, lived for only a few weeks.

Burnside returns to his headquarters across the river from Fredericksburg, refreshed from his very brief stay in Washington. He has rejected Lincoln’s proposed plan and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck backs his decision. With Lincoln giving in to Burnside and Halleck, it is now up to Burnside to carry through with the plan he started fourteen days ago. It continues to rain and Burnside’s men continue to sit in camps north of the city, awaiting their orders.

Taken from a Richmond, Virginia newspaper printed on November 20, The Georgia Weekly Telegraph in Macon echoes reports on movements around Fredericksburg from a Confederate perspective:

The Enquirer of this morning says the enemy yesterday took possession of the hills commanding Fredericksburg, on the north side of the Rappahannock, and covered the town with their batteries. The women and children have been leaving for the past few days, and ‘ere now the place is fully prepared to invite its doom. Its heroic citizens would prefer for it to surrender. Our forces still hold possession, and the enemy for the present does not dare attempt the passage of the river. Thus far the contending forces only threaten each other.

Prisoners captured at Fredericksburg say that Steinwhar’s corps occupy the hills opposite Fredericksburg. Their camp fires extend twelve miles.

A private letter from Gordonsville says the whole Yankee cavalry made a raid into Greenbrier county on Friday last and captured about a dozen wagons, and fired the barn of Colonel McCherry, and destroyed his wheat crop.

Prisoners who arrived yesterday by flag of truce say that the removal of McClellan came near producing a revolution among the Federal troops; that entire regiments threw down their arms, and those detailed to arrest them refused to, and that Burnside’s army is thoroughly demoralized.

These statements may be received with great caution.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, May 29, 1861

This morning U.S. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair meets with U.S. President Lincoln over General Benjamin Butler’s stance on runaway slaves. Blair is not anti-slavery but he agrees with Butler’s actions to declare escaped slaves as Union “contraband”, which in turn protects the former slaves from being returned to their former owners. Butler is also hiring the “contraband” to help out at Fort Monroe.

Lincoln calls the action taken “Butler’s Fugitive Slave Law” and approves of it. Though Blair doesn’t object to Butler hiring able-bodied men, he does not like the idea of Butler providing food and shelter to the women and children who are also coming to the Fort. Blair suggests that Butler “leave the Secessionists to take care of the non-working classes of people”, but also understands that it defeats Butler’s efforts – and the efforts of the former slaves – to try and keep the families together. Blair then suggests that Butler use them as spies “because they are accustomed to travel in the nighttime and can go where no one not accustomed to the sly tricks they practice from infancy to old age could penetrate.”

In Richmond, Virginia, the Confederacy has its first legislative session. Albert Sidney Johnston is appointed full General in the Confederate Army.

For the last few months Miss Dorothea Dix has been seeking approval to provide nursing services for the Union. She is finally authorized by U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron to hire nurses after promising that she will hire only older, homely women who are not looking for an adventure or romantic pursuits; Cameron also believes this will reduce the chances of men sinning with their bedside nurse.

In Washington, another bill is received for “curtain materials and trimmings of every decoration” from a Philadelphia merchant; this purchase made by Mary Lincoln for the White House totals $7,500.

In the capital city of Providence, Rhode Island, Elisha Hunt Rhodes is chosen by Major John Slocum to act as a clerk in the effort to chose 25 men to serve in the Rhode Island First Light Infantry. Nineteen year old Rhodes had arrived at the Infantry Armory several weeks earlier where he had enlisted along with an old schoolmate and had been elected First Sergeant. The volunteers had come after Lincoln’s second proclamation asking men to serve for three years or until the end of the war, whatever came sooner. Rhodes, along with approximately 100 others, had spent the days drilling and the evenings talking about soldiering. At night they were allowed to return home to sleep, as they were citizens, not true soldiers. It was during his time at the Armory that Rhodes begins a diary to record his journey.

Slocum, along with surgeon Francis L. Wheaton, are looking for strong, healthy men for the Infantry. Rhodes, who is acquainted with the men, is given clear instructions from Slocum. “We only want good men. Now when a good man comes up to be examined you look up. If the man is not right you just go on with your writing.” The first man to come into the room is Rhodes’s old schoolmate, Levi F. Carr. Carr is a big, strong young man; Rhodes looks up as Carr enters the room, and Carr is asked to take off his clothes for examination. After Carr passes the thorough examination by the doctor he is moved into the next room.

After Carr’s examination, Rhodes stands up and addresses the doctor: “I want to go.” The doctor protests, “Young man, you cannot go. You are not fit to be a soldier.” Rhodes begs, detailing the drilling and work he has done since his arrival. Seeing this exchange, Slocum asks Rhodes how old he is, if his health is good, if his father is alive (which he is not) and if his mother is willing to let him go. Though Rhodes’s mother initially did not want her oldest son leaving for war, she had eventually come to the conclusion that as other mothers were making sacrifices in letting their sons go, she should be no different. She had given her consent as that is what her son wished to do.

Rhodes’s answers are good enough for Slocum, who instructs Rhodes to put his name down on the list as one of the 25 chosen. Dr. Wheaton asks Slocum if Rhodes should be examined, to which Slocum gives a resounding “No!”. The doctor is still not satisfied, telling Slocum that Rhodes is too scrawny and will be in a hospital within a week, after which they will likely have to send him home. Slocum doesn’t care; if it happens, they will send Rhodes home. His mind is made up; Rhodes’s sincere enthusiasm and drive for wanting to become a true soldier and not just a citizen volunteer has impressed the Major.

Rhodes records in his diary that not all men are as lucky. He writes about a “large fine built fellow” who is known to bully the younger boys. Rhodes does not look up from his writing when the man enters the room. Dr. Wheaton does not give the man an examination. “You cannot go. You are not a well man.” The man, shocked, asks what is wrong with him. The doctor appears to not have expected that question, yet quickly answers. “You have a heart disease.” The man protests and denies the doctor’s claim. He insists on being examined, but the doctor declines. Though he likely did not have anything wrong with his heart, Rhodes’ judgment of his character alone prevents him from being chosen for this select group.

By late afternoon the 25 men have been selected for the Rhode Island First Light Infantry. Rhodes is given his first command to march them to the Cadet Armory and present them to Captain William Steere. Rhodes marches the squad through the city streets and when they arrive he forms the men into a line. He salutes Steere and presents the men. At first the Captain refuses to take the men. He had already formed his own company and is upset that he is to take this group of men instead. Rhodes does not know what to do, so they all stand there for some time. Finally Steere gives in to the situation. He asks Rhodes what his position was with the volunteer infantry; First Sergeant doesn’t mean anything here. Steere reclassifies Rhodes as a Private and tells him to take his place in line. Rhodes, unaware of any differences between a Private and Sergeant, doesn’t care.

The first night is difficult, as Rhodes and the others are no longer allowed to go home in the evening. They are directed to sleep on the uncomfortable floor of the Cadet Armory, though they do so with much noise and complaining. The men are still technically citizens and feel they should be able to do as they please. Unfortunately the simple days of drilling and talking are over. They are one step closer to becoming real soldiers, and the stricter rules now apply to them.

150 Years Ago: Monday, May 27, 1861

Confederate President Jefferson Davis is expected to arrive in the new capital city of Richmond this morning. He will be staying at the Spotswood Hotel on Main Street.

From Fort Monroe, Virginia, U.S. General Benjamin Butler writes to General Winfield Scott about the issue of slaves. Butler has learned that Virginia citizens are using their male slaves in the Virginian batteries and are preparing to send the slave women & children south. Butler is receiving entire families of slaves who have escaped and are looking for protection. He has the idea to employ as many of them as he can, and will also insure proper food and care for all, keeping track of all expenses in the process. He feels that the number of people coming to his Fort could be very great, and looks at it not only as a political question, but a humanitarian one, as to whether this course of action is right. He has no doubt that it is the right thing to do on a human level, but is looking for input from Scott and Secretary of War Simon Cameron on the political course of action.

The body of Elmer Ellsworth is in New York City, where it will lay in City Hall for several days so people can pay their respects. The New York Times informs its readers on the state of his remains, as U.S. President Lincoln had him embalmed in Washington at the offer of Dr. Thomas Holmes. Embalming was a fairly new practice in the country, but it will become very popular during the course of the war. Based on the Time’s description, it appears that the art of embalming had not yet been perfected:

“The remains [of Ellsworth] were encased in a metallic coffin, the lid of which was so arranged that through a glass cover the face and breast could be seen. The body was dressed in the Zouave uniform of Colonel Ellsworth’s corps, but it was generally remarked, did not bear that natural look so often seen in cases of rapid death. The livid paleness of the features contrasted strongly with the ruddy glow of health that always characterized the Colonel during his lifetime. The marked features and the firm expression of the mouth were, however, sufficient to remind the beholder of what once was Colonel Ellsworth.”

The last few days have been difficult for the Lincoln family as they grieve for their young friend Elmer Ellsworth, but it must have improved their spirits when their oldest son Robert comes home for a vacation from Harvard.

On the corner of Washington Avenue and Swanson Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon has its opening today. The Saloon will provide free food, drink and comfortable lodging for soldiers heading into active field service, and also has a separate hospital to care for the sick and wounded. Local men and a large number of women will help keep it in operation during the course of the war, and many similar models will appear in cities across the country.

U.S. Brigadier General William Harney is getting concerned that his peace agreement with Missouri Major General Sterling Price is not the great treaty he thought it was. Not even a week has passed and Harney has just received a telegraph from Springfield, Missouri that rebel forces are being organized in Arkansas just near the Missouri border. Harney sends a telegraph to Price informing him of the situation, stating that “a contingency like this was not looked for” and he will obviously have to take care of matters in an effort to protect the state from a potential invasion.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, May 23, 1861

Julia Taft, along with her older brother half-brother Charles Sabin Taft, her three younger brothers and their playmates Willie and Tad Lincoln, watch the 11th New York Fire Zouaves participate in their “gymnastic drills” in camp led by Lincoln family friend Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth is in great spirits and jokingly tells the boys that the Zouaves are “his monkeys” given their great agility. When the Tafts and Lincolns leave, Ellsworth stands at the corner, lifts up his cap and merrily shouts “Come again!”, looking “very bright and handsome” in Julia’s eyes.

In Virginia, citizens vote for the Ordinance of Secession; 78% vote for secession, with the other 22% against it. Virginia will officially be the tenth state to become part of the Confederate States of America, with a final Tennessee vote pending in June. The anti-secession, northwestern Virginia delegates who met at the First Wheeling Convention ten days ago know that with this vote, their job has now only started. The result of the vote today is unacceptable, and they will continue with their plan to meet again on June 11.

C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston arrives at Harper’s Ferry to take command; up until now Colonel Thomas J. Jackson has been organizing and leading military efforts here. Yesterday Jackson had strategically placed troops along a 44 mile stretch of rail. Today between 11am and noon, 46 trains had filled up east and westbound lanes on the B & O (Baltimore & Ohio) Railroad lines. With the troops he had put in place just yesterday, Jackson barricades the ends of the tracks; the trains and items the 386 cars contain are now property of the Confederacy. In addition to the reward of knowing he had just pulled off a brilliant plan on Virginia’s first “official” day of war, Jackson will also be rewarded with his future horse named Little Sorrel, who was part of a large herd of horses found on the train. Jackson initially was going to call the horse “Fancy” and give it as a gift to his wife Mary Anna, but the horse fit his own riding style so perfectly that he keeps it for himself.

General Benjamin Butler runs into a key issue on his second day at Fort Monroe. Three runaway slaves appear, hoping that Butler will take them into safety. Butler issues a declaration regarding “contraband of war”, stating that any contraband – including slaves – will be kept and not returned. This sets a very important precedent that will allow slaves to escape behind Union lines to safety and out of bondage.

In the afternoon, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln attends a flag presentation ceremony at Camp Cameron (located in Georgetown). Patriotic ladies of New York present a “beautiful and rich National flag” to the 7th New York. “The raising of the flag was of course greeted with deafening huzzas, accompanied by the music of the regimental band to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.”

Governors of three key western states – William Dennison (Ohio), Oliver Perry Morton (Indiana) and Richard Yates (Illinois) – meet in Indianapolis. The topic of their discussion focuses on Kentucky, as each of their states have Kentucky along their southern border. They believe that the Union needs to take possession of four prominent points within the state, including Louisville, Covington, Newport and Columbus, along with the railroads leading south from those points. If Kentuckians can’t be found to do this, then they believe it is their responsibility to prevent secessionists from controlling the state. They:

  • Want General George B. McClellan to be given the necessary authority to carry out their plan
  • Believe the loyalty of Kentucky should be secured before any movement further south takes place
  • Pledge appropriations made by the legislatures of their states in aid of the U.S. government
  • Agree that additional aid from their states can be relied upon to sustain the the U.S. government in the “vigorous” prosecution of the war
  • Want McClellan to be given authority to also occupy points in Tennessee and Missouri

Around 8pm the New York Fire Zouaves Regiment is ordered to be ready to move at a moment’s notice to board the steamers Mount Vernon and James Guy for Alexandria, Virginia. It’s leader, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, quickly writes two letters: one to his parents, the other to his fiancee Carrie Spafford.

To his parents:

My dear Father and Mother: The Regiment is ordered to move across the river tonight. We have no means of knowing what reception we are to meet with. I am inclined to the opinion that our entrance to the City of Alexandria will be hotly contested, as I am just informed that a large force have arrived there today.

My dear parents, it may be my lot to be injured in some manner. Whatever may happen, cherish the consolation that I was engaged in the performance of a sacred duty; and tonight, thinking over the probabilities of tomorrow and the occurrences of the past, I am so perfectly content to accept whatever my fortune may be, confident that He who noteth even the fall of a sparrow will have some purpose even in the fate of one like me. My darling and ever loved parents, good-bye. God bless, protect and care for you.” Elmer

And to Carrie:

My own darling Kitty. My Regiment is ordered to cross the river and move on Alexandria within six hours. We may meet with a warm reception & my darling among so many careless fellows one is somewhat likely to be hit.

If anything should happen — Darling just accept this assurance, the only thing I can leave you — The highest happiness I looked for on earth was a union with you — You have more than realized the hopes I formed regarding your advancement — And I believe I love you with all the ardor I am capable of — You know my darling any attempt of mine to convey an adequate expression of my feelings must be simply futile — God bless you, as you deserve and grant you a happy and useful life and us a union hereafter. Truly your own, Elmer.

P. S. Give my love to mother & father (such they truly were to me) and thank them again for all their kindness to me — I regret I can make no better return for it — Again good bye. God bless you my own darling. Elmer.

The 1st Michigan commanded by Colonel Orlando B. Wilcox, along with an artillery & cavalry company of U.S. military regulars, will join the Fire Zouaves in crossing the Potomac into Virginia.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, May 22, 1861

The citizens of recently the seceded state of North Carolina are still reacting to the news. Plantation mistress Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston writes “So now we are under Mr. Davis rule! ‘Hurrah for Jeff Davis!'” Lewis Leon, a Jewish Southerner from Charlotte, leaves his home behind as a Private with the Charlotte Grays, Company C, First North Carolina Regiment; they are heading from Raleigh to Richmond, Virginia to join with forces there and officially begin their tour of duty.

Joseph E. Brown, Governor of Georgia, has been arguing for several days with Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope on the length of service for new volunteers as well as who will provide them with arms. There has been a lot of confusion as to the duration of the service; originally the CSA government was suggesting 12 months, but when they realized it would leave them without an army by 1862 they changed the recommended enlistment to three years. Also, many of the states want the Confederate government to provide things like arms to the volunteers, especially for those serving the Southern cause outside of their home state. Pope writes Brown, telling him that it is policy to only arm those who present themselves for a three year term and not those who only offer 12 months service; so far Brown has only been willing to recruit volunteers for 12 months and has complained that he wants them put into service before he raises three year troops. The Confederate government believes that they will have more men than arms, therefore if Brown wants to only recruit 12 month enlistments he will have to supply them or change the recruitment terms.

Around noon, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln participates in a flag raising ceremony at Washington’s General Post Office building on E Street between 7th and 8th Streets NW. The New York Herald reports that “The ropes were then placed in the hands of the President, when, amid the most deafening applause from the crowd below, the flag was raised to its prominent position. It remained for a moment or two motionless, when suddenly, a gentle wind rising from the north, its ample folds were extended in a most graceful and beautiful manner, eliciting one universal outburst of applause from the assembled multitude.”

General Benjamin Butler and his staff arrive at Fort Monroe, Virginia. There is a grand review of 4,000 troops in the evening; a very magnificent spectacle met with great enthusiasm by the men.

It is the eve of the Virginian vote for the Ordinance of Secession. Colonel Thomas J. Jackson sends the 5th Virginia Infantry to position themselves at key strategic areas, including a Potomac bridge near Cherry Run and a signal tower west of Point of Rocks.

150 Years Ago: Friday, May 17, 1861

Sarah Emma Edmonds – going under the alias of Frank Thompson – had already enlisted for 90 days of military service. Today she makes another commitment, this time to join the Flint Union Greys of the Second Michigan, which is the first three year regiment to assemble in Michigan. Though she is beardless and thin, she manages to pass a glance-over physical examination.

The First Michigan arrives in Washington City and is taken to the White House for review of President Lincoln, led by Lewis Cass. They are the first Western troops to arrive in the capital city.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis signs a bill to bring North Carolina into the Confederacy if its citizens vote to secede and support the Confederate Constitution. A convention is scheduled to be held in North Carolina in three days.

A Proclamation for Neutrality by Principal Chief John Ross is given to the Cherokee people, who currently reside in Oklahoma Territory. For today they are neutral; it will not stay this way for long.

Mary Lincoln continues sight seeing in New York City with her cousin Elizabeth Todd Grimsley and her new (and questionable) friend from Washington, William S. Wood. At 5pm Mary boards a ship for Boston; she is going to visit her oldest son, Robert, who is attending school at Harvard.

Newly appointed U.S. Major General Benjamin Butler leaves for Fort Monroe off the coast of Virginia. He is now the head of the Department of Virginia, North and South Carolina. John G. Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s private secretaries, goes along on the trip.

In St. Louis, William T. Sherman still has not received any official word on his offer to serve in a leadership position in the U.S. military. He writes to his father-in-law, Thomas Ewing Sr. that “I have made up my mind that if the Government wants me they will ask me. This does not seem to me a time to seek for place.” Sherman expresses that he still does not think the Lincoln administration is up to the task of the current situation, especially since gaining control over a country so extensive in size seems almost impossible to him given what has been occurring around him in Missouri. He notes that if he’s offered a “proper post in the army”, he wants his family to be in the best place possible. He wants them to be safe, which could mean he would send his wife Ellen and their children to Lancaster, Ohio to stay with Ewing. Ellen, who was very close to her family, would no doubt be in favor of this.

As the preparations for war continue, several military officer appointments to Brigadier General are made today by U.S. President Lincoln:

  • Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, of the Second Infantry
  • Capt. John Pope, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers
  • George A. McCall, of Pennsylvania
  • Samuel R. Curtis, of Iowa
  • Philip Kearney, of New-Jersey
  • Joseph J. Reynolds, of Indiana
  • Rufus King, of Wisconsin
  • J.D. Cox, of Ohio
  • Stephen A. Hurlbut, of Illinois
  • Franz Siegel, of Missouri
  • Robert C. Schenck, of Ohio
  • B.M. Prentiss, of Illinois

President Lincoln’s long-time friend Edward Baker is also offered a commission as a Brigadier General of Volunteers, but he declines. For now he is content in recruiting volunteers and forming regiments.

Over 2,000 miles from Washington City, the legislature in California votes to support the Union. Currently there are several U.S. military personnel who are from the North and South. Some have already requested transfers back East so they can support the war effort, and others have put in resignation requests so they can go back to their homes in the South and support the Confederate effort there. And then there are others that have no clue what they are going to do, or what side they will take. They are torn between a country they have vowed to serve and protect and their home state where their families, friends and memories are.

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