Though thirty-eight Dakota Indians and “half-breeds” were sentenced by a military tribunal in Minnesota and subsequently approved for death by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, there have been delays in the execution and it did not occur on December 19 as scheduled. A new date of December 26 has been set, and today the condemned Dakota are allowed to meet with their families for the last time.
Lincoln had asked for input from his Cabinet members on admitting West Virginia as a state into the Union and he has gotten their input. Surprisingly, the Cabinet is split. Secretaries William Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edwin Stanton agree with the bill; Gideon Welles, Montgomery Blair and Edward Bates do not. With no consensus, Lincoln will have to carefully review the matter and come to a decision on his own.
From his camp near Falmouth, Virginia, U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary about changes in leadership:
We are in trouble about our new Major and former Chaplain, Rev. Thorndike C. Jameson. Governor Sprague promoted him Major over all the Captains. He is incompetent, and we do not want him with us. I hear that he is to be ordered before a board of officers for examination, and as he probably could not pass, I hope he will resign and leave us in peace. Jameson is not fitted for a soldier in some respects and ought to know it. He is brave, and that is all. Capt. Benoni S. Brown, Senior Captain, has resigned because Jameson was promoted over him. General Wheaton has invited me to dine with him. We have commenced regular drills and camp duties once more, but a new movement will probably be ordered soon.
U.S. Major General John Reynolds travels to Philadelphia on leave, during which time he plans to visit his secret love, Catherine “Kate” Hewitt. He had met Kate when he was stationed in California before the war and they had fallen in love. She had come back East with him and they had an agreement: If he survived the war, they would get married. If he didn’t, she would become a nun as she was of strong Catholic faith. Many Protestants hold negative views of Catholics at this time, which may have been one reasons why Reynolds has yet to mention Kate to anyone he knows, including his family (though one can also say that Reynolds is generally a private man). But he wears her Cross around his neck and she wears his West Point ring on a chain around hers. While he is in town he also plans to call on Major General George Meade’s wife Margaretta, which he knows will please George as he is stuck in Virginia. Calls from fellow officers are often welcome by the wives when their own husbands are able to come home; it’s comforting to hear stories and to know they are in good company.
For the soldiers of both sides, and their families at home, it’s mostly a quiet day on the second Christmas Eve of the war. For those who write letters to loved ones, homesickness and loneliness is the common theme.
This morning U.S. President Abraham Lincoln receives the resignation letter from an embarrassed Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase. He now holds the resignations of Chase and Secretary of State William Seward in his hands. As he sits there with their resignations, one in each hand, he tells visiting New York Senator and friend Ira Harris that “I can ride now – I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag.”
He laughs it off; Seward and Chase might not get along, but they balance each other out. Lincoln refuses to accept either resignation. Lincoln knows how Seward is perceived to be in control of everything, but Lincoln knows that is not the case and values his contributions. Though Chase is untrustworthy in his lust for power and Lincoln is well aware that Chase has such strong ambitions to become President that he is even willing to switch parties to run against him in 1864, Chase has proven to be invaluable in the Treasury Department, where he has made it an efficient and organized “machine” and he has done an outstanding job selling war bonds and managing the finances of the U.S. government during a time of war. Neither man argues with the President’s decision and the rest of the Cabinet supports it. The “Cabinet Crisis” is officially over.
Confederate cavalry under Major General Earl Van Dorn raid U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s secondary – yet crucial – supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, capturing the entire 1,500 man garrison and destroying ammunition and food. Combined with recent similar actions by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry in Tennessee, Grant finds his communications and supply lines with the North temporarily suspended. He stops his movement toward Vicksburg and decides to withdraw to Oxford, Mississippi. While his men ask him what they are to do, Grant responds “We had endeavored to feed ourselves from our own northern resources, but our friends in gray have been uncivil enough to destroy what we had brought along, and it could not be expected that men, with arms in their hands, would starve in the midst of plenty.” Grant sends troops and wagons to collect all the food and forage they can find for fifteen miles on each side of the road, along with “assisting in eating up what we left.”
One of Grant’s generals is unaware of this development: U.S. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, who is aboard the Forest Queen and leaving Memphis today with 20,000 men towards Vicksburg. They will stop at Helena to pick up 12,000 more. Sherman writes to his brother John, an Ohio Senator:
Of course the pressure of this force acting in concert with Grant must produce good results. Even if we don’t open the Mississippi, by the way an event not so important as at first sight, until the great armies of the enemy are defeated – we are progressing. I wish Burnside and Rosecrans were getting along faster, but I suppose the encounter the same troubles we all do…
The great evil is absenteeism, which is real desertion and should be punished with death. Of course I would have the wounded and sick well cared for, but the sick list real and feigned is fearful. More than one-half the paper army is not in the enemy’s country and whilst the actual regiments present for duty are in arrears of pay and favor, sick and discharged men are carefully paid and provided for. Unite with other and discriminate in favor of the officers and soldiers who are with their companies. The “absent and sick” should receive half pay because of the advantages they receive of fine hospitals and quiet residence at home. The “absent without leave” should be treated as deserters and in no event receive a dollar’s pay – clothing or anything else. In course of time we may get an army. Finance is very important but no use of discussing that now; we must fight it out if it devastates the land and costs every cent of the North…
I rise at 3 a.m. to finish up necessary business and as usual write in haste… I am very popular with the people here and officers and indeed with all my men. I don’t seek popularity with the “sneaks and absentees” or the “Dear People”…
Former U.S. Commander of the Army of the Potomac George B. McClellan writes to U.S. Brigadier General Fitz John Porter from the 5th Avenue Hotel in New York City. Porter has been recently arrested and court-martialed for his actions at the Second Bull Run battle in August (he did not follow orders to attack) and is awaiting a hearing. McClellan has always had a close personal relationship with Porter, who he considers his protege. Unable to keep his feelings quiet about the recent Fredericksburg defeat, he writes:
The monied men & the respectable men of this city are up in arms, their patience is exhausted & unless the President comprehends the gravity of his situation I see great danger ahead.
Burnside must have conducted his withdrawal very skillfully to have succeeded so well – poor fellow how I pity him! I have defended him to the best of my ability.
The sacrifice of Saturday was an useless one – nothing gained, not even honor. Banks ought to have gone to the James River, & to the last moment I hoped that it was so.
The future looks dark & threatening – alas for our poor country! I still trust in God & bow to his will – he will bring us victory when we deserve it. A change must come ere long – the present state of affairs cannot last.
I shudder, Fitz, when I think of those poor fellows of ours so uselessly killed at Fredericksburg!
McClellan also asks Porter if he wants him as a witness in front of the court, as McClellan is willing to go to Washington to defend his friend’s actions.
U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside travels to Washington at Lincoln’s request; tonight he meets with him and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to personally review his report on what happened on the Fredericksburg battlefield.
U.S. First Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. writes to his father back home in Massachusetts from Falmouth, Virginia:
After the inspiration of a night which would have been rather a nipper in your furnace-warmed house with double glass, passed here with a couple of blankets in one of the tents which I suppose General Halleck (whom may the Lord confound) would enumerate among the “luxuries” of the Army of the Potomac. I sit down to give you the benefit of my cheerfulness. U always read now that the Advertiser religiously as well as other papers and I was glad to see that cheerful sheet didn’t regard the late attempt in the light of a reverse. It was an infamous butchery in a ridiculous attempt in which I’ve no doubt our loss doubled or tripled that of the Rebs. However that’s neither here nor there. I’ve just been reading Mr. Motley’s letters to Billy (William) Seward. What a noble manly high-toned writer he is. I always thought his letters to you were more thoroughly what a man should write than almost any I ever saw. I never I believe have shown, as you seemed to hint, any wavering in my belief int eh right of our cause. It is my disbelief in our success by arms in which I differ from you & him. I think in that matter I have better chances of judging than you and I believe I represent the conviction of the army & not the least of the most intelligent part of it.
The successes of which you spoke were to be anticipated as necessary if we entered into the struggle. But I see no farther progress. I don’t think either of you realize the unity or the determination of the South. I think you are hopeful because (excuse me) you are ignorant. But if it is true that we represent civilization in its nature, as well as slavery, diffusive & aggressive, and if civilization and progress are the better things why they will conquer in the long run, we may be sure, and will stand a better chance in their proper province – peace – than in war, the brother of slavery – brother – it is slavery’s parent, child and sustainer at once.At any rate dear Father don’t, because I say these things imply or think that I am the manner for saying them. I am, to be sure, heartily tired and half worn out body and mind by this life, but I believe I am as ready as ever to do my duty. But it is maddening to see men put in over us & motions forced by popular clamor when the army is only willing to trust its life & reputation to one man.
George Templeton Strong writes in his journal of the Fredericksburg disaster, revealing increasing public frustration and a loss of patience for their Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and their Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln:
“Our loss at Fredericksburg is crawling up to 17,000. It is generally held that Stanton forced Burnside to this movement against his earnest remonstrance and protest. Perhaps Stanton didn’t. Who knows? But there is universal bitter wrath against him throughout this community, a deeper feeling more intensely uttered than any I ever saw prevailing here. Lincoln comes in for a share of it. Unless Stanton be speedily shelved, something will burst somewhere. The general indignation is fast growing revolutionary. The most thorough Republicans, the most loyal Administration men, express it most fiercely and seem to share the personal vindictiveness of the men and women whose sons or brothers or friends have been uselessly sacrificed to the vanity of the political schemes of this meddling murderous quack. His name is likely to be a hissing, till it is forgotten, and the Honest Old Abe must take care lest his own fare no better. A year ago we laughed at the Honest Old Abe’s grotesque genial Western jocosities, but they nauseate us now. If these things go on, we shall have pressure on him to resign and make way for Hamlin. (TCWP note: Hannibal Hamlin is the Vice President)
From his headquarters in Falmouth, Virginia, Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, seems to be escaping a lot of the criticism when it comes to the loss at Fredericksburg. Given the uproar of the country, he writes a letter defending his actions and also accepting responsibility to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington, who has generally supported his plan and efforts during the forty days he has been in command:
General: I have the honor to offer the following reasons for moving the army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock sooner than was anticipated by the president, secretary of war and yourself, and for crossing at a point different from the one indicated to you at our last meeting at the president’s.
During my preparations for crossing at the pace I had first selected, I discovered that the enemy had thrown a large portion of his force down the river and elsewhere, thus weakening his defenses in front, and also thought I discovered that he did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg, and I hoped, by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place, to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and in the rear of the town, in which case we could fight him with great advantage in our favor. To do this we had to gain a height on the extreme right of the crest, which height commanded a new road lately made by the enemy for the purpose of more rapid communication along his line, which point gained, his position along the crest would have been scarcely tenable, and he could have been driven from them easily by an attack on this point in connection with a movement in the rear of the crest.
How near we came of accomplishing our object, but for the fog and unexpected and unavoidable delay in building the bridges, which gave the enemy twenty-four hours more to concentrate his forces in his strong positions, we would almost certainly have succeeded. In which case the battle would have been, in my opinion, far more decisive than if we had crossed at the place first selected. As it was we came very near success.
Failing in accomplishing the main object, we remained in order of battle two days, long enough to decide that the enemy would not come out of his strongholds to fight us with his infantry, after which we re-crossed to this side of the river, unmolested and without the loss of men or property.
As the day broke, our long lines of troops were seen marching to their different positions as if going on parade. Not the least demoralization or disorganization existed.
To the brave officers and soldiers who accomplished the feat of thus re-crossing the river in the face of the enemy, I owe everything. For the failure in attack I am responsible, as the extreme gallantry, courage and endurance shown by them was never exceeded, and would have carried the points, had it been possible.
To the families and friends of the dead I can only offer my heartfelt sympathies; but for the wounded I can offer my earnest prayer for their comfortable and final recovery.
The fact that I decided to move from Warrenton on to this line, rather against the opinion of the President, Secretary of War, and yourself, and that you left the whole movement in my hands, without giving me orders, makes me responsible.
Our killed amounts to 1152, our wounded to about 9000, and our prisoners 700, which last have been paroled and exchanged for about the same number taken by us. The wounded were all removed to this side of the river, and are being well cared for, and the dead were all buried under a flag of truce. The surgeons report a much larger proportion of slight wounds than usual, 1632 only being treated in hospitals.
I am glad to represent the army at the present time in good condition.
Thanking the government for the entire support and confidence which I have always received from them, I remain, General,
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. E. Burnside, Maj. Gen. Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Later Burnside receives a communication for him; Lincoln requests that he “Come, of course, if in your own judgment it is safe to do so.”
Newspapers are across the country are filled with print regarding Lincoln’s “Cabinet Crisis”, specifically calling for Secretary of State William Seward’s resignation. Some rumors are going around that Seward has already resigned; they are correct. Two days ago Seward quietly handed a resignation letter to Lincoln for not only himself, but also for his assistant and son Frederick Seward. Lincoln has yet to accept it or respond to it.
The “delegation of nine” Senators arrive at the White House tonight as a follow-up to their meeting with Lincoln last night. They find not only Lincoln, but the members of his Cabinet with the exception of Seward. Lincoln clearly states the concerns that the nine Senators have expressed, and one by one asks each Cabinet member if they agree with the assessment. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair disagrees with their message and offers to resign if it will put the matter to rest, but it is never accepted. One by one each Cabinet member refutes the Senators observations, their request for a partial reconstruction of the Cabinet and the removal of Seward, with the exception of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.
Chase was the one personally responsible for feeding the Senators the information they approached Lincoln with; if he agrees with the Senators, then he goes against the rest of the Cabinet and the President. If he disagrees, then it becomes obvious to the Senators that he’s a liar. Chase tries to walk a fine line by stating that while the Cabinet is often consulted in many important matters, he is sometimes not as involved or informed by Lincoln and Seward as he would like. After Lincoln’s brilliant and calm handling of the situation, and the displayed unity by the Cabinet, the Senators come to the conclusion that no changes need to be made to the Cabinet; Seward can keep his position. An embarrassed Chase goes home for the night and writes a resignation letter that he will deliver to Lincoln tomorrow. Seward will learn of the night’s events as several Cabinet members head over to his house after the meeting to let him know what transpired. To Seward it is a great relief, but he still expects that his resignation will be accepted.
Out West, C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis and General Joseph E. Johnston meets up with Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Grenada, Mississippi to discuss the defense of Vicksburg. They travel by train to Jackson where Davis reviews the troops; by nighttime they are on the train again, headed for Vicksburg where Davis can view this critical city he is determined to keep in Confederate hands.
“The country is gone unless something is done at once. We must have men in command of our armies who are anxious to crush the rebellion.” — Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler to his wife Letitia
In the Western theater, Confederate cavalry leader General Nathan Bedford Forrest leads a raid into western Tennessee, an area held by the Union. With U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s main force occupying northern Mississippi, C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg had ordered Forrest several days ago to cut the Federal supply lines in Tennessee in hopes that it will capture Grant’s attention and force him back north and out of Mississippi.
This morning Forrest advances along Lower Road outside of Lexington, Tennessee. U.S. Colonel Robert Ingersoll’s scouts had left the Confederates a clear path towards the smaller part of Ingersoll’s command by failing to destroy a key bridge the day before. The inexperienced Union troops try to swing around and stop the attack but it is too late; Forrest’s troops overwhelm the panicked Union soldiers and they capture Ingersoll along with 140 of his men. Forrest also obtains artillery pieces, horses, rifles and supplies that can now support the Confederate cause. From here, Forrest sets his sights on Jackson, Tennessee, followed by a push into Kentucky.
This evening a delegation of nine Republican Senators present a resolution to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln calling for a “partial reconstruction of the Cabinet.” Both Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward were warned two days ago that Seward is the Senators’ particular target; his conduct, and that of the Cabinet in general, having been repeatedly, though cautiously, maligned by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Chase, feeling superior to Lincoln and Seward, has been divulging private Cabinet meeting information to the nine senators, though not all of it is truthful in nature; it can, however, be considered self-serving. Chase wants Seward’s position, after which he feels he will have enough power to control what he feels is an inept President not up to the task of managing the country or the war. Lincoln listens quietly to the nine senators and simply asks them to return tomorrow evening so he has time to process their concerns.
Northern editorials also blame the Lincoln Administration for losing the war, especially after the recent defeat in Fredericksburg. The Hartford Daily Courant publishes an editorial today that echoes the sentiments of many in the Union:
Mismanagement in the War Department
There is no mistaking the fact that the people of the United States are enraged at the blundering and incompetency of the War Department. No one questions the integrity of Mr. Lincoln. Though nominally Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, he cannot directly plan campaigns, or guide the movements of our forces. The experiences of a civilian do not fit one in a month or a year to exchange peaceful pursuits for supreme leadership in war. The multiplicity of other duties, too, compels the Chief Magistrate of the nation to rely on the honesty and wisdom of his immediate advisers. The generous heart of the people attributes the errors of the Administration to the misplaced confidence of the Executive. Dependence upon subordinates is an inseparable condition of the Presidential office, and especially is this true in the midst of a terrible civil war, like that now convulsing the nation, giving rise as it does to an infinitude of new duties and new responsibilities.
From the beginning, as our readers will bear witness, we have never surrendered our columns to the adulation of imaginary heroes. We have endeavored to know but one cause—the cause so precious to every patriotic heart. The fate of party measures, the prospects of individual men, sink into utter insignificance when the life of the rising nation of the world is imperiled. Politicians will pass into oblivion. The achievements of their ambition will be forgotten, and their names will rot their bones. But this noble land will either continue entire, scattering blessings among long lines yet unborn, and holding up the beacon light of liberty for the guidance of the nations, or it will crumble into contemptible fragments. In a crisis of such magnitude every man, woman, and child, forgetful of self, should burn the incense of pure patriotism on the altar of their country.
Last spring our arms were prosperous everywhere. The people were full of hope. The rebels were discouraged and demoralized. Our legions swept triumphantly into the very heart of the Mississippi valley. We had victories almost to satiety. To fight was to win. The enemy lost heart. Despair was fast sapping the last lingering remnants of courage in the rebellious states.
So far the plans devised at headquarters were crowned with admirable results. While cheering news from the South and the West was daily giving us fresh cause for rejoicing, Gen. McClellan left Washington to finish the grand and comprehensive campaign which thus far had progressed so magnificently. Scarcely had he left when Mr. Stanton took the bits in his teeth. Intoxicated by the consciousness of power, he staggered into monstrous absurdities. He tacked rotten rags to a sound garment. He presumed to meddle with matters where he was profoundly ignorant. The army of the Potomac, which according to the original design was to have been hurled unitedly and irresistibly upon Richmond, was divided, and a portion of it left unsupported, to contend alone against the combined hosts of the Confederacy.
The campaign at Fredericksburg will bring down a storm of indignation upon the heads of the military managers at Washington, which will probably compel Mr. Lincoln to throw them overboard. General Burnside, with the gallant officers and men under him, have done nobly. When the change of base was determined on, he moved rapidly to the banks of the Rappahannock. From lack of foresight at the War Department, the means of crossing the river were not provided till Gen. Lee had been allowed sufficient time to mass his troops and render the heights beyond Fredericksburg impregnable. Had the promptitude of the War Department equaled the celerity of Gen. Burnside, the army of the Potomac ere this would have reached the precincts of Richmond.
Many thousand lives and many millions of treasure have been thrown away already, through imbecility, chicanery, and general mismanagement. Neither the patriotism nor the patience of the people can long endure such exhausting and fruitless drains. A land of unrivaled power and resources, impelled by a spirit of consecration to a noble cause, has unquestioningly placed its wealth of men and means at the disposal of the Government. Though matters have gone badly, the strength of our army is by no means materially impaired. It far outnumbers the rebel army, and in all respects is incomparably better supplied. The soldiers fight like veterans. Our generals in the field are gallant and true. What we need is intellect and honesty at headquarters. Let Mr. Lincoln repudiate all political plotters. Let him entrust the momentous interests of the hour to those who have genius to plan, and the fidelity to execute, with an eye single to the good, the honor, and the happiness of the land.
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers writes about his retreat out of Fredericksburg, as he is part of the last group to cross before the pontoon boats are disassembled, loaded on wagons and sent to storage for the next time they need to be put to use:
This morning at one o’clock our Brigade was formed in line to protect the rear of the Left Grand Division as it recrossed the Rappahannock River. We waited until all the troops had reached the Falmouth side and then our Brigade silently moved over the bridge. As soon as we reached the north side the bridge was broken up and the pontoons taken back from the river banks. We were the first to cross the river and the last ones to recross. The 10th Mass. Vols. was the last Regimental organization to cross the river, but a Bridge Guards detailed from the 2nd R.I. Vols. and under the command of Capt. Samuel B.M. Read was the last troop to recross. The Rebels were on the south bank as soon as we left it. The Army has met with a severe loss, and I fear little has been gained. The 4th, 7th and 12th R.I. Regiments were in the main battle in the rear of the city and their losses we hear are heavy. May God help the poor afflicted friends at home. I am tired, O so tired, and can hardly keep awake. We have had very little sleep since we first crossed the river. My heart is filled with sorrow for our dead, but I am grateful that my life has been spared. Mr. A.N. Barnard owns a place near where we crossed. He calls it Mansfield. His brother owns the place below which is called Smithfield. Barnard’s house was shattered by shot and shell, one shot passing through a plate glass mirror. Barnard left in great haste and left his pistols and a purse paying on a table. His books were all scattered about the yard and fine china was used by the men to hold their pork. He has already dug a cellar and intended to build a new house soon. The bricks were piled up in his yard and served as a cover for Rebel skirmishers who fired upon us as we crossed the bridge. We captured one officer and several Rebel soldiers from behind his bricks.
In Washington it is politics as usual, as Congress quickly tries to place blame on anyone they can for the disastrous loss at Fredericksburg. A caucus of Republican Senators vote 13-11 in support of a resolution calling for the resignation of Secretary of State William Seward. Though Seward initially had a great dislike for the man who bested him for for the Republican candidate for President back in 1860, President Abraham Lincoln and Seward have become close personal friends. Private conferences between the two are almost a daily occurrence, and the way Seward comes & goes from the White House is seen with an easy familiarity of a household intimate. It is not at all uncommon for Lincoln to walk over to the State Department or Seward’s house (just down the street from the White House), day or night, with or without a private secretary carrying papers.
This close relationship has made many Republicans uncomfortable and Seward has increasingly become the target of jealousy and enmity from other members of the Cabinet – especially from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase – and many members of Congress. Seward is often blamed for any bad decision made by the President or any military reverse in the field, even if no evidence supports their claims. They can’t get rid of a sitting President, but they feel they can get rid of a Cabinet member even though historically Congress has stayed out of Cabinet affairs.
After Lincoln learns of the caucus meeting, he meets with his old friend Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning about the situation, asking him what the men wanted. Browning replies “I hardly know Mr. President, but they are exceedingly violent towards the administration, and what we did yesterday was the gentlest thing that could be done. We had to do that or worse.”
Lincoln responds that “They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them.”
Senator Browning replies that “Some of them do wish to get rid of you, but the fortunes of the Country are bound up with your fortunes, and you stand firmly at your post and hold the helm with a steady hand – To relinquish it now would bring upon us certain and inevitable ruin.”
“We are now on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope,” states Lincoln.
Browning answers “Be firm and we will yet save the Country. Do not be drive from your post. You ought to have crushed the ultra, impracticable men last summer. You could then have done it, and escaped these troubles. But we will not talk of the past. Let us be hopeful and take care of the future Mr. Seward appears now to be the especial object of their hostility. Still I believe he has managed our foreign affairs as any one could have done. Yet they are very bitter upon him, and some of them very bitter upon you.”
The President, filled with the stress of the last few days, ends the conversation asking “Why will men believe a lie, an absurd lie, that could not impose upon a child, and cling to it and repeat it in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. Since I heard last of the proceedings of the caucus I have been more distressed than by any event of my life.”
Confederate President Jefferson Davis is dealing with his own issues. He took a train west to Tennessee to meet with his Western Commanding General Joseph E. Johnston to discuss strategy and to review troop positions and conditions. Davis and Johnston are in constant disagreement; Johnston believes that getting full control back of Tennessee is key, while Davis believes that the Mississippi River is the only thing that matters.
It’s a confusing situation as there are three Confederate armies in the West: The Army of the Tennessee led by General Braxton Bragg (30,000 troops), the Trans-Mississippi Army led by Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes (under 10,000 troops), and the Army of the Mississippi under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton who is in charge of protecting Vicksburg (12,000 troops) and the state of Mississippi (21,000 troops). While Holmes and Pemberton are relatively close to each other, Bragg is far removed. To make matters more complex, Johnston has no control over anything west of the Mississippi River, which means he has no authority over Holmes and his men, who are currently in western Arkansas, and cannot order them to support Pemberton or Bragg without the orders coming directly from Richmond.
Instead of moving Holmes men to support Pemberton, Davis repeatedly tells Johnston to move men from Bragg’s army to enforce Pemberton. Johnston thinks this is absurd and doesn’t give the order, so Davis does it for him. Bragg agrees with Johnston that this is an incorrect move, but they are helpless against the President’s orders. Bragg sends 9,000 of his men to join Pemberton in an effort to protect Vicksburg from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army of 60,000, not including his 30,000 U.S. troops in nearby Memphis under Major General William T. Sherman and John McClernand. Even with the additional troops, Pemberton’s forces are still half of what Grant has at his disposal.
Davis and Johnston will now make their way towards Vicksburg to meet with Pemberton; the trip will take these two men who can’t stand each other three long days to get there.
U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster posts his infantry along the riverbank along with several batteries of artillery on the hill overlooking Whitehall, North Carolina. As they begin their attack against the Confederates on the other side of the river, Foster’s troops suffer heavy casualties from their own artillery when projectiles fall short of their intended targets. A large number of sawlogs along the riverbank protect the Confederates as well as a gunboat that is being constructed; the boat receives very little damage.
At midnight, Union engineers quietly haul 189 wagons of pontoon bridges down to the Rappahannock River and begin putting the pieces together. At 5am, the engineers hear the order “Fire!” come across the river and C.S.A. General William Barksdale’s brigade begins attacking the engineers. Work on the bridges to the south of the city proceeds rapidly, but the work on the bridges at the city comes to a halt. At 10am, U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside orders a massive barrage on the city to stop the sniping on his engineers, but the barrage fails. Finally, three Union regiments cross the river using the pontoons as boats and force Barksdale’s men back. As the day ends, Oliver Howard’s division enters the city in force and Barksdale withdraws. Burnside now occupies the city of Fredericksburg that he has been staring at across the river for several weeks.
U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds is moving the rest of Major General William Franklin’s Left Grand Division across the bridges three miles south of the city. Reynolds approaches the owner of a nearby plantation home, owned by Mr. Barnard, who refuses to leave the premises so the Union can use his home for their operations. It is unclear what Reynolds says to Barnard – he is usually a man of few words – but as Franklin arrives he sees Barnard escorted by two soldiers towards the pontoon bridge. Franklin sets up his headquarters at the Barnard home, which overlooks the river and is less than a mile south of the bridges.
Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers leave their camp at Falmouth in darkness; his men will cross the bridges south of the city:
We left our camp about two o’clock in the morning and just at daylight reached the banks of the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg. The river is narrow and for about five hundred years back the ground is nearly of a level with the river. Back of this plain are high bluffs and here we had nearly two hundred cannon in position. These cannon were constantly firing and the roar was tremendous. The air was filled with shot and shell flying over our heads and into Fredericksburg. The Rebels did not often reply but would at times land a shot over onto our side. Just at sunset the 2nd R.I. was ordered to cross the bridge at a place now called Franklin’s crossing. It is opposite a plantation owned by A.N. Barnard and is about three miles below the city. Companies “B”, “I” and “K” first charged across the pontoon bridges with arms at a trail while the balance of the Regiment followed with loaded guns. As we reached the other side of the river the three companies rushed up the bank and deployed as skirmishers. The Regiment followed and as we reached the high ground received a volley that wounded two of our men. The Rebels retreated and we followed for a short distance. Night now came and as the remainder of our Brigade crossed the bridge they gave “Three cheers for the Regiment first over.” Our entire Regiment was deployed across the plain in a semicircle from river to river and remained through the night. General Devens said to us: “Boys, you have had a hard time, but Rhode Island did well.” The Army was looking on to see our crossing and we felt that we must do well.
In the Western theater, C.S.A. Cavalry officer Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men leave Columbia, Tennessee with the main goal to disrupt U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s line of communication as his men march south into Mississippi towards Vicksburg. If Forrest can leave Grant in the dark, he will have no choice but to stop the forward movement and retreat back to a point where he has communication capabilities.
U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster begins what has been nicknamed the “Goldsboro Expedition”, in which Foster and his men will push into North Carolina in an attempt to sever railroad supply lines to Virginia. They start their march from the port city of New Bern, North Carolina and move west.
The Richmond Dispatch newspaper writes a column called “Competition of negro with White Labor”, giving reasons why whites shouldn’t worry about the loss of jobs as black people will not work unless forced to:
In his late miserable Message Lincoln declares that the emancipation of negroes will not increase the supply of labor so as to interfere with the white labor of the North. Probably, the only truth he has ever uttered is contained in that declaration.–The idea of freedom entertained by “American citizens of African descent” is simply freedom from labor of any kind. So far from intending to compete with the white laborers of the North, they expect to live in ease and luxury at Mr. Lincoln’s national table, to be received on terms of entire social equality by himself, Seward, Chase & Co, and to intermarry, if it should be agreeable to them, with their female kith and kin. Freedom to work or starve is a view of liberty that they have never entertained.
That, for the present generation, an influx of free negroes into the North would seriously impair the value of white labor, may be very true, but Mr. Lincoln is speaking of the permanent results. He knows, because all experience proves it, that the free negro soon becomes the victim of debauchery and laziness, and disappears from the face of the earth. It is with Satanic hardness of heart that Lincoln contemplates the fate of a race whose welfare he professes to desire. So much for the Negro in the North. But, in the South, we are told the negro will continue to labor, his master paying him wages, till new homes can be found for them in “more genial climes.”
No man knows better than Abraham Lincoln; native of Kentucky; and familiar with the negro character, that the freed negro, as a general rule, will not work even for wages, a fact which has found striking illustrations in both Jamsiea and St. Domingo. The latter country, once the richest island of the world, has become, by successful insurrection, a wilderness; and the former, with the advantages of gradual emancipation, and the presence of white proprietors of estates, is little better. If Mr. Lincoln will consult the master of any Yankee steamer which has ever coated at a Jamaica port, he may inform him that the coal is brought on board by negro women, the men lolling in the shade under the trees, and at night taking from their wives the wages of the day. It is to the condition of St. Domingo and Jamaica that Mr. Lincoln would reduce the South. We are not so idiotic as to imagine that such a prospect would at all distress him on account of the ruin it would bring to Southern proprietors, but, pray, what would become of that dear Union; that precious, heavenly, god like Union, which he is seeking to preserve by letting all the devils out of the infernal pit and turning the earth into a hell? He figures cut the colossal cost of emancipation and the means of paying it, and concludes that the cost would be cheap to save so valuable a commodity as the Union. But what is it that makes the Union valuable except the staples cultivated by negro labor, and if the labor is abolished and transported to other climes, what becomes of the staples, and of the commerce, manufactures and revenue derived from them? White labor cannot be employed in the cultivation of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, and therefore the “glorious Union,” would be beggared and rendered worthless by the success of Lincoln’s pet scheme for its preservation — cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg.
And yet, in a message composed of nothing but –catch arguments”–to borrow a phrase from the poor, Illiterate creature — he has the hypocrisy to snivel through his Puritanical nose, “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”
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.