Samuel Cooper

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150 Years Ago: Thursday, November 27, 1862

Lewis Hayden

Lewis Hayden

In Boston, Massachusetts, Governor John Andrew joins a self-emancipated black man, Lewis Hayden, at his Beacon Hill home. Hayden had escaped a life of slavery in Kentucky and had settled in Boston where he runs a used clothing store and is an abolitionist leader. Before the Civil War, he used his residence as a safe house as part of the Underground Railroad. Today they share a meal and discuss how to persuade U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to allow black men to serve in the military. This topic has often been discussed politically in Washington City, but has yet to receive support. Hayden has friends willing to fight and feels it is important for former slaves to be allowed to fight for the freedom of others still in bondage. Andrew promises Hayden that he will seek permission to form one regiment of black soldiers, but after Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, just a little more than a month away.

Over the years, Thanksgiving is slowly becoming an established holiday, though the date varies depending on what state one lives in. Today New York Governor George Opdyke’s proclamation is produced in the New York Times, declaring today as a day of public Thanksgiving and Praise.

On the steamer Baltimore near Aquia Creek, Lincoln meets with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, General Ambrose Burnside. Lincoln feels Burnside is “stuck” and has studied the situation he now faces. Burnside somewhat agrees; with the flooded Rappahannock River he sees no good place to cross his troops and Confederate General Robert E. Lee has over 40,000 men on the heights above Fredericksburg waiting for them and watching their every move. Burnside also feels a great deal of pressure from General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, who is constantly telegraphing him that he needs to attack now.

Lincoln tells Burnside that he is the President and has the ultimate authority over Halleck, and is personally not opposed to waiting until the correct pieces are in place that would bring them the most likely success for a victory. He proposes that Burnside put additional corps at Port Royal, 20 miles southeast downriver. He also suggests to put a similar force of new troops south on the north bank of the Pamunkey River (east of Richmond), which would be backed by gunboats. These two additional forces could converge at or behind Fredericksburg while Burnside attacks Lee head-on. In Lincoln’s view, this will prevent Lee from falling back to Richmond and will force him to abandon his current lines at Fredericksburg. He knows this will take time and is willing to wait; he just wants to see movement and action, something that he often longed for in his previous General, George McClellan.

After discussing the plan, Burnside accompanies Lincoln back to Washington City. Lincoln telegraphs Halleck, who was not only unaware of the President’s visit with Burnside but also Lincoln’s proposed plan, so the communication is very unexpected. From Lincoln, Halleck reads of his plan with the closing comment that “I think the plan promises the best results, with the least hazard, of any now conceivable.” From Burnside comes a very different reaction; he flatly disagrees with Lincoln’s plan, fearing it will take too long to deploy the other columns and will take the campaign too far into the Winter months. Halleck agrees with Burnside and sticks with the message he’s been sending for days now: Attack as soon as possible.

Out West, Major General Ulysses S. Grant has his men on the move in northern Mississippi. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman has moved his troops from Memphis and comprises Grant’s right wing; Major General James Birdseye McPherson is commanding the center, and Major General Charles Smith Hamilton is leading the left wing after spending the last couple of months in Corinth, Mississippi. Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton is deeply worried by this show of force and sends a telegram to Adjutant Inspector General Samuel Cooper:

The enemy is advancing in force; crossed a considerable force in Helena; is also moving down the river in boats. I am told General Holmes objects to sending 10,000 men to Vicksburg; it is essential to its safety. I hope the order will be reiterated at once. I have no doubt we shall soon be attacked by a superior force. A strong demonstration also against Port Hudson.

150 Years Ago: Sunday, February 2, 1862

Working with gunboats under Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, early this morning Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant begins his advance towards Fort Henry, Tennessee with almost a dozen steamers, 15,000 troops and necessary supplies.

Less than five miles east of Manassas in Centreville, Virginia, General Joseph E. Johnston writes to General Samuel Cooper, the Adjutant General and Inspector General, on his concerns regarding lack of arms and absent leaders. One of his regiments had twenty-three men recently return from the hospital and all are without arms. On January 27, the Confederate Congress had approved recruitment for up to 125 companies (35-40 men in each) to serve for twelve months; Johnston wonders how they are to provide arms to these new recruits if they can’t even provide ones for the men currently enlisted? He also reminds Cooper that he has a division and five brigades that are without their generals, along with a great number of colonels and other field-officers who are sick or injured. With the absence of leadership being strongly felt, he suggests that Colonel A.P. Hill and five others are more than qualified to be promoted to brigadier-generals.

At the northern tip of Virginia lies the city of Winchester, where General Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson attends services at Kent Street Presbyterian Church with his wife Anna and the Graham family, with whom they were staying with for the winter. On this stormy day, Jackson is calm and introspective, and spends much of his time praying for guidance. Three days ago Jackson had resigned from the Confederate Army, writing Secretary of War J.P. Benjamin:

“With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field; and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington; as has been done in the case of other Professors. Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army.”

Benjamin has not yet responded to Jackson’s request. But word of the letter has spread across the state, stunning soldiers and citizens. No one can even begin to imagine fighting a war against the Yankees without their Stonewall.

Poet and abolitionist Ralph Waldo Emerson is introduced to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Two days ago Emerson gave a public lecture at the Smithsonian on the topic of slavery, stating “The South calls slavery an institution… I call it destitution. Emancipation is the demand of civilization.” He had voted for Lincoln in 1860, but was frustrated that Lincoln was more interested in preserving the Union than eliminating the institution of slavery. Lincoln is familiar with Emerson’s work and had even seen him lecture in the past. Whatever is said between the two of them this day does soften Emerson’s opinion of Lincoln.

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