Simon Cameron

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50 Facts About William Tecumseh Sherman

Today on Twitter, the hashtag #50factsaboutme is a popular one. One of my newer projects still in development, which I call “Sherman Kitty,” will be geared towards children yet also will be entertaining for adults. I thought that it would be fun to list 50 facts about Sherman through the @GenShermanKitty Twitter account. And, since it’s relevant to the Civil War, I thought I would post them here as well.

William Tecumseh Sherman is a very unique individual with a lot of different complexities. He has been simplified in history books; he helped General Ulysses S. Grant win victory in the North, and is a villain in the South. Some of the things said about him include: He burned Atlanta to the ground; he raided homes & stole everything from the Southerners they came across; he was crazy. He is also called “The Father of Total War.”

As it turns out, it’s not that simple. And while you may disagree with some of his tactics & beliefs, I have personally found him to be so wonderfully complex & intelligent that he has become one of my favorite people in history to talk – and learn more – about. So here are 50 facts about Sherman:

1. He was born in Lancaster, Ohio, the 6th of 11 children.

2. His father, Charles, served on the Ohio Supreme Court until his unexpected death in 1829; Sherman was just 9 years old.

3. Original birth name was Tecumseh Sherman. His father had a great respect for the Shawnee Chief, who actually fought against the Americans with the British in the War of 1812, and died in battle in 1813. But he had earned a great reputation from both sides, for his “courage, fortitude, ambition, generosity, humanity, eloquence, military skill, leadership…above all, patriotism and a love of liberty.” As for Sherman, his nickname throughout his life was “Cump.”

4. His mom, Mary Hoyt Sherman, couldn’t support the 11 children. A close family friend, Thomas Ewing, took Cump into his home just a few doors over from Cump’s family home. Ewing, at the time, was a leading member of the Ohio Bar Association.

5. The reason Cump was chosen was because Ewing wanted the “smartest boy.” After some discussion between Mary & her oldest female child, Mary Elizabeth, it was decided that “Cump” was the best choice. At the time the decision was made, Cump was playing in a nearby sandbox.

6. W.T. Sherman was baptized & given the Christian name “William” by Ewing’s very religious wife Maria. She was shocked that the boy had not been baptized and remedied it immediately after he became a part of their family. She also felt “Tecumseh” was not an appropriate name, hence how he earned “William” as his new first name. Those that were close to him, however, would forever call him “Cump.”

7. He was appointed to West Point at age 16 by his unofficial adopted father, Ewing, who at this point is a U.S. Senator for the state of Ohio.

8. At West Point, William excelled academically, but could have cared less about their demerit system. He would write in his memoirs that “At the Academy I was not considered a good soldier, for at no time was I selected for any office, but remained a private throughout the whole four years. Then, as now, neatness in dress and form, with a strict conformity to the rules, were the qualifications required for office, and I suppose I was found not to excel in any of these. In studies I always held a respectable reputation with the professors, and generally ranked among the best, especially in drawing, chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy. My average demerits, per annum, were about one hundred and fifty.” Fellow cadet, Ohioan (& later fellow Civil War General) William Rosecrans would say that Sherman was “one of the brightest and most popular fellows” and “a bright-eyed, red-headed fellow, who was always prepared for a lark of any kind.

9. He spent 4 years at West Point & graduated in 1840, 6th out of a class of 40. Sherman also would state in his memoirs that his demerits cost him his ranking; without them, he would have placed 4th.

10. After West Point, he was assigned to the 3rd U.S. Artillery & stationed in Florida. There, he fought in the 2nd Seminole War, which was against the Seminole Tribe. He served well but nothing happened that propelled him to a larger role or fame.

11. While many of Sherman’s fellow military generals during the Civil War received great experience while fighting in the Mexican-American War, Sherman was instead stationed in California at the time. He greatly disliked being stationed so far away from the action, but performed his duties well.

12. Sherman fell in love with one of the Ewing daughters, Ellen. He was 23, and she was 19, when he took a four month leave of absence so he could spend time with her & officially propose. They became engaged Fall 1843.

13. William & Ellen had to wait years before they could marry. Sherman’s unofficial foster father, Thomas Ewing, had gotten him in at West Point. However, he had hoped Sherman could join the Corp of Engineers. Since Sherman was not able to do so, Thomas opposed his daughter becoming a “soldier’s wife.” He was very close to Ellen, and Ellen was very attached to her parents. She did not want to travel with Sherman around the country, going wherever he was stationed, though she did love him. But given that he was sent to California, it further delayed a marriage. Ellen would live in Washington City (DC) at the time, where her father continued to have roles in politics.

14. It wasn’t until May 1, 1850 that William & Ellen married. Sherman had just received a promotion to Captain, and that seemed to satisfy Thomas enough to allow the marriage.

15. They married in Washington at the Ewing’s home – the Blair House – which was across the street from the White House. It was a highly social affair. At the time, Thomas was serving President Zachary Taylor as Secretary of the Interior. Not only did the President attend the wedding & reception, but it also included Senators Daniel Webster & Henry Clay.

16. After the wedding, Sherman served as Captain of the Subsistence Departments in St. Louis, Missouri & New Orleans, Louisiana. He resigned in 1853. During that time they had their first of eight children, Maria & Mary.

17. He had spent 13 years in the military, serving with honor but no real distinction. He had seen very little combat, unlike many of his former West Point classmates. Having a family to support, he turned to business.

18. A friend, Major Henry Turner, offers Sherman a job in San Francisco, California, where he would be responsible for opening a branch bank of Lucas & Symonds. He accepts the position.

19. While Sherman does a good job of running the bank in San Francisco & earns a reputation of being very honest, a severe economic downturn will force the bank to close in 1857.

20. Sherman heads to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he joins with brother-in-laws Thomas & Hugh Ewing. He attempts to become a lawyer.

21. Sherman spends less than two years trying to make a go of law, but is no good at it. He is offered a Superintendent position at the Louisiana Military Academy in 1859, which he accepts.

22. Sherman is not anti-slavery & sympathizes with the South. However, he is very against the idea of secession. He explains to a friend of his, a professor in Virginia, what he predicts would become of the South if they are to secede:

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”

23. Sherman is in Louisiana when it secedes from the Union in January 1861. He can see that the Southern people are very serious & willing to go to war. It’s a perspective many in the North will not fully understand for months to come.

24. William resigns his post in Louisiana, much to his displeasure. He enjoyed the people & the students there, but could not support an institution that would supply troops against the United States government. He would head to Washington City at the request of his brother John, now a U.S. Senator from Ohio.

25. John arranges a time for his brother to meet with newly elected President Lincoln. At this time John is hoping his brother will make a push to become a high ranking officer in the military effort that is likely to come together to bring the Southern rebellion to an end.

26. William meets with President Lincoln at the White House shortly after he has been sworn into office in March 1861. At first, the President wraps up a meeting with a few of his department heads. William’s brother John introduces him, saying “Mr. President, this is my brother, Colonel Sherman, who is just up from Louisiana, he may give you some information you want.” “Ah!” said the President, “How are they getting along down there?

William is shocked, and abruptly answers “They think they are getting along swimmingly. They are preparing for war.

Oh well, I guess we’ll manage to keep house” responds the President.

William found himself with nothing to say. His brother & the President exchanged a few quick words, and then the two Sherman brothers leave. Sherman would write in his memoirs that he was sadly disappointed, and that he broke out in anger to John, “damning the politicians generally, saying ‘You have got things in a hell of a fix, and you may get them out as best you can.‘”

27. William feels there is no use for him in Washington after his brief discussion with President Lincoln. He heads to St. Louis to take a position as President of a streetcar company. He signs a contract stating it is a position he will hold for one year.

28. On April 6, 1861, Sherman was offered the Chief clerkship of the War Department with a promise to be made Assistant Secretary of War when Congress came back into session. Sherman declined, wishing the “Administration all success in its almost impossible task of governing this distracted and anarchical people.

29. Cump witnesses the St. Louis riot on May 10, 1861, along with his son William (Willy), between the U.S. militia and Confederate supporters backed by the Missouri governor Claiborne Jackson. He will write an account to his brother John.

30. Sherman will correspond with his now father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, who is still in Washington. Ewing asks what Sherman wants; Sherman says he will come back if made Colonel in the U.S. Regular Army (not the volunteer army that President Lincoln had formed to combat the Southern rebellion).

31. Thomas Ewing will meet with U.S. General Winfield Scott & other political allies to get Sherman what he has requested. Eventually Ewing has a one-on-one meeting with President Lincoln. It results in William being made Colonel in the U.S. Army. He resigns his President position in St. Louis with the streetcar company. He hates backing out of obligations, but at this point Missouri is still up for grabs as to whether it will be kept under U.S. control or if it will officially become a part of the Confederate States of America.

32. Sherman writes to his brother John on June 3, 1861: “I still think it is to be a long war – very long – much longer than any Politician thinks.” This is important & unique, as most people – on both sides – were saying it was going to be a “90 day war.”

33. Colonel William T. Sherman led his men at the Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. It was considered the first major battle of what would be called the Civil War. The Union originally had the advantage, but the Confederates rallied and were claimed the victors. It was a startling realization to both sides; the North realized that the South had the energy & enthusiasm needed to make this beyond just a “one battle & done” scenario. At the same time, the South realized that even though many of the Union men were from a more “industrialized” part of the country, they still put up enough of a fight where a total victory of independence wasn’t going to be easy. This would be no 90-day war.

34. William was promoted to Brigadier General, back dated to May 17, 1861, after his actions at Manassas were thought to be impressive. Sherman was much harder on himself & didn’t think he had been any good. He was sent to Kentucky to serve under General Robert Anderson, who was there overseeing the Department of the Cumberland.

35. U.S. General Robert Anderson had been the hero of Fort Sumter. However, he was older in years, and the organization of troops & defenses within the Department of the Cumberland territory was too much for him. Shortly after Sherman arrives, Anderson steps down & Sherman is put in command. Sherman is upset. He had asked several months before to never be the one in charge; he always wanted someone over him. This move, he felt, went against that promise made to him by President Lincoln.

36. Sherman begins to request hundreds of thousands of troops to defend the region, which the U.S. cannot supply. Though the Confederate threat is strong, he makes it out to be much worse than it really is. Newspapers begin to report that Sherman is crazy. There is a history of insanity on his mom’s side, which further propels gossip. A local Cincinnati newspaper called the Cincinnati Commercial calls him “insane.”

37. Secretary of War Simon Cameron visits Sherman in October 1861. At that time he does not believe Sherman is fit to oversee that command. Instead of being completely relieved of duty, General Henry Halleck who is stationed in St. Louis has Sherman transferred under him. However, by December 1861 Halleck puts Sherman on leave, feeling he is unfit for duty at that time.

38. Sherman returns to his boyhood home of Lancaster, Ohio. His wife & children are there with him. He is severely depressed & without a command. He feels like a failure & contemplates suicide.

39. William’s wife Ellen writes his brother John & also President Lincoln in an effort to help her husband. She asks for their help in restoring him to command. She also asks John to reach out to William & help him through what was likely a nervous breakdown, though it was never officially classified as such.

40. William is restored to duty by mid-December under Halleck in St. Louis. The army is restructured & he now falls under the Department of the Missouri. He starts with receiving admin duties, as well as “rear-duties” that keep him & any men he commands at the back instead of the front of the lines.

41. In February 1862, while U.S. Grant makes a push to take Fort Henry & Fort Donelson in Tennessee, it’s Sherman who is back helping him with troops, supplies, etc. Every time troops arrive, they come to Grant with a message of support from Sherman. Even though Sherman is higher in rank (and older), he tells Grant he will help in any way he can, and if needed he can help out on the field & will gladly follow his orders & surrender his authority. Sherman technically didn’t have the right to make such an offer, but Grant was still very impressed by it. Grant, up until this point, had dealt with so many people fighting for the command spotlight that he thought it was very noble. He had never met Sherman, but he liked the man. One of Sherman’s messages: “Command me in any way.” The interaction was a start of a friendship & bond that would last throughout the Civil War & beyond (though not without a few misunderstandings along the way).

42. Sherman joins Grant in the field & once again is put in command of men, though it’s under Grant’s leadership. Sherman’s first major assignment is at Shiloh, Tennessee. While waiting for reinforcements & Grant to arrive – where the plan is to then head to Corinth, Mississippi, a key railroad depot for the South – Sherman & his men are taken by surprise by Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, who attacks them at camp while many men are asleep or just making breakfast. Sherman had been receiving reports of Confederates in the area for days, but he dismissed them as he thought they were just patrols or scouts. The incident in Kentucky a few months prior where he thought the threat was worse than it was likely made him more cautious. Unfortunately it left the Union army completely unprepared.

43. Though Sherman is caught of guard, his men put up a fight. Though the Confederates almost entirely take their camps on the first day of battle, that night Grant arrives. Sherman, who has been shot in the hand & had three horses shot from under him that day, goes to find Grant to tell him they need to retreat. He finds Grant under a tree by the river. It’s pouring rain, cold, but there sits Grant against the tree, with his army brimmed hat pulled down slightly to shield his face, smoking a cigar. Instead of giving him the recommendation he had prepared in his mind, Sherman instead says “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant takes a puff of his cigar and responds “Yup. Lick ’em tomorrow though.” Sherman decides against saying anything about a retreat. The next day U.S. troop reinforcements that arrive in the night help push the Confederates back to where they started, and by the end of the day the victory is the Union’s. One thing that also helped the Union was that the key Confederate commander who had planned the attack, C.S.A. General Albert Sidney Johnston, was shot in the leg the first afternoon of battle. He had an injury from the Mexican-American War that left him with no feeling in that leg, so he didn’t realize he was shot until blood was later pouring out of his boot & his officers found him reeling on his horse. He died, leaving C.S.A. General P.G.T. Beauregard in charge. Beauregard had won the Battle of Fort Sumter the previous year, but he did not win on that day as he had not been involved in Johnston’s plans. The end of the second day, the Confederates retreated from the field.

43. Shiloh was a bloodbath. Up until that point, casualties had not been as horrific as what they were these two days of battle. While the Union celebrated victory, they were shocked when the numbers came in to see what the price of that victory had cost them: 13,000 Union & 10,600 Confederate casualties (dead, wounded, missing). It was called “Bloody Shiloh.” But much of the criticism fell on Grant, not Sherman. Sherman was promoted to Major General of Volunteers as of May 1, 1862.

44. Questions arose as to why Grant was not on the field that first day at Shiloh, and accusations started that Grant was a drunk & that is why he was unprepared. General Halleck started to take over Grant’s men, essentially leaving him without a command. One day in May 1862, Sherman came across Grant at his tent & noticed his stuff packed. Grant said he was going home on leave, but Sherman could tell that Grant wasn’t planning on coming back. Sherman begged him to stay, telling him to at least not make a decision until saying goodbye to him. Sherman told Grant that “Before the battle of Shiloh, I was cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of ‘crazy’, but that single battle gave me new life, and I’m now in high feather.” He told Grant that, if he remained in the army, “some happy accident might restore you to favor and your true place.” Sherman’s words worked: Grant stayed in the Army. His words were also correct, as Halleck was sent to Washington in July 1862 & Grant was given his old command back.

45. In mid-1862, Sherman was made military governor of the now-Union occupied Memphis, Tennessee.

46. From Memphis, Sherman assisted Grant in taking Vickburg, Mississippi. On several occasions Sherman led his men down to Vicksburg, often having to abort plans; the city was practically a fortress with water almost completely surrounding it. However, to have Vicksburg meant that the Union would once again have full control of the Mississippi River. It also would cut the Confederacy in two. Vicksburg finally fell on July 4, 1863. Out East, the Union was celebrating at the same time their victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

47. When Grant is promoted to General of all Union forces & is moved East to fight C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee & his Army of Virginia, Sherman is given command of forces in the West. This was a far cry from the individual who never wanted to be in charge & always wanted a superior right above him. Though Grant was still his superior, it was still William’s responsibility for troop movements, battles, etc.

48. Sherman & Grant would meet at the Burnet House in Cincinnati, Ohio, just blocks from the Ohio River. It was also within a mile of where Grant’s parents lived in Covington, Kentucky, and not too far from where Sherman was stationed in 1861 when he came to Kentucky. It was there that they planned strategy for how they would win the war for the Union. Grant would take Lee; Sherman would take C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston.

49. Sherman would send a telegram to the White House on September 22, 1864, stating “Atlanta is ours & fairly won.” He would order his men to burn factories, military & government buildings, though some homes & stores were also burned. While many say that Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground, in reality about 30% of the city was burned.

50. He had to work hard to convince President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton & even Grant himself that his next move should be a “March to the Sea.” He told Grant he could “make Georgia howl.” His plan was reluctantly approved. He would be out of communication range from November 15 through December 21, 1864. Sherman & his 62,000 troops basically made two columns/paths and lived off the land during their march. Sherman’s orders were to only take what they needed to survive. While they had a few skirmishes along the way, for the most part there was no fight from the Confederacy, as most of the troops were kept with Lee in Virginia or with General John Bell Hood in Tennessee.

So those bring us to 50. Think we are through? Well, we are for today. But stay tuned for Part 2 in the near future!

If you are ever in the Lancaster, Ohio area, the Sherman House is a great place to visit to learn more!

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: Tuesday, May 21, 1861

In St. Louis, Missouri, General William S. Harney is unaware of the political maneuvering occurring in Washington City to get him removed from his position. Today Harney meets with Missouri General Sterling Price to discuss peace. Missouri is a border state with a population very split between Northern and Southern sympathies. The Missouri governor has been communicating with the Confederate government in an attempt to obtain weapons and men to help defeat the strong Union forces that have managed to keep control of the state. Price agrees to utilize the state police to maintain the peace, while Harney agrees to not to make any military movements that might cause unnecessary violence.

In Montgomery, Alabama, Confederate President Jefferson Davis signs a bill prohibiting Southerners to pay Northern merchants the money that is owed to them, instead diverting the money to the Confederate treasury. The Confederate Congress adjourns; they will meet in Richmond on July 21.

U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron writes a demanding letter to acting Surgeon General Robert Wood expressing his dissatisfaction with the poor sanitary conditions of the military camps in Washington. Cameron wants an immediate inspection and removal of “any evils found to exist.” Wood takes offense to this, stating that he has made frequent visits and directed medical officers to take every precaution necessary to prevent disease.

U.S. Secretary of State William Seward gives a draft dispatch to Lincoln for his review. Seward has been very upset at the foreign response regarding Southern secession, as even simple acknowledgements of the Confederate government gives the South legitimacy. Seward had written a very detailed dispatch to send to new U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, on how he should handle the situation. It is not only a strong and unwavering stance, but if carried out it has the potential to completely alienate Britain and push them to fully support the Confederacy and into a potential war with the U.S. While in previous months Seward had been the one to support Lincoln in his writing efforts by offering suggestions that directly or indirectly improve important speeches and proclamations, today Lincoln returns the favor. Lincoln’s edits not only strengthen the U.S. foreign position, but the changes likely divert a war with Britain.

After spending ten days in Philadelphia, New York and Cambridge, Mary Lincoln and her entourage head back to Washington City. Over the next several days and weeks, bills will arrive to the General Accounting Office detailing the various expenditures Mary made to help refurbish the executive mansion; today a bill arrives for $116.50 for carpeting.

150 Years Ago: Monday, May 20, 1861

While Virginia and Tennessee still need a vote by their citizens to approve of secession, the state of North Carolina now adds itself to the list of states that have left the Union. While initially the state remained pro-Union even after the election of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the battle of Fort Sumter, Lincoln’s proclamation for volunteer troops and the blockade of the southern coastline was too much for the leadership of North Carolina to accept. A state convention had been authorized by the legislature to meet today in Raleigh to discuss the topic of secession. The delegates vote for the Ordinance of Secession; they will align themselves with the Confederate States of America.
 
 

U.S. as of May 20, 1861 (Source: TCWP)


Walker Brothers (Source: Library of Congress)

After the vote, many North Carolinian’s rushed to volunteer for the Confederate army. Two brothers (shown here, right), Henry J. (age 24, teacher) and Levi Jasper Walker (age 19) leave behind their parents and three younger siblings. They travel to Mecklenburg County to enlist in Company B, 13th North Carolina Infantry as Privates. 

The Union had lost another state to the Southern cause, but there was some good news today: Kentucky declares its neutrality. The state forbids any movement of troops by either side on their soil. Both sides, at least for now, will respect Kentucky in the hope that the citizens will eventually choose their side. While the state has not chosen a side, many citizens will choose to fight for the Union or Southern independence.

In Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederate Congress officially votes to move the Confederate capital to Richmond, Virginia. The citizens of Virginia must vote in three days to approve secession; the hope is that this move will make Virginians feel acknowledged in its history and significance to the country. Not all of the Confederate states were for the move: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas were against it. 

Southern aristocrat Mary Chesnut eats lunch with Confederate First Lady Varina Davis. The food is up to her standards, unlike a meal she had yesterday at her hotel where she was “forced to dine on cold asparagus and blackberries, so repulsive in aspect was the other food they sent me.” During the lunch they discuss the move of the capital to Richmond, which Mary’s husband strongly opposes as Montgomery is a more central location within the Confederacy. Mary sees it differently; she feels that Richmond will provide more comfortable hotels and will be cooler in the summer.  

In Chicago, Illinois, former Senator Stephen Douglas has been battling typhoid fever for the last few weeks. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that while at one point his condition was considered “dangerous” he is now on the mend. Also in Illinois, Governor Yates receives notification from U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron to muster troops into service for three years based on the quota that was provided earlier in the month. 

U.S. Marshals raid telegraph offices throughout the northern states in an effort to obtain evidence of traitorous acts to assist the South. The government is able to obtain a large amount of important information; over 300,000 telegraph transmissions were seized.

The Quartermaster at Staunton, Virginia, Michael Harman, writes Virginia Governor Letcher suggesting an expedition to the northwest corner of the state. Harman has purchased uniforms for his men and suggests using the militia to reinforce troops in western Virginia where Union sentiment is very high.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, May 16, 1861

Tennessee legislators had voted to secede on May 6; today the state is officially admitted into the Confederate States of America. A decision is also made to recruit another 400,000 volunteers for the military effort.

The Confederate Congress also makes a crucial decision to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. They are hoping this move will encourage Virginia citizens to vote for the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. In some ways Richmond is a good strategic move as it’s more connected for rail and supply routes than Montgomery. On the other hand, it places the Confederate government within only a hundred miles of Washington City.

U.S. President Lincoln goes to Trinity Church at 9am to attend the wedding of Military Chief Administrative Officer’s son. He attends a dress parade of the 7th New York with Secretary of State William Seward and at some point in his day goes to Mathew Brady’s photography studio and has a series of photos taken.

Abraham Lincoln, May 16, 1861 (Source: Library of Congress)

Even though General William Harney had recently returned to St. Louis with his position reinstated, what he did not know was that there was a plot in the works to remove him once again. Montgomery Blair, his brother Frank Blair, Jr. and Captain Nathaniel Lyon, all from Missouri, suspected that Harney is a secessionist. Montgomery Blair has drafted an order to remove Harney from command and replace him with Lyon, who would be appointed a Brigadier General. Lincoln had been given the proposal but wanted to talk with General Scott and Secretary of War Cameron first.

Cameron was not convinced that Lyon was the right guy for the job, especially after the Camp Jackson affair. But today things fall into place; Cameron, Scott and Lincoln approve the order for Harney’s removal but there is one condition: Frank Blair, Jr. – who is in St. Louis – has to make the final decision on whether Harney should be given the order. Obviously this won’t be an issue because Frank was in on the plot from the beginning.

In New York City, Mary Lincoln takes a ride to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Greenwood Cemetery, followed by shopping in the afternoon as she continues to purchase items for the White House. At 10:30pm the city band and the Excelsior Brigade line up below Mary’s hotel window to pay their respects. Mary appears at her window, bows her compliments and drops a bouquet to the band as the surrounding crowd cheers gives her a hearty cheer.

Though he was relieved of command in Annapolis yesterday, today Benjamin Butler takes a special train to Washington City. Butler has learned that he is to receive a promotion but has not yet received official notice. He has been asked by Lincoln to come to the White House, but he first stops by to see General Winfield Scott. Scott receives him coldly and is unwilling to listen to Butler’s explanation. Butler would later say that his venting was so emotional that “upon my return to my quarters I threw myself on my lounge, and burst into a flood of tears.”

In the evening he heads to the White House where he meets with Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s cabinet members, Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General) and Simon Cameron (Secretary of War). Scott may be furious with him, but Lincoln can’t afford to spare officers right now. In their meeting he is officially promoted to Major General; he is now the third Major General in the U.S. Volunteers. Butler is given command of Fort Monroe, a Federal outpost at the end of the Virginia Peninsula. He will leave in the morning.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, May 15, 1861

U.S. General Benjamin Butler took matters into his own hands yesterday; today he suffers the consequences. He is awakened at 8:30am and is given a dispatch that was written by U.S. General Winfield Scott yesterday:

“Your hazardous occupation of Baltimore was made without my knowledge, and, of course, without my approbation. It is a godsend that it is without conflict of arms. It is also reported that you have sent a detachment to Frederick; but this is impossible. Not a word have I received from you as to either movement. Let me hear from you.”

Butler finds the communication “if not appalling, certainly amusing.” He refuses to reply right away, but eventually writes a lengthy letter right back to Scott giving him the details of his actions. Scott won’t care; he has already ordered Major General William Cadwallader to relieve Butler of his command of the Department of Annapolis. Butler immediately heads to Washington City and at the request of Lincoln goes to the White House. Scott was furious with him, but Lincoln is not willing to dispose of him.

Robert Anderson (Source: Library of Congress)

Major Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, has his photo taken (right) by George S. Cook in his King Street studio in Manhattan. He also receives the news that he has been promoted to Brigadier General. The photo of Anderson would bring Cook a lot of recognition, though he would eventually be known as the “Southern Mathew Brady” when he takes his talents to the South.

Earlier in the day Anderson had been paid a call by Mary Lincoln at his hotel. Prior to her visit, Mary had spent time shopping at Lord & Taylor’s. After meeting with Anderson she attended four short plays at the Laura Theatre with friends and then went to E. V. Haughwout’s to make a very important purchase: the famous State Dinner Service for the White House. The dinner service from the Pierce administration was still in use, but Mary has her mind set that the White House is in serious need of updating and this is just one of the many items she feels needs replacing.

Lincoln Dinner Plate (Source: Christies)

With a border of “Solferino” purple and gold, the service will be made in France; Edward Lycett in New York will then hand-paint the arms of the United States in the center. The 190-piece set will be ready in September. Mary also orders glassware and mantle ornaments for the Blue and Green Rooms.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin has more volunteers than needed to meet U.S. President Lincoln’s quota for troops, but U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron was refusing to take the extra men into service. Curtin had been feuding with fellow Pennsylvanian Cameron since 1854 when they ran for the same U.S. Senate seat, which Cameron won. They differ on everything politically, especially since Cameron constantly changes parties to suit his ambitions. Curtin was a staunch Republican and a determined supporter of the President, and so he comes up with the idea to retain the extra men into a special service, which today is approved by the Pennsylvania legislature. The infantry division is named the Pennsylvania Reserves, and they will be organized, trained and equipped at the expense of the state. They will be trained in four camps throughout the state, including one in Harrisburg named Camp Curtin in honor of the Governor. Two men from Pennsylvania will eventually lead this division and become key individuals in the future military effort.

In Missouri, Captain Nathaniel Lyon had heard of a large lead mine 70 miles south of St. Louis near the town of Potosi, so he takes the Fifth Missouri Volunteers there and they become an occupying force, seizing arms, powder and the mine. All but eight citizens take an Oath of Allegiance; those eight are put under arrest. When Lyon finishes his work in Potosi, he learns that there is a large States Rights/Secessionist flag that people are planning to raise in De Soto, which is along their route back to St. Louis. The secessionists go into hiding when the arrive in the city, but eventually Lyon’s men find the flag under the dress of a woman who is pretending to be sick and lying in a bed. The men make her stand up and the flag falls out. This flag is considered the first secessionist flag taken during the war.

It’s the third and last day of the First Wheeling Convention in northwest Virginia. The final result is a recommendation that western Virginians will elect delegates for a Second Wheeling Convention to be held on June 11 if the people of Virginia approve the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. Prayer is offered, the Star Spangled Banner is sung and three hearty cheers are given for the Union.

From Richmond, Robert E. Lee orders Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston to take command of troops at Harpers Ferry, where Thomas J. Jackson has been overseeing operations.

Mary Custis Lee leaves her Arlington home. This was not only a childhood home; here she had married her husband Robert and raised their seven children. One of her sons, George Washington Custis Lee, accompanies her to Ravensworth in Fairfax County, home of Mary’s aunt. Mary had already sent several important items there, but had been delaying her own departure. She knew her husband Robert was deeply concerned for her safety, and not wanting to cause him additional stress while he had the weight of protecting Virginia she left. She leaves behind the home, her slaves and many personal belongings including items from George and Martha Washington, her ancestors. She leaves behind the life she knows for the Virginian cause.

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