Stephen A. Douglas

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155 Years Ago: Wednesday, February 13, 1861

Feb 13 1861

Source: Library of Congress

U.S. President-elect Abraham Lincoln and his family leave Cincinnati, Ohio at 9:00 a.m., and begin their five-hour journey by train to Columbus, Ohio. It is day three of his thirteen day inaugural journey from Springfield, Illinois to Washington City.

Fifteen minutes into their journey, a live bomb is discovered in Lincoln’s train car. It is set to go off at 9:30am. It is disposed of safely, with no injury to its intended target.

Just like the previous two days, the train stops in many small towns along the way. Lincoln is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds of well-wishers, and the occasional roar of celebratory cannon fire. In Columbus, a crowd of 50,000 are there to greet him.

After a military parade escort to the Ohio Statehouse, Lincoln addresses a joint session of the Ohio General Assembly. “It is true, as has been said by the president of the Senate, that very great responsibility rests upon me in the position to which the votes of the American people have called me,” he tells the legislature. “I am deeply sensible of that weighty responsibility.”

Afterwards, Lincoln meets with Ohio Governor William Dennison Jr. in his Statehouse office, where they discuss the events that have unfolded in recent months. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina have already seceded. Texas looks like they may be next to leave. The divided state of Virginia has assembled two conventions in the last month: One to discuss secession, and the other that is Pro-Union. Today, former U.S. President John Tyler and former Virginia governor Henry Wise are meeting for the first time at Virginia’s secessionist convention. Four days earlier, the newly formed Confederate States of America had named former U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis as President of the Provisional Confederate Government, whose chosen capital is Montgomery, Alabama.

Around 4pm, a messenger arrives with news for Lincoln from the Electoral College, which had been meeting for the last two days in Washington City. U.S. General Winfield Scott had to reinforce the city so the meeting could go on as planned, due to fears that southern sympathizers would try to sabotage the vote.

Lincoln, a Republican, receives 180 electoral votes, all in the northern, non-slaveholding states, including California and Oregon. Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge receives 72 votes from most of the southern states, along with the border state of Maryland; he does not win his own home state of Kentucky. Kentucky, along with Virginia and Tennessee, go to John Bell, a Constitutional Union Party candidate, who receives 39 electoral votes. Stephen A. Douglas, a northern Democrat, only receives 12 electoral votes, having only won Missouri and New Jersey. After the electoral votes are counted, current Vice-president John C. Breckinridge declares Lincoln the winner of the Election of 1860.

The message to Lincoln reads: “The votes were counted peaceably. You are elected.”



1860 Electoral College Results Source:


150 Years Ago: Thursday, February 6, 1862

U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to take Fort Henry, Tennessee are to be a joint naval and land effort. Due to the heavy rains, Grant’s troops are dealing with deep mud and overflowing streams along their path and their presence is delayed. Union Commander Andrew Foote tells his fellow gunboat captains that “It must be victory or death.” Even though Grant’s soldiers have not arrived, the gunboats and the ironclad U.S.S. Essex open fire on the fort at the designated time of 12:30pm.

Battle of Fort Henry (By Currier & Ives)

Inside the fort, Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman instructs his men to return fire. He had sent more than 3,000 of his troops towards Fort Donelson over the last 48 hours. Approximately 100 men remain to fight; the goal is not to hold the fort, but to buy as much time for the others to get as far away as possible from the enemy. With most of the fort and artillery under high river water, they do the best with what they have. They land hits on every one of the Yankee’s gunboats, though the damage is minimal. It’s not enough. By 1:30pm, Tilghman raises the white flag of surrender. He estimates his losses at 15 killed and 20 wounded.

Foote accepts the surrender and captures the Confederates as prisoners of war. The Union had fared very well with the exception of one deadly hit. A Confederate shell had slammed through the boiler of the Essex and exploded it, wounding and killing 48 men.

Grant and his men arrive at the fort with the naval victory complete. Troops quickly secure the fort. Grant sends the Essex and two gunboats back to Cairo, Illinois for repairs and to pick up reinforcements. Grant calculates that the ships can be back and ready for battle on the 8th against his next target: Fort Donelson. He can’t afford to wait, as he knows Confederate reinforcements are heading there. Donelson will not fall as easy as Fort Henry.

In Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln isn’t the only one with sick children. He receives a hastily written letter from his Secretary of State, William Seward:

I have just received word from Mrs. Seward that informs me that my only daughter and youngest child is very ill and requesting we to go to Philadelphia. I will let you know as soon as I can when I shall be able to return.

Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow Union soldiers continue to go about their typical daily routine. Rhodes had been detached from the 2nd Rhode Island volunteers in November to work as one of four clerks in the headquarters of their Division currently commanded by General Erasmus D. Keyes. He is at his desk at the Pennsylvania Avenue and 19th Street headquarters by 9am, ready to receive the daily reports from his Division which consists of 13 infantry regiments, 1 cavalry regiment and 3 batteries. He spends six hours consolidating the reports and sends them over to General George B. McClellan’s headquarters by 3pm. He goes out to dinner with the other military personnel and heads back to headquarters where he shares a room with three other clerks. His living conditions are better than a typical soldier since he’s indoors, has his own bed and even has good bedding from when the building was a girls school. He takes out his diary and writes:

“Mud and rain and no prospects of a move. It is reported that the Senate expelled Senator Bright of Indiana for the crime of treason. All Copperheads (note: anti-war democrats) should be punished, for they are too cowardly to fight us in front, so they stop us in the rear. Orders have been issued that all passes must be approved by the Division Commander. This makes extra work for the clerks.”

Elisha has heard correctly; Democrat Jesse D. Bright was expelled yesterday for disloyalty to the Union after 16 years in the Senate. Last year an arms smuggler named Thomas Lincoln (no relation to President Abraham Lincoln) had been caught with a letter in his possession that was from Bright to Provisional Confederate President Jefferson Davis, dated March 1, 1861. It introduced Thomas to Davis and stated his purpose: “He visits your capital mainly to dispose of what he regards a great improvement in fire-arms.” Bright’s defense was that the letter was written before the official start of the Civil War and that he didn’t even remember specifically writing the letter. It was a weak attempt; when Bright wrote that letter there was a Confederate government in place and they were racing to gather as many arms as possible in preparation for an attack. Bright had never been quiet about being against the war and for Confederate independence; now deceased Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas had even been infuriated by his disloyalty. Bright was expelled by a vote of 32 to 14 and now this news quickly spread through town. He is the fourteenth Senator to ever be expelled from Congress, but he is currently (2/6/12) the last.

Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler arrives in Winchester, Virginia to meet with Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at the request of his friend Governor John Letcher. Jackson had sent a letter of resignation over a week ago due to a strong disagreement with Secretary of War Judah Benjamin on strategy and troop movements in the crucial Virginia Valley where he was stationed.

Boteler knows he is dealing with a strong willed individual with even stronger convictions. Over dinner and dessert, Boteler appeals to Jackson to reconsider. Jackson admits he is willing to rethink his resignation, but he wants to manage his own campaigns instead of some guy sitting at a desk hundreds of miles away.

He appeals to Jackson using his love of Virginia, though it comes out as accusing Jackson of abandoning them. Jackson is furious. He stands, exclaiming that he has sacrificed his family life for the horrors of war. He then composes himself and states that he will still serve the state of Virginia, “even if it be as a private in the ranks.” He then sighs. “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”

At the end of the evening Jackson writes a letter to the Governor authorizing him to withdraw the resignation. He can’t abandon the Southern cause, but he also makes it known that he still feels he was in the right:

“If the Secretary persists in the ruinous policy complained of, I feel that no officer can serve his country better than by making his strongest possible protest against it, which, in my opinion, is done by tendering his resignation, rather than be a willful instrument in prosecuting the war upon a ruinous principle.”

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, July 9, 1861

In the U.S. Senate, Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull submits a resolution to honor the late Senator Stephen A. Douglas. It has been over a month since Douglas died, but House and Senate members will spend the next few days giving addresses on “The Little Giant” and his impact on the country.

During a drill at Camp Clark a caisson explodes, killing two men and wounding three others. To the volunteers, it’s the first time they see the true effects of gun powder.

The U.S. House of Representatives passes a resolution that “In the judgement of this House it is not part of the duty of the soldiers of the United States to capture and return fugitive slaves.” This is the first movement of the Union towards emancipation. However, it is only a resolution and is not binding. This means Union officers and soldiers can still enforce the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which returns runaway slaves to their owners. Many military officers will react positively to this resolution, as they are already dealing with hostile slave owners demanding that the Union military track down and return runaway slaves.

Tonight, U.S. President Lincoln and his wife Mary host a White House reception. A newspaper reports that “The military display was very brilliant, and the ladies never made a finer appearance. Mrs. Lincoln attracted universal attention by her graceful bearing and high social qualities. Generals and Colonels were as thick as blackberries.”

A mother of four girls, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, was born a Marylander but is now a part of high society in Washington City. Her father had been killed by his slaves in 1817; her husband, who at one point had worked in the State Department, had passed away a few years ago. Since that time she had befriended Presidents, Senators and high-ranking military officers. One of her closest companions is John C. Calhoun, a leading politician from South Carolina and an ardent supporter of the Confederate cause. Today, Rose passes a secret message to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard. The message contains critical information regarding a plan of attack by Union General Irvin McDowell, which is to soon take place at Manassas.

150 Years Ago: Brief Recap of Sunday, June 2, 1861 to Monday, July 8, 1861

  • The Little Giant – Stephen A. Douglas, Senator from Illinois – dies from typhoid fever in Chicago on June 3. This is a blow to the Union cause, as Douglas was a strong supporter of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and the Union, despite the fact he had always worked for compromise on the issue of slavery. Lincoln orders to have the White House and government buildings draped in mourning for thirty days.
  • The Battle of Philippi takes place in western Virginia on June 3. A Confederate sympathizer, Mrs. Thomas Humphreys, starts the attack prematurely when she fires a pistol at Union soldiers after they capture her son, who had been on a mission to warn the Confederate Army. The result is a Union victory. Since Major General George McClellan had ordered the successful attack, he becomes a prominent hero in the North.
  • The state of Virginia turns its military over to the Confederacy.
  • On June 11, thirty-two western Virginia counties meet for a second time; it is referred to as the Second Wheeling Convention. Throughout the rest of June, the eighty-eight delegates work towards creating a new state, which they call the Restored Government of Virginia. Francis Pierpont is elected as Governor and the Convention is adjourned until August 6.
  • On June 12, U.S. Captain Nathaniel Lyon continues to take matters into his own hands and declares war against Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson and his Missouri State Guard. Jackson and his key military leader, Major General Sterling Price, flee from the Missouri capital and head to the southwest corner of the state. They still have a chance to regain control if they can get Confederate supplies and troops. Claiborne also puts out a call for 50,000 volunteers to help him keep prevent Union control of the state.
  • Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston takes control of Harpers Ferry & relieves Colonel Thomas J. Jackson from command. On June 14, Johnston starts to withdraw troops from the city and blows up an 800-foot Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad trestle over the Potomac River.
  • President Abraham Lincoln receives an anonymous note that states “If he (William S. Wood) continues as Commissioner, he will stab you in your most vital part.” In the Spring, Mary Lincoln had persuaded her husband to give Wood the position after she locked herself in her room until he gave into her demand. Wood had been showering Mary with fine gifts and was accompanying her on trips. After receiving the note, Abe confronts Mary and they rarely speak to each other for several days. Wood eventually resigns his post, but Mary will continue to surround herself with questionable men.
  • William Tecumseh Sherman travels from St. Louis to Washington City and assumes command of the Third Brigade of the First Division.
  • By a vote of 108,339 to 47,233, Tennessee secedes from the Union on June 24. It is the last state to join the Confederate States of America.
  • The 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry makes its way to Washington City; it includes Governor William Spague, Colonel John S. Slocum and Private Elisha Hunt Rhodes. For Rhodes, it is his first time away from home. On June 24 he sees President Lincoln for the first time and thinks he is “a good honest man.”
  • George Armstrong Custer graduates last in his class at West Point. The thirty-four graduates were pushed through a year early because the U.S. army needs trained officers. Custer is made Second Lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
  • Virginian native George Pickett resigns his commission as U.S. Captain and joins the Confederate army as a Colonel.
  • U.S. General Irvin McDowell presents a plan for attacking Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and his troops at Manassas, Virginia.
  • U.S. General Winfield Scott wants to send a military expedition down the Mississippi River to establish a blockage in hopes of starving the South. He believes the Union troops are too new and untrained for a major battle. He disagrees with McDowell’s plan, but President Lincoln and his cabinet believe that the northern citizens want action. If they wait too long, they fear their support will dissipate.
  • 10,000 U.S. troops and artillery cross the Potomac River into Virginia on July 8. More troops are expected in the following days; they will wait to move further into the state until they have enough troops & supplies for a large-scale military campaign.

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.

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