Actor John Wilkes Booth is enjoying his time back on stage. After suffering from a respiratory illness during February and March, Spring has given him life and energy and he is back in Washington performing to packed theatres as he plays the title roles in both Hamlet and Richard III. The National Republican drama critic states that Booth “takes the hearts of the audience by storm” and terms his performance “a complete triumph.” Booth is earning top money and praise; with it comes his choice of women, who fight for the chance to be with the actor, even if it is for just one evening.
From a country farm in Spotsylvania, Virginia, C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson finds himself with time to catch up on battle reports. He starts by sending General Robert E. Lee details on his troops activities from September 5 – 27, 1862, which includes details on (yet another) capture of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and the battle of Sharpsburg (known in the North as the battle of Antietam) in Maryland.
Though Jackson mostly keeps it brief and simple, giving overall battlefield movements and casualties, there are two people that stand out, one in a good way, another not. He praises Major General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the Confederacy’s most valued cavalry officers, by stating “Maj.-Gen. Stuart had the advance and acted his part well. This officer rendered valuable service throughout the day. His bold use of artillery secured for us an important position, which, had the enemy possessed, might have commanded our left.” As for Major General A.P. Hill and the movement of his troops from Harpers Ferry to Sharpsburg – which many Confederates felt saved them from possibly losing not just a battle but the war – Jackson simply writes, months later, “I have not embraced the movements of his division.” Jackson had several quarrels with Hill leading up to that moment, Jackson being the higher ranking officer and expecting his orders to be followed to the letter, which Hill did not always do. Though Lee had sent for Hill during the Sharpsburg attack for much needed reinforcements, Jackson was unaware of it and did not seem to approve; it had gone against his own orders for Hill to stay at Harpers Ferry to make sure it did not yet again fall into Union hands. To Jackson, it was another order Hill had not obeyed and it did not sit well with him, even seven months later.
U.S. Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac Joseph Hooker is still in the Fredericksburg, Virginia vicinity. It’s been over four months since the Union defeat there and the army has not yet made a significant move to destroy Lee’s army, most of which has spent the winter behind their strong defenses in Fredericksburg. Hooker has completed plans to move and surprise Lee by sweeping down to behind him and cutting off his supplies from Richmond, but first he wants to test Lee’s strength before he starts his main troop movements. Three days ago Hooker sent out troops under Major General Abner Doubleday to do reconnaissance and they have since returned. Now U.S. General John Reynolds sends the 24th Michigan and 84th New York on the same path: down the north bank to Port Conway, eighteen miles from camp. “The object of this demonstration is to draw the enemy force in that direction“, Reynolds is informed. His men should pretend to conceal their wagon train but to let enough of it show to give the impression of strength to the enemy; Hooker knows Lee’s men will be watching.
In Mississippi, as he waits for orders from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant to make yet another attempt to take the geographically well-protected city of Vicksburg, Major General William T. Sherman writes his brother Senator John Sherman back in Washington as they continue to trade opinions on the important issues of the day via letters:
I have noticed in the Conscript Act the clauses which empowered the President to consolidate the ten companies of a regiment into five, when the aggregate was below one-half the maximum standard, and to reduce the officers accordingly. Had I dreamed that this was going to be made universal, I should have written you and begged you for the love of our ruined country to implore Lincoln to spare us this last and fatal blow. Two years of costly war have enabled the North to realize the fact that by organized and disciplined armies alone can she hope to restore the old and found a new empire. We had succeeded in making the skeletons of armies, eliminating out of the crude materials that first came forth the worthless material, and had just begun to have some good young colonels, captains, sergeants and corporals. And Congress had passed the Conscript Bill, which would have enabled the President to fill up these skeleton regiments full of privates who soon, from their fellows, and with experienced officers, would make an army capable of marching and being handled and directed. But to my amazement comes this order…This is a far worse defeat than Manassas. Mr. Wade, in his report to condemn McClellan, gave a positive assurance to the army that henceforth, instead of fighting with diminishing ranks, we should feel assured that the gaps made by the bullet, disease, desertion, etc., would be promptly filled, whereas only such parts of the Conscript Law as tend to weaken us are enforced, viz.: 5 per cent for furlough and 50 per cent of officers and non-commissioned officers discharged to consolidate regiments. Even Blair is amazed at this. He protests the order cannot be executed, and we should appeal to Mr. Lincoln, whom he still insists has no desire to destroy the army. But the order is positive and I don’t see how we can hesitate. Grant started today down to Carthage, and I have written to him, which may stave it off for a few days, but I tremble at the loss of so many young and good officers, who have been hard at work for two years, and now that they begin to see how to take care of soldiers, must be turned out…
If not too late, do, for mercy’s sake, exhaust your influence to stop this consolidation of regiments. Fill all the regiments with conscripts, and if the army is then too large disband the regiments that prefer to serve north of the Potomac and the Ohio. Keep the war South at all hazards. If this Consolidation Law is literally enforced, and no new draft is made, this campaign is over. And the outside world will have a perfect right to say our Government is afraid of its own people…
W. T. Sherman
What Sherman doesn’t know is that a Union flotilla of six transports and twelve barges have passed the Confederate artillery batteries protecting Vicksburg. One transport and six barges were sunk yesterday, but the remainder carried their supplies to Grant’s troops now stationed below the city. It is has been slow going for Grant and his mission to take Vicksburg, but his plan does appear to be coming together. C.S.A. Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and John C. Pemberton try come to an agreement on how to best use their scarce resources; they lack the number of troops that Grant has at his disposal. Stevenson is convinced that the Union army will cross the Mississippi River at Warrenton, just eight miles south of Vicksburg. He wants troops stationed on the south side of Vicksburg where they can cover roads that would lead into the city from Warrenton. Pemberton wants to send troops directly to Warrenton itself. Neither General is looking 20 miles further south to Grand Gulf, which is exactly where Grant is preparing his men for a major move.
Ever since their son Willie’s death last February, U.S. President Abraham and his wife Mary Lincoln continue to have difficulties getting over the loss. Especially given the loss of loved ones during the war, spiritualists and séances are becoming a trend across the country, whether it be a sincere attempt to make contact with a loved one, or simply a show for entertainment. Mary Lincoln has especially found comfort in them, believing that through the séances she is able to make contact with her dear deceased son. Though the President does not believe in such things and is getting over an illness which has affected his throat and eyes, he gives in to his wife and attends a séance in the White House Red Room tonight; several cabinet members also attend. There is no unusual activity until after the Lincoln’s left the room. Newspapers will report that after the Lincoln’s left, the “‘Spirits’ tweaked the nose of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and tugged on Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles beard.“
It’s Sunday and U.S. President Lincoln has spent the last week dealing with the loss at Fredericksburg and the near loss of some of his Cabinet members. He receives a brief note from friend and Illinois Senator Orville Browning reminding him of the West Virginia statehood legislation that Lincoln needs to review and preferably approve in order to admit West Virginia into the Union. It’s already been several days since the bill was passed by Congress and there is concern by many why the President has yet to address it. “A delay is a calamity to the Union cause,” Brown writes. But for Lincoln, it appears that he will not address the issue today. While his wife Mary is away in Philadelphia staying at the Continental Hotel, Abraham is at the White House with his youngest boy Tad; it would have been his son Willie’s 12th birthday today. While Mary couldn’t handle being in the house where Willie passed away ten months ago or to be near , Lincoln chose to stay, no doubt taking time to visit Willie’s preserved room as he often did to weep over the loss of his precious boy. No significant work will be accomplished today; the grief is too strong.
“It seems to me now clearly developed that the enemy has two principal objects in view,” President Jefferson Davis writes to Trans-Mississippi Department commander General Theophilius H. Holmes from Vicksburg, Mississippi. “One to get control of the Mississippi River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States. To prevent the enemy getting control of the Mississippi and dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works; to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary at camp near Falmouth, Virginia:
We are now in camp and trying to repair our damage. Notwithstanding our late defeat, we all have confidence in General Burnside. If his plans had been carried out we should have won a victory. We hope to do better next time we try to cross the river.
C.S.A. Major General Thomas J. Jackson provides an update to General Joseph E. Johnston, who is in charge of operations in Northern Virginia. Jackson informs Johnston that since the Confederates pulled out of Romney, Virginia (TCWP note: Present-day Romney is located in West Virginia), Union troops have since returned to retake possession. The Union is also moving approximately 3,000 troops 26 miles south to Moorefield. But the most important news is regarding re-enlistments, as the Confederacy is in desperate need to not only recruit, but to retain who they have. Jackson has provided those who re-list with an incentive: an authorized furlough. So far the results are encouraging.
The Alton Military Prison has only been in operation for three days but it’s already facing overcrowding issues. Chas C. Smith, U.S. Captain of the 13th Infantry, sends a letter to U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank letting him know that he received yet another shipment of prisoners last night. They have rented buildings adjacent to the prison for storage and the quartermaster’s department, and the resident surgeon is looking for a suitable building for a hospital but has yet to find one. So far there has been no trouble with any of the prisoners, but soon there will not be room for the 13th Infantry to have quarters within the prison walls.
Under U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s instructions, most of the Union troops depart Fort Henry this morning and proceed about five miles utilizing Dover and Ridge Roads. Along the route troops are met by C.S.A. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is utilizing his cavalry to screen their movements. When Forrest observes a change of direction made by McClernand’s division after an initial encounter, he makes a quick decision to move his cavalry to Indian Creek, where they will wait to intercept them.
Three of Forrest’s squadrons dismount and wait for the large Union force to arrive. Once they do, Forrest orders a charge. The Union cavalry are given orders to move out of the way before the charge, leaving the 8th Illinois to take on Forrest and his men. The infantry opens a terrific fire at short range against the charging Confederate cavalry. A Union Battery arrives shortly after the firing begins and assists in breaking up the attack. Forrest withdraws his men behind the shelter of the Fort for the evening.
The USS Carondelet is the first Union gunboat to arrive up the river. They promptly fire numerous shells into Fort Donelson to test the strength of its defenses. There are no casualties or damage from the act. They pull out of range and await their orders for tomorrow.
Grant finally arrives at nightfall, where he sets up headquarters at Widow Crisp’s house. This puts him near the left side of the front of the line and a mile from the Cumberland River.
Over 740 miles away in Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has spent most of his 53rd birthday at the bedside of 11-year-old son Willie. Willie has been very ill for over ten days now and is growing weaker and more shadow-like each day that passes. He is not allowed to see other children and is too ill to get out of bed, so the President and his wife Mary have been spending most of their time at Willie’s bedside. They comfort and sooth their child, read him stories and remind him that Tad and his favorite pony that he always insisted on riding every day are waiting for him to get better. The White House staff, including dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, also take turns keeping Willie company so he is never left alone. Willie is a favorite among the White House staff; he’s intelligent and vivacious, but has a kind and tender heart. To see him in this state is almost too much for them to bear, but all they can do is pray for him to get better.
It’s dawn in Fort Henry, Tennessee. Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman and Colonel Adolphus Heiman have spent the last 24 hours preparing for a Union attack. The defense at the Fort is low, with only nine guns remaining above the rising river water. Tilghman knows that they don’t have the resources to hold the Fort. He makes the decision to take the majority of his 3,000 troops and move them 12 miles south overland to Fort Donelson, Tennessee. Along the way Union cavalry attempt to pursue them, but the roads are muddy and it makes fighting difficult, so the only damage they inflict is capturing a few Confederate prisoners.
This Confederate move leaves only a handful of artillerymen at Fort Henry. Heiman sends a message requesting reinforcements to Major General Leonidas Polk, who is more than 70 miles west in Columbus, Kentucky. He knows that reinforcements are very unlikely. The situation appears helpless, especially when Heiman receives reconnaissance information that greatly exaggerates the Union troop numbers and their movements. Tilghman and Heiman wait at their post, ready to receive a Union attack. It doesn’t come.
In Washington City, President Abraham Lincoln’s eleven year old son Willie is sick. He lies in bed with a fever and is finding it difficult to breathe. His mother Mary spends most of the day sitting beside his bed, holding his feverish hand in her own. Willie has been sick for a couple of weeks now, fluctuating between bad and good days. Today is one of the worse days he’s had. He’s been stuck inside and isolated from anything fun; he misses his younger brother Tad, his pony and their goats, Nanny and Nanko. His mother’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, keeps coming into the room, gently reminding his mother that she needs to get ready for this evening. He can tell his mother does not want to leave his side, but as First Lady she has a responsibility. She leans over to kiss him and smooths his brown hair, then heads across the hall to get ready after instructing the staff to interrupt her at any time if Willie’s status changes in the slightest. Doctors reassure her that Willie appears to be improving and is in no harm.
The highly anticipated and criticized White House ball is this evening. Between 600 & 700 invitations were sent out just days ago to politicians, diplomats, military leaders and members of high society. Holding the event had been of much debate, given Willie’s poor health and the simple fact that many in the President’s circle – including the President himself – thought it would be distasteful to celebrate and have lavish fun while hundreds of thousands of soldiers were in tents in the cold and rain, away from their loved ones. But there was also the argument that White House parties were tradition, so the Lincoln’s agreed to a modified engagement to suit the times. Everything has been carefully planned down to every last detail, but Mary adds a last minute change: Because of Willie’s illness, there will be no dancing tonight.
With the help of Elizabeth, Mary puts on a white satin gown with a low neck and short sleeves, trimmed with black lace flounces which are looped up with knots of ribbon. Last week they had received the news that Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, had passed away in December. One of England’s primary diplomats, Lord Richard Lyons, is going to attend tonight so Mary had requested that Elizabeth incorporate black into the dress to symbolize mourning and sympathy for the Queen’s loss. To finish the outfit Mary graces the top of her head with a floral headdress, which is a signature look she often uses for White House events.
It’s time for the President and First Lady to make their entrance and greet their guests. Abraham comes into the room, gazing and smiling upon his wife. “Ooohh…our cat has a long tail tonight,” he says playfully to Mary and Elizabeth. He notices that once again she chose to have Elizabeth make her a dress with a very low and revealing neckline. Mary looks upon her husband for approval. Abraham is not willing to give her complete satisfaction. “Mother, it is my opinion that if some of that tail was nearer the head it would be in better style.” Mary knows this is the best she will get out of her husband; he does not understand the heavy burden on her to have the most fashionable attire and to appear as beautiful as possible so the press & high ranks of society will not criticize her appearance. She once again instructs her staff to summon her if there is any change in Willie’s condition and heads downstairs with her husband.
The Marine Band plays in the Central Hall while the President, First Lady and their son Robert (who is home from Harvard) stand at the receiving door of the East Room. This event is the first official showcase of Mary’s $20,000 expenditures (using government money) to remodel the dingy and outdated White House they had acquired, so visitors are allowed to walk in the various rooms on the first floor. Jessie Benton Fremont, wife of Major General John C. Fremont, greets the President and notices that his face seems very sad. Instead of welcoming his guests, the President speaks of his sick boy Willie. He tells Jessie and her husband that his son is very ill and that he fears the result. Jessie expresses their hopes for Willie’s recovery and walks away feeling a great deal of pity for a man with such a grieved appearance.
Approximately 500 guests fill the rooms, making it a packed house while still providing space to comfortably move about. For several hours guests listen to the band playing respectable and patriotic songs, including a new song called “The Mary Lincoln Polka.” Around midnight everyone makes their way into the State Room for dinner, only to find two larges pieces of ornamental confectionery. The center object representing the steamer “Union”, armed and bearing the “Stars and Stripes.” On a side table is a model of Fort Sumter also built out of sugar and provisioned with game. The food has been brought in from New York and contains a variety of delicacies, which are said to cost over $1,000; though several would maintain later that the President paid for this out of his own pocket and did not use taxpayer money.
Throughout the night both Abraham and Mary sneak upstairs to check on Willie, whose health appears to be worsening. Guests stay as late as 3am and many call the evening a great success, though some still strongly disagree with the choice to hold such a lavish function during a war. This debate will not end after tonight.
Missouri and Union generals had come to an agreement days before regarding peace between the two sides. Meanwhile, Governor Claiborne Jackson was still in communication with the Confederate government. CSA Secretary of War Leroy Pope writes the Governor in response to a letter from May 5. Pope expresses his disappointment that Missouri has not been able to join their cause, as he had always felt Missouri would be a part of their movement. He and Davis will try their best to supply men and arms. He assures Jackson that they are making plans for Missouri’s defense, and laments the fact that he had let two former prisoners of war go free – Major Anderson and General Harney – who are now both serving the Union in the crucial states of Kentucky and Missouri.
A state legislator from Maryland, John Merryman, is arrested for his attempts to hinder Union troops from moving between Baltimore and Washington. He is moved to Fort McHenry and his attorney immediately asks for a writ of habeas corpus. U.S. President Lincoln decides to suspend the writ; he had already done so along the railway lines between Baltimore and Washington, but this would now extend across the Union.
A funeral service is held in the East Room of the White House for Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. It is a large military funeral that includes President Lincoln, his wife Mary and their two youngest children, Willie and Tad. One of the guards stationed by the coffin is Francis Brownell, whose quick action yesterday had resulted in the death of Ellsworth’s killer. The President and Mary weep openly. Julia Taft, a constant presence at the White House as she often watches after her brothers and the Lincoln children, wants desperately to talk with the President and tell him of the wonderful day she had spent with Ellsworth on May 23. She decides against it when someone tells her that the President can’t say or hear a word about Ellsworth without crying. She didn’t want to cause him any more grief. For Julia it was a difficult day, as she was asked by Major Watt, the White House head gardener, to put a wreath of white roses on Ellsworth’s breast. She had never seen a dead person before so even the idea made her lightheaded, but she did it anyway. During the service she was appalled to see Tad Lincoln and her brother Holly climb on the back of General Winfield Scott’s chair, only to fall back into the arms of some of his staff when Scott stands up. Mary Lincoln is presented with the secessionist flag that had been held in Ellsworth’s arms when he was shot, but it is such a tragic reminder that she will just put it in a dresser drawer, out of view.
After the funeral, President Lincoln writes a letter to Ellsworth’s parents:
To the Father and Mother of Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth
My Dear Sir and Madam,
In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one’s country, and of bright hopes for one’s self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed as in his fall. In size, in years, and in youthful appearance a boy only, his power to command men was surpassingly great. This power combined with a fine intellect, an indomitable energy, and a taste altogether military, constituted in him, as seemed to me the best natural talent, in that department, I ever knew.
And yet he was singularly modest and deferential in social intercourse. My acquaintance with him began less than two years ago; yet through the latter half of the intervening period, it was as intimate as the disparity of our ages, and my engrossing engagements would permit. To me, he appeared to have no indulgences or pastimes; and I never heard him utter a profane or an intemperate word. What was conclusive of his good heart, he never forgot his parents. The honors he labored for so laudably, and in the sad end so gallantly gave his life, he meant for them, no less than for himself. In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early-fallen child.
May God give you that consolation which is beyond all earthly power.
Sincerely your friend in a common affliction,
Julia Taft, along with her older brother half-brother Charles Sabin Taft, her three younger brothers and their playmates Willie and Tad Lincoln, watch the 11th New York Fire Zouaves participate in their “gymnastic drills” in camp led by Lincoln family friend Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth is in great spirits and jokingly tells the boys that the Zouaves are “his monkeys” given their great agility. When the Tafts and Lincolns leave, Ellsworth stands at the corner, lifts up his cap and merrily shouts “Come again!”, looking “very bright and handsome” in Julia’s eyes.
In Virginia, citizens vote for the Ordinance of Secession; 78% vote for secession, with the other 22% against it. Virginia will officially be the tenth state to become part of the Confederate States of America, with a final Tennessee vote pending in June. The anti-secession, northwestern Virginia delegates who met at the First Wheeling Convention ten days ago know that with this vote, their job has now only started. The result of the vote today is unacceptable, and they will continue with their plan to meet again on June 11.
C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston arrives at Harper’s Ferry to take command; up until now Colonel Thomas J. Jackson has been organizing and leading military efforts here. Yesterday Jackson had strategically placed troops along a 44 mile stretch of rail. Today between 11am and noon, 46 trains had filled up east and westbound lanes on the B & O (Baltimore & Ohio) Railroad lines. With the troops he had put in place just yesterday, Jackson barricades the ends of the tracks; the trains and items the 386 cars contain are now property of the Confederacy. In addition to the reward of knowing he had just pulled off a brilliant plan on Virginia’s first “official” day of war, Jackson will also be rewarded with his future horse named Little Sorrel, who was part of a large herd of horses found on the train. Jackson initially was going to call the horse “Fancy” and give it as a gift to his wife Mary Anna, but the horse fit his own riding style so perfectly that he keeps it for himself.
General Benjamin Butler runs into a key issue on his second day at Fort Monroe. Three runaway slaves appear, hoping that Butler will take them into safety. Butler issues a declaration regarding “contraband of war”, stating that any contraband – including slaves – will be kept and not returned. This sets a very important precedent that will allow slaves to escape behind Union lines to safety and out of bondage.
In the afternoon, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln attends a flag presentation ceremony at Camp Cameron (located in Georgetown). Patriotic ladies of New York present a “beautiful and rich National flag” to the 7th New York. “The raising of the flag was of course greeted with deafening huzzas, accompanied by the music of the regimental band to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.”
Governors of three key western states – William Dennison (Ohio), Oliver Perry Morton (Indiana) and Richard Yates (Illinois) – meet in Indianapolis. The topic of their discussion focuses on Kentucky, as each of their states have Kentucky along their southern border. They believe that the Union needs to take possession of four prominent points within the state, including Louisville, Covington, Newport and Columbus, along with the railroads leading south from those points. If Kentuckians can’t be found to do this, then they believe it is their responsibility to prevent secessionists from controlling the state. They:
Around 8pm the New York Fire Zouaves Regiment is ordered to be ready to move at a moment’s notice to board the steamers Mount Vernon and James Guy for Alexandria, Virginia. It’s leader, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, quickly writes two letters: one to his parents, the other to his fiancee Carrie Spafford.
To his parents:
My dear Father and Mother: The Regiment is ordered to move across the river tonight. We have no means of knowing what reception we are to meet with. I am inclined to the opinion that our entrance to the City of Alexandria will be hotly contested, as I am just informed that a large force have arrived there today.
My dear parents, it may be my lot to be injured in some manner. Whatever may happen, cherish the consolation that I was engaged in the performance of a sacred duty; and tonight, thinking over the probabilities of tomorrow and the occurrences of the past, I am so perfectly content to accept whatever my fortune may be, confident that He who noteth even the fall of a sparrow will have some purpose even in the fate of one like me. My darling and ever loved parents, good-bye. God bless, protect and care for you.” Elmer
And to Carrie:
My own darling Kitty. My Regiment is ordered to cross the river and move on Alexandria within six hours. We may meet with a warm reception & my darling among so many careless fellows one is somewhat likely to be hit.
If anything should happen — Darling just accept this assurance, the only thing I can leave you — The highest happiness I looked for on earth was a union with you — You have more than realized the hopes I formed regarding your advancement — And I believe I love you with all the ardor I am capable of — You know my darling any attempt of mine to convey an adequate expression of my feelings must be simply futile — God bless you, as you deserve and grant you a happy and useful life and us a union hereafter. Truly your own, Elmer.
P. S. Give my love to mother & father (such they truly were to me) and thank them again for all their kindness to me — I regret I can make no better return for it — Again good bye. God bless you my own darling. Elmer.
The 1st Michigan commanded by Colonel Orlando B. Wilcox, along with an artillery & cavalry company of U.S. military regulars, will join the Fire Zouaves in crossing the Potomac into Virginia.