Winfield Scott

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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: Tuesday, July 16, 1861

Washington resident Rose O’Neal Greenhow contacts Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard for the second time in one week. This time she has copies of orders that show Union General Irvin McDowell is planning to march 35,000 troops to capture Manassas, Virginia, followed by a move to the Confederate capital of Richmond. She knows when the Union forces will leave Washington, what route they will take and what strategy they plan to use for battle. Beauregard wires Confederate President Jefferson Davis to request reinforcements. Davis orders General Joseph E. Johnston to move from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas Junction.

U.S. Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman is given orders to move his brigade. They are to leave at 2pm, at which time they are to march 10 miles to Vienna, Virginia. Sherman writes to his wife Ellen back in Lancaster, Ohio, informing her that he is moving out. He expects a battle the next day, maybe in Fairfax, Virginia. There is talk of Manassas Junction, where Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard is headquartered. Sherman gives Ellen instructions to “watch her investments” and provides messages for her to pass onto others. Not knowing what the upcoming days will bring, he closes with “Good bye, and believe me always most affectionately yours.”

U.S. General Winfield Scott and General Irvin McDowell continue to express concerns to President Lincoln, his cabinet and legislators on using raw and undisciplined volunteers in a major battle. But the orders have been set and troops are already on the move. It’s been over ninety days since Fort Sumter. Most people had predicted a ninety day war and are growing impatient with the lack of action.

It’s time to push south, engage in a victorious battle and take Richmond.

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 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: Saturday, May 25, 1861

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. 


Ellsworth Funeral (Source: Library of Congress)

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,

A. Lincoln 

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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