The US Civil War (1861-1865) changed America in many ways. With many men fighting in the war, one such change was the role of women in society. Here, Kaiya Rai considers the role of women in the Confederate States, including a look at feminine ideals at the time, Belle Boyd, and Mary Chestnut.

Mary Chestnut, author a well-known civil war diary.

Mary Chestnut, author a well-known civil war diary.

Women’s lives in the Confederacy were dramatically changed right from the breakout of war in April 1861. The very notion of womanhood underwent a transformation, as men were called up to fight in the army, and women from the upper-class were forced to look after slaves, women from the middle-class were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge, and women of the lower-class and widows gained social standing as a result. The idea of women having to takeover on the home front during a war is not a new one, but in the case of the American Civil War, this was an entirely new concept. Furthermore, women held no previous social standing. There was no growing suffrage movement as there was in World War One (WWI), it was the first time such an event had occurred, in contrast to World War Two (when many remembered WWI), and women from the upper reaches of society, did not generally have significant difficulties in their lives.

Much of the information gained about women in the Confederacy, and their changing identities, has come from the diaries that the majority of upper-class women wrote in. They provided a new way of self-discovery, as such writing required self-description as a result of self-understanding. Even when women began writing letters to officers, and even Jefferson Davis, it meant claiming a public voice, and so was incompatible with their definition and understanding of themselves as ‘women’.

 

Feminine ideals

The fragility of feminine ideals existing in the antebellum period appears to have served the women well, as it seems that ‘feminine weakness served as the foundation of female strength’ (Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War) in this case. Many women did what they could to play their part in the war, albeit covertly sometimes, as it wasn’t seen as being ‘feminine.’ Belle Boyd shooting the Union soldier entering her house is a key example of this; escaping punishment by claiming feminine fragility and fear was fundamental to the patriarchal nature of war. The hoop skirts that many upper-class women wore were used to hide jewelry, as they had no fear of being searched as women. This lack of threat is displayed in a Union soldier’s comment that ‘if she was a man I would whip her.’ The Nancy Hart regiment in La Grange, Georgia displayed a similar idea. When a Union regiment approached the town, the women-only regiment refused to back down, invited the soldiers in for tea and thus evaded the capture of the town! Elite women, in particular, hated the occupation of Confederate towns by Union soldiers, and were noted to have stepped in gutters to avoid passing Union soldiers on the pavement, and even wore thick veils to avoid eye contact with the officers! Students at a girl’s school in Georgia were recorded as emptying their chamber pots out of the windows onto soldiers’ heads, and Flag Officer Farragut was also subjected to this, in New Orleans. This hatred of the officers fuelled many women into action; despite their view of femininity, many wanted to play their part in forming a new nation and playing patriotic games against the country they believed had oppressed their ideals for so long.

However, their feminine helplessness has also been seen, to a large extent, to have been perpetrated by the women themselves. One of the first requirements for women in the Confederacy was as nurses and teachers, seen as traditionally female roles today, ironically! Yet, upon this call for help, many were writing to their husbands asking them to be forbidden to go. One woman even started addressing letters to her husband as ‘dear papa’ and ending them from your ‘daughter.’ Here, it seems that the patriarchy, whilst perhaps initiated by men, seems to have been upheld and continued by women. As McCurry noted that “no one, apparently, believed in women’s non-partisanship as fervently as the women themselves.” The need for protection was a big issue when men were called up to fight, and many made it a condition of them joining the war effort; they would do so, if the state could offer support for their families. 

 

Belle Boyd’s Role as a Spy

Belle Boyd, also known as ‘the Siren of the Shenandoah,’ was one woman who played a particularly noteworthy role for the Confederacy. A die-hard secessionist, she spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was able to use her role as an upper class ‘lady’ to cover her actions, and claim ignorance when needed. When she and her mother denied entry to some Union officers wanting to raise a Union flag over their house, and when one assaulted her mother as a result, Belle shot and killed the soldier, and became infamous as a result. Despite being a spy for the majority of the Civil War, the usefulness of her intelligence work is not nearly as significant as the symbolism of her doing the work itself. She informed General Jackson of the Union intentions to set fire to the bridges in Front Royal (Virginia) as they retreated, and also reported on Union action in the Shenandoah - these are considered by most as the only outcomes of her intelligence work to have had major effect. However, the uncertainty of women’s roles, especially upper-class women’s roles during the Civil War was hugely compounded by Boyd’s actions, and perhaps it can be argued that she represented an icon for the helpless Confederate woman. Their femininity was, to an extent, reliant on the view that women were husbands’ wives, not individuals in their own right. Boyd used this fragile need for women to her advantage, and many stories of her outrageous flirtations circled among Union and confederate officers alike. These, however, played an important role as Boyd identified in one diary entry, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and last, but not least, for a great deal of very important information.” The notion of womanhood as dependency on a man, and the objection, to some part, of women, that men perpetrated by bringing flowers and ‘remarkable effusion,’ actually allowed Boyd to gain all the information she needed to effectively spy on the Union for her cause.

Belle Boyd, a Confederate civil war spy.

Belle Boyd, a Confederate civil war spy.

Mary Chestnut as the more common female experience

Mary Chestnut conversely played the role of the conventional, helpless Confederate woman abandoned by her husband, but she held real devastation in this, and truly felt lost. Many women in the Confederacy had similar experiences to Chestnut, as they were left with a plantation and possibly hundreds of slaves to manage. There was also the constant fear of servile insurrection, aggravated by abolitionist John Brown’s raid in 1859 in which he wanted to start an armed slave revolt. Chestnut was the embodiment of women’s beliefs that, as Faust identifies, the feeling of ‘a new sense of God’s distance and disengagement combined with a distrust of the men on whom they had so long relied,’ and as such, the necessity of war that forced Confederate women to behave in new ways, became the driving force behind the changing of their identities. The lives of the confederate women, not having undergone the innovations of society that were occurring in the north, had been so focused on marriage and child-bearing, with their identities so tied up with visions of themselves as wives and mothers, that when war overturned these norms, it meant that their fundamental self-definition was altered. Moreover, their emotional relations and experiences were so fixed on privacies of heterosexual love that the countless examples of female homosexuality recorded in diaries, were not seen as anything other than close female friendship, probably in part because the identity of a woman was so ingrained as part of a larger patriarchal sphere.

Related to this is the renewed view of the identities of widows during the war. As a result of huge casualties, with 260,000 Confederate deaths at the end of the war, many women became widows, and this notion became romanticized as they were seen as having ‘loved and suffered’. Widows were seen as the settlers of ‘the rejuvenating club’ of women who became self-confident in themselves and eligible for a state pension of $30 per year, on certain conditions. This brought with it a sense of independence for many women, as they no longer had the choice of relying on a husband, and now owned money themselves, an opportunity which most would not have previously had. Widows therefore became essential for women all over the Confederacy, in questioning the very nature of being a woman, because women actively seeking romance redefined marriage conventions. The stereotype of the faithful, heartbroken wife, and therefore the assessment that women only lived for their husbands, was deconstructed, as they showed that they would continue to live their life even without a husband. To court and remarry was to assert a claim to happiness, preceding the self-abnegation and altruism expected from a woman.

 

To conclude

It can be seen that, as Faust argues, necessity may have been the ‘mother of invention’ for women in the Confederacy during the Civil War, as the romantic notions of war and patriotism had been replaced with a selfishness due to a need to survive. The women themselves could have also been the ‘mothers of invention’ themselves, though, and the women’s property law of 1860, embodied a new ‘vision of masculine irresponsibility’ (Lebsock), perhaps consequential of the new gender ideology introduced as a result of the Civil War.

 

What do you think about the role of women in the Confederacy during the US Civil War?

Politicians have a history of using fear to gain votes and win elections. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here), follows on from his first article on Scared America (here) and considers recent events in the US in the context of 19th century America. He explains how Chinese immigration to America, particularly to California, led to hostility and the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would significantly reduce Chinese immigration.

A sketch on the ship  Alaska , bound for San Francisco, with many Chinese people aboard. Sketch from  Harper’s Weekly  in 1876. Available  here .

A sketch on the ship Alaska, bound for San Francisco, with many Chinese people aboard. Sketch from Harper’s Weekly in 1876. Available here.

Something unexpected happened as an outcome of the Watergate Scandal: Americans realized their leaders were merely human. When transcripts from the Oval Office tape recording system utilized by Nixon became available, the populace was shocked to hear their President say to his Chief of Staff: “You know, it's a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. Whatthe Christ isthe matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.”[i]

President Donald Trump has further demystified and possibly demoralized the Office of the President. In an Oval Office meeting with Congressional leaders, discussing protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and some African nations, the President asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"[ii]

Immediately upon taking office in January 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order[1]banning immigration from certain Middle East countries. The purpose of the Order was laid out in the first paragraph:

The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States.  Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from adequately scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.  And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admittedto the United States.[iii]

 

According to a Fact Sheet issued by the State Department, “For the next 90 days, nearly all travelers, except U.S. citizens, traveling on passports from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen will be temporarily suspended from entry to the United States.”[iv]

Despite many legal challenges and additional Executive Orders issued by President Trump, some form of this travel ban remains in effect. Numerous raids by the aptly acronymic ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have stormed businesses and stalked illegal immigrants at non-immigration related court hearings. No one is safe from deportation, including military veterans. 

These actions are just part and parcel of the American experience. Nor is this the first timethat our leaders enacted laws barring the immigrant population from becoming part of the American Narrative.  

 

RISE OF THE ‘YELLOW PERIL’

`They are coming to take our jobs,’ is an oft-repeated refrain when speaking of any significant numbers of want-to-be immigrants. From the Irish of the 1850s to the Latinos of the 1980s, and somewhere in between, there is the Chinese.  The 47thUnited States Congress has the ignominious distinction of being the first to codify discrimination based upon national origin.  The signature piece of legislation: The Immigration Act of 1882, historically referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In similar fashion to the Know Nothing Party, decades later in California,there was a political party with nativist roots. Founded in 1877, the California Workingman’s Party took control of the state legislature in 1878. In their session in Sacramento, they rewrote the State’s Constitution, disenfranchising the Chinese. In an address that same year, Denis Kearney, founder of the CWP, declared, the Chinese “are imported by companies, controlled as serfs, worked like slaves, and at last go back to China with all their earnings. They are in every place; theyseem to have no sex. Boys work, girls work; it is all aliketo them.” Kearney used inflammatory rhetoric, stating that “we shall arm” and “we are men, and propose to live like men in this free land, without the contamination of slave labor, or die like men, if need be, in asserting the rights of our race, our country, and our families.[v]

The Chinese first began emigrating to the western coast of the American continent after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. In the decade of the 1850s, over 40,000 Chinese immigrants entered the United States. In the next decade,that number increased to close to 65,000.[vi]A majority of that population settled in California. 

 

The Chinese Exclusion Act

When discussing the motivation of any group of immigrants, there are two factors: pull and push. Pull factors are the concepts, ideas,ormonetary reward for moving to a new nation. In this example, the California Gold Rush was the first pull factor for the Chinese. An additional pull factor was the plentiful jobs working on the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. By the early 1860s, in response to the rise of the Chinese immigrants, the State of California enacted legislation heavily taxing these cheap "coolie" laborers, the "Anti-Coolie” tax. 

 Push factors, on the other hand, are intolerable conditions in the native homeland of the immigrant group. The potato famine of the 1840s drove many Irish and Germans away from their ancestral homes. In the 1850s China was engulfed in the Taipei Rebellion, a quasi-religious Civil War that raged from 1850 until 1864. There are estimates that 20 to 30 million Chinese lost their lives during the Rebellion, not counting those that died due to disease and famine in the aftermath. The Taipei Rebellion served as a significant push factor in the Chinese immigration to the United States. 

Political pressure mounted on Congress to act on the immigration issue. California continued to place prohibitions on Chinese immigration, but it was not enough, a national solution was required.  On August 3, 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Immigration Act into law. In bowing to the California pressure groups and the national labor movement, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred any additional skilled or unskilled labor from entering the country. There were exceptions for professional Chinese immigrants such as doctors and lawyers though. The Immigration Act of 1882 was modified in 1888 by the Scott Act, which stated any Chinese in the United States who returned toChina were no longer permitted re-entry intothe United States. Set to expire in 1892, Congress enacted the Geary Act, re-authorizing the Immigration Act of 1882, for ten years. In 1902 the Geary Act was renewed but did not set an expiration date. 

 

Judicial Discretion: Chae Chan Ping v United States, 130 US 581 (1889)

The judicial branch must make any test of law enacted by the legislative branch, in accordance withthe wishes of the Founders when they created the conceptual idea of a separation of powers. In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court declared the Chinese Exclusion Act constitutional.  The Plaintiffin the case was Chae Chan Ping, who challenged the validity of the Chinese Exclusion Act on the ground it violated the Treaty of Wangxia. Signed in 1844, the Treaty of Wangxia was the American equivalent of the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanjing, which ended the First Opium War in China. The relevant section of the treaty guaranteed unlimited entry of Chinese to America. Writing for the majority, Justice Horace Grey stated, “The power of the government to exclude foreigners from the country whenever, in its judgment, the public interests require such exclusion, has been asserted in repeated instances, and never denied by the executive or legislative departments.” The justice questioned the legal standing of the Plaintiff. Concluding that “If there be any just ground of complaint on the part of China, it must be madeto the political department of our government, which is alone competent to act upon the subject.” [vii]

An analogy: The majority of the Supreme Court told Mr. Chae, “Sorry, sir, that’s not my department, let me see if I can find someone for you.” The Legislative Branch passed a law based upon the "threat" represented by the incoming Chinese. The Executive Branch, in all its 19thCentury feckless glory, signed the Bill into Law. The Judicial Branch, eight white men (Stephen J. Field, Joseph P. Bradley, John Harlan, Horace Gray, Samuel Blatchford, Melvin Fuller, David Brewer, Henry Brown, andLucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II), ratified the law.  The Chinese Exclusion Act finally ended in 1943, when the United States and China became wartime allies.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

You can read more of Jonathan’s work at Portable Historianwww.portablehistorian.com.


[1]An Executive Order is a rule or order issued by the President to the Executive Branch, bypassing the legislative branch, and having the full force and effect of law. 


[i]https://www.thoughtco.com/richard-nixon-quotes-2733879

[ii]Josh Dawsey.  “Trump Derides Protections for Immigrants From ‘Shithole’ Countries.” The Washington Post(January 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-attacks-protections-for-immigrants-from-shithole-countries-in-oval-office-meeting/2018/01/11/bfc0725c-f711-11e7-91af-31ac729add94_story.html?utm_term=.0abfecb37af0

[iii]President Trump. “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/27/donald-trump-executive-order-immigration-full-text

[iv]Homeland Security. “Fact Sheet: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States.” (January 29, 2017) https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/01/29/protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states

[v]Dennis Kearney, President, and H. L. Knight, Secretary, “Appeal from California. The

Chinese Invasion. Workingmen’s Address,” Indianapolis Times, (28 February 1878).

[vi]Immigration to the United States, “History of Immigration, 1783-1891,” http://www.immigrationtounitedstates.org/549-history-of-immigration-1783-1891.html

[vii]CHAE CHAN PING v. the UNITED STATES 130 U.S. 581(9 S.Ct. 623, 32 L.Ed. 1068)https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/130/581

Legendary American Civil War-era nurse Clara Barton was extraordinary in many ways. Not only was she an important nurse in the US Civil War, she also played a key role in bringing the Red Cross to America. Here, Matt Goolsby follows his first ‘nurses in war’ article on Cornelia Hancock (available here) and tells us about the life of Clara Barton.

An engraving of Clara Barton from 1867. Engraving by John Sartain.

An engraving of Clara Barton from 1867. Engraving by John Sartain.

Humble Beginnings

The United States was a very agrarian based nation in the early part of the 19th century. Travel and communication were typically slow and arduous.

By the time of the Civil War, the northeast region of the U.S. was experiencing the growing pains of the Industrial Revolution that had started in England in the 1700s. Railroad lines were expanding at an exponential rate as the demand for goods transversed the entire region of the rapidly growing country.

Communication was also becoming a transcontinental medium to rapidly transmit information from one region to another through the use of telegraph lines. Newspapers began publishing stories next day instead of relying on couriers delivering accounts that took days if not weeks to send and receive.

One would assume that the rapidly expanding use of technology and industry would have affected how the medical profession cared for the sick, wounded, and dying soldiers who were the casualties of the Civil War during this time. In reality, it exposed the glaring weaknesses and woeful practices utilized in treatment that spawned a desire for improvement of those who were most vulnerable. Against this backdrop, a formidable leader and role model emerged.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts to Captain Stephen Barton and his wife Sarah Stone. She was the youngest of five children: Dorothy - 17, Stephen - 15, David - 13, and Sally – 10 at the time.

Coming from very unpretentious beginnings, Clara as she was fondly known by, was a timid and shy child. Her elder brother David spent much time with Clara riding horses and enjoying the outdoors which helped to relieve some of the timidity she first felt.

The Barton home where Clara was born still exists to this day in its original location and is a museum to her life and testament to the simple yet solid foundations her family was known for.

The Barton family, whose beginnings can be traced back to 11thcentury England in the Domesday book, otherwise known as: ‘A great survey’ commissioned by William the Conqueror, shows that the family was awarded land due to their loyalty to king and country.

The Barton family in America first appears in 1640 in Salem, Massachusetts after Edward Barton emigrated from England as one of the early colonists. After several moves throughout New England, the Barton family finally settled in North Oxford, Massachusetts and took up daily living with their Universalist religious background.

Of particular note are the facts that Clara’s family established the first Universalist church in Oxford and ordained its first Pastor: Hosea Ballou who is considered one of the fathers of American Universalism. As described in the story of Clara’s life by Percy H. Elper: “Yet her father and mother, however liberal in their creed, never relaxed from the deepest habits of all that was best in Pilgrim and Puritan. No matter how snowy, no matter how the winds hurtled over the hilltops — the Barton family not only drove five miles to church every Sunday, but maintained, during the other six days of the week, the deeper fundamentals of conscience and honor peculiar to their forefathers' faith.”

 

Foundational Nurse Training

In 1832 Clara and her family experienced a significant medical crisis that helped form her future nursing skills and made clear the talent she innately possessed.

Her brother David was severely injured while working on a barn-raising when one of the boards he was standing on at the peak collapsed under him. He fell to the ground sustaining a severe head injury that laid him up in bed for nearly two years. 

Clara, perhaps from the closeness she felt to her brother while riding horseback in the woods, spent the entire recovery time caring for David. She also was the one who applied the prescribed treatments of the time for him that consisted of: Leeches, setons (stitches to relieve infection), counter-irritating blisters, and blood-letting to relieve his fever. She is quoted as saying: “For two years I only left his bedside for one half day. I almost forgot that there was an outside to the house.”

After David had finally recovered from his injuries, (when the new treatment of steam baths came into use), Clara had to sequester herself for recovery time from the care she had provided. At the tender age of 11, it was a portent of things to come.

 

Civil War Service

After spending 18 years teaching and then another 5 years living and working in Washington D.C. for the U.S. Department of the Interior and Patent Office, Clara saw firsthand what many of the men who were involved in the Civil War would experience through its long, arduous journey.

In April of 1861, the Massachusetts 6thregiment heeded the call of Abraham Lincoln for 75,000 troops and proceeded to make its way down to the nation’s capital. On their way they passed through Baltimore, Maryland where a crowd of 10,000 opponents of the beginning conflict assaulted them. This left four dead and 30 wounded.

They fought their way through the crowd and arrived in Washington the following day: April 16, 1861. Clara witnessed the regiment as they arrived by train and was there to greet them. 

This was the first time she had worked as a ‘Volunteer Nurse’ and experienced what would become her life’s mission to apply healing to those wounded in conflict. In her own words she testifies: "Among the soldiers, I recognized my own early associates. We bound their wounds, and fed them." There were many from Worcester, Massachusetts including Sergeant J. Stewart Brown and Joseph M. Dyson who she knew by name.

As the war progressed, Clara became acutely aware of the need for frontline care for the wounded and dying. Her desire to care for them put her in mortal danger numerous times. She writes of her time with the soldiers at Antietam in September of 1862: "We were in a slight hollow and all shell which did not break our guns in front, came directly among or over us, bursting above our heads or burying themselves in the hills beyond. A man lying upon the ground asked for a drink, I stopped to give it, and having raised him with my right hand, was holding him. Just at this moment a bullet sped its free and easy way between us, tearing a hole in my sleeve and found its way into his body. He fell back dead. There was no more to be done for him and I left him to his rest. I have never mended that hole in my sleeve. I wonder if a soldier ever does mend a bullet hole in his coat?”

These experiences as gleaned from her writings, demonstrate the conviction of purpose and character that she had developed since her time caring for her brother’s injuries.

There are several key traits of Clara’s personality that are apparent in both her writings and of those who knew her.

The first is that she was never interested in money, only in solving humanities ill fortunes. This is best described later as she would later become the founder of the American Red Cross and would petition the U.S. Government to have its purpose expanded as a humanitarian relief organization for natural disasters as well as their charter to aid the wounded, sick, and dying in war. 

The second trait that also is very apparent is her love for her fellow man and the ability to rise to the occasion when events merit it. I’m reminded fondly of Mother Teresa and her ministering to the poor, sick, and weak ‘untouchables’ of India who she cared for during most of her adult life.

Towards the end of the war Clara was recognized for her gallant service by being named the Superintendent of the Department of Nurses under Surgeon McCormack who was Chief Director of the Army of the James stationed at City Point, Virginia.

As was always the case with Clara, she never settled for comfort in the ‘safe’ zones, but wanted to be attending to the infirm on the frontlines. 

Her oldest brother Stephen would also become a victim of the war and perhaps one of her greatest motivations to fulfill her duty as a nurse.

Stephen Barton had been mistakenly identified as a Confederate by the Union due to his living in North Carolina and had been neglected for a long period until Clara got word of him being hospitalized in Washington D.C. By this time, his health had deteriorated beyond hope.

Not long before he passed away in 1865, she wrote of hearing one of his final, moving prayers: "Oh God, whose children we all are, look down with thine eye of justice and mercy upon this terrible conflict, and weaken the wrong, and strengthen the right till this unequal contest close. Oh God, save my country. Bless Abraham and his armies.” She also painted a vivid portrait of what the conditions of where he passed were: "And there under the guns of Richmond, amid the groans of the dying, in the shadows of the smoky rafters of an old negro hut, by the rude chimney where the dusky form of the bondsman had crouched for years, and on the ground, trodden hard by the foot of the slave, I knelt beside that rough couch of boards, and, to the patriot prayer that rose above, sobbed 'Amen.'”

 

American Red Cross Founder

For four years following the Civil War, Clara Barton helped find those men who were missing in action from the official records of the war’s dead. While still living in Washington D.C., she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers to identify those who were killed or missing in action to try to relieve the suffering of family and friends.

During this time, she met and befriended Susan B. Anthony as well as Frederick Douglas. These relationships would leave a lasting impression on her as she championed women’s suffrage and civil rights for the rest of her life.

The years of Civil War work for others had taken their toll on Clara. After seeing her doctor and following his orders to get rest and recuperation from her many travails, she decided to visit Europe in 1869. Her first visit was to Liverpool, England and then on to Paris. Her final stop was to be where her life’s calling was forever changed.

Arriving in Geneva, Switzerland for the end of her vacation period, she was visited by the president and members of the “International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded in the War”, which would later become the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since Clara had such an outstanding reputation even with the international community, she was asked why America didn’t honor the recently signed ‘Geneva Convention’ and why after such a conflict as theirs, they wouldn’t be interested in it? Her answer was simple: “I listened in silent wonder to all this recital, and when I did reply it was to say that I had never heard of the Convention of Geneva nor of the treaty, and was sure that as a country America did not know she had declined.”

Not long after she had arrived in Geneva, the Franco-Prussian war broke out. Clara was able to see first-hand how the Red Cross in Europe was operating and how it contrasted with her experiences in the Civil War: "As I journeyed on and saw the work of these Red Cross societies in the field, accomplishing in four months under their systematic organization what we failed to accomplish in four years without it — no mistakes, no needless suffering, no starving, no lack of care, no waste, no confusion, but order, plenty, cleanliness and comfort wherever that little flag made its way — a whole continent marshaled under the banner of the Red Cross — as I saw all this, and joined and worked in it, you will not wonder that I said to myself 'if I live to return to my country I will try to make my people understand the Red Cross and that treaty.' But I did more than resolve, I promised other nations I would do it, and other reasons pressed me to remember my promise.”

One is struck with the irony of Clara’s timing in situations where war breaks out. It seems that she was called for just a time as these.

In early 1871 the Franco-Prussian war ended, but the battles continued throughout both Germany and France until the late summer of the same year. Clara stayed through this entire time ministering to the sick, treating the wounded, establishing clothiers who would fashion garments for the poorest, and soliciting funds from aristocratic donors who included Grand Duchess Louise of Baden, Kingdom of Prussia. Her willingness to befriend any class of person is another testament to her savviness and skill.

By 1874 Clara was worn out from her time in Europe and lack of recuperation. She was no stranger to loss having found out that her sister Sally had died before she could see her one final time in Worcester. Her only remaining relative in her family circle was her brother David whom she had nursed back to health as a child.

She spent several more years convalescing and writing friends, family, and officials of her intentions to establish the American Red Cross. With great perseverance, she was finally successful in 1881 with President James Garfield’s administration and it was established. An assassin’s bullet struck down the President and delayed the formal establishment of the association while the nation mourned for 80 days. 

Finally, in 1882, the Red Cross was formally established with ratification by Congress and the signing of the Geneva Convention by President Chester Arthur. Its role had expanded from not just treating the wounded and dying from war, but also those who experienced natural disasters.

At a convention of the International Red Cross in Geneva during 1882, the President of the International organization gave Clara the credit for the new American branch: "Its whole history is associated with a name already known to you — that of Miss Clara Barton; without the energy and perseverance of this remarkable woman, we should not for a long time have had the pleasure of seeing the Red Cross received into the United States."

Clara would serve as the President of the American Red Cross until June, 1904. Her tasks of running the organization along with doing fieldwork are unheard of in this day and age. 

As the years went by, Clara would write her autobiography titled: ‘The Story of My Childhood’. But the Clara Barton that I read about was gleaned from the book titled: ‘The Life of Clara Barton’, by Percy Elper who was the only authorized biographer of her life by the family. He used her unpublished war diaries, letters, eyewitness accounts, and conversations to write a truly compelling picture of this unique lady. 

Clara died in her home in 1912 at the age of 90. Her stature and legacy on American society have had a tremendous impact on so many people. We have much to learn from her compassionate and caring nature for those in need.

 

What do you think of Clara Barton? Let us know below.

References

Percy H. Epler, “The Life of Clara Barton”, The Macmillan Company, New York, July 1915.

 “Evolution of the Railroad”, https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/videos/evolution-of-railroads

“Nursing History – Clara Barton”, 

https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/enterprise-assets/about-us/history/history-clara-barton-v3.pdf

“Biography of Mother Teresa”, https://www.biography.com/people/mother-teresa-9504160

“The Domesday Book”, http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/

“Clara Barton – Library of Congress”, https://www.loc.gov/item/2018651854/

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Politicians have a history of using fear to gain votes and win elections. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here), considers recent events in the US in the context of 19th century America. He explains how immigrants from Ireland and Germany led to fear and the rise of the American Party – or Know Nothing Movement.

An image representing the American Know Nothing Movement. 1850s.

An image representing the American Know Nothing Movement. 1850s.

In 1958 for three-bits you were able to purchase "Masters of Deceit" by J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The book is currently available at various booksellers and online. In explaining Communist Discipline, he wrote, "Modern-day communism, in all its many ramifications, simply cannot be understood without a knowledge of Communist Discipline: how it is engendered, how it operates, how it tears out man's soul and makes him a tool of the Party.”[i]After defeating the Axis powers in the catastrophic war, a new/old threat emerged, Red Communism. The era of bomb shelters and duck and cover, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, McCarthy and Nixon, and Alger Hiss and the Pumpkin Papers. Korea ended in a stalemate, and something was brewing with the French in Indo-China. Americans were afraid.

According to J. Edgar Hoover, this was the threat America faced, "To make the United States a communist nation is the ambition of every Party member, regardless of position or rank. He constantly works to make this dream a reality, to steal your rights, liberties, and property. Even though he lives in the United States, he is a supporter of a foreign power, espousing an alien line of thought. He is a conspirator against his country."[ii]

Many questions surround the legitimacy of the 2016 elections and the current political climate in America. Regardless, we are still a scared nation, whether it be from a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, or just everyday life in poverty-stricken America. When we vote, that fear is present. We elect leaders whom we believe will take care of us. In the television show The West Wing, the character of Josh Lyman explains to an aide how the electorate makes their choice at the polls: “When voters want a national daddy, someone to be tough and strong and defend the country, they vote Republican. When they want a mommy, someone to give them jobs, health care the policy equivalent of matzah ball soup, they vote Democratic.”[iii] Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst studied the impact of fear and anger in political information processing.[iv] They found “feelings of anger may promote voting for candidates who are well recognized, regardless of their beliefs on issues. However, fear may encourage individuals to vote for candidates whose positions on specific issues are congruent with their own, thus leading to more thoughtful, meaningful, and self-relevant choices.”[v]

At the height of the 2016 election cycle, Time magazine’s political correspondent, Molly Ball, published an article in The Atlantic. The title of her article: “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear.”[vi] In it, she wrote: Fear and anger are often cited in tandem as the sources of Trump's particular political appeal, so frequently paired that they become a refrain: fear-and-anger, anger-and-fear. But fear is not the same as anger; it is a unique political force. Its ebbs and flows through American political history have pulled on elections, reordering and destabilizing the electoral landscape.”[vii]

It is with that premise in mind that I plan to write on the use of fear in politics, in particular, the “fear of the other.” The other being whomever the politicians need to target to arouse fear and anger. I will work through this examination in chronological order; examining various political campaigns, parties, and movements for their use of fear and treatment of the other. I will demonstrate how the use of fear impacts the electorate.

 

The First Immigration Crisis: The Irish and Emergence of the Know-Nothing Party

Most Americans recognize the words of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Patriarchal language aside, this was a fundamental tenet of the Founding Fathers. In contrast, thirteen years later, these same founders indicated that an African-American was 3/5th a person, for purposes of the decennial census.

This American Narrative, a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality, was accepted as truth. The narrative makes false assumptions, using an English and Protestant-centric view. The everyday use of the English language as an amalgamating societal force aided the growth of the narrative. Enacting its first Naturalization Act in 1790, the United States accepted any white person into its citizenry. Estimates are that between 1790 and 1805 immigration to the United States averaged 6,000 new citizens a year. The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 tampered down new influxes of Americans. The first rise in immigration began in 1815, leading the Congress to enact the Steerage Act, in 1819, requiring all ships to keep detailed records of passengers and offer better transportation conditions.[viii]

Immigration to America peaked in 1854 at 428,000, with Irish and Germans escaping adverse agricultural conditions. [ix] For these immigrants, their first views of America were the port cities they disembarked from. The first test of the American Narrative began in that time and place. "In the communities where the new Irish Catholic immigrants settled, many wondered whether their presence would affect American cultural identity. Natives also expressed fears and doubts regarding the allegiance of this group to American democratic values and institutions. Finally, they feared that these newcomers were being manipulated by corrupt city politicians, who were more concerned about votes than inculcating the principles of democracy in the new immigrants." [x]

 

The Order of United Americans/Know-Nothing Party

Thomas R. Whitney, son of a New York silversmith, is a little-known name to most Americans. A politician and a journalist, Whitney was a moving force in the Order of United Americans (OUA), a nativist fraternity. Founded in 1846, the OUA, was an amalgam of former Whigs, Free-soilers, and nativists who opposed slavery and were concerned with the growing power of the foreign-born. Initially, a secret society (members were instructed to answer that they knew nothing about the organization if questioned), by the early 1850s knowledge of them was common. Whitney served as editor starting in 1851 of the Republic, “a monthly magazine of American Literature, Politics, and Art that the rapidly expanding OUA initiated, sponsored, and distributed. Whitney's standing in the OUA was confirmed in 1853 when he began a second term as grand sachem. In 1856 Whitney crowned his writing career with the publication of a nearly four-hundred-page Know-Nothing bible, A Defence of the American Policy." [xi]

Economic development, a homogeneous national culture, active government, and opposition to the burgeoning women's rights movement was at the heart of OUA beliefs. The nuclear family was essential and required female and filial subordination. An active government was committed to economic and cultural development. It did not offer legislation attacking societal inequality. Whitney opposed maximum hours laws, public aid to the elderly, as well as a homestead bill that proposed to grant federal lands to those without. "Government’s proper task, Whitney argued, was to shore up the foundations of existing society, serve its needs, and advance its general interests."[xii]

To Whitney and the rest of the OUA, foreign-born nationals were not reliable conservatives and would not support the American Narrative. The OUA was threatened by the new peasants, craft workers, and unskilled laborers emigrating to the United States. They did not have the proper political experience. They had the wrong acculturation. The threat to the United States came in two forms: Roman Catholics and Radicals.

 

IRISH NEED NOT APPLY

According to the Library of Congress, nearing one-third of those immigrating to the United States between 1830 and 1860 were Irish Catholics.[xiii]

An Anti-Catholic fervor swept the nation. One conspiracy theory postulated the Catholic Church was behind the influx of Irish. The Irish also represented a greater fear for the OUA; they did not own property, so they were corruptible, irresponsible, and ignorant. The OUA used propaganda that the Irish were uneducated, politically unaware and easy to manipulate to attract men (i.e.voters) to the OUA. Voters were scared that the corruptible immigrants would prevent "good men" from governing. [xiv]

There was also a fear of radicalism, as Europe was undergoing its transformation in the 1840s. A riot between striking Irish dock workers and strikebreakers exemplified this radicalism. The political upheaval of 1848 added to the fear of newly arrived citizens. Some of the radical ideas were coming out of Germany; thus German emigres were marked as targets. In speaking of these working-class immigrants, Whitney said they were "carriers of a deadly plague--Red Republicanism." [xv]

The political wing of the OUA, the American Party, had strong showings in the elections of 1852 and 1854. The American Party drew most of its support from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The 1855 Congressional session started with 43 members of the American Party. Their candidate for President in 1856 won 21% of the vote.[xvi]

The leaders of the American Party were men who had never voted and defectors of the Whig Party. They promised to take power away from the political machines, to "drain the swamp," as it were. They proposed a direct primary voting system and required candidates for office to be "fresh from the people-not professional, no politicians." As a result, most, American Party candidates were inexperienced and incompetent.[xvii]

America, then as in now, was a nation in crises. The people, the voters, were scared. There were more Irish, Germans, and other Europeans coming to America. The revolts in Europe in 1848 added to the influx. The uneducated immigrants added to the population of the emerging cities. Soon, ghettos would appear. As the towns grew so did their political machines. These events added up to a threat against the traditional American narrative cherished by Thomas Whitney and others like him. They seized upon the inherent fear of the other in trying to preserve the American Narrative, never knowing they were altering it by their use of fear.

To be continued.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

You can read more of Jonathan’s work at Portable Historianwww.portablehistorian.com.

 

[i] J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit, (NY, 1958), 163

[ii] Ibid., 4

[iii]  Elie Attie, “The Mommy Problem,” The West Wing, (2005) https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=the-west-wing&episode=s07e02

[iv] Michael T. Parker and Linda M. Isbell, “How I Vote Depends on How I Feel: The Differential Impact of Anger and Fear on Political Information Processing,” Psychological Science, 21 (April 2010), 548.

[v] Ibid., 549

[vi] Molly Ball, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear,” The Atlantic, September 2, 2016, 1.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] The Statute of Liberty- Elis Island, "Immigration Timeline," https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/immigration-timeline#1790

[ix] Raymond L. Cohn, "Nativism and the End of the Mass Migration of the 1840s and 1850s," The Journal of Economic History, 60 (June 01), 361.

[x] Jose E. Vega, "Cultural Pluralism and American Identity: A Response to Foner's Freedom and Hakim's Heroes," OAH Magazine of History, 20 (July 2006), 19.

[xi] Bruce Levine, "Conservatism, Nativism, and Slavery: Thomas R. Whitney and the Origins of the Know-Nothing Party," The Journal of American History, (Sept 2001), 461-463.

[xii] Ibid. 464-466

[xiii] https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/irish2.html

[xiv] Levine, 468

[xv] Ibid., 469

[xvi] Encyclopedia Britannica, "Know-Nothing Party," https://www.britannica.com/topic/Know-Nothing-party; Michael F. Hot, "The Politics of Impatience: The Origins of Know-Nothingism," The Journal of American History, 60 (September 1973) 311.

[xvii] Ibid., 311, 318,319

Cornelia Hancock was born in 1840, and by 1863 she was ready to help look after the sick in the US Civil War. Here, Matt Goolsby explains how Cornelia broke boundaries and helped many people during the Civil War and after.

20180812 Cornelia_Hancock_civil_war_nurse.jpg

From Quaker to Volunteer Nurse

Life in mid-nineteenth century America was vastly different to today. The news was relayed either by messenger via horseback, by train, or over telegraph wires. The northern states had more than 90% of the established infrastructure of the day versus the paltry facilities of the South.

Unsurprisingly, there was a heightened interest in news of the Civil War and especially of the battle of Gettysburg since the nation’s sons were involved.

Pennsylvania took center stage in July of 1863.

Driven by a desire to fulfill her life’s purpose, Cornelia Hancock knew that she needed to be involved.

Cornelia Hancock came from a very unassuming Quaker family. She had been born on February 8, 1840, at Hancock’s Bridge in Salem, New Jersey. Many Quakers had fled England due to religious persecution and had wanted only to live a quiet life and practice their religion. Their unique lifestyle even caused persecution to occur in early New England history, but had subsided with the Tolerance Act of 1689.

The Hancock family had abolitionist leanings due to their Quaker principles and believed that the nationwide conflict was just. Personally affected, Cornelia’s brother had enlisted in the Union Army, which motivated her to help in some significant way.

Cornelia’s older sister had been employed at the US mint in Philadelphia and later married a Quaker doctor named, Henry T. Child, also from Philadelphia, who felt strongly about caring for wounded soldiers.

Dr. Child knew of Cornelia’s desire to get involved and so requested she travel to Gettysburg to help relieve some of the pain the wounded and dying were going through.

Her arrival in Gettysburg established her role as a ‘Volunteer’ nurse as most of the nurses or assistants of the day had no formal medical training. Nurses of the day were called ‘Volunteer’ and were recruited as plain women over the age of thirty-five who were required to wear unassuming and non-adorning apparel. They were also instructed to wear nothing in their hair and forego jewelry so as not to be a distraction and to also not become a victim of men’s advances. This had been outlined by Dorothea Dix, the Army Superintendent of Nurses. Cornelia spurned these requirements being only 23 at the time and proceeded with grim determination. She made it to the battle site on July 6, 1863 to ghastly conditions.

Most of the dead had remained on the battlefield in the blistering summer sun for three days after the battle ended. This caused the bodies to quickly decompose, which created an unbearable stench that hang heavy in the air.

After losing the battle, Robert E Lee had fled the Union Army with his forces leaving 5000 of his Confederate troops behind. This only added to the misery experienced after the conflict ended.

Upon entering 3rd Division, 2nd Corps Field Hospital on July 7, 1863, Cornelia wrote that the wounded had been separated into differing levels of triage: those who had severe head wounds and were deemed ‘hopeless’, those who had a slim chance of survival, and those who were recovering. Her first official duties were to write down last requests to family members from those too weak to do it themselves who would soon become the ‘beloved dead’.

 

From Volunteer Nurse to Caregiver

As Cornelia quickly matured in her work at the Field Hospitals, she became a strong advocate for the men in her care. There were severe shortages of basic supplies, especially bedding and bandages. Her writings reflect the desire to meet these basic needs as she solicited family and friends for funds to procure what was essential for the care of the wounded.

The amazing aspect of Cornelia’s personality that comes out in her writings is that she was truly moved by the misery surrounding her and yet the sadness of the situation never seemed to paralyze her to the needs of others. These experiences would refine as well as clarify what her future life’s work would become.

As the war progressed and the suffering continued, she would jokingly refer to the ‘Copperheads’ as being worthy of death because of the lack of support they gave to the Union cause. This coming from a nurse who saw the best and worst in humanity shows the paradox of the experience of war and life itself. 

‘Copperhead’ was the term given to a group of Union Democrat politicians who were vociferous in their criticism of the war and wanted an immediate truce with the Confederates of the Southern United States. It was given to them by Republicans who likened them to a snake of the same name. Not an endearing term or moniker.

Another aspect of Cornelia’s personality that comes out is the love of her family and yet, in the resistance to become what they would have preferred. She had been raised with loving but strict Quaker principles. Her family would have preferred she take a more ‘prudent’ direction with her life. However, she chose to care for those who she felt needed her most. This is very evident in her letters.

One such letter shows the depth of compassion she has for both the wounded and their families and friends: “I have eight wall tents of amputated men. The tents of the wounded I look right out on - it is a melancholy sight, but you have no idea how soon one gets used to it. Their screams of agony do not make as much an impression on me now as the reading of this letter will on you. The most painful task we have here, is entertaining the friends who come from home and see their friends all mangled up”, written Sunday, July 26th, 1863 at 3rd Division-2nd Army Corp Hospital, Gettysburg, PA.

Cornelia had the innate ability to see the greater purpose in her service to others. Her desire to provide for the physical needs of the men as well as their emotional comfort is on plain display in many of her letters. When she speaks of men who are about to die from mortal wounds to those who would cry because they were being transferred to another hospital away from her care, you can hear her compassion and empathy for them.

 

From Caregiver to Lifelong Advocate

In the final two years of the Civil War, Cornelia spent her time moving to different locations as the need arose. During the latter part of October, 1863, she moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to care for the ‘Contraband’.

The escaped slaves or those who sided with the Union Army during the Civil War were referred to as ‘Contrabands’. Cornelia also used the term in her letters to describe the families of those who had also escaped with them.

Conditions for those termed ‘Contraband’, were dismal at best. It was after witnessing the effects of slavery and poverty that she felt strongly that something had to be done to improve their lives.

Her first efforts were to solicit family for funds to purchase clothing for those who were the poorest of the poor. She also witnessed firsthand the brutal effects of what many a slaveowner had wielded on their slaves.

One such situation occurred when she described two slaves to her mother in a letter dated, November 15th, 1863, Contraband Hospital, Washington D.C.: “There were two very fine looking slaves arrived here from Louisiana, one of them had his master’s name branded on his forehead, and with him he brought all the instruments of torture that he wore at different times during 39 years of very hard slavery.” 

She goes on to describe the heinous instruments used to keep slaves from comfort and freedom. These experiences along with her witnessing what the ‘Contraband’ had for food and clothing only solidified her resolve to do what she could for the least of these, her brethren.

As the war continued, Cornelia would transfer to several different locations. They included: Brandy Station and Fredericksburg, Virginia, White House Landing, City Point, Virginia, and finally to where the war ended: Richmond, Virginia.

After the war ended, Cornelia spent the next ten years in which she established the Laing School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina whose mission was to educate former slaves and to inspire them to become good citizens through high ideals.

The remainder of Cornelia’s life was spent working on behalf of the poor and ministering to those who had no advocate. Her strength of character and purpose is demonstrated in the many letters written to family that document her experiences at Gettysburg and throughout the American experience during the Civil War. She was and continues to be a national treasure.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

Finally, the next article in the series is on Clara Barton, another US Civil War-era nurse. Clara Barton also played a key role in the formation of the American Red Cross - article available here.

References

Henrietta Stratton Jaquette - Editor, “Letters of a Civil War Nurse: Cornelia Hancock 1863-1865”, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, Foreword and 1-32.

“News and the Civil War”, http://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-and-the-civil-war

“Cornelia Hancock – National Park Service”, https://www.nps.gov/people/cornelia-hancock.htm

“Definition of Copperhead (Politician)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copperhead_(politics)

“Definition of Contraband (American Civil War)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraband_(American_Civil_War)

“Definition of Quakers”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

“Laing School – Mount Pleasant, South Carolina”, http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/laing-school/

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Aaron Burr's life has always tangled itself in controversy. From killing the first Secretary of the Treasury and key figure in the Federalist Party, Alexander Hamilton, to being the defendant of the United States' first treason case, Aaron Burr was well known for a lot of questionable decisions and bad luck. However, none of his decisions were as objectively manipulative, callous, and greedy as purposefully letting New York City suffer with tainted water for the sake of building a bank. Haley Booker-Lauridson explains.

An early 19th century painting of Aaron Burr.

An early 19th century painting of Aaron Burr.

The New York Water System

Back when New York was New Amsterdam, the water sources were from nearby ponds, streams, and wells, and continued that way for many years. Without a waterworks system, the city's waste ran into the same water it drank from, and distributing drinking water to various areas of the city proved difficult. This troubled Christopher Colles, an Irish engineer and inventor who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1771, just four short years before the Revolution.

In 1775, he began organizing a project he proposed, constructing a water distribution system in the heart of New York. This system used a steam engine pump to extract water from various wells into a reservoir, which would then distribute the water throughout the city in pipes. However, the Revolutionary War came to the city a year later and the project had to be put on hold, and the British soldiers soon destroyed what was left of the fledgling water system.

Though he made several attempts at creating various waterways and different systems in the newly formed United States, none of his projects came to fruition. The water in New York was left in a state of rapid pollution. Without a way to draw clean water, the citizens of New York City drank water steeped in animal, human, and industrial waste. Water distribution was another problem; fires could not consistently be quelled without a distribution system that could quickly get the water to the flames.

With a population of 60,515 people in the city, the waters became increasingly dangerous. By 1798, up to 2,000 people died of yellow fever, which doctors attributed to the filthy water people were drinking. By that time, New Yorkers desperately needed a plan to bring clean water to the city.

 

"Pure and Wholesome Water"

Nearly 24 years after Colles proposed a water distribution system, a bill to secure water from the Bronx River was drafted and sent to the New York State Assembly in 1799.

Aaron Burr, State Assemblyman and Democratic-Republican, worked to convince the Assembly to let the city and state use a private company for their water. While Democratic-Republicans were the main supporters of the bill, they received help from an unlikely ally, Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton campaigned for the Federalist Assemblymen to reach across the aisle. As New York had become his home when he emigrated to America in 1772, it is easy to see why he might want to turn the water bill into a bipartisan decision. The water was terribly polluted and toxic, and Aaron Burr had partnered with him on several occasions, including working as defense attorneys in the first murder trial in the United States. Having trusted Burr and having believed in the cause for a waterworks system, Hamilton convinced his fellow Federalists to back the creation of the Manhattan Water Company.

What Hamilton, and many Assemblymen, did not know was that Burr, just before submitting the bill for its final approval, slipped in a clause allowing the company to use "surplus capital" however it chose, as long as it followed state and federal law. The bill passed through with this clause on April 2, 1799, and the Manhattan Company was created to supply New York with "pure and wholesome water."

This small, unassuming clause transformed what was intended to be a water system for New York into a bank. Burr intended to establish a bank all along. He and other Democratic-Republicans inherently distrusted the First Bank of the United States and its branch in New York, as it was linked with Federalist politics. They feared discrimination in receiving credit and loans, and also desired the power to control campaign finance with their own bank. They wanted to establish a bank manned by their own political party, and schemed to use the city's water crisis to manufacture one right under the Federalists' noses.

 

The Manhattan Water Company's Legacy

By September 1, 1799, the Bank of the Manhattan Company opened, eventually becoming the oldest branch of JP Morgan Chase, and remains a financial institution today.

While the Manhattan Water Company was ostensibly a front for a bank, it did provide the city's first waterworks system. Shoddily put together, it constructed a cheap, crude network of wooden water mains throughout the city, by coring out yellow pine logs for pipes and fastening them together with iron bands.

The system was sub-par at best. It froze during the winter and the tree roots easily pierced through the log pipes, causing terrible back-ups. Even when the system worked, the people suffered through pitifully low water pressure. And, despite having permission to get clean water that ran down the Bronx River, Burr chose to source water from the polluted sources the city tried to get away from.

The Manhattan Water Company continued laying wooden pipes in the 1820s, even though other U.S. cities began using iron clad pipes. It remained the only drinking water supplier until 1842, leaving people with unreliable and bad water for over forty years.

As the water system floundered and the bank flourished, Aaron Burr experienced very little but misfortune from then on. Hamilton made it his duty to keep Burr out of influential public offices, famously campaigning against Burr during the 1800 election, and later in New York's gubernatorial race in 1804. Hamilton often negatively featured Burr in his newspaper, the New York Post. He likely would have continued had he not been fatally wounded in a duel with the man in July of 1804. Burr faced political exile that solidified when he was tried for treason in 1807, eventually fleeing to Europe for several years before returning to the U.S. and living as a perpetual debtor until his death in 1836.

 

What do you think of Aaron Burr? Let us know below.

References

Beatrice G. Reubens, “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company. Part I: Gaining the Charter,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXII (December, 1957), 578–607.

Beatrice G. Reubens, “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company. Part II: Launching a Bank,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXIII (March, 1958), 100–25.

“New York City (NYC) Yellow Fever Epidemic - 1795 to 1804” http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/nycdata/disasters/yellow_fever.html

"The History of the Water Mains in New York City" https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/drinking_water/wood_water_pipes_history.shtml.

New York Laws, 22nd Sess., Ch. LXXXIV.

With the Union’s Army of the Potomac finally defeating Robert E. Lee, you’d think the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg would have elated Abraham Lincoln. Instead, for him, the battle produced a harvest of bitterness and disappointment. Lamont Wood, whose book Lincoln's Planner: A Unique Look at the Civil War Through the President's Daily Activities (Amazon US | Amazon UK) was recently published, explains why this American Civil War battle produced such feelings.

A depiction of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Hand-colored lithograph by Currier and Ives.

A depiction of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Hand-colored lithograph by Currier and Ives.

After two years of indecisive yet bloody warfare, Lincoln glimpsed victory in July 1863. Out West, a Union army was besieging Vicksburg and it looked like the Union would soon control the Mississippi River. Another Union army was advancing in central Tennessee, while on the coast the Union siege of Charleston looked promising. With the addition of Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, surely victory was within grasp.

But there was no follow-through.

As reflected in his collected wartime papers (and recounted in “Lincoln’s Planner”), as the battle unfolded on July 1 and 2, 1863, the president spent a lot of his time in the War Department’s telegraph office, reading dispatches from the front as they arrived.

 

Independence Day

On July 4, Independence Day, a Saturday, and the day after Pickett’s Charge, both sides at Gettysburg stood in place during the morning, Lincoln put out a press release congratulating his army, asking that, “He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude.” That night he helped mount a fireworks display at the White House.

But that was as upbeat as things got.

Meanwhile, torrential rains began falling at Gettysburg and Lee began pulling his army out of Pennsylvania. From out of left field, the Confederate vice president, Alexander H. Stephens showed up under a flag of truce at Fortress Monroe, asking to come to Washington to talk to Lincoln, supposedly to discuss prisoner exchanges. (Presumably, Stephens’ real motivation was to be on hand should the Administration become favorable to peace negotiations following Confederate successes in Pennsylvania.)

On July 5 (Sunday) Lincoln attended a Cabinet meeting where they discussed Stephens’ request, which Lincoln discounted. Lincoln (accompanied by his 10-year-old son Tad) then visited wounded general (and Republican friend and all-round scandal magnet) Dan Sickles, who had been evacuated to Washington after losing a leg at Gettysburg.

Back at the telegraph office, Lincoln saw a report about a Union cavalry raid the previous day that destroyed a Confederate pontoon bridge across the Potomac at Falling Waters, West Virginia. Lincoln bypassed the chain of command and directly telegraphed Gen. William French asking if the rain-swollen Potomac could be forded. The answer: no.

The enticing implication was that Lee was stuck on the north side of the Potomac, unable to retreat to Virginia, and subject to momentary destruction by the pursuing Federals – a development that could wrap up the war.

 

Too Quiet on the Potomac

The next day (Monday, July 6) Lincoln attended a morning Cabinet meeting and convinced them to ignore Stephens—if the Confederate vice president really wanted to talk about prisoner exchanges, there were existing channels for that.

And then Lincoln’s hopes were shattered by the arrival of Gen. Herman Haupt, the chief railroad engineer of the Union army, who pulled into town from Gettysburg on one of his trains and rushed to the White House. He told Lincoln that he feared Gen. George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was going to let Lee get away. Haupt had spoken with Meade Saturday and heard Meade say that his army had nearly been defeated and needed rest. Meade noted that since Lee did not have a pontoon train his army would be stuck on the north side of the Potomac, implying that an immediate pursuit wasn’t necessary. Haupt told him that the Confederates could throw together a temporary bridge by tearing down buildings for lumber, but Meade wasn’t impressed.

Lincoln then spent the afternoon back in the telegraph office, and what he saw confirmed the fears raised by Gen. Haupt. He returned to the White House about 7 and wrote to Gen. Henry Halleck, his chief of staff, complaining that the messages he saw indicated a policy of herding the enemy forces across the river rather than trapping and destroying them. “You know I did not like the phrase… ‘Drive the invaders from our soil,’” Lincoln said.

The next morning (Tuesday, July 7) Gen. Meade finally had his infantry march in pursuit of Lee. Lincoln was back in the telegraph office when notice arrived from Vicksburg of the Confederate surrender there on July 4. (Grant’s army did not have a direct telegraph connection with Washington.)

The city erupted into celebration and a crowd eventually gathered outside the White House demanding a speech. Lincoln made his longest-known off-the-cuff address, with themes he would re-use in the speech he gave four months later at Gettysburg, such as, “On the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal turned tail and run.”

The day after (Wednesday, July 8) Gen. Meade’s infantry caught up with Lee’s cornered army, but there was no major action. Lincoln was heard to complain that Gen. Meade is “as likely to capture the Man-in-the-Moon, as any part of Lee’s army.”

Thursday was equally frustrating, as Lincoln returned to the tasks of the Executive Branch, while things remained all quiet on the Potomac. Friday, the opposing armies probed each other, while Lincoln sent a telegram to an old friend back in Illinois, saying that the rumors were true and Lee had indeed been defeated at Gettysburg.

Saturday (July 11) Gen. Meade reported that he had decided to attack the trapped Confederates, and Lincoln’s mood was seen to improve.

Then, Sunday, Gen. Meade pushed the attack back a day, saying he needed time for reconnaissance. “Too late!” Lincoln groaned when he read the message.

On Monday, July 13, Lincoln sent a thank you letter to Gen. Grant for his recent victory at Vicksburg, noting that he had been worried about Grant’s plan to operate away from the Mississippi and take the city from the land side, but “you were right and I was wrong.” (Grant took a month to respond.)

 

 

Getting away

That night, Lee’s army slipped across the falling Potomac.

The next day, Lincoln wrote a thank you letter to Gen. Meade, as he had done to Gen. Grant. But the tone was radically different. “I am very – very – grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country… I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely... Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”

He filed the letter away, and never sent it.

As Lincoln feared, the war did drag on, lasting nearly two more years. The main impact of Gettysburg was that Lee would never again launch a major offensive.

 

What do you think of this article? Let us know below.

 

Lamont Wood is a journalist and history writer. He has been freelancing for more than three decades in the history, high-tech, and industrial fields. He has sold more than six hundred magazine feature articles and twelve books. He and his wife, Dr. Louise O’Donnell, reside in San Antonio, Texas. His book, Lincoln's Planner: A Unique Look at the Civil War Through the President's Daily Activities (Amazon US | Amazon UK), is available here.

As the nineteenth century began, both the United States and France were in transition. The American Revolution only officially ended in 1783, and now the president-helmed United States was forging an identity that rejected the courtly atmosphere of its European counterparts. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, France was moving away from the republicanism of its own revolution. Approximately twenty years after the executions of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, France was poised to become an empire under Napoleon Bonaparte. Amidst these changes, a scandal occurred when Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jérôme, surprised the world by marrying Miss Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore, Maryland.

Christine Caccipuoti explains.

A triple portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. By Gilbert Stuart, 1804.

A triple portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. By Gilbert Stuart, 1804.

Marital Bliss?

When eighteen-year old Elizabeth wed nineteen-year old Jérôme on Christmas Eve of 1803, few people other than the bride and groom approved. She was the daughter of a well-off businessman, but despite being lauded as the “Belle of Baltimore” she loathed the newfound United States’ lack of sophistication and glamour. He was only in Maryland because he decided to take a detour before returning to France after an unsuccessful stint in the Caribbean with the French Navy. After their respective social lives brought them into contact, their courtship was a whirlwind, and the starry-eyed pair were engaged within months of meeting.

Elizabeth’s father did not trust Jérôme and French diplomats in the United States warned that Napoleon hated the match, but the couple did not care. They allowed Elizabeth’s father to draw up documents requiring Jérôme to defend his marriage to the best of his ability should Napoleon object and had their nuptials conducted by a Catholic clergyman to underscore its legitimacy through religion. To Elizabeth and Jérôme, marrying was the important part. Acceptance, they believed, would soon follow.

The newlyweds enjoyed an extravagant honeymoon that established them as newspaper celebrities, with Elizabeth immediately turning heads after she adopted French fashions. It wasn’t long before word of the union reached Napoleon, who was about to be crowned Emperor of the French. What little respect Napoleon had for Jérôme evaporated and he made his opinion known by banning French ships from allowing Elizabeth aboard. They were still not deterred. By the time they managed to reach Europe in 1805, Jérôme’s brother was formally Emperor Napoleon I and there was an added complication: Elizabeth was pregnant.

Aware of his responsibilities, Jérôme went to France to win over his brother while Elizabeth traveled to England, a country hostile to Napoleon that welcomed the opportunity to show kindness to a woman he shunned. During this separation, Elizabeth gave birth to their son, boldly named Jérôme Napoleon, who went by the nickname “Bo”.

Elizabeth waited, but Jérôme never sent for her. Because of his unacceptable marriage, he was not among the family members elevated to the title of prince, and this greatly upset him. Although he wrote loving letters to Elizabeth, once Napoleon told him that he would be cut off forever if he remained married, Jérôme abandoned his wife. A shattered Elizabeth had no choice but to take her baby home to Maryland.

 

Unhappily Ever After

Napoleon sought to annul Jérôme’s marriage but the Pope denied the request. Undaunted, Napoleon had the French ecclesiastical courts declare it void and decided that was good enough. As far as he was concerned Jérôme was free again. Quickly, Napoleon arranged a politically advantageous marriage for him to Princess Catherine of Württemberg and named him King of Westphalia, two moves done to cement his growing influence in Europe. In stark contrast, Elizabeth was still legally married to Jérôme in the eyes of the United States and several years passed before she gained a divorce. Following this, numerous suitors sought her hand, but neither they nor a pension from Napoleon made up for what she lost.

It wasn’t until Napoleon lost power in 1815 that Elizabeth was able to finally experience the pleasures of European life. After all, with the Bonapartes defeated, no one could stop her. She and Bo spent years traveling the continent. They even visited Rome, where part of the Bonaparte family resided after their expulsion from France. This enabled Bo to meet not only his grandmother, but also his father and half-siblings. It is possible that Elizabeth too saw Jérôme but the sole surviving story indicates only that they were once in the same gallery, but did not speak. Elizabeth harbored hopes that Bo would make an illustrious marital match in Europe, perhaps even to one of his Bonaparte cousins, but it would not come to pass. Instead he returned home and married an American woman with whom he later had two children, Jérôme and Charles. Bo’s decision not to pursue what Elizabeth saw as his rightful place in European society broke her heart almost as much as her initial divorce and severely tarnished their mother-son relationship.

Their contact with the Bonapartes continued. In the 1850s when Napoleon III (who was Bo’s cousin, as his father Louis was yet another of Napoleon and Jérôme’s brothers) made France an empire again, he welcomed Bo as part of the family. Jérôme, however, did not. When he died in 1860, Bo was not included in his will. Elizabeth faced one last disappointment when her battle to have Bo recognized as one of Jérôme’s heirs failed.

Once again Elizabeth returned to Maryland devastated. Although she made lucrative financial investments, her personal relationship with her son and his family was strained. The wounds of her youth never healed and her bitterness manifested in the composition of pieces like Dialogues of the Dead, which placed her disapproving father and scoundrel ex-husband together in hell. After such a disappointing life, it is only fitting that following her death in April of 1879, at the age of 94, it was decided her tomb should read, “After life’s fitful fever, she sleeps well.”

 

An American Legacy

Elizabeth may have disliked the United States, but her grandson Charles lived to serve it. In the 1890s, he met future President of the United States Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt when both men were involved in reform work. When Roosevelt took office in 1901, Charles went along with him, serving as Secretary of the Navy then Attorney General and earning a reputation as Roosevelt’s troubleshooter. His most significant achievement was creating a force solely to carry out investigations at the behest of the Department of Justice. This group later adopted a name that remains recognizable today: the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI. Whether or not Elizabeth would have been proud of her grandson’s enduring contribution to the American government is impossible to say because while yes, he rose to an impressive height, he did so in the wrong country.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

 

Christine Caccipuoti is a New York-based historian and received both her BA and MA in history from Fordham University. In her position as Assistant Producer of the podcast Footnoting History (FootnotingHistory.com), she serves as the resident Napoleonic historian and is the person behind its twitter account (@historyfootnote). Her personal website and blog can be found at ChristineCaccipuoti.com.

Sources

Carol Berkin, Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Charlene M. Boyer Lewis, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Paul-Napoléon Calland, “Jerome Bonaparte Biography”, Irène Delage (trans), The Fondation Napoléon, 2006. (https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/biographies/bonaparte-jerome/)

Lewis L. Gould, “Bonaparte, Charles Joseph”, American National Biography, February 2000. (https://doi-org.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0500081)

---, “Bonaparte, Elizabeth Patterson”, American National Biography, February 2000. (https://doi-org.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.2000085)

Desmond Seward, Napoleon's Family, New York: Viking, 1986.

Attorney General: Charles Bonaparte, via The United States Department of Justice (https://www.justice.gov/ag/bio/bonaparte-charles-joseph)

Brief History of the FBI, via The Federal Bureau of Investigation (https://www.fbi.gov/history/brief-history)

While there has yet to be a female president, first ladies have been important in shaping many presidencies and their policies. In the start of a new series, Kate Murphy Schaefer goes back to the late 18th century and considers the importance of Abigail Adams to America and Founding Father John Adams.

A painting of Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart.

A painting of Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart.

With the recent passing of former first lady Barbara Bush, Americans are once again allowed to indulge in a favorite pastime: memorializing and waxing rhapsodic about their most public citizens. This is second only to the most popular pastime: ridiculing those same citizens for what they did and did not do. Presidents are elected; to some degree they understand and accept the level of scrutiny they will be under for the rest of their lives. First ladies are, as Barbara Bush’s daughter-in-law Laura said, “elected by one man,” but have to live under the same microscope as their husbands.[1]

A first lady must be “a showman and a salesman, a clotheshorse and a publicity sounding board, with a good heart, and a real interest in the folks,” explained Lady Bird Johnson.[2] If any of those traits seem contradictory, that is the point. There are no set guidelines outlining a first lady’s role and duties, but Americans expect them to conform to expectations that change quickly and often. Within this White-House-shaped cage, they are judged for what they wore, said, and did, and also for what they did not wear, say, or do.

Still, first ladies are privileged because their words and actions are considered important enough to include in the historical record. For most of American history, women were expected to be silent observers as men shaped the world in which they lived. Their stories were beneath notice, and therefore ignored and forgotten. America’s earliest first ladies were considered important because they were connected to important men. Abigail Smith Adams, wife of President John Adams, provides an excellent example.

 

The Political “Pest”

Born in 1744, Abigail Smith was raised in a family that was politically aware and active. Her maternal grandfather, John Quincy, held several positions in the Massachusetts government and encouraged his daughter and granddaughters to keep abreast of what was going on in the world outside the home. She was not formally educated, but her correspondence demonstrates she was extremely well-read and had an agile, searching mind. “In an age when women were content to take a backseat to their husbands and keep their mouths shut,” wrote historian Cormac O’Brien, “Abigail gave free rein to her extraordinary intellect.”[3]

Abigail was most outspoken in her correspondence with husband John. When Adams left for Philadelphia for the Continental Congress in 1776, he left a very curious wife at home. Abigail “pestered the politicians for news” and asked her husband for updates in lengthy letters. “(T)ell me if you may where your Fleet are gone? What sort of Defence Virginia can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is situated as to make an able Defence?” she asked in a letter dated March 31, 1776.[4] She was a stalwart defender of the Revolution and her husband, and was emboldened by her husband’s respect for her views. One of her most famous letters encouraged her husband to “remember the ladies” in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

 

“Remember the Ladies”

                  “(I)n the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men could be tyrants if they could.”[5]

 

In three sentences, Adams set forth the radical idea that protection under the law also applied to women. Use of the word tyrant was deliberate and effective, recalling John Locke’s warning that “wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”[6] She intimated American men were no better than the British if they did not include the needs and opinions of women in the nation they created. She went so far as to predict women would “foment a Rebelion (sic)” if the new government did not grant them a voice, prompting John’s reply, “(a)s to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh.”[7]

The female rebellion did not come to pass, but the Adams’ correspondence laid bare a distressing truth about the American experiment. Revolution created a new nation, but not a new society. Race, class, and gender narrowed the founders’ definition of who was entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and property. They overthrew the British colonial “tyrants” and took up the mantle themselves. “I have sometimes been ready to think that the Passion for Liberty cannot be Eaqually (sic) Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs,” wrote Abigail.[8] These liberal views were exceptionally progressive during her time. It can be argued they were progressive two hundred years later as women campaigned for equal protection under the law with the Equal Rights Amendment.

Her opinions on women’s rights kept private, it was Abigail’s vocal support of her husband, that “tireless promoter of liberty and…abrasive pain in the ass,” that most influenced popular opinion of the first lady.[9] As Adams and Thomas Jefferson squared off in the 1790s, Abigail was often caught in the crossfire. Her perceived influence on the President was exaggerated and therefore useful to political adversaries. They had no problem remembering the lady, calling her “Mrs. President” behind her back and arguing behind closed doors that she had “queenly aspirations.”[10]

 

“My pen runs riot”

By 1797, Abigail well understood her position’s lack of privacy. “My pen runs riot. I forget that it must grow cautious and prudent. I fear I shall make a dull business when such restrictions are laid upon it.”[11] Her fear was unfounded as she most certainly did not find being first lady a “dull business.” She expressed relief to finally leave the public eye when her husband left office. She never fully left the limelight, however. The first lady became “first mother” upon the election of her son President John Quincy Adams, namesake of the grandfather who had inspired her so many years before.

Abigail Adams spoke at a time women were supposed to be silent, and was politically aware when women were supposed to look no further than home and hearth. Her mind and opinions were extraordinary, so we are lucky her words were preserved. We should not forget that she was included in the historical record because of her connection to a powerful man. Though Abigail was far from ornamental in life, historians rendered her so after death. As historians continue studying the founding of our nation, they must work to “remember the ladies,” understanding the roles women played could be both hidden and important. For every woman recorded in the history books, the names and contributions of thousands more were lost. Would including women’s stories fundamentally alter our historical understanding of the American Revolution and the Early Republic? Probably not. But remembering the ladies would add new life to a history too long seen as cut and dried.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

 

[1] Laura Bush quoted in Kate Anderson Bower, First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies (New York: Harper Collins, 2017), 7.

[2] Lady Bird Johnson quoted in Ibid, 4.

[3] Cormac O’Brien, Secret Lives of the First Ladies (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2005), 18.

[4] “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760331aa.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Locke, “Chapter XVIII: Of Tyranny,” Two Treatises of Government, Book II, section 202.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] O’Brien, 21.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 29 January 1797,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17970129aa.

Sources Cited

Bower, Kate Anderson. First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.

“Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760331aa.

“Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 29 January 1797,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17970129aa.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. (1689).

O’Brien, Cormac. Secret Lives of the First Ladies. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2005.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Battle of Paducah took place in March 1864 in Paducah, Kentucky – on the Ohio River. Here, David Pyle explains what happened during this American Civil War battle.

Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States during the US Civil War.

Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States during the US Civil War.

March of 1864, forces commanded by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest had set out from Columbus, Mississippi with the objective of recruiting more fighters, obtaining needed supplies and harassing the enemy. The General had 3,000 men under his command as he made the trip, cutting through Western Kentucky.

Tensely waiting action on the Union side were some 665 blue coats under the command of Colonel Stephen G. Hicks. The soldiers had many reasons for nervousness, one being Forrest’s nearing army and another being stationed in the unsympathetic city of Paducah, Kentucky, which would just have soon seen the fort burned to the ground.

Making the Union forces even more unpopular with the locals was the First Kentucky Heavy Artillery Colored unit being stationed there. Backing up the Union troops were two gunboats on the Ohio River.

Among Forrest’s troops were soldiers from Paducah. They were quite familiar with the city. The Confederate general set up his headquarters in Mayfield, Kentucky 25 miles from Paducah on March 25, 1864. One of these men was Col. Albert P. Thompson; he and some others were assigned by Forrest to launch a raid on Paducah, taking what the Confederates needed and spreading alarm and confusion.

Colonel Thompson and a force of 1,800 troops quickly moved to Paducah. Thompson’s regiment was first to reach Paducah’s outer picket lines where they took several Union sentinels prisoner. One guard who refused to surrender was killed in an exchange of gunfire.

 

To engage in the open?

The Confederate troops continued on into Paducah capturing pickets as they advanced. About 3 p.m. Thompson’s forces reached 15th and Broadway in Paducah; from their mounts they watched as Union soldiers marched into Fort Anderson. Several Confederates voiced a desire to engage the opposition while they were out in the open, but were reminded that the raid’s purpose was to capture medical supplies and munitions and not for prisoners. All they could do was watch as Union forces secured themselves in the fort.

Still, the desire to storm the fort was strong in the Paducah natives who served the Confederate cause. An assault upon Fort Anderson was most inevitable.

General Forrest ordered a flag of truce be sent to Fort Anderson’s commander, Col. Hicks. Forrest decided the men from Paducah should be the ones to deliver the message. The troops had started forward, Company D in the lead, but they were overtaken by a courier with a change in orders that all but six should return. D Company’s Captain selected the first six men in his charge to deliver the message.

Forrest’s message read, “Colonel: Having a force amply sufficient to carry your works and reduce the place, and in order to avoid the unnecessary effusion of blood, I demand the surrender of the fort and troops, with all public property. If you surrender you shall be treated as prisoners of war, but if I have to storm your works, you may expect no quarter.”

While the message was being delivered, members of the Third and Seventh Kentucky regiments took their positions; the Eighth regiment ransacked the commissary stores.

Hick’s considered Forrest’s demand for surrender and replied, “Sir, I have this moment received yours of this instant, in which you demand the unconditional surrender of forces under my command. I can answer that I have been placed here by the government to defend this post, and in this as well as all other orders from my superiors, I feel it to be my duty as an honorable officer to obey. I must, therefore, respectfully decline surrendering as you may require.”

As the refusal was being delivered, the gunboats Peosta and Paw Paw began shelling the city. Many shells went over the Confederates’ heads, but the gunboat commanders lowered the guns and flying gravel picked up by cannonballs mingled with the hurling shells. The fire forced the withdrawal of General Abraham Buford’s regiment from the river’s edge.

Union gunboats ranged their fire up Paducah’s streets to clear it of cavalry. Three-inch shells pierced an old Maple tree in the city.

After three assaults against Fort Anderson Gen. Forrest issued a ceasefire order. Col. A.P. Thompson and his staff gathered near an officer. Thompson sat upon his horse talking with the men not too many blocks from his Paducah home.

 

Falling back

It was now nighttime in Paducah, and the Confederates were 500 feet from the fort, under fire from the gunboats.

Capt. D.E. Meyers was given the job of delivering messages to the Confederate colonels ordering them to fall back to the protection of some nearby houses. As he neared Thompson, a shell fired from a gunboat cannon struck the colonel, who fell from his horse. The injured horse bolted and ran half a block before falling dead.

The horse was buried where it had fallen, but Col. Thompson’s mangled body would lay till morning.

After Col. Thompson’s fall, Col. Ed Crossland assumed command. While ordering the men to fall back, he was hit by rifle fire, which wounded him in the right thigh. Sharpshooters swarmed down the street; nine succeeded in reaching a home.

The nine, including J.V. Greif, exchanged fire with the defenders of Fort Anderson from a distance of 100 feet.

 “Our Guns were never idle,” Greif was reported as having said. “Until the enemy succeeded in bringing to bear on our position a gun from another part of the fort.”

Greif was knocked down when a cannonball passed through the house, and an object smacked his jaw. The order came to evacuate from the house. Greif managed to recover and fled with his comrades.

Greif’s jaw stung so much from the object that he thought he might have been wounded. To Greif’s relief a fellow soldier assured him there was no injury.

 “There was a boy named Ewell Hord at my left side,” Greif recalled. “He asked me to load his weapon, I told him to load it himself, I was busy.” Grief added the boy said he couldn’t as his arm had been wounded, so Greif told him, “Go to the rear you fool, what better luck do you want? It gets you out of all this.”

Hord went off to the rear in tears.

Col. Crossland’s men entered a building that overlooked the fort. From the second floor his men opened fire on the fort and fire was returned, as one of the men in the window was killed by a solid shot to the chest.

As the Confederates withdrew they were fired upon and shelled. One cavalryman was holding several horses when he was struck in the hip by enemy fire. He would die a few days later.

 

Aftermath

In all the Union had 14 men killed and 46 wounded; on the Confederate side 11 were killed and 39 wounded.

Forrest reported to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, “I drove the enemy to their boats and fortifications. We captured clothing, several hundred horses and clothes; we burned a steamer, the dock and all the cotton on the landing. We could have held on longer, but withdrew because of smallpox in the area.”

At 11 p.m. the Confederates withdrew from Paducah to a farm about six miles from Paducah.

The next day Col. Hicks ordered the 60 homes in Paducah burned. Word had gotten to him that the Confederates were planning another attack.

 “We were attacked by an overwhelming force,” Hicks reported. “We repulsed the enemy and beat them back all day. I saw I would be attacked again and the better to protect myself against sharpshooters, I issued the order to burn the home.”

On the 26th the battle of Paducah came to its conclusion. Forrest sent to Hicks an offer to exchange prisoners. Col. Hicks responded he had no power to do so, but if he could he would be most glad to. The Confederates then withdrew.

 

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