As the calendar turns over to the month of June, looking back 150 years ago to 1863, it had recently been an active time – with the Chancellorsville Battle dominating the early days of May and the Vicksburg Campaign now in a siege situation. Climactic events are coming on both fronts in early July, and the movements leading toward Gettysburg in particular are about to unfold.
Activity, planning, and preparation was afoot everywhere, along with tension and trepidation. Leaving Boston on May 28th of 1863 was the first Negro regiment from the North. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers depart for Hilton Head, SC where they will achieve fame in the July 18 attack upon Fort Wagner (check back then!), depicted of course in the movie “Glory.” The regiment was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, along with officers largely from abolitionist families. Speaking of Shaw, in my Abner Doubleday research I came across a letter from Robert Shaw written to his mother from Charles Town, VA (now WV) on July 18, of 1861 where he mentions that he had the opportunity to meet Major Doubleday. In that this was very early in the War and but months after Fort Sumter, Doubleday was well-known as one of the officers involved in that initial affair, and was hence a person of notice in a way that he would not be later.
Even as we live in a time where political scandal and controversy are dominant in the press, so also did such dominate the news 150 years ago – including the order of General Burnside (6/1/63) to shut down an anti-Lincoln Administration paper, saying, “On account of the repeated expression of disloyal and incendiary sentiments, the publication of the newspaper known as the Chicago Times is hereby suppressed.” He also referred to their journalism as “rank treason.” This engendered a protest in the streets that evening of 20,000 people, and three days later the Times reopened as Lincoln recommended to Secretary of War Stanton that Burnside suspend the order.
Another controversy that dominated news at this time surrounded the Ohio Democratic leader of the Copperhead faction – Clement Laird Vallandigham. Again it was Burnside in May who had him arrested, tried, and sent over to the South for treason. Lincoln’s major written statement on the justification of this action would be on June 12th – and on that date I’ll make a post about the entire affair.
Though the situation is soon about to change, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia had been staring at one another across the Rappahannock River in the Fredericksburg area. Odd behavior and communications with General Hooker had Lincoln scratching his head yet again.
It is all going to get much more interesting!