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December 2011

This Week in The Civil War - December 18, 1861


At the close of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln finds himself at war at home — and fending off a diplomatic crisis with Britain that threatens hostilities if not handled delicately. Though outrage lingers in London after the Union warship USS San Jacinto stopped the neutral British ship Trent east of Cuba on Nov. 8, 1861 — seizing two Confederate diplomats bound for Britain — an end to the impasse is near. 

An outraged British government has been demanding an apology for what is seen as a violation of its neutrality. And London also insists on the immediate release of the two Confederate envoys. But after tempers flare, cool heads prevail. A message is sent by the British minister in Washington to Lincoln's secretary of state on Dec. 19, 1861, demanding a reply. 

Yielding to British demands is a difficult step for the Lincoln administration, but Lincoln cannot afford another fight. On Dec. 27, the U.S. secretary of state would send back a carefully worded reply announcing that the Confederates would be freed and reparations paid — defusing the standoff. 

Also this week, The Associated Press reports that Confederates are able to run their own limited blockade of waters leading to Washington, D.C., much as the Union blockades Southern seaports and inland rivers. Rebel batteries menace the Potomac River along bluffs lining the banks in spots where it lazily wends toward Washington. But Union boats still get past. "Some eight or ten schooners have run the blockade on the Potomac during the past forty-eight hours," The AP reports on Dec. 18. But the threat is real, AP notes: "The new batteries, which the rebels have recently disclosed, show that is it their intention to make the blockade effectual if they can."

from ABC via the Associated Press 

The Picket Guard


The Nov. 30, 1861, issue of Harper’s Weekly featured a poem destined to become one of the essential texts of the Civil War, Ethel Lynn Beers’s “The Picket-Guard.” Beers, a 34-year-old native of Goshen, N.Y., said later that she wrote her only famous work in a single morning, after a boardinghouse breakfast at which one of her fellow residents relayed a newspaper report of “all quiet along the Potomac, as usual.” Beers had answered by reading aloud the sub-headline, “except a poor picket shot.” Her versified elaboration on the dispatch, in which a lonely guard is killed by a sniper early one morning, posed moral questions about the culture of war-making that have proved far more durable than her sentimental literary style.

Continue reading "Picket Lines," by Thomas J. Brown at the NY Times

The Picket Guard
Ethyl Lynn Beers

``ALL quiet along the Potomac to-night!"
Except here and there a stray picket
Is shot, as he walks on his beat, to and fro,
By a rifleman hid in the thicket.
'Tis nothing! a private or two now and then
Will not count in the news of a battle;
Not an officer lost, only one of the men
Moaning out, all alone, the death rattle.

Continue reading "The Picket Guard" »

Occupiers denounce Lee Park graffiti

Lee Park vandalism

Credit: Graham Moomaw/The Daily Progress

By: GRAHAM MOOMAW | The Daily Progress 

Charlottesville officials say they’re not sure who vandalized a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee with a message related to the Occupy Charlottesville movement, but they are asking anyone with knowledge of the incident to contact police immediately.

On Sunday afternoon, the words “Occupy will rise again!” could be seen painted on the base of the Lee statue in black letters large enough to be legible to vehicular traffic on Market Street. City police say they’re not sure exactly when the vandalism occurred, but a caller alerted them to the situation around 3 p.m. Sunday.

Continue reading "Occupiers denounce Lee Park graffiti" »

Civil War Santa


If you thought that Santa only cared about making children happy everywhere, here’s a part of Santa's personal history you might not know: During the Civil War, old St. Nick was an abolitionist. Santa Claus as we know him; jolly and fat, is an invention of the political cartoonist Thomas Nast.

Nast, also responsible for the popularization of the Democrats' donkey and the Republican's elephant, created his St. Nick for Harper's Weekly, in a 1863 image of Santa handing out gifts in a Union Civil War camp. This Santa was chubby, patriotic and anti-slavery.  Nast made this Santa a cheerful symbol of the Unionist cause, and a tool for improving the North's morale.

The  Civil War version of Santa's suit, a patriotic-looking blue coat with white stars on it over red and white striped pants is not the image of the jolly fat man we have today. The all-red suit that Santa now wears is often, but wrongly, attributed to Coca-Cola ads from the 1930s, it origins have been lost.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Ill., is planning a special event with actor Lee Shafer portraying Nast's Civil War-era St. Nick.

Shafer will talk to visitors about Nast and how he influenced the modern appearance of Santa; he'll pose for pictures, too. Shafer will be available at the museum from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 22, 23, 26, 27 and 29


This week in the Civil War - December 11, 1861

The Associated Press

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 11: Charleston fire, Soldiering on, firing squad.

In April 1861, the Civil War's first shots were fired in Charleston, S.C. Another tumultuous event befalls Charleston on Dec. 11, 1861, when a fire sweeps a wide swath of its downtown. The cause of the fire is never determined and The Mercury of Charleston reports a low-tide impeded easy access to coastal waters to douse the flames. When the fast-moving fire finally is put out, about a third of the city is in ashes. Blackened stonework of a scorched Catholic cathedral is left standing, but many businesses and shops of wood are gone.

The so-called "Great Fire of 1861" would do nearly as much damage, if not more, to Charleston than war itself. Early months of war saw ill-trained, raw volunteers from the North go off to fight green and poorly equipped Confederate rivals. It was a time when many expected a short conflict. But the bloodshed at the First Battle of Bull Run in the summer of 1861 hinted at the bigger, deadlier battles to come.

The Union, seeking to raise a professional fighting force, announces this week that appointed superintendents will oversee recruiting, organizing and drilling of Union soldiers. Volunteer officers are to be relieved of duty on Jan. 1, 1862, The Associated Press reports: "After that time, volunteers will be mustered for pay ... for the regular army." In other news, AP reports the first execution of a Union deserter from the Army of the Potomac.

The account states that a private, William H. Johnson, seeking to escape was captured and "taken back to his own camp a prisoner." About 700 soldiers watched his death by firing squad in mid-December of 1861. "Eight of them fired when Johnson fell on his coffin, but life not being extinct, the other four in reserve fired with the required effect," AP reported.


Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans sues over license plates


A group that campaigned unsuccessfully for Texas to issue a specialty license plate featuring a Confederate flag is suing the state's Department of Motor Vehicles board in federal court.

The Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 30,000-member group based in Columbia, Tenn., released a statement Thursday after filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Austin arguing that the DMV infringed on its right to free speech by refusing the license plate design.

Continue reading "Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans sues over license plates" »

Teen arrested for allegedly stealing sword from Lincoln's Tomb


Jason Piscia/

A 3-foot copper sword reported missing from the Lincoln Tomb Historic Site last month was recovered and returned to state officials during a news conference in Police Chief Robert Williams' office on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011.

The State Journal-Register

A 16-year-old boy arrested Tuesday for stealing the copper sword brandished by a Civil War artillery statue atop the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site wasn’t trying to make money by selling it for scrap, Springfield police said Tuesday.

The boy was arrested after police received a tip from Crime Stoppers Monday. He faces charges of theft and criminal trespass to state-supported property. Two other people also could face criminal trespass charges, police said.

Continue reading "Teen arrested for allegedly stealing sword from Lincoln's Tomb" »