This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 18: Trent Affair _ Diplomatic Crisis Defused.
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."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 25: Christmas in Wartime.
Christmas Day in a divided nation is a more muted holiday than in years past, but still not absent its joys and celebrations. Though fathers and sons have soldiered off to war and are absent from the feast, the caroling and family gatherings around the Christmas tree go on, both in the North and the South. On this Christmas Day 1861, President Abraham Lincoln holds yet another strained Cabinet meeting as he seeks an end to an impasse with Britain over the seizure of two Confederate envoys seized by his Navy from a British packet ship. The same evening he presides over the Christmas party at the White House, pressing for a semblance of holiday cheer despite a diplomatic crisis, war and the absence in his nation of "peace on Earth." The New York Herald-Tribune reports many in New York City managed good cheer in the Christmas season as churches filled to overflowing, ice skating was had on frozen ponds and many made merry. "The little ones ransacked the repositories of Chris Kringle, shouted the elves hoarse with delight over the treasures which the jolly old fellow had dropped for them over-night ... and after that the winged hours of the long Winter evening passed imperceptibly away, with song and dance, and jest and laugh, lightening the heart, and making each participant more happy and content with his burden, brightening the future with new hope."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 1: Clamor for war, Union Navy fights.
The year 1862 will open with the Union Army of the Potomac under Major Gen. McClellan facing popular and political pressure to engage in major combat with its Confederate foes. But McClellan has come down with typhoid and is ill in bed. President Abraham Lincoln is increasingly anxious to engage Southern secessionists in battle even as he wishes to give his general time to prepare for battle. New Year's Day of 1862 dawns though with some hostilities. On Jan. 1, 1862, Union warships unleash a barrage on targets around Pensacola, Fla., and the Confederates respond by bombarding Union-held Fort Pickens. But bigger fights lay ahead. New Year's Day sees Lincoln and his wife welcome members of the Supreme Court, foreign diplomats and leading Army and Navy officers at a White House reception. The Associated Press reports the Marine Band played "choice music" at the gathering and after midday, per customs of that era, the outside gates were thrown open to the public "when the large mass of impatient human beings rushed in for a visit to the President." Elsewhere, Union troops stationed across the Potomac River from Washington in northern Virginia are told not to let their bands go out on "serenading parties." As AP notes: "There has, it appears, been an excess of such music at night, and in many cases proved more an annoyance than a compliment." AP reports in a dispatch Jan. 2 from Nashville, Tenn., that some Confederate units have destroyed railroad tracks for several miles in the region. AP reports other movements by Confederate forces "we do not comprehend" and adds troop movements in several areas "point clearly to stormy events" ahead.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 8: Lincoln's war secretary resigns.
President Abraham Lincoln's outspoken war secretary, Simon Cameron, a canny old-time political boss from Pennsylvania, resigns the all-important Cabinet post on Jan. 14, 1862. Known for bold and even aggressive views on war measures, Cameron had drawn the ire of others in the Cabinet and departs amid angry complaints about his guidance of the federal War Department. Three days after being eased out by the Lincoln administration, Cameron will be appointed to a diplomatic post in distant Russia. In Cameron's place, Lincoln appoints Edwin Stanton, a capable administrator, as his new war secretary. The Cleveland Plain Dealer of Ohio hails Stanton's appointment as "The Right Man in the Right Place." It adds the appointment has given "great pleasure" to many in Washington. "They have confidence in his energy and pluck, and believe he will push on the war," the newspaper reports. Also this week, A Union expedition is clearing gale-force storms off Hatteras Inlet, intent on clearing Confederate forces from Roanoke Island close to North Carolina's Outer Banks _ part of a Navy strategy to take command of the sounds and inland waterways behind the islands that blockade runners have been using to supply the Confederate forces based in Richmond, Va. This week in 1862 also sees a reported attempt to blow up a Union military hospital just across the Potomac River from Washington in Alexandria, Va. The Associated Press, in a Jan. 9, 1861, dispatch, reports "a barrel had been secreted in the cellar filled with powder and projectiles and a fuse was found extending from there to the stable .. But this fact was fortunatley discovered by the guard" and a slow-burning fuse was put out before the explosives could detonate.