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1863 One Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

May 2024
2min read

President Abraham Lincoln finished writing the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on the morning of January 1. Later that day he spent three hours shaking hands with well-wishers at the traditional New Year’s reception, after which his own hand ached. But he took care to sign the proclamation in the ensuing ceremony with a steady hand so that no one would be able to say that Lincoln was unsure in his resolve.

The Battle of Murfreesboro in central Tennessee ended the night of January 3 with a Confederate retreat after four days of hard fighting. The Union general William S. Rosecrans claimed it as a victory, though little had been gained. The Southern army, under Gen. Braxton Bragg, still held the road to Chattanooga, and both armies—crippled after heavy losses—were immobilized. “Few Civil War battles,” wrote the historian Bruce Catton, “ever cost more or meant less.”

Early in 1863 the French ambassador in Washington, under instructions from his emperor, Napoleon III, suggested to Secretary of State William Seward that the North and South should parley. Napoleon’s Confederate sympathies were well known; the previous fall he had remarked that if the North rejected a peace proposal from France, England, and Russia, it would give those countries reason not only to recognize the South, but to intervene in the war. But England and Russia had refused to have anything to do with the emperor’s scheme, and Napoleon had to go it alone. On February 6, Seward politely but unequivocally rejected the French ambassador’s suggestion. With far less diplomacy Congress resolved that any foreign government that put forth such proposals was thereby committing an unfriendly act.

On January 25, Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton wrote Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from South Carolina with the news that one of the Union’s first black regiments was trained and ready for service. Previous efforts in that state to create black regiments had been vetoed by Lincoln, but after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the President called for four of them. “In organization, drill, discipline, and morale, for the length of time it has been in service, this regiment is not surpassed by any white regiment in this Department,” Saxton wrote of his 1st Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers. “Should it ever be its good fortune to get into action I have no fears but it will win its own way to the confidence of those who are willing to recognise courage, and manhood, and vindicate the wise policy of the administration in putting these men into the field and giving them a chance to strike a blow for the country and their own liberty.” Saxton’s regiment was mustered into service on January 31 and acquitted itself honorably on the battlefield.

Samuel Clemens used his famous pseudonym for the first time on February 3, when he signed Mark Twain at the bottom of a humorous travel story in the Virginia City, Nevada, Territorial Enterprise . A boatman’s term for water that is only just deep enough for safe navigation, the name fit Clemens like a glove. As Huck Finn later said, “Mr. Mark Twain … he told the truth, mainly.”

General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, two midgets employed by P. T. Barnum in his New York museum, were married in the city’s Grace Church on February 10. Their courtship had been brief. After meeting Lavinia for the first time, Tom Thumb ran to Barnum and, according to the showman’s autobiography, exclaimed: “Mr. Barnum, that is the most charming little lady I ever saw, and I believe she was created on purpose to be my wife!” Unfortunately, Commodore Nutt, another midget at Barnum’s, was similarly struck, and a heated rivalry ensued. But Tom Thumb impressed Lavinia with his yachts, horses, and property, and their engagement was soon announced. Thereafter, wrote Barnum, “Lavinia’s levees at the Museum were crowded to suffocation, and her photographic pictures were in great demand. For several weeks she sold more than three hundred dollars’ worth of her cartes de visite each day. And the daily receipts at the Museum were frequently over three thousand dollars.” But the future Mr. and Mrs. Thumb insisted that their wedding be wholly decorous and free from financial interest, and Barnum acquiesced. As he proudly noted in his autobiography, “not a ticket was sold” to the event.

Congress created the Territory of Arizona on February 24, excising it from the western lands of the New Mexico Territory. Local support for the Union was thus rewarded.

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