A difficult month in a difficult year. Benjamin H. Ellicott’s diary, continued, brings us close to the trials and tribulations of Americans in the middle of their Civil War.1 Previously, I omitted Ellicott’s comments on the weather, but this time I’ve decided to keep them; they seem to enhance the immediacy of time. It’s February, after all, not August.
During this month, the very long attack on Vicksburg began, with Confederate forces successfully defending the outpost. There seems to have been as much war activity on the water as on the land. The Blockade of Charleston was broken, and Ellicott feared that the French would begin trading with the Confederacy, which he thought would be disastrous. Equally disastrous was the behavior of the “Radicals” in Congress (i.e., Republicans), who were passing laws he considered to be violations of citizens rights, like the draft, and most outrageous—the income tax bill. All these measures were groundbreaking, and Ellicott was correct to consider them radical.
Feby 2nd The Richmond Papers state that an engagement between the Rebel Batteries on the Stone River S.C. had compelled the Fed. Gunboat I. P. Smith to surrender with 230 men and had crippled & driven another The Rebel Cavalry have made their appearance on the rear & flank of the Army of the Potomac. threatening their Communications
Feby 4th Yesterday and to day have both been about the coldest days of this Winter Wind from the N. West and freezing quite hard all day in the shade. But little Army news afloat besides some movements in Tennessee – Where Holly Springs is said to been again captured by the Rebs under Van Dorn – The proceedings in Congress and of more importance by reason of their radicalisation and are of more interest as The Acts now being passed through or proposed therein are some of them unconstitutional and some of them abhorrent to the sentiments of the People—
Feby 5th The Temperature was very cold this morning, but became somewhat warmer, and Snow commenced to fall about Noon, quite fast, and continued until Sundown when it was changed to rain. The snow is not over 3 inches – By the Papers of this morning we have some confirmation of the reported raising of the Blockade of the Port of Charleston S. C., by the destruction of Two or Three of the Fed Gunboats and the burning and dispersion of the residue of Fed. Fleet stationed there, by Two Iron clad Ranes? and some Tenders, which run out from the Harbor on the night of the 31st Ulto ; whereupon a Proclamation was issued by Beauregard and Ingraham, Commanders of the Rebel Military & Naval forces, there, that the Port of Charleston was open to the trade of the World and this was attested by the Consuls of the European Powers &c resident there – If these Reports should prove to be true, as stated, the gravest consequences will soon result therefrom ; for those European Powers, under the Law of Nations, may take advantage thereof to supply the Rebs with what they may require, & to procure a supply of Cotton for themselves, before any renewal of the Blockade can be legally and formally reestablished
Feby 7th The Rain that commenced on the evening of the 5th carried off nearly all of the Snow, and the moderate temperatures of yesterday caused the balance of it to disappear. Today has been clear, cool and very pleasant for this Season . Military operations are so quiescent that we have no reports of movements in any of the Armies other than the attacks on Fort Donaldson by the Rebel Cavalry under Genl Wheeler &c, and their repulses therefrom with considerable losses The capture of one or more Federal Transports, by the Rebels in the Sabine Pass, Texas – together with their crews and a large amount of valuable stores – said to be worth over One Millions It is stated also that Fort McAllester, on the Ocaghea River, has been attacked twice by One or more Iron clad Monitors, and other Gunboats, and that they have been beaten off upon both occasions. There is much discussion in the Newspapers touching the question raised as to the breaking up of the Blockade of the Harbor of Charleston, S. C. by Raid made upon the Fed. Fleet there, on the morning of the 31st Ultimo Serious complications are expected to result therefrom. But a small portion of the Rebel Army of North Virginia, is said to remain near the Rappahammoe and it is supposed to have been weakened by large detachments sent to Tennessee, Vicksburg, N. & S. Carolina, &c. A strong feeling of animosity against the Negroes has been evinced recently by the Federal Troops, especially against those organized at New Orleans and placed in the Forts St. Philip & Jackson – as well as the peaceable & inoffensive laborers in the City who have been attacked upon two occasions by Parties of M. S. Soldiers2 passing casually through this City from one R. Road Depot to another – The Appeal case of “Colvin against Warford” was argued in the Court of Appeals during last week & concluded on Monday last the 2nd Inst.[#. Colvin v. Warford refers to an ongoing dispute over the estate of Rachel Colvin, a cousin of Benjamin H. Ellicott’s father-in-law, Elisha Warford. She died a wealthy woman in 1853, and court challenges began almost immediately afterwards, and continued for about two decades.] Like the clear and beautiful calm of to day this apparent lull and quiet in the movements and the affairs of the National forces cannot so remain for any length of time. –
Feby 9th The temperature has moderated so much that yesterday and to day have been much more Springlike than as the days in Winter. And the same unusual mildness seems to be prevailing likewise to North of us even in Canada – So that considerable apprehension is felt for the supply of Ice for next Summer as the Winter proper? is now warming very fast – By the Federal accounts received today of the recent Raid of the Reb. Gunboats upon the blockading fleet at Charleston it would appear as if the first information that are had of that affair, which was through the Richmond Papers, was much exaggerated. But the Federal vessels appear to have been some Two or Three of them damaged and the __? of those dispersed temporarily. There no further movements of the Armies in Tennessee, at Vicksburg, at in Carolina, announced to day. The Feds have captured the Steamer Princess Royal a Rebel vessel running the Blockade at Charleston and a valuable Price? and the Rebs have taken two Ships that were stationed at the Sabine Pass, Texas. said to contain arms and a large amount of valuable stores over and above their armaments, which numbered Three Guns to each one on board of the Two assaulting Confederate River Steamers that captured them.
Feby 13th There was a fall of Snow on the 10th Inst. ending in Rain towards the evening, and followed by a very damp and disagreeable atmosphere all of yesterday – A change of Wind to the N. West has dispersed the clouds and it is clear & cool this morning. Military and Naval affairs appear to be quiescent on both sides with insignificant skirmishes since the capture of the Fed. vessels at Sabine Pass & and the running of the Mississippi Blockade at Vicksburg by a Fed. Ram which is reported, also, to have destroyed some Reb. Transports below that Point – A proposition made by the French Government towards the attainment of a Peace has been at once rejected by Mr. Seward, and Radical measures are being passed by the Congress for the prosecution of the War — There is a plain question of veracity between Mr Seward Secty of State and Mons. Mercer the French Minister, which may still further complicate the refusal of the suggestions made by his Government for an amicable arrangement of our National affairs – which are surely in a precarious condition about time.
Feb 16th After some days of vacillating and damp weather, we have a clear, bright, and pleasantly mild day. A portion of the Methodist Episcopal denomination that seceded from the Conference last month with their Ministers who opposed taking an Oath of Allegiance have been worshipping in the New Assembly Rooms – where a U. S. Flag had been left from a meeting held therein the night previous where the Congregation assembled there on Sunday 8th Inst. which gave offense to some of the members who left the meeting. Whereupon Mrj. Gene Schenck ordered the Keeper of the Rooms to display a large Flag therein, upon all occasions, until further orders – In the meanwhile the members of this Congregation made arrangements for their accommodation elsewhere – Whereupon Genl Schenck by an official order to the Trustees or Steward of that Congregation directed them to display a Flag in the place [ap]pointed for assembling. To this an answer was returned to him that they had no control of the matter nor authority or inclination to obey his order. – A Flag was stretched across the street by a mob nigh to the entrance of one the of place [sic], selected by a portion of this congregation, but as no notice was taken of it by the members no difficulty occurred yesterday although there was some Excitement – No army or Naval news of any importance to day. An arrival from Europe informed us that the French Government won’t recognize the Southern Confederacy in case their friendly suggestion to the U. S. Government for an amiable settlement should be by it rejected. Sent letter and Newspapers to Elisha Warford. Rev’d Mr Dashiell was arrested & placed in confinement yesterday, by order of the Military Provost Marshall on the charge of recovering from his building where a congregation of the __sant ? Methodists were accustomed to worship, a Flag that had been fastened to the front of it on the previous night .
Feby 17th Without any premonition up to a late hour Snow commenced to fall about 5 O’clk this morning and has continued until now when there is 5 or 6 Inches upon the Ground. It cannot lay long however so late in the Winter and the absence of Frost from the Earth. The Military Authorities having examined Rev. Dr. Dashiells presented to him a Paper writing for his signature. Expressing deep regret for what he had done & promising to do so no more – refusing to sign this he was committed to Fort McHenry and marched there on foot through the Snow Storm, escorted by a squad of Cavalry. This palpable violation of the right of the free exercise of religious worship has excited much animadversion upon the part of all true men and exultation amongst the Radicals.
Feby 18th A dull sombre day threatening more Snow whilst that upon the Ground is disappearing gradually – No war News circulating to-day other than some small affairs of outposts, and Picket surprises and the great preparations making for the certain capture of Vicksburg – Charleston &c But the War against “The Constitution” and “The States Rights” goes bravely on both within and outside of Congress. The “Conscription Bill” passed the Senate yesterday and will certainly pass the House very soon by which the President will be empowered to [ap]point Provost Marshalls in all the States in each Congressional District, for the purpose of Enrolling all able bodied males Citizens for the Military Service of the United States. who are to be divided into Two Classes – one from 20 to 30 years of age who shall be called out first, and the second from 30 to 45 years of age who shall be considered as a force in reserve – both to be called into active service whenever the President may require, and to be subject to Military Law and to be ordered any where he may deem necessary, subject also to be retained in the Service of the U. States for 5 years or during the War &c. The “Finance Bill” to raise (900) Nine Hundred Millions of Dollars and to inaugurate a new system of Banking Throughout the U. States, under the control of the Secretary of the Treasury has passed both Houses of Congress by a Stricktly Party Vote. The Democratic Members leaving the Senate on the passage of the Conscription Bill—
Feby 19th Rain commenced to fall last evening and continued during the night so that nearly all of the Snow has disappeared leaving it very muddy & damp. The War News of to-day is so meagre that we have nothing of importance. The Federals are said to be now engaged in cutting a canal or crevasse in the Yazoo pass &c and that they expect soon to reduce Vicksburg thereby. [end of page] The release of Rev. Jno. H. Dashiell from Fort McHenry took place last evening after his signing a form of Parole . . . “admitting that it was his duty to have first inquired or endeavored to learn from some reliable source whether the National flag, which was displayed at the window of the Building on Biddle St. from which I took it on Sunday last, was placed there by authority, before I proceeded to take it down on my own responsibility ; and I hereby give my parole of honor that I will in every respect demean myself as a true, loyal, law-abiding Citizen of the United States should, neither doing myself as aiding, abetting or countenance any act of others, that is prejudicial to the good of my Country or to the honor of its flat” – And Maj. Genl Butler arrived in this City this morning in response to the invitation of the City Council whose Committee, together with deputations from the Union Leagues, waited upon and escorted him from the R. R. Station to his Hotel. He is to hold a reception or Levee at the Maryland Institute this Evening where all loyal Citizens are invited to meet and to greet him –
Feby 20th The Rain clouds have been dispersed by the high winds prevailing to-day which is drying up, also, the saturated Earth The War News to day is meagre – all the Federal Armies being at a stand ; tho it so reported that a large force under Grant were employed upon the work, intended to divert the course of the Mississippi River from before Vicksburg, and also to change the course of the Yazoo in some way so as to surround the Rebel fortifications there. Three or four vessels, additional to those __ before mentioned, are reported as having been captured by Rebel cruisers amongst the West Indies – The Recognition of the Southern Confederacy by the French Government is supposed to be determined upon. During yesterday afternoon Maj. Genl Butler escorted by Maj. Genl Schenck and suite, and attended by the Mayork, Committees of the Council &c visited Forts McHenry Federal Hall – Marshall & at all of which the customary salutes and honors were recorded. At Fort Marshall commanded by Woodhull who was in the immediate company of Butler & Schenck was blown to pieces, allmost by the pre__tion discharge of a Cannon employed in the piping ? of the Salute. This occurrence . . . [end of page] prevented the corporation Dinner which was to have taken place at the Entaw [?] House in honor of the occasion – but held his Levee at the Maryland Institute where he was greeted by a crowd of Loyal Citizens, and welcomed by a Band of 31 young Girls, dressed in white, and Red, White & Blue sashes & ornaments, who sang an Ode and other pieces of Music under direction of Profs Cleveland & Horner [?] of the Public Schools. and a Speech was made by Butler in response to the address made to him in which he assumed to himself the highest mead of credit for his successful conduct in this City as well as in New Orleans during this War. When he retired after more Songs and a general hand shaking – After he had retired the crowd present was addressed by Jno G. Wilmot, ending with a proposition that the Lecture by C. L. Vallandingham [?], before the Young Catholics Institute on the “Literary Beauties of the Bible” announced to be delivered this evening at the Maryland Institute, should not be permitted to take place, which was unanimously adopted, it is said , by those present – from which the sentiment of this concourse may be surmised. It is announced to day however that this Lecture has been postponed indefinitely. Majs Genl Schenck having caused an ultimatum to be given to the Archbishop that if the Lecture was delivered it would lead, in all probability, to serious consequences –
Feb 21st Another clear, cool & pleasant day. With but little War News – nothing of much importance in that line stirring The movements of the Democratic Party in New Hampshire and in Connecticut are interesting as they indicate quite as great a change in those States as has been effected in New Jersey, or in N. York — The reported repulse of the Federal attack upon Port Hudson? is again affirmed.
Feb. 22nd This glorious Anniversary [birth of George Washngton] being Sunday came to be celebrated by the usual demonstrations of respect by the People, but it is marked by the severest Easterly Snow Storm of this Winter, which commenced to fall some time before daylight this morning and has continued until this evening. The Snow being very dry & the wind high it has drifted so that it is difficult to ascertain the depth of it accurately – but 8 or 10 inches have fallen. As a sequel to his attempts to subjugate the Methodist Episcopal Central Congregation Gen’l Schenck ordered E. Kearney the Proprietor of the Hall corner of St. Paul and Custom Street where they made arrangement to worship, to display a National Flag in that Hall whenever their religious meetings should be held therein – Whereupon He addressed a note to the Stewards of the Congregation informing them of said order and that he was apprehensive of injury to his Property in case their meetings were held therein – and the Stewards in reply stated that the Congregation that they represented, rather than give any cause for disturbance of any Kind, would not meeting in his hall –
Feby 24 A bright, cool, and pleasant atmosphere prevailed all of yesterday removing the Snow very gradually till it commenced to freeze towards evening – The Day passed without further demonstrations than the display of Flags upon Pubic buildings and offices, and upon some private residences, in response to the request of the Mayor – The Sleighs run quite lively during yesterday and the sport is continued to day but not so lively as the Sun has impaired the bed of Snow in the streets considerably – War News amounts to nothing worth recording except a reported attack on Vicksburg by Feb. Mortar boats which were compelled to withdraw from the fire of the Reb. Batteries – Today has been cool and pleasant, the Snow melting off gradually – This fall of Snow has extended over a large scope of Country, even more severely than here to the South as well as to the North of us. – Premium on Gold 70 pr ct.
Feby 26th The mild temperature & clear sky of yesterday carried off much of the Snow and the rain that set in last night and still falling to-day, will remove still more of it – The chief War News appears to be the reported invasion of Kentucky by a considerable force of Rebels, and the capture of the Fed. Ram, Queen of the West, which had recently succeeded in running past the Reb. Batteries at Vicksburg. – Wishing to attack the Reb. Batteries at mouth of the Red River the Captain of the Ram pressed the Pilot of a Reb. transport, captured to carry the Ram to these Batteries but this Pilot, deceiving the Feds laid the Ram alongside of a strong battery, before the Feds on board were prepared to resist the attack made upon them by the Rebs, whose shots very soon disabled the machinery, cutting off the steam pipe of the Ram- when the Feds, excepting 18, made their escape to a captured Transport. This is said to have been pursued afterwards, and captured by the Rebs. The Ram is said to be slightly damaged and with her fittings, armaments, & stores of all Kinds, will prove to be a very useful prize = [sic] on the case of “State vs. Corporal Saville Jackson” – for the murder of Wm. Hays in this City on 29th Ulto, the Jury brought in a Verdict of “Not Guilty” – last evening; altho the Testimony of several Witnesses examined was direct, and there was none for the defense further than that Jackson, who was in search for a Deserter from his Corps, had been set upon by some other persons in the course of that evening – Gold of 1 1/2 pr cent.
End of February, 1863.
- Beginning with page 79, vol. 2 of Ellicott’s four volumes of diaries, on file at the Hunterdon County Historical Society, Collection 110, Box 2. Note that I have tried to preserve both Ellicott’s spelling and his somewhat haphazard punctuation. See Ellicott’s Diary, January 1863. ↩
- I do not know what M. S. stands for. ↩