Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12, 1863

June 12, 1863

Virginia: Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell and the II Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia has crossed the Blue Ridge through the gaps and is marching swiftly northward, down the Shenandoah Valley. At Winchester is a small Union force under Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy, a perpetual problem general for the War Department in Washington. To date, his principal distinction is having let Stonewall Jackson surprise and defeat him in the West Virginia town of McDowell over a year ago. He apparently rules with a rather harsh form of martial law in Winchester, imprisoning any woman who insults a Union soldier, reading all of the mail passing in and out of the town, and even declaring all of the slaves in the town to be free (a measure not approved by Washington). He quarters his troops in the homes of the citizens—certainly not the kind of act that would win hearts for the Union cause.

Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell, CSA

Milroy’s division at Winchester appears to be a ripe plum for the Rebels to pick, since Ewell is packing three divisions—those of Robert Rodes, Edward Johnson, and the irascible Jubal A. Early. Gen. Halleck back in Washington sends a message to Milroy’s department commander, Gen. Schenk, that the garrison "should" be pulled out of Winchester. But Milroy insists he can hold the town against any move by the enemy. But up to this point, Milroy’s cavalry has been skirmishing only with Rebel cavalry.

—The New York Times prints dispatches from its correspondent at the Vicksburg siege, noting the onset of the Southern summer, in rather vivid, poetic terms:

IN REAR OF VICKSBURGH, Saturday, May 30.

The weather, which for the last month has been as cool as one could expect, has suddenly become as hot as the furnace prepared for the three uncompromising Hebrews [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego]. The air is tremulous with heat; the dust-covered leaves droop and wither; thunders go growling and roaring over the sky toward evening, but bring us no rain, only hot lightnings and hypocritical clouds; the nights are stale with polished skies and a bright moon that instead of light glow with and reflect back the heat which the earth has absorbed during the day. Where yesterday there was a green, placid bayou, there is to-day only a natural canal, on whose steep banks lie rotting dogs and unshapely driftwood, and whose bottom is covered here with oozy, bubbling slime, and there with yawning cracks that seem to open down to the centre of the earth.

Standing upon any one of the higher hills between Ha[y]nes’ Bluff and Vicksburgh, the entire position of our army, its movements and the passage of teams can be correctly guessed at by the spectator, by watching the lines of dust that rise above the ocean of verdure whose leafy swells and hollows stretch away illimitably before him.

The Southern Summer — that Summer with its sweltering heats, its dried-up streams, its nights dripping with unhealthy dews, its dust-malaria, discomforts and death — is upon us.

We are making some progress toward the capture of Vicksburgh, although, just now, operations are so multifarious and extended, that it puzzles one to keep track of them all …

—The Richmond Daily Dispatch publishes the latest dispatches on conditions at Vicksburg. Among other details are these:

Our scouts from the vicinity of Vicksburg report that Grant in hauling water for his troops from the High Black, a distance of eight miles.

His mounted siege guns opened fire to-night. The fire was incessant, our columbiads replying, with a proclamation to the world of the invincible spirit which animates our troops in the works, and that "Vicksburg never surrenders."
All eyes are turned towards Kirby Smith, on whose movements depend, perhaps, the fate of Port Hudson and Vicksburg.

[third Dispatch.]
Jackson, June12.
–The heavy firing at Vicksburg continues. Last night it was heavier than any that has yet been heard.

The weather is clean and warm. The thermometer indicates 90 degrees. . . .

—Major Alexander Biddle, commander of the 121st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, writes home to his wife about his futile attempts to resign from the U.S. Army:

. . . We number now less than 260 men present for duty and many of these are excused from drill — not a command of a Major. I think I therefore might be spared Imbecility which often amounts to cruelty marks the Course of Govt towards this Army, if it is not our Generals doing that we have so much tape to tie us. To get my resignation considered it had to pass through 3 clerks and 3 Generals inspections if indeed the latter ever saw it at all. You now dear wife know my fate for the present — bereft as I am of all hope of happiness which I alone look for here below in your society. I must trust that in a little while I shall have some other opportunity — which I shall most eagerly embrace. I have had no letters from home but yours and dont expect any — strange but so it is. May God bless and keep you in health and strength and happiness soon to be reunited with your ever loving husband,

A kiss for Aleck, Harry, Julia, Winny and Louis — when I heard that De Hunter had been with you I was pleased at the dear little boy’s name.

—Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle, of the British Army, writes in his journal of the time he is spending in Charleston, where he witnesses a slave auction and finally meets General Beauregard, who of course makes a plug for British intervention. This passage reveals interesting nuances from an anti-slavery Englishman (we presume) who nevertheless does not think it is all that bad:

I went to a slave auction at 11; but they had been so quick about it that the whole affair was over before I arrived, although I was only ten minutes late. The negroes—about fifteen men, three women, and three children—were seated on benches, looking perfectly contented and indifferent I saw the buyers opening the mouths and showing the teeth of their new purchases to their friends in a very business-like manner. This was certainly not a very agreeable spectacle to an Englishman, and I know that many Southerners participate in the same feeling; for I have often been told by people that they had never seen a negro sold by auction, and never wished to do so. . . . I am perfectly aware that many influential men in the South feel humiliated and annoyed with several of the incidents connected with slavery; and I think that if the Confederate States were left alone, the system would be much modified and amended, although complete emancipation cannot be expected; for the Southerners believe it to be as impracticable to cultivate cotton on a large scale in the South, without forced black labour, as the British have found it to produce sugar in Jamaica; and they declare that the example the English have set them of sudden emancipation in that island is by no means encouraging. They say that that magnificent colony, formerly so wealthy and prosperous, is now nearly valueless—the land going out of cultivation—the Whites ruined—the Blacks idle, slothful, and supposed to be in a great measure relapsing into their primitive barbarism. . . .

At 1 P.M. I called on General Beauregard, who is a man of middle height, about forty-seven years of age. He would be very youthful in appearance were it not for the colour of his hair, which is much greyer than his earlier photographs represent. Some persons account for the sudden manner in which his hair turned grey by allusions to his cares and anxieties during the last two years; but the real and less romantic reason is to be found in the rigidity of the Yankee blockade, which interrupts the arrival of articles of toilette. He has a long straight nose, handsome brown eyes, and a dark mustache without whiskers, and his manners are extremely polite. He is a New Orleans Creole, and French is his native language.

He was extremely civil to me, and arranged that I should see some of the land fortifications to-morrow. He spoke to me of the inevitable necessity, sooner or later, of a war between the Northern States and Great Britain; and he remarked that, if England would join the South at once, the Southern armies, relieved of the present blockade and enormous Yankee pressure, would be able to march right into the Northern States, and, by occupying their principal cities, would give the Yankees so much employment that they would be unable to spare many men for Canada. . . .

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