Soldier Writes of Brother’s Death & Lincoln Exasperated

October 12, 1862/2012
Volume 3, Issue 41 (105 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Confederate Law Exempting Owners of Twenty Slaves or More a Political Disaster

On October 11, 1862, the Confederate Congress amended its draft law to exempt from military service any man who owned twenty slaves or more. Reuben Davis, who represented Mississippi, recalled:

Confederate private Lycurgus Rees, a farmer from Georgia, used the form above to apply for an exemption from military service based on his ownership of "fifteen able-bodied slaves." Click on the image to see a larger version and to learn more. Courtesy U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Confederate private Lycurgus Rees, a farmer from Georgia, used the form above to apply for an exemption from military service based on his ownership of “fifteen able-bodied slaves.” Click on the image to see a larger version and to learn more. Courtesy U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

“. . . [The bill] was referred to a committee, and reported back favorably, and a speech of half an hour in length made in support of the bill.

“I replied in a speech of the same length in opposition.

“I then called for the ayes and noes. The call was granted as a favor to me, and, perhaps, in some derision of the foreseen result. I was very earnest in my opposition to the bill, and warned the House that to pass such a measure would be to disband the army. My vote was the only one cast against it, . . . There was some laughter over my isolated stand-point, but I said, ‘Laugh on, my merry gentlemen, in a short time you will laugh on the wrong side of your faces!’

“A few members afterwards changed their votes to ‘No.’ The effect of the bill was just what might have been anticipated. No sooner was the news carried to the army than the soldiers became infuriated. The officers had great difficulty in keeping the army together until Congress could meet and repeal the obnoxious law.”

SOURCE

Eyewitness to America, David Colbert, ed., (1997), pp. 215-16.


Soldier Writes Mother of His Brother’s Death

On October 11, 1862, nineteen-year-old Benjamin W. “Webb” Baker, from Illinois, wrote home from “Perryville Battle Ground” in Kentucky of his brother’s death. During the war countless thousands of such letters were sent back home, North and South:390

Oh, Mother; how can I say it! But I must!! John is dead!!! He was killed on the battlefield in the 8th inst. in one of the hottest engagements of the war — he was shot in two places. The balls must have struck him at the same instant — one entered his left side at the waistband & passing through his heart came out under his right arm. The other struck him in his neck under the jaw & near the jugular vein & passed up into his brain. Either of the balls would have killed him instantly. He evidently never moved after he fell, nor at all only to fall for his arms were as if he had been holding his gun to shoot. I suppose he was at the time the balls struck him. I was on the right side of the battle field & he on the left. I did not know that he was on the field at till the next day. There was only a skirmish on the right — but on the left it was very hot. Crocket Neal was killed half a mile from the line of battle in the retreat. I suppose a stray ball must have struck him. It went into the back of his head & did not pass through, He fell on his face & apparently never moved. Anthony Cox was killed. Anthony was shot through both legs just above the knees. The legs were both broken. He was not killed instantly, but doubtless soon bled to death. He must have suffered. He attempted to crawl off the field — he got back about 8 or 10 feet from where he fell. There was an agony look on his face. There were two others of the company killed — I do not know them — Robert Eardsley, John Jones & Calvin Moore were wounded, & some other of the company whom I do not know. I had permission from Capt. Taggert & helped to bury the boys & marked the place. I send you a lock of John’s hair. Everything was taken from his pockets but his Testament. John died like a man & a soldier at his post & in the front rank. Would I had died in his stead — my only, my true noble hearted brother. What a great vicarious sacrifice our homes and country are costing, How many noble hearted brothers. I can’t write more. God bless & sustain you in this great bereavement. I sent Bige Neal a lock of Crocket’s hair.

Truly your son,
Webb

SOURCE

Testament: A Soldier’s Story of the Civil War, Benson Bobrick. New York, 2003. p. 220

INTERESTING LINKS

“Soldiers’ Tales: Two Vermont authors relive the Civil War Era,” by Howard Frank Mosher, Seven Days


Exasperated, Lincoln Urges McClellan to Engage the Enemy

October 13, 1862.

TO GENERAL G. B. McCLELLAN.
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON,

MY DEAR SIR–You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?

. . . one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is “to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as possible, without exposing your own.” You seem to act as if this applies against you, but cannot apply in your favor.

. . . you are now nearer to Richmond than the enemy is, by the route that you can and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march? . . .

You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was, that this would at once menace the enemy’s communications, which I would seize if he would permit. If he should move northward, I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move toward Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say “try;” if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he makes a stand at Winchester, moving neither north or south, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we cannot beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us than far away. If we cannot beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the entrenchments of Richmond. . . .

Yours truly,
A. LINCOLN.

Indeed the enemy was let back into Richmond and once again, the military opportunity was lost.

President Lincoln and General McClellan

President Lincoln and General McClellan

– All entries submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director of the Vermont Humanities Council

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1862

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