May 12, 1863. While Richmond witnessed Stonewall Jackson’s somber funeral procession, attended by President Davis himself and thousands of others, “up by the Rappahannock, [wrote historian Bruce Catton,] . . . General Lee sent word that unless his army could be strongly reinforced he might eventually have to retreat to the defenses of Richmond.
Catton continued, “General Lee had won the most brilliant victory of his career and . . . [y]et upon examination the Chancellorsville victory looked hollow. It had been dazzling, a set piece for the instruction of students of the military art, but it had been inconclusive . . . . It was disappointing for a reason even graver than the loss of General Jackson; it left government and army facing precisely the problems they had faced before the campaign began. . . . [N]othing had been settled.”
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, executive director, Vermont Humanities Council
Bruce Catton, Never Call Retreat, pp. 157.
Walt Whitman Writes His Mother about His Work Caring for Wounded Union Soldiers in Washington
May 13, 1863.
I am late with my letter this week –my poor, poor boys occupy my time very much -. . . – I believe I mentioned a young man in Ward F, Armory Square, with a bad wound in the leg, very agonizing, had to have it propt up, & an attendant all the while dripping water on night & day — I was in hopes at one time he would get through with it, but Walt Whitman a few days ago he took a sudden bad turn, & died about 3 o’clock the same afternoon — it was horrible — he was of good family (handsome, intelligent man, about 26, married) his name was John Elliott of Cumberland Valley, Bedford Co., Penn., belonged to 2d Pennsylvania Cavalry. I felt very bad about it — I have wrote to his father — have not rec’d any answer yet -. . . . The surgeons put off amputating the leg, he was so exhausted, but at last it was imperatively necessary to amputate — mother, I am shocked to tell you, that the never came alive off the amputating table – . . . poor young man, he suffered much, very very much, for many days & bore it so patiently — so it was a release to him — Mother, such things are awful — not a soul here he knew or cared about, except me — yet the surgeons & nurses were good to him — I think all was done for him that could be — there was no help but to take off the leg — he was under chloroform — they tried their best to bring him to — three long hours were spent, a strong smelling bottle held under his nostrils, with other means, three hours. Mother, how contemptible all the usual little worldly prides & vanities & striving after appearances, seems in the midst of such scenes as these — such tragedies of soul & body. To see such things & not be able to help them is awful — I feel almost ashamed of being so well & whole.
. . . -I send my best love to Sister Mat & all. Good bye, dearest mother.
Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961-77).
Women’s National Loyal League, the First National Political Association of Women, Founded
On May 14, 1863, Susan B. Anthony opened the organizing meeting of the Woman’s National Loyal League in New York City. Modeled after Loyal Leagues supporting the Union cause and the Republican Party, the WNLL was the first national political association for women. At the outset of the war, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had temporarily suspended their active pursuit of equal rights for women. Now they sought an alternative means of appealing to Northern women through the noble cause of permanently abolishing slavery.
Both women were frustrated by the limited scope of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and by their inability to influence politics. Calling the “daughters of the Revolution” to “defend their birthright of freedom,” they hoped to channel women’s patriotism into political activism by enlisting them in a massive petition campaign urging passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. (1)
The convention attracted an immense crowd to hear prominent speakers from both the antislavery and women’s movements, including Lucy Stone, Angelina Grimke Weld, and Ernestine L. Rose. A fervent abolitionist since the late 1830s, Anthony expressed her dismay at the “great fear expressed on all sides lest this shall be made a war for the negro.” But she proclaimed, “I am willing that it shall be.” Like the Radical Republicans in Congress, Anthony believed the war was about slavery and that Lincoln should have freed the Southern slaves at the outset and enlisted them for the Union. The real cause of the war had been suppressed, she argued, “shame on us if we do not make it one to establish the freedom of the negro.” (2)
With a dual purpose in mind, Anthony urged Northern women to assume their “God-given responsibilities” and go forward as “fully independent human beings,” no longer the “mere reflector, the echo of the worldly pride and ambition of man.” Criticism of women’s abolitionist petitioning had abounded before the war, and whether women should vote or even involve themselves in the political and military affairs of men was highly contested. When the convention debated whether both blacks and women should have equal rights, Anthony argued, “is it possible for this government to be a true democracy, a genuine republic, while one-sixth or one-half the people are disfranchised?” (3)
In the months after the convention, Stanton and Anthony mobilized women to go forth with petitions and gather signatures from both women and men. Five thousand women joined the WNLL, and by February 1864 they had gathered 100,000 signatures. Charles Sumner, a Radical Republican from Massachusetts, presented the petition to the Senate along with a constitutional amendment ending slavery and guaranteeing equality for blacks. A year later, when Congress finally passed the Thirteenth Amendment, they had amassed a record-breaking 400,000 signatures, representing the largest petition campaign in U.S. history.
– Submitted by Marilyn S. Blackwell
See also Wendy Hamand Venet, Neither Ballots nor Bullets: Women Abolitionists and the Civil War (Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia, 1991)