This Day in Civil War History: May 25

Today in 1861, 63, 64 and 65 represents four bloody years of the Civil War.

The entries below spawned me to think more about our Victorian and Civil War history, and for some reason, knowing today was the day that so much occurred  during the war between ourselves, I feel more introspective and pensive.  My reflections are as follows.

In this first entry at “This Day in the Civil War,” note the location of the hotel and the Union martyr, Elmer Ellsworth.

But first, note Wikipedia’s biography of Ellsworth:

“… a lawyer and soldier, best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War….Ellsworth died shortly after arriving in Washington. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded, President Lincoln observed from the White House a large Confederate flag prominently displayed in the neighboring town of Alexandria Virginia. Offering to retrieve the flag for Lincoln, Ellsworth led his men uncontested down the streets of Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington.”

And now, the entry from “This Day in the Civil War”:

Saturday May 25 1861

The East Room of the White House had held the body of Elmer Ellsworth as it lay in state, and it was the site of his funeral service today. His friendship with the Lincolns as well as the dramatic circumstances of his death–shotgunned by Alexandria, Va., hotelkeeper James Jackson as he tore a Confederate flag from the hotel roof–combined to make him the first martyr of the Union cause. Funerals, alas, would soon become far too commonplace to be held at the White House.


In this next entry, note the irony of Jackson’s reluctance to battle on Sundays which were revered as the Sabbath.  Again, I cannot escape the contradictions:  love a God and obey God’s rule, but kill those whom God has created.  I return to the age old question of whether or not God condones war.  I doubt God does, though too many times, we un-evolved humans seem to know no other way to resolve our differences.

Sunday May 25 1862

Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, better known as “Stonewall”, was a deeply religious man who went to great lengths to avoid battle on the Sabbath. Today it could not be avoided, so he administered a drubbing to Gen. Banks’ men in the Battle of Winchester. Casualties were lopsided: 400 Southerners out of an army of 16000; more than 2000 Federals from a force of 8000, the vast majority missing or captured. The survivors scrambled back to Harpers Ferry, leaving their huge load of supplies to Jackson.


When I think of Rep. Charles L. Vallandigham, I think of my own poem “Crossing the Line,” the expression of  torn loyalties that eventually forced most to take sides:

“Were it not for my General,
my brothers, my neighbors,
I might try to unite

these fierce armies in me.”

Note Vallandigham’s conflict between opposing the succession, opposing the war, but seeming to express pro-Confederate ideas, eventually resulting in his being turned over to the Confederates.

Was Vallandigham truly siding with the Confederates,  or was he attempting to resolve an inner conflict?


Monday May 25 1863

Rep. Charles L. Vallandigham, D-Ohio, would in a later time have been known as a diehard peacenik. He opposed secession but also opposed the war to prevent it, and he opposed Lincoln. Last year he had visited an Ohio regiment in camp near Washington and had been the target of rocks and garbage. Finally he was arrested for treason for expressing allegedly pro-Confederate sentiments, and sentenced to prison. Lincoln changed the sentence to exile from the United States. Today Vallandigham was turned over to Confederate authorities in Tennessee.


The area of New Hope Church is described in Wikipedia as “The region south of the Etowah was one of the wildest parts of north Georgia. The area was sparsely settled, hilly, heavily wooded, and, in 1864, little known and poorly mapped.”

My personal irony is expressed in “Poem from the Battlefield” which describes my journey as a contemporary hiker in Manassas Battlefield Park.  I call the place, “this haven, my church.”

Though I resent my form of church–nature–being used for battle, I often felt a sense of peace in my treks across the many trails the battlefields offer.  Recognizing I hike in what is really a cemetery, I meditate on the reasons for the battle, a potential afterlife, the spirits of soldiers and civilians alive in the trees, the meaning of suffering and the general meaning of all life.
Wednesday May 25 1864

Gen. William T. Sherman had marched across Georgia with little impediment so far. This changed today at a place called New Hope Church. Sherman’s left, under Schofield, faced Gen. Hood; on his right, McPherson faced Hardee; in the center it was Thomas against Polk. Combat raged along Pumpkin Vine Creek, with Hooker getting in to the act. A furious thunderstorm raged, casualties were appalling, but the Southern lines held.

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