I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas holiday in whatever way shape or form is possible. I like this time of year because I can spend quality time with family and friends. I enjoy the old traditions and look forward to making new ones.
This year I came across an American Civil War Christmas poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ( 1807-1882 ). I thought it would be fun to share. I can relate to it because of the many Christmas holidays I spent away from my family and only doom and gloom surrounded me. Those were difficult times to get through. Still, through it all, I managed to enjoy some of those holidays. Here is the poem. Enjoy!
I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.” (1)
Reference for poem and additional information can be found at http://www.potw.org/archive/potw118.html.
During the Civil War and in the summer of 1863 the fighting between the Northern and Southern parts of the United States was closing in on a climax of death and destruction. At the time President Lincoln faced two particular problems with the situation. First, how to end slavery and second how to keep the ranks of the Union Army from becoming depleted. After considerable thought, he chose a solution for both problems: an emancipation proclamation and a wartime draft.
The proclamation itself focused solely on ending slavery by making it illegal in the United States. It did not give enslaved Blacks the full freedom that White Americans enjoyed. One reason for this is that Lincoln favored buying time for the South to come to terms with the new law, and to gradually allow Black slaves an opportunity to choose a life for themselves once freed. Both Northern and Southern Americans had conflicting views on slavery as a whole, but the majority of all cared little for slaves once free and even disliked their assimilation into American society even more. Perhaps Lincoln felt by allowing a slow progression of this adaptation, a change that might prove easier to adapt to for all.
The wartime draft allowed an unlimited supply of able-bodied men, either age between 25 and 35 or between ages of 35 and 45 depending on their marital status, to serve in the Union Army by way of a lottery system. The lottery system was a recruitment tool used to draft individuals and not just sweep any and all men that qualified. It was meant to be a fair system. However, if you were wealthy you could get out of the draft by paying a bit of cash. This was hardly fair to those of lower income classes who never stood one chance to dodge the draft. Many folks in New York also perceived this solution as particularly federally intrusive to their lives. It increased focus on slavery politically as three groups vied for their attention on the national stage: the New York Democrats which included Irish migrant workers, Republicans who remained neutral on the topic of slavery and Abolitionists who vigorously rallied the public support for the end of slavery with marches and speeches. Finally, it incited anger with the White male working population who felt the law was tipped unfairly toward them by favoring Blacks and immigrants to whom the draft law did not even apply.
These groups clashed in July with deadly consequences. On the 13th, the day of the draft lottery, violence erupted, as tempers grew out of control. Working class men began attacking the very people they felt the federal government aimed to support in the draft. They attacked Irish immigrant workers naive of the American justice system. They attacked Blacks: women, children and elderly. These victims were easy targets and could not defend themselves because they did not have the same right within the law as White Americans. Another reason rioters targeted African Americans was because of their progression toward upward mobility. For example, they destroyed a black-owned orphanage, a business created for the sole purpose of Blacks helping Blacks. These institutions’ did not interfere with White society, so why was this threatening? Perhaps the upward mobility by free or freed Blacks was a threat politically to Democrats and a reason for them to publicly protest the Republicans and the government itself.
Lincolns two solutions did affect the United States significantly, but it did not unify the nation, as he had desired. To quell the riot and fighting federal troops were ordered in to control crowds, establish curfew and authority and, bring order to the city. The draft stayed, and the anger and rage lingered on for years to come. Tensions increased between ethnic groups and whites. Now the country was not only divided by north and south but between race and ethnicity as well.
Some White citizens did support African Americans and came to their defense to try and fight back against or protect them from violence. However, there were too few of these groups to make a difference. No one directed their attention to the political systems in place that seems to incite further racial problems between different ethnicity in New York at the time.
The Draft Riots remains a spot of contention within the history of the United States as a nation. What has yet to be determined is why the nation focused more on the government to end the war and bring peace and less focus on ending racial tensions and bringing the nation together racially and ethnically.
The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/317749.html.
“The political system of this country is founded upon what Rufus Choate once termed a “glittering generality,” contained in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” This is a truth as applied to political rights, immunities, and burdens, but an utter absurdity so far as it is made to describe other mutual relations of people.”-Benjamin F. Butler
It is not surprising Benjamin F. Butler begins his autobiography with an opinion of equal rights and how those rights contradict themselves in the line of the Declaration of Independence; “all men are created equal”. Butler’s life and work were all about equality. He articulated well his idea of the definition of equality, and how the United States society’s interpretation differed. The cause of this difference according to Butler is while the definition of equality meant people and their actions were recognized legally, judiciously, it did not apply to the equal rights of individuals. Butler was not alone in his thoughts. Many other folks recognize this problem such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. Butler obsessed about it because of his passion for the law and helping those who were unable to help themselves obtain equality and justice (1).
Butler’s analysis of how the “all men are created equal” caused a problem for equality in the U.S. makes a lot of sense. He uses the horse for an example of this. He explains that a horse is just a horse but when divided into different species each is quite different in its abilities. Therefore, not every horse is created equal. Like all people of the world, each belongs to a different class. Higher class horses are bread differently so that the can achieve results or meet higher expectations. People are born into these separate classes in the same way. By birthright, there is no automatic equality. Therefore basing equality on a false assumption in the Declaration of Independence unintentionally set the United States up for generations of misunderstanding about equality that is still relevant today(2).
1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892), 33.
I found a little piece doing some research and wanted to share it. It is a poem written during the Civil War. It seems to me people found a way to celebrate even though the times were uncertain for them. Have a good Christmas holiday how and if you celebrate!
Benjamin A. Butler is a fascinating character in US history for a number of reasons. In 1818, he was fortunate to be born during revolution and change in the country. He grew up in Massachusetts and was most likely well off since he was able to attend college at Waterville, Maine. In 1838, he graduated with a law degree and pursued a criminal defense career in Lowell, Massachusetts. Perhaps he chose criminal defense as a way to serve the poor of whom he sympathized with and rallied around.
Benjamin A. Butler was also a military man with a long history of service under his belt. He served as Brigadier General in the Massachusetts Militia, which was kind of like today’s National Guard, and with the Union Army during the Civil War. His participation in the Civil War not only brought him full tilt to the front lines of the poor but also face to face with slaves. Butler used his talents in law and military organization as a strategy that helped slaves, supported the Union and helped the poor through charitable opportunities which arose as consequence of the war.
The US Civil War played out with soldiers and guns on one side and by politicians on the other. Butler didn’t allow this to sway his decisions but determined the best course of action by evaluating the situations he came across at the time. The first sign of this was when he confronted a slave problem in Virginia. The problem was what to do with slaves who had escaped in the South or had been abandoned. Congress had recently enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which mandated that escaped slaves be returned to their masters and were not considered “free”. Butler was a man of law and questioned this situation of runaway slaves in times of war. These escaped slaves had become “impressed” into the construction of batteries. He also could not fathom the idea of abandoning the slaves while invading towns and pushing masters to leave their plantations, so he took the slaves as contraband. As Sydney Nathans describes in his book, To Free A Family: The Journey of Mary Walker, anti-slavery organizations celebrated Butlers ideas of devising a way to help by using his knowledge of the law. According to the law, slaves were property and in time of war confiscated property was considered contraband. The idea of contraband satisfied two problems Butler saw important to focus on. First, he confiscated slaves so they could not aid the southern war effort by being impressed. Secondly, by helping the slaves it gave him political support back home in Massachusetts, primarily an abolitionist state.
In 1862 when Butler and his forces invaded New Orleans he saw wealthy aristocrats taking advantage of the poor. Being a man who sympathized with the poor and a history of successful organization of his troops, set upon empowering people to turn their hardships around. He even dipped into his own pockets to get the ball rolling. Many of the people he helped were Southerners unable to provide for themselves due to male head of households being whisked off to join the war. Butler gathered contraband slaves and put them to work helping with tasks. Some of this must have inspired his support of black troop units back home to serve in the Union forces.
Benjamin A. Butler’s legacy continued for years after the Civil War. He continued to serve in politics and continued to use his love for law to help represent those who were forgotten by society. He was able to see corruption with Andrew Jackson’s administration. He was able to see that politicking and reconstruction after the Civil War sought to keep tempers flaring in the south by keeping free blacks suppressed with terrorism and intimidation. He continued work with the passing of the Ku Klux Klan Act and Civil Rights Act. He seemed to be the right man for the job at the time. His background, education and love for fairness and law led him to opportunities that he embraced with the best of intentions and heart. His successes and failures teach that decisions are made with everyone involved and the outcomes will affect everyone as well. If one group or side is not taken into considerations the outcome can be far more detrimental. His ideas set up social programs and systems that aided society during war and its aftermath. He showed how organization can aid in military strength for support of any operation. Lastly, he showed how law can work to benefit those who are oppressed by the social elite and powerful.
Bonnie Tsui describes in her book, She Wen’t To The Field: Women Soldiers Of The Civil War, that Annie Etheridge and Marie Tepe were two women awarded the Kearney Cross for valor during their service to country. Both of these women, disguised as male soldiers, participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville, subsequently earning the award. The Kearney Cross award was established to recognize Non-Commissioned officers and Privates who distinguished themselves amongst their fellow troops. I wanted to learn more about this medal.
The Kearney Cross was derived from the “Kearney Medal”, which was awarded to officers for valor during the civil war. The Kearney Cross was used to establish the same kind of merit that could be awarded to enlisted men. The medal is named after Philip Kearney, son of General Stephen Kearney, known for his participation in the US-Mexican War. I learned from the readings that Philip hailed from a long line of distinguished gentlemen of means who volunteered themselves to the service of their country.
The selfless service and the untimely death of Philip during the 2nd Manassas Campaign (Battle of Chantilly) led to the medal of honor in his name to show respect bestowed upon him by those who served with and under him.