1862 One Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

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Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper reported on December 6 that all the ailanthus trees on the nation’s Capitol grounds were being uprooted and carted off. “The odor had become so offensive,” Leslie’s explained, “that the removal was necessary.

Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside believed he was unfit for high command, and on December 13, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, he proved his opinion true. The Army of the Potomac arrived at the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia, in mid-November, but instead of launching an immediate attack on Robert E. Lee’s unprepared forces across the river, Burnside waited two weeks for misplaced pontoon bridges to arrive. When he finally did move on December 13, the Confederates, though numerically inferior, were assured of success. From a well-defended hilltop they fired down upon the Union men, who sacrificed their lives in a series of futile frontal assaults. Watching the slaughter, General Lee observed: “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” When the encounter was over, 5,300 Confederates were dead or wounded; Union casualties reached 12,700.

A recently patented invention was advertised in December’s publications: “Dr. G. W. Scollay’s Air-Tight Deodorizing Burial Case.” Dr. Scollay claimed to have devised a “new and useful improvement in Burial Cases, by means of which a human body may be withheld from interment some sixty to ninety days, or more, without the emission of the usual offensive odor, and at a small expense beyond that of the ordinary wooden burial case.”

The Union blockade of Confederate ports not only hampered Southern business but severely affected those employed in Europe’s mills. Without the South’s cotton, work at the mills slowed to a trickle. Yet while London appealed to Washington to lift the blockades in the name of England’s working class, the workers themselves continued to support the North. On December 31, the day before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, a letter went to President Lincoln: “As citizens of Manchester, assembled at the Free-Trade Hall, we beg to express our fraternal sentiments toward you and your country.…We honor your free States, as a singular, happy abode for the working millions. One thing alone has, in the past, lessened our sympathy with your country and our confidence in it; we mean the ascendency of politicians who not merely maintained negro slavery, but desired to extend it and root it more firmly. Since we have discerned, however, that the victory of the free north, in the war which has so sorely distressed us as well as afflicted you, will strike off the fetters of the slave, you have attracted our warm and earnest sympathy.” The letter ended: “Accept our high admiration of your firmness in upholding the proclamation of freedom.”