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1865 One Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

Fistfighting and sabotage were as important as lifesaving in the chaotic world of New York City fire fighting. Too many of the city’s volunteer fire companies would race to a blaze chiefly in order to prevent another from putting it out first. Professional fire departments in several other cities had ended the spectacle of rival companies brawling in the light of a fire they had been called to extinguish. They were also less expensive. Paid fire departments in London, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Boston, and St. Louis cost far less in insurance and maintenance combined than New York paid to support its 125 volunteer engine houses. “There is no actual fire in the City of New York which does not attract at least one thousand two hundred firemen and about as many ex-members with the different companies, the children, the nincompoops and the thieves,” complained one newspaper. “The Fire Department of New York is a costly and ridiculous farce.” On May 2 New York abolished volunteer companies and established its own six-hundred-man Metropolitan Fire Department.

To earn their seven-hundred-dollar annual salary, the fire fighters were on call continuously, with one day off per month and three free hours a day to eat meals at home. New rules of conduct prohibited drinking, profanity, and fire-engine races. New York had become a less exciting but altogether safer city.

Federal troops captured the Confederate president Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10. “Try not to cry,” Davis told his wife as he was delivered into a Virginia prison two weeks later. “They will gloat over your grief.”

He was right. “At about 3 o’clock yesterday,” crowed the New York Herald Tribune on May 23, ” ‘all that is mortal’ of Jeff’n Davis, late so-called ‘President of the alleged Confederate States,’ was duly, but quietly and effectively, committed to that living tomb prepared within the impregnable walls of Fortress Monroe. ... No more will Jeff’n Davis be known among the masses of men. He is buried alive.” Arrested for treason, Davis was never brought to trial. He was released on bond in 1867 and pardoned the next year in the general amnesty President Andrew Johnson granted to all Southerners in one of his final executive acts.

President Johnson issued his first plans for reconstruction of the South on May 29. In his Proclamation of Amnesty Johnson granted a pardon, “with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves,” to participants in the rebellion who pledged to support the U.S. Constitution. The document made so many exceptions, though, that virtually all Confederate leaders still faced the charge of treason. Among those Johnson excluded from his amnesty of May 29 were officials of the Confederate government, military officers above the rank of colonel, citizens who had left the North to aid the rebellion, and all “voluntary” participants owning property worth more than twenty thousand dollars.

On the same day, Johnson appointed a provisional governor to organize a new government in North Carolina and prepare the state to meet the requirements for readmission to the Union. On June 13 he named provisional governors for six other Southern states as well.

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