Monday, March 3, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Monday, March 3, 1862


East and west, warm days alternate with cold days; occasional light snowfalls cover the mud. North and South, armies are stirring, not quite ready to fight, but thinking about it. In the Eastern Theater, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan—after six months of inactivity—is preparing his “Peninsular Campaign,” a scheme to attack Richmond from the south and an idea to which President Lincoln had only reluctantly agreed. In The Western Theater, Grant is organizing his forces for a move up the Tennessee River, aimed at Eastport, Mississippi, as ordered by General Halleck. In Virginia, a little-known Confederate general named Thomas J. Jackson hopes to begin attacking the Yankees in the Shenandoah Valley and nearby mountains.

And in their tents, soldiers are using the interlude to write letters. Capt. Emerson Opdycke of the 41st Ohio, part of the Union force occupying Nashville, writes wife Lucy on this, their fifth wedding anniversary, that although they are apart, the further he travels “ the nearer I am to home.” Opdycke means that he thinks the backbone of the rebellion is broken and the end of the war may be near.

Opdycke’s candid words to Lucy reveal some of the racism common among even opponents of slavery. Opdycke considers slavery “a curse,” but does not think freeing the slaves now would be practical or beneficial. It’s a problem best solved in “the immeasurably greater yet to be.” He doesn’t even have much confidence in arming “the Darkies” (as he calls free blacks) to fight for the North.

At Fayetteville in western Virginia, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes has time to write his wife, also named Lucy, about a a strange marriage proposal by one of his soldiers. A man named Hegelman has asked permission to marry a girl living near the camp, a young woman who is "good-looking” but of “doubtful reputation.” On questioning, Hegelman admits he does not even know the young women’s name! Finally, the soldier confesses he wants to marry Miss Nameless because $800 has been bequeathed him on condition that he marry! He wants to use the money to make loans that will earn him interest.

So much for pure love—trumped by the profit motive in romantic western Virginia.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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