150 Years Ago This Week: ‘All we ask is to be let alone’ 

April-May 1861

President Lincoln visited the 7th New York Infantry regiment, quartered in the House of Representatives’ U.S. Capitol chambers  on Sunday, April 28.

The same day, the USS Constitution, en route from Annapolis to Newport, R.I., stopped in New York. It was being towed from the Naval Academy to the new site of the U.S. Naval Academy in Rhode Island, deemed more safe and secure than in Maryland. The next day, April 29, the Maryland legislature voted against secession, 53-13. It was a severe blow to the Confederacy, but one which was lauded by the Lincoln administration.

The second session of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States met at Montgomery on April 29, and received a lengthy message from President Davis. He explained the actions he took following the firing on Ft. Sumter and President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops.

Davis called for further congressional action to support the emerging conflict between North and South. He said, “We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we are lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall now attempt our subjugation by arms.”

Typical of the response of various groups, civic bodies, churches, schools and other organizations in their early war fervor, the New York Yacht Club offered its services to the Federal government on April 30.

In the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Col. William Emory abandoned Ft. Washita and left the territory for Kansas. This left the Five Civilized Indian Tribes – Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles – to the influence of Confederates. A number of Indians were slaveholders and already pro-secession. Some advocated neutrality. As the month closed, there was uncertainty, still some vague hope of peace, but at the same time, the people of sections of the former Union were exhilarated by the war spirit and the anticipated excitement. The grim reality would come soon enough.

On Wednesday, May 1, under the authority of the governor of Virginia, Major General Robert E. Lee, commanding the state’s forces, ordered out further volunteer troops, with a concentration at Harpers Ferry under Col. Thomas J. Jackson.

The colonel was ordered to move all machinery from the rifle factory there to Winchester and Strasburg. In Nashville, the Tennessee legislature approved a joint resolution authorizing the governor to appoint commissioners to enter into league with the Confederacy. In Raleigh, the North Carolina legislature voted to hold a state convention to consider secession. Gov. Samuel Black of Nebraska Territory called for a Union volunteer organization. In Washington, troops continued to pour into the nation’s capital from the North, and the U.S. Navy placed the mouth of the James River and Hampton Roads under strict blockade.

On May 3, Lincoln issued a call for 42,034 troops to serve for three years. The Regular Army strength was to be increased by eight infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment and one artillery regiment, representing an increase from 16,367 to 22,714 officers and men. Total strength of the Army was to be raised to 156,861, the Navy to 25,000. Enlistments for an additional 18,000 seamen were requested. In London, the British foreign minister, Lord John Russell, received the Confederate commissioners to Great Britain, William L. Yancey, Dudley Mann and Pierre Rost. U.S. diplomats protested.

In western Virginia on May 4, pro-Union groups met in Wheeling and in Preston County to declare against secession. U.S. ordnance stores in Kansas City were seized by pro-Southern troops. In Gretna, La., at the Phoenix Iron Works, one of the first guns for the Confederate Navy was cast; in New Orleans, the Star of the West, which had attempted to relieve Ft. Sumter in January, became a receiving ship for the Confederates there. In Montgomery, the Confederate Congress began to deliberate on a bill recognizing that a state of war existed between the USA and the CSA.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.