150 Years Ago This Week: The summer of our discontent

On Tuesday, July 1, the day of the battle at Malvern Hill near Richmond, the last of the Seven Days’ Battles, Abraham Lincoln approved an act to provide for a Federal income tax – 3 percent on income between $600 and $10,000. He also approved the act establishing the transcontinental railroad, providing for the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads to cross the West. And President Lincoln advised the state governors that he was calling for 300,000 more men “to bring this unnecessary and injurious civil war to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion.”

Other acts signed by President Lincoln included one banning polygamy in the territories; a loyalty oath required of every elected or appointed government officer; and the Morrill Act, which provided for the states to receive 30,000 acres of land for each senator and representative as an endowment for proposed agricultural and mechanical schools. The measure provided for land grant colleges in every state.

On Friday, July 4, the Confederate gunboat Teaser was captured by the Federals as it attempted to go down the James River from Richmond and launch an observation balloon made of old silk frocks and dresses donated to the cause – making it the first recorded instance of an aircraft carrier.

On Saturday, July 5, a sharp cavalry fight took place near Sperryville between the 6th Virginia Cavalry (Company B, the Rappahannock Old Guards, was composed of Rappahannock County men) of Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson’s brigade, and two companies of the 1st Maine Cavalry. Of the fight, Capt. George Summat of the 1st Maine reported two enlisted men wounded. His report stated that “the whole of this country is infested with rebel horsemen.”

During the first two weeks of July, engagements between U.S. and C.S. forces continued every day on all fronts. In Kentucky, Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan captured Tompkinsville, routing the Federal force there. Three days later, Gen. Morgan and his men captured Lebanon, threatening Cincinnati, Frankfort, Lexington and Louisville, and earning Gen. Morgan his nickname, “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” Another fearsome Confederate cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, captured the town of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and the Federal forces there. Gen. Forrest, who rose through the ranks from private to lieutenant general, was praised later in the war by General Robert E. Lee as “the most ablest of the Confederate cavalry commanders.”

Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck was named general-in-chief of all U.S. land forces by President Lincoln on July 10. He was considered a top-grade administrator with a sound military mind. The same day, Gen. Pope issued controversial orders which struck fear and discontent into the hearts of Rappahannock County citizens and those in the Shenandoah Valley under the heel of the Federal occupation.

Throughout the area of operations of his Army of Virginia, Gen. Pope decreed that the citizens would be held responsible for injury to railroads, attacks upon trains or straggling soldiers. In case of guerrilla or irregular activities (partisan warfare), citizens would be financially responsible; if a Federal soldier were fired upon from any house, it would be razed to the ground. Those detected in any act of aggression against his army would be shot without civil process. For the people of Rappahannock County and elsewhere where Gen. Pope’s army lay, these orders were tantamount to allowing Federal soldiers to do whatever they wished without fear of punishment. In less than two days’ time, however, crimes committed near Sperryville against civilians by an officer’s servant and two soldiers from Buffalo, N.Y., would, surprisingly, be prosecuted by the Federal authorities. More on that next week.

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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.