150 Years Ago This Week: ‘In God We Trust’ first appears

April 1864

At Knoxville, Tenn., Union military governor Andrew Johnson vigorously supported emancipation at a large pro-Union meeting. In Richmond, the Examiner expressed editorial concern about the forthcoming military campaign in Virginia:

“So far, we feel sure of the issue. All else is mystery and uncertainty. Where the first blow will fall, when the two armies of Northern Virginia will meet each other face to face; how Grant will try to hold his own against the master spirit of Lee, we cannot even surmise.”

On April 17, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant ordered no further exchange of prisoners until the Confederates balanced the Federal releases. Also, he pronounced “no distinction whatever will be made in the exchange between white and colored prisoners.” This move injured the South, with its manpower shortages, far more than the North. It brought Gen. Grant caustic criticism from both sides. In Savannah, Ga., a riot erupted between local troops and Southern women demanding bread.

In an important command change, Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard was assigned to head the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. Leaving his headquarters in Charleston, S.C., Gen. Beauregard was to be in charge of the defenses of Richmond, the southern part of Virginia, and the northern section of North Carolina against Federal invasion forces led by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler.

In Baltimore, President Abraham Lincoln declared in a speech at the Sanitary Fair: “We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word, we do not all mean the same thing.” On April 19, the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Albemarle joined in the Confederate attack on Plymouth, N.C. and rammed the U.S.S. Smithfield, sending her to the bottom. Another Union wooden gunboat was damaged and others driven off. The capture of Plymouth was anticipated when Confederates under Brig. Gen. Robert Hoke surrounded the town. The Congress of the United States passed an enabling act to permit the Territory of Nebraska to join the Union; the territory was not admitted until March 1, 1867.

Aided by the C.S.S. Albemarle, Gen. Hoke and his troops captured Plymouth, N.C., on April 20, the first major Confederate victory in the area for a long time; the surrender of 2,800 Union troops and a large quantity of military supplies gave great hope to the defenders of the Atlantic seaboard.

The same day, Federal troops from Fort Dalles, Ore., and Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory, began operations lasting until October against Indians in southeastern Oregon. Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones succeeded Gen. Beauregard in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. President Lincoln ordered death sentences exacted by courts-martial to be commuted to imprisonment at Fort Jefferson, on the Dry Tortugas some 68 miles southwest of Key West, Fla. He also conferred with Gen. Grant on plans for the spring offensive in Virginia.

The Red River campaign in Louisiana drew to an embarrassing close on April 21 when Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks continued his Federal withdrawal back to Alexandria, La. He had been lately fighting hit-and-run attacks by Confederate troops under Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor.

On this same day, President Lincoln met with the governors of Ohio, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois, and took time to review 72 court-martial cases. The next day, under an act of the U.S. Congress, the words “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins — a practice which continues today.

In Richmond, President Jefferson Davis wrote to Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk in northern Alabama: “If the negro soldiers captured are escaped slaves, they should be held safely for recovery by their owners. If otherwise, inform me.” In the meantime, fighting continued every day between opposing forces throughout the warring nations: In Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Virginia, both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Missouri, Kentucky and Florida. It was only going to get worse.

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.