From: Los Angeles
150 Years Ago Today:
At the Stones River battlefield in Tennessee, very little happened. The Confederate commanders realized that the costly carnage of the day before had pushed the Federal army into a more compact defensive position, where they had the advantage of interior lines. They spent the day getting reports from cavalry and trying a probe or two, looking for a good place to attack the Yankees, but nothing recommended itself. As for the Northerners, they had prepared to receive an attack rather than to deliver one. They pushed forward one division on the Confederate right, but that ground was now unoccupied.
The day had arrived for Abraham Lincoln to either finalize or revoke his Emancipation Proclamation. Throughout North and South, and indeed much of the Western world, there was considerable doubt which way he would go. But not among those who knew him well. As Lincoln said, "I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards."
The first copy of the Proclamation proved to have a printing error. It had to be sent back to the State Department for correction. In the meantime, Lincoln had a New Year's Day reception to attend. It was not until 2 p.m. that all was ready, and when he first sat down, Lincoln hesitated. Not because he was unsure: "If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it," he declared. But because his arm was so weary from hours of shaking hands, he had trouble keeping it steady. "If my hand trembles when I sign the proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say 'He hesitated'." He rested for a moment and then took up the pen again, slowly and carefully writing his name.
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
In Boston, Frederick Douglass was waiting for the news at Tremont Temple, not certain that Lincoln would keep his word. Nearby at the Music Hall, a crowd including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., was equally anxious. Nine o'clock in the evening came and went, and rumors began to fly that Mary Lincoln, who came from a slave-holding family, had convinced her husband to relent. (This was entirely untrue.) Finally, the word came from the telegraph office, "It is coming! It is on the wires!" At both the Temple and the Music Hall, the crowd erupted with shouts of joy, and celebrated through the night.
Some historians have written that since the Proclamation only applied where the Union could not enforce it, it did not actually free a single slave. This is not correct; the proclamation immediately changed the legal status of at least 20,000 "contrabands" on the Northern-held islands off the Eastern seaboard to free men and women. But whatever others might think, in the eyes of the black population of the South, the flag of the Union was now the flag of freedom. Wherever it advanced, it would liberate slaves. They were now willing to take the risk of telling Northern soldiers what they knew about local roads and nearby Confederate troops.
On this particular date, however, the Union lost ground. Major General "Prince John" Magruder had been effectively exiled from Virginia to Texas, but he was still determined to do his part for the Southern cause. He put together one of the Confederacy's very few combined land and sea assaults against the Union forces occupying the port of Galveston. Two Rebel "cotton-clads", the CSS Bayou City and the CSS Neptune, engaged the Northern squadron of six gunboats. In the meantime, a force of Texas Rangers and other Confederate infantry attacked the Union land garrison.
The Neptune was quickly put out of action, and eventually sank. But the Bayou City went alongside the Union gunboat USS Harriet Lane, boarded, and captured her. While manuevering, the USS Westfield ran aground on a sandbar. Panicking lest he suffer two captured ships, Union Fleet Commander William B. Renshaw ordered the Westfield to be blown up. The powder detonated prematurely, killing Renshaw and several others.
The explosion seems to have convinced the Yankees ashore that they were being abandoned, and they surrendered. With the shore batteries now in Confederate hands, and their leader dead, the remaining four Northern gunboats turned the suspicion into fact, and set sail for New Orleans.
Galveston would remain in Southern hands for the rest of the war.