150 Years Ago
May 1861

As of the end of April, seven states had seceded (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas).

Of interest in Nebraska, on May 1, 1861, a call for volunteers to support the Union was publicized in the Nebraska Territory. In the east on May Day, Confederate forces under Colonel T. J. Jackson were sent to Harper's Ferry by General Robert E. Lee. On the third, President Lincoln sent out a call for 42,000 volunteers and 18,000 seamen; he also formed the Department of the Ohio and placed it under the command of George B. McClellan. On May 5, Confederates temporarily abandoned the city of Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington D.C. The next day, the state legislature in Arkansas voted 69-1 in favor of secession, and Tennessee voted to have a public referendum on the issue on June 8, though Tennessee's Legislature forecast the result by voting 66-25 to join the Confederacy. Also on the 6th, President Jefferson Davis approved a declaration of war by the Confederate States of America against the United States of America. On May 9, the U.S.S. Constitution and the steamer Baltic, both located at Newport, Rhode Island, prepared to host a U.S. Naval Academy, since Annapolis, Maryland, is no longer available for that purpose due to concern that Maryland would leave the Union. May 10 saw a reported 29 people killed in riots in St. Louise, Missouri, in conflicts between U.S. forces and pro-secessionists. This conflict continued the next day with seven more deaths.

On May 13, General Benjamin Butler moved U.S. troops into Baltimore, without permission, because he heard of possible riots. Also on the 13th, Queen Victoria announced that England would remain neutral in the conflict. On May 16, Kentucky's Legislature indicated that it would continue to remain neutral in the war. The first Union offensive, Southern batteries at Sewell's Point, Virginia, were engaged on the 18th. On May 20, a North Carolina convention voted for secession and the Confederate provisional congress moved the country's capital to Richmond. On May 23, Virginia voted 97,000 to 32,000 to secede, though the western part of the state was very pro-Union. On May 24, Union forces moved into Alexandria, Virginia, and the first Union combat fatality occurred: 24 year old Elmer Ellsworth, head of the 11th New York Regiment was shot as he attempted to remove the Confederate flag from a hotel roof. The shooter, hotel keeper James Jackson was in turn killed by other Union forces. Newspapers from both sides covered the developments in detail, giving each side a martyr. On May 27, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared the arrest of Joh Merryman (who had been recruiting Confederate soldiers) illegal, thus testing Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The 30th of May saw Union forces occupy Grafton, Virginia, in western Virginia. On the last day of May, Union soldiers that had abandoned forts in the Indian territory arrived at Fort Leavenworth, led by guide Jesse Chisholm, thus giving birth to the Chisholm Trail. Also on that day, General Beauregard was given command of the Confederate forces in northern Virginia.

The next major battle after April of 1861 was the (First) Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas, according to the South) on July 21, 1861.




Richmond, Va., May 1, 1861.

Col. T. J. JACKSON, Commanding Harper's Ferry, Va.:

COLONEL: Under authority of the governor of the State, you are directed to call out volunteer companies from the counties in the valley adjacent to Harper's Ferry, viz, Morgan, Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire, Hardy, Frederick, and Clarke, including the troops you may muster in at Harper's Ferry, not counting five regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and two batteries of light artillery, of four pieces each. The average number of enlisted men in each company will be eighty-two, and the troops will be directed to rendezvous at Harper's Ferry. You will select, as far as possible, uniformed companies with arms, organize them into regiments under the senior captains, until proper field officers can be appointed. You will report the number of companies accepted in the service of the State under this authority, their description, arms, &c. Five hundred Louisiana troops, said to be en route for this place, will be directed to report to you, and you will make provision accordingly.

You are desired to urge the transfer of all the machinery, materials, &c., from Harper's Ferry, as first as possible, and have it prepared in Winchester for removal to Strasburg, whence it will be ordered to a place of safety. The machinery ordered to this place must be forwarded with dispatch, as has already been directed. The remainder will await at Strasburg further orders. All the machinery of the rifle factory, and everything of value therein, will be also removed as rapidly as your means will permit. If the troops can be advantageously used in the removal of the machinery, they will be so employed. It is thought probable that some attack may be made upon your position from Pennsylvania, and you will keep yourself as well informed as possible of any movements against you. Should it become necessary to the defense of your position, you will destroy the bridge across the Potomac. You are particularly directed to keep your plans and operations secret, and endeavor to prevent their being published in the papers of the country.

I am, sir, &c.,

R. E. LEE,

Major-General, Commanding.



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