United States and American History: Late 1862 & The Civil War

About the history of the United States in late 1862, the Civil War continues, the Homestead Act passed, the Medal of Honor created, the Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation.


Apr. 12 The Great Locomotive Chase. Striving to cut the rail line to Chattanooga, Tenn., James J. Andrews and his 21 cohorts stole the General and 3 freight cars at Marietta, Ga. Caught near Ringgold, Andrews and 7 of his men were hung. The others were imprisoned.

May 20 Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, giving a settler title to 160 acres provided he worked this public-domain land for 5 years. By 1890, 375,000 homesteaders received 48 million acres. However, most of the land went to railroad companies who acquired 20-million acres. June 1 Robert E. Lee was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate armies.

July Union general Daniel Butterfield improvised a new "Lights Out" bugle call: "Taps." Unhappy with the harsh sound of the official call, he whistled a new melody for his bugler.

July 12 Congress authorized the "Medal of Honor" for enlisted men who distinguished themselves in battle. The same legislation ordered 2,000 medals struck, and the U.S.'s highest award for valor nearly began as a Good Conduct Medal: In June, 1863, Secretary Stanton OK'd awards to every member of the 27th Maine regiment who reenlisted, a total of about 300 men.

Sept. 17 Milestone Battle: Antietam. In Frederick, Md., 2 Union soldiers on leave picked up a few cigars inside a paper wrapping. The "paper" proved to be a copy of Lee's orders for the Maryland campaign. So much artillery fire was concentrated at Antietam, in the woods near Dunker church, that the metal fragments embedded in the trees completely ruined a sawmill years later. Burnside's losses of 12,000 were partly caused by his determination to cross Antietam creek by a stone bridge that now bears his name. The narrow, 3-arch bridge, covered by Confederate guns in the heights just beyond, was taken only after 2 regiments had been mowed down in charges. Burnside could have crossed the creek elsewhere--it was shallow enough to wade in many places.

Sept. 22 Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet. At Seward's advice, he delayed news of his decision until after a big Union victory. Antietam had occurred on September 16-17--Lincoln released the Proclamation on January 1, a full 100 days later. He had deliberately refrained from such an action when the war began, to avoid angering border States which still practiced slavery. His primary interest was in preserving the Union, not in freeing the slaves: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." The Proclamation gave 3,063,392 slaves their technical freedom.

Nov. 4 Dr. Richard J. Gatling patented the revolving 6-barrel machine gun. Lincoln ignored its military potential for the Union Army due to political considerations: The doctor was rumored to be a Copperhead, a member of a se-ret society with Confederate sympathies.

Dec. 13 Milestone Battle: Fredericksburg, Md. In one of only 3 major battles fought over open ground (Gettysburg and Antietam were the other 2), Burnside sent 113,000 in 6 frontal assaults against a strongly-fortified Confederate Army on Marye's Heights. Said Robert E. Lee, watching the fighting from the Heights: "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." But down on the field, eyewitness Randolph Shotwell (a prophetic name) recorded a different view:

Eleven hundred dead bodies ... in every conceivable posture ... some on their backs ... here one without a head--there one without legs ... everywhere horrible expressions ... fear, rage, agony, madness ... lying in pools of blood ... lying with heads half buried in mud ...

Dec. 17 Grant, from his Holly Springs, Miss., headquarters, issued General Order #11:

The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within 24 hours from the receipt of this order.

Probably aimed at the peddlers and speculators who plagued his camps, the "Jew Order" was interpreted as a religious slur and it followed him for years. The order was immediately rescinded by Lincoln.

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