Going to See the Elephant, part 3By Paul Chouinard, President of the Danville Historical Society
“Going to see the elephant” was an expression used by enlistees in the Union Army describing the experience of country boys going off to war where they would experience life in ways they could not have imagined.
At the outset of the Civil War the stated objective of the North was to maintain the Union. The Confederate States identified “states rights” as their major objective which would give them the right to function independently. Mainstream historians have commonly agreed that: “Everything stemmed from the slavery issue,” as stated by Professor James McPherson, whose book Battle Cry of Freedom is widely judged to be the authoritative one-volume history of the Civil War.
It was not until September 22, 1862, following the bloody Battle of Antietam that Lincoln issued a preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation, which declared that all slaves in states or parts of states still fighting against the United States on January 1, 1863 would from that time on be forever emancipated. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation. However, it did not free slaves in states then in the Union, the Border States, nor certain parts of Virginia and Louisiana that were under Union control. The Emancipation Proclamation did have the effect of clearly identifying slavery as a vital issue of the war for both citizens of the United States and for its allies.
THE NORTH STAR
JUNE 8, 1861
From Fortress Monroe
Great activity is perceived at Fortress Monroe. Troops and ammunition are constantly arriving, the garrison now amounting to thirteen thousand men, and large bodies were moving into the interior, it was thought, with the intention of making for Norfolk by a circuitous route. Up to Thursday evening, slaves were still flocking to the fort. It was discovered that thirty of the slaves belonged to one man in Richmond. He obtained permission to visit the fort to confer with General Butler on the subject of getting his live property back. The General said they came there of their own accord, and could go back with him if they desired it. They were asked if they desired to return with their master. They quickly decided that they preferred to remain with the soldiers in the fort…
A letter from the seat of War
The following letter was received by a citizen of this place (Danville) from his son, who volunteered in one of the Massachusetts regiments now stationed at Alexandria, Va.
Alexandria, May 29, 1861
By my date you will see that I have left Washington, if you have not already learned the same. We are now in the tented field about one mile from the secession city, Alexandria. Our departure from the Treasury Department was somewhat unexpected as well as sudden. I had just been to see the corpse of the gallant Col. Ellsworth, who was so cruelly murdered only a short distance from where we now are. The funeral procession had just started from the President’s house, and was passing down Pa. Avenue, opposite the treasury building, when we received orders to prepare for immediate action. The booming of cannon, together with artillery, and cavalry companies, galloping to the supposed battle ground, made out to be the most exciting sight I ever witnessed. The Richardson Light Guard was on hand as soon as the best of them, though many of us were at the funeral and the rest were just going to supper. We passed only about half way over the long bridge leading to Virginia, when we learned that it was a false alarm.—We then returned and packed up to move for good. Started about 9 o’clock, halted about 12 o’clock, half a mile nearer Alexandria than where we are now.
I had a very good night’s sleep; slept as well as though I was at home in my own bed, though we had the broad heavens for a canopy, and the tall damp grass in place of a couch of down. When I awoke in the morning, “Old Sol” was smiling as brightly upon us as he would if we had not just destroyed seven acres of good grass belonging (?) of the rebels. After partaking of some bread and coffee we marched back about half a mile where we pitched our tents on a fine elevation overlooking the beautiful Potomac. It was one of the finest looking countries I ever saw. Six miles up the river, can be seen Washington, where I have passed a number of pleasant weeks, as well as a few days that were not quite so pleasant. One mile south of us is Alexandria, where only a few days ago you have seen the flag of the rebels flying, where now only the flag we have come so far to defend is to be seen. With how much more pleasure we gaze on that noble flag, the Stars and Stripes, than on the most despicable rag of Jeff Davis’—May we soon have our banners floating on all places where now the flag of secession may be seen.
We have been engaged in digging wells and building places for our works, also a bower for our guard to sleep on when not on duty. The weather is so hot that we are glad to be in the shade as much as possible.
There is really something about, camp life that is pleasant and agreeable. You take a stroll through the camp in the evening, in some you will hear some very good singing, in others there will be some kind of music or game, which adds much to the pleasures of an evening. In the morning we have games at hall, and go bathing, & etc….
It is quite amusing to see what false stories the papers have in their columns regarding all the movements of troops. I am well and in good spirits, am ready at any time to meet our enemy when duty calls…
Remember me to all of my friends in Danville.
From your absent son.
War and General News Items
Object of the War—It is not the object of the North, in this war with the South, to free the slaves, but to whip their masters. If emancipation shall come as the consequence of the war which the south has provoked, the North will not be responsible for it. The States that have seceded from the Union must take the consequences of their acts, whatever they may be.
THE NORTH STAR
June 15, 1861
DEATH OF SENATOR DOUGLAS
We briefly announced last week the melancholy tidings of the decease of Hon. Stephen A Douglas. The distinguished statesman died at Chicago on Monday forenoon, June 3rd.His disease is said to have been typhoid fever…
He was born at Brandon, Rutland Country, Vermont, on April 23d, 1813—and he was, therefore, at his death, a little over forty-eight years of age.
THE NORTH STAR
JUNE 22, 1861
THE MORGAN GUARDS
The above named company of volunteers, recruited in Lamoille County by Samuel Morgan, passed through Danville, last week Thursday, on their way to the encampment of the Third Regiment, at St. Johnsbury—They were under the command of Captain Blanchard, and number between eight and ninety robust looking men.
The company marched into the village escorted by the Walden Band, and by a number of our citizens, about 2 o’ clock P.M. The village people had provided for them a substantial and plentiful repast, of which the whole company partook, with keen appetite. Our streets were filled with patriotic ladies and gentlemen…
The Battle of Great Bethel
Particulars, Incidents, &c.
We gave last week a report of the action between the Federal, and rebel troops at Great Bethel, in which our troops were repulsed, with several killed and wounded. Later accounts fully confirm these reports, tho’ they reduce the number killed…The march was made in the night, and owing to some mistake, our men fired into each other, killing two or three, before the mistake was corrected.
The North Star
June 29, 1861
Army appointments—Military Men should be Appointed
During the last few days, much has been said by individuals and by the public journals relative to the practice of appointing mere civilians to high military stations. The practice is generally condemned, and especially are loud complaints made, sine the unfortunate battle at Great Bethel…