1863: “The Sight Of The Stars & Stripes Were Very Cheering”

December 8, 1863

Weather still cold, tho’ it has moderated a little. President Lincoln yesterday issued a proclamation recommending that all loyal persons should assemble at their place of worship & render especial homage and gratitude to Almighty God for his great advancement of the National cause. Reliable information being rec’d that the insurgent force is retreating from East Tennessee under circumstances rendering it probable that the Union forces cannot hereafter be dislodged from that important position. Gen. Grant has captured during the war 472 cannons & 90,000 prisoners, having been more successful than any other of our generals. Would that they could follow his example, and have that military skill which is so necessary.

December 9, 1863

Nothing has been heard in regard to the pursuit of Longstreet by the Federals. It is not known whether our troops will be able to overtake him or not, tho’ dispatches say they are in full pursuit. Longstreet will, we think, retreat so rapidly, that the Union forces will hardly be able to get a glimpse of him…. The cavalry of the Army of the Potomac are kept busy looking after Mosby’s Guerrillas. Would that every one might be captured. It is probable that both armies, Meade & Lee, are settling down into winter quarters.

December 10, 1863

The President’s Message appears today, also a Proclamation of Amnesty to the rebel in arms. The document provides for the reconstruction of the Union, the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation & offers pardon to all in arms against the government on taking the oath of allegiance, except those holding positions in the army above the rank of Col. and in the Navy above the rank of Lieutenant & those who abandoned the service of the U States to join the Rebellion – restoring to them their rights of citizenship & property, except in slaves. It is thought by some that many will embrace the offer, the secessionists that it will only be something for the South to laugh over. Time will determine it.

December 11, 1863

Today troops, infantry, artillery & cavalry passed through town en route for the Valley, probably to reinforce Gen. Averill. We don’t know what object they wish to accomplish, but the secessionists say they will not be successful, and I do not wonder much at their want of success, being so indiscreet in communicating their plans to everyone, whereby the news is soon made known to the rebel officers. When will our people learn more prudence[?] The sight of the Stars & Stripes were very cheering, we only wish their stay might be a permanent one in the Valley.

Journal excerpts by Julia Chase, December 1863.

The weathervane on Winchester’s courthouse.

National, Regional, Local War

Julia Chase – a loyal Unionist in the war-town of Winchester, Virginia – kept a record of the Federal successes. Relatively well-informed despite living in a mostly pro-Southern town in the Shenandoah Valley, she wrote about war happenings in far away places and the local events.

In this section of events, her broader, national events include the Union forces breaking up Confederate General Longstreet’s attempted siege of Knoxville in East Tennessee and that general’s retreat. She reports on Union General Grant’s successes that year and wishes for more commanders like him. Regionally, she writes about Union General Averill and his cavalry preparing for another raid, one that took them into Southern Virginia and the western Virginia mountains during December 1863.

Interestingly, Julia Chase interprets her war news through the local lens. She compares Grant’s successes to the failures of Union generals in her immediate area of war. She reports Lincoln’s proclamation and quickly gives the local Rebels’ response. John Mosby and his guerrillas also make an appearance in this section of her journal pages, known for their raids and the way they tied up Union cavalry.

Grant and Lee might have been settling into winter quarters, but there was still plenty happening during the war and the women of Winchester had plenty of reactions to the local and national war news. Happily, Julia Chase gave us a Union record of Winchester’s war within the war.

Lincoln, 1863

The President’s Proclamation

On December 8, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation for amnesty and reconstruction. The war was far from over, but the president put forward plans to reunite the country and steps to be taken in areas of the rebel states that had already been secured by Federal troops.

The proclamation outlined three specific plans.

  1. An offer for full pardon and restored property to all Rebels, excepting the highest Confederate leaders. (Restored property did not include perpetuation of slavery; human beings were no longer property in captured territory of the Confederacy.)
  2. A plan for new state governments to be formed in the captured states after 10% of all eligible voters had declared an oath of allegiance to the United States.
  3. Encouragement for these reformed state governments to create their own plans for civil rights and assistance for freed slaves – as long as those plans did not limit human rights or freedoms.

Lincoln’s outline for reconstruction was mild and offered reconciliation. By making this proclamation, he tried to wrest the control of reunification away from Congress; the congressional response to the plan varied. Some Radical Republicans believed the South should be further punished while other representatives were willing to accept the presidential ideas and leadership. Ultimately, the plan moved forward in captured areas, but Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 prevented it from being carried out on the large scale, giving Congress and President Andrew Johnson a chance to redefine Reconstruction, fight their own political battles, and make their own rules for attempted reunification.

Winchester, toward the end of the Civil War

Historical Musings

Julia Chase wanted to see her beloved “Stars and Stripes” every day. Her hometown had changed hands with extreme frequency during the autumn of 1863. Some days Confederate and Union cavalries claimed the town one day after the other. Checking the flag near the courthouse became one of the only accurate ways to know who controlled the town at that moment!

Think about that busyness and uncertainty… Crazy, right? Suddenly, my busy day in the holiday season doesn’t seem so chaotic. At least we know that the U.S. flag is “still there” and we can be grateful for the men and women – past and present – who have defend that flag and all that is symbolizes. That type of stability is a blessing we take for granted too often.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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