Monthly Archives: March 2015

40 Days that Changed America as told by Lowell Newspapers

There is a book, highly readable and very pertinent, by Jay Winik. It is called “April, 1865, the Month that Saved America.” It is about the month of April, 1865, which saw the last days of the Confederacy, the decision by Robert E. Lee to not condone guerilla warfare and, instead, to surrender his army, the enormity of the death of Abraham Lincoln, and the work of Andrew Johnson to be conciliatory to those people from the South who agreed to pledge allegiance to the United States of America and thereby to keep their farms. It goes into some detail about the “Negroe,” which it also describes as “colored.” The Lowell newspaper, “The Lowell Daily Courier,” described what was happening in the United States in great detail. For a newspaper that used most of its space to advertise, it kept a very interested eye on what was happening in the lower states. Part of that view was enough to placate the citizenry or stir them up, especially after Lincoln had died.

Lincoln’s death is not in the microfilm. The newspaper, which I read in its original form in 1969 in the archives of the Memorial Library, contained the pages now listed as missing. That was the first story I gazed upon when I opened the books to April, 1865. What happened to the missing pages is a mystery to me. They did exist.

Mr. Winik, mentioned before, listed his book by day and date. In other words, he starts with Jefferson Davis and General Lee’s conversation on the need to protect Richmond. Lee wants to find General Johnston in the mountains of the Carolinas and set up a guerilla army. History shows us that that was not how it was going to be, and Mr. Winik covers that decision in great detail. Around this time, in Lowell, Massachusetts, which saw over five hundred of her boys not return alive and the machinations of General Benjamin Butler, the first page of the newspaper was devoted to creams and salves to stop every ailment. That is just what the newspaper advertisements said, every ailment could be eradicated by using a certain cream or drinking a certain medicine. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a man who would define what it meant to be an outstanding Supreme Court Justice, was quoted at the time as saying that all of the medicines made in the United States could be packed into an abandoned ship, taken out to see and sunk, and the people would not be any worse. Time would prove him right. Lowell, however, was in the midst of a love affair with these strange medications, whose most common ingredient was alcohol.

On March 25, 1865, the largest advertisement was on Page One, and it was for “McGee’s Cooking Stoves,” which were improved with a new hot air furnace. They were sold by N.J. Wier and Co. at 198 Merrimack Street in Lowell. There were also bricks for sale, over ten million of them, actually between ten and fifteen million bricks which could be shipped anywhere in the United States. These could be purchased at 56 Washington Street in Boston. Other items of interest included Iron Fences by Cushing and Mack at 123 and 125 Market Street in Lowell. Nowhere is there any news of the war.

On March 27, 1865, the U.S. Treasury Department provided a National Currency which were secured by the pledge of the United States bonds. Again, that is page one. A brief note on the war was written on Page 2. There were abundant motley advertisements and very little on the war. It was as if people were ignoring the war in their daily lives. One advertisement, which was quite large was for diaries for 1865 that had not sold. “Greatly Reduced Prices,” screamed the main line. “Closing Out the Balance of My Stock of Diaries for 1865,” it read. These were available at Coggespall’s Book and Stationery Store at 51 Market Street. If only we had access to one for historical purposes.

Finally, on Page 2, we learn that,
“The Confederate military strength is stopped at 152,000 men, of whom 61,000 are with Lee; 22,000 with Beauregard; and 9,000 with Briggs. The Confederate policy of arming Negroes was necessary in order to carry on the War…President Lincoln in April or May (was to) consult as to a peace.”

The newspaper listed its obituaries and listed the Catholics under the heading,
“Buried on Catholic Grounds.” (Page 2)

On March 28, 1865 the second page was used to define the term “subjugation.” It defined the word, and then stated, “What those men meant by subjugation. Literally, it means being brought under the yoke…it signifies being brought under absolute control by (the) control or authority of another.” New Orleans was under subjugation.”

In the same paper, on the same day, the “New York World” gives an account of severe fighting last Sunday and Monday, between Sherman and Johnson, the latter declining a general engagement. The fighting on Sunday was done mainly by the 14th. and 20th. Corps.”

The advertisement of the day was for a sewing machine. The Wilcox and Gibbs machine, out of New York was awarded a Gold Prize in State Fairs in Massachusetts and vermont. “The army, in the meantime, captured three guns on the 1st. day of battle at Bentonville, but on the arrival of the 14th and 17th Corps they (the Confederates) were driven in all directions leaving those three guns and seven others, as well as 7,000 prisoners.”

On March 30th, Sherman’s men, who considered him to be the greatest man alive, were determined to have the honor of taking Richmond. According to Jay Winik, the taking of Richmond resulted in the Confederacy torching what was left of the city. But for Sherman, “there never was an army so proud of their leader, or so happy and confident.”

The newspaper, on March 31, 1865, on the eve of the greatest month in history,

“Let the rights of the loyal citizen and every citizen taking the oath is loyal until clearly proven otherwise, be trampled on with impunity.”

Thus ended March of 1865. The war was clearly not over, and Richmond temporarily was still intact as the capitol of the Confederacy. April would see the Confederacy move south. But, for right at this moment, it was still a matter of great pride that it had not been surrendered. Lee was committed to protecting Richmond, but he had supply problems. He was supposed to feed his army with stores left on the side of the railroad tracks, but when he found the stores all that was in them were gunpowder and uniforms. His men were starving. He was in a lonely position, and he knew it. {The Wartime Papers of Robert E.Lee; Clifford Dowdey and Louis H. Manarin; Crown Publishers, New York; 1959}

Meanderings

I had a wonderful two weeks. On Tuesday, March 3rd. I was operated on, and they did not find cancer. The doctor told me that on that day but did not get the full results from Pathology until the following Saturday. I still have lymphatic cancer, but I do not worry about that one because a group of people at St. Margaret’s Church are putting me on their prayer list and I have been in spontaneous remission for years. Whether one thing affects the other is a mystery to me, but I have to look at it logically. I had Non-Hodgekins Lymphoma and I received no medical treatment until maybe five years had passed. At that time, they just kept an eye on me, and I never had a spike in it. The doctor, an oncologist, said he would treat it if it did need to, but that there is currently no need. So I constantly thank those women. They are great.

My pacemaker still dictates that I walk with a cane. That can get rattling. I forget the cane almost everywhere, and I have had one taken. But, you get used to it and it becomes like your shoes and socks, you cannot go anywhere without it. I like to think that the pacemaker will stop the need to carry the cane, but my doctor says I am stuck with it.

I am selling my boat. It is a 185 horsepower inboard/outboard, and is at the Lowell Motor Boat Club. I am opting for a newer, smaller boat. I am a simple fisherman, I do not need all of that power. Life sometimes tells you it is time to slow down, and I am going to obey the dictates of my existence and put my time into writing and reading as much as I can. A large boat just does not fit in. It needs some work on the upholstery, and the trim has to be full of fluid but it can book it when you start it up.

It feels strange talking about a boat in the middle of a winter squall, and it is definitely windy and snowing outside. But I look forward to spring and all of the beauty and possibilities that it brings. My brother finished his visit and we have the house to ourselves again. That is strange but gratifying too. He is a great brother, but it is nice to get your house back.

During my hiatus at the Lahey Hospital, I had the opportunity to get to know myself a little better. Two friends tell me, only half-jokingly, that “it is all about you.” I suppose I do conceptualize about me too much. I have a limited vision of my life. I probably do talk about myself too much, but I try to remain active in other activities, and I do not mean to focus on myself. However, I can see their point, especially after spending an amount of time in my hospital room by myself. Hopefully, I can get past it.

Anyway, I had a wonderful surgeon, but I did not know that they restricted your food after the operation. I guess I will know a bit better if I ever have surgery again, to ask more inciteful questions. Like “when is lunch, and dinner?” Important questions. As it was I went for two and one half days without any food whatsoever. I also lost about ten pounds. Sometimes you have to keep an eye on that prize. Anyway, they told me that it was very risky surgery, so I planned appropriately. Many thanks for the people who kept me in their prayers.

I cannot wait for spring. I love to go camping in the summer and spring gets me ready. I usually go at odd times. It just is easier to do. I get my truck packed up, find a mattress to blow up with an electric blower, and sleep in the bed ot the truck underneath the cap. I especially like to go to the mountains or Cape Cod, where I can be myself and fish to my heart’s content. Sometimes my family is with me and sometimes I am on my own. I have a strict budget, because, left to my own devices, I would spend. So, my wife helps me keep my costs down. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Parks is the best deal. New Hampshire is quite a bit more per night.

When one night, or two days, depending on how you look at it, whisks by, I generally go home. Last year, I went to Nantucket and finding little there to appeal to me besides the Whaling Museum, I took the ferry home. It was a very pleasant ferry ride especially because I had a woman named Mary to talk to. She was going to take the day and visit her son and his family at a house that they were renting. We talked about a lot of things, including that this was the first trip to the island for both of us, and split up at the docks when we got there. Boats, planes, and elevators fascinate me because you are in close proximity to a stranger for awhile, and you generally lose track of them when you get to your destination or floor. That is exactly what happened. I wish you a good day Mary, and other trips to the island if you so choose. As for myself, I did not like Nantucket that much so I was glad to get back to the campsite on Cape Cod.

My other favorite things to do include hosting my television show on Monday or Wednesdays at 9:30 or 7PM respectively. I enjoy fishing, small boating, swimming, and even walking the dog. I do not particularly like my current dog that much, but that is my fault, not hers. She is half Labrador and half Pit Bull. I could do without the Pit Bull part, which is going to cause a reaction from my little sister, who breeds them. Half of my children (adults) like her and half do not.

Well, that is my mind this day, after getting told that my cancer was not any worse and that my pacemaker was still working. I feel very lucky to just be around. I took the “risky” part of “risky operation” very seriously. My wife and kids were great. One even took a personal day to help me recover from my operation. That was special. And, I finished “1865” which was a book about April, 1865 written by Jay Winik. It was a very interesting book, and I recommend it to you. It is a heavy (meaning full of information) book but well worth the read. It is at the Memorial LIbrary. Have a wonderful week.