Forty Days that Changed America as told by Lowell Newspapers

With the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War rapidly approaching, frequent contributor Jim Peters has been digging into the newspaper archives at the Pollard Library and will be writing about what was going on in this city has the war wound down to its end in the spring of 1865.  The following is by Jim Peters:
   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, the father of 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}

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