Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
In October 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November the following year would be declared a day of thanksgiving. His words reflect the times. The nation was at war with itself. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting for the Union or the rebellious Confederacy had been killed or wounded in the two and a half years since South Carolinian militia had opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.
When Lincoln wrote the text of the proclamation the war had shifted in favor of the Union. Vicksburg had fallen and Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania had been crushed by the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, and the Emancipation Proclamation had changed the tenor of the war. European leaders, pressured by their own people turned their backs on the Confederacy and brought a new source of manpower to Union ranks, men not motivated by money or simply patriotism, but their own freedom. Even so in the East the fall brought stalemate, and in the West more desperate battles were being fought in Tennessee and northwestern Georgia at Chattanooga and Chickamauga. In the North the Copperheads were agitating for peace at any price with the Confederacy while despite food riots, military setbacks, internal strife between various governors and the central government in Richmond, and the impossibility of foreign recognition; the leaders of the Confederacy plodded on in a war that they could not win.
By November of 1864 the Union military forces were bleeding Robert E. Lee’s Army to death following intense battles in the Wilderness In which Ulysses S. Grant’s armies drove the Confederates into a desperate defense around Petersburg. In the Shenandoah Valley Philip Sheridan’s troops had gutted the breadbasket of the Confederacy, and in the South, William Tecumseh Sherman’s armies had taken Atlanta and were preparing to blaze a path across Georgia and the Carolinas that would devastate those areas even as Admiral David Farragut’s fleet had defeated the Confederate defenders of Mobile Bay.
Lincoln’s words reflect the Union advantage during the stalemate of late 1863 but also look forward to the healing of the nation.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
I think his words are worth pondering in an era where the nation is divided in so many ways.
So until tomorrow,