The Benefits and Costs of War
Editor’s Note: This article is part of an occasional series on the Civil War sesquicentennial provided by members of the Wheeling Civil War 150 Committee.
By JOSEPH LAKER
For the Sunday News-Register
November 1863 was a time of much and varied military activity throughout the nation. Although intense fighting took place in northern Virginia, no breakthrough was made.
The northern navy reduced Fort Sumter in the Charleston, S.C., harbor to rubble with bombardments that had lasted more than 130 days, but still could not seize the fort. However, Grant’s victory at Chattanooga, Tenn., opened Georgia to invasion by Northerners and William Averill’s victory over the Confederates at Droop Mountain ended any significant threat to West Virginia. Canadians suppressed a plot by Confederates to launch an attack on Fort Johnson in New York where the Union held 3,000 rebels.
The most important national political event was the dedication of Gettysburg cemetery on Nov. 19.
With 19 states contributing money, Pennsylvania Gov. Curtin purchased the 17-acre site. The day was sunny, but there was a cold, biting wind. Following the parade from town, the chaplain of the House of Representatives offered a long prayer, the Marine band played a tune called “Old Hundreth” and then the featured speaker, Edward Everett, gave a two-hour and five-minute speech. Following another song, the President was introduced and gave his now-famous Gettysburg Address. It took just five minutes and Lincoln had finished and resumed his seat before the photographer had a chance to snap his picture at the rostrum. National reaction to the president’s remarks were mixed. Few saw it as a masterpiece, but Everett told Lincoln at the time it was perfect.
The governor of each state in the Union had been invited to the ceremony. The West Virginia delegation left Wheeling on the B&O on Nov. 17 and was made up of Gov, Arthur Boreman, two generals, three politicians and Archibald Campbell of The Daily Intelligencer. After spending the night in Harrisburg, the party took a train for Gettysburg, but the trip, expected to last three hours, took nine, and the trip was largely done without light, heat or food; there was, however, plenty of alcoholic spirits to drink. The trip home was uneventful.
In Wheeling, the Senate and House of Delegates considered more than 75 pieces of legislation which ranged from organizing local government, schools and the judiciary to one prohibiting the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages (it failed). One bill called for giving the state greater authority to confiscate and then sell the property of all citizens who committed treason against the state. Even before the passage of this confiscation bill, the state had seized the property of some who had joined the rebellion and The Daily Intelligencer ran advertisements for the sale of the property of 11 such individuals during November.
The Daily Intelligencer kept the people of Wheeling informed about conditions in the Confederacy by printing information from intercepted rebel letters, interviews with rebel prisoners and northerners who had returned from the South, and reprinting articles from British, Northern and Southern newspapers. During November, it especially published articles from three Richmond papers: the Enquirer, Examiner and Whig. The purposes of the articles were to buoy the supporters of the war effort as well as to provide information.
Some of the problems Richmond papers covered were the decreasing value of Confederate currency, fears of slave revolts, the terrible treatment accorded Union men imprisoned in Richmond, food shortages and rapidly climbing prices. On Nov. 12, The Daily Intelligencer reported that in Richmond beans cost $18-$20 a bushel, butter $3.50-$4 a pound, corn meal $14-$15 a bushel and brandy at $33-$50 a gallon.
Paroled prisoners estimated that, on average, 43 prisoners a day died in Richmond prisons because of lack of adequate food, medicines, clothing and crowded living conditions. Wheeling citizens were urged to send aid boxes to Union prisoners in rebel hands via Adams Express. They ere advised that a list of the contents should be included in the box with copies sent separately to the recipient and to Brig. Gen. S.A. Marshall, who handled such aid transfers.
Wheeling remained prosperous and the steamboat building industry was active and boat prices and values rose rapidly. The Tempest, which sold for $3,500 in 1862, now brought $12,000 in Pittsburgh while a boat built for Capt. Fowler which had cost him $30,000, was sold for $42,000, still unfinished. The city purchased two new fire engines and incorporated a company to build a turnpike from Lydia Kruger’s home in Elm Grove to the Pennsylvania border by following Wheeling Creek.
Not everyone in the city benefitted from the general prosperity and particularly hard hit were families of soldiers. More than 120 families were found to be in dire need and a citizens group was formed to raise $10,000 to provide them with assistance.
For those with money, entertainment available in Wheeling occurred at Washington Hall. For a week starting on Monday, Nov. 2, people could pay 25 or 50 cents (regular or reserved seats) to see a panoramic painting “giving a complete history of the war from the bombardment of Fort Sumter to the capture of Vicksburg.” The painting was accompanied by Rufus Somerby’s patriotic lecture while his wife sang songs appropriate to the different scenes. The event played to packed house each evening.
During the second half of the month, two different troupes performed at Washington Hall. Hernadez Foster and his Star Troupe performed three plays: a drama, a farce and a “Negro Extravaganza” called “Jumbo Jim.” Then, the Zanfretta Family supplied music, dancing, acrobatics, contortionists, high wire and trapeze acts.
Less pleasant entertainment was provided by the numerous drunk and disorderly persons who filled some city streets, counterfeiters and scam artists, robbers and murderers.
Even hogs were a problem, eating lots of grain standing in front of warehouses or on the wharf waiting for shipment. When one grain dealer shot and killed such a hog, he was fined $4.50 for discharging a weapon in the city and threatened with a lawsuit by the hog’s owner.