Preview of The Broadview Anthology of American Literature: George Templeton Strong

[The following is the headnote and diary entry for 13 February 1861 by the Civil War diarist George Templeton Strong that will appear in the forthcoming Broadview Anthology of American Literature. Stay tuned for further previews of the anthology as we move toward publication in 2022/23.]

Born and raised in New York City, George Templeton Strong (1820–75) became a lawyer in his father’s law practice (a firm that still exists today and is now one of the oldest continuously operating law firms in the United States). He began keeping a diary when he was fifteen and wrote in it practically every day for the next forty years. Strong’s diary, discovered in the 1930s and published in the 1950s, is today considered a valuable historical source—especially for its detailed account of Strong’s life during the Civil War. By no means a committed abolitionist, Strong initially wrestled with his decision to vote for Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, but the subsequent secession crisis clarified where he stood. He went on make numerous contributions to the Union cause during the war (although he avoided military service himself), including funding a Union Army regiment and helping to found the United States Sanitary Commission, which organized care for sick and wounded soldiers.

            The text of the entry from Strong’s diary presented below is based on the digitized version of the manuscript of the diary available on the website of the New-York Historical Society.

Feb. 13.

Ash-Wednesday. Weather bland enough for April. … After dinner, Ellie read Haydn[1] for me—and Ehninger and George Anthon[2] came in for a few minutes. Jack thinks he and his associates (80 or thereabouts) who have been diligently drilling for six weeks will not be required at Washington on March 4 after all. Probably he’s right. Seizing that city by a coup-de-main[3] was certainly on the conspirators’ programme, but Scott’s preparations[4] to receive them and the unexpected attitude assumed by the Border States[5] have brought that project to naught. The electoral votes were counted today, and as I hear no extras in the streets, they were probably counted in due form, and the results announced without disturbance. This was the critical day for the peace of the capital. A foray of Virginia gents with Gov. Wise at their head and Gov. Floyd[6] at their tail could have done infinite mischief by destroying the legal evidence of Lincoln’s election (after they had killed and beaten General Scott and his Flying Artillery, that is) but preventing Lincoln from taking the oath of office at the usual place and in the usual way on the 4th of March would be so inconsiderable of a result, comparatively, that I do not believe they will try for it. One feature of the conspiracy seems to have been anticipated and suppressed. …

            This revelation of the gallant Floyd’s gigantic larcenies[7] must weaken the cause of secession—for many Southerners possess a moral sense and must distrust a leader who steals. Certainly Floyd & Co. have more villainy on smaller provocation than any gang on record. The deluded mobs of Charleston and Savannah[8] have some excuse for their criminal outrages. There is none for the Floyds, Cobbs, Davises,[9] and other false prophets who have deliberately stimulated their ignorance to crime by malicious lies, and who have stuck at nothing from theft to treason and civil war—that they might hold political power a little longer.

            These men want hanging—badly. But they will reap deadly fruit yet from their own treason. The devil they have raised will turn and rend them unless he be laid at once—and that is beyond the magic of Jeff Davis. The inflammation has run its course. It has produced morbid changes of structure on the Gulf—those unhappy States are sphacelated,[10] gangrenous, dead to the Nation. But the Nation itself has passed its crisis and entered on convalescence. It is sorely shattered, though—convalescence will be slow and precarious. Trifling accident may produce relapse. The peaceable accession of the new Administration, its legal control of the National Government, will be sedative and mollifying. Many Virginian secessionists will be less inclined to rebel when they find that a “Black Republican”[11] regime is not abolitionism after all. But then comes the ugly question of peace or war with the seceded States.

            My voice is for war and gunpowder.

            “Krieg! Ist das der Name?

            Der Krieg ist schrecklich, wie des Himmels Plagen.

            Doch ist er gut, ist ein Geschick, wie sie.”[12]

The youthful life of a great Nation is worth saving, though its only salvation be in such remedies as battle, murder, and sudden death—Minie rifles, Columbiads,[13] devastation and insolvency.

[1] Ellie  Strong’s wife, Ellen Ruggles Strong;  Haydn  Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), Austrian composer. Both Strong and his wife were talented amateur musicians.

[2] Ehninger and George Anthon  Friends of Strong’s. John (“Jack”) Ehninger (1827–89) was an artist and illustrator of some repute.

[3] coup-de-main  French: “stroke of hand,” i.e., a swift, strong attack.

[4] Scott’s preparations  General Winfield Scott (1786–1866), the commander of the US Army in 1861, had been born in Virginia but remained loyal to the Union while his native state moved toward secession. In response to secessionist threats in February 1861 to raid Washington, D.C., and disrupt the certification of Abraham Lincoln’s electoral college victory, Scott stationed troops around the Capitol building and threatened that any intruder would “be lashed to the muzzle of a twelve-pounder [cannon] and fired out the window of the Capitol.” These measures were largely successful in preventing the planned assault. 

[5] Border States  I.e., Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland—states in which slavery was legal but that did not join the slave states further south in seceding.

[6] Gov. Wise  Henry A. Wise (1806–76), governor of Virginia from 1856 to 1860 and strong advocate of secession;  Gov. Floyd  John B. Floyd (1806–63) served as governor of Virginia from 1849 to 1852 and then as Secretary of War in the administration of James Buchanan, the US president in February 1861. Like Wise, Floyd went on to become a Confederate general during the Civil War.

[7] gallant … larcenies  John B. Floyd was forced to resign as Secretary of War in December 1860 because of a scandal involving the embezzlement of $870,000 in state bonds that had been under his supervision.

[8] Charleston and Savannah  Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, were secessionist hubs.

[9] Floyds, Cobbs, Davises  I.e., Southern politicians encouraging and abetting secession. (Howell Cobb, from Georgia, played a major role in the founding of the Confederacy; Jefferson Davis, from Mississippi, was sworn in as Confederate president a few days after the date of this diary entry.)

[10] sphacelated  Afflicted by necrosis (tissue death)—i.e., corrupted, decayed.

[11] Black Republican   Derogatory term for supporters of the Republican Party that implied that the party—which, in 1861, opposed the extension of slavery into the nation’s Western territories but had not yet formally endorsed abolition—was beholden to African Americans.

[12] Krieg … sie  From Wallenstein’s Death (1799), a play by the German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller. The German text can be translated as: “War! Is that the right word? / A war’s a dreadful thing, like plagues of Heaven. / And it is good, a godsend, just like plagues.”

[13] Minie rifles  I.e., rifled muskets—muskets which have been “rifled” by the addition of spiral grooves inside their barrels, which imparts spin to the bullet and greatly increases the weapon’s range and accuracy. The Minié ball, so-called after its inventor, French military officer Claude-Étienne Minié, was a new type of bullet designed for use by rifled muskets. The higher muzzle velocity and greater range and accuracy of such rifles made them much deadlier than previous infantry weapons;  Columbiads  Very heavy and powerful cannons.

Posted on January 14, 2021