EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in an occasional series about the Civil War and its effects on the region.
It was the 85th anniversary of the nation's Declaration of Independence, but when President Abraham Lincoln called the U.S. Congress into special session on that day it was not to celebrate.
It was to ask for the tools he would need to wage an all-out war: "at least four hundred thousand men, and four hundred millions of dollars."
"A debt of six hundred millions of dollars now, is a less sum per head, than was the debt of our revolution," Lincoln said. "Surely each man has as strong a motive now, to preserve our liberties, as each had then, to establish them."
In New London, as in the rest of the North, it was a call that couldn't come too soon.
Less than two weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter, contributions to "The Patriotic Fund" totaled $12,313, according to The Daily Chronicle, one of the city's newspapers, and on April 26, New London's Rifle Company C., 2nd Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers was on its way to muster in New Haven.
"It is for no holiday frolic that these brave young men are leaving their homes today," The Chronicle said. "They have brave hearts and strong minds and the unconquerable Yankee grit that always wins, and they are in this thing to win."
Under the command of Capt. Edwin C. Chapman, 77 men, many sporting familiar New London names - Perkins, Beebe, Crocker, Hempsted - were on their way to war.
They were sent off with prayers, tributes and songs - "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Auld Lang Syne" - and a long speech by the Rev. S. B. Grant of the Huntington Street Baptist Church, who exhorted them to "emulate the valor and heroism of those who gloriously fell in defense of liberty on yonder Groton Heights."
By the first of May, volunteer companies were springing up everywhere. In Mystic there was a company of 60 men, led by Capt. Warren W. Packer.
"We noticed they were all men of muscle, and many of them in point of height and imposing physique would well compare with the reputed appearance of the Tennessee riflemen," The Chronicle wrote. "These Mystic men measure from 6 feet 3¾ inches down to common size."
Meanwhile, a second volunteer rifle company was formed in New London, consisting of 95 men who drilled in Williams Park and "acquitted themselves very creditably." And "the Ladies" of New London were reported to be hard at work making clothing for them.
'Excitement about flags'
There was an air of paranoia, too, and a deep intolerance for anyone showing secessionist sympathies. The Chronicle reported one incident, on May 10, of the former:
"On Wednesday night, at about midnight, the garrison at Fort Trumbull was alarmed by the sound of a musket shot fired by one of the sentries ...
"The shot proved to have been fired by guard No. 2, at the wharf. He reported having seen a row-boat containing several men approaching cautiously along the shore towards the wharf, which he challenged three times, and then having received no response - fired ...
"The boat was at once hastily put about and pulled off into the river. ... This is the third time boats have been seen in the night moving about near the works in a suspicious manner."
As for the intolerance and the high tensions of the times, there is no better example than the following article:
"MORE EXCITEMENT ABOUT FLAGS IN WATERFORD. - The people of the 'Spithead' school district in the town of Waterford, recently determined to hoist the American flag over the school house. But there are secessionists in that region, it seems, and they objected to the proposed flag raising!
"One of them on Friday of last week vowed that it should not take place, and very freely applied abusive and insulting language to Mr. Archibald Getchel, a citizen of the town who quite as positively declared that the colors should go up.
"The rebel sympathizer finding himself fully met in the encounter of words, resorted to force and dealt Mr. Getchel an unexpected and severe blow. In an instant he received one 'from the shoulder' that laid him out; and when he rose and rushed forward to renew the contest he got another facer that again floored him ...
"We are informed that one blatant traitor in Waterford avows his purpose to raise upon a pole near his house the piratical colors of the Southern rebels! If he does, let the good citizens of Waterford take care of his dirty bunting, and him too, if necessary. The reputation of their town has been quite sufficiently trifled with and befouled by reason of the antics of half a dozen traitors. It is time a stop was put to their folly."
Firing of salutes and parade
While Lincoln was addressing Congress, there were Fourth of July celebrations in New London and Groton, but they seem muted in comparison to the celebrations of today.
"In New London the glorious Fourth was respectably noticed, though no general organized demonstration was made in its honor," The Chronicle reported, noting that there was a "firing of salutes" and that the "church bells were rung at sunrise, noon, and sunset, by order of the city council."
In Groton, The Chronicle noted, there was a parade of the "Groton Home Guard and Groton Zouaves" (Zouaves was a name taken on by various volunteer regiments who modeled themselves after infantry in the French army.) and "a national salute of thirty four guns" at Fort Griswold.
Lincoln's call for 400,000 men represented a massive escalation over the 75,000 volunteers the president had called for on April 15, after the South took Fort Sumter. And surely it reflected the growing realization that, unless it was put down, the rebellion would mean the end of the Union.
"And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States," Lincoln said. "It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy - a government of the people, by the same people - can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes."
Before asking for the troops and funds, Lincoln laid out the history of the growing insurrection, and said of the rebel assault on Fort Sumter, "In this act, discarding all else, they have forced upon the country, the distinct issue: 'Immediate dissolution, or blood.'"
And Lincoln defended his decision to keep troops in the fort, against the advice of his staff, saying "to so abandon that position, under the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous ... that, at home, it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter, a recognition abroad - that, in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated."
Stressing the urgency of the situation, Lincoln pointed out that the capital of the Confederacy was now in Richmond, Va., practically on Washington's doorstep.
"The people of Virginia have thus allowed this giant insurrection to make its nest within her borders" he said, "and this government has no choice left but to deal with it, where it finds it."
Lincoln went on to demolish the argument that the states are "sovereign" entities that have the right to secede from the union.
"The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status," Lincoln said. "If they break from this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence, and their liberty."
It was now up to the Union to prove, Lincoln said, "that ballots are the rightful, and peaceful, successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, back to bullets ...
"Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war - teaching all, the folly of being the beginners of a war."
Oddly enough, Lincoln's speech to Congress never made the pages of The Chronicle, and while the first mention of the speech was made on July 3 - a note "by telegraph" that advance copies wouldn't be available - there was, on July 13, the following verdict:
"In the great variety of comment which the President's late message to Congress has elicited from the public journals of the country there is observable an unusual and surprising harmony of tone ... throughout the loyal portions of the Union the press, almost with one voice, has spoken of it in language of decided and almost unqualified approbation - with, comparatively, scarcely a whisper of dissent from the overwhelming popular verdict of approval."