Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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July 21st
“I am sitting by the side of your soldier boy”
In the summer of 1862, Civil War casualties poured into Washington, D.C. Day after day, steamers carrying injured soldiers arrived at the city’s Sixth Street Wharf. Makeshift hospitals sprang up throughout the capital in churches, government buildings, hotels, and private homes.

The First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, formed the almost daily habit of visiting the wounded. Arriving with a carriage full of fruit and fresh flowers, she would spend hours sitting at their bedsides, talking and reading to them, trying to make them more comfortable amid the stench and groans of the suffering.

Often she helped them write letters home. “I am sitting by the side of your soldier boy,” she wrote in one. “He has been quite sick and is getting well. He tells me to say that he is all right.” She signed the letter, “With respect [for] the mother of a young soldier.”

Mary Lincoln was not popular with the Washington newspapers. They often criticized her for her receptions and decorating projects at the White House. One of the president’s assistants believed she should publicize her hospital visits. “If she were worldly wise she would carry newspaper correspondents . . . every time she went,” he observed.

But the First Lady kept her hospital visits discreet and let the newspapers lavish praise on society women more press-savvy in their charity work. Her attempts to comfort the wounded were too profound to be a public relations tool. “She found something more gratifying than public acknowledgment,” notes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “For in the hours she spent with these soldiers she must have sensed their unwavering belief in her husband and in the Union for which they fought. Such a faith was not readily found elsewhere – not in the cabinet, the Congress, the press, or the social circles of the city.”

American History Parade
1861
Confederates win the first major land battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Virginia.

1925
In Dayton, Tennessee, the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” testing a law which forbade teaching evolution, ends with the conviction of teacher John Scopes.

1944
During World War II, U.S. troops land on Guam to retake it from the Japanese.

1969
Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin blast off from the moon.

1997
A restored USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) sets sail from Boston under its own power for the first time in more than one hundred years.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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