Time Capsule Thursday: This Momentous Week, April 1865

Unsurprisingly, newspapers published this week in 1865 contained details about the recent surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.  The northern newspaper reports were understandably jubilant, while the southern news reports were just as understandably gloomy and subdued.  For instance, on April 11 the Charlotte Democrat, just two days following the surrender expressed both defiance and fear for the future:

We fear that the occurrences of the last few weeks will have the effect of uncovering the greater portion of North Carolina and leaving the people of our States at the mercy of their enemies.  But it is not worth while to grieve and mourn about what cannot be helped.  Our cause is a righteous one, and if God wills it we shall triumph notwithstanding present adversities and the discouraging circumstances which surround us.  But if we fail in our struggle for liberty, let us fail like men who have done nothing but our duty.

The paper went on to decry “Yankee treatment of ministers of the gospel” in their state.  Bishop Atkinson of Wadesboro, North Carolina had been “robbed of [his] watch, two horses, some clothes, coffee, and a little corn and wheat which [he] had at a mill, and burnt [his] wife’s piano and some other furniture.”  Perhaps some of General Sherman’s “bummers” had visited the reverend (see this week’s Tombstone Tuesday article for more on the “bummers”).

The citizenry of Waterloo, Iowa was in a celebratory mood, “drunk with joy” according to the April 14 issue of the Cedar Falls Gazette.  Upon hearing that Jeff Davis and Lee had been captured they danced in the streets, even one of the town’s deacons:

A gentleman informs us that he was walking along the street when an old Deacon came dancing down from the opposite direction.  Our friend grabbed by the shoulders, and inquired of “Do you ever dance?” and commanded “If you do, dance now!” and round and round he went in a lively jig in the hands of the enthusiastic Deacon.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was expressing disappointment on April 12, however, just two days before Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, in the President’s speech regarding his plans for reconstruction.  The editors found his speech uninspiring and believed he had thrown away an opportunity to “have told the South that the wish nearest to the hearts of the people of the North was the preservation of the Union which their fathers established, and under which the people of both sections lived so happily together.”  As the editorial intimated, perhaps the President was looking ahead to the election of 1868, having been sworn in following his win in 1864.  If they had only known what awaited him two days later.

Five days later, in the first issue published following Lincoln’s death, the Daily Eagle editorial was more subdued and conciliatory:

Let our present rulers take this lesson to heart:  the dead President is mourned as no other man perhaps ever was by his countrymen, because of the belief which is everywhere felt that in his last days Mr. Lincoln’s thoughts were turned to conciliation and peace.  We are satisfied that in no way can respect for Mr. Lincoln’s memory be shown more sincerely than by faithfully executing the policy upon which he had determined at the time of his decease. . .It is the loss of Mr. Lincoln as pacificator that the people mourn. . . The woe which weighs so heavy on the nation’s heart is because of the fact that we look about us in vain for some one who can take the place of Mr. Lincoln. . . The public heart is stricken with woe because a pacificator has fallen, when his country needed his services most.

Interestingly, the Middlebury Register (Vermont) had announced on April 12 that Governor J. Gregory Smith had declared the 14th a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer”.  As spring was upon them, looking forward to a fruitful harvest later in the year, the governor called upon the Vermont citizenry to be reminded of their dependence “upon Him who ruleth the world and who giveth freely, and withholdeth not from those who seek Him in faith.”  This was not to be a lightly-regarded proclamation, as the governor implored residents to repent, asking for God’s blessings and bring peace to the country.  My how times have changed!

As would be expected the nation’s attention that week was at its beginning focused on the end of the war and toward the end of the week on the devastating loss of Abraham Lincoln.  But what else was making news that week?

The World’s First Coffee Kiosk?

The Xenia Sentinel (Ohio) reported one correspondent who had recently observed a large coffee pot used by the Army of the Potomac.  It consisted of three large boilers, heated by furnaces underneath, which contained about twenty-five gallons of coffee each.  Supported on two wheels with coal wood under the axle and a chest containing canisters for coffee, tea, farina, sugar and condensed milk, this could have been the world’s first coffee kiosk, eh?  It was drawn by two horses and intended to operate on the battlefield, supplying coffee to the wounded.

“Front-Page” News on Page Two

I was expecting to see headlines on the front page of newspapers regarding the events of this momentous week in 1865.  Instead, most headlines about the end of the war and even Lincoln’s death were relegated to page two – page one was the “ad page”.  Despite the fact that the president had just died, the Dayton Daily Empire displayed ads on page one for a dry goods store selling everything from bed blankets to under-drawers.  Curious, huh?

Miracle Cures and Abortifacients

Other items filling the pages of newspapers were ads for so-called patent medicines which promised to cure all one’s ills.  For instance, the April 14 issue of the Vermont Watchman and State Journal contained an advertisement for Kennedy’s Rheumatic Liniment.  You hear the word liniment and you think that’s something you rub on the outside of your body, and it was called for in instances of rheumatism, sprains, neuralgia, pleurisy, bruises and cramps, according to the ad.  Scroll down a few lines and not only could you rub away your aches and pains with Kennedy’s Rheumatic Liniment, but one could cure bilious colic, “caused by neuralgia in the stomach and bowels,” by taking a teaspoonful in warm water ever half hour until cured.  Have an ulcerated sore throat?  Take a teaspoon of the liniment with four teaspoons of water, gargle twice a day and feel better in a few days – well worth a dollar!

The two ads that really caught my attention, however, were ads for what appear to be either some sort of birth control remedy or perhaps even an abortifacient.  Were these medicines legal in 1865?  Probably not as was noted several years later in a report of the Committee on Social Betterment, published by The President’s Home Commission in 1908.

Under the headline “Female Pills”, Dr. Lyman F. Kebler who headed the Division of Drugs for the Department of Agriculture, wrote:

The publication of advertising matter inviting attention to means whereby conception can be prevented or abortion produced is specifically prohibited by law.  Hence the manufacturers of drug products which are intended to be used for these purposes are careful not to state openly in their advertising literature the purposes for which their preparations are intended.

Dr. Kebler noted that the particular names assigned to these medicines were widely known to have long been associated with emmenagogues or abortifacients, like “French Pills”, “Female Pills”, “Female Regulating Pills” and so on.  In 1865 the advertisement for Dr. Cheeseman’s Female Pills left little doubt as to the medicine’s true purpose, if you kept reading.  The first paragraph of the ad extolled the wonders of his pills in “removing the pains that accompany difficult or immoderate menstruation”.  Scroll down to the second paragraph and, in a back-handed way, the true purpose of Dr. Cheeseman’s Female Pills is revealed, albeit in somewhat cryptic language:

Have been used over a quarter of a century.  They are offered as the only safe means of renewing interrupted menstruation, but Ladies must bear in ind that there is one condition of the female system in which the Pills cannot be taken without producing a PECULIAR RESULT.  The condition referred to is PREGNANCY – the result MISCARRIAGE.  Such is the irresistible tendency of the medicine to restore the sexual functions to a normal condition, that even the reproductive power of nature cannot resist it.

Hmm … sure sounds like an abortion pill to me.  That ad was on page three.  On page one, column one was more than half-filled with a “Special Notice” entitled “Important to the Married, or Those About to be Married”, written by Dr. A.M. Mauriceau, Professor of Diseases of Women and referred to as “the married woman’s private medical companion”:

No married lady who loves her husband and has at heart his happiness, and no lady whose health or circumstances forbid a too rapid increase of family, can afford to be without it. . . [The pills] are composed upon the most scientific principles, and purely from most valuable and costly extracts, producing most wonderful effects upon the menstrual functions, in all cases restoring the monthly periods, from whatever cause the irregularity or suppression may arise, while at the same time they are not nauseating, being so sugar coated that the most delicate lady can take them without the least unpleasantness.

Seems pretty clear to me the purpose of these so-called “female pills”, no matter how much the ad language tried to obfuscate and muddle the intent, was indeed abortion.

Ending On a Lighter Note

Seriously (sort of), should we encourage more naps during sessions of Congress?  The Watchman and State Journal also reported on page one that the New York Senate had recently been forced to adjourn, “since by the trumpet-like snoring of a democratic member who had fallen asleep in his seat while in a state of ‘incoherency’.  All efforts made to arouse the somnolent Senator proved ineffectual, and the Senate retired in disgust.”  Hear, hear!

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.

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