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March 18: This Day in U.S. Military History in the 1800s


1818 – Congress passes the first Pension Act, which provides lifetime pensions authorized for veterans of the War for Independence with nine months Continental service in need of assistance.

1837 – Stephen Grover Cleveland was born in Caldwell, N.J. He was the 22nd (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897) president of the United States, the only President elected for two nonconsecutive terms.

1863 – Confederate women rioted in Salisbury, N.C. to protest the lack of flour and salt in the South.

1864 – The U.S. Sanitary Commission Fair in Washington, D.C., closes with President Lincoln commending the organization for its fine work. The Sanitary Commission formed in 1861, the creation of northern civilians concerned for Union troops’ medical care. The voluntary association raised more than $22 million in donations and medical supplies, and it represented a major contribution by Yankee women to the war effort. Although administered by men, the vast majority of its volunteers were women. The commission raised supplies and provided lodging and meals to wounded soldiers and troops returning home on furlough. It gathered medicine and bandages for the army and sent inspectors to the camps to oversee the set up of clean water supplies, latrines, and cooking facilities. Volunteers worked on the front lines as doctors and nurses helped evacuate wounded soldiers to the rear. Some generals and army doctors found commission workers to be annoying and troublesome, especially when they criticized army medical practices. One doctor complained about what he saw as “sensation preachers, village doctors, and strong-minded women” interfering with the doctors’ work. Some of these women included noted reformer Dorthea Dix and Mary Ann Bickerdyke, a tough no-nonsense church volunteer who became the commission’s agent to the Army of the Tennessee before the Battle of Shiloh. She was completely dedicated to caring for common soldiers, and she was not afraid to challenge doctors and officers when she thought their care was being compromised. At Chattanooga, she ordered timbers for breastworks burned to keep wounded soldiers warm–when military police asked her who had authorized the burning, she replied, “Under the authority of God Almighty. Have you got anything better than that?” The commission’s work fit 19th century women’s socially proscribed roles as caretakers and nurturers of men, but the work also allowed women to carve out their own careers, and it could be seen as a step forward for the women’s rights movement. Lincoln said at the closing of the Sanitation Commission Fair, “if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of women applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war.”

1865 – The Congress of the Confederate States of America adjourned for the last time.

1865 – Battle of Wilson’s raid to Selma, AL.

1874 – Hawaii signed a treaty giving exclusive trading rights with the islands to the United States.

1880 – A Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps is asked to testify before a House committee regarding the French Canal Company which is building the Panama Canal. De Lesseps attempts to assure the House that France has no official connection with the canal. Born on November 19, 1805 in Versailles, France. His Family was long distinguished in the French diplomatic service. At age 19, having studied law, he was appointed eleve-counsel to his uncle, then the French ambassador to Lisbon. He served in Tunis later with his father, until 1832 the year of his fathers death. Then came 7 years in Egypt, later Rotterdam, Malaga, Barcelona and Madrid. With the new Viceroy Mohammed Said in Egypt, whom de Lesseps had befriended years ago, he rushed to Cairo and soon the construction of the Suez Canal under his command began. November 17, 1869 the Gran Opening with luxuries ceremonies, a Cairo opera house had been built for the occasion and Verdi had been commissioned to write Aida. De Lesseps became a hero presented with many decorations. In 1875 de Lesseps made his first public declaration of interest in an interoceanic canal. On the first day of the new year of 1880, on board a steam launch standing of the mouth of the Rio Grande, de Lesseps young daughter Fernanda dug the first shovel of sand into a champagebox and the Panama Canal was symbolically begun. By the end of January 1881, the first group of French engineers of the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique arrived at Colon and the great task of construction commenced. In the years to follow men and machinery poured into Panama to confront the geographical obstacles of the Isthmus: the backbone of the continental divide at the Culebra Cut and the mighty Chagres river.At this time the French stood at the pinnacle of 19th century engineering. Their finest engineers and machinery were sent to work. For 8 years a valiant and determined effort was made on the isthmus. The climate, with its torrential rains, incessant heat and fatal disease, took its toll. Financial mismanagement, stock failure and bad publicity eventually forced the failure of the company. The official end came on February 4th 1889 and the companies assets went into the hands of the liquidator. By may all work was halted on the isthmus. De Lesseps died in France in 1894.

1890 – The 1st US state naval militia was organized in Massachusetts.


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