Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day

Sarah J. Hale, a writer and the editor of a popular women’s magazine, Godey’s Ladies Journal, was born on October 24th, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire. Her parents Gordon Buell and Martha Whittlesay Buell believed in equal education for both genders, so Sarah was home-schooled by her mother. Later, Sarah became a local schoolteacher and in 1813 she married a lawyer, David Hale. Together, Sarah and her husband formed a small literary club and soon she began writing. After the death of her husband in 1822, Sarah turned to writing to support herself and her five children. Hale authored many books and hundreds of poems, including the best-known nursery rhyme in English, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

As early as 1827, Hale advocated a national celebration of Thanksgiving and in her first novel Northwood, she wrote: “We don’t have enough holidays. Thanksgiving, just as the Fourth of July, should be considered a national festival and observed by our people.”

Since the beginning of the 1840’s, Sarah campaigned for over 20 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Thanksgiving was celebrated only regionally when Hale began her crusade to make it a national holiday. During her campaign, she lobbied various congressmen and was a tireless letter-writer, writing letters to every governor or current President in the United States.

Sarah Hale had written to five Presidents about the establishment of Thanksgiving and finally managed to convince President Abraham Lincoln that Thanksgiving would help to unify the country once the Civil War ended.

On March 30th, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day (see below). On October 3rd, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation and finally, on November 26th, 1863, Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday for the first time.

Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choisest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. 1

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father Who dwelleth in the heavens.

By Abraham Lincoln

Two days later, a freak accident occurred which altered the course of the war. One of the South’s best generals was accidentally shot by his own men. Lt. General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was considered one of the greatest tactical commanders in history. He refused to let his men give ground at the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, standing there “like a stonewall.” Often outnumbered, sometimes 2 to 1, Jackson successfully fought the Shenandoah Valley Campaign:

  • Battles of McDowell (May 8, 1862);
  • Front Royal (May 23, 1862)’
  • Winchester (May 25, 1862);
  • Port Republic (June 9, 1862);
  • Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862);
  • Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862);
  • Antietam (September 17, 1862);
  • Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862); and
  • Chancellorsville (April 30-May 2, 1863).

Stonewall Jackson wrote to Colonel Thomas T. Munford, June 13, 1862:

​”The only true rule for cavalry is to follow the enemy as long as he retreats.”

Jackson advised General John D. Imboden (Robert Underwood and Clarence C. Buel, eds. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4 vols. New York: Century Co., Vol.2, p. 297):

“Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number.

The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, if by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part, and that the weakest part, of your enemy and crush it. Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail, and repeated victory will make it invincible.”

The day after Lincoln’s Day of Fasting was observed, April 30, 1863, the Battle of Chancellorville began, May 1, 1863. Outnumbered two to one, Stonewall Jackson’s 60,892 Confederate troops successfully attacked the flank of 133,868 Union troops. The Union suffered a devastating 17,197 casualties to the Confederate 13,303. At the end of the day, May 2, 1863, Jackson surveyed the field and returned to camp at twilight.

Suddenly, one of his own men shouted, “Halt, who goes there,” and without waiting for a reply, a volley of shots were fired. Two bullets hit General Jackson’s left arm and one hit his right hand. Several men accompanying him were killed, in addition to many horses. In the confusion that followed, Jackson was dropped from his stretcher while being evacuated. His left arm was mangled, became infected, and had to be amputated.

General Robert E. Lee wrote to Jackson:

“Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”

General Lee sent the message through Chaplain B.T. Lacy:

“He has lost his left arm but I my right … Tell him that I wrestled in prayer for him last night … as I never prayed for myself.”

Jackson’s injuries resulted in him contracting pneumonia. Growing weaker, Jackson said, May 10, 1863:

“It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

A few moments before he died, as he was losing consciousness, Jackson said:

“Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Jackson had previously told General John D. Imboden (“Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Bull’s Run,” New York Times, May 3, 1885):

“My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. … That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

Many Civil War historians speculate what would have happened if Stonewall Jackson had not been shot. He most certainly would have been at the Battle of Gettysburg two months later, which conceivable would have resulted in a Confederate victory, changing the entire outcome of the war. Jackson’s death was difficult to reconcile, as he was exemplary in faith and virtue. He did not fight to defend slavery, but rather he fought to defend his home state of Virginia from the war of Northern Federal aggression. Jackson was personally against slavery, having arranged to free the slaves he inherited from his wife’s estate.

Beginning in 1855, Jackson participated in civil disobedience every Sunday by teaching a Colored Sunday School class at the Lexington Presbyterian Church. This was against the law, as a Virginia statue forbade teaching slaves to read, especially after Nat Turner’s rebellion. Nevertheless, Jackson regularly taught both slaves and free blacks, adults and children, to read the Bible.

The Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia (1819):

“Whereas it is common in many places for slaves to meet at religious meeting-houses in the night, or at schools for teaching them reading or writing, which if not stopped may cause considerable evil to the community;

Be it passed: That all meetings of slaves, or free negroes or mulattoes mixing with such slaves, at any meeting-house or school for teaching them reading or writing, either in the day or night, for any reason, shall be deemed an unlawful assembly.

And any officer of the law may have permission to enter the house to arrest or send off such slaves, and to punish them with up to twenty lashes.”

William M. Banks wrote in Black Intellectuals (1996):

“Literacy also threatened the control and surveillance network for slaves in the South …

Literate slaves … could forge the necessary papers and escape to the North …

Some slaveholders … ignored the statutes for economic reasons, realizing that literate slaves could handle record-keeping … Prohibitions were also ignored by pious masters who wanted their slaves to read the Bible.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, September 17, 1937:

“I came into the world 17 years after the close of the war between the states …

Today … there are still many among us who can remember it … It serves us little to discuss again the rights and the wrongs of the long 4-years’ war …

We can but wish that the war had never been.

We can and we do revere the memory of the brave men who fought on both sides …

But we know today that it was best … for the generations of Americans who have come after them, that the conflict did not end in a division of our land into two nations.

I like to think that it was the will of God that we remain one people.”

At the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery, President Coolidge said, May 25, 1924:

“It was Lincoln who pointed out that both sides prayed to the same God.

When that is the case, it is only a matter of time when each will seek a common end.

We can now see clearly what that end is.

It is the maintenance of our American ideals, beneath a common flag, under the blessings of Almighty God.”

Sources:

  • https://newsmaven.io/americanminute/american-history/lincoln-s-day-of-fasting-2-days-later-course-of-civil-war-took-a-turn-stiC6wNwF0WfMSJWubJvAA/

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