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The Civil War: The Senate's Story

An Extraordinary Recess
Image of Stephen Douglas

When the Senate adjourned its special session on March 28, 1861, civil war seemed imminent. Fifteen days later, shots were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. "Civil War is actually upon us," Ohio Senator John Sherman wrote his brother William Tecumseh Sherman. On April 14, Illinois senator Stephen Douglas privately met with his long-time political rival, and now president, Abraham Lincoln. The president showed Douglas a draft of his proclamation calling forth the state militias and summoning Congress to return for an extraordinary session on July 4. Senator Douglas advised Lincoln to call for even more troops and assured the president of his loyalty.

In the days of congressional recess leading up to this extraordinary session, Douglas and his fellow senators busied themselves with a variety of war-related activities. Douglas departed Washington for Illinois, making speeches along the way to rally support for the Union cause. After offering his services to Ohio governor William Dennison, Sherman found work as an aide de camp to General Robert Patterson until the Senate session began. He also raised a brigade of Ohioans who became known as Sherman's Brigade. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan was in frequent consultation with the president during the recess. He also called for troops in Detroit and greeted the First Regiment of Michigan Volunteers upon their arrival in Washington, seeing to their proper provision of uniforms, food, and supplies, mostly at his own personal expense.

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