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1862: A Good Year for Twin Lights…Not So Good for America

Historians adore context. Context pulls people and events off the printed page, offering in-the-moment perspective that helps us understand the who-what-when-where-why-and-how of stories that might otherwise elude our grasp. The current iteration of the Navesink Light Station was completed in the spring of 1862; the date is right there on the side of the building. The lights went on during a dark time for America—that we know, as well. Yet like any year, good or bad, 1862 was defined by far more than its high and low points. For the folks living within beacon distance of the lighthouse, grim news from the battlefield was just one of the many things that occupied their thoughts and animated their conversation. Here is a look at America and the world in 1862…

Jan 4 • The 9th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry—a regiment of sharpshooters armed with new Springfield rifled muskets—leaves Newark to join Union forces in the South.

Feb 28 • The Holmdel and Middletown Point Turnpike is chartered. It roughly follows the path of current-day Route 34 from Holmdel to Matawan.

May 1 • The Navesink Light Station, constructed between the 1828 towers, goes on line.

Jun 19 • Congress prohibits slavery in all current and future U.S. territories, repudiating the 1957 Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court.

Jul 17 • The U.S. government authorizes the use of postage stamps in lieu of coins and currency, alleviating a problem created by the hoarding and melting down of small coins.

Aug 25 • The 13th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry is created and thrown into battle at Antietam with less than three weeks of training. Among its members is future Garden State governor Franklin Murphy, just 16 years old at the time. The 13th was one of the state’s 11 “Sunshine Regiments”—raised that August for a nine-month tour of duty.

Sep 22 • Abraham Lincoln issues a warning to Southern states that he would order emancipation of slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January 1. As promised, the Emancipation Proclamation would be signed into law the following year.

Nov 4 • Democrat Joel Parker defeats Republican Marcus Lawrence Ward by 15,000 votes to become New Jersey governor. The margin of victory is the largest in history to that time. Parker serves three years, from 1862 to 1865, and again from 1871 to 1874. In 1868, the New Jersey delegation at the Democratic Convention would nominate him for president.

Dec 13 • In their first action of the war, the 28th New Jersey Volunteers lead the initial assault at the Battle of Fredericksburg, losing 30 percent of its men. Commanding officer Moses Wisewell survives a bullet that enters through his neck and exits out of his mouth.

Of Local Interest…

Newark establishes its first streetcar line, which runs from downtown north to current-day Branch Brook Park.

Ferry service is established between the Exchange Place train station in Jersey City and the elevated train station at the end of Canal Street in Manhattan.

Portrait of Ellis Hamilton

New Jersey State Archives

Ellis Hamilton, the son of a Trenton newspaper editor, enlists in 1862 and becomes the youngest commissioned officer in the Union Army, at the age of 16. Hamilton would be mortally wounded during the Battle of the Wilderness at age 19.

Harriet Tubman travels to South Carolina to establish a Civil War spy ring.

President Lincoln removes General George McClellan from command following the November mid-terms. McClellan would run unsuccessfully against Lincoln for president in 1864. In 1877, he defeated William Newell for New Jersey Governor; Newell had spearheaded the effort to establish the U.S. Life-Saving Service in 1848.

Elsewhere in America…

The Internal Revenue Service is established

Willie Lincoln, the President’s son, dies at age 11 after contracting typhoid

A smallpox epidemic rages from Northern California into Canada

Kansas Secretary of State John W. Robinson becomes the first executive official to be impeached and removed from office

President Lincoln signs the act that creates the state of West Virginia

Willie Lincoln Courtesy: Library of Congress

And Around the World…

Anna Leonowens begins teaching the children of Mongkut, the King of Siam

The Great London Exposition opens in London

Victor Hugo publishes Les Miserables

Otto von Bismarck becomes Prime Minister of Prussia

More than 200 English men and boys are killed in a Northumberland mine disaster

Notts County Football Club, the world’s oldest pro soccer team, takes the field for the first time

Image courtesy:

University of Glasgow

Born in 1862…

Ida Wells • Civil Rights Pioneer

Claude Debussy • Impressionist Composer

Joseph Merrick • “The Elephant Man”

Gustav Klimt • Painter

O Henry • Author

Edward Stratemeyer • Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Creator

Edith Wharton • Novelist

Connie Mack • Baseball Manager

Charles Evans Hughes • Supreme Court Justice

Amos Alonzo Stagg • Football Pioneer

Nicholas Murray Butler • Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Charles Schwab • Business Leader

Auguste Lumiere • Movie Pioneer

Louis Botha • First Prime Minister of South Africa

Joseph Merrick, British Medical Journal

Phillip Kearny at Chantilly

Image courtesy: Library of Congress

Died in 1862…

Author Henry David Thoreau

Firearms Manufacturer Samuel Colt

Former U.S. Presidents John Tyler & Martin Van Buren

Mexican War & Civil War Hero Phillip Kearny (Killed during the Battle of Chantilly in Virginia)


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