Lift Up Your Eyes On High And See

DBF

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Messages
1,138
"The night skies were radiant in July of ’61,
the country is a tinderbox not knowing what’s to come.
A Yankee soldier resting underneath the stars,
looks up and sees a light, coming from afar."

Great_Comet_1861.jpg
The Great Comet of 1861 - Public Domain (Wikipedia)

All who saw the comet last night witnessed an unusual celestial phenomenon,wrote the Hartford Courant on the morning of July 1, 1861. ‘A comet, exceeding in brilliancy, size, and proximity to our planet any that have appeared within the recollection of the present generation, flaunted its glittering train across the northern sky’.” {1}

Thus began the viewing of a great celestial show. It could not have been timed better as most in the nation wondered if this was a harbinger of what was to come as the country engaged in a war. As the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” would editorialize - - -

“What means this visit – peace or war?”

For Private Charles E. Johnson, stationed at Fortress Monroe and serving in the 9th New York Infantry, the warm summer night calls him outdoors. He sits the stage for what he will see during that night and details it in his journal dated July 18, 1861 - - -

“Last night was a most beautiful night. The moon shone so brightly as to almost blot out the stars; a gentle breeze from the James fanned one’s features with just enough motion to produce a feeling akin to inspiration, and I made my bed outside, as the thought of a crowded tent on a night like this seemed unbearable. And there I lay dreaming day-dreams far into the night.” {1}

charles-johnson-self-portrait.jpg

Charles Johnson Self Portrait - Photo: The Long Roll - Emerging Civil War {1}

Private Johnson knows battles are coming, he knows hard days are ahead, he knows he may never see his loved ones or his home again, and yet he still appreciates the glorious sight - - -

“I watched the comet, wondering if that mysterious little visitor was not perhaps at the same time watched by eyes that would beam gladly into mine; and I composed quite a number of beginnings of addresses to the curious thing, whatever it may be. But the comet is now tired of his visit to these regions of space, or disgusted it may be with the appearance of things on this side of our planet, for he is now leaving in seemingly greater haste than he came, with his tail between his legs, for the unknown regions out yonder.” {1}

This became quite a celestial event as eyes turned heavenward in the night skies. It also was used in political cartoons in the day as one featured in “Vanity Fair” depicting General Winfield Scott - - -

6a00d8341c464853ef017d3fab1f0c970c-320wi.jpg

Public Domain
or even using President Abraham Lincoln on envelopes widely used during the Civil War - - -

fullsizeoutput_451.jpeg

Patriotic Northern Envelope, 1861 Printed by Samuel C. Upham

However, the diary written by Private Johnson perhaps says it best as it fades from the night sky - - -

“Well, good-by and fare thee well, Stranger. And I fervently hope that thou mayst see the face of the Earth beaming with smiles where now her frowns are lowering, on thy next visit, if that should be while this little world is still in existence.” {1}

In many ways, in the minds of men, this was a harbinger of future events for this nation. The Battle of Bull Run/First Manassas would take place before it would leave our planetary view and continue on its way in August of 1861 leaving behind many wondering eyes gazing for one last glimpse.

"What Means This Visit - Peace or War?"; the paper asked - and sadly it was War. Now we are left to read and ponder Private Charles Johnson's final words on this fiery sight - - -

“And to sleep at last, to dream again not more strangely than if awake, and only disturbed by a little cannonading up the river.” {1}

comet-1.jpg

Comet of 1861: Philadelphia Inquirer, July 5, 1861 - Emerging Civil War {1}


"This happy little visitor still travels and still thrives,
and will return to visit us in twenty-two, sixty-five."



***Here is a link with another perspective about the “mystical” message of the comet.
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/oola-and-the-war-comet.92707/#post-763577


Sources
1. https://emergingcivilwar.com/2017/10/25/a-civil-war-soldier-reflects-on-the-comet-of-1861/
2. https://blogs.bl.uk/americas/2013/01/the-great-comet-of-1861.html
3. https://courses.edx.org/courses/course-v1:ColumbiaX+HIST1.2x+3T2015/96e54507dce946a0b8069ca909f2e29f/
4. C/1861 JI - Wikipedia
 

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DBF

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Messages
1,138
Thanks for the chart - it’s hard to imagine the vast orbit of this comet. I always have to remind myself that their technology was what it was - not like today where we can photograph comets from space. When you think that Haley’s Comet comes every 75 years - but the 1861 comet is slightly over 400 years or for that matter the Hale-Bopp - does it really take slightly over 2,500 years? No wonder people are in awe when they occur.
 

Tut11

Sergeant
Joined
Jan 24, 2018
Messages
697
Thanks for the chart - it’s hard to imagine the vast orbit of this comet. I always have to remind myself that their technology was what it was - not like today where we can photograph comets from space. When you think that Haley’s Comet comes every 75 years - but the 1861 comet is slightly over 400 years or for that matter the Hale-Bopp - does it really take slightly over 2,500 years? No wonder people are in awe when they occur.
Many of the comets have multiple orbits along with short periods and long period, this of course depends on the observations of the object as the Minor Planet center notifies the astronomical community of new comets needing to be confirmed and gives them their designation with the correlated data. Here's a couple web sites for data, just punch in the comet proper designation and you have all current info on the object per MPC and JPL:

New comet discoveries.
PCCP list current:
https://minorplanetcenter.net/iau/NEO/pccp_tabular.html

New asteroid list: NEO
https://minorplanetcenter.net/iau/NEO/toconfirm_tabular.html

JPL small body website:
https://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi

Here's all the data on C/1861 J1:
https://minorplanetcenter.net/db_search/show_object?utf8=✓&object_id=C/1861+J1

Data search for any small body object:
https://minorplanetcenter.net/db_search

Current C/1861 J1 recovery info, which is not complete as we don't have full observational data yet. Which means we are not sure of location or the orbital period, hence will have to wait a couple hundred years to see if this one comes back.
https://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/horizons.cgi#results
 


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