Semmes One of Greatest Commerce-Raider Captains in Naval History

The oil on canvas Sinking of the Alabama, circa 1868, by American marine painter Xanthus Smith (1839-1929) sold for $38,837 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, seven of the Southern slaveholding states had seceded from the Union before even hearings his inaugural address. In it, he declared, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

During the run-up to the 1860 election, Lincoln had chosen not to actively campaign and simply refused to comment on the issue of slavery. However, his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas (the “Little Giant”) campaigned across the country. In the South, he denounced threats of secession, but warned that Lincoln’s election would inevitably lead to that tragic end.

Capt. Raphael Semmes

I have often wondered if the Civil War could have been averted if Lincoln had taken his inaugural speech to the South before the election or if a civil war was the only alternative to end slavery permanently. I suspect emotions were too high and that many actually hoped for a war, especially after all the heated rhetoric in places like South Carolina.

It became a moot point when barely a month later on April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on the Union garrison Fort Sumter and forced it to surrender. Now president, Lincoln announced that part of the United States was in a state of insurrection and issued a call for military volunteers. Four states – Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina – refused to provide troops and instead joined the Confederacy.

As positions hardened, Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade against the seceded states, however, this was a futile effort since the Navy only had 42 ships to monitor 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline. They started chartering ships for blockade duty and soon there were 260 warships in service. Their task was made easier since the Confederate “Navy” consisted of 10 river craft armed with a total of 15 guns and not a single ship on the high seas.

Even the South’s military mobilization was devoted almost exclusively to ground forces since this was clearly the most urgent short-term priority.

However, one man was determined to change that. His name was Raphael Semmes (1809-1877) from Mobile, and following Alabama’s secession from the Union, Semmes was offered a Confederate naval appointment. He resigned from the U.S. Navy the next day, Feb. 15, 1861, and set off to the interim Confederate capital of Montgomery. There, he met with Jefferson Davis – the newly inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America – and Stephen R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy. He outlined his plan to take the war to the enemy … not the federal Navy (that was too large to challenge), but to the U.S. merchant fleet.

In 1861, the U.S. Merchant Marine was the largest in the world. No one surpassed the skill and ingenuity of Yankee shipwrights in the design and construction of wooden vessels. America’s carrying trade had steadily increased in the 1840s-50s, fueled by the discovery of gold in California, treaty ports in Japan and China, and the whaling fleet that operated from the North Atlantic to the Bering Straits.

Semmes theory was that if Confederate cruisers could disrupt the merchant marine, the powerful shipping interests in the North would force the Lincoln administration to reconcile with the South and end the war. After studying naval commander John Paul Jones, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, Semmes was convinced a weak naval power could neutralize the merchant marine of a more powerful adversary.

President Davis approved the concept and thus launched the career of Raphael Semmes as one of the greatest commerce-raider captains in naval history. Along the way, he traveled 75,000 nautical miles without ever touching a Confederate port and is credited with 64 of the 200-plus Northern merchantmen destroyed by Confederate raiders, many as the commander of the cruiser CSS Alabama. (The warship was eventually sunk in battle with the USS Kearsarge in 1864.)

Fittingly, he is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame and a monument by sculptor Caspar Buberl (1834-1899) still stands proudly in Mobile … unless, of course, Monument Marauders figure out who he was.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Artists Recognized James Monroe as a True American Hero

A charcoal sketch of George Washington aide Lt. Col. Robert Hanson Harrison that artist John Trumbull did for his epic painting The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton sold for $8,962 at a May 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

John Trumbull (1756-1843) deservedly earned the sobriquet as the “Painter of the Revolution.” He actually started out as an aide to General George Washington, but ended up in London, where he developed into a highly respected artist. One of his paintings, which illustrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, graces the $2 bill that features Thomas Jefferson. The bill was issued in 1976 to observe the bicentennial of that historic event.

Another of his numerous works is the The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776. This one naturally features General Washington again, but there is also a depiction of future president, Lieutenant James Monroe, being treated for a near-fatal damaged artery.

An even more famous painting of the times is an 1851 oil on canvas that also features Washington – Washington Crossing the Delaware on Dec. 25-26, 1776. It was painted by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), a German-American immigrant. Once again, we find James Monroe holding the American flag – the Stars and Stripes – which critics are always quick to remind was a flag not adopted until the following year, 1777. Some nitpickers also harp that the time of day is wrong, the ship is incorrect, and (sigh) even the chunks of ice in the river aren’t right.

But the role of James Monroe as a true hero is beyond any doubt.

Often called the “Last of the Founding Fathers,” he was the fifth president of the United States and like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, the son of a Virginia planter. It is sometimes overlooked that in the first 36 years of the American presidency, the Oval Office was occupied almost exclusively by men from Virginia. Somehow, John Adams (Massachusetts) managed to squeeze in a quick four years as president (1797-1801) before sneaking out of Washington, D.C., when Thomas Jefferson ousted him.

James Monroe entered politics after his service in the Revolutionary War and systemically worked his way up after serving in the Virginia legislature. He was a U.S. senator, a minister to France, and then governor of Virginia. After helping negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, he served as minister to Britain, followed by another stint as Virginia’s governor. But after only four months, President Madison offered him an appointment as secretary of state to help draft the recommendation to Congress that led to the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812.

When the war got off to a poor start, Madison wisely appointed him secretary of war and Monroe held both of these critical Cabinet positions until the war ended. After the war, the prosperity of the country improved dramatically and with Madison’s strong support, Monroe easily was elected president in 1816.

Taking office when the country finally had no unusual problems, the 58-year-old Monroe was bold enough to declare during his inaugural address: “Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete. If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy … the heart of every citizen must expand with joy … how near our government has approached to perfection…”

It was truly the “Era of Good Feelings!”

Things change … and they will again.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Cotton Gin Extended America’s Abhorrent Practice of Slavery

The 1796 patent signed by George Washington for “new machinery called the Cotton Gin” realized $179,250 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1776, Scottish economist, philosopher and teacher Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, a book that helped create a new understanding of modern economics. A pervasive theme was the idea that any economic system could be automatic and self-regulating if it was not burdened by monopolies or artificial trade barriers. This theory has become widely known as “the invisible hand.” It heavily influenced my favorite economist Milton Friedman and his Free to Choose basic philosophy.

One highly topical insight was that slavery was not economically viable and contributed to inefficient markets. Aside from the obvious moral issue, Smith believed slave owners would benefit by switching to a wage-labor model, since it was much more inexpensive to hire workers than own them and provide decent conditions. Buying slaves was much more costly due to ongoing expenses of feeding, housing and caring for workers with a high mortality rate, workers who eventually would have to be replaced.

In the United States, there was also a major disconnect between the concepts of all men being created equal and the cruel practice of slavery, which was prevalent especially in the agrarian states of the South. Although many sincerely believed that slavery would gradually die out, powerful Southern states needed some kind of assurances before they agreed to the new federal Constitution. Section 9 Article 1 of the Constitution barred any attempt to outlaw the slave trade before 1808. Other provisions prohibited states from freeing slaves who fled from other states, and further required them to return “chattel property” (slaves) to their owners. Kicking the issue down the road 20 years enabled the delegates to reach a consensus.

Historian James Oliver Horton wrote about the power slaveholder politicians had over Congress and the influence commodity crops had on the politics and economy of the entire country. A remarkable statistic is that in the 72 years between the election of George Washington (1788) and Abraham Lincoln (1860), in 50 of those years, the president of the United States was a slaveholder; as was every single two-term president.

The passage in 1807 of the Act of Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in America, and the Slave Trade Act in Great Britain marked a radical shift in Western thinking. Even as late as the 1780s, the trade in slaves was still regarded as natural economic activity. Both U.S. and European colonies in the Caribbean depended on slave labor, which was relatively easily obtained in West Africa.

However, it was really the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 that dramatically extended the abhorrent practice of slavery. Cotton was suddenly transformed from a labor intensive, low-margin commodity with limited demand into a highly lucrative crop. Production in Southern states exploded as demand skyrocketed. The number of slaves grew concurrently from 700,000 in 1790 to 3.2 million by 1850. The United States quickly grew into the largest supplier in the world and snagged 80 percent of the market in Great Britain, whose appetite seemed insatiable.

As an economist, Adam Smith was undoubtedly right about hiring workers versus owning them, but everybody was too busy getting rich to worry about optimizing labor costs. And the more demanding abolitionists in the industrializing North denounced slavery the more Southern states were determined to retain it. It would take a bloody four-year Civil War and 630,000 casualties to settle it.

Harry Truman once explained why he preferred one-armed economists: It was because they couldn’t say “On the other hand…”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Empire State Building Remains One of World’s Great Wonders

Guy Carleton Wiggins’ oil on canvas board The Empire State Building, Winter sold for $44,812 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the Sphinx,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “rose the Empire State Building.”

The “ruins” was an oblique reference to the stock market crash in 1929. Completed on May 1, 1931, on the site where the Waldorf Astoria had stood, no building ever reached so high, so fast; 102 stories tall and with a 200-foot mast to hitch your dirigible. It was built in just over a year, during what would become the nation’s worst depression.

Just a short two years earlier on May 1, 1929, architect William Van Alen had broken ground on the Chrysler Building. He had been commissioned by Chrysler to design and construct the tallest building in the world. When the Chrysler Building opened in April 1930, it was indeed the tallest at a magnificent 925 feet – a world record that would only stand for a fleeting 28 days! Then the Manhattan Bank Tower completed its construction and opened at a height of 927 feet, which allowed it to lay claim to the World’s Tallest title by a measly 2 feet.

Hang on. The race wasn’t over. In the history of high wire, where one-upmanship is the oxygen that fuels architectural competition, the Chrysler Building’s William Van Alen had kept a surprise hidden up his sleeve that would allow him to reclaim this prestigious crown.

Van Alen had designed a stainless spire of five sections, which was lowered through the top of the building. At a fixed time, before a highly appreciative audience, Van Alen delivered his coup de grâce to the Manhattan Bank. A huge derrick, its gears slowly turning, raised the spire from the innards of the Chrysler Building. “It gradually emerged,” Van Alen wrote, “from the top of the dome like a butterfly from its cocoon.” At 1,046 feet, the Chrysler Building was suddenly, once again, the World’s Tallest Building.

Alas, it only remained so for less than a year, when the Empire State Building – topping out at 1,250 feet – grabbed the title for itself. It would retain the crown until 1971 when the World Trade Center towers opened. Fittingly, the group behind the Empire State Building included the Happy Warrior himself, Al Smith, former governor of New York (four times) and the Democratic candidate for president in the 1928 election (won by Herbert Hoover). Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon when the world’s (newest) tallest skyscraper opened May 1, 1931, and President Hoover turned on the building’s lights using a remote push button in Washington, D.C.

Subsequently, the building has become a worldwide icon and in 1994 it was named one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers … joining the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal, all American architectural marvels. Plus, who can forget Fay Wray as Ann Darrow in the 1933 classic King Kong, when the beast from Skull Island plucks her from the building?

The Empire State Building took only 410 days to build since the architectural firm used design plans for the (similar but smaller) Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, N.C., a project they had worked on earlier. The staff at the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the Reynolds Building each year to honor the contribution it made to their existence.

Although long since surrendering its crown for height, the Empire State Building is a “must see” for all tourists to New York and, amazingly, revenue from ticket sales for admission to the observation decks exceeds office space rental income.

Its place in history seems quite secure.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Black Publisher Believed Race Prejudice Had to Be Destroyed

“With the exception of the Bible, no publication was more influential among the black population,” biographer Roi Ottley said of The Defender.

By Jim O’Neal

He certainly wasn’t crippled, but whenever Robert S. Abbott walked along Chicago’s poorest streets or shopped at chic, expensive European stores, a gold-headed cane was prominently in his hand. On sunny afternoons, the publisher rode in his Duesenberg convertible; other days, a Rolls Royce limousine. He appeared on every 1920s A list, but avoided the social circuit. Vintage Jazz Era excess? Perhaps. Gatsby-esque? Hardly.

Robert S. Abbott

Abbott (1870-1940) was the son of former slaves, an African-American who excelled at extravagance with his own personal agenda. He had started as a lawyer, but became America’s first black millionaire newspaper publisher. The newspaper that he literally created by hand – The Chicago Defender – brought personal wealth and prestige, but Abbott’s knack for flair had appeared in The Defender’s pages before he amassed his fortune.

From his landlady’s kitchen, Abbott wrote, designed and distributed The Defender’s first issue in 1905. He proudly labeled it “a fearless, honest champion of the people” and boldly set out to report the news blacks in Chicago witnessed every day, but never saw in print. No other publication described the African-American condition during the early 1900s with such precision and scope. The lynchings and oppression overlooked by all the other dailies were regular Defender features. It became a local success, but Abbott had much bolder ambitions.

He extended The Defender’s reach into the deep South, where 90 percent of America’s black population lived, by astutely striking distribution deals with sleeping-car porters, entertainers and other blacks traveling the country who could help sell his paper nationally. The Southern establishment tried (in vain) to keep the paper out; some cities even passed laws making it illegal to read black newspapers. Abbott simply instructed sleeping-car porters to toss their Defender bundles in the countryside instead of placing them inside city limit train stops.

The Defender would not be kept out of the South and Robert Abbott would ensure it!

By the late 1910s, circulation exceeded 50,000 and during World War I, The Chicago Defender sowed the seeds for the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the North by imploring them to better their lives. Abbott urged them to take advantage of what seemed like unlimited opportunities. In the North, blacks could vote and send their children to better schools while working for higher wages. Abbott emphasized these benefits as early as 1916 by placing headlines like “Farewell, Dixie Land” and “Millions to Leave South” atop The Defender’s front page. One-way train schedules, do’s and don’ts for migrants, and want-ads appeared in each weekly issue.

The Defender let blacks know they didn’t have to be satisfied living in the South. There was a place they could move to and live their lives to the fullest,” wrote historian Christopher Reed.

By 1940, over 1.5 million blacks had moved North. The Defender’s circulation broke 250,000, but its true readership was estimated to be at least five times that. “With the exception of the Bible, no publication was more influential among the black population,” biographer Roi Ottley said of The Defender. “Abbott did everything to aid and abet the migration. He argued, pleaded, shamed and exhorted Negroes to abandon the South.”

Note: The Defender did not use the words “negro” or “black.” African-Americans were referred to as “The Race.” And Robert S. Abbott was adamant that for America to be successful, “American race prejudice must be destroyed.”

Amen.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Roosevelt’s Courage, Determination Made Him a Remarkable Man

A President Theodore Roosevelt “Equality” pin, produced after Booker T. Washington visited the White House in 1901, sold for $8,962 at a November 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born on Oct. 27, 1858. His mother, Martha Bulloch “Mittie” Roosevelt, was a Southern Belle socialite and family members were wealthy Southern planters and part of the Georgia elite. In 1850, they had over 30 slaves, most of whom worked in the cotton fields. Many believe that the character Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind was at least partially based on Mittie.

The Roosevelt family moved north to New York, however Mittie remained fiercely loyal to the South and when the Civil War finally started, it caused a schism in the family. Mittie and her sister Anna, unbeknownst to Theodore Sr. or the neighbors, spent many afternoons putting together relief packets for relatives and friends in the South. They were shipped to the Bahamas and then by blockade-runner to Georgia.

Exactly 22 years later in 1880, Teddy Roosevelt celebrated his birthday by marrying 19-year-old Alice Hathaway Lee, a cousin of a Harvard classmate. After spending a few weeks at the Roosevelt home in Oyster Bay, they moved to New York City along with Theodore’s (now) widowed mother Mittie. When Alice discovered in July 1883 that she was pregnant, T.R. was predictably thrilled, as he fully endorsed the traditional American ideal of large families. His life seemed ideal since his political career was going so well as a member of the state legislature in Albany.

However, he soon became concerned when Alice fell sick as her due date grew near. The nature of her illness was hard to pinpoint, but the family doctor didn’t seem too concerned. Alice was well enough to worry more about Theodore’s mother than herself. Mittie had contracted something virulent and was not improving. Her high fever raised the possibility of typhoid, which, although not contagious, was also not treatable.

At 8:30 on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 12, Alice gave birth to a healthy 8-pound girl. The good news was telegraphed to T.R. in Albany, who passed out cigars and proceeded to clean up some details before heading home. Then a second telegraph arrived; Alice had taken a turn for the worse. T.R. dropped everything and rushed back to Manhattan on the next train. Arriving home, he was dismayed to find Mittie burning up with typhoid fever and Alice battling what was vaguely described as Bright’s disease (a potentially fatal kidney condition). A beleaguered Roosevelt spent the next 16 hours at one bedside and then the other.

Mittie went first in the darkest predawn hours of Thursday, Feb. 14, and Alice breathed her last 11 hours later in the early afternoon on the same day. Stunned and disoriented, Roosevelt managed to inscribe a thick black X in his diary for Feb. 14, followed by a single sentence: “The light has gone out of my life.”

It is a testament to his courage and fierce determination that he was able to regroup after such tragedy, losing his wife and mother on the same day and in the same house. He was somehow able to resume his life, with his most important contributions yet to come.

Simply a truly remarkable man.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Henry Wirz Among Most Notorious Confederate Prison Officials

This Civil War-period unmounted albumen print of Andersonville Prison by A.J. Biddle went to auction in June 2012.

By Jim O’Neal

Henry Wirz (1823-65) was born in Zurich, Switzerland, the son of a tailor. He grew up with an abiding passion for medicine, however, his family had limited resources and his father insisted on a more pragmatic mercantile career. After migrating to America, he ultimately claimed to be a physician and successfully started assisting doctors, despite most certainly lacking any formal training or medical degrees.

At the start of the Civil War, he was living in Louisiana. He enlisted as a private in the Fourth Louisiana Infantry and became a sergeant. At the important Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia in 1862, Wirz was wounded above his right wrist, which incapacitated him for life. Seven Pines was strategically important since it led to the appointment of Robert E. Lee as Confederate Commander, which had a profound effect on the duration of the war.

In April 1864, (now) Captain Wirz was ordered to Camp Sumter near Anderson in Georgia, where he was given command of the prison that would become known as the infamous Andersonville Prison. It was already crammed with war prisoners and low on critical supplies that would only worsen as the war dragged on. Wirz made a feeble attempt to reorganize, but he lacked the necessary authority and all attempts to gain a promotion were denied. He had the support of superior officers, who called him “major,” but it is not clear if he attained that rank.

Henry Wirz

As the war continued, conditions at Andersonville deteriorated and many prisoners blamed Wirz, describing him as a brutal tyrant. Observers were critical of his accent, excessive use of profanity and outbreaks of rage. By the end of the war, he was among the most notorious Confederate prison officials.

Perhaps because of naïveté or unaware of the North’s anger over prison conditions, he made a tactical blunder and did not join the other prison officials who fled. Instead, he stayed at Andersonville, where he was arrested, taken to Washington and tried on charges of murder and mistreatment of prisoners. A hostile military commission limited his defense against conflicting testimony, found him guilty, and hanged him on Nov. 10, 1865, in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison (near the site where the U.S. Supreme Court stands today).

It was a messy hanging since his neck did not break and he was strangled to death. The trial is controversial yet today. In 1909, the Georgia Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a memorial to him at Andersonville. It may be a while before monument protestors figure out who he was.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Civil War Has Left a Lasting Scar on This Country

Four scarce cartes de visite of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman sold for $2,868 at a December 2006 auction.

“General Grant stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk. Today we stand by each other.” – Paraphrasing General William Tecumseh Sherman

By Jim O’Neal

Among the towering figures of the Civil War, none is more enigmatic than General W.T. Sherman. Widely denounced as fiendishly destructive for his infamous “March to the Sea” across Georgia, Sherman was a brilliant commander and strategist who helped bring the bloody war to a faster and surer end. Yet he left a legacy of “total war” against unarmed civilians and their property that has haunted military leaders and many Americans to the present time.

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) was born in a simple frame house in Lancaster, Ohio, the sixth of 11 children. His father died suddenly in 1829 and the 9-year-old boy was forced to live with his more affluent neighbors, the Ewings, since his mother was destitute. Thomas Ewing Sr. was a senator, Secretary of the Treasury, and the first Secretary of the Interior for presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.

Ewing used his influence to get Sherman into West Point, where he finished sixth in his 1840 class. He left the Army along with many other officers when it seemed civilian life offered a greater chance for success. After a string of failures in banking, real estate and law, Sherman was in Louisiana just before the war began, running a military academy that would later become the foundation for Louisiana State University.

Though he had great friendships with many who joined the Confederacy and had no moral qualms about slavery, Sherman shared the view of many professional soldiers that secession was treason. He returned to Missouri when Louisiana seceded.

When the Civil War arrived right on schedule, one only has to read his comments to appreciate his insight and candor: “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly. Madness. A crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you are talking about. War is a terrible thing. You mistake, too, the people of the North … you are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on Earth – right at your doors. You are bound to fail!”

And fail they did.

But it was more than a lost war. So great was the sense of gloom that some wondered if we could ever reconcile. Over 620,000 lay dead – 1/12 of the North and a staggering 20 percent of the South. It was more battle deaths than all of our nation’s other wars combined. An astonishing two-thirds of Southern wealth simply disappeared, but the more daunting challenge was the emotional carnage and pure generational hatred. Said one woman rather simply: “Oh, how I hate the Yankees. I could trample on their dead bodies and spit on them forever.”

Psychologists who have studied the impact of natural disasters on society – earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and floods – speak bleakly of a broad and terrible social numbing that occurs, afflicting not simply those directly affected, but whole generations living in a disastrous, merciless waste. It is impossible to measure the full-fledged effect on the Southern psyche … their incoherent grief, their land diseased, their way of life obliterated – all without a cure.

Yet today, we still see the scars and do little to avoid the current generation of schisms that are being fed by forces seemingly determined to divide us … the most blessed people that have ever lived on this tiny planet. Tsk, tsk on us.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Civil War Saw Train Chase Worthy of a Hollywood Movie

A half sheet movie poster for Buster Keaton’s 1927 film The General sold for $16,730 at a March 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On April 12, 1862, “The General,” a small locomotive on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, pulled into Big Shanty, Ga., 25 miles north of Atlanta. The crew and passengers went to have breakfast, but James J. Andrews hung back. He and 22 other Union volunteers had orders to steal a train and burn bridges while General Ormsby Mitchel attacked Huntsville, Ala.

While a dazed sentry looked on, they uncoupled the General and three boxcars and sped north, while the conductor and two others gave chase on foot. Then they borrowed a handcar until it was derailed by a break Andrews men had made in the track. After righting the car, the railroad men then discovered another engine (the Yonah) on a siding and resumed their chase.

Andrews had stopped the General several times to cut telegraph wires and in his haste had failed to disable the Yonah. To try and stay in sync with the railroads regular timetable, he sidetracked the General and let several other trains pass by. He waited a precious 65 minutes before getting the General back in flight, which allowed the railroad men time to close the gap.

Meanwhile, the pursuing Yonah encountered three southbound trains parked on a main line, abandoned their little engine, sprinted to another junction and commandeered the larger William L. Smith engine. However, another broken rail sidelined the Smith, so the men (on foot again) flagged down the Texas. Engineer Peter Bracken quickly backed his cars into the station and resumed the chase, although still in reverse!

Andrews and his speeding raiders cut loose two boxcars and dropped cross ties across the tracks, desperately trying to gain enough time to burn rain-soaked bridges. The Texas simply pushed both boxcars on to a nearby siding and resumed pursuit of the General… at speeds of 65 mph. Up ahead, the little General, unable to stop for wood or water, ran out of steam and came to a complete stop.

The relentless Confederate pursuit, bad weather and just plain bad luck prevented the raiders from doing any lasting damage. James Andrews and seven of his men were captured, tried and hanged. Eight others later escaped from an Atlanta jail. The remaining six raiders were exchanged for prisoners of war and became the first recipients of the U.S. Medal of Honor.

This event was made into a silent movie in 1927 – The General – starring Buster Keaton in “his favorite role.” Initially a box-office failure, film critic Roger Ebert put it in his personal top 10 films of all time and it is routinely listed among the top 100 movies by the AFI and many others.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Oaths of Loyalty to the U.S. were Common at Time of Civil War

An oath of allegiance to the United States signed by Confederate surgeon Samuel Houston Caldwell at the close of the Civil War went to auction in June 2007.

By Jim O’Neal

One of the primary problems facing the federal government when the Civil War began was ensuring that its employees and military were loyal. Over 300 U.S. officers resigned to join the Confederacy, as did numerous clerks and officials. Fearful of disloyalty among those who remained, President Lincoln on April 30, 1861, ordered all military personnel to retake an oath of allegiance.

Even though these regulations were rigidly enforced, fears of disloyalty remained and numerous ad hoc oaths of allegiance were used as a means of testing and ensuring loyalty. By the summer of 1862, most of the oaths – civil and military – were combined under one oath, the Ironclad Test Oath of Loyalty.

The Ironclad Oath was named because it required an oath-taker to swear, “I have never voluntarily borne arms against the United States.” In addition, the person had to forsake any allegiance to state authority and swear “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic … [and] bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

An oath of allegiance rapidly became a test of loyalty for common citizens. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler as military governor of New Orleans required that after Oct. 12, 1861, anyone who wanted to do business in the city or with the U.S. government had to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. As stated by Butler, “It enables the recipient to say, I am an American citizen, the highest title known.”

Butler’s practice became commonplace as the war progressed, and the Ironclad Oath, or a variant, was required of thousands of federals and Southerners. People who wanted to do business with the government, Confederate prisoners of war who wanted parole, Southerners who wanted to be reimbursed for goods taken by foraging federal troops, and Union sympathizers in the South who wanted to govern themselves – all took the oath. Some took it numerous times; the record may have been set by politician Robert J. Breckinridge, who took the oath nine times between June and December 1865.

After the war, the oath presented an immediate problem for both the South and North. Since its provisions remained in effect, no former Confederate soldier or Southern citizen who had assisted in the South’s war effort could hold federal, state or local office, or serve in the military. To evade the “ironclad” portion of the oath concerning bearing arms against the United States, former Confederates had to petition the president of the United States for a pardon.

In 1884, Congress removed all the iron from the Ironclad Oath when it passed into law a new Oath of Allegiance. The 1884 oath removed all the restrictive portions of the older oaths and left it in its current form – an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].