People of South Carolina were Eager, Even Jubilant, to Start an All-Out War

This Confederate albumen photograph of Fort Sumter, taken two days after Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered, sold for $1,875 at a June 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Fort Sumter, S.C. – site of the first battle of the Civil War – was located on an artificial island inside the entrance to Charleston Harbor. A pentagon with block walls 300 feet long, 40 feet high and up to 12 feet thick was still under construction in late 1860.

On Dec. 26, U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson moved his troops from Fort Moultrie, at the edge of the harbor entrance, to Fort Sumter to reduce their exposure to an attack. Just days earlier, South Carolina had declared their state an independent republic and they resented the “foreign” U.S. flag. They considered Anderson’s transfer of troops an act of aggression.

They considered it another hostile act when the lame-duck James Buchanan administration sent an unarmed merchant ship with reinforcements in January 1861. As the ship approached Charleston Harbor, shore batteries opened fire and forced it to turn back.

Apparently, few recognized how eager (perhaps more than just eager) the people of South Carolina were to start an all-out war against what they considered the oppression of the North. Some even prayed for it to start.

On Feb. 15, 1861, the Confederate Provisional Congress in Montgomery secretly resolved that “immediate steps should be taken to obtain possession of both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens … either by negotiation or force.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis then dispatched three commissioners to Washington to try diplomatic negotiations. However, he also ordered P.G.T. Beauregard (full name Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard) to take command of the harbor and start formal preparations for the use of force.

Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard

General Beauregard (one of only eight full generals in the Confederacy … ever) proceeded to extend and enlarge the batteries, targeting the fort. His preparations nearly complete, he advised President Davis on March 27 that expulsion of the Union troops “ought now to be decided in a few days.” Davis replied that Anderson should not be allowed to buy provisions in Charleston.

Want to start a war? Surround a fort with canons … cut off any reinforcements … and restrict its provisions. Then get a match and prepare to light the fuse.

On April 10, Beauregard was ordered to demand an evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to “reduce it.”

On April 12, 1861, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds on an ill-equipped Fort Sumter. They surrendered after 34 hours. Two days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to quell the “insurrection.” The president was not willing to start a war over the slavery issue, but the taking of federal property was leading to disunion, something the president was not going to allow, even if it meant all-out war.

The U.S. flag would not be raised over Fort Sumter again until April 14, 1865, exactly four years after the surrender. Who would have guessed? Obviously, few if any of the people who were so jubilant when the war started and so utterly demoralized when it ended.

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

In Weeks Before Gettysburg, Lee was Supremely Confident

A carte de visite of Union General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker, signed, went to auction in June 2015.

By Jim O’Neal

In May 1863, General Robert E. Lee and his nimble Confederate Army of Northern Virginia defeated the Union Army at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The North’s Army of the Potomac was twice the size of Lee’s forces and led by General “Fighting Joe” Hooker. This stunning defeat would result in President Lincoln replacing Hooker just before the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg.

At Chancellorsville, Lee lost his most trusted general, Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson, when Confederate pickets accidentally shot him. He survived the initial wound, but died eight days later of pneumonia. In one of life’s little ironies, Jackson also had an arm amputated. General Lee always complained that he (Lee) had “lost his right arm” when Jackson died.

The supremely confident Lee then turned north to replenish rapidly dwindling supplies and further undermine Union morale. Another convincing victory would surely accelerate the growing anti-war sentiment and erode Lincoln’s declining support. What actually followed was the Battle of Gettysburg, the most famous battle in the entire Civil War.

The battle started on July 1, 1863, with Lee intent on inflicting severe damage to the Union Army. Had he been successful, it is highly likely that the war would have ended much differently. However, after two days of fighting, it was clear that the outcome was in doubt and Lee’s invincibility was at risk since attacks on both Union flanks had failed.

In an act of uncharacteristic desperation, Lee ordered an all-out assault on the middle, with a massive artillery bombardment followed by an attack using nine infantry brigades totaling 12,500 men. Major General George Pickett was one of three Confederate generals who led the assault and “Pickett’s Charge” is now commonly called the “High-water Mark of the Confederacy.” It turned out to be a crushing defeat and the Southern forces never fully recovered.

General Lee, who had turned down an offer to head Union forces, whose ancestors included two signers of the Declaration of Independence, and was himself the son of a Revolutionary War hero, had led the entire Army of Northern Virginia to an open-field defeat in a high-risk gamble that failed spectacularly.

Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle in American history and one to spawn the most enduring controversies, would be Lee’s last offensive operation in the Civil War.

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Grant was Popular, But Unable to Deal with Political Complexities

ulysses-s-grant-magnificent-silk-1868-campaign-flag-banner
A Ulysses S. Grant 1868 silk campaign flag banner sold for $14,340 at a May 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

As the departing carriages occupied by Andrew Johnson and his party passed out of the White House gate, the roar of voices heralded the approach of the incoming president’s inaugural parade.

It traversed 15th Street and turned west on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the vanguard of soldiers came into view. Ulysses S. Grant and several others rode in the first carriage, an open barouche. At 1 p.m., the procession stopped and Grant’s carriage rolled through the gates leaving everyone else in the street.

At 46, the idol of the nation assumed the position of commander-in-chief in 1869. There are few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice, Grant observed philosophically in his memoirs. A mere 10 years earlier, he had been an obscure citizen of Galena, Ill., an Army veteran retired early and a businessman struggling to support a young family. He had been considered a failure, but the Civil War had dramatically bettered his life.

Grant had a simple and uncomplicated view of himself as the administrative officer of the nation, drawing a strong analogy between his role as president and his former one as commanding general of the U.S. Army. He believed that the people’s will was expressed through Congress and that the job of president was to manage the machinery of government and obey Congress. His acknowledgment of the superior authority of the legislative branch was appreciated by a people exhausted by the long duel between Andrew Johnson and Congress.

Grant would call the White House home for eight years, the longest time he had lived anywhere. He would be the first two-term president since Andrew Jackson (10 different men had held the job after “Old Hickory” departed). Where those before him sought to achieve their objectives through their conduct as president, Grant’s motivation was neither intellectual nor imaginative, with only a touch of originality. He simply used his prestige to bring stability to the nation by representing the popular image of the “good life” in an era that would be called the Gilded Age.

However, his military background was not enough to equip him for the complexities of governing a large and swiftly growing nation, and historians have largely judged him a failure as president. The common-sense approach that worked so well on the battlefield proved naïve in a world of shrewd politicians and intrigue that permitted shady self-dealing and the aura of corruption.

One thing is certain. He was one hell of a general and knew exactly how to win wars, irrespective of the carnage and loss of life involved. He certainly deserves a lot of credit for ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Buchanan Left Looming Disaster of Seceding South to Lincoln

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Commemorative medals were gifted to a Japanese delegation when they visited the United States and President Buchanan in 1860. This Silver Japanese Embassy Medal sold for $10,157.50 at a November 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Abraham Lincoln began making appearances in the East in early 1860 and emerged a national figure. That summer, Republicans obtained a semblance of unity behind a ticket of Lincoln for president and Hannibal Hamlin for vice president. Their victory in November was no surprise at the White House or anywhere else.

Outgoing President James Buchanan had four months left to serve and knew he was sitting on a powder keg. He started to distance himself from Southern advisers and, as disunion started to loom as a reality, Cabinet meetings became an ordeal. Buchanan had a sharp legal mind and a keen perception of people; he did not share the president-elect’s optimism that threats of secession were mere tactical bluffs by vocal Southerners.

However, the bachelor Buchanan and his niece Harriet Lane, who served as official White House hostess, entertained as usual during the winter of 1860-61. Each week, there were two major dinners for about 40 guests in the State Dining Room. Smaller “family” dinners honored Cabinet members. They were all gala affairs with masses of flowers and superb French cuisine with separate wines for each course. In prison, five years later, ex-Senator Jefferson Davis wrote that the Buchanan White House had come closest of any to being a “Royal Court.”

On election day, a committee from South Carolina had called at the White House asking Buchanan what his plans were for the unfinished forts in Charleston harbor. In his desk was a puzzling document marked “Scott’s views” from General Winfield Scott. It presumed that a Lincoln victory would result in a takeover of the small forts and, importantly, every military installation in every state that seceded!

Without answering the Southern committee, Buchanan convened his Cabinet to debate what should be done. Finally, Buchanan simply dismissed the issue and the Cabinet heads left. They were passed on the stairs by a messenger bringing the news that the commander of Fort Moultrie-Charleston had been confronted by a mob while trying to transfer supplies.

This was the first overt action taken against the Union by the hotheaded South Carolinians.

On Dec. 20, 1860, Buchanan wrote to a friend: “I have never enjoyed better health or a more tranquil spirit. … All our troubles have not cost me an hour’s sleep or a single meal. … I am leaving the rest to Providence.”

That same evening, word was received: South Carolina had seceded.

During the last days of December, members of the Cabinet began to resign. Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb was the first to go. Most of the others followed after much shouting, table-pounding and book-slamming rage. Gray-faced and unsmiling, the president sat puffing on his cigar as his Cabinet fell apart.

On New Year’s Day 1861, South Carolina began seizing federal property around Charleston harbor and then it spread. Six more states seceded and grabbed forts, offices, custom houses, mints and arsenals. But Buchanan stubbornly maintained the status quo, waiting for his successor to shoulder the burden.

Just after 11 a.m. on Feb. 14, a messenger raced up the stairs to the Cabinet room and slipped a card into the president’s hand. Buchanan read it and stood up smiling. “Gentlemen,” he announced, “Uncle Abe is in the Red Room below. Let us not keep him waiting.”

There was a new sheriff in town.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The 1850s Represented a Challenging Time for America

u-s-senator-jefferson-davis-gold-pocket-watch
U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis presented this gold pocket watch to Franklin Pierce the year Pierce was nominated for president. Pierce was Davis’ favored candidate since Pierce had not openly opposed slavery. This watch sold for $15,535 at a June 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

jefferson-davis-and-franklin-pierceIn 1819, the United States was a divided nation with 11 states that permitted slavery and an equal number that did not. When Missouri applied for admission to join the Union as a slave state, tensions escalated dramatically since this would upset the delicate balance. It would also set a precedent by establishing the principle that Congress could make laws regarding slavery, a right many believed was reserved for the states.

In an effort to preserve harmony, Congress passed a compromise that accepted Missouri as a slave state and Massachusetts would be divided (creating Maine) and admitted as a free state. The passage of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 earned U.S. Senator Henry Clay the nickname of the “Great Pacificator.”

It was the first real crisis over the slavery issue and kicked the can all the way to the 1850s, however, observers like Thomas Jefferson were profoundly upset. He said just the threat of disunion in 1820 caused him to be apprehensive about the future. He foresaw the potential for civil war, saying, “My God, this country is going to have a blow up. When it hits us, it’s going to be like a tornado.”

Those words would prove to be eerily prophetic.

By the 1850s, the disagreement had splintered into a five-way dispute. Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans arguing with the Southern Democrats. The Northern Democrats, led by Stephen A. Douglas, versus the Southern Democrats through Jefferson Davis. There were heated arguments between Frederick Douglass (and the political abolitionists) and William Lloyd Garrison, who favored non-violent moral suasion, and both against the non-political-process abolition that led to John Brown’s violent actions.

The War with Mexico (1846-48) had fueled these contentious debates since there was no consensus on how to treat the vast new territories of California, Utah, New Mexico or even Texas. After years of wrangling, the Compromise of 1850 put a bandage on it and several other lingering issues (e.g., the Fugitive Slave Act, the banning of slave trade in Washington, D.C.). Neither side was satisfied, but the Union remained intact.

However, the tentative peace was fleeting. When the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, with cooperation between U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas and President Franklin Pierce, the inevitability of a civil war was finally a stark reality. The election of Lincoln in 1860 was the final straw and seven Southern states seceded, even before his inauguration, to form a new confederacy.

Formal hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on the Federal seaport of Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., and would not end for four bloody years. Even Jefferson’s metaphor of a tornado never contemplated the death and destruction that took place.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell]

Lincoln’s Assassination Shows How Nation Has Survived Perilous Times

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An 1863 John Wilkes Booth cabinet card sold for $1,912 at a December 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre while the Lincolns were enjoying the play “Our American Cousin.” A Confederate sympathizer, Booth was the younger brother of famed Shakespearian actor Edwin Booth and had become a popular actor himself. A meticulous planner, he had attended a rehearsal the day before and devised his escape plan.

There is a fascinating backstory to this tragedy that started on April 3 when news of the surrender of Richmond was received at the War Department. The telegraph operator had jumped to his feet, opened a window and shouted out “Richmond has fallen!” This extraordinary good news spread quickly and almost by magic the streets were filled with noisy, jubilant people. Among the talking, laughing and shouting, the local newspaper reported that “many wept like children.”

People were convinced that this long nightmare was nearly over. Generally, they were right, except for a series of dramatic events that could have altered the future in any number of possible ways.

It started the following day when Secretary of State William Henry Seward was critically injured in a carriage accident. He was with his son Fred, daughter Fanny and her friend Mary Titus. When the driver stopped to close a carriage door, the horses bolted and Seward jumped out to stop the runaway horses, caught his heel and landed violently on the pavement. After regaining consciousness, he was carried to his home severely injured.

Then on April 11, two days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, several thousand people gathered at the White House to hear Lincoln give a speech about returning the Southern states, extending suffrage to blacks and the benefits of school to all children. JWB was in the crowd and furiously declared, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever give.”

Earlier, Booth had planned to kidnap Lincoln, but now he was determined to kill him, along with Vice President Andrew Johnson and Seward in a choreographed decapitation of the Union government. The triple assassination was set for 10:15 p.m. on Good Friday. His accomplice, George Atzerodt, was assigned to kill the VP and Lewis Powell was to kill Seward in his bed while he was recovering.

Only JWB was successful. Atzerodt lost his nerve, got drunk and left the Kirkwood hotel where the VP was in suite 68. Powell went on a rampage in Seward’s house, stabbing him three times in the throat and neck. A metal brace on his neck miraculously saved his life.

The world would now know the power of a single gunshot, yet for America this was a first. Never had a president been assassinated or even died during a war. As sorrow gradually spread throughout the nation, there remained one more haunting question: Would it all come undone and devolve into an endless conflict?

We know the answer now, but it was a perilous time for our troubled nation.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

After Civil War, Centralization of Government Changed Fabric of Society

texas-confederate-bonnie-blue-flag
This Texas Confederate “Bonnie Blue” flag, carried by the 3rd Texas State Cavalry, is one of the rarest Confederate flags in existence. It realized $47,800 at a June 2007 Heritage auction

By Jim O’Neal

On May 10, 1865, President Andrew Johnson announced that armed resistance to the federal government had officially ended. However, on May 12-13 in the Battle of Palmito Ranch, a modest force of several hundred Union cavalry attacked a Confederate outpost on the banks of the Rio Grande, 12 miles from Brownsville, Texas.

Confederate troops had done nothing to break an unofficial truce with the Union forces, but after two days of fighting, they forced Union soldiers to first withdraw and then retreat. The skirmish is generally recognized as the final battle of the Civil War.

Before all the Union Army went home, there was a Grand Review in Washington on May 23-24 when Johnson and General Ulysses S. Grant watched the march of the triumphant Union armies down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol. This great procession of 150,000 men would take two full days, while thousands hoisted flags, hummed patriotic songs and showered the troops with flowers. Here was the titanic armada of the United States, the mightiest concentration of power in history. The first day was dominated by the Army of the Potomac, Washington’s own army. At 9 sharp the next day, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s great army took its turn. They were sunburned and shaggy in stark contrast to the crisp and well-kept group from the previous day.

The demobilization was completed very effectively. Within two months, more than 600,000 troops had been discharged and a year later, the million-man army was down to a mere 65,000 men. Further, the number of warships was reduced from 500 to 117 by the end of 1865. Thus, the armed forces did not remain a permanent power and the mustered-out military readjusted to civilian life quite easily. This was much different from those returning from World War II or Vietnam, or the 3 to 4 million still rotating from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (some on their fifth and sixth deployments in this l-o-n-g war).

Still, life after the Civil War was profoundly different. Aside from the human carnage and dismal impoverishment of the South, the centralization of the government changed the fabric of society. Until 1861, the only direct contact with the federal government was usually the postal service. Now, the War Department controlled state militias, direct taxes were imposed, national banking instituted, and federal money printed or minted.

The most radical change was naturally in the South. All seceded states were under martial law, an occupation force maintained law and order, and 4 million blacks were neither slaves nor citizens. The North imposed no organized vengeance; no Confederates were tried for treason – the only Southern war criminal was Henry Wirz, commander of the prisoner-of-war camp near Andersonville, Georgia, who was hanged in November 1865. And a military court dispensed swift justice to the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspirators, with four hanged at the Old Penitentiary on July 7.

However, reconstruction of the pre-war Union of the United States was under way and Lincoln’s most fervent prayer – reunification – finally a reality despite the horrendous loss of life involved. Peace had been restored.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

When Nation Faces Uncertainty, Good Leaders do What They do Best

MERRITT MAUZEY (1897-1973)
Merritt Mauzey’s Depression-era oil on masonite, Uncle Fud and Aunt Boo, realized $77,675 at a December 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In January 1931, a 46-year-old tenant farmer drew the nation’s attention to a small event in rural Arkansas. Homer C. Coney harvested corn and cotton on land he rented for $8 an acre. But a tremendous drought the previous summer meant that most farmers had no crop, no money and no way to survive the winter.

Coney tried to sell his truck for $25 … no takers. So he and his family – trapped in a one-room shack – tried to exist on a Red Cross relief ration of $12/month. Coney, his wife and five sons lived on beans mixed with lard (to “give it flavor”).

A young neighbor mother visited the family frantically seeking help because her children had not eaten for two days. Coney said, “Lady you wait here. I am a-going to get some food over at Bells – the Red Cross man that never give out nothing.” In England, Ark., Coney discovered a big crowd of people, hungry since the Red Cross office there was out of food vouchers. Soon, there was a crowd of 500 people who confronted the mayor and chief of police. “We’re not beggars and will work for 50 cents a day, but we will not let our families starve.”

All over the country, people read about the brave souls who gathered to demand food. “500 Farmers Storm Arkansas Town Demanding Food for Their Children,” read the front page of The New York Times. “You let this country get hungry and they are going to eat, no matter what happens to budgets, income taxes or Wall Street values,” wrote populist Will Rogers in his newspaper column. “Washington mustn’t forget who rules when it comes to a showdown.”

The Great Southern Drought of 1930 was a catastrophe, to be sure. But this act of desperation was only a small part of the bigger issue in the new decade. In 1930, 26,000 businesses collapsed. In 1931, 28,000 more, and by the beginning of 1932, 3,500 banks, holding billions in uninsured savings, went under. 12 million people (25 percent of the workforce) were unemployed and real earnings fell by one-third. In some cities, it was worse; 50 percent of Chicago was out of work, 80 percent of Toledo.

Soup lines stretched as far as the eye could see. America the land of possibility was the land of despair. In 1931, the people of Cameroon in West Africa sent a check to the people of New York for $3.77 to aid the “starving.” About 20,000 veterans of WWI arrived at the U.S. Capitol to demand early payment of their pensions. On July 28, 1932, General Douglas MacArthur – side by side with Major Dwight Eisenhower with a parade of infantry, cavalry and tanks – routed the squatters as ordered.

Today, it is hard to imagine the level of expectation that greeted President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he took the reins from the much-maligned Herbert Hoover. However, the Democratic platform in 1932 was much the same as Hoover’s: a balanced budget and a curb on spending. Even the term “New Deal” was a fluke line from a nomination acceptance, until it surprised everyone and became popular.

But Roosevelt had a supreme confidence, enormous energy, and a determination equal to that of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He quickly cribbed a line from Henry David Thoreau (“Nothing is so much to be feared as fear”), began fireside chats with the American people from a room with no fireplace, and started leading.

That’s what good leaders do.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

By Making War as Harsh as Possible, Sherman Waged Battle on Minds of the South

Brady Imperial Albumen Photograph Sherman and his Generals
This albumen photograph of “Sherman and his Generals,” published by Matthew Brady in 1865, realized $4,182.50 at a December 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Well, you might as well attempt to put out the flames of a burning house with a squirt gun!”

This was William Tecumseh Sherman’s sarcastic reaction to President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation on April 15, 1861, for 75,000 three-month volunteers to quell the secession of Southern states from the Union.

Exactly four years later on April 15, 1865, Lincoln would be among the last of the 620,000 to die attempting to stop the war of secession.

Sherman had earlier warned: “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 …” He thus very accurately described the four years of hell that would rain down on the United States as the country descended into war.

For several generations of Americans, and probably yet today, the name William Tecumseh Sherman would conjure up fear and pure hatred, especially among those familiar with his famous March to the Sea. Also known as the Savannah Campaign, it started after the burning of Atlanta (so vividly depicted in Gone With the Wind) and lasted from Nov. 15 to Dec. 21, 1864. It was viewed as an act of savage brutality, with burning cities, ransacked plantations and terror-stricken women and children.

But it did help to bring the senseless war to an earlier end.

By forcing non-combatants to feel the “hard hand of war” and making the war as harsh as possible, it succeeded in undermining Confederate morale, triggered a wave of desertions and proved to the rebels their cause was hopeless and unwinnable. By using war against the minds of his opponents, the fear Sherman created was more powerful than his acts of destruction. The Confederacy was to be no more.

On Dec. 25, 1864, Sherman telegraphed Lincoln: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition and about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

A few weeks after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Southern General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his three armies to Sherman at Bennett Place near Durham, N.C. The fighting would soon come to an end.

Sherman had succeeded Grant as Commander of the Western Front and when Grant became president, Sherman became Commanding General of the Army. When asked about his relationship with Grant, Sherman famously said, “General Grant was a great General. He stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk. And sir, we will stand by each other forever.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Lincoln Family Saw Great Success, But Also Seemed Cursed

Robert Todd Lincoln Carte de Visite
This Robert Todd Lincoln carte de visite dates to 1861, when he was 18 years old.

By Jim O’Neal

Many historians cling to the belief that Robert Todd Lincoln was the most successful of all presidential children, including those who also became president. He was one of the best businessmen of his generation, a powerful and celebrated figure in society and a public servant. He was a cabinet member in two different administrations and a superb diplomat in another.

He was also present at many famous events.

As a late entrant into the Civil War, he was a member of Major General U.S. Grant’s personal staff and was there when Robert E. Lee surrendered at the McLean House near Appomattox. He actually witnessed the formal signing. Three months later, he was at his father’s side when he died and then accompanied his mother back to the White House. She was too bereaved to attend the funeral or to accompany the body back to Springfield.

Robert performed both of these tasks with poise and dignity. Later, he would be close by when both presidents James A. Garfield and William McKinley were assassinated.

But the Lincoln family almost seemed cursed. Mary Todd Lincoln grew more erratic and confused. In the spring of 1875, distraught and humiliated by her behavior, Robert Lincoln decided to have his mother committed to an insane asylum. He had her followed by Pinkerton agency detectives to record her activities, enlisted six of Chicago’s finest doctors to testify (none of whom examined her), hired her an attorney, and then conspired with the prosecutor to ensure a consistent story for the court.

Mary Todd Lincoln
After her husband’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln returned to Illinois, where she lived with her sons.

On May 9, 1875, Mary Lincoln was taken to a public courtroom where she was confronted by this cabal. Her attorney cross-examined no witnesses and called none of his own, including Mary Lincoln. The final witness was Robert Lincoln, who provided the coup de grace. “I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has been a source of great anxiety to me.”

The only example of Mary Lincoln’s sanity occurred when she devised a clever scheme to get a release from the Bellevue asylum in Batavia, Ill., where she had been confined. She then made it to her sister’s house in Springfield and then on to Europe, fearful that Robert would strike again.

Mary Todd Lincoln spent her final years in anonymity and loneliness in the trendy resort village of Pau, France, near the Spanish border. Referring to Robert, her only remaining son, as a “wicked monster,” she insisted in her letters that even his father had always disliked him. Dismissed by the public as “crazy,” she subsisted for many years as an exile in a foreign country, relying on her presidential widow’s pension and fluent French.

Finally, in 1882, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln returned home to Springfield, but even her death was not an easy affair. At the end, she was covered with boils, almost completely paralyzed and blind. She died on July 16, 1882, after a severe stroke. She was 63 years old.

An autopsy revealed a cerebral disease she had for years and her entire estate was inherited by her surviving son, the “wicked monster” Robert Todd Lincoln.

Historians have a wide array of criteria to judge greatness. Obviously, family harmony is not one of them.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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 Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].