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].

Fillmore Often Makes the ‘Forgettable Presidents’ Club

Millard Fillmore appears on the lower right corner of this Union Bank of Missouri $100 Color Proof. It realized $61,687.50 at an October 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, was the last not affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican parties. Born in a log cabin, he developed slowly since he did not read well and was apprenticed when he was 14 years old. After several years, he bought out his indenture for $30, but never saw a map of the United States until he was 19.

However, he learned to love books and spent a lot of time just reading.

Later, his entry into politics was through the New York State Assembly as an anti-Mormon candidate. Eventually, he made it into the U.S. House by following Whig Party policies. He even made a run at being the Whig Party VP candidate in 1844, but finished a weak third. Then, to top it off, he was defeated for governor of New York that same year.

It looked like his career had peaked.

However, his luck changed in 1848 when the Whigs picked General Zachary Taylor to run for president. Taylor was a slaveholder from Louisiana, had never run for office, and had never even voted.

Taylor and Fillmore had also never met, but the Whigs hoped Fillmore would help balance the ticket … a strategy that worked!

Vice President Fillmore was largely ignored when the administration finally took office. That is until President Taylor died unexpectedly and Fillmore was thrust into the Oval Office.

Alas, he gradually lost support of the Whig Party and was unable to generate a lot of support for reelection. One major cause was signing and then enforcing the proslavery Fugitive Slave Law, which alienated Northern Whigs.

During the 1852 convention, Fillmore made a valiant effort, but on the 53rd ballot, Winfield Scott finally prevailed as the Whig Party candidate. He would go on to lose the general election to Democrat Franklin Pierce.

In 1856, the American Party (“Know Nothings”) convinced Fillmore to make another run for the presidency; he won a single state. Curiously, many historians argue that Fillmore was never an actual American Party member, never attended a single meeting, and was even out of the country when all this happened.

All of this is true, but they overlook the fact that he did mail a letter affirming his acceptance of the nomination. So, I say he was an official candidate despite the unusual circumstances and the rather obvious lack of any real interest.

Fillmore often makes the “Forgettable Presidents” club … but we remember him because he was the first president to turn down an Honorary Degree … a Doctor of Civil Law from Oxford. His reason was a little hokey (he could not read or understand it since it was in Latin), but that only makes him more qualified for our club.

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].

Teddy Roosevelt Brought Vim, Vigor and Vitality to the White House

theodore-roosevelt-exceptionally-rare-type-of-equality-button
Teddy Roosevelt political pins often illustrated the theme of “equality,” inspired by Booker T. Washington’s visit to the White House. This rare variant sold for nearly $9,000 at a November 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During his first year as president, Teddy Roosevelt left the White House as he had found it. But when the Roosevelts and their six lively children moved in, it had become obvious that there was insufficient room for both governmental offices and a family home. This prompted a complete remodeling, the first in nearly 100 years. Leading architects designed a new West Wing of executive offices that was joined to the main building by a colonnade. The second floor of the main building had the offices replaced by private bedrooms, sitting rooms and playrooms for the presidential family.

Like John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland, Roosevelt had not been sent by the voters to live in the White House, having moved in only after the death of an elected president. He knew he lacked the public and party power to support the new international presidency that President William McKinley developed, yet he was destined to dramatize it to the world.

Born in 1858, he is (surprisingly) the only president born in New York City. The first new president of the 20th century and the youngest man to ever hold the office, he brought a vim, vigor and vitality to the White House that swept away any lingering cobwebs of the 19th century. Later, elected in his own right, Roosevelt began to act with an even bolder style than before. In his annual message to Congress in December 1904, he announced an expansion of the concept of the Monroe Doctrine that became known as the Roosevelt Corollary.

The Russo-Japanese War had been going on for more than a year when TR began efforts in 1905 as a mediator. He succeeded in getting the two nations to sign a peace pact in Portsmouth, N.H. On Dec. 10, 1906, he became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of the first controversial issues had occurred during his first year in office on October 16 when he held a “family supper.” Among the invited guests was the great educator Booker T. Washington, whose biography, Up From Slavery, was being widely read. The press reaction was instantaneous; this dinner guest was the hottest news since the McKinley assassination.

“Probably The First Negro Ever Entertained at the White House” screamed the headlines of the Atlanta newspaper, and many others were also harsh in their criticism. No African-American received a special invitation to the WH for many years.

It seems exquisitely delicious and ironic that a black family has had their “family meals” in the same White House over the past 2,800-plus nights and, importantly, anyone of any race is only there by their special invitation!

Things do change.

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].

Ineffective Leadership is the Last Thing Needed in the White House

franklin-pierce-daguerreotype
This Franklin Pierce daguerreotype, housed in a leatherette case, sold for $15,525 at a November 2003 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president and also the last to represent the kind of American nationalism that had appeared during the War of 1812. His successor, Franklin Pierce (1853-57), was a northern Democrat who supported the extension of slavery and a nominee selected by his party in order to win both northern and southern votes. He had praised the Compromise of 1850 and promised to prevent slavery from becoming a national issue.

He was swept into office with the greatest electoral landslide since James Monroe.

A politician’s politician, the curly-headed Pierce never lost an election. At his inaugural ceremony, he stood away from the lectern and spoke extemporaneously; it was more of a sermon than an inaugural address. He challenged the nation with the promise of a bright, prosperous future and his listeners cheered as though they had been delivered at last.

He was also a master of knowing how to get along with all people – evidenced by the fact he is the only president in history who served a complete term without making a single change in his Cabinet. But he totally misjudged the temper of the time, since he regarded the abolitionists as a lunatic fringe that should be ignored. And when he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the repeal of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, he unwittingly let loose a storm that made slavery a greater national issue than ever before.

Unable to accomplish much due to a deeply divided Congress, President Pierce still desperately wanted to be nominated for a second term. But just before the Democratic Convention began in Cincinnati on June 2, 1856, reports of bloodshed in Kansas alarmed the country. Armed battles raged between anti- and pro-slavery factions, firing up public anger.

The telegraph wires clicked constantly, with Pierce anxiously reading each dispatch. In the oval room, he read newspapers until his eyes grew too tired and then had his wife read them to him. He followed every detail of the convention, considerably more confident than he should have been. At the convention, Pierce’s supporters abandoned him in favor of Stephen A. Douglas, but the strategy failed and James Buchanan took the prize home to Pennsylvania.

Buchanan was the last of the weak, compromising northern Democratic presidents, more sympathetic to slave owners than to northern abolitionists. When he tried to push through Kansas as a slave state, he infuriated the North and shattered the Southern Democratic Party. As Southern states seceded from the Union, one by one, in the last months of his administration, Buchanan stood by helplessly, unable to take resolute action.

This string of three weak, ineffective men – Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan – clearly demonstrate the unequivocal effects of poor leadership, as the catastrophic violence of a civil war nearly destroyed our young 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].