General Lee’s Decision Avoided the ‘Vietnamization of America’

Robert E. Lee declined President Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

By Jim O’Neal

In late 1955, the Tappan Zee Bridge – spanning the Hudson River in New York – was opened with seven lanes for motor traffic. Two months ago, it was closed and is systematically being demolished. The deteriorating bridge, known in the governor’s office as the “hold-your-breath bridge,” was featured in the documentary The Crumbling of America, the story of the infrastructure crisis in the United States.

Also in this same category is the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which connects the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery and is metaphorically described as what rejoined the North and South after the Civil War. First proposed in 1886 as a memorial to General Ulysses S. Grant, it was blocked in Congress until President Warren G. Harding got snarled in a three-hour traffic jam in 1921 en route to the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Congress quickly approved his request for $25,000 to build the bridge and it finally opened in January 1932.

Nearby is Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. This was the home for the Lee family for 30 years and where R.E.L. made the fateful decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army on April 21, 1861, and join the Confederate States. He had declined President Abraham Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

In June 1862, Congress enacted a property tax on all “insurrectionary” land and added an amendment in 1863 requiring the tax to be paid in person. Ill and behind Confederate lines, Mary Lee was unable to comply and the Lees never slept there again. The property was auctioned off on Jan. 11, 1864, and the high bidder ($26,800) was the U.S. government.

Secretary of War William Stanton approved the conversion of the Lee estate to a military cemetery in 1864. On May 13, a Confederate POW was buried there (renamed Arlington National Cemetery) and more than 400,000 have joined him, including President Taft, President JFK and my dear friend Roger Enrico.

For 15 years, I passed a statue of Robert E. Lee driving to my Dallas office. It invariably invoked memories of the wisdom of this soldier who surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Most of his top aides tried to dissuade Lee from surrendering, arguing they could disband into the familiar countryside and hold out indefinitely in a stalemate. Eventually, Northern soldiers would simply return to their homes and then the South could regroup.

Thus did Robert E. Lee, so revered for his leadership in war, make his most historic contribution – to peace! By this one momentous decision, he spared the country the divisive guerilla war that would have followed … a vile and poisonous conflict that would have fractured the country perhaps permanently. Or as newspaper columnist Tom Wicker deftly put it, “The Vietnamization of America.”

Alas, Dallas city leaders recently removed the Lee statue and I sincerely hope they find some relief from the anguish they have suffered from this piece of marble sequestered so long. However, I suspect they will just move on to some other injustice. It reminds me of feeding jellybeans to pacify a ravenous bear. When you (inevitably) run out of jellybeans, he eats you.

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].

Chester Arthur Surprised His Critics, Overcame Negative Reputation

This ribbon with an engraved portrait of Chester Alan Arthur, issued as a souvenir for an Oct. 11, 1882, “Dinner to The President of the United States by The City of Boston,” sold for $437 at a November 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Chester Alan Arthur to the lucrative post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871. Arthur held the job for seven years, and with an annual gross income of $50,000, was able to accumulate a modest fortune. He was responsible for the collection of about 75 percent of the entire nation’s duties from ships that landed in his jurisdiction, which included the entire coast of New York state, the Hudson River and ports in New Jersey.

In 1872, he raised significant contributions from Custom House employees to support Grant’s successful re-election for a second term. The spoils system was working as designed, despite occasional charges of corruption.

Five years later, the Jay Commission was created to formally investigate corruption in the New York Custom House and (future president) Chester Arthur was the primary witness. The commissioner recommended a thorough housecleaning and President Rutherford B. Hayes fired Arthur and then offered him an appointment as consul general in Paris. Arthur refused and went back to New York law and politics.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention, eventual nominee James Garfield first offered the VP slot to wealthy New York Congressman Levi Morton (later vice president for Benjamin Harrison), who refused. Garfield then turned to Chester Arthur, who, when he accepted, declared, “The office of the vice president is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining.” It would be the only election he would ever win, but it was enough to foist him into the presidency.

The Garfield-Arthur ticket prevailed and after being sworn in on March 4, 1881, the 49-year-old Garfield’s first act was to turn and kiss his aged mother. It was the first time a president’s mother had ever been present at an inauguration. She would outlive her son by almost seven years. President James Polk (1845-1849) also died three years before his mother, the first time that had happened.

On the morning of July 2, President Garfield was entering the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C., where he was to board a train to attend the 25th reunion of his class at Williams College. A mentally disturbed office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, shot him twice. He died 80 days later and for the fourth time in history, a man clearly only meant to be vice president ascended to the presidency.”

“CHET ARTHUR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! GOOD GOD!”

Although President Arthur’s greatest achievement may have been the complete renovation of the White House, he surprised even some of his harshest critics. Mark Twain may have summed it up best: “I am but one in 55 million, still in the opinion of this one-fifty-five millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s administration.”

Faint praise, yet probably accurate. (First, do no harm.)

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].

For Anthony and Women’s Rights, Failure was Impossible

An 1873 letter by Susan B. Anthony, written one month after her trial for voting illegally, realized $9,375 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Nov. 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony wrote to Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “Well, I have been & gone & done it!! – positively voted the Republican ticket – strait [sic] – this a.m. at 7 o’clock.”

Anthony had cast her ballot at a barbershop in Rochester, N.Y. She was one of 6,431,149 citizens who voted in the election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley, an election Grant won decisively by more than 760,000 votes. Three weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, Anthony and a handful of other women who voted with her were arrested and indicted for having “knowingly voted without having a lawful right to vote.”

The verdict at her trial was a forgone conclusion. The judge refused to let her take the witness stand and then instructed the all-male jury to find her guilty without any deliberation. Anthony succeeded in being heard, however, when the judge asked if she “had anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?” She quickly replied,

“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say, for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject … doomed to political subjection.”

Susan B. Anthony

She then refused to pay the $100 fine the judge ordered, but he refused to imprison her, thereby preventing her from appealing to a higher court. Undeterred, Anthony took her case to the public and had thousands of copies of the trial proceedings printed and widely distributed.

Susan B. Anthony would find other ways to relentlessly press the cause of women’s suffrage. Brought up as a Quaker and active as an early supporter of temperance, she soon realized that until women could vote, politicians would not pay any attention to them. For more than 50 years, she urged lawmakers to enfranchise the other half of America’s citizens. She attended her first women’s rights convention in Syracuse, in 1852, and with Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866. The two women published a feisty newspaper, The Revolution, whose masthead proclaimed “Men their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”

She appeared before every U.S. Congress between 1869 and 1906 to ask them to pass a Suffrage amendment. She was prepared as any modern-day lobbyist – her copy of the seating chart for all members of Congress has survived. Her speech to a Senate Committee in 1904 reflected her frustration: “I never come here, and this is the seventeenth Congress I have attended, but with the feeling of injustice which ought not to be borne, because the women, one-half the people, are not able to get a hearing from the Representatives and Senators of the United States.”

Her combative tone did not mellow with age. When President Theodore Roosevelt sent congratulations in 1906 for her 86th birthday celebration, her response was indignant: “I wish the men would do something besides extend congratulations … I would rather have him say a word to Congress for the cause than to praise me endlessly.”

She ended that evening’s gathering, her final public appearance, with a ringing prophecy: “There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause … but with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible!”

Less than a month later, on March 13, 1906, she died at her home in Rochester, N.Y. The rights for which she had worked so tirelessly were finally won when the Nineteenth Amendment, the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment,” passed on June 4, 1919, as women stood on the steps of the Capitol to cheer. The vote was close, only one more than the required two-thirds. To enable the passage, two Congressmen had come from hospitals to vote aye; a third left his suffragist wife’s deathbed to cast a vote, then returned for her funeral. When the State of Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify, the amendment was officially adopted on Aug. 18, 1920 – nearly half a century after Susan B. Anthony had illegally voted for Ulysses S. Grant.

A life. A cause. Finally accomplished.

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 Helped Establish America’s First National Park

Thomas Moran’s watercolor, pencil and gouache on paper titled From the Top of Great Fall, Yellowstone, 1871, sold for $51,500 in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In March 1872, a tract of land beneath the headwaters of the Yellowstone River became a national park when the U.S. Congress passed an act to authorize it and President Ulysses S. Grant approved it.

A great deal of the credit belongs to two 19th-century artists: Thomas Moran (amazing color sketches and paintings) and William Henry Jackson (brilliant photographs). They provided the real impetus to convince Congress to set aside 2.2 million acres of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho wilderness as the first national park in the United States (and probably the world).

Because Congress had a chance to see Moran’s and Jackson’s breathtaking pictures, America got Yellowstone National Park.

Before the artists’ work became widely known, little reliable proof was available to support the fanciful reports that had been trickling back East. They had started shortly after the famous Lewis and Clark journey had ended in 1806 after an epic three-year discovery which did NOT include any of the Yellowstone area.

However, there were numerous eyewitness reports from trappers and mountain men who described a strange landscape filled with boiling springs, towering geysers and foul-spelling vapors. One prominent fur trader, Warren Angus Ferris, wrote: “The largest of these wonderful fountains projects water several feet in diameter to the height of more than 150 feet.” But without images to support these claims, they were generally considered exaggerated and only partially credible.

As an aside, there was also a plain within Yellowstone called Two-Ocean Plateau, from which creeks trickled into streams that eventually passed to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The result was that Yellowstone’s melting snow peaks watered great swaths of American land. Yet none of those passing on the Oregon Trail came close enough to see it. Neither did the hardy Mormon pioneers who were heading for the valley where they would build Salt Lake City.

Even those heading for the Montana gold fields turned away at the sight of the seemingly impenetrable-looking mountains. All of them balked at the high passes that were still choked with snow in late June. So all the contemporary maps marked Yellowstone as “unexplored” and “terra incognita” or did not bother to mention it at all.

In 1860, it was probably the final important place in all of America to be so little-known.

However, by 1870, the Montana Territory was becoming populated as gold and silver were discovered. Towns were built and unknown corners of the territory were being explored. One group even headed up the Yellowstone River and what they discovered over the next six weeks was almost beyond belief. One member, Nathaniel Langford, wrote two essays for Scribner’s Magazine. They told of truly amazing things: hundred-foot geysers, enormous waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, wild-flowered meadows and towering snowcapped volcanoes.

It was the formal crowning for Yellowstone and was followed by the Ferdinand Hayden expedition, which took along Thomas Moran, the very artist who had drawn the magnificently imagined Scribner’s pictures. What he drew and painted that year and what Hayden found on his expedition put in motion a series of activities that would have lasting consequences for America’s perception of the glories of her countryside.

The 2.2 million acres exceeded the size of both Rhode Island and Delaware, and almost 5 million visitors now visit annually to see one of our country’s true national treasures.

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

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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].

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, Challenge Was Putting Pieces of Nation Back Together

gen-william-tecumseh-sherman-four-scarce-cartes-de-visite
A set of four cartes de visite of William Tecumseh Sherman, including this image of the general posed like Napoleon, sold for $2,868 at a December 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, the issue of the remaining Confederate armies was now only a question of time. However, the next anticipated surrender of General Joe Johnston and his army of 22,000 soldiers did not go smoothly.

On April 14, General William Tecumseh Sherman received a surprise communique from Johnston asking for a meeting to discuss terms for “exterminating the existing war.” This was a relief for Sherman since he had been concerned about a “guerilla war” and knew how Spain had foiled Napoleon using similar tactics.

Sherman answered immediately and suggested they meet on April 17 halfway between their two armies. However, tragedy struck before the meeting when President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. When Sherman received the news via coded message, he quickly realized this could escalate into a major disaster. Lincoln’s death was calamitous per se, but it also had the potential to plunge the North into a vengeful bloodbath against a prostrated and fearful South. They would, in turn, fight back the only way they had left: chaos, disorder and continued violence. The war could drag out for a long time.

To Sherman it seemed imperative that he reach a prompt accommodation with Johnston and quell any acts of vengeance.

When they finally met, Sherman had apparently misunderstood the limits of his authority. He offered overly generous terms to Johnston and Confederate States Secretary of War John Breckinridge (who had been vice president for President James Buchanan pre-War). Then all hell broke loose in Washington, D.C., when new President Andrew Johnson and his cabinet learned the conditions of surrender. They canceled the armistice, ordered Sherman to resume hostilities and dispatched Grant to modify the terms of surrender.

Fortunately, there was no more fighting and Grant was able to effect the formal surrender. Sherman was infuriated, primarily because Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had insulted him and questioned his motives and loyalty. Things quieted down, but Sherman and Stanton were bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.

Now all that was left to do was to put all the pieces of the nation back together. Some cynics think this work is still under way.

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].

Decision by General Lee Averted Nightmare Scenario for Nation

robert-e-lee-signed-carte-de-visite
This signed carte de visite of Confederate General Robert E. Lee sold for nearly $9,000 at a December 2006 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The Civil War was drawing to an end and the first week of April 1865 had been tough on Southern soldiers. After losses at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek, Union General Phil Sheridan wired General Ulysses S. Grant: “If this thing is pressed, I think Lee will surrender.” When President Lincoln read this, he telegraphed Grant, “Let it be pressed!”

On April 7, Grant sent a note to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In it, he stressed the dire situation of the South and tried to convince Lee that further resistance would only result in more useless “effusion of blood.” If Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia, it could be avoided.

Both Lee and General James Longstreet read the note very carefully and finally decided … “Not yet.”

Lee sent a note back to Grant suggesting the South’s assessment was more optimistic, however, he asked Grant to elaborate on the details of a surrender. There were several more notes, but in the interim, the Confederates held one last War Council before making a decision.

A number of Lee’s top lieutenants decried any surrender, pointing out that Joe Johnston still had his entire army intact, as did Nathan Bedford Forrest in the West and Edmund Kirby Smith and John Mosby in Virginia. More importantly, they could disband into the surrounding countryside. Since they knew the terrain, a full-scale guerilla war could last indefinitely. The North would be forced to eventually give up and go home, even if it took 20 years!

This was the nightmare scenario that Lincoln, Grant and all top military minds had dreaded: a guerilla army of tens of thousands, scattered across the South, living off the land. It would be an impossible war to extinguish completely and the nation would slowly unravel. (We learned a similar lesson in Iraq and are still in the Afghanistan quagmire after 15 years and counting.)

Perhaps in his finest act, General Lee decided the restoration of the United States of America was the right thing to do, despite the bitterness of defeat, after all the sacrifices, and the destruction of their society, economy and culture. Historians credit this one single decision as the most important in the entire war.

Grant and Lee met on April 9 and the terms of surrender were very generous. Confederate officers and enlisted men could take their horses home, all arms and munitions surrendered and all troops were disqualified from the war. At Lee’s request, 25,000 rations were given to the half-starved men. The formal surrender continued for seven hours and at 4:30 p.m., Grant wired U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton a simple message: “General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon on terms proposed by myself.”

Yet for the promise of this day, dire questions remained about the rest of the Confederacy. The war was not over.

More tomorrow.

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

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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].

Railroads Helped America Claim Position as Most Powerful Nation on Earth

This 1876 “Lightning Express” broadside promoting the first through train service connecting the gold and silver fields of Virginia City, Nev., with San Francisco realized $13,145 at a November 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The first American railroad was only 13 miles of track and formally known as the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The “B&O Line” was started by a group of Baltimore merchants in 1828 and opened in 1830. At the time, turnpikes, rivers and canals were the primary modes of travel and transport.

By the beginning of the Civil War, railroads had become a major American industry, with numerous companies competing in a broad geographic area over 30,000 miles of track. The first railroad to link the East to the West was completed in 1869.

The Central Pacific Railroad had started in Sacramento and immediately had to confront the Sierra Nevada mountains … 7,000 feet up from the Sacramento Valley to the summit of the Sierras. Then there was the critical issue of labor since the mines were paying premium rates and workers were a scarce commodity.

A controversial decision was made to bring in Chinese laborers. Creative companies sprang up to organize these activities and, ultimately, 12,000 Chinese workers were digging and blasting through the mountains. For $30 a month, they had to feed themselves and live in makeshift camps alongside the tracks. When it snowed, they carved out entire galleries under the snow and lived there for weeks at a time.

The Union Pacific Railroad began in Omaha, Neb., and their laborers were primarily Irish, up to 10,000 at times, although a few Civil War veterans and other migrants were used. Brigham Young, one of the original incorporators of the Union Pacific, was instrumental in steering the railroad through Utah. This provided badly needed jobs for Europeans who had come to join the Latter-day Saints.

When the two railroads finally met, it was in Promontory, Utah, and the Promontory Spike was pounded into the ground on May 10, 1869.

Big projects, big money and big government always seem to include corruption. And so it was with the Transcontinental Railroad. During the 1872 reelection campaign of President Ulysses S. Grant, a major scandal erupted that ground Washington, D.C., to a standstill. Major members of the administration and other ranking politicians were charged with enriching themselves. By then, railroads had become a major force in politics and everyday life. To have the industry linked to wild accusations of bribery and corruption was a significant letdown.

The House of Representatives was forced to start hearings after scandals erupted in newspapers almost daily. They started in closed session, but were soon open as crowds of reporters and spectators overflowed the rooms. It was the center of attraction for the nation’s capital on a daily basis.

Eventually, they caught fewer than 25 politicians who had profited off the railroads, but a larger group was actually linked to the scandal, including cabinet members, Vice President Schuyler Colfax, Vice President-elect Henry Wilson, Speaker of the House James Blaine and Representative James Garfield, the future president. All were tainted with the same scandalous brush, although some were able to mitigate the charges and salvage their reputations.

In spite of the scandals, the nation obviously benefited significantly from railroads, primarily because of their influence on settlement patterns of those who ventured West. The large, empty space that was still generally called “The Great American Desert” flourished.

Wagon-train caravans were largely abandoned and huge areas of land were transformed into productive farms to help feed a growing country. Ranch land developed all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Everyone seemed to benefit with the exception of the Plains Indians, who were exploited as their lands, mineral rights and even their way of life were lost.

The United States was entering the Gilded Age and gearing up to leverage the enormous opportunities waiting in the 20th century. The American worker was the envy of the world as compulsory education created large pools of labor that were literate and competent. They were eager to hone their skills with the new technologies that Edison, Bell, Ford, et al. were churning out. When combined with its natural resources, rule of law and a Constitutional Democracy, America was poised to become the most powerful nation on Earth.

Railroads played an important role in that achievement.

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].