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

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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

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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

Lightning Express broadside
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].

It Was a Rough Road, but After His Presidency, Grant Found His Way

This oil on canvas portrait of Ulysses S. Grant by Freeman Woodcock Thorp (1844-1922) sold for $10,456.25 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After President Ulysses S. Grant left office in 1877, he went on a world tour that lasted two years. Some of the highlights included dinner with Queen Victoria, and meetings with Pope Leo XIII and German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in Europe.

After a trip to India, Grant and family turned to Asia and visited Burma, Siam (Thailand) and Cochinchina (Vietnam). On mainland China, they visited several cities and he ended up brokering an agreement between China and Japan regarding the Ryukyu Islands (sound familiar?).

Eventually, they returned to America and Grant was broke and badly in need of income. He tried several things, including a railroad in Mexico. Nothing was remotely successful and he was desperate.

The biggest disappointment was yet to come and it involved a brokerage house at 2 Wall Street that Ulysses Jr. started with a close and trusted friend. At first there were years with double- and triple-digit returns and Grant was feeling more secure. Then the firm had a cash crunch and Grant borrowed $150,000 from businessman William Vanderbilt. However, it was discovered to be a Ponzi scheme, which left Grant destitute and in debt … unable to repay the loan.

He then agreed to write an article for a magazine on the Battle of Shiloh (where he led Union forces to victory) for $500. Not only was it well received, but Grant truly enjoyed the writing and it lifted his spirits to recall his earlier days. After several more articles, including accounts of Vicksburg and the Battle of the Wilderness, it led to negotiations over a book.

Enter good friend Mark Twain.

Twain convinced Grant that he would give him 75 percent of the royalties in return for the publishing rights. Then Grant discovered he had throat cancer (remember all those cigars?) and it became a race between death and finishing the book. The book won (barely) and the royalties provided the Grant family with enough money to be comfortable after his death. Estimates range from $400,000 and expectations were exceeded.

The combination of ex-President Grant, his memoirs, a surprisingly literary ability and the experience of Mark Twain produced a happy ending to a remarkable period of American history.

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

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].

James Garfield Unique Among American Presidents

This autographed James Garfield cabinet card, dated a month before the president’s assassination, realized nearly $4,500 at a June 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

James Garfield was the last of the Log Cabin Presidents (meaning he was born in one), and in 1880 he was simultaneously a member of the House, a senator-elect and the president-elect. He remains the only person to ever have this unique distinction.

However, he had not gone to the 1880 Republican convention seeking the nomination. Instead, his specific intent was to nominate John Sherman, who was President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Secretary of the Treasury. In fact, Garfield made the formal nominating speech and waited while Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine battled it out. After 35 ballots, Garfield himself became the consensus candidate … and then won the election.

Sherman was eager to become president, but after three failed attempts he gave up. His brother was William Tecumseh Sherman, the general who made the famous “March to the Sea” from Atlanta to Savannah in a scorched earth (total war) campaign that was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. His telegram to Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 25, 1864 – “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah …” – was literally the death knell of the Confederacy and ended the Civil War four months later.

General Sherman was far less political than his brother and at the 1884 convention declared if drafted he would not run; if nominated he would not accept; and if elected he would not serve. We still hear variations of this declaration yet today some 130 years later.

P.S. Garfield was ambidextrous and could write Latin with one hand while writing Greek with the other. Since he favored his left, he is considered the first left-handed president.

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].