Tag Archives: 1800s

Pass the Jug or Feed the Children

This May 1863 illustration, titled “Southern women feeling the effects of the rebellion, and creating bread riots,” shows the uprising in Richmond. In addition to food, the rioters took candles, shoes, bolts of cloth, hats and jewelry.

This May 1863 illustration, titled “Southern women feeling the effects of the rebellion, and creating bread riots,” shows the uprising in Richmond. In addition to food, the rioters took candles, shoes, bolts of cloth, hats and jewelry.

During the Civil War, middle class and poor Southerners suffered shortages of many food commodities – meat, coffee, salt, corn, and wheat among others. Corn and wheat were particularly dear, but shortages did not deter corn whiskey manufacturers, who found an eager market for their product.

Let me be clear. Citizens north and south drank, but Northerners produced grains in sufficient quantity to satisfy both their hunger and their thirst. The Union blockade, occasional droughts, and soldiers’ absence from their fields contributed mightily to Southerners’ limited capacity to feed their population.

As early as September 1862, Floyd County, Virginia citizens petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to outlaw the production of alcohol to enable soldiers’ families to obtain bread, noting that “the needy and unprotected families of the poorer classes were the primary sufferers of a recent drought.” [Robinson, “Prohibition in the Confederacy,” American Historical Review (October 1931)]

A group of Catawba County, NC women condemned the liquor manufacturers in an 1862 public notice:

It is but the common and spontaneous voice of the land, that if our country is lost, whiskey will be the cause of it. *** A bountiful Providence has given enough for man and beast; but distillers have already converted so much corn into poison, that prices look like famine ahead . . . .  And now distiller, we ask you, in heaven’s name, is it manly, is it brave, is it not dastardly and unalterably mean to force such prices for bread on us and our children?

Several weeks later, the women followed up their words with action. Armed with axes, they marched into a depot and, over the protests of the distillers, broke open barrels of whiskey totaling almost one thousand gallons. [Yearns and Barrett, North Carolina Civil War Documentary, pp. 177-178, UNC Press (1980)]

While most Southerners suffered, the social elite lived well. “In June 1863, only two months after the Richmond bread riot, Phoebe Pember attended a party with the Cary sisters and a bevy of local belles where she ate strawberries and ice cream and promenaded with handsome ‘cavaliers.’” [Rable, Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism, Univ. of Ill. Press, p. 198 (1989)]

For those not so fortunate to indulge in luxuries, the choice was to pass the jug or feed the children.

Other Resources: Article on the Richmond food riot from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Link: www.timesdispatch.com/special-section/the-civil-war/civil-war-th-richmond-bread-riots-were-biggest-civil-uprising/article_faa79410-99a9-11e2-a04a-001a4bcf6878.html

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Would You Like That Suit in Blue or Gray?

You cannot just look at an 1861 map and say all southerners fought for the Confederacy and all northerners fought for the Union. Allegiances were a mixed bag. Some southerners were passionately loyal to the Stars and Stripes. Some northerners had forged family ties with southerners. General George Thomas of Virginia, the Rock of Chickamauga, and Admiral David Farragut of Tennessee were among the better known southerners who retained their allegiance to the Union when their home states seceded. On the other side, Pennsylvania-born John Pemberton led the rebels’ defense of Vicksburg and Maryland-born New York City Deputy Street Commissioner Mansfield Lovell cast his lot with the Confederates.

Admiral David Farragut (Source: education-portal.com)

Admiral David Farragut (Source: education-portal.com)

There are many more examples, but perhaps the most ironic of them all were Farragut and Lovell, who found themselves facing off against one another in the New Orleans campaign. Not only was Farragut southern born, he had twice married southern women, his first wife having died in 1840. He also had a great affinity for Norfolk, Virginia, where he served shortly before the war. Having gone to sea at the age of nine (that’s right, the age of nine!), he was a fifty-one year naval veteran when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in 1861. Because of the state of his birth and his marriage to a Virginian, Farragut’s superiors so questioned his loyalty that he was relegated to a seat on the Naval Retirement Board.

In late 1861, however, Farragut’s foster brother, David Porter, convinced Navy Assistant Secretary Fox that Farragut was loyal to the Union cause and had the right stuff to lead a maritime assault on New Orleans, whose capture might help convince European leaders that the rebels lacked the military resources to hold on to a world-class port city.

Commissioner Mansfield Lovell (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Commissioner Mansfield Lovell (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Confederate President Jefferson Davis had selected Mansfield Lovell, a 39-year-old West Pointer to defend the city. When he arrived in New Orleans, Lovell found the city wholly unprepared and could only hope that the forts south of the city, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, would discourage the Union navy. The Union navy began firing on Fort Jackson on Good Friday, April 18. Farragut intended to reduce both forts to rubble within two days. After six days of unproductive shelling, Farragut decided the forts posed no real threat to his armada’s objective so he left the battered forts behind him and led his fleet north to New Orleans.

For his part, Lovell requested but did not receive help from Richmond. He attempted a variety of defenses, including installing a chain boom across the Mississippi and equipping sidewheel steamboats with cannon. They were no match for the Union fleet. On April 29, the United States flag flew above City Hall and two days later General Benjamin Butler’s Union troops occupied the city.

Northerners honored Farragut, who went on to lead the federal navy to other victories and lived out a distinguished naval career. Southerners never forgave Lovell for the fall of New Orleans. Ultimately, Lovell returned to an engineering career in New York, where he served under the supervision of a former Union general. In view of the South’s failure to appreciate his efforts, perhaps Lovell should have chosen blue rather than gray.

Sources:

Bruce Catton, Terrible Swift Sword (1963).

Shelby Foote, The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958).

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Last Call

Statue of Ulysses S. Grant inside the Capitol

Statue of Ulysses S. Grant inside the Capitol

I find it amusing that some writers direct so much attention to General (and later President) Ulysses S. Grant’s purported drinking problem. At times, I’ve fallen into the same trap, wondering whether some of the speculation is true.

Grant did provide his detractors some material for the charge when as a captain in the army, he was pressured into resigning from the army at Fort Humboldt in 1854 rather than facing a court martial for drunkenness while on duty – a charge that could have been leveled against most of his fellow officers. By that time, Grant had been away from his family so long and missed them so desperately, it took the slightest nudge to put the army behind him.

Any evidence of Grant’s drunkenness after that date is largely speculation. His detractors, both North and South, had plenty of incentive to invent such claims:  Union officers who wanted to advance their own careers by engaging in the age-old practice of disparaging a fellow officer; Southerners who wished to dismiss Grant’s victories on the battlefield as attributable solely to the Union army’s numerical advantage.

This much most historians agree on: Grant never had drinking issues when he was actively engaged in a military campaign or when his family stayed with him at his headquarters (as was the case during the siege of Petersburg). Grant was devoted to both his family and his country’s success in putting down the rebellion.

Another statue of Grant outside of the Capitol

Another statue of Grant outside of the Capitol

Grant succeeded where his predecessors failed. Prior to Grant’s Virginia campaign against Lee, he had notched significant Union victories at Forts Donelson and Henry, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. In Virginia, the Union army primarily fought an entrenched enemy, for which a 3:1 advantage was required for success – an advantage the Union army did not have until Petersburg.

If the Union army was to prevail against a determined well-led enemy, both armies had to suffer casualties at a gut-wrenching level. Both Grant and Lee were brilliant, but both suffered horrendous defeats due to hubris (Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg for Lee) or failure to adequately scout the enemy (Cold Harbor during the Virginia Campaign for Grant), but neither man allowed a single failure to deter him from his larger task.

In brief, the evidence is mixed and should not be cited to some way diminish Grant’s accomplishments. Grant deserves his place in history as the general who “conquered the peace.” At the close of the Civil War, he commanded the largest military force in the world. He won two terms in the White House and probably would have won a third if he had actively sought the Republican Party nomination. He was the most popular man of his time. There’s ample reason the man and his armies are memorialized by statuary on the Washington Mall.

Statue of union troops during the Civil War. Photo taken outside the U.S. Capitol.

Statue of union troops during the Civil War; photo taken outside the U.S. Capitol

For both sides of the argument, go to the following sources:

H.W. Brands, The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace, Doubleday (2012).

Sylvanus Cadwallader, Three Years with Grant, edited by Benjamin P. Thomas, University of Nebraska Press (1955), reprinted by Bison Books (1996) (see pages 70-72 and 113-119 of Bison Books edition).

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Time Zones

You are walking in downtown Philadelphia. You call your friend in Pittsburgh to trash talk about tonight’s 8:00 p.m. game between the Flyers and Penguins in Philly. When the game starts at 8:00 in Philadelphia, it’s 8:00 in Pittsburgh, too, right? Of course, it is. It’s even 8:00 in most of Indiana. The time is the same because the United States adopted four time zones across the lower 48 in the 1918 Standard Time Act.

Before that time, the cities’ clocks could have read differently – 8:00 in Philadelphia, 7:45 in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is roughly 188 miles west of Philadelphia and the “real time” based on the sun’s position in the sky differs one minute every 12.5 miles.

Can you imagine a world where every individual’s clock could vary by minutes rather than by the uniform times largely adopted by most countries? There was a time it was so.

You remember the sun dial. Fortunately, none of us have to go out into our garden (sunny days only) to get a general idea about time. As recently as 1850, it really did not matter that much. Few people traveled more than 12 miles each day. Each town could set its clock tower to “real time.”

Sandford Fleming (thecanadianencyclopedia.com)

Sandford Fleming (Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The railroads changed all that. In 1880, one could travel over 200 miles in a single day. Train schedules were a real mess. A Canadian railroad engineer, Sandford Fleming, deserves most of the credit for cleaning up that mess by promoting today’s generally uniform time zones in North America. On November 18, 1883, the North American railroads adopted Fleming’s recommended standard times for the railways. In the following year, the International Meridian Conference – in which Fleming was instrumental – was held in Washington, DC. The conference proposed using the Greenwich Meridian for longitudinal references, and adopted a system whereby the 360-degree circumference of the planet was divided by 24, the number of hours in each day, resulting in 24 international time zones covering 15 degrees each.

Many town and city leaders chose not to follow the example set by the railroads. Old habits are hard to break. So it was 1918 before the federal government required them to fall into line.

For me, it’s tough enough adjusting between standard and daylight savings time. Forget adjusting the watch every time I travel more than 12.5 miles east or west!

Current time zones in the U.S. (Source: NationalAtlas.gov)

Current time zones in the U.S. (Source: NationalAtlas.gov)

For more time-related information, go to the following sources:

“The Invention of Clocks,” http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa072801a.htm

“Invention of Standard Time,” www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com

“U.S. Time Zones,” http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/us_tzones.php

“A Brief History of Time Zones,” http://www.timeanddate.com/time/time-zones-history.html

“Standard Time Began with the Railroads,” http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/d.html

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Quakers as Slave Owners

Levi Coffin (Source: The Full Wiki)

Levi Coffin (Source: The Full Wiki)

Anyone who has studied the antebellum period knows that slavery violated Quaker principles and that some Quakers participated in the Underground Railroad. One of the most notable Quakers in the Underground Railroad was Levi Coffin, who was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, but as a young man moved to Indiana and later to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he served in the unofficial capacity of “president” of the Underground Railroad). But it was not always so. For well over one hundred years, slave ownership did not violate Quaker principles. Some Quakers owned slaves prior to the American Revolution and others retained that status even after the American colonists won their freedom from Great Britain.

The Levi Coffin House (Source: LittleIndiana.com)

The Levi Coffin House (Source: LittleIndiana.com)

In that most propitious of years, 1776, the Society of Friends made the purchase of slaves a disownable offense (i.e., a Quaker who persisted in violating that principle would be taken off the rolls of the Society). The issue then became how to handle those Quakers who already owned slaves or those who inherited slaves at a later date. The Society of Friends’ practice with respect to all Quaker principles was to persuade non-compliant Quakers to desist from actions inconsistent with those principles.

That was easier said than done in North Carolina, where state law forbade owners from freeing their slaves absent proof of some “meritorious” act, largely defined as some form of heroic conduct. The owner was also required to post bond with the court in an amount equal to the slave’s value – not easy when money was in short supply.

So how did North Carolina Quakers bring themselves into compliance with their religious principles if they lacked the wherewithal to post bond or proof of meritorious conduct? The North Carolina Yearly Meeting  (hereinafter “NC Society of Friends”) remedied the issue in 1808 by providing that Quaker slave owners could clear their consciences by transferring the slaves, in trust, to – drum roll please – the Society of Friends! Thus, the NC Society of Friends became one of the largest slave owners in the state.

In 1828, the NC Society of Friends owned more than seven hundred slaves. Of course, these African Americans were not treated as slaves, although they retained that status under North Carolina law. Over the years, the Quakers gradually achieved the slaves’ freedom by transferring the slaves to Quakers who left North Carolina to live in free states. Upon arrival in a free state, the Quaker “slave owner” would then set the slave free.

Thus, one should understand that although Quakers reached their anti-slavery principles almost ninety years before the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed the practice, they, too, took time to reject the institution as inconsistent with their moral principles and religious beliefs. Of course, they reached that conclusion without a bloodbath that took over six hundred thousand American lives.

For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see Seth B. Hinshaw’s The Carolina Quaker Experience (Chapter 12, “Effects of Slavery in the South”), Thomson-Shore, Inc., Dexter, MI (1984).

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Fathers of the California Gold Rush

One man owned the land and stream where the gold was found. The second found the gold. The third created a frenzy that emptied San Francisco and filled the Sierra Nevada foothills with men burning with gold fever.

johnsutter01

John Sutter (About.com)

It all began when John Sutter employed James Marshall to build a sawmill for his Mexican land grant of over forty thousand acres. Mexico and the United States were still at war in January, 1848, less than a month from signing a treaty ending the conflict, when Marshall spotted flecks of metal downriver from the incomplete mill. Several days later, Sutter confirmed Marshall’s suspicion that the flakes of metal he had found in the American River were gold.

370px-James_Marshall2

James Marshall (Examiner.com)

The news spread like wildfire when Mormon entrepreneur Sam Brannan bought gold dust, put it in a bottle, and walked through the streets of San Francisco shouting “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” [H.W. Brands, The Age of Gold, p. 43] Brannan had no intention of searching for gold himself. He wanted to enrich himself by selling supplies to the miners. His Sacramento store later would sell as much as five thousand dollars of merchandise per day [H.W. Brands, The Age of Gold, p. 276], a fantastic sum at a time eastern farm workers were earning thirty to forty dollars per month.

Ultimately, the gold rush was not kind to these three men. Marshall lived humbly most of his days.

brannan1

Sam Brannan (Source: Sierra Foothill Magazine)

Sutter lived to see his inland empire overrun by fortune hunters and squatters. He died in relative poverty in Washington, DC.

Brannan used much of his fortune speculating in real estate, only to lose much of his wealth when his wife divorced him. (Early in its American territorial history when men outnumbered women nineteen to one, California had liberalized its divorce laws in an effort to attract women to its borders. Divorce included the divorcee’s right to fifty percent of the marital property.) While Brannan did remarry, he was never able to regain his old knack for success in business. He died in poverty in 1889 leaving his nephew to finance his burial. [Brands, The Age of Gold, p. 484].

Marshall’s discovery, and the publicity which followed it, brought a torrent of argonauts from around the world.

So, in a sense, these three men, who accelerated California’s transition from a territory to a state, can also be viewed as the fathers of the state of California.

For a well-documented and entertaining account of the California Gold Rush, I highly recommend Professor H.W. Brands’ The Age of Gold, Anchor Books (2003). Also consider J.S. Holliday’s The World Rushed In, Simon and Schuster (1981); Susan Lee Johnson’s Roaring Camp – The Social World of the California Gold Rush, Norton & Co. (2000); and Jo Ann Levy’s They Saw the Elephant – Women in the California Gold Rush, Shoe String Press (1990).

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Washington’s “It Girl” during the Civil War

Kate Chase (Source: Wikipedia)

Kate Chase (Source: Wikipedia)

Since the time of the Madison administration, when Dolly Madison set the tone for Washington Society, the nation’s First Ladies dominated the Washington social scene. Mary Todd Lincoln expected nothing less when she arrived in the nation’s capital in March 1861. She had not expected formidable competition from the Treasury Secretary’s twenty-year-old daughter, Kate Chase, whose primary goal in life was to see her widower father occupy the office then held by Mrs. Lincoln’s husband.

Kate counted among her admirers Governor William Sprague, Rhode Island’s largest and wealthiest citizen, and John Hay, one of President Lincoln’s two personal secretaries, who later in his career would serve as Secretary of State. Sprague’s successful pursuit and Hay’s infatuation with Kate are among the principal topics in Gore Vidal’s brilliantly entertaining Lincoln.

William Sprague (Source: Wikipedia)

William Sprague (Source: Wikipedia)

Kate also enjoyed the admiration of the capital’s women, who sought invitations to the Chase home and Kate’s companionship at Washington’s many social events.

In 1863, Sprague left the governor’s mansion for the United States Senate. In November of that year, he won Kate’s hand in marriage, presenting her with a diamond and pearl tiara rumored to have cost fifty thousand dollars – almost one million dollars in today’s money. The wedding guests included President Lincoln and the entire cabinet. Mrs. Lincoln chose not to attend her social rival’s grand wedding.

A young Kate Chase (Source: Wikipedia)

A young Kate Chase (Source: Wikipedia)

Although the couple had four children, their marriage ended in divorce in 1882, after her husband’s financial reverses and her alleged affair with Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York. After the divorce, Kate dropped the Sprague name and lived in her father’s home (Chief Justice Chase had died in 1873.) in Washington, DC. She died in poverty in 1899.

The New York Times said of her at her death:

[She] was born in Ohio about fifty-nine years ago. She was educated under her distinguished father’s eye, and when she became old enough to be of assistance to him acted as his private secretary. * * * There was magnetism in her personality and the friendships she made were of the most loyal character. When she went to Washington to reside she found herself in a congenial atmosphere. She was a diplomat of uncommon tact, and within a short time the homage of the most eminent men of the country was hers. She was ambitious, and she wielded her power and the influence of her high social station as no other woman in this country had ever wielded such forces.

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