Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Lost Confederate Treasury

Offices of the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury,
and the Treasurer of the Confederate Government. 

What happened to the Confederate Treasury and the gold of Richmond?  Here is the answer to at least part of the mystery:

THE LOST RICHMOND BANK LOOT: By May 24, 1865 Jefferson Davis was under arrest and the funds of the Richmond banks, some $345,000 in gold and silver was now deposited in a bank vault in Washington, Georgia, under the protection of the Union army.  Since the gold was private property and not that of the Confederate government, the local Union commander scrupulously protected it from seizure and, in fact, agreed to provide an armed escort to accompany the treasure back to Richmond.

Thus, on the night of May 25 five treasure laden wagons creaked out of Washington, Georgia, with a small guard of Union troops.  The word flashed across northern Georgia.  Rebel veterans, believing the money belonged to the official Confederate treasury, made plans to seize the wagons.

The small caravan camped that night at the home of a three hundred pound Methodist minister named Dionysisus Chenault, near the Savannah River.  The Union soldiers drew up the wagons in a defensive circle and posted a guard. After supper, as the night progressed, a lone horseman wearing a U.S. Army blouse appeared.  The rider did not approach the camp but circled wearily, studying the wagons and the small force of sentries.  Finally the rider disappeared and the camp settled into a nervous slumber.  Long after midnight, the camp was aroused by curses and shots coming from a large group of riders, thundering down on the wagons.  The guards surrendered without a shot.

The Confederate veterans tied up the guards and then broke open the boxes and bags in the wagons.  Coins spilled to the ground and men waded ankle deep in gold and silver.  The raiders filled their pockets and haversacks.  The veterans tied the booty to their saddles and rode off heavily laden.

When news of the raid reached Washington, Georgia, a well known Confederate general, Edward Porter Alexander, rounded up another group of Confederate veterans and rode out to rescue the stolen treasure.  General Alexander reasoned that since the treasure belonged to the Richmond banks and was private property he had a duty, as a man of honor, to protect law and order and recover the treasure for the banks.  Alexander's men rode in hot pursuit, explaining to the raiders they caught that these were private funds and not Confederate property, and should, therefore, be returned.  Alexander recovered $95,000 in this way without firing a shot.  The lion's share of the treasure, however, was never recovered.  Chenault's daughter, Mary Anne Shumate, later told a colorful story of the missing money.  "There were oceans of money scattered all over Wilkes and Lincoln counties, besides what was carried off.  Some of it was hid about in swamps and woods, some was buried in the ground, and there is no telling how much has been forgotten and not found again."

Legends persist that much of the loot taken by the raiders is buried near the Chenault home, since the raiders were so burdened down with the heavy metal that they had to hurriedly stop to conceal their ill‑gotten gains in order to elude their pursuers.  Since Federal soldiers were everywhere, it is doubtful if they returned for their loot.

Dr. A.S. Furcron, in a 1949 article written for the Georgia Mineral Newsletter, asserts some of the gold was buried at Big Buffalo Lick, Public Square (now called Sunshine), north of Union Point.

Most legends suggest that the treasure is buried in numerous small hoards around Washington, or between Abbeville, South Carolina and Washington.  Some of the treasure may be hidden along the banks of the Savannah River.

Despite General Alexander's best efforts very little of the treasure ever made it back to the Richmond banks.  The $95,000 recovered by Alexander was seized by Federal army officials and became the subject of controversy and litigation for almost thirty years.  In 1893 a U.S. Court of Claims finally awarded the Richmond banks $17,000, declaring $78,000 subject to confiscation as Confederate property.

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