Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Harsh Lessons of the Confederate Economy

The Exchange Bank: Richmond, 1865

The Confederate treasury could probably have raised more gold and silver from the population if it had embarked on a vigorous policy of taxation rather than trying to finance the war through the issuance of bonds. The Confederate treasury indulged, ultimately, in the perilous device of issuing unsupported paper money. In 1861 the treasury issued $100 million in paper Confederate notes and $100 million in 8 percent Confederate bonds. By 1863 the treasury was pumping out $50 million in notes a month. The Confederate public sensed that there was too much money being issued and that it was becoming progressively more worthless. Wits were soon saying, "An oak leaf will be worth just as much as the promise of the Confederate treasury to pay one dollar."

To increase its hard cash reserves, before loosing the flood of paper money on the country, the Confederate Congress made U.S. silver coins legal tender up to $10, and gave full standing, with fixed values stipulated, to English sovereigns, French Napoleons and Spanish and Mexican doubloons. This helped somewhat, and a small treasury shipment in 1862, for example, was made up of the following coins: 28 Spanish dollars, 24 Spanish quarter dollars, 8 Spanish half dollars, 8 English sovereigns, 3 Napoleons, 385 U.S. half dollars and 988 U.S. quarter dollars.

No halfway measures, however, could make up for the mismatch between revenue and the issuance of currency. Many people hoarded their hard money. Less than a month before the final collapse of the government, the Confederate Congress, seeming to believe that there was an abundance of hard money in private hands, passed a law trying to raise $30 million in gold and silver. Other estimates indicate that there may have been $20 million in U.S. coins remaining in the pockets of Confederate civilians. These coins were hoarded and did not come out except in rare instances. A Richmond editor in 1864 wondered why more copper and nickel coins did not make their appearance, "There must be any quantity of them stored away", he observed.

Cemeteries have been called open-air museums, and every gravestone has a story to tell. This book is a presentation of the Civil War history of Northern Virginia through the medium of cemeteries.

A brief look at humor in the Civil War including: (1) Stories Around the Campfire, (2) Parody, (3) the Irish, (4) Humorous Incidents, (5) Civil War Humorists, and (6) Lincoln.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Alexandria, Virginia in the Civil War 1861-1865

The Marshall House at King and Pitt

     In the 1850s, Alexandria was the commercial center for all of Northern Virginia and boasted a busy waterfront, a commercial canal and expanding railway traffic.  Alexandria took great pride in being the “home town” of George Washington.  It was on the steps of Gadsby’s Tavern (the City Hotel in 1861) that Light Horse Harry Lee declared George Washington, “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
     Alexandria, with its long history of service to the Union, initially opposed secession.  Many citizens would gladly have remained in the Union or remained neutral, but were prepared to cast their lot with the Confederacy if it came to war.  The tide turned toward secession on April 12, 1861 when South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and Mr. Lincoln called for seventy five thousand volunteers to crush the rebellion. 
     Long before dawn on the morning of May 24, 1861 eight Union regiments crossed the Potomac River to seize Alexandria and Arlington Heights.  By two o’clock the in the morning a large luminous moon shimmered over the river as Federal long boats touched their oars into the muddy waters.  For an hour muffled oars pulled against the river.  The red trousered New York Zouaves sat tensed in silent anticipation.  They docked quickly and quietly unloaded into the deserted streets of Alexandria.
     The entrance of the Federals was unopposed.  Colonel Elmer Ellsworth led his men down the empty streets until he came to a hotel (The Marshall House) flying the Confederate flag.  Ellsworth, followed by his soldiers, went inside, hurried to the roof and, with a knife borrowed from a private soldier, cut down the emblem of rebellion.  In a shadowy hallway he met the proprietor of the inn, James Jackson.  Jackson produced a shotgun and killed Ellsworth.       War had come to Virginia.  For the next four years Alexandria was an occupied city, and became a major supply hub for the Union army.
     Alexandria was an important railroad center.  The Union army seized the railroads immediately. Brigadier General Herman Haupt, a railroad construction engineer revolutionized military transportation in the United States and was one of the unsung heroes of the Civil War.  He repaired and fortified war damaged railroad lines in the vicinity of Washington, arming and training the railroad staff, and improved telegraph communications along the railroad lines. His well organized trains kept the Union Army supplied and carried thousands of Union wounded to hospitals.
     Haupt’s nemesis was the Confederate raider John S. Mosby, who, with fewer than two hundred and fifty men, immobilized 30,000 Union troops by his daring raids.  It seemed that the “Grey Ghost” was everywhere.  He destroyed railway tracks, robbed Union paymasters, captured pickets, and shot down stragglers.  Mosby single handedly crossed Long Bridge into Washington City in the full light of day and returned unharmed to Virginia.
     Alexandria’s strategic location on the Potomac River was as important as its railroads.  Alexandria was always a busy port.  After the Federal occupation, Alexandria businessman Benjamin Barton wrote,  “Alexandria… is quite a stirring place, of course most of the business has some connection with the National government, all the supplies of the armies, in this section of Virginia, arrive here by land and by water, the great number of steamboats, sloops, schooners and brigs required, arriving at this port, and passing up to Washington, has the appearance of a fleet opposite our City.” One of the war time highlights for Alexandria was the arrival of Imperial Russian war ships on a goodwill visit.
     Alexandria became an important hospital center for the Union army.  Four churches and many large houses were converted into hospitals, totaling fourteen facilities in all.  Facilities were overcrowded and often unsanitary, especially after a major battle.  One volunteer chaplain wrote, “Through all the wards confused heaps of torn and dirty clothes and piles of bloody bandages, tired attendants doing their best to make comfortable the poor fellows torn and mangled with shot and shell in every imaginable way.”
     Alexandria was an essential link in the chain of fortifications guarding Washington.  Sixty eight major forts, connected by military roads and rifle trenches ringed the Federal capital.  This was the Union’s last line of defense against the Confederate Army.
This formidable network of earthwork fortifications bristled with more than nine hundred cannons and ninety eight mortars.  After the war, when asked why the Confederate Army did not attack Washington after the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862, Robert E. Lee said, pointing to Fort Ward, “I could not tell my men to take that fort when they had nothing to eat for three days.”  

     This book represents the most complete photographic history of Alexandria, Virginia during the period of the Civil War currently in existence.  The photographs in the book are taken from three rare photo collections: the Civil War collection of the Library of Congress, the William Francis Smith Collection of the Alexandria Library, Special Collections Branch and Mollie Somerville Collection of the Alexandria Library, Special Collections Branch.  Almost all of the photographs in this book are actual Civil War era photographs.  In a few instances, where Civil War photographs of specific significant locations were not available, we have selected photographs of the location at the nearest point in time to the Civil War as possible.

Women Doctors in the Civil War

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not Your Grandmother's Southern Belle: Hispanic Woman and Confederate Soldier

Civil War re-enactors have been challenged by some women in recent years to allow them to “join the ranks”. If re-enactors today find this problematic, how must men have reacted in the Civil War? But life and history are both complex.

Cuban-born Loreta Velasquez, disguised as a man, enlisted in the Confederate army as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford in 1860. According to military records, under the name Harry T. Buford, she raised a company of volunteers from Arkansas and fought in the battles of 1st Manassas, Ball’s Bluff, and Fort Donelson. In 1862 her disguise was discovered and she was discharged from the army. Velasquez then enlisted with the 21st Louisiana Infantry regiment and went on to fight at Shiloh. Velasquez's disguise was discovered yet again and she was once again discharged. The resourceful Velasquez then became a spy for the Confederacy, often posing as a man.

After the war the now widowed Velasquez moved to Nevada, where she authored a book, "The Woman in Battle", a non-stop thriller patterned after the tales about famous gunfighters. She was married and widowed three more time before her death in 1897 at the age of fifty five (?).

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

These fictional memoirs are based on the true story of a southern belle who defied convention to become a front line soldier and spy for the Confederacy. 

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Is There Gold in the Superstition Mountains?

The Superstition Mountains

As he seeks shelter from the unrelenting Arizona sun at Apache Junction, local resident, Keith, says, “There is no gold in the Superstition Mountains.  Never has been.”  Despite the skepticism of some, the lure of gold has brought thousands to the Superstition Mountains for over a hundred years, all in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine. 

This, one of the most sought after treasures in history, is still definitely in the lost column. Legend tells of a fabulous mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. So alluring is the prospect of unlimited wealth that it said that hundreds have died searching for the lost mine.  Some of the dead were so close that they may have been murdered, but treasure hunter Walt “AZ” Guenther tells a different story, “They’re mostly easterners.  Come out here unprepared.  No hats.  Not enough water.”  “AZ” dismisses stories of bushwacking, and being a seasoned outdoorsman, laughs off other desert dangers like rattlesnakes, scorpions, gila monsters, and mountain lions, “No, the big killer out here is the sun…and not enough water.  If somebody offers you water…you take it.”


The entire story began in 1748 when the Peralta family began mining silver and gold. According to family records this wealthy family operated eighteen silver and gold mines in the Superstition Mountains. With the Mexican War of 1848, law and order disintegrated in the area and the Apache Indians grew increasingly hostile, attacking the miners almost continuously. Disaster finally overtook the Peraltas in September 1848 with a general massacre by the Apaches. Following this massacre the Apaches controlled the Superstition Mountains until 1865.

Stone map found in the desert.

Spanish armor found in the Superstition Mountains

Jacob Walz, the “Dutchman” enters the picture in 1871 with his partner Jacob Weiser.  The two immigrants purchased a map drawn by the original Peralta family and located the mine “within an imaginary circle whose diameter is not more than five miles and whose center is marked by the Weaver’s Needle.”

Weiser soon vanished...the victim of either, Indians, desperados, or Walz. The Dutchman continued working the mine, carrying the secret of its location to the grave with him in 1891.

Supposedly after the massacre of 1848 the Indians filled the mine shafts and disguised the remains. That there are eighteen mines once owned by the Peralta family in the Superstition Mountains is historical fact; their richness is legendary; their location, still a mystery.  
Looking out toward the ominous mountains, “AZ” says knowingly, “Oh, yes.  There is definitely gold out there.” 

The history of Virginia told through treasure tales about pirates, Indians, Revolutionary War heroes and Civil War raiders. The full text of the famous Beale Treasure cipher is included along with some sixty other legends. 

A lively history of the Civil War sprinkled with tales of over 60 buried treasure in sixteen states. History buffs and adventure seekers will enjoy this work.