It seems like forever and a day since I have done one of these. But, over the weekend, I got thinking about famous American naval sayings. You know them: "Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!" or "I have barely begun to fight" or "You may fire when ready, Gridley". And I got to wondering, who the heck was Gridley?
Are you wondering? Probably not. But am I going to let that stop me? Heck, no.
On May 1, 1898, the United States Navy was engaged in combat operations in the Philippines. Specifically, we were fighting the Battle of Manila. a key naval battle during the Spanish-American War. There is an interesting website devoted to it. But, if you don't feel like clicking away, basically, the battle was a huge victory for the American fleet and established the US Navy as a major world force as the fleet, under the command of Commodore Dewey, the US fleet sailed in under the Spanish guns into Manila Bay and destroyed the vastly larger Spanish fleet with practically no loss of life for the Americans (although great loss of life for the Spanish).
Dewey was on the USS Olympia -- the third oldest surviving warship (after the Constellation and the Constitution). The Olympia, a National Historic Landmark (an odd thing to call something important that floats, don't you think?) is in Philadelphia at the Independence Seaport Museum:
It was on the Olympia that Commodore Dewey gave those famous instructions to Captain Gridley: "You may fire when ready, Gridley". He gave this command after enduring Spanish fire for about a half an hour, in order to position his fleet exactly where he wanted them to be able to best engage the Spanish fleet. Gridley was the Captain of the Olympia.
Gridley left his command shortly after the capture of Manila and died, as a result of illness, on May 25, 1898, on his way to Japan.
Gridley was a native of Indiana and a graduate of the US Naval Academy. He was involved in the Civil War, fighting for Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Gridley may have been forgotten by many, but not by the Navy, who has named an Arleigh Burke class destroyer for him, to be commissioned February 2007 in Florida. Here she is after her "float off":
-and the Christening-
-and her first sea trial-
The best on-line biography I've seen of Captain Gridley is here. He was buried in Erie, PA:
I hope you enjoyed this; I enjoyed researching and writing it.
It has been a long time since I did a Behind the Curtain post, but that's just because nothing or no one caught my particular fancy for awhile now. I don't go out looking for these people, they sort of have to find me. Today, I was found by Mr. SoulĂ©. A colleague of mine asked me if I had ever heard of him. He told me that SoulĂ© served as President Pierce's ambassador to Spain in the 1850's and, while there, managed to grievously wound the French ambassador in a duel and give the Spanish government a 48 hour ultimatum over something (which they ignored) and, finally, consorted with ant-royalist activists and intriguers. Curiosity officially piqued.
All in all, seems like a perfect candidate for a Behind the Curtain portrait.
As always, the rest is in Extended Entry!
This guy knew how to live.
His story began in France where he was born September, 1802.
Briefly, he was an anti-royalist activist himself. Although, not a successful one. He was involved in a plot against Louis XVIII (busted and escaped to far reaches of France for a year as a shepherd) and wrote a bitter piece about the government of Charles X, for which he was convicted and sentenced to some time in prison. He instead went into voluntary self-exile to Haiti, just having missed the boat to Chile where he had been invited to go work for the President of Chile as his private secretary.
Haiti was not terribly useful, so off he went to the United States where he eventually washed up in New Orleans. On the way, he stopped off to learn English, supposedly staying with President Andrew Jackson (I have no idea how that happened) and later working as a gardener in Kentucky.
New Orleans, for my purposes, is where it all began to happen, though. SoulĂ© passed the bar exam after private study and became a sought after criminal defense attorney.
He was elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1845 and then appointed to the United States Senate in 1847, later elected to the same body in 1849.
In March, 1853, President Pierce offered Soule the mission to Spain, with the special object in view of the acquisition of Cuba. This news preceded him to Madrid, and he was received there very coldly. At a ball in Madrid a remark by the Duke of Alva was accidentally heard by Mr. Soule's son, Nelvil, who considered it offensive to his family, and, though the duke denied any such intention, a duel with swords was the result. Mr. Soule then challenged the French ambassador, the Marquis de Turgot, as responsible for what had taken place under his roof, and crippled him for life. On 28 August, 1854, a revolutionary outburst took place in the streets of Madrid. It has been charged that Mr. Soule favored this with all his power; but there is no evidence to show it, though he doubtless sympathized, as was natural, with the Spanish Liberal party. In 1854, Mr. Soule was one of the ministers that framed the celebrated " Ostend manifesto" (see PIERCE, FRANKLIN), and it was understood that he was the moving spirit in its preparation. At some previous period he had violently attacked Napoleon III., and when on his way to Ostend he was stopped by the authorities at the southern frontier of France; but as soon as the officials at Paris were informed of this they sent him authority to pursue his journey. At the same time French spies followed him to Ostend. Mr. Soule was naturally deeply disappointed by his government's policy of non-action upon the manifesto. He resigned in June, 1855, and returned to New Orleans, where he resumed the practice of law without abandoning politics.
The Ostend Manifesto bears some small closer examination, it seems to me.
Ostend Manifesto, document drawn up in Oct., 1854, at Ostend, Belgium, by James Buchanan, American minister to Great Britain, John Y. Mason, minister to France, and Pierre SoulĂ©, minister to Spain. William L. Marcy, Secretary of State under President Pierce, instructed SoulĂ© to try to buy Cuba from Spain, but SoulĂ© antagonized the Spanish by his political intrigues and aggressive threats (he issued an unwarranted ultimatum to the Spanish government on the Black Warrior affair). Pierce then ordered a conference of the three diplomats in Europe, all proslavery Democrats, at Ostend. The resulting manifesto strongly suggested that the United States should take Cuba by force if Spain refused to sell. Southerners, who had long feared that Cuba might become an independent black republic, applauded the document, but it was vigorously denounced by the free-soil press as a plot to extend slavery. Marcy immediately repudiated it for the U.S. government.
SoulĂ© was not as devil may care as his adventures in Spain suggest. I think he must have been a rather thoughtful and careful politician. He opposed succession from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, forecasting only ruin for the South, but he stood with his State after the decision was taken. He served in the Confederate government in Richmond in a minor capacity until illness forced him to withdraw back to New Orleans. Which is odd, come to think of it, since New Orleans was as it still is kind of a swamp and not the healthiest of places to live.
In any event, he was captured by Union troops in New Orleans and here it gets interesting again:
Finally he was released and went to Nassau, whence, in the autumn of 1862, he ran the blockade at Charleston and tendered his services to General Beauregard. After serving on his staff for some time as an honorary member, Mr. Soule went to Richmond in 1863, and was commissioned a brigadier-general to raise a foreign legion ; but the plan was not carried out. Mr. Soule then went to Havana. In the summer of 1864 he became connected with Dr. William M. Gwin in the latter's scheme for settling Sonora, in Mexico, with immigrants from California. This was a project patronized by Napoleon III.; the Confederate government had no connection with it. It failed through disagreement between Maximilian and Dr. Gwin. When, at the close of the war, Mr. Soule returned to New Orleans, though his health was broken and his fortune was gone, he resumed the practice of his profession, but in 1868 he had to give up all work. Soule's remarkable powers of eloquence were acknowledged by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. The effect of his glowing periods was deepened by a strong, clear, and mellow voice and by a massive and imposing form, a noble head, with long, glossy, black locks, flashing black eyes, and an olive-tinted face, which was cast in the mould of the great Napoleon's and was full of expression.
I would dearly liked to have dined with the man. Wouldn't you?
I was thumbing through a local guide book this weekend, waiting for inspiration to strike and help me pick a fun activity to do with the family, when I came across a reference to the "infamous outlaw, Claudius Smith" in Orange County, NY. Infamous? Really? I'd never heard of him and I'd never seen a reference to him before in any of the many books on local history I have the misfortune to own. Sounds like maybe someone history has forgotten about and I resolved to make him the next, Behind the Curtain profile. Turns out, he was the pretty fierce leader of a band of robbers during the Revolutionary War and a pretty interesting sounding guy, although I'm glad I never met him on a dark road in Orange County. Click Extended Entry below for the rest of it.
First, by way of background, Orange County today is best known as the home of: the United States Military Academy at West Point, Storm King Mountain Art Center (a fabulous destination to view outdoor modern sculpture), and Woodbury Common Outlet Mall, all worth a visit, although for different reasons. Orange County is part of the Hudson River Highlands and is blessed with terrific natural beauty. It is a very peaceful place to visit, replete with lovely vistas, mountains, woods, and water. Indeed, even Henry Hudson reportedly liked the place since he anchored his ship, the Half Moon in Cornwall Bay and became, I suppose, the first European tourist in 1609. But as you look at the various sites related to Orange County tourism, there isn't really a mention of Mr. Smith. Even when you go to the site for Harriman State Park (go look at the pictures, they are beautiful), you see no mention of the fact that the Park contains the Smith gang's hideout or that you can hike in to see it still today. No, for information about Smith and his gang, we have to do some excavating.
Back in 1776, Orange County was not so peaceful. Orange County straddled important trade routes and the main line of land communication between Canada and New York. The Hudson Valley generally was the scene of a lot of revolutionary activity:
As the center of the colonies at the time of the American Revolution, the Hudson River Valley provided a nexus for the conflict and hosted many key figures, battles, and political events throughout the eight years of war. The Sons of Liberty, as active in New York as they were in Massachusetts, printed broadsides, encouraged boycotts, rallied, rioted, and dumped British tea into the New York Harbor even as Patriotsâ€™ housewives throughout the Valley threw their own "tea parties" at the expense of merchants and Loyalist neighbors.Source.
The New York Provincial Congress established itself at the White Plains Courthouse in July 1776, creating the State of New York with its acceptance of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776. New York adopted its Constitution in Kingston on April 20, 1777. Battles raged from Manhattan through the Mid-Hudson, including White Plains (1776), Forts Clinton and Montgomery (1777), Kingston (1777), and Stony Point (1779). In October 1777 Patriots watched helplessly as the British burned sites as far north as Clermont before turning back toward New York City. General Horatio Gates would right some of the wrongs when he accepted the surrender of General John Burgoyneâ€™s British army at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, marking the turning point in the war. Starting in January 1778 the Americans would follow up on this victory by turning their attention to building Fortress West Point with its famous chain across the Hudson.
In addition to the prominent roles played by the likes of New Yorkâ€™s first Governor, George Clinton, unsung heroes of the Hudson Valley did their duty as well. Sybil Ludington, New Yorkâ€™s own sixteen-year-old female Paul Revere, rode out of Carmel to raise the militia in defense of the burning Danbury, Connecticut. Chief Daniel Nimham of the Wappingers, a Native American member of the Sons of Liberty and a captain in the American militia lost his life in battle for the cause of liberty.
The American Revolution played out along the Hudsonâ€™s banks â€“from the first riots protesting the British Quartering Act on Golden Hill in Lower Manhattan, to the chaining of the Hudson and Benedict Arnoldâ€™s attempted betrayal of West Point in the Highlands, to the Battle of Saratoga along its northern shores where Arnold played the role not of traitor, but of hero. The Hudson River Valley and this site contain the essential aspects to the study of birth of our Nation.
Claudius Smith was right smack dab in the middle of all of this tumult. But he was not a Son of Liberty, he was a Tory, a loyal supporter of the King. Or, perhaps, an opportunist who saw his chance to loot homes, steal horses, and rob others in exchange for payment from the British troops. This is how Elizabeth Oakes Smith saw him, in the 1800's:
New Jersey has often been called the Flanders of America, and it certainly earned the name by the number of battles fought upon its soil, and by the expenditure of life and money in the great war of the Revolution. Ramapo Valley suffered more than any other locality. Three years the American army encamped therein, and its fastnesses were often in the hands of the enemy, or usurped by marauders, who killed and pillaged either army without principle and without mercy.
This historic and most picturesque region was at that time placed upon a bad eminence, as being the arena of the terrible exploits and cruel devastations of a class of men popularly known as the "Cowboys." These marauders belonged to neither of the parties which divided the countryâ€”they were neither patriots nor loyalists, but preyed alike upon either, as it best served their interest or malignity. The leader had been, for a long period, one Claudius Smith, a bold, handsome man, around whom secretly clustered all those unprincipled and daring men, to be found in all communities when its peace is disturbed by the presence of conflicting armies.
Smith was from a good family, which had a right to expect better things of him; but this only goes to verify the old proverb, that every flock has one black sheep. He had a mixture of generosity, craft, cruelty, and unflinching courage in his composition, which made him a hero in the eyes of that class which discards all moral questions of right and truth from the scale of judgment.
At length he was taken prisoner and hanged for his crimes; but he left a son, Richard, a cruel, fiery youth, who swore to be revenged upon the patriots for the death of his father; and for a long time he was the terror of the whole region; and from his well-known characteristics, had earned for himself the familiar name of Black Dick.
Smith and his gang were known to swoop down out of the hills and steal horses for sale to the British troops, who protected Smith from sometimes hot pursuit. Eventually, they became such a scourge that the Governor of New York put a price on his head:
COWBOY OF THE RAMAPOS - TORY LOYALIST TO THE CROWN, a fierce looking man nearly 7 ft. tall, wearing a suit of rich broadcloth adorned with silver buttons Notorious leader of a lawless band of men who've been terrorizing the good citizens of Orange County.
$1,200 REWARD by proclamation of: Govenor Clinton, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
ACCUSED OF STEALING,
money, pewter & silver plate, saddles, guns, oxen, cattle & horses from the American colonists and turning them over to the British in New York City.
John McLean, messenger to General Washington at Newburgh from Montgomery, stealing his dispatch, beating and tying him to a tree by the side of the road. McLean reported that it was very cold that night and feared he might freeze. but did not. The following morning he was found by a passerby and released.
SUSPECT OF MURDER.
Oct. 6, 1778 of Major Nathaniel Strong who was found "Lying Dead" with two projectiles in his neck and head. According to his wife and the testimony of 13 Orange County citizens, a band of men led by Claudius Smith broke into Major Strong's home late that night & while burglarizing the contents shot and killed the Major.
from Colonel Jesse Woodhull, a beautiful mare in broad daylight. Smith entered the house while the family was upstairs having afternoon tea and from a cellar stall saddled the horse & rode away laughing. Later that same day another horse belonging to Luther Conklin was stolen by Smith from a meadow near his home.
BREAKING & ENTERING
the homes of Captain Woodhull at Oxford. William Bell of Goshen and Ebenezer Woodhull of Blooming Grove.
TRAVELLERS BEWARE: The Wild, "Tory Infested Clove", The Ramapo Valley, a 16 mile stretch of main road along which pass all communications between Canada & N.Y.C. has placed the Smith Hideout somewhere in the mountains east of Tuxedo along this route. Consistent reports of travellers being detained at pistol point & looted of all valuable by these hoodlums is common throughout this region.
ESCAPED FROM JAIL: Smith and a certain Mr. Brown had been arrested for stealing oxen from the Colonial Army and were jailed in Goshen on July 18, 1777 by Orange County Sheriff Dumont. An unknown number of Smith's followers converged on Goshen seizing the Sheriff and threatening his life if he did not release Smith and his accomplice immediately. Smith and his Gang road our of Goshen in triumph. Hence:
$600.00 REWARD for the capture of Claudius Smith's 2 sons, James & Richard,gangmembers
This text was copied from a facsimile printed at the Monroe Museum Village in Monroe, N.Y. The errors in punctuation and spelling were left as they exist. Claudius Smith terrorized both northern New Jersey and southern New York state. The Ramapo Valley referred to above is the area of the present-day intersection of Routes 17, 287, and the Thruway. It has always been a natural pass and in Revolutionary War times it was one of two possible routes from New York City to the north (the other was the Hudson River itself). His cave is nearby in Harriman State Park.
I think that wanted poster gives a better summary of his activities than I could hope to do.
I did find this small book on the web devoted to his exploits and I recommend it for further viewing as it tells the story of his capture and eventual execution.
Smith's mother, reportedly, told her son that he would die with his boots on, meaning that he would come to a bad end. At his execution, again reportedly, Smith removed his boots so as to make a liar out of his mother and he died barefoot, hung from a rope by the neck.
Interesting, no? I enjoyed researching this and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
Our newest â€ślook behind the curtainâ€ť subject is Le Marquis de Mores, a Frenchman who came to America, married well, moved West in the late 1800's and broke his teeth trying to compete with the meat packers by introducing ranching and meat packing at the source, challenged (maybe) Theodore Roosevelt to a duel, and moved back to France. I will show you how we go from cattle ranching in the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in France. After all, that's why I initially found him interesting.
I also found this guy to be fascinating because, after doing a little research, it appears that his story has been sanitized in English sources, including on US Government websites. This is an example of historical revisionism at work where the unsavory bits of this guyâ€™s story have been swept under the rug so as not to scare the children or the animals. Seriously, this fellow may look normal enough for those times on the surface, but when you probe a little deeper, you find a real whack job, lacking only the certification from the professionals to be official and to compete for a world ranking. I elucidate below.
The Marquis and the Badlands
The Marquis first came to prominence in the US due to his ranching activities in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880's. There is a particularly gushing tribute to him at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation where you learn that the Marquis was dashing and "inquisitive". You also learn that he founded the town of Medora, ND, named for his wife, and which by 1884, "had a population of 251, and in addition to the packing plant boasted a newspaper, a brickyard, several stores and saloons, a hotel and St. Mary's Catholic Church." You don't learn that it was mostly his father in law's money that paid for this town and the Marquis' schemes.
The town was built to challange the Chicago meat packing cartel. Most of the cattle from the West was shipped to Chicago stockyards and killed and packed in Chicago. I'm sure you all remember Upton Sinclair's work about the horrors of that world: "The Jungle". That book actually led to goverment reform of the meat packing industry. The Marquis intended to slaughter and pack the meat right there in Medora and ship directly to consumers. It would be cheaper for consumers, cut out the middle men, and he'd get rich. He failed.
Competition from the Chicago meatpackers and a consumer preference for corn fed over grass fed beef are the reasons generally accepted for the failure of the venture, although as you will see below, the Marquis had an alternative explanation. Need a hint? Think about Cynthia McKinneyâ€™s fatherâ€™s statements.
By 1886 it was all over and the Marquis returned to France in 1887. The Roosevelt Medora Foundation website sort of glosses over the further career of the Marquis.
The Further Career of the Marquis de Mores
The US Park Service has a biography of the Marquis and this is what they have to say about his further career:
Perhaps a word should be said here about the career of the Marquis de Mores after the failure of his Medora venture. Since his name is inextricably associated with the history of Medora, it is of interest to recount what eventually became of him. The story of his subsequent life is both stirring and tragic. De Mores returned to France, and then went to India for a year. Then he journeyed on to China where he toyed with plans designed to increase the influence of his native France. Returning to France he became involved in its political storms and it is alleged he took a part in the Dreyfus Affair and in trying to overthrow the government. He dreamed of augmenting the power of France in Africa, and as a means of doing so he is supposed to have conceived a plan to unite the Moslems against England. He went to Tunis in 1896 to lead an expedition into the Sudan and unite the Arabs in resisting the English advance in Africa. Against the advice of friends, he exchanged an Arab escort for one of wild Touareg tribesmen. They led him into an ambush at the well of El Ouatia. There he fell, but not until after he had left a ring of dead men around him. French colonial officials later recovered De Mores' body and returned it to Paris. He is buried there.
What's reaction upon finishing that? He's a hero, right? A romantic hero with a life that was both "stirring and tragic"? It was â€śallegedâ€ť that he became involved with the Dreyfus Affair? What, he fell in with bad company? Excuse my vulgarity, but, what the fuck? No mention at all of his less â€śstirringâ€ť activities? You read this and you're left with no understanding about what a strange and vile whack job this guy was. Let's continue.
The Missing Career Information, or why I think he's a whack job
The National Park Service and the Roosevelt Medora Foundation are sanitized versions. Let's look instead at what David McCullough says in his book, "Mornings on Horseback" at p. 345-46, where McCullough pulls no punches:
Followng a tiger hunt in India, he went home to France to proclaim himself the vicitm of a Jewish plot. The Chicago beef trust was now protrayed as the "Jewish beef trust". He turned to politics, launced a crusade to save France, a blend of socialism and rabid anti-Semitism, and went parading about Paris at the head of a gang of toughs, all of them dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts. With the collapse of the French effort at Panama, he joined iwth the unsavory Eduoard Drumont, a notorious anti-Semite, in an attemtp to blame that failure too on the Jews. It was this mania that led eventaully to the Dreyfus Affair, and the Marguis, before he went storming off to Africa, kept himslef in the forefront. His platform rantings set off riots, and in a series of duels with important Jewish army officers he became known as on of the most dangerous duelists in France.
The Marquis was himself murdered in June 1896 by a band of Tuareg tribesmen in North Aftica, where he had set off on a lone, harebrained scheme to unite the Muslims under the French flag in an all-out holy war against the Jews and the English.
Well, that puts a different spin entirely on it, doesn't it? Suddenly his adventures back in France and in North Africa look a little less "stirring" and a lot more insane, don't they?
There you go, from North Dakota and the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in one or two easy steps.
I don't know about you, but I am bemused by the idea of Frenchmen walking around the streets dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts in order to look tough.
Thanks to Jim, by the way, for suggesting the titles for these short biographical sketches.
Today's sketch is of Daniel Edgar Sickles. I came across his name while looking at the Hayes/Tilden election. Sickles was, in 1876, the fellow who realized that if the disputed states could declare for the Republicans, Hayes would win the electoral college. Sickles immediately sent telegrams to the governors of those four states, signing the name of the chairman of the Republican Party, who was too drunk to do it himself. When I read about this, I began to wonder, just who was this Sickles fellow anyway? Turns out, he was a pretty colorful character himself and worth a closer look.
Sickles's career can be broken into ante-bellum, Civil War, and post-bellum.
Interesting facts Ante-Bellum:
Sickles was elected to Congress thanks to his association with the corrupt Tammany Hall machine. He was part of the Boss Tweed crowd. While serving as congressman, he became the first man in America to be aquited of a murder charge based on the defense of temporary insanity. He shot his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key in LaFayette Park, across the street from Sickles's home when Sickles caught him signalling to the wife to arrange an assignation.
Interesting facts during the Civil War:
Sickles was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role at the Battle of Gettysburg where he lost his leg. He commanded III Corps. That fact alone, however, does not suggest how much of a rake and a scoundrel is was. His command was reputed to be a rolling bordello.
Many officers complained that Hooker, Sickles, and Daniel Butterfield had converted the army headquarters into a combination of bar and brothel. Sickles' own headquarters were considered to be even worse. After fighting at Chancellorsville, Sickles retained charge of the 3rd Corps even after Hooker's removal. Then on the second day of Gettysburg he did not like the sector assigned to his men along Cemetery Ridge. It was too long and low to his liking and he unilaterally decided to advance to the Peach Orchard. If he had survived the battle unscathed he probably would have been court-martialed. But some claim that his advanced position absorbed the shock of Longstreet's assault before it could reach the ridge. This theory claims that if the assault had hit the ridge in full strength it would have broken the Union line. This is, however, highly debatable since his movement put the left flank of the 2nd Corps in the air as well as both of his own. Always courageous on the field of battle, he was struck in the leg by a shell as his command was beginning its withdrawal. The leg was amputated within half an hour. (Source).
Sickles left the Army in 1867 as a Major General and a hero, as such things were judged. He donated the amputated leg to a museum and was said to have taken ladies to see it while on dates. A little eccentric, perhaps.
In 1867, President Ulysses Grant appointed Sickles ambassador to Spain where he continued as a rake and had a love affair with the deposed Spanish queen, Isabella II, and was called "The Yankee King of Spain." (Source).
As I said above, Sickle's played an important role in the disputed Hayes/Tilden election.
At nearly midnight, on his way home on election night, Sickles stopped by the Republican headquarters to check the returns. He soon realized that if Hayes lost no more Northern states and won the states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, then the Republican nominee would win the Electoral College tally by one vote. Sickles rushed off telegrams to Republican leaders in those states, under the signature of Republican national chairman Zachariah Chandler, who was sleeping off a bottle of whiskey, urging them to hold their states for the Republicans. At 3 a.m., Republican governor Daniel Chamberlain responded: â€śAll right. South Carolina is for Hayes. Need more troops.â€ť
Sickles went on in the 1890's to head the New York State Monuments Commission, which put him in charge of erecting Civil War monuments in the state.
In 1912, officials discovered $28,000 was missing from commission coffers and arrested the 93-year-old Sickles. Yet the wily former politician served not a single day in prison, his charm apparently rescuing him once again, as supporters raised money to fill the hole that had opened in the old man's pocket. And no doubt the old rogue would have added a few more chapters to his life story had there only been more time. He died two years later. (Source).
Sickles is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
I am sometimes intrigued by the people who populate the periphery of history. These are people who, while they may have been famous or notorious in their own era, have been relegated to the footnote of history in our time. These are people who may have been very accomplished in their own right, but who are known to us today primarily because of their association with someone who has greater historical gravitas or because they played what is now felt to be a minor role in an important event. Seriously, isn't this a fascinating concept? These "peripherals" led full lives and may have done astonishing things, some of them, yet they are eclipsed by their contemporaries by reason merely of their association. Who remembers the names of any of the men who went with Perry to Japan? Or climbed Everest with Hillary? Or was the second in command to William the Conqueror? Are they any less deserving of our attention?
Well, sometimes you find these peripherals as they put in an appearance in a history or a biography. Sometimes, if you look closely, you can see them in the corner of a book or peeking out from behind the drapes of history, as it were, where the author left them while he or she is writing about someone else.
I just observed one such elusive person. As I mentioned before, I am reading McCullough's biography of Theodore Roosevelt as a child and young man. Teddy was a world stage historical personage. His maternal uncle, James Bulloch, was a pretty compelling figure in his own right.
James Bulloch was born in Roswell, Georgia and grew up in a house that may have been the model for the mansion in Gone with the Wind. He was, in Teddy's own words, a former admiral in the Confederate Navy and the builder of the Alabama:
My mother's two brothers, James Dunwoodie Bulloch and Irvine Bulloch, came to visit us shortly after the close of the war. Both came under assumed names, as they were among the Confederates who were at that time exempted from the amnesty. "Uncle Jimmy" Bulloch was a dear old retired sea-captain, utterly unable to "get on" in the worldly sense of that phrase, as valiant and simple and upright a soul as ever lived, a veritable Colonel Newcome. He was an Admiral in the Confederate navy, and was the builder of the famous Confederate war vessel Alabama.
To leave him at that would not be doing him justice. The building of the Alabama was significant for the Civil War and his accomplishments in doing so may have influenced the future of naval policy under Pres. Teddy.
Captain Bulloch had the Alabama built under the nose of the Union and in contravention of the British law forbidding the building of foreign men of war. He was sent to England to procure a fleet of ships. These had to be built. Naturally, the Union was trying to stop this project and spies were everywhere. The Alabama was built under a different name and Captain Bulloch sailed her out of Liverpool to be refitted as a corsair just ahead of the law. The story of the building and escape can be found here.
During her first months of service alone, the Alabama took Union shipping worth over $400,000. The episode of the Alabama can also be found in a book devoted to the Secret Navy of the CSA.
According to the BBC, the C.S.S. Alabama significantly poisoned English and American relations for years. And no wonder, according to the book I referenced above: "When it was finally unleashed as the CSS Alabama, the Confederate gunship triggered the last great military campaign of the Civil War; a maritime adventure unparalleled in our history; an infamous example of British political treachery; and the largest retribution settlement ever negotiated by an international tribunal: $15,500,000 in gold paid by Britain to the United States."
The Alabama was finally brought to heel in June of 1864 by the USS Kearsage outside of Cherbourg, France. Actually, I went and saw a wonderful small exhibit about this naval battle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer. If you follow the link, you will find images of the paintings by famous artists, such as Manet, of this battle.
So there you have it, James Bulloch was an important civil war figure. He died, by the way, in England as an Englishman, without ever being eligible for a pardon.
But what was the effect of his exploits? I have seen it argued that without Bulloch in Teddy's life, we might never have seen the development of such a critically important strong navy.
The economic impact of the commerce raiders was significant, so much so that historian Philip Van Doren Stern considers James Bulloch's contribution to the Confederacy second only to that of Robert E. Lee. The Alabama and her fellow commerce raiders destroyed many millions of dollars worth of American merchant ships, diverted numerous Union naval ships from the blockade of Confederate harbors, nearly destroyed the American merchant marine (which never again recovered the world dominance it had enjoyed before the Civil War), and inflated American maritime insurance rates to such an extent as to drive more than one New England shipowner into bankruptcy.
The idea of this potential for naval power was early drummed into young Theodore Roosevelt. As he wrote: "From my earliest recollection I have been fed on tales of the sea and of ships. My mother's ... deep interest in the Southern cause and her brother's calling led her to talk to me as a little shaver about ships, ships, ships, and fighting of ships, till they sank into the depths of my soul. And when I first began to think, in any independent and consecutive order ... I began to write a history of the Naval War of 1812."
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It was, indeed, on Roosevelt's watch as President that the United States emerged into the top ranks of the world's naval powers. By 1907, the Atlantic Fleet was comprised of no less than 16 battleships which formed, according to Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf, "in weight and numbers combined, the most powerful fleet of battle ships under one command in any navy." By 1908, the US stood second among naval powers in the index of capital ships. TR made sure to put his amassed naval power on display when he ordered the global circumnavigation of the Atlantic fleet, often called the Great White Fleet, from December 1908 through February 1909.
So there you have it. My attempt to shed a little light on an otherwise not so common figure.
Finally, I have to admit, I am pretty intrigued by the thought that an important influence in the life of Teddy Roosevelt was a Confederate veteran of the War Between the States. I don't know what to make of it, but I think it's interesting.