General Sherman in Missouri and Louisiana
MEMOIRS OF GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN
By William T. Sherman
MISSOURI, LOUISIANA, AND CALIFORNIA—1850-1855
MISSOURI, LOUISIANA, AND CALIFORNIA
Having returned from California in January, 1850, with dispatches for the War Department, and having delivered them in person first to General Scott in New York City, and afterward to the Secretary of War (Crawford) in Washington City, I applied for and received a leave of absence for six months. I first visited my mother, then living at Mansfield, Ohio, and returned to Washington, where, on the 1st day of May, 1850, I was married to Miss Ellen Boyle Ewing, daughter of the Hon. Thomas Ewing, Secretary of the Interior. The marriage ceremony was attended by a large and distinguished company, embracing Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, T. H. Benton, President Taylor, and all his cabinet. This occurred at the house of Mr. Ewing, the same now owned and occupied by Mr. F. P. Blair, senior, on Pennsylvania Avenue, opposite the War Department. We made a wedding tour to Baltimore, New York, Niagara, and Ohio, and returned to Washington by the 1st of July. General Taylor participated in the celebration of the Fourth of July, a very hot day, by hearing a long speech from the Hon. Henry S. Foote, at the base of the Washington Monument. Returning from the celebration much heated and fatigued, he partook too freely of his favorite iced milk with cherries, and during that night was seized with a severe colic, which by morning had quite prostrated him. It was said that he sent for his son-in-law, Surgeon Wood, United States Army, stationed in Baltimore, and declined medical assistance from anybody else. Mr. Ewing visited him several times, and was manifestly uneasy and anxious, as was also his son-in-law, Major Bliss, then of the army, and his confidential secretary. He rapidly grew worse, and died in about four days.
At that time there was a high state of political feeling pervading the country, on account of the questions growing out of the new Territories just acquired from Mexico by the war. Congress was in session, and General Taylor's sudden death evidently created great alarm. I was present in the Senate-gallery, and saw the oath of office administered to the Vice-President, Mr. Fillmore, a man of splendid physical proportions and commanding appearance; but on the faces of Senators and people could easily be read the feelings of doubt and uncertainty that prevailed. All knew that a change in the cabinet and general policy was likely to result, but at the time it was supposed that Mr. Fillmore, whose home was in Buffalo, would be less liberal than General Taylor to the politicians of the South, who feared, or pretended to fear, a crusade against slavery; or, as was the political cry of the day, that slavery would be prohibited in the Territories and in the places exclusively under the jurisdiction of the United States. Events, however, proved the contrary.
I attended General Taylor's funeral as a sort of aide-decamp, at the request of the Adjutant-General of the army, Roger Jones, whose brother, a militia-general, commanded the escort, composed of militia and some regulars. Among the regulars I recall the names of Captains John Sedgwick and W. F. Barry.
Hardly was General Taylor decently buried in the Congressional Cemetery when the political struggle recommenced, and it became manifest that Mr. Fillmore favored the general compromise then known as Henry Clay's "Omnibus Bill," and that a general change of cabinet would at once occur: Webster was to succeed Mr. Clayton as Secretary of State, Corwin to succeed Mr. Meredith as Secretary of the Treasury, and A. H. H. Stuart to succeed Mr. Ewing as Secretary of the Interior. Mr. Ewing, however, was immediately appointed by the Governor of the State to succeed Corwin in the Senate. These changes made it necessary for Mr. Ewing to discontinue house-keeping, and Mr. Corwin took his home and furniture off his hands. I escorted the family out to their home in Lancaster, Ohio; but, before this had occurred, some most interesting debates took place in the Senate, which I regularly attended, and heard Clay, Benton, Foots, King of Alabama, Dayton, and the many real orators of that day. Mr. Calhoun was in his seat, but he was evidently approaching his end, for he was pale and feeble in the extreme. I heard Mr. Webster's last speech on the floor of the Senate, under circumstances that warrant a description. It was publicly known that he was to leave the Senate, and enter the new cabinet of Mr. Fillmore, as his Secretary of State, and that prior to leaving he was to make a great speech on the "Omnibus Bill." Resolved to hear it, I went up to the Capitol on the day named, an hour or so earlier than usual. The speech was to be delivered in the old Senate-chamber, now used by the Supreme Court. The galleries were much smaller than at present, and I found them full to overflowing, with a dense crowd about the door, struggling to reach the stairs. I could not get near, and then tried the reporters' gallery, but found it equally crowded; so I feared I should lose the only possible opportunity to hear Mr. Webster.
I had only a limited personal acquaintance with any of the Senators, but had met Mr. Corwin quite often at Mr. Ewing's house, and I also knew that he had been extremely friendly to my father in his lifetime; so I ventured to send in to him my card, "W. T. S., First-Lieutenant, Third Artillery." He came to the door promptly, when I said, "Mr. Corwin, I believe Mr. Webster is to speak to-day." His answer was, "Yes, he has the floor at one o'clock." I then added that I was extremely anxious to hear him. "Well," said he, "why don't you go into the gallery?" I explained that it was full, and I had tried every access, but found all jammed with people. "Well," said he, "what do you want of me?" I explained that I would like him to take me on the floor of the Senate; that I had often seen from the gallery persons on the floor, no better entitled to it than I. He then asked in his quizzical way, "Are you a foreign embassador?" "No." "Are you the Governor of a State?" "No." "Are you a member of the other House?" "Certainly not" "Have you ever had a vote of thanks by name?" "No!" "Well, these are the only privileged members." I then told him he knew well enough who I was, and that if he chose he could take me in. He then said, "Have you any impudence?" I told him, "A reasonable amount if occasion called for it." "Do you think you could become so interested in my conversation as not to notice the door-keeper?" (pointing to him). I told him that there was not the least doubt of it, if he would tell me one of his funny stories. He then took my arm, and led me a turn in the vestibule, talking about some indifferent matter, but all the time directing my looks to his left hand, toward which he was gesticulating with his right; and thus we approached the door-keeper, who began asking me, "Foreign ambassador? Governor of a State? Member of Congress?" etc.; but I caught Corwin's eye, which said plainly, "Don't mind him, pay attention to me," and in this way we entered the Senate-chamber by a side-door. Once in, Corwin said, "Now you can take care of yourself," and I thanked him cordially.
I found a seat close behind Mr. Webster, and near General Scott, and heard the whole of the speech. It was heavy in the extreme, and I confess that I was disappointed and tired long before it was finished. No doubt the speech was full of fact and argument, but it had none of the fire of oratory, or intensity of feeling, that marked all of Mr. Clay's efforts.
Toward the end of July, as before stated, all the family went home to Lancaster. Congress was still in session, and the bill adding four captains to the Commissary Department had not passed, but was reasonably certain to, and I was equally sure of being one of them. At that time my name was on the muster-roll of (Light) Company C, Third Artillery (Bragg's), stationed at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis. But, as there was cholera at St. Louis, on application, I was permitted to delay joining my company until September. Early in that month, I proceeded to Cincinnati, and thence by steamboat to St. Louis, and then to Jefferson Barracks, where I reported for duty to Captain and Brevet-Colonel Braxton Bragg, commanding (Light) Company C, Third Artillery. The other officers of the company were First-Lieutenant James A. Hardie, and afterward Haekaliah Brown. New horses had just been purchased for the battery, and we were preparing for work, when the mail brought the orders announcing the passage of the bill increasing the Commissary Department by four captains, to which were promoted Captains Shiras, Blair, Sherman, and Bowen. I was ordered to take post at St. Louis, and to relieve Captain A. J. Smith, First Dragoons, who had been acting in that capacity for some months. My commission bore date September 27,1850. I proceeded forthwith to the city, relieved Captain Smith, and entered on the discharge of the duties of the office.
Colonel N. S. Clarke, Sixth Infantry, commanded the department; Major D. C. Buell was adjutant-general, and Captain W. S. Hancock was regimental quartermaster; Colonel Thomas Swords was the depot quartermaster, and we had our offices in the same building, on the corner of Washington Avenue and Second. Subsequently Major S. Van Vliet relieved Colonel Swords. I remained at the Planters' House until my family arrived, when we occupied a house on Chouteau Avenue, near Twelfth.
During the spring and summer of 1851, Mr. Ewing and Mr. Henry Stoddard, of Dayton, Ohio, a cousin of my father, were much in St. Louis, on business connected with the estate of Major Amos Stoddard, who was of the old army, as early as the beginning of this century. He was stationed at the village of St. Louis at the time of the Louisiana purchase, and when Lewis and Clarke made their famous expedition across the continent to the Columbia River. Major Stoddard at that early day had purchased a small farm back of the village, of some Spaniard or Frenchman, but, as he was a bachelor, and was killed at Fort Meigs, Ohio, during the War of 1812, the title was for many years lost sight of, and the farm was covered over by other claims and by occupants. As St. Louis began to grow, his brothers and sisters, and their descendants, concluded to look up the property. After much and fruitless litigation, they at last retained Mr. Stoddard, of Dayton, who in turn employed Mr. Ewing, and these, after many years of labor, established the title, and in the summer of 1851 they were put in possession by the United States marshal. The ground was laid off, the city survey extended over it, and the whole was sold in partition. I made some purchases, and acquired an interest, which I have retained more or less ever since.
We continued to reside in St. Louis throughout the year 1851, and in the spring of 1852 I had occasion to visit Fort Leavenworth on duty, partly to inspect a lot of cattle which a Mr. Gordon, of Cass County, had contracted to deliver in New Mexico, to enable Colonel Sumner to attempt his scheme of making the soldiers in New Mexico self-supporting, by raising their own meat, and in a measure their own vegetables. I found Fort Leavenworth then, as now, a most beautiful spot, but in the midst of a wild Indian country. There were no whites settled in what is now the State of Kansas. Weston, in Missouri, was the great town, and speculation in town-lots there and thereabout burnt the fingers of some of the army-officers, who wanted to plant their scanty dollars in a fruitful soil. I rode on horseback over to Gordon's farm, saw the cattle, concluded the bargain, and returned by way of Independence, Missouri. At Independence I found F. X. Aubrey, a noted man of that day, who had just made a celebrated ride of six hundred miles in six days. That spring the United States quartermaster, Major L. C. Easton, at Fort Union, New Mexico, had occasion to send some message east by a certain date, and contracted with Aubrey to carry it to the nearest post-office (then Independence, Missouri), making his compensation conditional on the time consumed. He was supplied with a good horse, and an order on the outgoing trains for an exchange. Though the whole route was infested with hostile Indians, and not a house on it, Aubrey started alone with his rifle. He was fortunate in meeting several outward-bound trains, and there, by made frequent changes of horses, some four or five, and reached Independence in six days, having hardly rested or slept the whole way. Of course, he was extremely fatigued, and said there was an opinion among the wild Indians that if a man "sleeps out his sleep," after such extreme exhaustion, he will never awake; and, accordingly, he instructed his landlord to wake him up after eight hours of sleep. When aroused at last, he saw by the clock that he had been asleep twenty hours, and he was dreadfully angry, threatened to murder his landlord, who protested he had tried in every way to get him up, but found it impossible, and had let him "sleep it out" Aubrey, in describing his sensations to me, said he took it for granted he was a dead man; but in fact he sustained no ill effects, and was off again in a few days. I met him afterward often in California, and always esteemed him one of the best samples of that bold race of men who had grown up on the Plains, along with the Indians, in the service of the fur companies. He was afterward, in 1856, killed by R. C. Weightman, in a bar-room row, at Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had just arrived from California.
In going from Independence to Fort Leavenworth, I had to swim Milk Creek, and sleep all night in a Shawnee camp. The next day I crossed the Kaw or Kansas River in a ferry boat, maintained by the blacksmith of the tribe, and reached the fort in the evening. At that day the whole region was unsettled, where now exist many rich counties, highly cultivated, embracing several cities of from ten to forty thousand inhabitants. From Fort Leavenworth I returned by steamboat to St. Louis.
In the summer of 1852, my family went to Lancaster, Ohio; but I remained at my post. Late in the season, it was rumored that I was to be transferred to New Orleans, and in due time I learned the cause. During a part of the Mexican War, Major Seawell, of the Seventh Infantry, had been acting commissary of subsistence at New Orleans, then the great depot of supplies for the troops in Texas, and of those operating beyond the Rio Grande. Commissaries at that time were allowed to purchase in open market, and were not restricted to advertising and awarding contracts to the lowest bidders. It was reported that Major Seawell had purchased largely of the house of Perry Seawell & Co., Mr. Seawell being a relative of his. When he was relieved in his duties by Major Waggman, of the regular Commissary Department, the latter found Perry Seawell & Co. so prompt and satisfactory that he continued the patronage; for which there was a good reason, because stores for the use of the troops at remote posts had to be packed in a particular way, to bear transportation in wagons, or even on pack-mules; and this firm had made extraordinary preparations for this exclusive purpose. Some time about 1849, a brother of Major Waggaman, who had been clerk to Captain Casey, commissary of subsistence, at Tampa Bay, Florida, was thrown out of office by the death of the captain, and he naturally applied to his brother in New Orleans for employment; and he, in turn, referred him to his friends, Messrs. Perry Seawell & Co. These first employed him as a clerk, and afterward admitted him as a partner. Thus it resulted, in fact, that Major Waggaman was dealing largely, if not exclusively, with a firm of which his brother was a partner.
One day, as General Twiggs was coming across Lake Pontchartrain, he fell in with one of his old cronies, who was an extensive grocer. This gentleman gradually led the conversation to the downward tendency of the times since he and Twiggs were young, saying that, in former years, all the merchants of New Orleans had a chance at government patronage; but now, in order to sell to the army commissary, one had to take a brother in as a partner. General Twiggs resented this, but the merchant again affirmed it, and gave names. As soon as General Twiggs reached his office, he instructed his adjutant-general, Colonel Bliss—who told me this—to address a categorical note of inquiry to Major Waggaman. The major very frankly stated the facts as they had arisen, and insisted that the firm of Perry Seawell & Co. had enjoyed a large patronage, but deserved it richly by reason of their promptness, fairness, and fidelity. The correspondence was sent to Washington, and the result was, that Major Waggaman was ordered to St. Louis, and I was ordered to New Orleans.
I went down to New Orleans in a steamboat in the month of September, 1852, taking with me a clerk, and, on arrival, assumed the office, in a bank-building facing Lafayette Square, in which were the offices of all the army departments. General D. Twiggs was in command of the department, with Colonel W. W. S. Bliss (son-in-law of General Taylor) as his adjutant-general. Colonel A. C. Myers was quartermaster, Captain John F. Reynolds aide-de-camp, and Colonel A. J. Coffee paymaster. I took rooms at the St. Louis Hotel, kept by a most excellent gentleman, Colonel Mudge.
Mr. Perry Seawell came to me in person, soliciting a continuance of the custom which he had theretofore enjoyed; but I told him frankly that a change was necessary, and I never saw or heard of him afterward. I simply purchased in open market, arranged for the proper packing of the stores, and had not the least difficulty in supplying the troops and satisfying the head of the department in Washington.
About Christmas, I had notice that my family, consisting of Mrs. Sherman, two children, and nurse, with my sister Fanny (now Mrs. Moulton, of Cincinnati, Ohio), were en route for New Orleans by steam-packet; so I hired a house on Magazine Street, and furnished it. Almost at the moment of their arrival, also came from St. Louis my personal friend Major Turner, with a parcel of documents, which, on examination, proved to be articles of copartnership for a bank in California under the title of "Lucas, Turner & Co.," in which my name was embraced as a partner. Major Turner was, at the time, actually en route for New York, to embark for San Francisco, to inaugurate the bank, in the nature of a branch of the firm already existing at St. Louis under the name of "Lucas & Symonds." We discussed the matter very fully, and he left with me the papers for reflection, and went on to New York and California.
Shortly after arrived James H. Lucas, Esq., the principal of the banking-firm in St. Louis, a most honorable and wealthy gentleman. He further explained the full programme of the branch in California; that my name had been included at the insistence of Major Turner, who was a man of family and property in St. Louis, unwilling to remain long in San Francisco, and who wanted me to succeed him there. He offered me a very tempting income, with an interest that would accumulate and grow. He also disclosed to me that, in establishing a branch in California, he was influenced by the apparent prosperity of Page, Bacon & Co., and further that he had received the principal data, on which he had founded the scheme, from B. R. Nisbet, who was then a teller in the firm of Page, Bacon & Co., of San Francisco; that he also was to be taken in as a partner, and was fully competent to manage all the details of the business; but, as Nisbet was comparatively young, Mr. Lucas wanted me to reside in San Francisco permanently, as the head of the firm. All these matters were fully discussed, and I agreed to apply for a six months' leave of absence, go to San Francisco, see for myself, and be governed by appearances there. I accordingly, with General Twiggs's approval, applied to the adjutant-general for a six months' leave, which was granted; and Captain John F. Reynolds was named to perform my duties during my absence.
During the stay of my family in New Orleans, we enjoyed the society of the families of General Twiggs, Colonel Myers, and Colonel Bliss, as also of many citizens, among whom was the wife of Mr. Day, sister to my brother-in-law, Judge Bartley. General Twiggs was then one of the oldest officers of the army. His history extended back to the War of 1812, and he had served in early days with General Jackson in Florida and in the Creek campaigns. He had fine powers of description, and often entertained us, at his office, with accounts of his experiences in the earlier settlements of the Southwest. Colonel Bliss had been General Taylor's adjutant in the Mexican War, and was universally regarded as one of the most finished and accomplished scholars in the army, and his wife was a most agreeable and accomplished lady.
Late in February, I dispatched my family up to Ohio in the steamboat Tecumseh (Captain Pearce); disposed of my house and furniture; turned over to Major Reynolds the funds, property, and records of the office; and took passage in a small steamer for Nicaragua,, en route for California. We embarked early in March, and in seven days reached Greytown, where we united with the passengers from New York, and proceeded, by the Nicaragua River and Lake, for the Pacific Ocean. The river was low, and the little steam canal-boats, four in number, grounded often, so that the passengers had to get into the water, to help them over the bare. In all there were about six hundred passengers, of whom about sixty were women and children. In four days we reached Castillo, where there is a decided fall, passed by a short railway, and above this fall we were transferred to a larger boat, which carried us up the rest of the river, and across the beautiful lake Nicaragua, studded with volcanic islands. Landing at Virgin Bay, we rode on mules across to San Juan del Sur, where lay at anchor the propeller S. S. Lewis (Captain Partridge, I think). Passengers were carried through the surf by natives to small boats, and rowed off to the Lewis. The weather was very hot, and quite a scramble followed for state-rooms, especially for those on deck. I succeeded in reaching the purser's office, got my ticket for a berth in one of the best state-rooms on deck, and, just as I was turning from the window, a lady who was a fellow-passenger from New Orleans, a Mrs. D-, called to me to secure her and her lady friend berths on deck, saying that those below were unendurable. I spoke to the purser, who, at the moment perplexed by the crowd and clamor, answered: "I must put their names down for the other two berths of your state-room; but, as soon as the confusion is over, I will make some change whereby you shall not suffer." As soon as these two women were assigned to a state-room, they took possession, and I was left out. Their names were recorded as "Captain Sherman and ladies." As soon as things were quieted down I remonstrated with the purser, who at last gave me a lower berth in another and larger state-room on deck, with five others, so that my two ladies had the state-room all to themselves. At every meal the steward would come to me, and say, "Captain Sherman, will you bring your ladies to the table?" and we had the best seats in the ship.
This continued throughout the voyage, and I assert that "my ladies" were of the most modest and best-behaved in the ship; but some time after we had reached San Francisco one of our fellow-passengers came to me and inquired if I personally knew Mrs. D—-, with flaxen tresses, who sang so sweetly for us, and who had come out under my especial escort. I replied I did not, more than the chance acquaintance of the voyage, and what she herself had told me, viz., that she expected to meet her husband, who lived about Mokelumne Hill. He then informed me that she was a woman of the town. Society in California was then decidedly mixed. In due season the steamship Lewis got under weigh. She was a wooden ship, long and narrow, bark-rigged, and a propeller; very slow, moving not over eight miles an hour. We stopped at Acapulco, and, in eighteen days, passed in sight of Point Pinoa at Monterey, and at the speed we were traveling expected to reach San Francisco at 4 A. M. the next day. The cabin passengers, as was usual, bought of the steward some champagne and cigars, and we had a sort of ovation for the captain, purser, and surgeon of the ship, who were all very clever fellows, though they had a slow and poor ship. Late at night all the passengers went to bed, expecting to enter the port at daylight. I did not undress, as I thought the captain could and would run in at night, and I lay down with my clothes on. About 4 A. M. I was awakened by a bump and sort of grating of the vessel, which I thought was our arrival at the wharf in San Francisco; but instantly the ship struck heavily; the engines stopped, and the running to and fro on deck showed that something was wrong. In a moment I was out of my state-room, at the bulwark, holding fast to a stanchion, and looking over the side at the white and seething water caused by her sudden and violent stoppage. The sea was comparatively smooth, the night pitch-dark, and the fog deep and impenetrable; the ship would rise with the swell, and come down with a bump and quiver that was decidedly unpleasant. Soon the passengers were out of their rooms, undressed, calling for help, and praying as though the ship were going to sink immediately. Of course she could not sink, being already on the bottom, and the only question was as to the strength of hull to stand the bumping and straining. Great confusion for a time prevailed, but soon I realized that the captain had taken all proper precautions to secure his boats, of which there were six at the davits. These are the first things that steerage-passengers make for in case of shipwreck, and right over my head I heard the captain's voice say in a low tone, but quite decided: "Let go that falls, or, damn you, I'll blow your head off!" This seemingly harsh language gave me great comfort at the time, and on saying so to the captain afterward, he explained that it was addressed to a passenger who attempted to lower one of the boats. Guards, composed of the crew, were soon posted to prevent any interference with the boats, and the officers circulated among the passengers the report that there was no immediate danger; that, fortunately, the sea was smooth; that we were simply aground, and must quietly await daylight.
They advised the passengers to keep quiet, and the ladies and children to dress and sit at the doors of their state-rooms, there to await the advice and action of the officers of the ship, who were perfectly cool and self-possessed. Meantime the ship was working over a reef-for a time I feared she would break in two; but, as the water gradually rose inside to a level with the sea outside, the ship swung broadside to the swell, and all her keel seemed to rest on the rock or sand. At no time did the sea break over the deck—but the water below drove all the people up to the main-deck and to the promenade-deck, and thus we remained for about three hours, when daylight came; but there was a fog so thick that nothing but water could be seen. The captain caused a boat to be carefully lowered, put in her a trustworthy officer with a boat-compass, and we saw her depart into the fog. During her absence the ship's bell was kept tolling. Then the fires were all out, the ship full of water, and gradually breaking up, wriggling with every swell like a willow basket—the sea all round us full of the floating fragments of her sheeting, twisted and torn into a spongy condition. In less than an hour the boat returned, saying that the beach was quite near, not more than a mile away, and had a good place for landing. All the boats were then carefully lowered, and manned by crews belonging to the ship; a piece of the gangway, on the leeward side, was cut away, and all the women, and a few of the worst-scared men, were lowered into the boats, which pulled for shore. In a comparatively short time the boats returned, took new loads, and the debarkation was afterward carried on quietly and systematically. No baggage was allowed to go on shore except bags or parcels carried in the hands of passengers. At times the fog lifted so that we could see from the wreck the tops of the hills, and the outline of the shore; and I remember sitting on, the upper or hurricane deck with the captain, who had his maps and compass before him, and was trying to make out where the ship was. I thought I recognized the outline of the hills below the mission of Dolores, and so stated to him; but he called my attention to the fact that the general line of hills bore northwest, whereas the coast south of San Francisco bears due north and south. He therefore concluded that the ship had overrun her reckoning, and was then to the north of San Francisco. He also explained that, the passage up being longer than usual, viz., eighteen days, the coal was short; that at the time the firemen were using some cut-up spars along with the slack of coal, and that this fuel had made more than usual steam, so that the ship must have glided along faster than reckoned. This proved to be the actual case, for, in fact, the steamship Lewis was wrecked April 9, 1853, on "Duckworth Reef," Baulinas Bay, about eighteen miles above the entrance to San Francisco.
The captain had sent ashore the purser in the first boat, with orders to work his way to the city as soon as possible, to report the loss of his vessel, and to bring back help. I remained on the wreck till among the last of the passengers, managing to get a can of crackers and some sardines out of the submerged pantry, a thing the rest of the passengers did not have, and then I went quietly ashore in one of the boats. The passengers were all on the beach, under a steep bluff; had built fires to dry their clothes, but had seen no human being, and had no idea where they were. Taking along with me a fellow-passenger, a young chap about eighteen years old, I scrambled up the bluff, and walked back toward the hills, in hopes to get a good view of some known object. It was then the month of April, and the hills were covered with the beautiful grasses and flowers of that season of the year. We soon found horse paths and tracks, and following them we came upon a drove of horses grazing at large, some of which had saddle-marks. At about two miles from the beach we found a corral; and thence, following one of the strongest-marked paths, in about a mile more we descended into a valley, and, on turning a sharp point, reached a board shanty, with a horse picketed near by. Four men were inside eating a meal. I inquired if any of the Lewis's people had been there; they did not seem to understand what I meant when I explained to them that about three miles from them, and beyond the old corral, the steamer Lewis was wrecked, and her passengers were on the beach. I inquired where we were, and they answered, "At Baulinas Creek;" that they were employed at a saw-mill just above, and were engaged in shipping lumber to San Francisco; that a schooner loaded with lumber was then about two miles down the creek, waiting for the tide to get out, and doubtless if we would walk down they would take us on board.
I wrote a few words back to the captain, telling him where he was, and that I would hurry to the city to send him help. My companion and I their went on down the creek, and soon descried the schooner anchored out in the stream. On being hailed, a small boat came in and took us on board. The "captain" willingly agreed for a small sum to carry us down to San Francisco; and, as his whole crew consisted of a small boy about twelve years old, we helped him to get up his anchor and pole the schooner down the creek and out over the bar on a high tide. This must have been about 2 P.M. Once over the bar, the sails were hoisted, and we glided along rapidly with a strong, fair, northwest wind. The fog had lifted, so we could see the shores plainly, and the entrance to the bay. In a couple of hours we were entering the bay, and running "wing-and-wing." Outside the wind was simply the usual strong breeze; but, as it passes through the head of the Golden Gate, it increases, and there, too, we met a strong ebb-tide.
The schooner was loaded with lumber, much of which was on deck, lashed down to ring bolts with raw-hide thongs. The captain was steering, and I was reclining on the lumber, looking at the familiar shore, as we approached Fort Point, when I heard a sort of cry, and felt the schooner going over. As we got into the throat of the "Heads," the force of the wind, meeting a strong ebb-tide, drove the nose of the schooner under water; she dove like a duck, went over on her side, and began, to drift out with the tide. I found myself in the water, mixed up with pieces of plank and ropes; struck out, swam round to the stern, got on the keel, and clambered up on the side. Satisfied that she could not sink, by reason of her cargo, I was not in the least alarmed, but thought two shipwrecks in one day not a good beginning for a new, peaceful career. Nobody was drowned, however; the captain and crew were busy in securing such articles as were liable to float off, and I looked out for some passing boat or vessel to pick us up. We were drifting steadily out to sea, while I was signaling to a boat about three miles off, toward Saucelito, and saw her tack and stand toward us. I was busy watching this sail-boat, when I heard a Yankee's voice, close behind, saying, "This is a nice mess you've got yourselves into," and looking about I saw a man in a small boat, who had seen us upset, and had rowed out to us from a schooner anchored close under the fort. Some explanations were made, and when the sail-boat coming from Saucelito was near enough to be spoken to, and the captain had engaged her to help his schooner, we bade him good by, and got the man in the small boat-to carry us ashore, and land us at the foot of the bluff, just below the fort. Once there, I was at home, and we footed it up to the Presidio. Of the sentinel I inquired who was in command of the post, and was answered, "Major Merchant." He was not then in, but his adjutant, Lieutenant Gardner, was. I sent my card to him; he came out, and was much surprised to find me covered with sand, and dripping with water, a good specimen of a shipwrecked mariner. A few words of explanation sufficed; horses were provided, and we rode hastily into the city, reaching the office of the Nicaragua Steamship Company (C. K. Garrison, agent) about dark, just as the purser had arrived; by a totally different route. It was too late to send relief that night, but by daylight next morning two steamers were en route for and reached the place of wreck in time to relieve the passengers and bring them, and most of the baggage. I lost my carpet-bag, but saved my trunk. The Lewis went to pieces the night after we got off, and, had there been an average sea during the night of our shipwreck, none of us probably would have escaped. That evening in San Francisco I hunted up Major Turner, whom I found boarding, in company with General E. A. Hitchcock, at a Mrs. Ross's, on Clay Street, near Powell. I took quarters with them, and began to make my studies, with a view to a decision whether it was best to undertake this new and untried scheme of banking, or to return to New Orleans and hold on to what I then had, a good army commission.
At the time of my arrival, San Francisco was an the top wave of speculation and prosperity. Major Turner had rented at six hundred dollars a month the office formerly used and then owned by Adams & Co., on the east side of Montgomery Street, between Sacramento and California Streets. B. R. Nisbet was the active partner, and James Reilly the teller. Already the bank of Lucas, Turner & Co. was established, and was engaged in selling bills of exchange, receiving deposits, and loaning money at three per cent. a month.
Page, Bacon & Co., and Adams & Co., were in full blast across the street, in Parrott's new granite building, and other bankers were doing seemingly a prosperous business, among them Wells, Fargo & Co.; Drexel, Sather & Church; Burgoyne & Co.; James King of Win.; Sanders & Brenham; Davidson & Co.; Palmer, Cook & Co., and others. Turner and I had rooms at Mrs. Ross's, and took our meals at restaurants down-town, mostly at a Frenchman's named Martin, on the southwest corner of Montgomery and California Streets. General Hitchcock, of the army, commanding the Department of California, usually messed with us; also a Captain Mason, and Lieutenant Whiting, of the Engineer Corps. We soon secured a small share of business, and became satisfied there was room for profit. Everybody seemed to be making money fast; the city was being rapidly extended and improved; people paid their three per cent. a month interest without fail, and without deeming it excessive. Turner, Nisbet, and I, daily discussed the prospects, and gradually settled down to the conviction that with two hundred thousand dollars capital, and a credit of fifty thousand dollars in New York, we could build up a business that would help the St. Louis house, and at the same time pay expenses in California, with a reasonable profit. Of course, Turner never designed to remain long in California, and I consented to go back to St. Louis, confer with Mr. Lucas and Captain Simonds, agree upon further details, and then return permanently.
I have no memoranda by me now by which to determine the fact, but think I returned to New York in July, 1853, by the Nicaragua route, and thence to St. Louis by way of Lancaster, Ohio, where my family still was. Mr. Lucas promptly agreed to the terms proposed, and further consented, on the expiration of the lease of the Adams & Co. office, to erect a new banking-house in San Francisco, to cost fifty thousand dollars. I then returned to Lancaster, explained to Mr. Ewing and Mrs. Sherman all the details of our agreement, and, meeting their approval, I sent to the Adjutant-General of the army my letter of resignation, to take effect at the end of the six months' leave, and the resignation was accepted, to take effect September 6, 1853. Being then a citizen, I engaged a passage out to California by the Nicaragua route, in the steamer leaving New York September 20th, for myself and family, and accordingly proceeded to New York, where I had a conference with Mr. Meigs, cashier of the American Exchange Bank, and with Messrs. Wadsworth & Sheldon, bankers, who were our New York correspondents; and on the 20th embarked for San Juan del Norte, with the family, composed of Mrs. Sherman, Lizzie, then less than a year old, and her nurse, Mary Lynch. Our passage down was uneventful, and, on the boats up the Nicaragua River, pretty much the same as before. On reaching Virgin Bay, I engaged a native with three mules to carry us across to the Pacific, and as usual the trip partook of the ludicrous—Mrs. Sherman mounted on a donkey about as large as a Newfoundland dog; Mary Lynch on another, trying to carry Lizzie on a pillow before her, but her mule had a fashion of lying down, which scared her, till I exchanged mules, and my California spurs kept that mule on his legs. I carried Lizzie some time till she was fast asleep, when I got our native man to carry her awhile. The child woke up, and, finding herself in the hands of a dark-visaged man, she yelled most lustily till I got her away. At the summit of the pass, there was a clear-running brook, where we rested an hour, and bathed Lizzie in its sweet waters. We then continued to the end of our journey, and, without going to the tavern at San Juan del Sur, we passed directly to the vessel, then at anchor about two miles out. To reach her we engaged a native boat, which had to be kept outside the surf. Mrs. Sherman was first taken in the arms of two stout natives; Mary Lynch, carrying Lizzie, was carried by two others; and I followed, mounted on the back of a strapping fellow, while fifty or a hundred others were running to and fro, cackling like geese.
Mary Lynch got scared at the surf, and began screaming like a fool, when Lizzie became convulsed with fear, and one of the natives rushed to her, caught her out of Mary's arms, and carried her swiftly to Mrs. Sherman, who, by that time, was in the boat, but Lizzie had fainted with fear, and for a long time sobbed as though permanently injured. For years she showed symptoms that made us believe she had never entirely recovered from the effects of the scare. In due time we reached the steamer Sierra Nevada, and got a good state-room. Our passage up the coast was pleasant enough; we reached San Francisco; on the 15th of October, and took quarters at an hotel on Stockton Street, near Broadway.
Major Turner remained till some time in November, when he also departed for the East, leaving me and Nisbet to manage the bank. I endeavored to make myself familiar with the business, but of course Nisbet kept the books, and gave his personal attention to the loans, discounts, and drafts, which yielded the profits. I soon saw, however, that the three per cent. charged as premium on bills of exchange was not all profit, but out of this had to come one and a fourth to one and a half for freight, one and a third for insurance, with some indefinite promise of a return premium; then, the, cost of blanks, boxing of the bullion, etc., etc. Indeed, I saw no margin for profit at all. Nisbet, however, who had long been familiar with the business, insisted there was a profit, in the fact that the gold-dust or bullion shipped was more valuable than its cost to us. We, of course, had to remit bullion to meet our bills on New York, and bought crude gold-dust, or bars refined by Kellogg & Humbert or E. Justh & Co., for at that time the United States Mint was not in operation. But, as the reports of our shipments came back from New York, I discovered that I was right, and Nisbet was wrong; and, although we could not help selling our checks on New York and St. Louis at the same price as other bankers, I discovered that, at all events, the exchange business in San Francisco was rather a losing business than profitable. The same as to loans. We could loan, at three per cent. a month, all our own money, say two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and a part of our deposit account. This latter account in California was decidedly uncertain. The balance due depositors would run down to a mere nominal sum on steamer-days, which were the 1st and 15th of each month, and then would increase till the next steamer-day, so that we could not make use of any reasonable part of this balance for loans beyond the next steamer-day; or, in other words, we had an expensive bank, with expensive clerks, and all the machinery for taking care of other people's money for their benefit, without corresponding profit. I also saw that loans were attended with risk commensurate with the rate; nevertheless, I could not attempt to reform the rules and customs established by others before me, and had to drift along with the rest toward that Niagara that none foresaw at the time.
Shortly after arriving out in 1853, we looked around for a site for the new bank, and the only place then available on Montgomery Street, the Wall Street of San Francisco, was a lot at the corner of Jackson Street, facing Montgomery, with an alley on the north, belonging to James Lick. The ground was sixty by sixty-two feet, and I had to pay for it thirty-two thousand dollars. I then made a contract with the builders, Keyser, & Brown, to erect a three-story brick building, with finished basement, for about fifty thousand dollars. This made eighty-two thousand instead of fifty thousand dollars, but I thought Mr. Lucas could stand it and would approve, which he did, though it resulted in loss to him. After the civil war, he told me he had sold the building for forty thousand dollars, about half its cost, but luckily gold was then at 250, so that he could use the forty thousand dollars gold as the equivalent of one hundred thousand dollars currency. The building was erected; I gave it my personal supervision, and it was strongly and thoroughly built, for I saw it two years ago, when several earthquakes had made no impression on it; still, the choice of site was unfortunate, for the city drifted in the opposite direction, viz., toward Market Street. I then thought that all the heavy business would remain toward the foot of Broadway and Jackson Street, because there were the deepest water and best wharves, but in this I made a mistake. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1854, the new bank was finished, and we removed to it, paying rents thereafter to our Mr. Lucas instead of to Adams & Co. A man named Wright, during the same season, built a still finer building just across the street from us; Pioche, Bayerque & Co. were already established on another corner of Jackson Street, and the new Metropolitan Theatre was in progress diagonally opposite us. During the whole of 1854 our business steadily grew, our average deposits going up to half a million, and our sales of exchange and consequent shipment of bullion averaging two hundred thousand dollars per steamer. I signed all bills of exchange, and insisted on Nisbet consulting me on loans and discounts. Spite of every caution, however, we lost occasionally by bad loans, and worse by the steady depreciation of real estate. The city of San Francisco was then extending her streets, sewering them, and planking them, with three-inch lumber. In payment for the lumber and the work of contractors, the city authorities paid scrip in even sums of one hundred, five hundred, one thousand, and five thousand dollars. These formed a favorite collateral for loans at from fifty to sixty cents on the dollar, and no one doubted their ultimate value, either by redemption or by being converted into city bonds. The notes also of H. Meiggs, Neeley Thompson & Co., etc., lumber-dealers, were favorite notes, for they paid their interest promptly, and lodged large margins of these street-improvement warrants as collateral. At that time, Meiggs was a prominent man, lived in style in a large house on Broadway, was a member of the City Council, and owned large saw-mills up the coast about Mendocino. In him Nisbet had unbounded faith, but, for some reason, I feared or mistrusted him, and remember that I cautioned Nisbet not to extend his credit, but to gradually contract his loans. On looking over our bills receivable, then about six hundred thousand dollars, I found Meiggs, as principal or indorser, owed us about eighty thousand dollars—all, however, secured by city warrants; still, he kept bank accounts elsewhere, and was generally a borrower. I instructed Nisbet to insist on his reducing his line as the notes matured, and, as he found it indelicate to speak to Meiggs, I instructed him to refer him to me; accordingly, when, on the next steamer-day, Meiggs appealed at the counter for a draft on Philadelphia, of about twenty thousand dollars, for which he offered his note and collateral, he was referred to me, and I explained to him that our draft was the same as money; that he could have it for cash, but that we were already in advance to him some seventy-five or eighty thousand dollars, and that instead of increasing the amount I must insist on its reduction. He inquired if I mistrusted his ability, etc. I explained, certainly not, but that our duty was to assist those who did all their business with us, and, as our means were necessarily limited, I must restrict him to some reasonable sum, say, twenty-five thousand dollars. Meiggs invited me to go with him to a rich mercantile house on Clay Street, whose partners belonged in Hamburg, and there, in the presence of the principals of the house, he demonstrated, as clearly as a proposition in mathematics, that his business at Mendocino was based on calculations that could not fail. The bill of exchange which he wanted, he said would make the last payment on a propeller already built in Philadelphia, which would be sent to San Francisco, to tow into and out of port the schooners and brigs that were bringing his lumber down the coast. I admitted all he said, but renewed my determination to limit his credit to twenty-five thousand dollars. The Hamburg firm then agreed to accept for him the payment of all his debt to us, except the twenty-five thousand dollars, payable in equal parts for the next three steamer-days. Accordingly, Meiggs went back with me to our bank, wrote his note for twenty-five thousand dollars, and secured it by mortgage on real estate and city warrants, and substituted the three acceptances of the Hamburg firm for the overplus. I surrendered to him all his former notes, except one for which he was indorser. The three acceptances duly matured and were paid; one morning Meiggs and family were missing, and it was discovered they had embarked in a sailing-vessel for South America. This was the beginning of a series of failures in San Francisco, that extended through the next two years. As soon as it was known that Meiggs had fled, the town was full of rumors, and everybody was running to and fro to secure his money. His debts amounted to nearly a million dollars. The Hamburg house which, had been humbugged, were heavy losers and failed, I think. I took possession of Meiggs's dwelling-house and other property for which I held his mortgage, and in the city warrants thought I had an overplus; but it transpired that Meiggs, being in the City Council, had issued various quantities of street scrip, which was adjudged a forgery, though, beyond doubt, most of it, if not all, was properly signed, but fraudulently issued. On this city scrip our bank must have lost about ten thousand dollars. Meiggs subsequently turned up in Chili, where again he rose to wealth and has paid much of his San Francisco debts, but none to us. He is now in Peru, living like a prince. With Meiggs fell all the lumber-dealers, and many persons dealing in city scrip. Compared with others, our loss was a trifle. In a short time things in San Francisco resumed their wonted course, and we generally laughed at the escapade of Meiggs, and the cursing of his deluded creditors.
Shortly after our arrival in San Francisco, I rented of a Mr. Marryat, son of the English Captain Marryat, the author, a small frame-house on Stockton Street, near Green, buying of him his furniture, and we removed to it about December 1,1853. Close by, around on Green Street, a man named Dickey was building two small brick-houses, on ground which he had leased of Nicholson. I bought one of these houses, subject to the ground-rent, and moved into it as soon as finished. Lieutenant T. H. Stevens, of the United States Navy, with his family, rented the other; we lived in this house throughout the year 1854, and up to April 17, 1855.
Site Copyright 2003-2008 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you Scared and Confused? Click Here to read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.