Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

rode to Captain Folsom's house, where I found him in great pain and

distress, mental and physical. He was sitting in a chair, and

bathing his head with a sponge. I explained to him the object of

my visit, and he said he had expected it, and had already sent his

agent, Van Winkle, down-town, with instructions to raise what money

he could at any cost; but he did not succeed in raising a cent. So

great was the shock to public confidence, that men slept on their

money, and would not loan it for ten per cent. a week, on any

security whatever--even on mint certificates, which were as good as

gold, and only required about ten days to be paid in coin by the

United States Mint. I then rode up to Hammond's house, on Rincon

Hill, and found him there. I explained to him exactly Smiley's

affairs, and only asked him to pay one of his acceptances. He

inquired, "Why not both?" I answered that was so much the better;

it would put me under still greater obligations. He then agreed to

meet me at our bank at 10 P.M. I sent word to others that I

demanded them to pay what they could on their paper, and then

returned to the bank, to meet Hammond. In due time, he came down

with Palmer (of Palmer, Cook & Co.), and there he met Smiley, who

was, of course, very anxious to retire his notes. We there

discussed the matter fully, when Hammond said, "Sherman, give me up

my two acceptances, and I will substitute therefor my check of

forty thousand dollars," with "the distinct understanding that, if

the money is not needed by you, it shall be returned to me, and the

transaction then to remain statu quo." To this there was a general

assent. Nisbet handed him his two acceptances, and he handed me

his check, signed as collector of the port, on Major J. R. Snyder,

United States Treasurer, for forty thousand dollars. I afterward

rode out, that night, to Major Snyder's house on North Beach, saw

him, and he agreed to meet me at 8 a.m. next day, at the United

States Mint, and to pay the check, so that I could have the money

before the bank opened. The next morning, as agreed on, we met,

and he paid me the check in two sealed bags of gold-coin, each

marked twenty thousand dollars, which I had carried to the bank,

but never opened them, or even broke the seals.

That morning our bank opened as usual, but there was no appearance

of a continuation of the "run;" on the contrary, money began to

come back on deposit, so that by night we had a considerable

increase, and this went on from day to day, till nearly the old

condition of things returned. After about three days, finding I

had no use for the money obtained on Hammond's check, I took the

identical two bags back to the cashier of the Custom-House, and

recovered the two acceptances which had been surrendered as

described; and Smiley's two notes were afterward paid in their due

course, out of the cash received on those identical acceptances.

But, years afterward, on settling with Hammond for the Custom-House

contract when completed, there was a difference, and Smiley sued

Lucas, Turner & Co. for money had and received for his benefit,

being the identical forty thousand dollars herein explained, but he

lost his case. Hammond, too, was afterward removed from office,

and indicted in part for this transaction. He was tried before the

United States Circuit Court, Judge McAlister presiding, for a

violation of the sub-Treasury Act, but was acquitted. Our bank,

having thus passed so well through the crisis, took at once a first

rank; but these bank failures had caused so many mercantile losses,

and had led to such an utter downfall in the value of real estate,

that everybody lost more or less money by bad debts, by

depreciation of stocks and collaterals, that became unsalable, if

not worthless.

About this time (viz., February, 1855) I had exchanged my house on

Green, street, with Mr. Sloat, for the half of a fifty-vara lot on

Harrison Street, between Fremont and First, on which there was a

small cottage, and I had contracted for the building of a new

frame-house thereon, at six thousand dollars. This house was

finished on the 9th of April, and my family moved into it at once.

For some time Mrs. Sherman had been anxious to go home to

Lancaster, Ohio, where we had left our daughter Minnie, with her

grandparents, and we arranged that S. M. Bowman, Esq., and wife,

should move into our new house and board us, viz., Lizzie, Willie

with the nurse Biddy, and myself, for a fair consideration. It so

happened that two of my personal friends, Messrs. Winters and

Cunningham of Marysville, and a young fellow named Eagan, now a

captain in the Commissary Department, were going East in the

steamer of the middle of April, and that Mr.. William H.

Aspinwall, of New York, and Mr. Chauncey, of Philadelphia, were

also going back; and they all offered to look to the personal

comfort of Mrs. Sherman on the voyage. They took passage in the

steamer Golden Age (Commodore Watkins), which sailed on April 17,

1855. Their passage down the coast was very pleasant till within a

day's distance of Panama, when one bright moonlit night, April

29th, the ship, running at full speed, between the Islands Quibo

and Quicara, struck on a sunken reef, tore out a streak in her

bottom, and at once began to fill with water. Fortunately she did

not sink fast, but swung off into deep water, and Commodore Watkins

happening to be on deck at the moment, walking with Mr. Aspinwall,

learning that the water was rushing in with great rapidity, gave

orders for a full head of steam, and turned the vessel's bow

straight for the Island Quicara. The water rose rapidly in the

hold, the passengers were all assembled, fearful of going down, the

fires were out, and the last revolution of the wheels made, when

her bow touched gently on the beach, and the vessel's stern sank in

deep water. Lines were got out, and the ship held in an upright

position, so that the passengers were safe, and but little

incommoded. I have often heard Mrs. Sherman tell of the boy Eagan,

then about fourteen years old, coming to her state-room, and

telling to her not to be afraid, as he was a good swimmer; but on

coming out into the cabin, partially dressed, she felt more

confidence in the cool manner, bearing, and greater strength of Mr.

Winters. There must have been nearly a thousand souls on board at

the time, few of whom could have been saved had the steamer gone

down in mid-channel, which surely would have resulted, had not

Commodore Watkins been on deck, or had he been less prompt in his

determination to beach his ship. A sailboat was dispatched toward

Panama, which luckily met the steamer John T. Stephens, just coming

out of the bay, loaded with about a thousand passengers bound for

San Francisco, and she at once proceeded to the relief of the

Golden Age. Her passengers were transferred in small boats to the

Stephens, which vessel, with her two thousand people crowded

together with hardly standing-room, returned to Panama, whence the

passengers for the East proceeded to their destination without

further delay. Luckily for Mrs. Sherman, Purser Goddard, an old

Ohio friend of ours, was on the Stephens, and most kindly gave up

his own room to her, and such lady friends as she included in her

party. The Golden Age was afterward partially repaired at Quicara,

pumped out, and steamed to Panama, when, after further repairs, she

resumed her place in the line. I think she is still in existence,

but Commodore Watkins afterward lost his life in China, by falling

down a hatchway.

Mrs. Sherman returned in the latter part of November of the same

year, when Mr. and Mrs. Bowman, who meantime had bought a lot next

to us and erected a house thereon, removed to it, and we thus

continued close neighbors and friends until we left the country for

good in 1857.

During the summer of 1856, in San Francisco, occurred one of those

unhappy events, too common to new countries, in which I became

involved in spite of myself.

William Neely Johnson was Governor of California, and resided at

Sacramento City; General John E. Wool commanded the Department of

California, having succeeded General Hitchcock, and had his

headquarters at Benicia; and a Mr. Van Ness was mayor of the city.

Politics had become a regular and profitable business, and

politicians were more than suspected of being corrupt. It was

reported and currently believed that the sheriff (Scannell) had

been required to pay the Democratic Central Committee a hundred

thousand dollars for his nomination, which was equivalent to an

election, for an office of the nominal salary of twelve thousand

dollars a year for four years. In the election all sorts of

dishonesty were charged and believed, especially of "ballot-box

stuffing," and too generally the better classes avoided the

elections and dodged jury-duty, so that the affairs of the city

government necessarily passed into the hands of a low set of

professional politicians. Among them was a man named James Casey,

who edited a small paper, the printing office of which was in a

room on the third floor of our banking office. I hardly knew him

by sight, and rarely if ever saw his paper; but one day Mr. Sather,

of the excellent banking firm of Drexel, Sather & Church, came to

me, and called my attention to an article in Casey's paper so full

of falsehood and malice, that we construed it as an effort to

black-mail the banks generally. At that time we were all laboring

to restore confidence, which had been so rudely shaken by the

panic, and I went up-stairs, found Casey, and pointed out to him

the objectionable nature of his article, told him plainly that I

could not tolerate his attempt to print and circulate slanders in

our building, and, if he repeated it, I would cause him and his

press to be thrown out of the windows. He took the hint and moved

to more friendly quarters. I mention this fact, to show my

estimate of the man, who became a figure in the drama I am about to

describe. James King of Wm., as before explained, was in 1853 a

banker on his own account, but some time in 1854 he had closed out

his business, and engaged with Adams & Co. as cashier. When this

firm failed, he, in common with all the employees, was thrown out

of employment, and had to look around for something else. He

settled down to the publication of an evening paper, called the

Bulletin, and, being a man of fine manners and address, he at once

constituted himself the champion of society against the public and

private characters whom he saw fit to arraign.

As might have been expected, this soon brought him into the usual

newspaper war with other editors, and especially with Casey, and

epithets a la "Eatanswill" were soon bandying back and forth

between them. One evening of May, 1856, King published, in the

Bulletin, copies of papers procured from New York, to show that

Casey had once been sentenced to the State penitentiary at Sing

Sing. Casey took mortal offense, and called at the Bulletin

office, on the corner of Montgomery and Merchant Streets, where he

found King, and violent words passed between them, resulting in

Casey giving King notice that he would shoot him on sight. King

remained in his office till about 5 or 6 p.m., when he started

toward his home on Stockton Street, and, as he neared the corner of

Washington, Casey approached him from the opposite direction,

called to him, and began firing. King had on a short cloak, and in

his breast-pocket a small pistol, which he did not use. One of

Casey's shots struck him high up in the breast, from which he

reeled, was caught by some passing friend, and carried into the

express-office on the corner, where he was laid on the counter; and

a surgeon sent for. Casey escaped up Washington Street, went to

the City Hall, and delivered himself to the sheriff (Scannell), who

conveyed him to jail and locked him in a cell. Meantime, the news

spread like wildfire, and all the city was in commotion, for grog

was very popular. Nisbet, who boarded with us on Harrison Street,

had been delayed at the bank later than usual, so that he happened

to be near at the time, and, when he came out to dinner, he brought

me the news of this affair, and said that there was every

appearance of a riot down-town that night. This occurred toward

the evening of May 14, 1856.

It so happened that, on the urgent solicitation of Van Winkle and

of Governor Johnson; I had only a few days before agreed to accept

the commission of major-general of the Second Division of Militia,

embracing San Francisco. I had received the commission, but had

not as yet formally accepted it, or even put myself in

communication with the volunteer companies of the city. Of these,

at that moment of time, there was a company of artillery with four

guns, commanded by a Captain Johns, formerly of the army, and two

or three uniformed companies of infantry. After dinner I went down

town to see what was going on; found that King had been removed to

a room in the Metropolitan Block; that his life was in great peril;

that Casey was safe in jail, and the sheriff had called to his

assistance a posse of the city police, some citizens, and one of

the militia companies. The people were gathered in groups on the

streets, and the words "Vigilance Committee" were freely spoken,

but I saw no signs of immediate violence. The next morning, I

again went to the jail, and found all things quiet, but the militia

had withdrawn. I then went to the City Hall, saw the mayor, Van

Ness, and some of the city officials, agreed to do what I could to

maintain order with such militia as were on hand, and then formally

accepted the commission, and took the "oath."

In 1851 (when I was not in California) there had been a Vigilance

Committee, and it was understood that its organization still

existed. All the newspapers took ground in favor of the Vigilance

Committee, except the Herald (John Nugent, editor), and nearly all

the best people favored that means of redress. I could see they

were organizing, hiring rendezvous, collecting arms, etc., without

concealment. It was soon manifest that the companies of volunteers

would go with the "committee," and that the public authorities

could not rely on them for aid or defense. Still, there were a

good many citizens who contended that, if the civil authorities

were properly sustained by the people at large, they could and

would execute the law. But the papers inflamed the public mind,

and the controversy spread to the country. About the third day

after the shooting of King, Governor Johnson telegraphed me that he

would be down in the evening boat, and asked me to meet him on

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