Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

the Vigilance Committee itself were getting tired of the business,

and thought that in the execution of Casey and Cora, and the

banishment of a dozen or more rowdies, they had done enough, and

were then willing to stop. It was suggested that, if our

Law-and-Order party would not arm, by a certain day near at hand

the committee would disperse, and some of their leaders would

submit to an indictment and trial by a jury of citizens, which they

knew would acquit them of crime. One day in the bank a man called

me to the counter and said, "If you expect to get arms of General

Wool, you will be mistaken, for I was at Benicia yesterday, and

heard him say he would not give them." This person was known to me

to be a man of truth, and I immediately wrote to General Wool a

letter telling him what I had heard, and how any hesitation on his

part would compromise me as a man of truth and honor; adding that I

did not believe we should ever need the arms, but only the promise

of them, for "the committee was letting down, and would soon

disperse and submit to the law," etc. I further asked him to

answer me categorically that very night, by the Stockton boat,

which would pass Benicia on its way down about midnight, and I

would sit up and wait for his answer. I did wait for his letter,

but it did not come, and the next day I got a telegraphic dispatch

from Governor Johnson, who, at Sacramento, had also heard of

General Wool's "back-down," asking me to meet him again at Benicia

that night.

I went up in the evening boat, and found General Wool's aide-de-

camp, Captain Arnold, of the army, on the wharf, with a letter in

his hand, which he said was for me. I asked for it, but he said he

knew its importance, and preferred we should go to General Wool's

room together, and the general could hand it to me in person. We

did go right up to General Wool's, who took the sealed parcel and

laid it aside, saying that it was literally a copy of one he had

sent to Governor Johnson, who would doubtless give me a copy; but I

insisted that I had made a written communication, and was entitled

to a written answer.

At that moment several gentlemen of the "Conciliation party," who

had come up in the same steamer with me, asked for admission and

came in. I recall the names of Crockett, Foote, Bailey Peyton,

Judge Thornton, Donohue, etc., and the conversation became general,

Wool trying to explain away the effect of our misunderstanding,

taking good pains not to deny his promise made to me personally on

the wharf. I renewed my application for the letter addressed to

me, then lying on his table. On my statement of the case, Bailey

Peyton said, "General Wool, I think General Sherman has a right to

a written answer from you, for he is surely compromised." Upon

this Wool handed me the letter. I opened and read it, and it

denied any promise of arms, but otherwise was extremely evasive and

non-committal. I had heard of the arrival at the wharf of the

Governor and party, and was expecting them at Wool's room, but,

instead of stopping at the hotel where we were, they passed to

another hotel on the block above. I went up and found there, in a

room on the second floor over the bar-room, Governor Johnson,

Chief-Justice Terry, Jones, of Palmer, Cooke & Co., E. D. Baker,

Volney E. Howard, and one or two others. All were talking

furiously against Wool, denouncing him as a d---d liar, and not

sparing the severest terms. I showed the Governor General Wool's

letter to me, which he said was in effect the same as the one

addressed to and received by him at Sacramento. He was so offended

that he would not even call on General Wool, and said he would

never again recognize him as an officer or gentleman. We discussed

matters generally, and Judge Terry said that the Vigilance

Committee were a set of d---d pork-merchants; that they were

getting scared, and that General Wool was in collusion with them to

bring the State into contempt, etc. I explained that there were no

arms in the State except what General Wool had, or what were in the

hands of the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco, and that the

part of wisdom for us was to be patient and cautious. About that

time Crockett and his associates sent up their cards, but Terry and

the more violent of the Governor's followers denounced them as no

better than "Vigilantes," and wanted the Governor to refuse even to

receive them. I explained that they were not "Vigilantes," that

Judge Thornton was a "Law-and-Order" man, was one of the first to

respond to the call of the sheriff, and that he went actually to

the jail with his one arm the night we expected the first attempt

at rescue, etc. Johnson then sent word for them to reduce their

business to writing. They simply sent in a written request for an

audience, and they were then promptly admitted. After some general

conversation, the Governor said he was prepared to hear them, when

Mr. Crockett rose and made a prepared speech embracing a clear and

fair statement of the condition of things in San Francisco,

concluding with the assertion of the willingness of the committee

to disband and submit to trial after a certain date not very

remote. All the time Crockett was speaking, Terry sat with his hat

on, drawn over his eyes, and with his feet on a table. As soon as

Crockett was through, they were dismissed, and Johnson began to

prepare a written answer. This was scratched, altered, and

amended, to suit the notions of his counselors, and at last was

copied and sent. This answer amounted to little or nothing.

Seeing that we were powerless for good, and that violent counsels

would prevail under the influence of Terry and others, I sat down

at the table, and wrote my resignation, which Johnson accepted in a

complimentary note on the spot, and at the same time he appointed

to my place General Volney E. Howard, then present, a lawyer who

had once been a member of Congress from Texas, and who was expected

to drive the d---d pork-merchants into the bay at short notice. I

went soon after to General Wool's room, where I found Crockett and

the rest of his party; told them that I was out of the fight,

having resigned my commission; that I had neglected business that

had been intrusted to me by my St. Louis partners; and that I would

thenceforward mind my own business, and leave public affairs

severely alone. We all returned to San Francisco that night by the

Stockton boat, and I never after-ward had any thing to do with

politics in California, perfectly satisfied with that short

experience. Johnson and Wool fought out their quarrel of veracity

in the newspapers and on paper. But, in my opinion, there is not a

shadow of doubt that General Wool did deliberately deceive us; that

he had authority to issue arms, and that, had he adhered to his

promise, we could have checked the committee before it became a

fixed institution, and a part of the common law of California.

Major-General Volney E. Howard came to San Francisco soon after;

continued the organization of militia which I had begun; succeeded

in getting a few arms from the country; but one day the Vigilance

Committee sallied from their armories, captured the arms of the

"Law-and-Order party," put some of their men into prison, while

General Howard, with others, escaped to the country; after which

the Vigilance Committee had it all their own way. Subsequently, in

July, 1856, they arrested Chief-Justice Terry, and tried him for

stabbing one of their constables, but he managed to escape at

night, and took refuge on the John Adams. In August, they hanged

Hetherington and Brace in broad daylight, without any jury-trial;

and, soon after, they quietly disbanded. As they controlled the

press, they wrote their own history, and the world generally gives

them the credit of having purged San Francisco of rowdies and

roughs; but their success has given great stimulus to a dangerous

principle, that would at any time justify the mob in seizing all

the power of government; and who is to say that the Vigilance

Committee may not be composed of the worst, instead of the best,

elements of a community? Indeed, in San Francisco, as soon as it

was demonstrated that the real power had passed from the City Hall

to the committee room, the same set of bailiffs, constables, and

rowdies that had infested the City Hall were found in the

employment of the "Vigilantes;" and, after three months

experience, the better class of people became tired of the midnight

sessions and left the business and power of the committee in the

hands of a court, of which a Sydney man was reported to be the head

or chief-justice.

During the winter of 1855-'56, and indeed throughout the year 1856,

all kinds of business became unsettled in California. The mines

continued to yield about fifty millions of gold a year; but little

attention was paid to agriculture or to any business other than

that of "mining," and, as the placer-gold was becoming worked out,

the miners were restless and uneasy, and were shifting about from

place to place, impelled by rumors put afloat for speculative

purposes. A great many extensive enterprises by joint-stock

companies had been begun, in the way of water-ditches, to bring

water from the head of the mountain-streams down to the richer

alluvial deposits, and nearly all of these companies became

embarrassed or bankrupt. Foreign capital, also, which had been

attracted to California by reason of the high rates of interest,

was being withdrawn, or was tied up in property which could not be

sold; and, although our bank's having withstood the panic gave us

great credit, still the community itself was shaken, and loans of

money were risky in the extreme. A great many merchants, of the

highest name, availed themselves of the extremely liberal bankrupt

law to get discharged of their old debts, without sacrificing much,

if any, of their stocks of goods on hand, except a lawyer's fee;

thus realizing Martin Burke's saying that "many a clever fellow had

been ruined by paying his debts." The merchants and business-men

of San Francisco did not intend to be ruined by such a course. I

raised the rate of exchange from three to three and a half, while

others kept on at the old rate; and I labored hard to collect old

debts, and strove, in making new loans, to be on the safe side.

The State and city both denied much of their public debt; in fact,

repudiated it; and real estate, which the year before had been

first-class security, became utterly unsalable.

The office labor and confinement, and the anxiety attending the

business, aggravated my asthma to such an extent that at times it

deprived me of sleep, and threatened to become chronic and serious;

and I was also conscious that the first and original cause which

had induced Mr. Lucas to establish the bank in California had

ceased. I so reported to him, and that I really believed that he

could use his money more safely and to better advantage in St.

Louis. This met his prompt approval, and he instructed me

gradually to draw out, preparatory to a removal to New York City.

Accordingly, early in April, 1857, I published an advertisement in

the San Francisco papers, notifying our customers that, on the 1st

day of May, we would discontinue business and remove East,

requiring all to withdraw their accounts, and declaring that,

if any remained on that day of May, their balances would be

transferred to the banking-house of Parrott & Co. Punctually to the

day, this was done, and the business of Lucas, Turner & Co., of San

Francisco, was discontinued, except the more difficult and

disagreeable part of collecting their own moneys and selling the

real estate, to which the firm had succeeded by purchase or

foreclosure. One of the partners, B. R. Nisbet, assisted by our

attorney, S. M. Bowman, Esq., remained behind to close up the

business of the bank.




Having closed the bank at San Francisco on the 1st day of May,

1857, accompanied by my family I embarked in the steamer Sonora for

Panama, crossed the isthmus, and sailed to New York, whence we

proceeded to Lancaster, Ohio, where Mrs. Sherman and the family

stopped, and I went on to St. Louis. I found there that some

changes had been made in the parent, house, that Mr. Lucas had

bought out his partner, Captain Symonds, and that the firm's name

had been changed to that of James H. Lucas & Co.

It had also been arranged that an office or branch was to be

established in New York City, of which I was to have charge, on

pretty much the same terms and conditions as in the previous San

Francisco firm.

Mr. Lucas, Major Turner, and I, agreed to meet in New York, soon

after the 4th of July. We met accordingly at the Metropolitan

Hotel, selected an office, No. 12 Pall Street, purchased the

necessary furniture, and engaged a teller, bookkeeper, and porter.

The new firm was to bear the same title of Lucas, Turner & Co.,

with about the same partners in interest, but the nature of the

business was totally different. We opened our office on the 21st

of July, 1857, and at once began to receive accounts from the West

and from California, but our chief business was as the resident

agents of the St. Louis firm of James H. Lucas & Co. Personally I

took rooms at No. 100 Prince Street, in which house were also

quartered Major J. G. Barnard, and Lieutenant J. B. McPherson,

United States Engineers, both of whom afterward attained great fame

in the civil war.

My business relations in New York were with the Metropolitan Bank

and Bank of America; and with the very wealthy and most respectable

firm of Schuchhardt & Gebhard, of Nassau Street. Every thing went

along swimmingly till the 21st of August, when all Wall Street was

thrown into a spasm by the failure of the Ohio Life and Trust

Company, and the panic so resembled that in San Francisco, that,

having nothing seemingly at stake, I felt amused. But it soon

became a serious matter even to me. Western stocks and securities

tumbled to such a figure, that all Western banks that held such

securities, and had procured advances thereon, were compelled to

pay up or substitute increased collaterals. Our own house was not

a borrower in New York at all, but many of our Western

correspondents were, and it taxed my tune to watch their interests.

In September, the panic extended so as to threaten the safety of

even some of the New York banks not connected with the West; and

the alarm became general, and at last universal.

In the very midst of this panic came the news that the steamer

Central America, formerly the George Law, with six hundred

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