Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

passengers and about sixteen hundred thousand dollars of treasure,

coming from Aspinwall, had foundered at sea, off the coast of

Georgia, and that about sixty of the passengers had been

providentially picked up by a Swedish bark, and brought into

Savannah. The absolute loss of this treasure went to swell the

confusion and panic of the day.

A few days after, I was standing in the vestibule of the

Metropolitan Hotel, and heard the captain of the Swedish bark tell

his singular story of the rescue of these passengers. He was a

short, sailor-like-looking man, with a strong German or Swedish

accent. He said that he was sailing from some port in Honduras for

Sweden, running down the Gulf Stream off Savannah. The weather had

been heavy for some days, and, about nightfall, as he paced his

deck, he observed a man-of-war hawk circle about his vessel,

gradually lowering, until the bird was as it were aiming at him.

He jerked out a belaying-pin, struck at the bird, missed it, when

the hawk again rose high in the air, and a second time began to

descend, contract his circle, and make at him again. The second

time he hit the bird, and struck it to the deck.... This strange

fact made him uneasy, and he thought it betokened danger; he went

to the binnacle, saw the course he was steering, and without any

particular reason he ordered the steersman to alter the course one

point to the east.

After this it became quite dark, and he continued to promenade the

deck, and had settled into a drowsy state, when as in a dream he

thought he heard voices all round his ship. Waking up, he ran to

the side of the ship, saw something struggling in the water, and

heard clearly cries for help. Instantly heaving his ship to, and

lowering all his boats, he managed to pick up sixty or more persons

who were floating about on skylights, doors, spare, and whatever

fragments remained of the Central America. Had he not changed the

course of his vessel by reason of the mysterious conduct of that

man-of-war hawk, not a soul would probably have survived the night.

It was stated by the rescued passengers, among whom was Billy

Birch, that the Central America had sailed from Aspinwall with the

passengers and freight which left San Francisco on the 1st of

September, and encountered the gale in the Gulf Stream somewhere

off Savannah, in which she sprung a leak, filled rapidly, and went

down. The passengers who were saved had clung to doors, skylights,

and such floating objects as they could reach, and were thus

rescued; all the rest, some five hundred in number, had gone down

with the ship.

The panic grew worse and worse, and about the end of September

there was a general suspension of the banks of New York, and a

money crisis extended all over the country. In New York, Lucas,

Turner & Co. had nothing at risk. We had large cash balances in

the Metropolitan Bank and in the Bank of America, all safe, and we

held, for the account of the St. Louis house, at least two hundred

thousand dollars, of St. Louis city and county bonds, and of

acceptances falling due right along, none extending beyond ninety

days. I was advised from St. Louis that money matters were

extremely tight; but I did not dream of any danger in that quarter.

I knew well that Mr. Lucas was worth two or three million dollars

in the best real estate, and inferred from the large balances to

their credit with me that no mere panic could shake his credit;

but, early on the morning of October 7th, my cousin, James M. Hoyt,

came to me in bed, and read me a paragraph in the morning paper, to

the effect that James H. Lucas & Co., of St. Louis, had suspended.

I was, of course, surprised, but not sorry; for I had always

contended that a man of so much visible wealth as Mr. Lucas should

not be engaged in a business subject to such vicissitudes. I

hurried down to the office, where I received the same information

officially, by telegraph, with instructions to make proper

disposition of the affairs of the bank, and to come out to St.

Louis, with such assets as would be available there. I transferred

the funds belonging to all our correspondents, with lists of

outstanding checks, to one or other of our bankers, and with the

cash balance of the St. Louis house and their available assets

started for St. Louis. I may say with confidence that no man lost

a cent by either of the banking firms of Lucas, Turner & Co., of

San Francisco or New York; but, as usual, those who owed us were

not always as just. I reached St. Louis October 17th, and found

the partners engaged in liquidating the balances due depositors as

fast as collections could be forced; and, as the panic began to

subside, this process became quite rapid, and Mr. Lucas, by making

a loan in Philadelphia, was enabled to close out all accounts

without having made any serious sacrifices, Of course, no person

ever lost a cent by him: he has recently died, leaving an estate of

eight million dollars. During his lifetime, I had opportunities to

know him well, and take much pleasure in bearing testimony to his

great worth and personal kindness. On the failure of his bank, he

assumed personally all the liabilities, released his partners of

all responsibility, and offered to assist me to engage in business,

which he supposed was due to me because I had resigned my army

commission. I remained in St. Louis till the 17th of December,

1857, assisting in collecting for the bank, and in controlling all

matters which came from the New York and San Francisco branches.

B. R. Nisbet was still in San Francisco, but had married a Miss

Thornton, and was coming home. There still remained in California

a good deal of real estate, and notes, valued at about two hundred

thousand dollars in the aggregate; so that, at Mr. Lucas's request,

I agreed to go out again, to bring matters, if possible, nearer a

final settlement. I accordingly left St. Louis, reached Lancaster,

where my family was, on the 10th, staid there till after Christmas,

and then went to New York, where I remained till January 5th, when

I embarked on the steamer Moles Taylor (Captain McGowan) for

Aspinwall; caught the Golden Gate (Captain Whiting) at Panama,

January 15, 1858; and reached San Francisco on the 28th of January.

I found that Nisbet and wife had gone to St. Louis, and that we had

passed each other at sea. He had carried the ledger and books to

St. Louis, but left a schedule, notes, etc., in the hands of S. M.

Bowman, Esq., who passed them over to me.

On the 30th of January I published a notice of the dissolution of

the partnership, and called on all who were still indebted to the

firm of Lucas, Turner & Co. to pay up, or the notes would be sold

at auction. I also advertised that all the real property, was for

sale.

Business had somewhat changed since 1857. Parrott & Co.; Garrison,

Fritz & Ralston; Wells, Fargo & Co.; Drexel, Sather & Church, and

Tallant & Wilde, were the principal bankers. Property continued

almost unsalable, and prices were less than a half of what they

had been in 1853-'54. William Blending, Esq., had rented my house

on Harrison Street; so I occupied a room in the bank, No. 11, and

boarded at the Meiggs House, corner of Broadway and Montgomery,

which we owned. Having reduced expenses to a minimum, I proceeded,

with all possible dispatch, to collect outstanding debts, in some

instances making sacrifices and compromises. I made some few

sales, and generally aimed to put matters in such a shape that time

would bring the best result. Some of our heaviest creditors were

John M. Rhodes & Co., of Sacramento and Shasta; Langton & Co., of

Downieville; and E. M. Stranger of Murphy's. In trying to put

these debts in course of settlement, I made some arrangement in

Downieville with the law-firm of Spears & Thornton, to collect, by

suit, a certain note of Green & Purdy for twelve thousand dollars.

Early in April, I learned that Spears had collected three thousand

seven hundred dollars in money, had appropriated it to his own use,

and had pledged another good note taken in part payment of three

thousand and fifty-three dollars. He pretended to be insane. I

had to make two visits to Downieville on this business, and there,

made the acquaintance of Mr. Stewart, now a Senator from Nevada.

He was married to a daughter of Governor Foote; was living in a

small framehouse on the bar just below the town; and his little

daughter was playing about the door in the sand. Stewart was then

a lawyer in Downieville, in good practice; afterward, by some lucky

stroke, became part owner of a valuable silver-mine in Nevada, and

is now accounted a millionaire. I managed to save something out of

Spears, and more out of his partner Thornton. This affair of

Spears ruined him, because his insanity was manifestly feigned.

I remained in San Francisco till July 3d, when, having collected

and remitted every cent that I could raise, and got all the

property in the best shape possible, hearing from St. Louis that

business had revived, and that there was no need of further

sacrifice; I put all the papers, with a full letter of

instructions, and power of attorney, in the hands of William

Blending, Esq., and took passage on the good steamer Golden Gate,

Captain Whiting, for Panama and home. I reached Lancaster on July

28, 1858, and found all the family well. I was then perfectly

unhampered, but the serious and greater question remained, what was

I to do to support my family, consisting of a wife and four

children, all accustomed to more than the average comforts of life?

I remained at Lancaster all of August, 1858, during which time I

was discussing with Mr. Ewing and others what to do next. Major

Turner and Mr. Lucas, in St. Louis, were willing to do any thing to

aid me, but I thought best to keep independent. Mr. Ewing had

property at Chauncey, consisting of salt-wells and coal-mines, but

for that part of Ohio I had no fancy. Two of his sons, Hugh and T.

E., Jr., had established themselves at Leavenworth, Kansas, where

they and their father had bought a good deal of land, some near the

town, and some back in the country. Mr. Ewing offered to confide

to me the general management of his share of interest, and Hugh and

T. E., Jr., offered me an equal copartnership in their law-firm.

Accordingly, about the 1st of September, I started for Kansas,

stopping a couple of weeks in St. Louis, and reached Leavenworth.

I found about two miles below the fort, on the river-bank, where in

1851 was a tangled thicket, quite a handsome and thriving city,

growing rapidly in rivalry with Kansas City, and St. Joseph,

Missouri. After looking about and consulting with friends, among

them my classmate Major Stewart Van Vliet, quartermaster at the

fort, I concluded to accept the proposition of Mr. Ewing, and

accordingly the firm of Sherman & Ewing was duly announced, and our

services to the public offered as attorneys-at-law. We had an

office on Main Street, between Shawnee and Delaware, on the second

floor, over the office of Hampton Denman, Esq., mayor of the city.

This building was a mere shell, and our office was reached by a

stairway on the outside. Although in the course of my military

reading I had studied a few of the ordinary law-books, such as

Blackstone, Kent, Starkie, etc., I did not presume to be a lawyer;

but our agreement was that Thomas Ewing, Jr., a good and thorough

lawyer, should manage all business in the courts, while I gave

attention to collections, agencies for houses and lands, and such

business as my experience in banking had qualified me for. Yet, as

my name was embraced in a law-firm, it seemed to me proper to take

out a license. Accordingly, one day when United States Judge

Lecompte was in our office, I mentioned the matter to him; he told

me to go down to the clerk of his court, and he would give me the

license. I inquired what examination I would have to submit to,

and he replied, "None at all;" he would admit me on the ground of

general intelligence.

During that summer we got our share of the business of the

profession, then represented by several eminent law-firms,

embracing names that have since flourished in the Senate, and in

the higher courts of the country. But the most lucrative single

case was given me by my friend Major Van Vliet, who employed me to

go to Fort Riley, one hundred and thirty-six miles west of Fort

Leavenworth, to superintend the repairs to the military road. For

this purpose he supplied me with a four-mule ambulance and driver.

The country was then sparsely settled, and quite as many Indians

were along the road as white people; still there were embryo towns

all along the route, and a few farms sprinkled over the beautiful

prairies. On reaching Indianola, near Topeka, I found everybody

down with the chills and fever. My own driver became so shaky that

I had to act as driver and cook. But in due season I reconnoitred

the road, and made contracts for repairing some bridges, and for

cutting such parts of the road as needed it. I then returned to

Fort Leavenworth, and reported, receiving a fair compensation. On

my way up I met Colonel Sumner's column, returning from their

summer scout on the plains, and spent the night with the officers,

among whom were Captains Sackett, Sturgis, etc. Also at Fort Riley

I was cordially received and entertained by some old army-friends,

among them Major Sedgwick, Captains Totted, Eli Long, etc.

Mrs. Sherman and children arrived out in November, and we spent the

winter very comfortably in the house of Thomas Ewing, Jr., on the

corner of Third and Pottawottamie Streets. On the 1st of January,

1859, Daniel McCook, Esq., was admitted to membership in our firm,

which became Sherman, Ewing & McCook. Our business continued to

grow, but, as the income hardly sufficed for three such expensive

personages, I continued to look about for something more certain

and profitable, and during that spring undertook for the Hon.

Thomas Ewing, of Ohio, to open a farm on a large tract of land he

owned on Indian Creek, forty miles west of Leavenworth, for the

benefit of his grand-nephew, Henry Clark, and his grand-niece, Mrs.

Walker. These arrived out in the spring, by which time I had

caused to be erected a small frame dwelling-house, a barn, and

fencing for a hundred acres. This helped to pass away time, but

afforded little profit; and on the 11th of June, 1859, I wrote to

Major D. C. Buel, assistant adjutant-general, on duty in the War

Department with Secretary of War Floyd, inquiring if there was a

vacancy among the army paymasters, or any thing in his line that I

could obtain. He replied promptly, and sent me the printed

programme for a military college about to be organized in

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