Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Where's the Gold?
As we trace the personal history of our ancestors, we can't help but include the broader impact of general history in what became of our own family members. Thus it was with my third great-grandparents, Ozey and Sarah Broyles, after their move from the bucolic Ashtabula outside Pendleton, South Carolina, and into town in nearby Anderson. Even so, the broad sweep of general history may rehearse the major victories of battles, yet miss the personal agonies suffered by our ancestors. This is what makes those private collections of letters, diaries, and other remembrances so valuable for a genealogist.
The Broyles family had moved from Ashtabula in 1851, the lovely home which eventually was purchased by the Adger family. By the time of the Civil War, the Broyles family had long been settled in their new home in town in Anderson, and had seen some of their sons go off to war. Clarissa Adger Bowen, still in her family's home back near Pendleton, felt the need to record her thoughts, prompted by some of the troubling occurrences at the close of the war. The resulting diary is what comprises the remainder of the Ashtabula book which has been of such benefit to me as I piece together the life stories of my ancestors.
Before we get into the body of Clarissa Adger Bowen's journal, some background information is necessary. In review, let's reconstruct the timeline of the closing moments of the Civil War, to help understand the impetus behind subsequent post-war events near home.
First, as you'll remember, one by one, the southern states seceded from the Union, and, by February of 1861, representatives of these states met at the Montgomery Convention in Alabama, to discuss establishment of their new government. In those initiating actions, all federal property was seized, including the holdings—yes, even the gold—at the former federal mints in Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans.
Soon after that, the Confederate capital was moved from Montgomery to Richmond, Virginia. Then came the long and bitter war between the states. By mid-June in 1864, Union forces began what eventually became known as the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign by its close, nine months later. The trench warfare of that campaign resulted in construction of over thirty miles of trench lines from Petersburg to Richmond. Combined with incessant raids and battles, the prolonged effort eventually led to southern General Robert E. Lee's retreat, and the ensuing Battle of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. That afternoon, Lee's surrender marked the official end of the Civil War.
Of course, news traveling at a much slower rate in that era than our own times, that surrender was not universally recognized. It took the remainder of the month of April and into the subsequent month for the various generals of the South to get the message. In the midst of all that, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, and his death the next day, only served to complicate the process.
Meanwhile, just prior to the fall of Richmond, on April 3, Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinet escaped to Danville, Virginia, leaving there for Greensboro, North Carolina, upon receiving news on April 12 of Lee's surrender just three days earlier. With Lincoln's murder, the President's successor, Andrew Johnson, blamed Davis for being complicit in the assassination plot and issued a $100,000 reward for his capture.
This served to spur on Union forces in their search for the escaped Jefferson Davis and the members of his government. However, there was a second chase instigated, as well. Along with the fleeing Confederate personnel leaving Richmond, there was a second train southward bound. This one held some records of the fallen government, as well as Davis' personal belongings. But there was one other detail which caused much speculation: where was all the gold?
The capture of Jefferson Davis himself might have brought a clever Union man a reward of $100,000—no small amount in those days—but to intercept the supposed stash of Confederate gold would bring a much greater premium than that. Reports of the value of that gold, as it turned out, were far more inflated than the inflation rate suffered by the South in the midst of their Confederate economic woes. But at the moment when it was the prime mission of so many Union officers after the official close of the war, the heat was on to find gold—any gold.
The target of this search frenzy, as it turned out, centered on the very vicinity in which the Broyles family and their beloved neighbors had lived, the peaceful country setting just outside Pendleton.