Louis Wigfall, Southern aristocracy gone to ‘seed’

Louis Trezevant Wigfall was, by nearly all accounts, an irascible sort, but one not unknown in South Carolina’s antebellum Edgefield District, which was a Wild West before there was a Wild West.

Born in Edgefield in 1816, Wigfall was born of into a planter family and attended South Carolina College and the University of Virginia, but breeding and education did little to mellow his countenance.

He was ardent proponent of the institution of slavery, and as a young man “he neglected his law practice for contentious politics that led him to wound a man in a duel (and be wounded himself) and to kill another during a quarrel,” according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Perhaps having worn out his welcome in the Palmetto State, Wigfall moved to Texas in 1846, almost instantly becoming active in Lone Star State politics, including “alerting” Texans to the dangers of abolition and the growing influence of non-slave states in the US Congress.

After several years in the Texas state legislature, Wigfall capitalized on the fear caused throughout the South by John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and was elected to the US Senate that year.

He quickly gained a reputation as a leader among the “fire-eaters” – leading secessionists – taking his advocacy for slavery and against expanding the power of national government to the national stage.

Following Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, Wigfall coauthored the “Southern Manifesto,” which stated that the Union was irretrievably broken and that the only hope for the South was independence.

“Wigfall helped foil efforts for compromise to save the Union and urged all slave states to secede,” according to the Texas State Historical Association.

He appears to have lacked the chivalric manners evident in other key Southern figures of the era, remaining in the US Senate after Texas seceded, spying on the Union, chiding northern senators, and raising and training troops in Maryland to send to South Carolina. Even while serving as a US senator, he took part in the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter by rowing out under fire and dictating unauthorized surrender terms to federal commander Robert Anderson.

He was finally expelled from the Senate in mid-1861. Later that year he became a Confederate officer and promoted to brigadier general  before resigning from the army to take a seat in the Confederate Senate in 1862.

Initially, Wigfall supported Confederate President Jefferson Davis, but, perhaps not surprisingly, he quarreled with Davis before long.

During the last two years of the Confederacy Wigfall carried on public and private efforts to strip Davis of all influence.

He also blocked the creation of a Confederate Supreme Court, fearing Davis’ justices would interfere with states’ rights, according to the National Park Service.

Far from being a pragmatist, he opposed the arming of slaves and was willing to lose the war rather than admit that blacks were worthy of being soldiers.

Among his post-war activities was spending time in the United Kingdom, “where he tried to foment war between Britain and the United States, hoping to give the South an opportunity to rise again.”

As the small clipping from the Sept. 20, 1866, edition of Columbia Daily Phoenix makes clear, he had lost most, if not all of the stature may have once possessed.

Beneath an extract of a speech by Gen. William S. Hillyer about Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and next to a copy of a letter by Emperor Napoleon III of France to King Victor Emanuel of Italy is a tiny blurb that reads, “Ex-Senator Wigfall is in London, looking seedy.”

Wigfall, who returned to US in 1872, returned to Texas in 1874 and died in Galveston on Feb. 18, 1874.

After three years of war, Texas cavalryman wasn’t ready to quit

CampDouglas

Tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers went AWOL or deserted during the War Between the States. Some found combat wasn’t as glamorous as they had imagined, others wearied of being away from family, while many simply tired of seemingly endless monotony punctuated by the short bursts of terror common to combat.

Henry Martin Lary, a Confederate cavalryman from Texas, apparently did not waver in his conviction, despite the dangers and drudgery of war.

Lary enlisted as a private in Company D of the 19th Texas Cavalry Regiment on June 24, 1862, in Dallas County, Texas. He had earlier served for six months in a different Texas unit, beginning in 1861.

Lary saw action with the 19th Texas on April 26, 1863, at the Battle of Cape Girardeau (Mo.), and on June 9, 1863, at the Battle of Lake Providence (La.), during the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss.

He was captured at Monticello, Ark., on Jan. 15, 1864, and was first transferred to Little Rock, Ark., then to St. Louis’s Gratiot Street Prison. Gratiot was the largest war prison in Missouri, although it was mostly used as a transfer station.

First page of Henry Martin Lary's statement made at March 30, 1864, Gratiot Street Prison, St. Louis. Click to embiggen.

First page of Henry Martin Lary’s statement made at March 30, 1864, Gratiot Street Prison, St. Louis. Click to embiggen.

Lary apparently spent several months at Gratiot before being sent in August to the notorious Camp Douglas, in Chicago.

He would spend the winter of 1864-65 at Camp Douglas before being sent south to be exchanged near the war’s end.

On April 11, 1865, he was sent down the Mississippi River to Cairo, Ill. He arrived in New Orleans on April 22 and remained there until early May, when he was exchanged at the “mouth of the Red River, La.” on May 5.

Late in the war, nearly all exchanges were made because soldiers were in failing health, so it’s likely that Lary was suffering from health complications, possibly related to the winter at Camp Douglas, which had one of the highest mortality rates of any Civil War prisoner of war camp, with as many as 6,000 prisoners dying there between 1862 and 1865.

But before Lary was sent north Camp Douglas, Union officials at Gratiot interviewed him and transcribed his responses to a series of set questions.

Although they misidentified him as “Martin H. Lary” – transposing his first and middle names (unlike the Confederates, who misidentified him as “Leary” rather than “Lary”) – it’s apparent that even after nearly three years of service, Lary’s dedication to the Southern cause hadn’t wavered.

After answering such questions as place of capture, battles participated in and commanders served under, Lary was asked “Are you a Southern sympathizer?”
His response was a straightforward, “I am.”

To the question, “Do you sincerely desire to have the Southern people put down in this war, and the authority of the U.S. Government over them restored?” Lary was likewise succinct: “I do not,” he replied.

While it’s impossible 150 years later to know if Lary’s convictions remained as strong throughout the winter he spent at Camp Douglas, he did manage to survive and make his way back to home to Hill County, Texas.

Lary married, and lived until 1910, dying at the age of 67. His wife lived until 1933 and received a pension for her husband’s Confederate service. They are buried side by side in Hillsboro, Texas.

(Top: Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas, Ill.)

Cimarron: Concept of Panhandle state nixed by political squabbling

Okterritory

Of the many lonely stretches found across the United States, few match the 5,749-square-mile rectangle known as the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Composed of three counties, today the Panhandle is home to about 28,500 people, less than half as many as when Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907.

The region suffered the ravages of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s as severe drought and blinding dust storms led many to leave for greener pastures.

The Panhandle is a relatively isolated region, dotted with abandoned buildings and hearty residents. Today, it seems difficult to believe that there was once a serious push to make the strip of land a separate territory, with the ultimate goal of statehood.

Originally part of Texas, the strip was surrendered in 1850 as a result of the Missouri Compromise. Texas, a slave state, had to give up the swath of land because federal law under the compromise prohibited slavery north of the 36°30’ parallel.

As a result, the region became known as a “neutral strip,” and was without state or territorial ownership. As evidence that advertising agencies did not hold the sway that they do today, the area was officially called the “Public Land Strip” and was commonly referred to as “No Man’s Land.”

Without a legal authority to provide oversight, the ensuing 40 years were full of confusion and turmoil.

Ranchers began moving into the region following the Civil War but officially the land could not be settled until it had been surveyed by the US government. Still, settlers flooded in, with many coming from Kansas.

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How a reluctant civil servant preserved a Texas treasure

tree of liberty texas

Jane McCallum didn’t much want the job of Texas Secretary of State, offered to her by Gov. Dan Moody in 1927. A journalist and suffragette leader, she ended up taking the post as a way to do something for both women and herself. Ultimately, McCallum was able to a great service to all Lone Star State residents.

Not long after taking on her new role, McCallum was cleaning up her office and came across a rusty tin box in a vault in the Capitol building in Austin. Inside was a decayed scroll of paper.

It turned out to be the Texas Declaration of Independence, missing for the previous three decades, and, in fact, absent almost since it was drafted more than 90 years earlier.

The document was approved March 2, 1836, and signed March 3, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos, in today’s Washington County.

Texas officials sent the Declaration of Independence along with other documents to Washington, DC, where Stephen F. Austin was seeking recognition for the new republic.

The document was deposited with American officials at some point in 1836 by William Wharton, who had been appointed minister plenipotentiary to the US by Texas President Sam Houston.

What happened to the Declaration of Independence after that is unknown – and it remained missing for the next six decades.

Texas Declaration of Independence.

Texas Declaration of Independence.

“Until 1896, puzzled officials and historians guessed the document may have been destroyed in one of the Texas Capitol’s fires,” according to the book “A Month of Sundays.” “But in May of that year the document turned up.”

A man named William Hallett Phillips had come across a file in the State Department that appeared to contain the Texas Declaration of Independence. He mentioned it to a friend, native Texan Seth Shepard, who was serving as an associate justice of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Shepard originally believed the document in question to be a copy, but it proved to be the original. State Department officials agreed to return it to Texas, and Gov. Charles A. Culberson received the document on July 1, 1896.

Shortly thereafter it went missing for another three decades – until McCallum came across it.

She took considerable time deliberating on the best way to conserve the document, taking two years to determine how to restore and display it. After officials at the University of Texas preserved the Declaration of Independence, it was placed in a wrought iron “Tree of Liberty” in a niche near the Capitol rotunda.

It remained on display in the Capitol until 1940, when it was moved to the Texas State Library. After being moved a couple more times, it ended up at the Texas State Archives and Library Building in Austin.

While the original is no longer on display, a replica, along with the wrought iron grill that McCallum used to show off the original Declaration of Independence, can still be seen in the visitors center, located in General Land Office Building on Capitol grounds in Austin.

(Top: “Tree of Liberty,” holding replica of Texas Declaration of Independence, in Austin, Texas.)

Doctor’s role in reviving SC rice industry highlighted

carolina gold rice

Dr. Richard Schulze Sr. had predatory rather than culinary goals in mind when he planted Carolina Gold rice in the mid-1980s.

The Savannah eye surgeon was looking to attract ducks to his Turnbridge Plantation in Hardeeville, SC, about 30 miles northeast of Hilton Head, for hunting, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The birds didn’t much cotton to the long-grain rice, but chefs and rice connoisseurs shortly began to take notice.

Today, Carolina Gold rice is essentially the basis for the U.S. rice industry, no mean feat considering that virtually no one had grown rice in the South Carolina Lowcountry in the previous 60 years before Schulze’s efforts.

Initially, Schulze started by planting regular rice on his plantation. He then decided to switch to Carolina Gold, known as the Cadillac of rice for its taste and quality. The lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia was known for its high-quality Carolina Gold rice prior to 1900, particularly before the War Between the States.

“Well, I figured if we’re going to do rice, why not get the original stuff,” he told the Morning News.

Schulze requested Carolina Gold from the USA Rice Council, and was redirected to a rice research scientist with the US Department of Agriculture in Texas.

He was able to secure 14 pounds of Carolina Gold seed, which he planted in 1986.

Schulze faced the additional obstacle of hulling the seed. Sending rice out of state for milling and then having it sent back was impractical.

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Center for Pecan Innovation sees “tremendous opportunities”

pecans-ground

While I’m of the opinion that the highest and most noble use of the pecan involves their placement in a pie, the folks at the Georgia Pecan Commission have higher aspirations. They recently established the Center for Pecan Innovation, with the goal of finding new uses for Carya illinoinensis.

The initial focus of the Atlanta-based center will be new food products made from pecans, according to John Robison, the commission’s chairman.

“The recent 30-year study from Harvard University showing that regular nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease is just one more supporting voice to the center, which was established to encourage more companies to find ways to use pecans in their products,” he said.

Beyond that, the commission sees opportunities for biodegradable pecan shells, from roadbeds and packing material to bath products. Cosmetic companies are looking for natural products to replace plastic micro-beads in facial cleansers, and the Journal of Food Science reports that a new study shows that extract from pecan shells may be effective at protecting meats such as chicken from listeria growth.

The US produces the vast majority of the pecans harvested annually – as much as 95 percent, or 300 million to 400 million pounds.

Georgia leads the nation in pecan production, growing 40 percent of the US total, more than the next two states – New Mexico and Texas – combined, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Map showing, in blue, US states where pecans are grown.

Map showing, in blue, US states where pecans are grown.

“In 2012 Georgia led the nation in pecan production, harvesting 100 million pounds for the domestic and global markets,” Robison said. “China is one of the biggest markets for our in-shell pecans, but there still is tremendous opportunity for companies to use pecan pieces – even the shells.  The Center for Pecan Innovation will work to develop new products that use Georgia pecans.”

Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said the Georgia Pecan Commission is taking a creative approach to agriculture by establishing the center.

“Farmers today do far more than just grow food and fiber,” he said. “They take an active part in promoting their crops to grow their markets, as we have done with our Georgia Grown program. The Center for Pecan Innovation is yet another step to increase awareness for Georgia pecans.”

The Georgia Pecan Commission, begun in 1995, funds research, educational and promotional programs in order to increase demand for Georgia pecans.

Grandsons of John Tyler – US president born in 1790 – still alive

john tyler

It seems rather remarkable, but two grandsons of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States and a man born less than year after George Washington was first inaugurated as president, are still alive.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., who turned 90 this week, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, who turned 86 last November, continue chugging along, nearly 175 years after their grandfather assumed the nation’s highest office.

John Tyler was born in Virginia in 1790. He was elected vice president in 1841, and ascended to the Oval Office a month later when President William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia and died after making an hour-long inaugural address in cold, rainy weather.

Tyler was the first vice president to become president on the death of sitting chief executive.

Tyler’s first wife Letitia was an invalid at the time he became president and died soon thereafter. He later married Julia, who was 30 years his junior, making him the first president to be married while in office.

Tyler was rather prolific. He fathered 15 children: eight with Letitia and seven more with Julia. Five of his children by his second wife lived into the 20th century and one repeated the pattern of his father.

Tyler’s 13th child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935), had three children with his first wife Anne Baker Tucker Tyler and three more with his second wife Sue Ruffin Tyler, whom he wed after Anne’s death. When he wed Sue Ruffin Tyler, Lyon Tyler was 70, twice her age.

While one of the latter three children died in infancy, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. lives in Franklin, Tenn., and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, lives at Sherwood Forest Plantation, the Tyler’s historic family home in Virginia.

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