Friday, May 1, 2015

How to stop the U.S. Cavalry? With a winefest

The south side of the Anderson square shortly after the war. B.F. Crayton's store is on the far right. 
ANDERSON, S.C.
     Let's play the Stoneman's Raid version of "Let's Make A Deal."
     You look like a fine bunch of Union cavalrymen. You can have fame, fortune, and everlasting thanks of your country if you will ride just 30 more miles to Abbeville, capture Jefferson Davis, and end the Civil War.
     Or would you rather have what's behind B.F. Crayton's cellar door?
     The Yankees in Anderson 150 years ago chose the latter. Gen. Simeon Brown had a clue of what was hidden down there, but his larcenous troops would have found it anyway. The musty half-basement of the Crayton Store on the courthouse square in Anderson held a treasure twice as valuable as the bounty of gold on Jeff Davis' head.
     Liquid assets, you might say. Rare wines and an exotic array of liquors.
     There were hundreds and hundreds of bottles of fine Madeira and port wines, bottled on islands off the coast of Portugal. You had to be part of the Kingdom of Charleston to appreciate or afford them. Blockade runners risked their lives to deliver the stuff across the Atlantic.
     But what in the devil were all his tempting concoctions doing in Anderson?
     Blame Sherman, of course.
     Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman had completed his march across Georgia, and on Christmas Day of 1864 he presented Savannah as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln. Charlestonians naturally feared they would his next target. (They were so vain, they probably thought this war was about them.) Sherman surprised Charleston by going to Columbia instead, which is why the Confederate money-printing operations were suddenly relocated from Columbia to Anderson at the end of the war. 
     For safekeeping, a Charleston wine merchant named Henry Guardine (or Gourdin) decided to move his storehouse as far from Charleston as the railroads would go. Anderson was about the end of the line, except for an unfinished spur that dead-ended in Stumphouse Tunnel near Walhalla. The bottles and barrels probably filled most of a boxcar. Depending on whose account you trust, there may have been more than 3,000 bottles worth close to $200,000.
     The bounty on Jeff Davis was a measly $100,000. 
     (Wine was so profitable that an 18th-century Charleston wine merchant named Henri Peronneau became known as the richest man in colonial America. One of his heirs was the only Andersonian killed in Stoneman's Raid and probably the next-to-last Confederate to die in the Civil War.)
     Anderson Judge J.P. Reed actually told Union Gen. Simeon Brown about the wine cellar late in the afternoon of May 1, 1865. He was trying to save the town, and he thought alcohol might mellow and pacify the 1,900 troops until they moved on.
     His daughter Emmala Reed wasn't so sure. She recorded in her journal:
Pa pointed out to him a building where were stored quantities of liquours of Mr. Guardine of Charleston—wine merchant. At least $200,000 worth of splendid old wines—brandies &c considered invaluable by these men, but ought to have been destroyed—to prevent drunkenness and ruin here which was visited upon Columbia. He [Gen. Brown] promised to keep his soldiers from it, but didn’t try. They were soon breaking in and drinking madly, and all trembled for the effects.
     There was still plenty of wine left the following evening when Stoneman's 1st Brigade with 2,000 cavalrymen reached Anderson. Pennsylvania Capt. Henry Weand wrote in his journal: 
Nearly all our men had a canteen full, and barrels of it were emptied into the gutters of the streets by standing orders from General Stoneman, who was fearful of its demoralizing effects on his troops. When Gen. Gillem’s troops reached North Carolina a short time ago [March 30 in Wilkes County, N.C.], they ran across a distillery from which they took enough apple whiskey to intoxicate the whole force, and Stoneman wanted no more of it.
     It's debatable whether Reed's ploy worked. As far as I know, no homes or businesses were burned in Anderson, and no residents were killed by the stoned men who occupied Anderson May 1-2. Sadly, that would soon change at the hands of another Union cavalry outfit.
     On the other hand, many Andersonians had their homes looted by men they described as "drunken wretches" or "drunken demons." The two brigades that initially occupied Anderson were notorious for their lack of discipline, and unlimited alcohol would have only made things worse.
     One thing is for sure: The Union cavalry was bogged down May 2 in Anderson, while Jefferson Davis was just 30 miles away in Abbeville holding the last war council of the Rebellion. Davis got away from Stoneman's Raid, and ultimately so did the bounty.

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