Monday, April 27, 2015

39 Kegs of Mexican Silver Dollars

As I travel about and talk to folks about the last days of the Confederate government in North Carolina, the fate of the gold and silver of the Confederate treasury almost always comes up during the discussion. The history and folklore of the Confederate treasury is as varied as the uniforms worn by Confederate generals. This post is going to look at one aspect of the story. The 39 (or 40, depending on the source) kegs of Mexican Silver dollars.

As the story goes, these 39 kegs of silver were from the sale of cotton to the Mexican government. They arrived in Danville about the same time as Jefferson Davis did, sometime around April 3 or 4. And the folklore further states that the kegs of silver were buried in Danville, and reside there to this day.

I'm not so sure why there is a mystery regarding the 39 kegs of Mexican silver coins. $39,000 in Mexican Silver was delivered to Joseph E. Johnston in April 1865. (One source states it was $37,679.96.) Davis sent it to Johnston for safe keeping, and at one point, even asked for it back. Johnston refused, and instead, paid his men with it. Johnston had been clamoring for weeks for money to pay his troops. According to Maj. G. W. F. Harper of the 58th North Carolina Troops, each man received “one dollar and fourteen cents” in “Mexican silver dollars.” “There being no means of making change for the cents, the men, in groups of seven, drew for the surplus dollar.”

Why was this money not moved to Charlotte and deposited in the old US Mint building with the remaining treasury gold, silver, and notes on April 8? Because the other funds from the Confederacy treasury were taken by rail. Stoneman's men wrecked the railroad around Greensboro on April 11. Transporting 39 kegs of silver would have been too much for Davis and his party to undertake. It was a struggle to come up with enough horses and ambulances/wagons to move the Confederate cabinet.

This leads me to another question: there are plenty of books out there about the lost Confederate gold/treasury. I understand this. Sensationalism sells and who does not love a good buried treasure story?  But is there not a book that looks at the hard, cold facts regarding the final disposition of the very limited funds of the Confederate government? Maybe a future project......

1 comment:

Timothy O'Neill said...

By chance, I have one of the Mexican dollars in my possession. It was paid out to my great grandfather, John Timothee Trezevant, then an officer in the 1st Foreign Battalion, CSA. This unit surrendered with Johnston's army at Greensboro. The original coin is attached by a ring to a silver disk of the same diameter by a ring (the necessary drilling renders the coin non-pristine, of course); on the disk the circumstances of the payment are recorded.