June 29, 1861: Pretty Woman, the Kind I’d Like To Meet

In 1861, sixty people boarded the St. Nicholas, a steamer that carried passengers between Baltimore and points along the Potomac – among them a Madame LaForte, a stylish young lady who spoke very little English with a strong French accent. She was accompanied by her brother. She had a number of large trunks with her because she wanted to set up a millinery business in Washington.  A beguiled purser assigned her a large stateroom, and dutiful deckhands hauled her trunks to her cabin.

When the St. Nicholas departed, Madame LaForte emerged from her stateroom and began to flirt shamelessly with the male passengers and ship’s officers, overwhelming all who attended her, including the captain, with a stream of coquettish French.

Another passenger, George Watts, was worried. He had been searching the decks, looking for a Colonel Zarvona, the man who had recruited him and several others for a dangerous mission. Had the colonel missed the boat?  Would Watts be arrested as a Rebel spy and hanged. At midnight, the brother of the French lady tapped him on the shoulder and said he was wanted in a nearby cabin.

As Watts recounted: “I hurried to the cabin and found all our boys gathered around that frisky

zouaveFrench lady. She looked at me when I came in, and Lord, I knew those eyes! It was the Colonel. The French lady then shed her bonnet, wig and dress and stepped forth clad in a brilliant new Zouave uniform. In a jiffy the ‘French lady’s’ three trunks were dragged out and opened. One was filled with cutlasses, another with Colt revolvers and the third with carbines. Each man buckled on a sword and pistol and grabbed a gun, and then the Colonel told us what to do.”

Zarvona and two others confronted the boat’s captain, who, when told that 30 armed men were aboard, quickly surrendered command. The Confederates who had boarded in Baltimore as well as their compatriots who had come aboard later seized the steamer, which in addition to carrying passengers, carried supplies to the Union gunboat, the USS Pawnee. Their plan was to seize that ship as well.

In the early morning of June 29, the St. Nicholas docked and took aboard 30 Confederate soldiers. The passengers from Baltimore were permitted to leave with all their possessions. Then came the bad news: the gunboat had returned to Washington.

Determined to make his seizure of the St. Nicholas worthwhile, Zarvona began a raiding expedition that would give them the Monticello, a brig laden with 35,000 bags of coffee, the Mary Pierce, with a load of ice, and the schooner Margaret with a cargo of coal.

Zarvona and his crew returned to Fredericksburg where they received an enthusiastic welcome. At a ball given in their honor, Colonel Zarvona delighted those present by appearing in the hoops and skirts of the lady milliner from France in celebration of his new-found fame as the Confederacy’s first cross-dressing soldier of fortune.

February 25, 1862: Change for a Dollar

“And I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar, spend it fast as I can.” The Hoyt Axton song recorded back in the 1960s by the Kingston Trio expresses a bit of disdain for the paper currency of the United States. The disdain has been there right from the greenback’s debut a hundred years earlier.

greenback1862bThe greenback came about because of the need to finance war, created by President George W. Bush to pay for the war in Iraq. Whoops — wrong president, wrong war. That one wasn’t paid for. President Abraham Lincoln, Civil War. The government had earlier issued demand notes to meet war expenses but they were insufficient. Other options such as borrowing from foreign governments at interest rates only loan sharks and credit card companies dare charge were unpalatable.

An Illinois businessman serving as a volunteer officer, Colonel Dick Taylor met with Lincoln and proposed issuing unbacked paper money: “Just get Congress to pass a bill authorizing the printing of full legal tender treasury notes… and pay your soldiers with them and go ahead and win your war with them also. If you make them full legal tender… they will have the full sanction of the government and be just as good as any money; as Congress is given the express right by the Constitution.”

Lincoln didn’t really like the idea but it beat going into deep debt to foreign creditors. He endorsed Taylor’s proposal, and on February 25, 1862, Congress passed the first Legal Tender Act, authorizing $150 million in United States Notes. The notes were printed with green ink on one side, thus their name. The value fluctuated wildly during the next few years along with war prospects, reaching a low point of 258 greenbacks to 100 dollars in gold.

But the war ended, and the greenbacks hung around so the Kingston Trio could sing about them a hundred years later. As low in esteem as they were once held, every modern move to replace them with more efficient dollar coins is met with a cry such as “don’t give a damn about a Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea dollar.”

 

 

You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward. – James Thurber

December 22, 1864: Georgia on His Mind

A tie might have been more appropriate. But it was 1864, the country was locked in a nasty civil war and the Christmas spirit was shermanwearing a little thin, even among the Whos down in Whoville. Union General William T. Sherman had spent most of his holiday season marching from Atlanta toward the Atlantic Ocean, being quite the Grinch along the way, destroying pretty much everything in his path. “I’ll stop Christmas from coming” he was heard to frequently mutter.

Sherman and his troops reached Savannah just before Christmas and, as the story goes, his heart grew three sizes that day. He didn’t destroy Savannah. Instead he sent a junior officer all the way back to Washington D.C. to personally deliver a Christmas card to President Lincoln on December 22. A message in the card read: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” And a partridge in a pear tree.

christmas

September 13, 1938: Would You Be So Kind

Judith Martin, born September 13, 1938, was a journalist, covering social events at the White House and embassies, before becoming a theater and film critic. In 1978, she changed direction and began writing on theetiquette_history subject for which she is most known today, what she calls “heavy etiquette theory.” As Miss Manners she brings her broad knowledge of the history and customs of human social interaction to modern polite behavior. This she does with an authoritative and often sarcastic tone.

“Should you happen to notice,” says Miss Manners, “that another person is extremely tall or overweight, eats too much or declines convivial drinks, has red hair or goes about in a wheelchair, ought to get married or ought not to be pregnant — see if you can refrain from bringing these astonishing observations to that person’s attention.”

“There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.”

“Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don’t catch steak hanging around when you’re poor and sick, do you?”

Dear Miss Manners: Should you tell your mother something if it is important when she is talking to company? I am six.

Gentle Reader:Yes, you should (after saying “Excuse me”). Here are some of the things that are important to tell your mother, even though she is talking to company:

“Mommy, the kitchen is full of smoke.”

“Daddy’s calling from Tokyo.”

“Kristen fell out of her crib and I can’t put her back.”

“There’s a policeman at the door and he says he wants to talk to you.”

“I was just reaching for my ball, and the goldfish bowl fell over.”
Now, here are some things that are not important, so they can wait until your mother’s company has gone home:

“Mommy, I’m tired of playing blocks. What do I do now?”

“The ice-cream truck is coming down the street.”

“Can I give Kristen the rest of my applesauce?”

“I can’t find my crayons.”

“When are we going to have lunch? I’m hungry.”

September 13, 1813

John Sedgwick was a teacher, a military officer, and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. During the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864, he famously reassured his men: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Seconds later he was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet.

Inspirational Quote for 9/13/16

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