BIRTH OF AMERICA BOOKS (tm)

THE BLACKJACK QUEEN, CUTTHROATS AND GOOD TIME GIRLS OF THE GOLD RUSH [1849-1859]

 

REAL PEOPLE, TRUE STORIES

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(They're written like novels with dialogue based on journals, diaries and newspapers)

HISTORY AS IT HAPPENS(tm) IN HIGH ACTION AMERICAN HISTORY BOOKS

 

 

"If you admit California [to the Union] under all the difficulties that oppose her admission, you compel [the South] to infer that you intend to exclude us from the whole of the acquired territories, with the intention of destroying, irretrievably, the [present Senate voting] equilibrium between [North and South]. ...[L]et the states we represent agree to separate and part in peace. If you are unwilling ... to part in peace, tell us so, and we shall know what to do, when you make the question [our] submission or resistance."

March 4, 1850 Senate "Civil War" Speech by John Calhoun

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

GOLD CLEANSED BY SOUTHERN BLOOD...................MARCH-APRIL 1850

arch the 4th howled around Washington D.C.'s windiest hill until it found the chimneys to the Senate Chambers' two rusty stoves. Squalling down into them like a pipe organ gone mad, the frigid gusts roared into the stoves, shooting showers of sparks around the brown streaks of tobacco juice left on the floor by Senators who'd missed the stoves' iron bellies.

Because the Senate didn't resume its session for nearly an hour, several Senators bundled in hats and blankets, dodged the spark flurries. They smoked, haggled and spit on the stoves.

Lt. William Tecumseh Sherman rejoiced in his decision to wear his regulation Army overcoat indoors. The Senate Floor was even frostier than the upstairs gallery that caught what little rising heat the feeble wood stoves could wheeze out. He relished being here for the greatest debate of the age.

Sherman saw the North, backed by California's gold, on the attack, and the South dug in on defense. The U.S. Senate, equally divided between the 15 northern and the 15 southern states, was considering Henry Clay's Omnibus bill designed to slip California into the Union as a free state, giving the antislavery states a majority of 32 to 30 votes. The old lions of the Senate would be uncaged upon each other. Even the Romans never thought of this for their Coliseum bloodfests - all lions, no Christians! This would be fang to fang, claw to claw, amid roars heard round the world. Ideals would die here, but Sherman hoped the carnage would fall short of mortal combat between Americans.

Southern Senators saw the death knell of slavery if the Bill passed. Rumor had it that brawls between Senators had restacked the furniture at the Hole-in-the-Wall, the Capitol pub where they could fight without suffering frostbite.

Distracted by visions of antique Senators boxing at the pub, Lt. Sherman was so startled by the Frémonts, he gawked at Jessie's classic oval face, dark sassy eyes, rich reddish hair and slender, reedlike form. Recovering from his staring at Mrs. Frémont, Sherman automatically saluted the former Colonel John Frémont who'd been stripped of his commission by court martial for mutiny over his part in California's Bear Flag Revolt

Dark eyes crackling, John Frémont smiled, "Guess I forgot to tell you on the 30 day steamer trip out here from California, that I'd been drummed out of the Army."

Before Sherman could comment, the quick-witted Jessie Frémont chimed in, "That's all right, Dear! Tell the nice young red-haired Lieutenant you've gotten rich on the Mariposa Ranch's gold and will soon be seated in this Chamber with my father, Senator Benton, when California wins statehood."

Easing among them, the most beautiful, curvaceous woman Sherman had ever seen, declared, " California thinks its gold will buy it two Senate seats overnight, but it will just have to wait in line a few years." This essence of femininity with the flashing eyes and ivory skin kissed Jessie Frémont on the cheek. Jessie recoiled in horror like she'd been snakebitten.

Jessie doubled her small fist, but Senator Frémont stepped nimbly between the women.

He nodded impassively, "Greetings, Rose."

When the gorgeous woman's face gleamed into a smile, Sherman felt like an errant Senator from the pub had punched him in the gut.

Ignoring Jessie's scowl, Rose beamed, "John, I'm delighted to hear how well you've done after that preposterous trial up here. They should have decorated you for gallantry instead of ripping off your epaulettes! Turning to Sherman, she added, "And who is this fine specimen of military might?"

"I'm William Tecumseh Sherman. I'm getting married at the Blair House, here in Washington, in May, and my friends call me, "Cump."

"Well, Cump, I'm Mrs. Rose Greenhow." She shook his hand, disengaging his mind. "I'd take a wild guess that if you're getting married at Blair House, you have ties to Thomas Ewing - the new Secretary of the Interior, because he lives there."

"Be careful what you tell Wild Rose Greenhow, Lieutenant," Jessie Frémont blurted "She never forgets a syllable uttered to her, and there's no telling whether the British or God knows who else will get a full report on it."

"You give me vastly too much credit, Jessie."

"Your credit is overdrawn with me and with President Taylor. Your bizarre behavior in furthering -- as the President put it - a criminal enterprise - to invade Spanish Cuba with that crazy General Narciso Lopez last year was shocking. And let's see --before that you were enmeshed with that insane Italian." She tried to tap the name back into her mind with one finger to her temple. "Oh yes, Conte Federico Confalonieri, arrested by the Austrians for fomenting a revolt. Yes, Rose, you are a rebel's rebel. If a government is tottering, it's a safe bet that Rose Greenhow is rocking it."

"Cump, some see a spy behind every door while every one else sees a doorman. My husband's position as official interpreter of all foreign documents in French, German, Italian and Spanish at the State Department brings him and me into contact with a constant flow of foreign nationals that must be debriefed, housed and fed." Rose turned to Jessie, "My Dear, if you were not the wondrous daughter of the even more wondrous Senator Thomas Hart Benton, I would surely sue you for slander before Tuesday - and Cump, was I right about your ties to Thomas Ewing?"

"Indubitably!" Sherman grinned. "He's my foster father, and I'm marrying his daughter - yes, my foster sister - Ellen on May 1st. We expect President Zachary Taylor, his Cabinet, the Justices of the Supreme Court, a spate of Congressmen and 300 other close friends that I've never met at our wedding at Blair House. I'm sure we can add you and Dr. Greenhow to this inexhaustible list of intimates, if we can still lift it!"

"Dr. Greenhow and I will be out of the country from April until at least the fall of this year, so we cannot accord your esteemed generosity the loving attention it deserves. But won't you sit in this Chamber with me and preview it for me?"

"Will if you vow not to jerk a bag over my head and have me spirited off to Borneo!" Their laughs mingled almost musically. Sherman saluted the Frémonts as they headed glumly for the Senate Gallery.

As young Lt. Sherman followed the undulating, black velvet coated Mrs. Rose Greenhow to their seats, he rolled his eyes in confirming what a foolish idea it was for one about to marry a mortal to be exposed to this goddess of intrigue. It mattered not that her clothing was a model of decorum with a hem near her ankles and an ermine collar up to her chin. She was lethal, and most men would tell her absolutely anything, even as the hangman's noose loomed large.

He wondered how much of Mrs. Frémont's tirade was factual and how much was due to the envy any woman would suffer at confronting this kind of cosmic competition?

They sat on chairs so icy they sensed what cadavers must endure on mortuary slabs. "How did Thomas Ewing become your parent? Before you answer, this isn't for your dossier. I was orphaned at an early age, and for some reason I cherish sharing that with a person who's on a first name basis with true loneliness as a child."

Sherman scratched his close cropped red beard and took a deep breath. "When I was nine, my father, an Ohio Supreme Court Justice riding the circuit, contracted a fatal chest illness. Earlier he'd been a governmental Revenue Collector accepting all specie and bills as payment. The government declared a deadline, after which only U.S. Bank notes would be valid. My father failed to close out his accounts in time, and his deposits became worthless. Instead of declaring Bankruptcy, for years he paid off debts of his friends and family, and left us nothing. Our neighbor, Mr. Ewing, came to our house. Overlooking our poverty like a gentleman, he told my mother the Ewings would adopt me, if I'd become Catholic. I agreed. He took my hand and walked me into a life of comfort with an odd consequence."

Making no effort to hide the tears welling in her eyes, Rose inquired, "What was that, Cump?"

"When the priest came to baptize me, he couldn't because my given name was Tecumseh. I had to have a Saint's name. He and Mrs. Ewing picked William. So even though my name Tecumseh was all I had from my dad, I am now William Tecumseh Sherman - and a poor excuse for a Catholic!"

"You refer to your foster parents as Mr. and Mrs."

Sherman nodded. "I don't know why. The Ewings have treated me like a prince - even consenting to my marrying their daughter. Ellen is Mrs. Ewing's favorite because Ellen is more Catholic than anyone else in the family. Enough! Tell me of Rose - and by the way - this is for your dossier."

"I didn't realize how awkward it is to bare your soul and let it run about naked."

"It's just history, so get on with it, Rose."

"First off, my name is not Rose."

"Who are you?"

"Maria Rosatta O'Neal."

"So, continue."

"My father John O'Neal, a prosperous planter at Port Tobacco, Maryland, was slain by his Negro body servant Jacob when I was three. Jacob was hanged. Father left a vast fortune, and a reputation for being a great fascinator of women, a fox hunter into cock fighting and providing the most lavish hospitality of the manorial region." She sighed, "Enough."

"Commence firing!" Sherman commanded.

"Somehow this isn't as easy as it is with a woman."

"Would it help if I turned my back? I'm not the easiest man to look at - red beard and all."

"Oh, stop. My sister and I went to Washington, D.C. and lived with Mrs. H.V. Hill. She ran the fashionable Capitol Hill boardinghouse where the wealthy politicians lived when Congress was in session. People in power are enchanting, no matter that Washington of that day was primeval. Pennsylvania Avenue was a dirt road with cows plodding along it. President Andrew Jackson finally had it paved."

"Rose O'Neal is hiding in the vestibule."

Rose wrinkled her cute nose at him. "All right. In 1833 my sister Ellen married Dolley Madison's nephew, James Madison Cutts. After that I was in the vortex, invited to all galas. I've met half a dozen Presidents and their wives. They've been most deferent to me. I love Dolley Madison. She dresses like a potentate from India with feathered turbans, garments of every fabric and hue, glitter on her cheeks and fun in her heart."

"And Rose. What did she have in her heart?"

"Adventure! In 1835 I married the handsomest and most intelligent man I'd ever met, Dr. Robert Greenhow. His mother died in a theater fire when he was 12, so like us, we had something in common at once. He worked in hospitals in Paris and London, where he was befriended by Lord Byron. Robert was offered the post of Translator, Interpreter and Librarian at our State Department in 1828, where he's been ever since."

The Senate being called into session ended their chat. But that March 4th, they and an astonished world heard South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun's speech that chilled the North, read by his surrogate.

Sunken-eyed under his thatch of wild hair, wheezing and wrapped in flannels, the deathly ill Calhoun sat listening as his words vowed Civil War if California was admitted as a free state upsetting the balance of 15 states each for the North and South. Spellbound with the rest of the audience, Sherman wondered silently if the Union would dissolve before California could get in it. Rose did not reveal her thoughts.

What Rose also did not tell Sherman was that she, her husband Robert, Senator John Calhoun and his wife, Floride, were inseparable. Nor did Rose divulge that she was nursing Calhoun, her preceptor from girlhood, nightly in his final illness at Mrs. Hill's boardinghouse. When the March 4th session was gaveled for the night, Sherman got up and bowed to Wild Rose Greenhow, whispering, "Until next time." She offered her hand to be kissed, but he'd gone.

Next session, Rose never arrived, but Sherman was caught up in the battle of the blame accusations for the passions unleashed in the Chamber like flaming chariots.

Everyone knew that Calhoun's "War" speech was provoked by the introduction of an Omnibus Bill by Henry Clay of Kentucky, who had guided the North and South to amicable settlements in the Compromises of 1820 and 1833 and sought to do it again. Clay's bill would [1] admit California to the Union as a free state; [2] make New Mexico and Utah Territories with self determination on slavery; [3] finalize boundaries between Texas & New Mexico; [4] make the U.S. assume Texas' debt; [5] ban slave trade in the District of Columbia and [6] strengthen the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act for the South.

Behind the Senate scenes that night, Henry Clay proved beyond cavil, that he was still a rake at 72. By force of habit, he snatched a kiss from Calhoun's niece Amanda Burt in Mrs. Hill's boardinghouse corridor. Thrilled, Amanda told Calhoun, "Just think! I've been kissed by the great Mr. Clay!"

While Rose stroked his fevered forehead, Calhoun rasped, "A great many others have shared the privilege."

Before 1850's month of March was over, John C. Calhoun, Firebrand of South Carolina and The Cast Iron Man of the South, could not walk nor crawl to the Senate Chamber. Rose Greenhow too remained "Absent Without Leave," stirring Sherman to wonder whatever had he done to offend her so?

Daily, Rose's carriage brought her to the boardinghouse of her childhood that seemed to have repossessed her. She dabbed Calhoun's lips, listening to his murmurs on the glories of the South. She lifted his hand when he tried to point to the small, but blessed, South Carolina banner on his wall.

The early morning hours of March 31, 1850 brought her the most unbearable nightmare she'd ever known at the Capitol Hill boardinghouse. Riotous revelry echoed horridly in the hall, crashing into Calhoun's quarters. One drunk or another would beat on his door, yelling, "Is he dead yet?" or "Has he passed?" Rose thought of murdering these abominable men as the tallow candle flickered beside her.

When her idol's breath came no more, Rose blew out his candle, so his spirit could not see her cowardly sobbing on his floor. Should she have used the candle to ignite his bed awarding John Caldwell Calhoun of South Carolina the Viking's flaming bier reserved for heroes? Wouldn't that also end the hold Mrs. Hill's boardinghouse had on her life?

Congress convened the day Calhoun died. Rose sat in the Senate gallery sobbing openly as one tribute after another was heaped upon the man that had stoked the grandest mind-fires of his era in the Senate. The Senate's Official Committee on Arrangements assigned Mrs. Rose Greenhow a place with the Calhoun family for his procession of honor and burial.

Rose walked beside Daniel Webster, who repeated to her his Senate salute to Calhoun, "One of the earth's princes hath departed - the purest, best and greatest man I ever knew!"

Calhoun's South Carolina flag lay folded over Rose's heart beneath her coat. Thus, she had raised Calhoun's States' Rights banner fallen from his dead hand. She would march with it into the jaws of Hell, dying if need be, before she'd surrender to these blackguards in the Senate. They were so basely trying to buy California's foul entry into the Union with its corrupt gold that could only be cleansed by the blood of southern gentlemen wielding sabers of cold steel.

****

Squirming in his spectator's seat on the Senate Floor on April 17, 1850, Sherman grew tired of the wrangling. The military genius of the Mexican War, General Winfield Scott known as "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his formality, appeared in full dress uniform, gold-braided head to foot, displaying several pounds of medals, to take Rose Greenhow's seat. Ponderous and rheumatic, the General muttered about the honesty of war over just yelling at each other. After a while you shot the people who wouldn't shut up. Oddly enough, something akin to that was in the making on the floor of the Senate.

Henry Foote, the slight Senator from Mississippi, who hated abolitionist Thomas Hart Benton, called Benton a "calumniator." While some there had no idea what that was, the literate Benton was not one of them. Lion-headed and huge, he rose and charged the smaller man. Foote pulled his revolver, cocked it and was aiming to shoot Benton, when daughter Jessie's voice shrieked from the Gallery, "Dad, he's got a gun!"

Foote was borne to the floor by a cadre of shaky Senators. The Senate went into recess to recompose itself.

Still enraged, Senator Benton yelled, "Let the assassin fire!" Of course Foote had been disarmed by then, but Benton bellowed a few more furious taunts before someone made him drink his water.

General Scott fumed, "Did you see that unarmed dimwit Benton charge that man with the revolver aimed right at him?"

Junior officer Sherman had no desire to defame a sitting Senator. The General growled on "That very same fool with the tactical qualifications of an ape was the pick of President Polk to command all our troops in the Mexican War, although I, a lowly Whig, was then General of the Army. Polk feared I would convert my war record into four years in the White House."

"Sir, do you mean like your fellow Whig and Mexican War General-- Zachary Taylor just did?"

"Precisely, Lieutenant. Congress blocked Benton's three stars, then blocked his two stars. Polk figured to neuter me by putting me in command over subordinate Democrat Generals who were instructed to hobble me."

Sherman laughed, "Well, the world is still studying your brilliant strategies at Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo, Sir, so I'd say you carried the day - as well as the war! I've been resisting the hue and cry of the Ewing family to assist with the pyramiding nuptial chores for my May 1st wedding. By your leave, General, I'll get on with my marriage and keep a recon' on this Senate imbroglio in the newspapers."

"So be it." General Scott added with an harrumph, "Fire off a few rockets and shall we say - take a few objectives -- before you join the ranks of us prisoners of the war of the sexes!"

"Oh, how I would like to, Sir but my time for rocketry and harvesting the wild roses seems to have slipped away."

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