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Book Review
The Rebel and the Rose. James A. Semple, Julia Gardiner Tyler
and the Lost Confederate Gold
Wesley Millett and Gerald White

Nashville, Tenn., Cumberland House Publishing,
Inc., 2007. Pp. 297. $18.95. ISBN 978-1-58182-669-2

Reviewed by Doug Tice

This book presents three interrelated chronicles of  events  that  began
with  the  fall  of  Richmond in April 1865.  The curious title makes no
mention of the first and overriding story, the flight from  Richmond  of
Jefferson   Davis  and  the  Confederate  government.   The  Confederate
officials abandoned their capital city by train on April  2.   President
Davis's  original goal was to reestablish the seat of government further
south or west so that the war might be continued.  However, after  brief
stops  in  Danville, Greensboro, and Charlotte, the flight became one of
desperation with Davis and the others seeking only to avoid  capture  by
Union  cavalry  troops  scouring  the  southern countryside.  As is well
known, Davis did not make his escape but was captured  near  Irwinville,
Georgia,  along  with  his  family in the early morning hours of May 10,
1865.  Davis was taken aboard a steamer to  Fortress  Monroe,  Virginia,
where  he  would  be  held  as  a  state prisoner for two years.  In the
meantime, of course, General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox on  April
9,  and  on  the  same  day  of Davis's capture President Andrew Johnson
issued  a  proclamation  declaring   the   armed   resistance   of   the
"insurrectionary states" virtually at an end.                           

Those  of  us knowledgeable about the fall of Richmond and its aftermath
will find  much  familiar  material  here.   (Overly  familiar  in  some
instances,  such  as  circumstances  of  Lee's  surrender at Appomattox,
including a recitation of General Order No.  9.) Nevertheless, there  is
a  wealth  of  lesser  known  and  interesting detail, particularly with
respect to the fate of various  cabinet  members.   Secretary  of  State
Judah  Benjamin and Secretary of War John C.  Breckinridge were the only
cabinet members to evade capture.  They  made  their  separate  ways  to
England,   where  Benjamin  remained  and  became  a  prominent  lawyer.
Breckenridge returned to his native Kentucky  in  1869  after  President
Andrew Johnson had signed the general amnesty.                          

Secondly,  and  the most valuable of the book's three chronicles, is the
tale of the Confederacy's attempts to preserve its treasury's "remaining
assets,"  the  "Lost  Confederate Gold" of the book's title.  Soon after
President Davis's train left Richmond, a second train followed along the
same  route.  In one boxcar were wooden boxes of coins, nuggets, bullion
and foreign bills of exchange.  The specie included fifty heavy kegs  of
Spanish  silver  coins  (pieces  of  eight) having an estimated value of
$200,000.  Another car carried worthless Confederate currency and  bonds
along  with  a chest filled with jewelry and precious stones, the latter
having been donated to the government by women of  the  Confederacy.   A
third  car held gold coins that belonged to several Richmond banks.  The
specie value of the government's treasury leaving Richmond can  only  be
estimated.   The  authors'  analysis,  provided  in  a helpful Appendix,
places the value at between approximately $492,000 and $562,000.   Fifty
Confederate   midshipmen   under  command  of  Captain  William  Parker,
superintendent of the Confederate naval academy, were assigned the  task
of guarding the treasure train.                                         

This  train  also  made its first stop in Danville, where it stayed just
briefly before departing for Charlotte, which officials believed  to  be
more  secure.   Left  behind  in  Danville  were  some  39  kegs  of the
burdensome Spanish silver coins.  What happened to these coins remains a
mystery  today.   The authors state that "the evidence is strong .  .  .
that the coins were buried-and remain buried-in Danville." The  treasure
train  made  its  way  further and further south, generally tracking the
route of President Davis.  At various stops along the  way,  gold  coins
were removed and used for back pay of Confederate soldiers and for other
official purposes.  Eventually, the treasure was transferred  from  rail
cars  to  wagons.  On May 2, 1865, the treasure reached Abbeville, South
Carolina,  where  Jefferson  Davis  had  also  just  arrived.   At  this
location,  Captain  Parker's  unit  of  midshipmen guards was disbanded.
Captain Micajah Clark, just appointed acting  Confederate  treasurer  by
President Davis's last official act, assigned responsibility for most of
the remaining specie to James A.  Semple, the "Rebel" of the title,  and
a  leading  character  of  the  third  chronicle  of the book.  Semple's
mission was to secrete the main portion of remaining coins and  bullion,
some   $86,000,   out   of  the  country.   The  mission  could  not  be
accomplished, and Semple and others who assisted him,  including  Varina
Davis's  brother,  would end up keeping substantial sums for themselves.
The authors' research on the  flight  of  the  Confederate  treasury  is
impressive,  and they provide in convincing detail an accounting for the
likely disposition  of  these  assets  from  the  time  the  train  left

The third story related by the book describes the wartime activities and
relationship of James A.  Semple and the  "Rose"  of  the  title,  Julia
Gardner  Tyler.   In  April  1865,  Semple  at  age  46 held the rank of
paymaster and was a bureau chief in the Confederate navy.   Julia  Tyler
was  the second wife and widow of former U.S.  President John Tyler, who
died in 1862 while a member of the  Confederate  Congress.   Semple  was
connected  to the Tylers by his marriage to Letitia Tyler, a daughter of
President Tyler by his first wife.  Although they never divorced, Semple
and  Letitia  were  estranged  and  were  not together during the war or
thereafter.  Apparently following President Tyler's  death,  Semple  and
Julia  became  quite  close.  Semple assisted her in legal and financial
transactions and also provided guidance to her two sons in General Lee's
army.   On  occasions  after the war, Julia visited Semple in his hotel,
and the implication from the available  sources  is  that  they  had  an
intimate  relationship.   This  possibility is reinforced by a letter to
Semple from his estranged wife, written in July 1867, in  which  Letitia
angrily  suggested  he  was  having an affair with Julia.  At about this
time, Semple and Julia began to drift apart, and although they  remained
friends their close relationship came to an end.                        

This  is not all of Semple's story.  In the two years following the war,
he traveled extensively, north and south.  As part  of  his  mission  to
preserve  the  Confederate  gold  for  furthering Southern interests, he
contacted members of the Fenian Brotherhood, a secret society  of  Irish
immigrants  dedicated to raising an army in America to drive the British
out of Ireland.  Some Confederates (including Jefferson Davis)  had  the
hope  that  if the Fenians could provoke a war between the United States
and Great Britain, the American government  "would  need"  the  Southern
states  to help fight the British.  This is a bizarre notion today, and,
of course, nothing ever came of it.                                     

While the story of  the  Semple-Tyler  relationship  is  less  important
historically  than the other events related in the book and occasionally
seems out of place, it nevertheless has been skillfully interwoven  into
the  overall  narrative and adds a great deal of interest.  The authors'
ability  to  uncover  this  obscure  relationship  is  worthy   of   our

Wesley Millet and Gerald White, first time book authors who spent twelve
years preparing this volume, are described in a  Foreward  as  dedicated
researchers.   Their  dedication certainly shows as they have produced a
fine and important work of history, which I recommend to all who have an
interest  in  the immediate aftermath of the war.  The writing is clear,
concise, and well edited.  (I  found  only  a  couple  of  typographical
errors  and  can't resist pointing out my favorite (on p.  81), "Matthew
Fontaine Murray"!) The voluminous footnotes and lengthy bibliography are
another welcome plus for this valuable work.                            

Other Recommended Reading: A.J. Hanna, Flight Into Oblivion (Johnson Publishing Co., 1938) Burke Davis, The Long Surrender (Random House, 1985) William C. Davis, An Honorable Defeat The Last Days of the Confederate Government (Harcourt, Inc., 2001) Clint Johnson, Pursuit The Chase, Capture, Persecution & Surprising Release of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (Citadel Press Books, 2008)
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