January 17, 2006

Nevada's Online State News Journal

 

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Nevada History:

[From James G. Scrugham, Nevada: The Narrative of the Conquest of a Frontier Land (1935), vol. I]

VII

NEVADA DURING THE CIVIL WAR

 

            All the while that Nevada was a territory the nation was engaged in the stupendous struggle of the Civil war. In Nevada as in California many of the pioneers were from the South. The secession of the Southern States therefore provoked exhibitions of personal opinion and feeling that sometimes ended in violent collisions. Confederate flags were hoisted here and there, and there was considerable talk of plots on the part of the Southern sympathizers and the "Knights of the Golden Circle" to seize the territorial government. No doubt these rumors were magnified here as in other parts of the country for political effect, and there is no evidence that the authority of the territorial or Federal Government in Nevada was ever seriously threatened.

            The first recruiting office was opened at Virginia City in the spring of 1862, and seventy-five volunteers from Nevada were recruited for the California regiment. These troops were used for frontier service, guarding the overland trails and in campaigns against the Indians. The Third Regiment of California Volunteers under the command of Col. P. E. Connor were ordered to Utah in May, 1862, and made their headquarters at what has since been known as Camp or Fort Douglas at Salt Lake City. To Colonel Connor's command were afterwards assigned the companies of Nevada volunteers, and they had the duty of policing and keeping order not only in Utah but over the entire district to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the spring of 1863 permission was given to raise a battalion of cavalry and a battalion of infantry in Nevada. In the roster of the First Battalion, Nevada Volunteers, Cavalry,[1] the dates of enlistment in the cavalry began in May, 1863, while the infantry battalion was mustered in in the summer of 1864. The adjutant-general reported that since the commencement of the rebellion there had voluntarily enlisted in the service of the United States from Nevada thirty-four field and line officers and 1,158 privates. Though they had not been directly engaged in conflict with the southern armies, the assistance rendered by the Nevada volunteers had "been of the greatest importance in aiding to protect the great overland highway and also the settlements upon the frontier from Indian incursion and depredations. In connection with other troops engaged in the same service, they have made extensive campaigns into the Indian country, exploring large sections of territory which had never before been traversed by our troops, having frequent conflicts with the savages in their

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own chosen strongholds, and chastising them severely for their wanton attacks upon the lives and property of unprotected citizens." As late as May 20, 1865, two Nevada soldiers had been killed in a battle with the Indians at Godfrey Mountain in Humboldt County.

            In addition to the contribution of volunteers the territory and state had provided bounty payments to officers and men, "making the entire liability that has accrued to Nevada by reason of her laws to encourage enlistment amount to the sum of $104,922.18." No small part of the territorial debt which the state had to assume came from these financial contributions to the war authorized by the Legislature.

            Equally noteworthy was the response of private citizens and companies to soldier welfare work. The organizations represented in such work in later wars was then the Christian Sanitary Commission. During the "flush times" that prevailed in the Nevada mining districts in .1863-64, it was very easy to get a generous response from every appeal. As Mark Twain describes it, "money was wonderfully plenty. The trouble was, not how to get itóbut how to spend it, how to lavish it, get rid of it, squander it. And so it was a happy thing that just at this juncture the news came over the wires that a great United States sanitary commission had been formed and money was wanted for the relief of the wounded sailors and soldiers of the Union languishing in the eastern hospitals. . . . Virginia rose as one man. A sanitary committee was hurriedly organized, and its chairman mounted a vacant cart in C Street and tried to make the clamorous multitude understand that the rest of the committee were flying hither and thither and working with all their might and main, and that if the town would only wait an hour, an office would be ready, books opened and the commission prepared to receive contributions." But the audience would not wait, and a rain of gold coins descended upon the chairman and his cart. "The very Chinamen and Indians caught the excitement and dashed their half dollars into the cart without knowing or caring what it was all about."

            Later there appeared another outburst of generosity that spread not only over the entire territory of Nevada but extended into the East. In April, 1864, there had occurred at Austin a city election. R. G. Gridley, a former schoolmate of Mark Twain, and a Democrat and southerner, made a bet on the election, the stake being a sack of flour. The result of the election was in favor of the republican candidate, and Gridley had to pay his wager by carrying the sack of flour in the midst of a large and growing procession from his store to the western part of the town. The winner of the flour then donated it to the sanitary commission. It was put up and sold at auction, and was sold not once, but again and again until about $6,000 was realized from this source for the sanitary commission. The now famous sanitary flour sack was sent to Virginia. Mark Twain describes the exciting scenes that followed, when not only Virginia City but Gold Hill, Silver City and Dayton competed in rivalry to see which could donate the largest amount of money by bidding for the flour sack. "At the end of two hours and a half a population of 15,000 souls had paid in coin for a fifty-pound sack of flour a sum equal to $40,000 in greenbacks." This was, says Mark Twain, perhaps the greatest day Virginia ever saw.

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            Gridley sold the sack in Carson City and several California towns ; also in San Francisco. Then he took it east and sold it in one or two Atlantic cities, I think. I am not sure of that, but I know that he finally carried it to St. Louis, where a monster sanitary fair was being held, and after selling it there for a large sum and helping on the enthusiasm by displaying the portly silver bricks which Nevada's donation had produced, he had the flour baked up into small cakes and retailed them at high prices. It was estimated that when the flour's mission was ended it had been sold for a grand total of $150,000 in greenbacks. This is probably the only instance on record where common family flour brought $3,000 a pound in the public market.

Nye's Word Picture.

            Under date of March 25, 1864, Governor Nye in a communication to President Lincoln gave a glowing picture of Nevada's condition of affairs and progress.[2]

            "Churches have been built, school houses erected, and in almost every town in the territory substantial improvements in every branch of industry are made. . . . Obstacles that would seem insurmountable in many places here seem only to quicken the zeal and energies of our people.

            "Mountains are tunnelled ; shafts are sunk thousands of feet through solid rock ; rivers are turned from their channels ; canals are made, conducting water for fifty or sixty miles ; roads are constructed over the highest mountain peaks with a wonderful facility and rapidity; mines are opened and quartz mills erected as if by magic ; cities spring up like the 'gourd in the night.' "

            The governor called attention to a strong secession tincture in recent immigration into the territory, most of it coming from Missouri, Southern Illinois and Southern Indiana. During the previous year the National Banking Act had been passed by Congress, and in the East practically the only form of money used in daily transactions was "greenbacks." On this subject Governor Nye says :     "The government currency does not meet with much favor here. Most of our inhabitants have been so long in California and accustomed to gold and silver as currency, it will take time for their prejudices to wear away."


 

[1] The roster of Nevada volunteers in the National Service during the Civil war is published in the report of Nevada's adjutant-general, John Cradlebaugh, for 1865, and contains the names of all the enlisted men and commissioned officers in the two battalions.

[2] In Senate Executive Document 41, Thirty-eighth Congress, First Session.