Monday, November 24, 2014

Southern belles and northern silver

By John B. Green III
Generations of Southern women once bore a grudge against the soldiers of the Union army whom they felt had engaged in excessive souvenir collecting during their extended sightseeing tour of the South, 1861-1865.  The slaughter of livestock, the looting of larders, and the burning of houses, barns, and fences could be borne with a certain grim equanimity.  But one thing enraged these ladies above all else - the purloining of cherished family and church silver.  Union General Benjamin F. Butler gained such a reputation in New Orleans for "collecting" Southern silverware that he became known as "Spoons" Butler.  In New Bern, St. John's Masonic Lodge lost its silver candlesticks and the officers' silver insignia, and the lodge cornerstone was robbed of its engraved silver dedication plaque.  The 18th-century silver communion service of Christ Episcopal Church was saved only because it was spirited away to Fayetteville, and then barely saved, when that city fell, by being hidden beneath a pile of old clothes in the back of a closet.

So imagine the surprise of New Bern's ladies when, on two different occasions, former Union soldiers presented them with handsome pieces of silver.  The silver gifts were tokens of appreciation and gratitude from the Union veterans for the kind reception and gracious hospitality they had experienced while revisiting New Bern.

Dedication of the New Jersey monument, May 18, 1905.
Between 1894 and 1909 four Northern states dedicated monuments to their dead in the New Bern National Cemetery: Connecticut in 1894, New Jersey in 1905, Massachusetts in 1908, and Rhode Island in 1909.  Much to their apparent surprise, these delegations of Union veterans and state officials received warm welcomes from New Bern city officials, townspeople, school children and  Confederate veterans.  Speeches, processions, tours of the town and battlefields, and receptions accompanied the monument dedications.  The Confederate veterans served as honor guards and escorts and reminisced with their Union counterparts.  And the Daughters of the Confederacy,  hosting receptions and assisting in the unveilings, charmed their way into the hearts of the aging Boys in Blue.

Massachusetts monument dedicated Nov. 11, 1908
It was the last two dedications, Massachusetts in 1908 and Rhode Island in 1909, which inspired the gifts of silver.  The letter which accompanied the Massachusetts gift read:

Boston, Mass., Dec. 3, 1908

Mrs. Charles L. Stevens, New Bern, N.C.
     Dear Mrs. Stevens - The undersigned were appointed a committee by the Massachusetts Delegation to New Bern to present to the New Bern Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, a suitable memorial, that they may realize in a slight degree the deep sense of gratitude which the Massachusetts Delegation feels toward them; and we have, accordingly purchased a sterling silver punch bowl and ladle, which we are shipping you by express today.

Wm. D. Chapple
Wm. H. Brigham
Chas. B. Amory
Ephraim Stearns
Horace Forbush

Punch bowl and ladle presented by the Massachusetts Delegation
The inscription on the punch bowl reads: 

Presented to New Bern Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, by the Massachusetts Delegation of State Officials and Veterans of the War of 1861-1865, in grateful appreciation of the hospitality, kindness and sympathy shown them at the dedication of the Soldiers Monument in the National Cemetery, New Bern, North Carolina, November 11, 1908.

Rhode Island monument dedicated Oct. 6, 1909
The Rhode Island gift was likewise accompanied by a letter of presentation:

Providence, R.I. 
Jan. 5, 1910

To the United Daughters of the Confederacy, New Bern, N.C.:

     The members of the Rhode Island party that visited New Bern, N.C., October 6th, 1909, for the purpose of dedicating the Rhode Island monument in the National Cemetery, remembering with much pleasure the cordial reception and delightful entertainment accorded them by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, respectfully desire your acceptance of the accompanying gift, as indicating their appreciation of the friendly greetings extended to them on that occasion, and also express the hope that memories recalled by it will be as pleasing to you as the recollections of the visit are gratifying to them.

Very respectfully,
Phillip S. Chase

Ewer presented by the Rhode Island delegation
The inscription reads:

Presented to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, New Bern, N.C. by the Delegation from Rhode Island at the Dedication of the State Monument, New Bern, N.C., October 6, 1909.

These prized pieces of silver were used by the New Bern Daughters of the Confederacy for as long as the chapter existed (it is now defunct).  The last members transferred the silver to the Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens in 1990 for display and safekeeping.