Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Sale of Government Property”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 27, 2019

My colleague, Matt Reeves, shared this news clipping with me today from the July 4, 1866 copy of Flake’s Bulletin in Galveston. It advertises the sale, at public auction, of numerous vessels seized by the U.S. government after the end of the Civil War. The vessels are in all different conditions, and located anywhere from Sabine Pass in the east, to Lavaca (“LaVaca”) on Matagorda Bay to the west, and at Liberty, some distance up the Trinity River from Galveston Bay. Most of the vessels are either sunk, or their specific condition is unlisted, but Col. Stell (sometimes spelled Stelle) was shown as being “in good running order.” That boat, that had been almost new at the beginning of the war, did indeed go back into service as a civilian steamer, and is listed as having been “lost at sea” on the last day of 1867. Whatever happened to Col. Stell, though, she must have been close inshore, though, because the wreck was the subject of a salvage claim heard at the U.S. District Court in Austin in the summer of 1868.

Advertisement for Col Stell running to the Trinity River, Galveston Daily News, 25 January 1867, p.4.

The 1866 auction notice is notable (and perhaps worth saving a copy) for two related reasons. First, obviously, it gives the status and likely fate of these vessels after the end of the war. But it also amounts a sort of inventory of Confederate vessels in Texas at the close of the conflict.

When the war ended, U.S. troops sent to occupy the South were followed closely by U.S. Treasury agents, whose job it was to locate, identify, and seize Confederate government property, either for transfer to the U.S. government, or to sell on its behalf. Apart from obvious things like military stores and equipment, this property was largely in the form of cotton. In the cash-poor Confederacy, the government had been accepting payment-in-kind for taxes and other debts owed by private individuals. Eventually government warehouses became full, and by late in the war Confederate treasury agents were simply going around to farms and plantations, tagging the bales as government property, to be collected and removed at some later date. The writer Ambrose Bierce had served during the war as a U.S. staff officer to General William Babcock Hazen, and for a time after the surrender he worked as a Treasury agent in Selma, Alabama, trying to locate and claim those Confederate bales for the United States.

So the second notable thing about this auction notice from July 1866 is that it lays out that these vessels, several of which I’d never heard of, were (by whatever evidence) deemed by the U.S. Treasury as former Confederate government property, and so forfeit to the United States. That’s what George W. Dent’s role here was — like Bierce’s in Alabama, to identify, seize, and sell former C.S property, and return its value to the Treasury.

And who was George Wrenshall Dent (1819-99, right)? He was the older brother of Julia Boggs Dent, and brother-in-law of General (and soon to be President) Ulysses S. Grant.

Some things never change, y’all.
________

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2 Responses

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  1. Danial Lisarelli said, on February 28, 2019 at 8:21 am

    This is an awesome discovery! Well played! When are we going to have a Houston/Galveston Civil War History Symposium?

  2. J.B. Richman said, on March 10, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    Don’t tell me you are joining the lost cause smearing of Grant as a corrupt man and second-rater who overwhelmed the South with hordes of soldiers and carpetbaggers. John F. Kennedy appointed his relatives and in-laws to much bigger positions than a treasury agent looking for Confederate assets in Galveston. Anyway it looks like Mr Dent did a pretty good job.


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