Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Which Jim Looks for "P.T. Barnum" in the Official Records...

...and finds him!

I've started doing some background research for an article on the interesting - even important - role that P. T. Barnum played in the American Civil War, and - as usual - I started with a quick keyword search of the Army OR.

It turns out that Barnum had an eye for more than just entertainment - he also had an eye for intelligence gathering:

LINDENCROFT, Bridgeport, Conn.,
November 29, 1861

DEAR SIR: The daughter of ex-Senator Mallory resides here with her husband, who is brother to our late ex-member of Congress, WilliamD. Bishop (secesh). Of course Mr. Mallory (Secretary of the Navy in secesh) resides in Richmond. The daughter, Mrs. Bishop, is in constant correspondence with her parents and their letters are mailed to her in Baltimore. Of course the letters are brought from Richmond to Baltimore by some private hand. Such a letter arrived here last night and they continually arrive at intervals of two or three days.

Your obedient servant,

The intelligence was acted on as noted below:

December 3, 1861
Maj. Gen. JOHN A. Dix - Baltimore.

GENERAL: Herewith I have the honor to inclose for your informationa copy of a letter received at this Department from P. T. Barnum, Esq., in reference to correspondence between ex-Senator Mallory, now at Richmond, Va., and his daughter, Mrs. Bishop, who resides at Bridgeport, Conn., which it is supposed passes through Baltimore. Will youplease adopt such measures for the suppression of this correspondence as in your judgment are necessary and proper.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
F. W. SEWARD, Assistant Secretary

On another occasion, Barnum alerted Gideon Welles to intelligence he had received regarding blockade runners that were sailing between Wilmington and Nassau!
These are just a few examples of several excellent lines of research I've already identified for the article.
Another favorite starting point of mine is the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, and I hit paydirt there as well:
Lindencroft - Bridgeport Ct
Aug 30th 1861

Honored Sir:

"The late events which have occurred in this vicinity, concluding with the arrest of Schnabel, have rendered secessionists so scarce, I cannot find one for exhibition in my museum. Those who one week ago were blatant secessionists are to day publicly announcing themselves as "in for the country to the end of the war." The " strong arm" has a mighty influence here.
Truly Yours
P. T. Barnum
I'll keep you posted!


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir -
I'm interning at The Barnum Museum and would love to know what you find on Barnum's involvement in the Civil War. We have a collection of Civil War swords that we are trying to work into our displays and need to know how best to connect Barnum to the war. Any ideas would help!

Jim Schmidt said...

Thank you for the comment! I will e-mail you privately.