A Christmas Gift from the Scourge of GeorgiaMonday, December 22, 2014
Today's guest blogger is Chris Mead, senior vice president of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. He is also the author of The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945.
One hundred fifty years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln received one of the most famous telegrams in American history. It came from General William Tecumseh Sherman after the general had completed his scorched-earth march across Georgia, cutting the Confederacy in half. Sherman wrote on December 22, 1864:
I beg to present you as a Christmas-gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.
Sherman composed that telegraph at the home of the president of the Savannah Chamber of Commerce, cotton merchant Charles Green. The Union general had accepted the offer of this house for his temporary office and quarters both because of its comfortable size and opulence and because Green, as a British citizen, would not be reviled as a traitor by his neighbors for giving up his home to a Yankee.
Green had another motive for hosting Sherman: keeping his cotton. Many of the bales of the precious fibers sat in local warehouses belonging to Green. The chamber president was something of an expert on warehousing. As early as 1842, when he was secretary of the chamber, Green had submitted a lengthy committee report to the federal government that dealt with how much the government need be involved in the setup and ownership of warehouses. But in 1865, despite Green’s hosting the scourge of Georgia, the chamber’s opinions counted for little. Green’s cotton was now Yankee contraband. (Green was, however, able to stay in business after the war and continued to head the chamber.)
Sherman, for his part, became an honorary member of the New York Chamber of Commerce. He attended many of its dinners, and after his death in 1891 that chamber had a bronze statue erected in his honor. The sculptor was Augustus Saint-Gaudens; this work, which sits at the Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park, is considered a masterpiece.
So much for the scourge, or Scrooge, of Georgia. Sherman won his place in history. The chamber president, Charles Green, at least for a time, wished he was in a land of cotton, and soon afterward would be long forgotten.
[This item is adapted from Chris Mead’s new book, The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945. An epilogue brings the story up to today. The book is available on Amazon.