The Last Prisoner

After Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Ulysses Grant in the parlor of Virginia grocer Wilmer McLean, relic hunters descended on the house. “Large sums were offered Major Wilmer S. McLean for the chairs in which the generals sat during the meeting — for the tables on which the writing was done — for substantially every article of furniture,” wrote correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader. Many souvenirs were taken without McLean’s permission — including the rag doll belonging to his 8-year-old daughter, Lula, “which the younger officers tossed from one to the other, and called the ‘silent witness.'”

In a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, “The Lost Rag Doll of Appomattox,” Dorothy Kunhardt wrote, “Eighty-six years ago a little girl lost her rag doll. It was a very much hugged and slept with and beloved rag doll, homemade; no china head and kid-glove fingers and lacy dress, but stumpy burlap arms and legs, clothes assembled from the family rag bag and a small, potato-shaped head with not much stuffing on it.”

Philip Sheridan’s aide-de-camp Thomas William Channing Moore took the doll home with him to New York, and it was passed down within his family for 128 years. Finally, in 1993, when Moore’s grandson Richard died, his wife called the Appomattox park authorities to say that they were ready to return it. “The men in our family never wanted to give her up,” Marjorie Moore said. “The women thought Appomattox would be the best place for her.”

The doll resides today in the Appomattox visitors’ center, but perhaps that’s too late to redress the harm. Years earlier, after ranger Cynda Carpenter had told the story to one group of visitors, an older woman approached her and identified herself as Lula McLean’s great-granddaughter. “She said that Lula never got over the hurt caused by the loss of her doll,” she said. “She said that Lula told her, ‘The Yankees stole my doll.'”

The Battle of the Reed Rules

Until 1890, the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives could block a vote by “disappearing”; they’d demand a roll call, remain silent when called upon, and then declare that too few members were “present” for the House to conduct its business.

To incoming speaker Thomas Brackett Reed this was a “tyranny of the minority,” and on Jan. 28 he resolved to break it. When Democrats demanded a roll call and refused to answer to their names, Reed marked them present anyway; when Kentucky representative James B. McCreary objected, Reed said sweetly, “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?”

There followed a sort of ontological shooting gallery. Democrats hid under their desks and behind screens to avoid being observed to exist. When they tried to flee the chamber entirely, Reed ordered the doors locked, which started a scramble to get out before the next vote. Representative Kilgore of Texas had to kick open a locked door to escape. Amid the howled objections, Confederate general “Fighting Joe” Wheeler came down from the rear “leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag,” and one unnamed Texas Democrat “sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.” Finally the Republicans mustered a majority even with the Democrats entirely absent, and the battle was over: Reed’s new rules were adopted on February 14.

Throughout all this Reed had seemed imperturbable, “serene as a summer morning.” He told a friend later that he had made up his mind what he would do if the House did not support him. “I would simply have left the Chair and resigned the Speakership and my seat in Congress,” he said. “I had made up my mind that if political life consisted in sitting helplessly in the Speaker’s Chair and seeing the majority helpless to pass legislation, I had had enough of it and was ready to step down and out.”

(From Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower.) (Thanks, Zach.)

Podcast Episode 75: The Sea Devil
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero of World War I, a dashing nobleman who commanded one of the last sailing ships to fight in war. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Luckner’s uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We’ll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Sources for our feature on Felix von Luckner:

Lowell Thomas, Count Luckner, The Sea Devil, 1928.

Edwin P. Hoyt, Count von Luckner: Knight of the Sea, 1969.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In all, Seeadler captured 16 ships totaling 30,099 tons between Dec. 21, 1916, and Sept. 8, 1917.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!

In a Word

adj. ready for battle; warlike

adj. possessing knowledge

adj. pertaining to a teacher

Among Union Army regiments, the 33rd Illinois became known as the “brains” regiment because it contained so many teachers. “It was stated derisively that the men would not obey orders which were not absolutely correct in syntax and orthography and that men who were discharged from it for mental incapacity, at once secured positions as officers in other regiments.” Many of them came from Illinois State Normal University; of the 97 teachers and pupils on the university’s rolls in 1860-1861, 53 entered the army.

(Charles A. Harper, Development of the Teachers College in the United States, With Special Reference to the Illinois State Normal University, 1935.)

Looking Back

Amazingly, we have a photograph of a man who crossed the Delaware with George Washington. This is Conrad Heyer, born in 1749 and photographed in 1852 at age 103. He served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, crossed the Delaware with Washington in December 1776, and fought in several major battles. The Maine Historical Society says that this makes him the earliest-born human being ever to be photographed.

The footage below shows Despina, the grandmother of Balkan film pioneers Yanaki and Milton Manaki, spinning and weaving in the Ottoman Balkans in 1905. She was 114 years old at the time, which means we have video of a person born in the 1700s.

Image: Flickr

The 11th Pennsylania infantry regiment was beginning its training at the fairground in West Chester, Pa., in 1861 when a local resident presented a wicker basket to one of the officers. In the basket was a 4-week-old black female terrier puppy. The dog, quickly named Sallie after a local beauty whom the soldiers admired, made hundreds of friends among the men and was adopted as the regiment’s official mascot.

“Sallie knew the drumroll announcing reveille,” writes James Robertson in The Untold Civil War. “She was first out of quarters to attend roll call. During drills, she latched on to a particular soldier and pranced alongside him throughout the exercise. At dress parade, the dog marched proudly beside the regimental colors. At encampments, she slept by the captain’s tent after strolling leisurely through the grounds on her own kind of inspection.”

She accompanied the regiment into battle at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, standing stoutly on the front lines and barking ferociously at the enemy. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln tipped his hat to her as he reviewed the Army of the Potomac. On the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, the regiment was driven back a mile from its original position and she was feared lost; she was discovered three days later standing guard over the wounded and the dead.

She survived, in fact, nearly to the end of the war. On Feb. 5, 1865, at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run during the Siege of Petersburg, men in the second wave of a Union attack found her dead on the battlefield, shot through the head. She had died instantly.

In 1890, the surviving veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania erected a monument at Gettysburg. From a distance it looks like other regimental memorials, a defiant soldier atop a marble pedestal. But on a ledge near the base of the monument lies a small bronze dog.

Hawaii Overprint Notes$10-FRN-1934-A-Fr.2303.jpg

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, war planners recognized a special threat: If Japan invaded Hawaii, it could seize millions of dollars in U.S. currency from the islands’ people and businesses — currency that would remain valuable since it was indistinguishable from that on the mainland.

They came up with a novel solution: In January 1942 the government recalled all regular paper money on the islands, except for an allowance of $200 per individual and $500 per business. Then it issued new notes stamped with the word HAWAII. Now if Hawaii fell to Japan these “overprinted” notes could be declared worthless.

After the new notes were distributed, citizens were asked to trade in their remaining regular currency. Two hundred million dollars was burned, and between August 1942 and October 1944 Hawaiians were required to conduct their business using the overprinted notes.

Happily, the invasion never came, and after the war the Hawaiian notes were exchanged for regular currency again. Today they’re collectors’ items.

All Together Now

fitzgerald georgia

In the 1890s, touched by Georgia’s generosity in sending supplies to a drought-ridden Midwest, Indianapolis attorney and Union veteran Philander H. Fitzgerald contacted Georgia governor William J. Northen and described a dream he had of a colony in the warm South where Northern veterans might spend their final years. They established a new town, called Fitzgerald, on a parcel of public property only 10 miles from the site of Jefferson Davis’ capture and not far from Andersonville, the location of the Confederacy’s most notorious prison.

The first 50,000 acres sold quickly, and another 50,000 were soon sought. Formally founded in 1895, the town largely fulfilled its namesake’s vision of reconciliation and comity. The town was open to “all good people,” but the overwhelming majority of its first residents were Union veterans. Planners named seven streets in the west of town after Confederate generals such as Lee and Jackson and seven streets in the east after Union leaders such as Grant and Meade. Children hailing from 38 states received free tuition from free textbooks in the first schools in Georgia to offer a nine-month term, and only one of their 12 teachers was a Southerner. By 1900 Fitzgerald had 9,000 residents and was celebrating two Memorial Days, Georgia’s on April 26 and the national holiday on May 30, unusual in the South before World War I.

The town’s first hotel was called Grant-Lee. After some grumblings among the neighbors, they changed it to Lee-Grant. Nobody’s perfect.


First entry in Victoria’s diary, Aug. 1, 1832, when she was 13:

We left K.P. at 6 minutes past 7 and went through the Lower-field gate to the right. We went on, & turned to the left by the new road to Regent’s Park. The road & scenery is beautiful. 20 minutes to 9. We have just changed horses at Barnet a very pretty little town. 5 minutes past 1/2 past 9. We have just changed horses at St. Albans. The situation is very pretty & there is a beautiful old abbey there. 5 minutes past 10. The country is beautiful here: they have began to cut the corn here; it is so golden & fine that I think they will have a very good harvest, at least here. There are also pretty hills & trees.

Five years later, on the day of her accession, she wrote, “Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfil my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.”


Glimpses from the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916:

“I was ordered to fetch the breakfast from the kitchens about a mile away. On the way back, in the trench, we came across a covey of young partridges and, as we walked along, we were driving them in front of us. A lot fell in a sump which was full of water so they would surely drown. But I could not see them drown, so I pulled the top off and got them out, put them in my steel helmet and lifted it up to the top of the trench. There, their mother was waiting and she chuckled them all together and off they went, never to be seen by us again.” — Pte F.G. Foskett, 7th Bedfords

“I suppose a shell hole is not the best place from which to admire anything but, believe it or not, waving about just over my head were two full-blown red poppies which stood out in pleasant contrast against the azure blue sky.” — Pte G.E. Waller, Glasgow Boys’ Brigade Battalion

“The worst sights were in our own trenches where some of the badly wounded had managed to crawl. We were not allowed to help any of them, but kept our machine-gun mounted on the parapet in case of a counter-attack. The wounded were trying to patch each other up with their field dressings. A chaplain tore his dog collar off in front of me and, with curses, said, ‘It is a mockery to wear it.'” — Pte C.A. Turner, 97th Brigade Machine Gun Company

“I could see, away to my left and right, long lines of men. Then I heard the ‘patter, patter’ of machine-guns in the distance. By the time I’d gone another ten yards there seemed to be only a few men left around me; by the time I had gone twenty yards, I seemed to be on my own. Then I was hit myself.” — Sgt. J. Galloway, 3rd Tyneside Irish

“Now we came on to a German machine-gun post and there were all the twelve of the crew lying dead around the machine-gun; a short distance away we saw the body of one of our sergeants, formerly one of the king’s footmen who joined up with us at Norwich. He had obviously accounted for the machine-gun crew, before he himself received his death blow. A strange feeling possesses one at such a moment. It seems as if one is detached and merely looking at a scene of carnage from a great distance.” — Pte WC. Bennett, 8th Norfolks

“I then went on to the second-line trench and jumped in, to see a German soldier lying on the parapet. With fixed bayonet I approached, then I saw his putty-coloured face which convinced me he was mortally wounded. The German brought up an arm and actually saluted me. I understood no German language but the poor chap kept muttering two words ‘Wasser, Wasser,’ and ‘Mutter, Mutter.’ It took me a minute or so to realize he wanted a drink of water. The second word I could not cotton on to. I am glad to this day that I gave him a drink from my precious water.” — Pte G.R.S. Mayne 11th Royal Fusiliers

“We are filled with a terrible hate. Our actions are born of a terrible fear, the will to survive. Some of the Germans were getting out of their trenches, their hands up in surrender; others were running back to their reserve trenches. To us they had to be killed. Kill or be killed. You are not normal.” — L/Cpl J.J. Cousins, 7th Bedfords

A company commander in the London Division’s Pioneer battalion was left out of the battle: “My recollection, after all these years, is of being in a trench discussing the rumours, helping with the wounded (we had four men killed) and occasionally lying in a bit of shelter, reading Pickwick Papers and watching the activities of a fat and grey rat.” — Capt. P.H. Jolliffe, 1/5th Cheshires

(From Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme, 1971.)