About five years ago I stumbled upon a long-forgotten story of a hero/thief/gambler/officer/vagabond, and occasional bully with a heart of gold. I call him The Scoundrel. My FB friends are either entertained or fed up with me posting both stories and jokes about him.
Since I’ve been researching and writing about this character I’ve had praise, compliments, and thanks from curators, archivists and the like for bringing stories back to life, getting at the truth, and giving my finds to historical societies. Heck, I won an award last fall for my work in forgotten North Carolina history. It hasn’t been easy, as ‘ol Georgie was good at covering his tracks, almost as if he knew he’d have yet another woman looking for him someday. But some people don’t care for my research one bit. It didn’t end with Graham’s 36 shots to his back.
I have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Tongue placed firmly in cheek, my cool little car says, Scoundrel on its side. I call my research trips Scoundrel Safaris. I’ve always thought “scoundrel” was one of those funny old words. I never knew I’d be able to write a book with that word in the title, provided to me in a special order from Gen Innis Palmer himself.
No, Capt George W Graham wasn’t the only one to be labeled as such by Palmer. Countless other Union boys from New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, etc were in on the senseless destruction of a charming coastal city.
Which is what gave me the idea to write this, taking a break from the hundreds of papers this female CW historian (an anomaly, I know) found in archives.
A few men in one of those family lineage groups who call themselves historians dismissed me. They have that Y chromosome, so naturally they are better and smarter at this whole Civil War thing than I am. I should stick to churning butter.
I’ve found out the hard way that getting at the truth and being thorough causes ripples.
I can laugh and call ‘ol Georgie a scoundrel, but when my five years of hard work is written off as some junk by a chick, I get angry. It’s not the most well-written book. It has layout problems I try to fix and can’t. I never call myself an author or a war expert. But I did bring to light long-forgotten stories and helped a bit with some history of North Carolina, Colorado, and Kansas. I know who appreciates it. But some of the Blazered Boys Club don’t like questions asked.
Graham wasn’t a saint. I never said he was. I’ve even been told, “You must be a gal who is attracted to bad boys!” with a wink-wink. I just wink back and answer, “Yes, that’s why I married a book nerd right out of an Ozzie & Harriett episode.”
No, I love bringing people back to life, so to speak. Graham had an incredible story, and at least one guy was mad at me for finding it and having the nerve to ask, very simply, if a Civil War vet who was honorably discharged gets a mention or if his later bad military record erases it all. A “no” would have been fine. But the long-winded, high and mighty response was surprising.
I have also had these so-called history loving men ask why I am so infatuated with this person. Do they ask male Custer historians why THEY are infatuated? Or any other guys who specialize in Booth, Lincoln, Napoleon etc? No, they are experts. I’m “infatuated.”
The email acknowledged that I “wrote the book” on Graham, then went into a quoted synopsis of his life, as if I didn’t know the sheer basics.
The synopsis came from a website that I have not been able to find. It contained errors. It had a few lines that suggest that it was compiled by cutting and pasting from other sources. We used to call that plagiarism but we all know if it’s on the web, it isn’t plagiarism.
Not only am I given a source which can’t be found, I was told that Georgie was such a son-of-a-b that he doesn’t deserve a mention in any Civil War history.
The reasoning was, for one, he looted and pillaged in eastern North Carolina. Yes. So did around 60,000+ other Union angels known as Sherman’s Army. Right here in the city I live in, diaries exist in a museum that tell of boys in blue barging into homes and stealing every damn thing they could carry off, and if they couldn’t take it, they hacked it up. Up in the Raleigh archives is a book that a child in Little Washington practiced his writing in. It’s in Raleigh because a Union officer thought it necessary to steal even that for a souvenir. And it wasn’t Graham who took it. That officer’s descendants may be in this organization that blew me off. The same organization that thought that making shirts with a “Sherman’s Bummers 1864-65 Tour” design was hilarious. I found it funny too because sometimes you gotta laugh. Matter of fact I get a kick out of Sherman’s comments about journalists. To say he hated them is an understatement. But don’t tell me you spit on this one cavalry guy for looting when you celebrate the other tens of thousands who did.
Another example given of Graham’s demonic activity was that he murdered people and stole his own side’s gold from Swansboro. I’ve never found an instance of him murdering anyone outside of a battle, and even then I can only assume he did. As others did too. So if we dismiss every person if they killed an enemy, good luck with your enrollment. Gold in Swansboro? The only major yellow stuff I’ve heard of around New Bern was The Fever. You would think that a group dedicated to Civil War history would check some facts and not use as its only source a bizarre story. I don’t expect every one of them to know that Swansboro was Confederate held and didn’t contain a Union Mint. But if it’s allegedly an account of a Unionist swiping Union gold, look into it for the story it may have been. But it wasn’t. Any gold that Goldbug Graham may have had was from trading medical supplies with a former Confederate who had doctors in his family, and who brought back gold from a trek to California. Trading for gold? Not very nice, but certainly not as bad as some things others did. Like Union boy J C Davis who flat out shot a Union general in a ridiculous argument. Davis, who gets honored at times in the club.
The organization has no interest in their source of genealogy being wrong. Apparently it’s probably just wrong on Graham, and couldn’t possibly have other mistakes.
Then they tell me he was court-martialed! He beat up a guy over a prostitute! Wasn’t the Beast Butler on the verge of his own court-martial? And Custer, that golden haired idol of many, was also court-martialed and famous for that little mistake resulting in a massacre. Say what they will, at least Graham didn’t get his entire company slaughtered. The guys who served under him on the frontier lived to tell about it, except for those that died from disease.
Speaking of the Golden Child that this organization has honored a camp with, did you know he sent letters to his wife with thinly veiled admissions that he too had visited brothels? Some Custer-ites claim that he never had children because of an old venereal disease. Georgie never had THAT problem.
I suppose I have to just accept the fact that no Union or post-war soldiers ever paid for it. Those women they hired were indeed “laundresses.”
The man he beat up? One of his scouts that was supposed to have been on duty but was, er, fooling around. (The Cap’n actually just cussed the guy out and dramatically waved his sabre around). Not Graham’s best moment as “Officer of the Day” but worse than others? Let’s all consider WHY they’re called “hookers,” shall we? And don’t even mention that a GAR camp named itself for Judson Kilpatrick, known for being caught with his drawers down more than once, and nicknamed Killcavalry for a reason.
The Great Attempted Paymaster Robbery. OK, yes, you got me. He may have tried to rob an Army paymaster. Bad guy. Outlaw. Highwayman. But in 100 pages recently obtained from dusty Denver halls, a place I’d rather be than a quilting bee any day, there is evidence Graham may have been drunk and looking for another officer that challenged him to a duel the previous night. Stupid? Damn right. But if we eliminate every Civil War vet who got drunk and did something stupid, there goes your enrollment even more.
Those papers, which will be added in brief to the next edition, suggest that upright Denver thought Georgie was the Town Pest and was ready to do anything to lock him up. The prosecutor in his trial picked the jury, people who did not even live in the county. Every witness Graham asked to testify on his behalf was refused. A reporter from New York who didn’t have any stakes in the affair, the first female reporter for the Herald no less, was there. Her article said that there was no real evidence of attempted robbery or murder, and that the other masked man with Graham pulled the trigger that injured an officer. Unfortunately until I can get old legalese Pitman shorthand translated, I can’t see much of the transcripts.
Yes, he got crocked in Rosita one night in 1875 and shot a man in the foot that had shot him during his recapture from a prison break. Geez, George, just go start a new life somewhere! But he didn’t listen. He went back for revenge. Stupid. Mean. Vengeful. A real SOB. But not down to the level of a Billy the Kid type that people fawn over. I saw BTK’s grave on a trip out west and noted the flowers all over it. And no Kid authority is ever asked about their “infatuation.” I’m not sure Graham’s not-up-there-with-Custer arrogance deserved what happened while James Pringle’s foot recovered. Being told he could get out of town and turning to leave, George had at least six revolvers emptied into his back. Wild Bill Hickok actually murdered men. He was shot in the back too, a cowardly act the stuff of books, movies etc. Graham one-upped Hickok by 35.
So if the judges in this organization use these as examples, the Union army was utterly full of sons-of-b’s whose descendants aren’t dissected. Don’t get me wrong, their local camps do fine work and I’ve met some great people. I like to work with them. But the National Office needs to get its nose out of the clouds. Be honest. Honor your ancestors but don’t act like you were the one who walked 200 miles through muddy trails in wet wool uniforms. Don’t get me started on that Cry Me A River Fest aka the Auxiliary meeting…
This isn’t the griping of a feminist female. The only pink hat I wear is a cap from the Pepsi Museum in New Bern. I do want to be treated like a researcher though, that’s what I am. It’s been my therapy of sorts since I’m a military spouse that lives alone more often than not. I won’t apologize for being a comprehensive researcher, aka a pain in the arse. I’m not siding with anyone, or making the Scoundrel into a misunderstood darling, or slandering the Union Army. Oh, and women CAN write about dead men without having the hots for them. I just needed help and was treated like a fool.
The next time my tongue stabs my cheek will be if I portray that notorious fallen woman as a lark. The type who no one’s gggrandfather heard of. I can’t wait to see how the women will act. Some will get a giggle and know it’s for fun, and I’ll love them. Others will get a case of the vapors.
So I say this to the guys who were rude. I love that archival dust on my clothes. The next story I dig out of that dust might just feature one of YOUR ancestors.