Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Rebel and the Rose: James Semple, Julia Gardiner Tyler, and the Lost Confederate Gold

by Wesley Millett and Gerald White

From the publisher:
In April 1865 the Civil War was over for most Americans. More than 600,000 soldiers, North and South, had died from wounds or disease. At Petersburg, Virginia, the Union army overwhelmed the Confederate lines, forcing Confederate President Jefferson Davis to flee Richmond, the Southern capital. Accompanying him, first by train and later on horseback are most of the officials of his administration, an escort of cavalry, various hangers-on, and all that remains of the treasury.

One of these traveling with Davis was a navy paymaster, James A. Semple. First, the group stopped at Danville, Virginia, but was forced to retreat farther following Lee's surrender. With the defeat of the last significant Confederate army in the East, the Confederate government dissolved. Davis, however, felt obliged to carry on the struggle by going west. In Washington, Georgia, a small town untouched by the war, Semple was entrusted with the Confederate treasury: $86,000 in coins and bullion, the equivalent of about $2 million today. The gold was secured in the false bottom of a carriage, and Semple and another man, Edward M. Tidball, disappeared with it into the night.

In The Rebel and the Rose, Wesley Millett and Gerald White reveal for the first time what happened to the gold (as well as some 160,000 Mexican silver dollars, which, if found today, would be valued at up to $16 million). Yet Millett and White offer more than an accounting of the missing treasury. In Semple, they find a man on the run, seeking to evade capture in the devastated South that now swarmed with Federal troops. His odyssey took him from the swamps of Georgia to the Staten Island home of Julia Gardiner Tyler, where he eventually took refuge. Once known as the "Rose of Long Island" for an advertisement that included her image and still captivating in her forties, Julia was the widow of former president John Tyler and the stepmother of Semple's estranged wife.

In detail, Millett and White document the symbiotic bond that developed between the Rebel and the Rose, as well as Semple's growing passion for Julia. At the same time, Semple was a man on a mission. He worked with other expatriate Confederates, often traveling to Canada, toward the goal of precipitating a crisis between the United States and Great Britain. Through it all, Semple is the threat that binds events together. And the Confederate gold plays a part in all that follows.
Wesley Millett has been a researcher and writer for more than twenty-five years. His articles appear regularly in more than a dozen national and international publications.

Gerald White is a retired air force colonel and instructor at the Army War College. Before his retirement, he held senior leadership positions in air force intelligence. He is the author of several books on recent U.S. military operations.