William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Samuel C. Taylor Journal, 1863; 1890
James S. Schoff Civil War CollectionFinding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, August 1993
Samuel C. Taylor journal
Taylor, Samuel C.
From about 1860 through at least the end of the Civil War, Samuel C. Taylor worked as a salesman for the Philadelphia clothing firm of Charles Stokes & Co. The 1863 portion of his journal contains almost daily entries between February and May, vividly describing his travels from Philadelphia to Memphis and social life in Memphis during the Civil War. The 1890 portion of the journal consists of seven humorous essays, which are highly stereotypical, possibly semi-fictional, depictions of life in the south.
The material is in English.
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open to research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Samuel C. Taylor Journal, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
From about 1860 through at least the end of the Civil War, Samuel C. Taylor worked as a salesman for the Philadelphia clothing firm of Charles Stokes & Co. Already familiar with the southern Mississippi Valley, having traveled there prior to the war when his brother married into a wealthy, slave-holding family in Missouri, Taylor, in 1863, was a logical choice to represent the firm in its efforts to cash in on the supposedly easy profits to be made by selling goods to Grant's western Army.
Departing from Philadelphia on February 16th, Taylor traveled by train to Cairo, Ill., "the hot bed of fever, pestilence and infamy;" as he called it, "the sewer of the Missisippi and Ohio rivers...the pigstye of Illinois and filled with all the filth of that dirty country...the rendezvous of gamblers, swindlers, cutthroats, murderers, and highwayman, to say nothing of drunken soldiers and woman; who blush only when they have too much whiskey in their faces to look like (what they disgrace) females" (pp. 19-20). From that pleasant beginning, Taylor caught a steamboat to Memphis, a fascinating journey for him, improved by the amusement of watching the antics of the swindlers and con men aboard ship, and by the experience of narrowly avoiding a guerrilla attack from the Arkansas shore.
Upon arriving at Memphis, Taylor found lodging in one of the cramped, filthy hotels that characterized the city during the war. The food, he complained, was no better than the accommodations, and to add to his troubles, he discovered that the intelligence received by Stokes & Co. about the quick money to be made in the west amounted to little more than "an expensive joke" on them. "[T]he business in the City," he wrote, "is almost intirely controlled by Jews dull -- dull, dull is the cry everywhere, a poor prospect for me indeed" (p. 52). Worse, Taylor was faced with delays in getting his goods down river from Cairo, since military goods took precedence over non-military, and he was forced to pay $100 for a license -- $100 that had not been figured into his Stokes & Co. budget. In Taylor's opinion, Stokes & Co. had not prepared sufficiently for the trade or provided adequately for Taylor's maintenance, due to their unfamiliarity with the western scene, and they had underfunded him at every step.
Fortunately for Taylor, he chanced into some important local connections. An old friend from his Missouri days, Amos W. Maupin (a Lt. Col., whom Taylor mistakenly calls General), was staying in Memphis and had risen to prominence in the Union Army. Maupin, who later became commander of the Military District at Pilot Knob, Mo., had been a large slave holder prior to the war, but cast his lot with the Union at the beginning, freed his slaves, and helped to organize the 26th Missouri Infantry. Taylor immediately moved in to the Gayosa Hotel with Maupin and another acquaintance to share a rowdy, drunken room. Taylor's ability in playing the banjo made him a favorite all around, and for a while, the dull days were alleviated by long nights of drinking and dancing. Still, commerce, his reason for traveling across country, looked unpromising. Maupin advised Taylor that Memphis was flooded with contraband clothing and goods smuggled in by "the Jews." He agreed, however, to assist Taylor in getting his clothing stores through the shipping bottleneck on the river.
Taylor fell into a melancholic period when he became confined to his room with an illness for several days just at the time that Maupin's regiment was called away to duty at Vicksburg. Left in the care of a sutler, Mr. Mepham, Taylor recovered slowly. He grew close to Mepham, who did his best to assist Taylor financially and in arranging contacts for his clothing sales, but on March 17th, Mepham was suddenly called away to care for a sick child, leaving Taylor "friendless and alone, all alone" in the dismal city. When Mepham's bed in the hotel was filled with a huge man, 6'6" of homespun red who snored "like a Mississippi Boat blowing off steam, or perhaps more like a prize Bull with the ashma [sic]" (p. 142), Taylor found accommodations in a private boarding house, where he shared a bed with Gen. Burnside's relative, C. F. Burnside, who was speculating in cotton and selling other, unspecified, merchandise. Their room, with its overlook of the cesspool, manure heap and chicken coops, was tiny and unduly odoriferous, and Taylor, once again using contacts, decided to move to a better quality boarding house, forcing a southern-sympathizing "detective" out of his bed there in the process. Still unable to make any progress in his clothing sales, on March 24th, Taylor decided to sell his stock illegally out of frustration with his inability to get the appropriate permits and set up in a back room, sharing space with other illegally offered merchandize. The Revenue service was not long in noting the arrangement, but Taylor managed to avoid legal problems through Burnside's influence and by the payment of a 5% bribe on his sales.
Taylor's new boarding situation with the Morse family was the most congenial he found in Memphis. He befriended Mr. Morse, a rough-edged, transplanted New Englander, and Mrs. Morse, a southern-sympathizing belle. Although his living conditions had improved, commerce continued to languish, so that by the end of April, he decided to cut his losses, sell off whatever stock he could and essentially abandon the rest. He returned to Philadelphia at the end of the first week in May, noting that as a result of his failure to sell most of his stock, he would have no commission for the entire trip, leaving him only with his meager salary for his numerous troubles on the four months journey. After the war, Taylor continued to live in Philadelphia through at least 1895. In city directories, he is listed consistently as a salesman.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Taylor journal is a single, 3/4 leather-bound volume in two sequential parts, the first dated 1863, the second, 1890. The journal is probably a transcript made in 1890 or 1891 from the original, based on the style of binding and paper, and the continuity in handwriting and pen between the two dated parts. The 1863 portion, 260 pages long, takes the form of almost daily journal entries from the time of Taylor's departure from Philadelphia on February 16th, through his stay in Memphis, until his return to Philadelphia on May 16th, and is uniformly well written and interesting. It is a far more polished piece of writing than many journals, and may have been corrected or embellished at the time of its transcription. At its best, Taylor's prose has the feeling of Mark Twain's exuberant descriptions of life on the Mississippi, leavened with the cynical undercurrents of Melville's Confidence Man., and though it is brief, covering only a four months' residence, the journal is a valuable social record of life in wartime Memphis as seen by a person come to take advantage of the quick money to be made. Taylor has a preference for the "colorful" aspects of life in Memphis, and includes vivid descriptions of the shoddy accommodations, the venality and corruption, rampant violence and crime, and of soldiers, prostitutes, rebels, drunks and rowdies. Throughout, he displays an eye for the telling detail, a good sense of humor, and an unerring flair for making a good story out of difficult circumstances.
Among the several highlights in the journal is an excellent description of the steamboat trip to Memphis, during which a "Jewish" swindler/gambler managed to con his way out of several tight spots by his using his wits and his finesse with cards. Once in Memphis, Taylor provides memorable descriptions of the city in all its war-time depravity, and vivid accounts of long lines of ragged, worn-out soldiers marching in to town, of murder, robbery and charlatanism, of prostitutes and drunks shouting and shooting in the streets, and of the characters, like himself, who have descended on the city to turn a quick profit, legally or illegally. Taylor was somewhat less accomplished in his poetry, though his poem about life in Memphis during the war is an amusing, sarcastic look at the closet secessionists of the city, Memphis' cheerless, malattired women, crime, and the amusement he occasionally found, including listening to the "darkies" singing. One quatrain summarizes his attitudes well: "What an awfull place to live in / Now I'll stop or freighten you (sic) / Yet upon my word of honor / What I've written you is true" (p. 106).
Taylor's attitude toward Jews, synonymous with swindling merchants in his mind, and African-Americans is highly stereotyped. He is, however, somewhat sympathetic toward slaves and freedmen even as he is willing to have a laugh at their expense. In Memphis, he attended a religious service for freedmen delivered by a mulatto preacher named Revels. Taylor was genuinely moved by the sermon, and seems to have agreed with its message. He is also somewhat sympathetic with the "contrabands" he sees being trampled by Union soldiers, or boating up river, half-dressed and hungry to a mission in Missouri. In general, though, Taylor is inclined toward a cynical view of strangers, and is always on his guard for the cons and crooks that were abundant in Memphis.
The 1890 portion of the Taylor journal consists of seven humorous essays, which are highly stereotypical, possibly semi-fictional, depictions of life in the south. They include:
- "Sketches from the South," (Chattanooga, April 3, 1890: p. 263-268)
- "A Kentucky Wheelman," (Louisville, Ky., April 20, 1890: p. 269-271)
- "A Hodoo Doctor" (Birmingham, Ala., April 30, 1890: p. 272-275)
- "The Negro Drill Workers" (Memphis, Tenn., May 2, 1890: p. 276-279)
- "The Georgia Cracker, The Alabama Razor Back" (Atlanta, Ga., May 10, 1890: p. 280-284)
- "New Orleans, La." (May 20, 1890, New Orleans: p. 285-293)
- "Pensacola, Florida" (September 20, 1890, Pensacola: p. 293-295)
These essays are the interesting products of a talented writer, who, though sympathetic observer of southern society, is nevertheless mired in the ingrained attitudes and prejudices of his day. In the first essay, Taylor discusses the phenotype of African-Americans and the several "clases or sets" that comprise the African-American community in the South, from the rich, to the merchants, mechanics, drill men, tramps and the "poor old uncle." "The hoodoo doctor" and "The Negro drill workers" are somewhat longer essays along the same lines, and are written as first hand experiences. In "A Kentucky wheelman" and "The Georgia cracker, the Alabama razorback," Taylor turns his eye to the poor white community in the deep South, and paints a dismal view of the state of their culture. Essays 3, 4, and 5 also include crude, pen and ink illustrations of the subjects of the essay.
- African Americans--Tennessee.
- Banjo music.
- Cairo (Ill.)--Description and travel.
- Maupin, Amos W.
- Memphis (Tenn.)--Description and travel.
- Memphis (Tenn.)--Commerce--History.
- Memphis (Tenn.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
- Memphis (Tenn.)--Poetry.
- Mepham, William.
- New Orleans (La.)--Description and travel.
- Railroad travel--Ohio.
- Steamboats--Mississippi River--History--19th century.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Poetry.
- United States. Army--Military life.
Additional Descriptive Data
African American railroad construction workers.African Americans--Ohio.African Americans--Religion.African Americans--Social conditions.African Americans--Songs and music.African Americans--Songs and music--Poetry.African Americans--Tennessee.
Alabamans.Alligators.Banjo music.Beauregard, Pierre G. T., 1818-1893.Bed bugs.Black race--Color.Boarding houses--Tennessee--Memphis.Bordellos--Tennessee--Memphis.Boyd, Belle, 1843-1900.Bribery.Burnet House (Cincinnati, Ohio)Burnside, C. F.Cairo (Ill.)Cemeteries--Louisiana--New Orleans.Churches, Presbyterian--Tennessee.Civilians--Arkansas--Civil War, 1861-1865.Civilians--Tennessee--Memphis--Civil War, 1861-1865.Clothing merchants.Clothing--Tennessee.Cockroaches.Columbus (Ohio)Confederate States of America. Army--Surgeons.Confederate sympathizers--Tennessee.Contraband.Cotton.Crime--Louisiana--New Orleans.Crime--Tennessee--Memphis.
- 66-67, 130, 219, 223-226, 238-239, 262-268
Dead.Death.Denver, James William, 1817-1892.Detectives.
- 68-69, 73-74, 112, 120-121, 186-188
Docks--Mississippi River.Dying women.Early, Jubal, 1816-1894.Farmers--Ohio.Fathers and sons.Fort Columbus (Ky.)Gamblers--Mississippi River.Gambling.Gayosa Hotel (Memphis, Tenn.)Georgians.Grant, Ulysses S., 1822-1885.Guerrillas--Arkansas.Guerrillas--Tennessee.Home.Homesickness.Hoodoo (Cult)Hopewell (Ark.)Illustrations.Insanity.Island No. 10.Jewish merchants--Tennessee.Kentuckians.Knights of the Golden Circle.Marbles.Markets--Tennessee--Memphis.Maupin, Amos W.
- 173, 180-181, 185-188, 202
Memphis (Tenn.)Memphis (Tenn.)--Commerce--Civil War, 1861-1865.
- 57-61, 74-75, 81-82, 93-94
Memphis (Tenn.)--Poetry.Mepham, William.
- 50-56, 61-62, 165-167, 213-214
Morse, Mr.Morse, Mrs.Mud.Murder--Tennessee.New Orleans (La.)Pensacola (Fla.)Poor white trash.Prices--Tennessee.Prisons--Tennessee--Memphis.Prostitutes--Louisiana--New Orleans.Prostitutes--Tennessee--Memphis.Railroad travel--Ohio.Railroad travel--Pennsylvania.Railroads--Accidents.Rats.Robbery.
- 92-94, 124-126, 133-137, 190-193
Slavery.Slaves--Tennessee.Snoring.Snuff.Soldiers.Soldiers--Alcohol.Soldiers--Missouri.Stealing.Steamboat travel--Mississippi River--Civil War, 1861-1865.Steamboats--Mississippi River.Sutlers.Swindlers.Tall tales.Theater--Tennessee--Memphis.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
- 121-122, 178-179, 186-188
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Poetry.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Transportation.United States. Army--Chaplains.United States. Army--Military life.United States. Army--Missouri Infantry Regiment, 26th.War.Women--Tennessee--Memphis.
- 70-71, 99, 130, 135-136, 203, 219
- 71-73, 103-105, 111-112, 164, 201