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.