The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 19, May 7, 2023, Article 29


I didn't manage to get this into the last issue, but even though the auction has now ended I wanted to publish this nice set of mini-articles from Fred Holabird about some interesting and significant coins associated with the U.S. Civil War. -Editor

1861-O $20 Liberty Head Gold Piece

  1861-O double eagle
Could this be "Confederate Money"?

All of the 1861 coins minted in Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans are of keen and intense interest by Civil War and Confederate collectors.

Louisiana joined the Confederacy on Feb. 4, 1861. Five days earlier, the State had seized the US Mint in New Orleans.

The story is important and complex (see History of the New Orleans Mint by Doug Winters). Bowers (US Gold Coins, 1982) states that the US Government struck 5,000 pieces before the State seized the Mint, the State struck 9,750 coins, and the Confederacy struck 2,991 coins for the total of 17,741.

Officially, that means 16.7% of the 1861-O $20 gold coins are "Confederate money."

Mint Director Snowden went on the warpath, recommending to Treasury Secretary Samuel P. Chase that the Government remove the 1861-O gold coins from circulation and render them not lawful legal tender. The President and Secretary Chase chose to ignore Kint Director Snowden, and the 1861-O remained legal tender, even though 12,741 coins were struck illegally, which also means they did not have the usual assay checks. A study of the fineness of 1861-O $20 gold coins is thus of great interest.

  The Mint at new Orleans

1865 US $20, SS Republic Treasure

  1865 US $20 SS Republic
The SS Republic was launched in 1853 as the SS Tennessee.

In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, she was stuck in port at New Orleans. Confederates took control of the ship for use as a blockade runner as the CSS Tennessee. But Union forces, after capturing New Orleans, took the ship and put it to use as the USS Tennessee. During the Battle of Mobile Bay, the Tennessee was used to attack Ft. Morgan.

The ship was damaged in a hurricane in 1864 and pulled out of military service. When it was sold at auction in 1865, it was renamed the SS Republic.

The Republic left New York on October 18, 1865, bound for New Orleans. According to her captain, she was carrying passengers and a cargo of $400,000 in coins, mostly in gold $10 and $20 pieces, intended for use as hard currency after the Civil War.

Five days in, the ship encountered a hurricane off the coast of Georgia. Leaking in the hull extinguished the fire in the boiler, and the ship stalled, taking on water faster than her crew and passengers could bail her. At 4 pm on October 25, 1865, she sank.

The passengers and crew escaped in four lifeboats and a makeshift raft. Most of the passengers and crew survived, although several were lost on the raft before they could be rescued. All the coins were lost. Until 2003...

In August 2003, the wreck was located by Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. about 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia, in about 1,700 feet of water. A salvage effort recovered about one-third of the rare 19th-century gold and silver coins carried aboard, worth an estimated $75 million!

1859-O Counterstamped "TN" Seated Liberty Half Dollar

  1859-O TN Counterstamped HAlf Dollar
As a counter-stamped coin from the S.S. Republic, the coin bears additional importance. The Republic sank off the coast or Louisiana in October, 1865, carrying coin for both public and private parties, as well as a payroll for soldiers.

With the Civil War over, New Orleans was beginning to prosper. This coin, dated 1859, may have had a portion of its life originating in Tennessee in 1861.

At the onset of the Civil War, Tennessee was approximately 70% Unionist. But after the attack at Fort Sumpter, the political tide changed, such that when the state voted on secession in July, the secessionists barely won the vote, and Tennessee became the last state to enter the Confederacy. The state had loud political factions, and this coin emphasizes that fact, as a Tennessee loyalist clearly stamped TN, 1861 on this coin during these difficult first six months of 1861. This is a unique and fascinating coin!

Shevlin E-Sylum ad 2023-03-26 So-Called Dollars Vol 1

Wayne Homren, Editor

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