How A Man Opposed to Succession Appeared on Confederate Money

By: Johnny Kicklighter


Perhaps the most interesting portrait to appear on Confederate money is that of John E. Ward. His portrait was on a $10 bill in 1861. The irony is, although a native of Georgia and a holder of high offices, he was not in favor of secession. In fact, Mr. Ward left the South partly because he did not support the Confederate cause.

From the beginning of the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate governments resorted to paper money to finance their efforts. They did not want to restrict themselves to the hard money, i.e., gold and silver coin that was the predominate issue before the war. Paper money up to this point consisted of notes issued by private banks, state and local governments, railroads, and merchants. Nearly all these notes were printed by specialty bank note printers located in the North, mainly in New York.

Having all the printers located in the Union gave newly appointed Confederate Treasury Secretary Christopher Memminger a unique problem. He couldn't do business with the enemy yet he didn't have the equipment or the expertise in South.

At first, he hired some lithographers (duplicators) in Richmond to print Confederate notes. Southern bankers who were accustomed to handling beautiful, steel-engraved bank notes, immediately protested when they saw the poorly produced lithographic bills. These notes were easy-to-counterfeit and printed on cheap paper. Embarrassed by the criticism, Memminger, a banker by profession, pursued another idea.

Memminger secretly persuaded two New York expert engravers (William Leggett and Edward Keating) to move to Richmond and set up shop. He then ordered a supply of critically needed $5 and $10 bills. In wanting to expedite the process, the engravers didn't have time to engrave new steel plates from scratch. With Memminger's permission they decided to modify an existing plate provided by the Mechanics Savings Bank of Savannah, Georgia. Leggett and Keating replaced the old lettering with Confederate language and left intact the original pictures and vignettes. Leggett and Edwards quickly printed 20,333 $5 and $10 bills.

Collectors soon showed up after the war assembling complete sets of the Confederate notes and begin to ask, who was that man on the 1861 $10 bill? "That man" was mistakenly identified as Williamson S. Oldham, a Confederate senator from Texas. This was the accepted truth until 1915 when a researcher found a portrait of Oldham and it had no likeness to the picture on the $10 note.

Ads were placed in newspapers and other publications and circulated to millions of readers all through the South in an attempt to name the individual on the note. Flyers were printed showing a picture of the $10 bill and sent to patriotic organizations, libraries, historical societies, postmasters, and to the 1916 reunion of the United Confederate Veterans. A reward was even offered to anyone who could correctly identify the man. As a result, many names were submitted. Laughably, at least three people in the South said it was Abraham Lincoln.

At long last a $10 bill issued in 1855 by the "Mechanics Savings Bank" of Savannah, Georgia appeared. It revealed a curious fact that the design of the Bank note had been set aside and duplicated by the Confederacy. This narrowed the search and placed the burden to solve the mystery squarely on the shoulders of the city of Savannah.

Further research found a story in "The Savannah Morning News" of Saturday, December 2, 1854, on the opening of the Mechanics Savings Bank of Savannah. It described the bank's "beautifully designed and executed" bank notes that sported a portrait of a well-known Savannah political figure, John E. Ward. Ward had been a founding partner of the bank, mayor of Savannah, President of the Georgia State Senate, Minister to Russia and soon-to-be president of the 1856 Democratic National Convention (which nominated James Buchanan for president).

Mr. Ward left the South partly because he was not in sympathy with the cause of the Confederacy. He moved to New York City and established a successful law practice. He became practically a stranger to the South and never went back to Savannah to live. It is with great irony his likeness was, in ignorance placed on a Treasury note of the government he did not recognize.

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Johnny Kicklighter is a member of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans, Lt. George E. Dixon Camp # 1962, Belleville, Illinois. The Sons of Confederate Veterans honor ancestry through the preservation of history and heritage. Johnny is a collector of Confederate currency.

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