We were eating lunch as the American Queen riverboat pulled out of port, having just returned from a morning-long excursion to the Battlefield of Vicksburg. It is even possible that we were in a mild disagreement over the Yankees and the Rebels when a nice couple approached.
The wife said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I wondered why you decided to take this cruise?”
I explained that it was my fourth riverboat trip and I am a great lover of the Mississippi river and of all the history that ripples through its waters and lays on its shores. Tink spoke up to say how much we enjoyed the battlefield and what we had gained from the visit.
That is when we learned that the woman’s husband, Bertram Hayes-Davis, is a descendant of the Confederate’s only president, Jefferson Davis. I love it when history and lives intersect.
“Are you a direct descendant?” I asked, a reasonable question because I descend from many law-abiders as well as law-breakers but I am directly born from a mere few.
He nodded, his silver hair gleaming in the light that bounced off the Mississippi river. “I’m his great-great-grandson.”
As a devotee of history, I was instantly interested. Then, I realized something that really captured my attention. Tink’s great-great-grandfather, Charlie Tinker, worked in the White House telegraph office and was close friends with President Lincoln, dating back to the years when they had met while living in Illinois. We have his diaries and have enjoyed reading a first-hand account of the White House and the war.
Now, Mr. Hayes-Davis was interested, too. “What are you going to do with the diaries? Someone is going to be very excited to get those.”
“We want all of Charlie’s diaries and belongings to be preserved where they will be appreciated,” Tink responded. He then smiled. “We even have a cigar that belongs to Jefferson Davis.”
That’s true. In our safe deposit box are a few other items that belonged to Charlie Tinker as well. There are, among other things, a hand-written note from President Lincoln to Charlie, a card that simply has Lincoln’s scripted signature in ink with a note (this amazes me because no one got autographs in those days yet Charlie was prescient enough to have the President sign a card then pristinely preserved it), and a hand-rolled cigar that is more than 150 years old. It is rolled in a piece of fine tissue and placed in a box with a note from Charlie that explains that it was one of several cigars that was in the satchel of Jefferson Davis when he was captured.
“Really?” asked President Davis’ grandson. “How interesting!”
“This is great!” I exclaimed. “How unbelievable.” I pointed to Tink. “You are the great-great-grandson of a man who worked in the White House during the Civil War and he is the great-great-grandson of the President of the Confederacy. All these years later, together, on the same steamboat leaving Vicksburg, Mississippi!”
Things like this excite me. Imagine that the same generation of grandsons descended from men, who had fought as enemies, had crossed paths in the friendliest of ways. In our possession, we have something that belonged to his grandfather and was confiscated during a historical moment in time. We had just left Vicksburg where we had talked about President Davis and seen a wonderful “hero-sized” (one and a half times life size) statue of him.
Later, we read a news report that the New Orleans council had voted to remove Confederate monuments. This saddens and angers me. History is history regardless of whether it was good or bad, is liked or despised. I don’t like that Jesus was crucified in such a horrific way but it happened. And good came from that. And good has come from the Civil War, too.
Take, for instance, the Yankee and the Rebel who struck up an acquaintance because of it.