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  • "Follow the Money"
  • Mark W. Geiger (bio)

Editor's Note: The following represents the acceptance speech for the Watson Brown Prize for best book published on the Civil War era in calendar year 2010. Tad Brown, president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, awarded the prize for the book Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri's Civil War, 1861-1865, published by Yale University Press. Reproduced in whole, the remarks were given at the annual banquet of the Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH), held during the Southern Historical Association meeting last October in Baltimore. The SCWH judges and administers the book prize.

Before I say anything else, I'd like to thank my graduate adviser, who is here tonight—Dr. LeeAnn Whites, of the University of Missouri-Columbia. I based this book on my dissertation, and without her excellent guidance and advice—and all the times she read my work—I would not be here tonight.

I'll begin tonight with a question we have all heard: Why study the Civil War? The war ended long ago and is already the subject of a vast body of work. One reason the war remains important is that for many Americans, myself included, the war is in us. My family lived in Missouri in the mid-nineteenth century, and we have five or six stories handed down from the Civil War: The time the bushwhackers surrounded a church during a Sunday service. A great-great uncle, called out of his house and shot dead in front of his wife. How my great-grandfather hid in the brush for weeks on end. I didn't read these stories, and the family genealogist didn't dig them up. I heard them from my oldest living relatives, and they heard them from their parents and grandparents. I suspect millions of other living Americans carry stories like these. And all the Americans whose ancestors immigrated after the War share that atmosphere. We live with the shadows of our ancestors.

One such family story—a short one—led me to the initial discovery that eventually resulted in this book. My father told me: "My grandmother was named Rose Anderson. Her father was shot down in the streets of [End Page 298] Boonville, when she was a girl." I asked why—and who shot him. "I don't know," he replied. "We don't know anything about him." I asked what his name was. "No one knows now," my father said. "And there's no one left to ask. They're all dead."

I grew up knowing that story, and some years back I decided to research it. I found that my great-great grandfather was an uncontrollable wild man, and knowing what I do now, I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did. But while looking into his sordid affairs, I also noticed a large number of defaulted-debt cases in the Cooper County, Missouri, circuit court records, dating from the war years. These cases had many odd features. First, the same defendants appeared over and over in different combinations: A and B signed a note payable to C. A and C payable to B. B and C payable to A—and so on. Second, judging by their names, many of the defendants in these cases were southerners. I saw names like Pike Thompson, Jackson Quisenberry, Lacy McClanahan, Presley Marmaduke. What else could they possibly have been? I also saw that none of the defendants had German surnames, which suggested that these were men of Confederate sympathies. Large numbers of German immigrants had come to central Missouri in the 1850s, and when the War came they were almost unanimously pro-Union.

Finally, I found that while the court records of many counties had these "special" defaulted-debt cases, their distribution was uneven. For example, I counted 68 and 122 cases respectively in Cooper and Pettis Counties, which adjoin each other. But Morgan County, which adjoins both Cooper and Pettis, had no cases at all. So these cases were not fallout from the wartime destruction of Missouri's economy. That affected everybody, regardless of ethnicity, sectional origin, or politics. Rather, these cases affected specific people...