The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 47, November 22, 2015, Article 14


Jefferson Davis engraved half dollar

Kerry Wetterstrom of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. writes:

A point of correction on Alan Weinberg’s note on the engraved 1861 presentation piece we sold last week. I’m not certain where the price realized figure of $4600 comes from, or that the buyer was an “East coast dealer.” The coin realized $7500 plus the 15% buyer’s fee, and was sold to a collector. There was a flurry of bidding on the piece during the last minute, and after one bidder submitted a bid of $7117, the successful buyer won the lot for $7500, reduced from a substantially higher bid. Truly astounding!

All three of the “final” bidders placed their bids at “Nov 11, 2015 at 12:34:15 p.m. ET,” which was literally during the last seconds the computer and site would recognize a bid. Pretty amazing how much interest this coin generated, and the publicity E-Sylum gave us certainly was a major factor!

Paul Hybert writes:

George B. McClelland resigned from the army in November 1864, so I do not see how he would have been part of the Union Army, in the field, in April 1865. (I do not know McClelland's exact whereabouts in April 1865, but consider North Carolina unlikely.) Perhaps a search of military rolls would turn up other officers with a name starting with Mc (or Mac).

Michael T. Shutterly writes:

I enjoyed Alan V. Weinberg’s explanation of the background of the “Engraved Confederate Treasury Souvenir Coins,” but I do not believe that his supposition that “The ‘Mack’ referred to on the CNG piece is most definitely General George McClellan who was known as ‘Little Mac’ due to his very short stature. Due to the status of the Indiana Major, it is possible that Gen'l McClellan may have selected this coin out of the surrendered Treasury and given it to the Major as a souvenir, who had it so engraved afterward. Or, even more likely, that McClellan invited or permitted Union high-ranking officers to select coins out of the Confederate Treasury as souvenirs, thus ‘presenting’ them to the officers, There are a sufficient number of these ‘Confederate’ engraved coins extant to indicate McClellan did in fact know of and approved of the selection and engraving practice.”

Although McClellan remained on the official U.S. Army rolls until he formally resigned his commission at the time of the 1864 Presidential election (when he ran as the Democratic candidate against Lincoln), he had no active involvement in the Army or in fighting the Civil War after Antietam (or Sharpsburg) in September 1862. He most definitely had no part in the capture of whatever remained of the Confederate Treasury in the Spring of 1865, and would not have been in a position to “present” any items to any Union officers.

Alan is probably correct in his description of how these “souvenir coins” came to be, I just think he has the wrong “Mack”.

Mark Hotz writes:

I read with interest Alan Weinberg's comments on the 1859 Silver Dollar "pocket piece" that had been in CNG's recent sale and featured in the November 1, 2015, E-Sylum.

It is interesting to learn that there are other such pieces that seem to have been part of the remaining Confederate Treasury funds surrendered at Greensboro, NC.

However, I have to disagree with several of Alan's assertions. First and foremost, he claims that the "Mack" engraved on the CNG 1859 dollar is "most definitely" General George B. McClellan. He also goes on to suggest that McClellan "selected this coin out of the surrendered Treasury and given it to the Major as a souvenir." He then suggests that "even more likely" McClellan invited or permitted Union high-ranking officers to select coins out of the Confederate Treasury as souvenirs...."

It is virtually certain that the "Mack" referred to on the CNG 1859 dollar was NOT General George B. McClellan. It is hard for me to understand how Alan could surmise this, other than wishful thinking. McClellan ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1864. After he lost the election, he resigned from the army; Lincoln accepted his resignation without comment, and disillusioned, McClellan and his family sailed for Europe on 25 January 1865 for a self-imposed exile, not returning until 1868.

Accordingly, McClellan was not in the United States in April of 1865 for the surrender of the Confederate Treasury, would have had no role in disbursal of any of the funds, and was not even a commissioned officer in the US Army at that time.

Additionally, I have a problem with just dismissing the convoluted engraving on the CNG 1859 dollar as "mangled". My reading is that the coin itself was captured by the Confederacy - personified by Jefferson Davis - when the Confederates seized the New Orleans Mint in 1861. As Alan does state, it then became part of the remaining Confederate Treasury, and was presented to the Indiana officer.

Weinberg's own 1859 dollar is far more interesting in that it provides a place and date. It notes that the coin was given by Jefferson Davis at Greensboro NC on April 26, 1865. Jefferson Davis, of course, was not at Greensboro at that time. So the comment must refer to the coin being "taken" from what was left of the Confederacy - personified as Jefferson Davis, as with the CNG dollar - rather than from Davis himself."

Dave Ginsburg offers these thoughts:

I was rather confused by several of the assertions that Alan Weinberg made regarding the engraved 1859 Liberty Seated dollar in last week’s issue.

While we’ll never know if the coin was carried as a pocket piece, it appears unlikely that war-time circulation wear would have affected the engraving, since Major Shaw apparently wasn’t promoted to that rank until June 8, 1865, according to an informal, although fairly detailed, biography on the “FindAGrave” website.

By the way, the regimental history of the 38th Indiana to which the “FindAGrave” entry refers is contained on pages 311-345 of Volume II of Indiana’s Roll of Honor by Theodore T. Scribner (published by A.D. Streight, Indianapolis, 1866), which is available via HatiTrust.

While Major Shaw appears to have been an able soldier, having been elected sergeant when the regiment was formed in September 1861 and subsequently promoted four times (to second lieutenant, first lieutenant, captain and finally, major) between September 1864 and June 1865, I don’t see anything in his record to suggest that he would have been known to Major General George McClellan, especially since Gen. McClellan commanded the Army of the Potomac in the East (Virginia and Maryland, mostly) and the 38th Indiana fought in the West (Tennessee and Georgia, mostly).

In any event, according to the rather detailed article on Wikipedia (not a perfect source, I know, but one that is easily available), Gen. McClellan was removed from command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862 and exiled to New Jersey, where he remained for the rest of the War, although he did not resign his commission until Election Day in November 1864. Following his defeat in the presidential election, he and his family left for what turned into a three-year stay in Europe. The New York Times reported that he and his family sailed on January 25, 1865.

As a result, Gen. McClellan wasn’t in the country when the Confederate Treasury was captured in May 1865, so I don’t see how he could have selected any coins for presentation.

Regarding the “Mack” who presented the coin, while I don’t know enough about Gen. McClellan to know if he regarded his nickname of “Little Mac” favorably, I suggest that anyone to whom the General would have presented such a coin would have referred to him as “Little Mac” and not “Mack.”

I also believe that if the coin had been part of the Confederate Treasury, this more recent (at the time) event would have been mentioned in the inscription, rather than the reference to New Orleans. Certainly, since the 38th Indiana was in North Carolina at the end of the war, Major Shaw could have known someone who participated in the capture of the Confederate Treasury.

As for the coin itself, I suggest that the most likely explanation is that the coin is what it says it is: a coin that was seized by the Confederacy from the New Orleans Mint in early 1861 and subsequently recaptured by Union troops following the fall of the City in April 1862. I have studied this period a little bit and there was a great game of “hide and seek” that went on among Confederate officials and sympathizers, Union officials and New Orleans bankers involving the specie that remained in and near New Orleans after the Union recapture of the City.

Regarding the coin’s reference to “Jeff Davis”, I suggest that his name is used as a metonym for the Confederacy (much as we refer to “Wall Street” when we mean the finance industry).

Of course, my explanation leaves open the question of exactly when Major Shaw received the coin and from whom. I suggest it is likely he received the coin after the War, sometime after he returned home to Indiana and that it was given to him by a friend who had served in Louisiana. Otherwise, I see no obvious connection between Major Shaw and New Orleans.

If Mr. Weinberg or anyone else has documentation that illuminates the coin’s history, I would certainly like to see it.

To read the “FindAGrave” entry for Major Shaw, see:

To read Indiana’s Roll of Honor Vol. II, see:;view=1up;seq=13

To read the Wikipedia entry for Gen. McClellan, see:

To read The New York Times article discussing the McClellan’s departure (which is behind a subscriber paywall), see:

Thanks, everyone. Very interesting coin! Congratulations to all who own one of these great souvenirs. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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