Friday, February 17, 2006

Theodore Roosevelt in October 1905 became the first president to tour Old Dixie since Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Richmond in April 1865, just a few days after the Confederate capital’s surrender.

The Roosevelt family’s roots went back to New Amsterdam (now New York) and the Netherlands. But Teddy’s father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., courted and wed a Southern Belle, Martha “Mittie” Bulloch, who was born in a boardinghouse in Hartford, Conn., and raised in Savannah and Roswell, Ga.

One of her grandfathers had been a Revolutionary War governor of Georgia. Her other grandfather, Gen. Francis Nash, was killed during that war, and the city of Nashville, Tenn., was named in his honor. Her own father had been married twice — she had a half-brother, James Bulloch, and a full brother, Irvine Bulloch.

Theodore and Martha were married in 1853 at Bulloch Hall in Roswell, Ga. She moved with her new husband to New York City, together with her mother and sister. Theodore Jr. came along on Oct. 27, 1858. His “Uncle Jimmie” was serving in the U.S. Merchant Marine at that time, and when Georgia left the Union in January 1861, he brought the ship he was commanding back to New York City, to return it to the owner.

James visited his relatives before he headed South. Although only 3 years old at that time, Teddy always swore to have vividly remembered that meeting.

James eventually became head of the Confederacy’s shipbuilding and ship-buying efforts in England and France.

Through his activities, the commerce raiders Florida, Alabama and Shenandoah were acquired, causing millions of dollars of losses by sinking scores of U.S. merchant ships.

James Bulloch’s half brother, Irvine, had the longest continuous service in the Confederate navy, having served on the Alabama and Shenandoah. After the war, neither brother was pardoned by the U.S. government and both remained in England. They were buried side by side in Liverpool.

To please his wife and her relatives, Theodore Sr. paid the $300 to get a substitute to fight in his place. Teddy probably understood this intellectually, but it did not set well in his heart. He felt somewhat ashamed that his own father had not been able to fight for the North, even though he was a Republican and a strong Unionist. So Teddy gloried in the exploits of his uncles.

When the Roosevelts visited Europe in 1869, they saw James in Liverpool. In 1871, Irvine secretly came into the United States to meet his relatives for an hour in Central Park. Ten years later, when Teddy was working on his “Naval History of the War of 1812,” he sought James’ advice and actually dedicated the two volumes to “James D. Bulloch, formerly U.S. Navy.” Uncle Jimmie lived long enough to see his nephew elected vice president of the United States.

Almost a year after winning a fairly easy election in November 1904, President Roosevelt felt the need to tour the South, which was still recuperating from the Civil War. So on Oct. 18, 1905, Roosevelt took a train out of Washington, making a brief stop in Fredericksburg and getting off in Richmond, where he was driven over to the White House of the Confederacy, which a few years before had been reopened as the Confederate Museum.

Roosevelt and his wife signed the guest book and immediately went to the room dedicated to the state of Georgia, where Irvine’s sword was on display. A few blocks away, at the state Capitol (the former Confederate Capitol), the president said, “The proud self-sacrifice, the resolute and daring courage, the high and steadfast devotion to the right as each man saw it, whether Northerner or Southerner — these qualities render all Americans forever the debtors of those who in the dark days from 1861-1865 proved their truth by their endeavor.

“Here around Richmond, here in your own state, there lies battlefield after battlefield, rendered forever memorable by the men who counted death as but a little thing when weighted in the balance against doing their duty as it was given them to see it.”

A Washington reporter wrote that “wherever the president’s visit is discussed you will hear men who believed in and fought for the Confederate cause speak of him with the affection of a comrade.”

After spending Oct. 19 in North Carolina and skipping South Carolina, Roosevelt visited Roswell, Ga., the next day. He spoke to the citizens there as his “neighbors and friends.”

“It has been my very great good fortune to have the right to claim my blood is half Southern and half Northern, and I would deny the right of any man here to feel a greater pride in the deeds of every Southerner than I feel. Of all the children, the brothers and sisters of my mother who were born and brought up in that house on the hill there, my two uncles afterward entered the Confederate service and served with the Confederate Navy,” the president said.

“One, the younger man, served on the Alabama as the youngest officer aboard her. He was captain of one of her broadside 32-pounders in her final fight, and when at the very end the Alabama was sinking and the Kearsarge passed under her stern and came up along the side that had not been engaged hitherto, my uncle, Irvine Bulloch, shifted his gun from one side to the other and fired the two last shots fired from the Alabama. James Dunwoody Bulloch was an admiral in the Confederate service. …

“Men and women, don’t you think I have the ancestral right to claim a proud kinship with those who showed their devotion to duty as they saw the duty, whether they wore the grey or whether they wore the blue? All Americans who are worthy the name feel an equal pride in the valor of those who fought on one side or the other, provided only that each did with all his strength and soul and mind his duty as it was given to him to see his duty.”

Two days later, speaking in Mobile, Ala., he praised the local citizenry.

“The last time I came through Alabama I was going with my own regiment to the Spanish war, and in that regiment were more men whose fathers wore the gray than those who wore the blue,” he said.

About the only discordant note came on Oct. 25, when Gov. Jefferson Davis of Arkansas suggested to Roosevelt that “the only good Negro is a dead Negro.” This the president could not tolerate.

“Above all other men, governor, you and I as exponents and representatives of the law, owe it to our people, owe it to the cause of civilization and humanity, to do everything in our power, officially and unofficially, directly and indirectly, to free the United States from the menace and reproach of lynch law,” Roosevelt said.

It may be significant that on Jan. 16, 2001, President William Jefferson Clinton, the former governor of Arkansas, presented to Teddy Roosevelt’s great-grandson the Medal of Honor for Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s charge of the Rough Riders on July 1, 1898. So Teddy became the only president with the Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize.

William Connery is a Civil War writer and speaker from Alexandria. He can be reached at He wishes to thank John Coski, librarian at the Museum of the Confederacy; Elaine De Niro, Roswell (Georgia) Historical Society; and John Staudt, associate director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association for their help in supplying much of the information in this article.

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