St. Louis's Compliments to Sherman

20, July 2016
Photo of Maj. Gen. William T. ShermanMajor General William T. Sherman. Photograph by E. and H. T. Anthony, New York, 1863. Missouri Historical Society collections.

If you’ve ever attended a formal dinner in a grand location for the express purpose of paying homage to the featured guest, you’ve attended the modern equivalent of a mid-19th-century complimentary dinner—but probably with fewer speeches to sit through.

One such dinner was held on July 20, 1865, at the Lindell Hotel in St. Louis. The guest of honor among the 300 people in attendance? None other than Major General William T. Sherman, whose March to the Sea helped the Union achieve victory in the Civil War. Sherman’s complimentary dinner was a lavish affair, as one might expect based on the elaborate admission tickets. The July 21, 1865, edition of the Missouri Republican described them as follows:

“These were very showy specimens of the lithographer’s and printer’s skill, the design being three banners gracefully interwoven and stamped respectively ‘Army of the Cumberland,’ ‘Army of the Ohio,’ and ‘Army of the Tennessee.’ The heads of the pike staffs were gilt, and above them were three white stars upon a gold ground, one star bearing the word ‘Savannah’ another ‘Atlanta’ &c. Part of the lettering likewise was in gold.”

Admission ticket to complimentary dinner for Gen. William T. ShermanClick to see a larger version of the admission ticket to Sherman's complimentary dinner. Missouri Historical Society collections.

The Missouri Republican reported that the dinner’s participants began arriving at the Lindell Hotel at 8 o’clock and continued to pour in for the next hour or so, all wearing special ribbons to mark the occasion.

Badge for Sherman's complimentary dinnerDinner guests wore this ribbon badge. Missouri Historical Society collections.

“The great number of uniforms, and the broad badges worn by the committeemen and invited guests, aiding bright carpets and profuse decorations of the Lindell to make up a very gay scene. And last, not least in effect, were the many colored dresses of the numerous lady inmates of the house, who were on the qui vive for a sight of the chief guest. The latter made his appearance in good season and was at once occupied in exchanging greetings with old friends.”

An elaborate menu was presented, and several varieties of wine flowed freely, making the event on par with the best banquets held to date in the city—although one has to wonder how tasty dishes such as “Mayonaise of Chickens, decorated” and “Lobster Salad, a la Gelee” really were.

After dinner, when you might expect the dancing or other general revelry to start at a modern banquet, the guests settled in (at 11 o’clock!) for a series of toasts and responses: to the President of the United States, to the Army and Navy of the United States, to Maj. Gen. Sherman, to Gen. Grant and the Armies of the West, and to “the memory of those who have fallen to preserve the integrity of the Union.”

Menu for Sherman's complimentary dinnerClick to see a larger version of the menu from Sherman's complimentary dinner. Missouri Historical Society collections.

The guest of honor had these words to say, in addition to remembrances that included planning out troop movements in St. Louis:

“I admit that the four years past seem even now to my heart a dream. I can barely realize the part I have taken in the struggle of the past four years. It seems to me as a dream that men, reared under our laws, men who were enjoying prosperity which they themselves admitted were never surpassed, should rise up in rebellion against the land and the Government of Washington. It seemed to me impossible—but no, it was a possibility, and is now past, thank God! We have a right as men and as citizens, to return and cast our eyes back over the past, and as the events of the past rise up before our memories, see if through those past events we can learn the lessons of wisdom which will make us better men, better citizens and better patriots in the future.”

Envelope for Sherman's complimentary dinnerClick to see a larger version of the admisison ticket's envelope. Missouri Historical Society collections.

Maybe it was the wine, the full bellies, or the propriety of the day, but the night didn’t end there. The toasts and responses segued into the reading of letters from invited guests who couldn’t make it and sent their regrets. The guests who did make it closed down the Lindell Hotel after 3 o’clock the next morning—whether they were all still awake went unreported.

—Jen Tebbe, Editor

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