Though my husband has ancestors who fought as Confederate soldiers, my ancestor's contribution to The Cause came through his Wichmann Tailor Shop business on the northwest corner of Meeting and Queen streets.
There he made uniforms for the Confederacy, with many tailors working for him in the three-story building opposite the Mills House. Among the many uniforms the soldiers came to be fitted for was one for Robert E. Lee.
The tailor's name was Albert Wichmann. His son, Albert, was an artist. His other son, G. Theodore Wichmann, was a musician who went on to teach generations of Charlestonians violin and other instruments at Charleston High School on Rutledge Avenue. He later became the founder and first conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
Albert Wichmann's nephew, my grandfather, came to join the family in 1888 as a teenager, from Germany, asking what war had just come through when he arrived. Two years after the earthquake, Charleston looked war-ravaged, a familiar sight to him coming from Europe to escape being used as cannon fodder.
My grandfather, August Fredrick Wichmann, in his 60s when my father was born, always told my father, Fred Wichmann, who has always told me that the United States Custom House on East Bay and Concord "was built with Confederate blood money." As a child, when riding with my father, we would stop to watch the banana boats send in the bananas by the Custom House. This was evidently a familiar saying among Charlestonians.
Just as the British built a show of strength and power on the eve of the War for American Independence that backfired on them, the Old Exchange Building at the foot of Broad, so too the United States government built a monumental building showing the powerful presence, resources and permanence of the Federal Government. The sight of the out-of-scale U.S. Custom House was a sore reminder of the wasteful spending of their hard-earned dollars, more and more of which was going to taxes, causing a downturn in the economy in the South before The War where the majority of the wealth, cultural life and education had been centered. The saying that "the U.S. Custom House was built with Confederate Blood Money" meant the Southerners worked to pay the taxes with blood, sweat and tears before and after the War.
Despite the Confederate States having been a separate country and government with our own president and Congress for four years, when we went back into the Union, the Union said we owed them for four years of back taxes. It was during this Reconstruction Period that the U.S. Custom House was completed ... with Confederate Blood Money. It also irked Charlestonians that the Federal Government had chosen a Northern architect who had never even been to Charleston, who designed it more on the scale of Washington, D.C.
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