As most of my readers know, in addition to writing these articles about the American Civil War, I also write the "Memphis Performing Arts" and "Memphis Film Industry" articles. This true story of elephants as a proposed gift to the Union Army by the King of Siam is a bridge for all three articles, as it was also written into the Rodger's and Hammerstein's Musical, "The King and I."
The King of Siam actually offered the gift of a male and a female elephant to U.S. President James Buchanan in a letter dated February 14, 1861. However, due to the long distance, and the fact that the letter had to be carried by a sea vessel of the times, it did not arrive at the White House until Abraham Lincoln was elected President.
In part, the letter from King Siam reads, "Elephants are regarded as the most remarkable of the large quadrupeds by the Americans so that if any one has an elephants' tusk of large size, and will deposit it in any public place, people come by thousands crowding to see it, saying, it is a wonderful thing. . .." It further reads, "It has occurred to us that, if on the continent of America there should be several pairs of young male and female elephants turned loose in forests where there was abundance of water and grass,we are of opinion that after a while they will increase till there be large herds."
At the time of President Lincoln's receipt of the letter from the king, the American Civil War was in full throttle, with many daunting tasks on the President's mind. However; Lincoln, did in fact, write back to the King of Siam, and part of that letter is as follows;
"I appreciate most highly Your Majesty's tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States.
Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.
Meantime, wishing for Your Majesty a long and happy life, and for the generous and emulous People of Siam the highest possible prosperity, I commend both to the blessing of Almighty God.
Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Washington, February 3, 1862."
Even though we did not attempt to use the elephant as a bearer of war materials in the Civil War, it was indeed used in other wars, such as World War II and Vietnam.
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Each time a new article is published for the "The Civil War History Examiner," a trivia question will be asked. The answers will come from as many reliable sources as I can find; however, I do not consider myself to be an expert, and my answers and articles are taken from research, but I can only list it as conjecture on my part, because I was not there. Please feel free to state your opinion about the articles and trivia, and please send me your own observations on the information I present. Your comments can be sent to me by clicking on the first box to the right of the headline at the top of this page.
Trivia question: What famous battle, fought on April 6 & 7, 1862 in Tennessee was named after a Methodist Church?
The answer to the last article's trivia question: What term refers to Confederate States of America Soldiers that deserted the Confederate cause, and joined the Union Army to fight Indians? "Galvanized Yankees"