John Hutcheson keeps history alive with currency collection

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 19, 2002

Features Editor

When a Southern boy is asked to join a Civil War re-enactment group in Minnesota, he needs to ask some real serious questions.

John Hutcheson did.

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He had been participating in round tables made up of Civil War buffs, so at face value, the invitation was reasonable. However, a closer look revealed that the Union re-enactors needed a Rebel to imprison and, who better than a man with a true Southern accent.

Hutcheson politely refused the invitation for his roots are deeply embedded in the South and his ancestors were proud Confederate veterans.

Great-grandfathers on both sides of his family fought in the Civil War, as did

their brothers and cousins.

His great-grandfather, John C. Evans, was at the battle of Gaines Mill near Richmond and was shoulder-to-shoulder with his cousin when he was shot in the heart and killed.

"Shrapnel hit my great-grandfather in the eye and he was sent home," Hutcheson said. "I can remember my grandmother telling how he walked home, stopping along the way to beg food. He was dirty and bloody and wouldn’t ask for a place to sleep, only something soft to rest his head on. Rail service at that time had not been stopped, so I would guess that he rode the train as close to home as he could get."

Home for Evans was Pike County and that’s where Hutcheson is rooted.

He takes great pride in knowing that his ancestors helped to settle this area and that they fought for a cause they thought to be just.

"These were brave men and they fought for their homes and their families," he said. "We honor them and their commitment during April, and especially, on Monday, Confederate Memorial Day."

Hutcheson said for each name on the Confederate Monument on the square in Troy there is a story to tell.

"Probably not many people know this, but William C. Oates was from Ebenezer," Hutcheson said. "He led the 15th Alabama infantry at Gettysburg. They were engaged in the Battle of Little Round Top and were finally routed with bayonets by the 20th Maine. Oates lost an arm near the end of the war. He came back and moved to Henry County where he was known as the hero with one arm. The Pike County native served as governor of Alabama for two years. There are as many stories on that monument as there are names."

Hutcheson is a member of the Augustus Braddy Camp 385 of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SVC). He

has been a student of the "period" all his life and is a collector of Confederate currency.

His collection is on loan at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama and features a complete collection of Confederate currency and also a collection of Alabama bank notes and scrip – substitute currency received in payment.

"The Confederate currency was money in name only," Hutcheson said. "It was fiat money, meaning it was not backed by gold or silver. In the South, issued bonds were backed by King Cotton. The Confederate bonds were payable from six months to two years after hostilities ceased. When the Confederacy collapsed, the bonds were worthless."

Hutcheson said there was a shortage of paper in the South because there was no pulpwood industry.

"The paper was made from linen and cotton rags," he said. "The longer the war went on the more scarce these products became and currency became scarce."

Southerners didn’t have the experience or engraving expertise of their neighbors from the North, but they knew enough to get the bluebacks off the press.

Union currency was called greenbacks and Confederate currency was called bluebacks. The bill featured the men – and a woman – of the Confederacy. The President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was honored on 50 cent and $50 bills and other high ranking Confederate officials were mugged on the other bills.

"The currency was printed in Richmond and there was difficulty in getting it to the other Confederate states, so the individual states were allow to print their own," Hutcheson said.

"Because merchants needed small

‘change,’ bills in the amount of of 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents were printed, making bank notes and scrip available."

Behind each piece of currency, there is a story, just as there is behind the name of each Confederate veteran. Those stories need to be told, and by allowing his collection of Confederate currency to be on display at the museum, Hutcheson is helping to tell that story.

"There is a lot of interest in the Civil War period and people collect a variety of Civil War items," Hutcheson said. "I’m especially interested in stamps and currency. There probably is still a lot of it out there. People squirreled it away and it is being discovered from time to time."

No matter what piece of currency one has, it is now worth much more than its face value.

"Some bills

that were printed in Montgomery in 1861, before the capital of the Confederacy was moved to Richmond, are now worth between $20,000 and $30,000," Hutcheson said, adding that none of his bills are anywhere close to that, but to him they are priceless. They are pieces of history and a history that his ancestors helped to write.

His mission is to keep that history alive and he is committed to doing just that.