Charles Stillman: A Case Study of
Entrepreneurship on the Rio Grande, 1861 - 1865
MARILYN McADAMS SIBLEY*
T HE SHIP Banshee PUT IN TO PORT AT NEW YORK IN THE SPRING OF
1864 and thus focused the attention of a congressional investigating
committee on Charles Stillman, sometime Confederate agent of Brownsville,
Texas. The Banshee was loaded with cotton, ostensibly Mexican cotton, con-
signed to the mercantile house of Smith & Dunning by Jeremiah Galvan,
a Mexican national at Matamoros, but the congressmen believed that the
cotton was in fact rebel property, shipped by Stillman, and that the shipment
was but one of a series.
No official papers linked Stillman with the Banshee, and upon investiga-
tion the congressmen were unable to prove their suspicions. One witness
testified that James Smith, senior partner of Smith & Dunning, had boasted
of making "a million dollars" for Stillman and "bouncing commissions" for
himself.2 But this was only hearsay evidence. When called to the stand,
James Smith under oath professed complete ignorance in regard to large
cash transactions on the agency books, and he flatly denied having received
a dollar from Stillman since the secession of Texas from the Union. True,
he admitted, he and Stillman had been friends since they met on the Rio
Grande some thirty years previously; true, Stillman had once occupied a
desk in the office of Smith & Dunning; true, that desk had more recently
been occupied by one John N. Donahue who, presumably, handled business
for Stillman; true, Stillman's name until early I864 had been painted on a
pillar at the door of Smith & Dunning. But he, James Smith, had no connec-
tion with Stillman. He, Smith, handled business for Jeremiah Galvan of
*Marilyn McAdams Sibley, professor of history at Houston Baptist College, has pub-
lished widely in the field of Texas history and is the author of a recently published
biography of George W. Brackenridge.
"'New York Custom-House," House Reports, 38th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Serial 1235),
Report No. 25, p. I. This Banshee was a sailing vessel, not to be confused with two
steamers by the same name that won notoriety as blockade runners. The saga of the
blockade runners may be traced in Thomas E. Taylor, Running the Blockade (New York,
1896); and Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the
Rebellion (31 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1894-1927), Series I, IX, 318-324. These rec-
ords are hereafter cited as O.R.N.
2House Reports, 38th Cong., 2nd Sess., Report No. 25, p. I.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 77, July 1973 - April, 1974. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117148/. Accessed September 23, 2014.