The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 77, July 1973 - April, 1974 Page: 229
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intent, application, and enforcement of the various regulations were unclear,
apparently by design. For several reasons, the government hesitated to com-
pletely halt trade between North and South. Southern cotton was needed to
keep northern factories busy manufacturing cloth for the army, and an
acute shortage on the world market could provoke England or France to
intervene in the struggle. Moreover, the wartime trade promised immense
profits to persons in position to exert political pressure, and, as the war
continued, the acquisition of cotton by the government offered a means of
protecting the treasury's gold reserves. Thus, governmental policies were
never clearly defined, with the result that a notoriously profitable and highly
questionable trade continued between the lines throughout the war.'
The war created especially peculiar trade conditions in the Rio Grande
area between Texas and Mexico, and there was no man better prepared to
take advantage of them than Charles Stillman. A Connecticut Yankee by
birth, he had found his natural home in the borderland. In I827, when he
was seventeen years old, his father, a shipping agent, sent him to Durango,
Mexico, where he managed a store and became fluent in Spanish. The
following year his father sent him to the mouth of the Rio Grande as the
supercargo on a schooner and left him there to dispose of the merchandise.
Thereafter, for more than three decades, the Rio Grande was his home
base. Shrewd, self-reliant, and commanding, called a "harsh man" by his
eldest son and "a Puritan to the marrow" by one of his great-grandsons,
Stillman was known as Don Carlos along the river, where he became past
master in the intricacies of trade and politics. During the Mexican War he
suffered losses and misadventures as an American citizen; in I848 he laid
out the town of Brownsville opposite Matamoros; and in I851 he promoted
a Mexican revolution. In addition, he maintained connections in New York
with the commission agency J. & N. Smith, later Smith & Dunning, and, in
partnership with Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy, dominated riverboat
traffic on the Rio Grande.8
Stillman married a New England girl who found the climate of the Rio
7See Ludwell H. Johnson, "Contraband Trade during the Last Year of the Civil War,"
Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLIX (March, 1963), 635-652; E. Merton Coul-
ter, "Commercial Intercourse with the Confederacy in the Mississippi Valley, 1861-
I865," ibid., V (March, 1919), 377-395, and "Effects of Secession upon the Commerce
of the Mississippi Valley," ibid., III (December, I916), 275-300; A. Sellew Roberts,
"The Federal Government and Confederate Cotton," American Historical Review,
XXXII (January, 1927), 262-275; and Thomas H. O'Connor, "Lincoln and the Cotton
Trade," Civil War History, VII (March, 1961), 20-35.
sChauncey Devereux Stillman, Charles Stillman, 181o-z875 (New York, 1956), 4-
o1, i6, 17, 29-3I, 34 (quotations); House Reports, 38th Cong., 2nd Sess., Report No.
25, p. 28.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 77, July 1973 - April, 1974, periodical, 1973/1974; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117148/m1/263/: accessed October 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.