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Randolph Betrayed Conspiracy for Revolt in California, and Wrote Letter to Lincoln that Caused Johnston's Removal.
I could not close this phase of the story without further reference to Edmond Randolph, for I sincerely want to set him right. I said he went mad. Everything later proved it. He not only committed the gravest indiscretions, but in addition he, a Southern man, with a couple of centuries of Southern traditions behind him, actually wrote a letter to President Lincoln warning him of a vast conspiracy to carry California out of the Union and questioning the trustworthiness of General Johnston. Nothing but downright lunacy could have inspired the act. This was sent to President Lincoln by pony express and reached him just about the day of his inauguration. The story has been often printed before or I would not revive it now. Its accuracy has indeed been questioned by Randolph's friends. I am inclined to believe it true.
As a consequence General E. V. Sumner was sent on a tug from New York with sealed orders and placed on board a Pacific Mail steamer in midocean. On the steamer the orders were opened. They directed him to proceed to San Francisco and relieve General Johnston of the command of the Department of the Pacific. History relates further that General Sumner was taken from the steamer by a Government vessel outside the Golden Gate, hurried to Alcatraz, where General Johnston had headquarters, and, in a sensational manner, relieved him of his command.
The latter part is purest fiction. General Johnston never had headquarters on Alcatraz. He lived with his family on Rincon Hill, near the residence of Louis Garnett. Sumner arrived in San Francisco on the steamer, publicly, like anyone else. General Johnston, informed of his arrival, at once arranged for a conference and the two met in perfect amity at the old army headquarters, located on Bush street, if I recollect aright. The transfer of authority took place the next day. There are abundant living witnesses to these facts. General Johnston's resignation was in President Lincoln's hands long before Sumner reached California and the same was accepted a few weeks later.
One of General Sumner's first acts was to order arms from the arsenal and organize patriotic citizens for an expected crisis. But they were simply fighting windmills. The real crisis had disappeared of itself two months before, through General Johnston's firmness - and the Comstock lode.
As a further proof of Randolph's madness, he straightway developed into an outspoken, rabid secessionist, made speeches of the most inflammatory nature and it was highly significant that he escaped imprisonment in Alcatraz. He died within the year, a physical and mental wreck. In my humble judgment he deserves sincere pity, not blame.
That some one of important station wrote a mysterious letter to President Lincoln which caused the retirement of General Johnson is beyond dispute.
One of the versions of the story has never been published, to my knowledge. In 1880, when Mr. Justice Field was candidate for President, he flooded the South with literature concerning his friendship for that section, as evidenced by various decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the dark days of reconstruction. In the North, principally among the Grand Army, a pamphlet was circulated to the effect that he had saved California to the Union by a timely letter to President Lincoln, which resulted in General Sumner's hasty mission. Whether it was authorized by Judge Field, I do not know. But it fell into the hands of the Southern leaders and doomed his candidacy in the section where he counted on support. Not at all because he had saved the Union, but because of the implied aspersion on the memory of one who will ever be dear to the South - a gentleman of unimpeachable honor, a great soldier who died a soldier's death, fighting for the Lost Cause.
After he resigned, General Johnston earnestly advised many Southerners, some of them still alive, to do nothing that would bring war to California. "If you want to fight, go South," was his constant counsel to all. Many followed his advice. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them were cut off by Indians in Arizona, where the savages had full swing, all the frontier army posts having been abandoned. General Johnston stayed in California till his State - Texas - seceded. Then with a few followers he traversed the savage wilderness and after many adventures reached the South.
There is a rather pathetic sidelight to the story that illustrates the simple devotion of the oldtime slaves to their white masters. General Johnston had freed all his slaves before he came to California. One of them, called "Rand," brief for "Randolph" - he had no other name - followed him as a body-servant to the Pacific. When Johnston left for the South he ordered "Rand" to stay behind. He was a famous cook and could have commanded big wages in a high-class restaurant. But the faithful body-servant would not be denied. He fought his way with his former master through the Apaches of Arizona and was with him at Shiloh when he died. He hung over the dead body of the fallen leader in a wild passion of primitive grief.
Later some hundred colored body-servants of General Johnston's appeared at various parts of the South. The real "Rand" settled in Louisville, where he was an object of solicitous regard on the part of the Johnston family and others of the old regime.
"Rand" proved himself no less great in peace than war, for he married a widow with seven children, an act that needed moral courage of the highest sort. His career was somewhat checkered, but he was always well looked after, and "looking after" "Rand" was often quite a job.
He became something of a character in the border city; resolutely declined to be "reconstructed" and remained an unrepentant rebel to the last. He was very bitter in his talk about the "poor white trash" of the North. When he uncorked the vials of his wrath he called his adversary an "abolitionist" as the last word of scorn.
In his final illness tender Southern hands smoothed his way into the hereafter. Mrs. H. P. Hepburn of Louisville, once of San Francisco, was present when the curtain rang down on "Rand." He raised his feeble head and said: "I'se 'gwan to meet ole Marse Johnston," then sunk back on the rough pillow, closed his eyes and died.