Category Archives: Key Artifact

Something important in Archie’s life.

Greenbacks Over Greybacks

“Greenback” was the nickname for paper money, first issued by the US Federal government in 1862. It was the only legal tender other than coinage. The back of the $1 bill shown below makes it obvious why this bill was called a greenback.


The US government took the unprecedented step of issuing paper money to fund rapidly escalating costs of conducting the Civil War without using coinage. “Legal tender” status meant that creditors were required to accept the bills as payment. By 1863, nearly a half billion dollars worth greenbacks were in public circulation.

The CSA printed their own paper money beginning in 1861, but with one critical difference: Their bills were not legal tender; instead they were issued with a “promise” to pay after (and only if) the Confederates won victory in the war. Their bills were called “greybacks”, as shown in the photo below, in which only the front of the bill was printed and the back revealed just a faint gray image.

Confederate Greyback

The term “greybacks” was also a pejorative, because that is what soldiers called lice (a bane of their existence), and what Union soldiers called Confederates for the color of their uniform as Southerners ran away from Northerners in battle.

If war was only between currencies, greenbacks totally annihilated greybacks. Greybacks suffered 9000% inflation during the war, ending up as worthless as the paper on which they were printed. Conversely, Greenbacks experienced only 80% inflation during war, and became the standard for US currency afterwards.

Yell Like Furies

None of us alive today has ever heard the screech of a rebel yell at the point of attack in the Civil War. But many veterans of those times recounted its effect.

For Confederate soldiers, while at a full forward sprint, the piercing yowl sounded more animal than human, enflaming their courage to do-or-die.

Southern Colonel Keller Anderson described it this way: “that maniacal maelstrom of sound; that penetrating, rasping, shrieking, blood-curdling noise that could be heard for miles and whose volume reached the heavens–such an expression as never yet came from the throats of sane men, but from men whom the seething blast of an imaginary hell would not check while the sound lasted.”










On Union soldiers, the effect was truly terrifying, as attested by northern troops: “If you claim you heard it and weren’t scared that means you never heard it.”

Near the beginning of the Civil War, when rebel forces scattered federals at the First Battle of Bull Run, General “Stonewall” Jackson exhorted the 4th Virginia Infantry with this order: “When you charge, yell like furies.”

I can scarcely imagine the spine-tingling horror my great-grandfather, Abraham Van Orden, experienced the first time his ears were assaulted by the rebel yell.

Chasseur, For Sure

When my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, enlisted the in the NY 12th Infantry of the US Army on January 27, 1862, General Daniel Butterfield was in overall command of that brigade. Just 30 years old, Butterfield was already renowned for three things. First, his career rocketed from Sergeant to General in just a few months, before he served on a battlefield (this earned him enemies). Second, he was fond of stylish military uniforms (this earned him critics). Third, he sported an awesome full mustache (this earned both admiration and jealousy.)


A vain man, General Butterfield wanted his Corps to stand out for its uniforms. So he advocated purchase of French Chasseur uniforms for the 12th volunteers. If war was decided by style alone, his choice may well have been victorious.

Unfortunately, Chasseur uniforms were made in too small a size to fit most Americans. However, Archie being only 16 at the time he received his Chasseur uniform, was able to wear it with pride, no doubt cutting a fine-looking figure. This shows how he may have imagined it would appear in gallant warfare.

1861 Chasseur Uniform

In actuality, few (if any) Chasseur uniforms were ever worn on the battlefield.

Butterfield himself, however, went on to gain fame as the composer of “Taps”, the bugle call played at the end of the day, and also at funerals.  But he gained notoriety when he became chief-of-staff serving General Hooker. It was said that General Hooker’s command post was a sordid mixture of bar-room and  brothel. From this place came a slang term for prostitutes who were known as “hookers.”

Salute of Arms

On April 9 – 12, 1865, Archibald Van Orden wore this ribbon on his uniform, signifying his position in an honor guard accompanying General Grant at ceremonies of surrender on the grounds of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Worn by Archibald Van Orden, 16th NY Cavalry, at Appomattox, VA, surrender of CSA to USA.

Worn by Archibald Van Orden, 16th NY Cavalry, at Appomattox, VA.

On April 9, General Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia. On April 10, the CSA cavalry surrendered. On April 11, the CSA artillery surrendered. On April 12, the CSA infantry surrendered. At this final occasion, Joshua Chamberlain ordered the US Army to salute the CS Army with a command of “Order Arms; Carry!” The surrendering forces returned this action of mercy with their own Marching Salute. By honor saluting honor, the two armies began the healing of repatriation.

The painting below depicts cavalry to cavalry surrender on April 10, 1865:

CSA Cavalry surrenders to USA Cavalry.

CSA Cavalry surrenders to USA Cavalry.

Portrait of The Soldier As a Young Child

This tintype depicts Archie circa 1853 when his family lived in New York City, prior to moving to “the country” in Westchester County not long afterwards.  Archie’s not-quite-smiling young face reveals the clearly carved, yet smooth, features that would define his dutch ancestry for the rest of his long life.

Tintype Circa 1853

Tintype Circa 1853

Well Regulated Militia

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of our Bill of Rights, states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

For defense of their family, for hunting game for their table, and in preparation for protecting their country, Archie Van Orden’s father, Abraham, gave his son the gift of a Springfield rifle to mark the occasion of his 15th birthday.


The Sister So Close To Archie’s Heart

Archie Van Orden carried this photograph of his younger sister, Martina, in his breast pocket, throughout the civil war. She was a reminder of the home and family for which he he was fighting to restore the Union. Her image was constant solace during war and wounds, watching over him in battles and imprisonment.

Martina Van Orden 1862

The Spoon Mightier Than The Sword

In 1864, Archie Van Orden crafted a crude spoon together using nothing but tin scraps and ingenuity. The story of how this spoon kept him alive when thousands of others perished in the most desperate conditions will be revealed in my book.

Until then, Archie’s own words (written to his family) suffice to tell of its import: “Though a miserable excuse for a spoon, I would not trade it for a silver service.”

AVO Tin Spoon