Thursday, July 19, 2007

What do the Civil War and the Titanic have in common?

I have always been fascinated with the things that make history so unique. I really enjoy reading about the connections that occur between key historical events such as the story of a father who fought for the Confederacy and his son who was a passenger onboard a ship called Titanic.
When the Titanic sank on April 14, 1912 only 800 passengers survived. One of those rescued was Colonel Archibald Gracie who had a direct family tie to the American Civil War. Colonel Gracie was born in 1859 in Mobile, Alabama which was a key port for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He grew up and became an author and was educated at West Point where he became a colonel. Gracie was very weathly and his fortune allowed him to spend time as a research historian. Besides being a Titanic survivor in 1912 his father was a Civil War general for the Confederacy. His father, Archibald Gracie Jr., had been an officer with the Washington Light Infantry of the Confederate Army, serving at the Battle of Chickamauga. Garcie was killed while observing Federal troop movements at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864. The other Gracie took seven years to write the The Truth About Chickamuaga in honor of his fallen father. Writing to book took its toll on Gracie who sought refuge in Europe for rest and relaxation. He booked a return trip on a brand new passenger ship called Titanic. After the ship sank Gracie testified at hearings that investigated the sinking and he wrote a popular book about his experiences aboard the Titanic. Gracie wrote in detail about the events that he experienced and painted the best picture of the Titanic's luvurious features. In part he wrote:

"I enjoyed myself as if I were on a summer palace by the seashore surrounded by every comfort. I was up early before breakfast and met the professional racquet player in a half hour's warming up preparatory for a swim in the six foot deep tank of saltwater heated to a refreshing temperature."

Gracie never finished proofreading his manuscript about the Titanic and died in 1913. It is very likely that the frigid waters of that April night took its toll on him and his book was published after his death. The other component of the Gracie tragedy is the story of his children. Colonel Gracie only had four daughters but only one lived to maturity. Col. Gracie's final surviving child, Edith Temple Gracie Adams, died childless in 1918, about a year after her marriage.


Titanic: A Survivor's Story and the Sinking of the S.S. Titanic by Archibald Gracie and Jack Thayer, Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988.

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