The Most Hated Man in the Southern States


My name is William Forbes Yancey.

I am frequently asked if I am related to the famous fire-eating 'Orator of the Confederacy', William Lowndes Yancey. I am, although the relationship is more distant than the similarity of names might indicate. Unlike my famous cousin, I am no speaker or politician but rather a newspaperman, editor and part owner of the 'Herald' of Atlanta, Georgia. But like him, my family moved from Georgia to Alabama when I was a child and like him, we prospered there. My father set up a sawmill, making boards and such from the inexhaustible forests around Mobile and carried on from that into railroad ties, turpentine and such naval stores as were needed by the booming port.

This is not to become an auto-biography of myself, but I feel I must offer some explanation as to my motives in beginning this. I have been troubled for some years by the events of this narrative but have been subsumed in my vocation and in my marriage to my darling wife Anne, and so had felt no compelling need to set down my thoughts in this regard. Writing is of course what I do at all hours of the day and not therefore something to which I readily turn for pleasure. I trust any reader will thus forgive my forgoing the usual reportorial style of solid facts and clipped sentences and allow me to tell this tale in my own way. If it rambles unduly I assure you the fault is mine, for I feel I must tell of this yet am reluctant to revisit such unhappy memories, and thus must approach in an indirect fashion.

The causative element that has prompted me to finally confront my equivocal emotions was a special wire from Mobile, Alabama announcing the death of John Ephraim Haynes, former President of the Great Southern Railroad Company, soldier, patriot and, of late, the most hated man in these Southern states. I confess to some surprise, even shock, as my eyes traveled over the ticker tape, for I had thought him ready to depart this mortal coil when I last saw him a decade ago. How he had lingered on, alone in that vast house save for a handful of devoted servants, shunned by everyone in old Mobile, I could not imagine.

At any event, he was now deceased. The funeral would no doubt be private and possibly unattended entirely. The public would not in any case be invited and I was unaware of any family. His only child, Franklin, had perished of wounds received at the Battle of Raymond in 1863. He had no living kin as I knew of, and his wife was already in the ground when I last encountered him. I toyed briefly with the thought of taking the Green Arrow south myself, but with some reluctance put the train schedule away. Alive the man had opened his heart and told me things that troubled me yet; dead, he could neither add to nor subtract from that store.

And so I put the matter aside, or attempted such. My thoughts have returned to it again and again today; it will not let me rest. I have come down from my warm bed to my desk, quietly so as not to wake dear Anne or the children, poured myself three fingers of good bourbon whiskey, and pulled out those old files. The hour approaches midnight; the lamp and fire are low and a wet spring chill is in the air. But I have my slippers and my warm dressing gown, and my fingers are not so stiff with cold as to prevent my laying out my notes upon the study table. There are not so many, after all, for such a man and such a life.

If I am to have any peace, this story must be told. It is the story of a man - a great man - and his dream, and how it died, and what died with it.