The Curse of Civil War Gold, like its History parent show Curse of Oak Island, is a treasure hunt based on an intriguing historical possibility: What if, in the waning days of the Civil War, Jefferson Davis fled the south with the entire Confederate treasury…and then lost it?
Also like Oak Island, it’s open-ended enough to tease audiences for years to come. So there’s bound to be plenty of eye-rolling when the series premiere airs, along with plenty of good-natured laughs from viewers in it for the chase, rather than the catch.
The Curse of Civil War Gold‘s treasure hunt hinges on one simple belief
Confederate President Jefferson Davis allegedly had “a considerable amount of gold, silver, and other coins” with him when he and the rest of his government took off from Richmond by train on the night of April 2nd, 1865. The Confederates took two different trains: the first had all the people; the second had “all the cash reserves of the Confederacy…as well as the gold reserves owned by Richmond’s bands and a large amount of jewelry donated by Confederate women to the cause.”
Over a month later, the group reached Washington GA with considerably less money: according to one historian, a few of the group’s known expenses included $108,000 paid out to troops escorting the trains and $40,000 for supplies after the trains crossed into Georgia. (Another $86,000 was outright stolen when it the two naval officers entrusted with the job of smuggling it to Britain simply bolted with it instead.)
Between those expenses and Davis’ refusal to touch the money from Richmond’s bands, he was “reportedly carrying only a few dollars with him” when Union soldiers captured David on May 10th. Unless, of course, he wasn’t. What The Curse of Civil War Gold presupposes is that Davis in fact still had a huge fortune, and that the Union soldiers who captured him actually relieved Davis of untold wealth, then smuggled it north where it was lost.
Was Jefferdon Davis really traveling with the Confederate treasury?
The generations-old deathbed story at the heart of The Curse of Civil War Gold claims that the stolen treasure remained in its boxcar until it crossed into Michigan one fateful winter. From there, the boxcar — its contents a secret to those transporting it — was intentionally pushed off of a ferry crossing Lake Michigan in order to lighten the ferry’s load.
Or, in the creaky rocking chair words of Frederick J. Monroe, who’s been pursuing the Confederate plunder since 1972:
I was sitting down and talking to a friend of mine, and all of the sudden he says, ‘Fred, you’re just the person I want to see with your diving experience. My grandfather told me a story that he heard from a lighthouse keeper, who originally heard it during a deathbed confession, that there’s two million dollars of gold bullion inside a boxcar that fell off a ferry into Lake Michigan.
That may sound farfetched, but the practice was apparently common. As a WZZM feature on Frederick J. Monroe and Kevin Dykstra, The Curse of Civil War Gold‘s two treasure hunting stars, put it, “It is fact that in the late 1800s boxcars were shoved off ferries into Lake Michigan to lighten the load during bad weather.”
Additionally, here’s USA Today’s video feature on the shipwreck Dykstra and Monroe found in 2011 — a wreck that, per Monroe, “has a safe in it, and inside the safe, there was jewelry, gold and silver” related to the missing boxcar:
Historians are skeptical, but producers are sold
Dykstra, whose friendship with Oak Island‘s Marty Lagina helped bring his treasure hunt to History’s attention, is ardent in his belief. “We believe wholeheartedly that the Confederate gold story is true,” he’s said, “and we believe that the box car is out there.”
But some experts aren’t so sure. Michigan historian Larry Massie addressed the speculation in an MLive article on the alleged Confederate gold — and he called the theory that Jefferson Davis had the Confederacy’s treasury with him “complete bullshit.”
Massie said the treasure hunters’ assumptions are based on a since-debunked War Department document stating that “the Davis party was traveling with $10 million in gold” — or $142 million today. The problem? That document was written twenty-three hours before soldiers found Davis and took an inventory of his train.
“It’s been pretty well proven” wrong, Massie added.
Annoesjka Soler, the executive director of Muskegon MI’s Lakeshore Museum Center, agreed — though she used less colorful language.
“They’re going to have fun with it,” she told MLive. “I’m sure it will bring up a lot of interest. It’s very speculative, a lot of conjecture tying a lot of loose pieces together.”
But she added, “It’s farfetched…We don’t feel there are a lot of facts in there cited from primary literature.”
The show offers plenty for Oak Island fans to have fun with
The Curse of Civil War Gold‘s first season will run for a modest six episodes, but they promise plenty of action. And, in addition to appearances by Marty Lagina, viewers will be treated to another generous helping of Gary Drayton, Oak Island’s resident “metal detecting ninja.”
Ultimately, though, the real Oak Island connection has to do with how seriously you take your television. If you tune in expecting a clear beginning, middle, and end — and by “end” we mean “they find the treasure” — you’re going to be disappointed. Shows in this genre aren’t the least bit interested in the big discovery; they want to build up an endless mystery by uncovering a constant string of possible clues.
If that sounds like your idea of a good Tuesday night, then you’re in for a treat. The Curse of Civil War Gold premieres immediately after the Curse of Oak Island Season 5 finale: March 6th at 10 PM on History.
(Photo credits: Curse of Civil War Gold via History)