Saturday, November 19, 2011

Both sides of the Civil War... in Cape May

That awful pork-roll-on-potato-roll sandwich may have left a dent, but it wasn't enough to tide me through lunchtime on our recent Cape May visit, so we headed downtown to get a real meal. That done, we took a quick stroll down Jackson and found ourselves at the outdoor Washington Street mall. Even on a November Saturday, the place was almost as populated as it is on a summer afternoon.

I figured we were just headed back to the car, but Ivan took a detour onto the mall, which is basically a street closed to traffic. After looking for a minute or two, he found what he was looking for:


If there's a Civil War connection to any given place, Ivan will find it. This one relates the story of a local man who survived a battle injury and confinement at one of the worst Confederate prison camps. Cape May resident and Union Colonel Henry Washington Sawyer gained some of his fame for being part of a prisoner exchange that returned Brigadier General William Lee to the Confederates. Yes, that kind of Lee: the son of Confederate Army leader Robert E. Lee.

Sawyer returned to Cape May after the war and built the Chalfonte Hotel, which still stands today as the city's oldest continually-operated lodging place. After his death, the hotel eventually went into the hands of a family from Virginia that had ties to the Confederate Army. To this day, the hotel continues to serve Southern food and works to extend the region's hospitality to all of its guests. Considering that many believe Cape May to be south of the Mason-Dixon line, it's rather appropriate, but one wonders what Sawyer would think. He certainly didn't get the best of southern hospitality at Libby Prison.  

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