We sometimes forget how much we have depended on the last 150 years to ensure our Civil War heritage is here for us to enjoy and study. Myriad causes have removed pages from the Civil War story. The Second World War wiped out Arthur MacArthur’s papers and Medal of Honor, destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. Another Civil War-related artifact in Manila almost suffered the same fate – Major General Lafayette McLaws’ family silver.
General McLaws hailed from Georgia, and served in 1862 and 63 as a division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. McLaws’ Division figured prominently in the Battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. His youngest daughter Elizabeth (born 1870) married Edward P. King, Jr., a man 14 years her junior. King served with distinction as an artillery officer, and went to the Philippines as a Major General to be Douglas MacArthur’s Chief of Artillery. Elizabeth went with him, and so did the McLaws family silver. Elizabeth went home in May 1941 when dependents were evacuated, but the silver stayed in Manila because King needed it for entertaining on a scale befitting a two-star general.
General MacArthur decided to evacuate Manila on December 23, 1941, and on Christmas Eve his headquarters prepared to move to the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay. As MacArthur and staff packed personal belongings, General King decided to try and save the family silver from the Japanese. King deposited the silver in a vault in the Bank of Manila, the same place MacArthur had placed his family silver. At 6 P.M. on Christmas Eve, King accompanied MacArthur to the Manila docks, where later that evening a steamer took the party to Corregidor.
The McLaws silver waited in that vault for nearly four years. There is no evidence the Japanese ever knew it was there; the bank staff kept the secret. The vault also survived the Battle of Manila in 1945, which destroyed 75% of the Philippine capital.
As for General King, it was his lot to be the man who surrendered Bataan on April 9, 1942. He spent over three years in Japanese captivity, sustaining injuries during that period that plagued him until his death in 1958. After his repatriation in 1945, King returned to Manila, recovered the silver, and brought it home to the United States.
General King and his wife are buried in Flat Rock, NC, in the same cemetery as Christopher Memminger of the Confederate government. The silver remains part of the King/McLaws family to this day – a legacy of America’s two largest wars.
The top image is General McLaws during the war; the bottom is General King in 1946.