The Napoleon of Gotham and Confederate Benefactor


The protection of Southern relics in Richmond are largely the result of Charles Rouss’s philanthropy, and his desire to see the proud history of the Confederate cause perpetuated for future generations to understand. In 1894, Mr. Rouss proposed that each UCV Camp subscribe at least $10 toward the erection of a "National Confederate Museum or Repository for the records and relics of the Southern Cause." The location of that museum, Rouss suggested, should be left to the ten senior generals of the Confederate army then living."

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

The Napoleon of Gotham and Confederate Benefactor:

"In Winchester, oldtimers still talk in awe and admiration of Charles B. Rouss. His education was so limited that he spelled phonetically throughout his life. Starting with nothing but determination, Rouss was Winchester’s leading merchant by the outbreak of the Civil War. The Federal occupation of his hometown drove him to Richmond (where) he opened dry goods stores on Main and Broad Streets. Rouss also engaged in blockade running (and) had a special uniform made for that venture: gray on one side, blue on the other.

War’s end found him $11,000 in debt. Undeterred, he scraped together $28 and in 1866, moved to the rich mercantile pastures of New York City. He netted $6000 in four months (and later) had branch stores in forty cities when the depression of 1876 ruined him. He thereupon began anew. This time, there were no setbacks (and) His personal fortune climbed steadily into the millions. When he opened a twelve-story business at 321 Broadway, he changed his middle name from Baltzell to the name of the street where he found prosperity. By the turn of the century, one newspaper stated, Charles Broadway Rouss was "a household word, not only in every city, but every little hamlet and cross road in the United States."

Patrons of the Virginia Historical Society are forever indebted to Rouss for Battle Abbey. He was always generous with funds to victims of calamities (he donated $25,000 to assist the homeless from the Johnstown flood) and to Confederate Veterans groups. In 1895, Rouss offered to donate $100,000 toward the construction of a Confederate Memorial Hall if the people of the South would match that sum. The matching funds poured forth quickly, and the building that now houses the Historical Society became a fulfillment of one of Rouss’s favorite philanthropies."
(James I. Robertson, Jr.)

(The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1981, review of "The Napoleon of Gotham, A Study of the Life of Charles Broadway Rouss")