J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Columbia”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 9)

Mary Chesnut 

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Of all the written works created during the Civil War, Mary Chesnut’s diary is one of the most well known. Because of her ability to frankly describe the events that transpired, her diary is considered by historians to be the most important work by a Confederate author, and a true work of art. 

Born to Congressman Stephen Decatur Miller and May Boykin on March 31, 1823 at Mount Pleasant plantation near Stateburg, South Carolina, Mary Miller was the eldest of four children. In 1829, her father became governor of South Carolina, and in 1831, he served as a U.S. senator. Mary was educated at home and in Camden schools before she was sent to a French boarding school in Charleston at age 12. She spent her school break at her father’s cotton plantations in Mississippi, but when he died in 1838, she returned to Camden. She met James Chesnut Jr., eight years her senior, in 1836, when he was at the boarding school visiting his niece, and although he began to court her, Mary’s parents opposed it. However, on April 23, 1840, when Mary was 17, the two were married.  

For the next twenty years, Mary spent her time between Camden and Mulberry, her husband’s family plantation. James was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1858, so Mary accompanied him to Washington, where she nurtured friendships with many upper-class citizens, including Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis, John Bell Hood, and Wade Hampton III. When talk of war escalated in 1860, James was the first to resign his senate seat on November 10, The Chesnuts returned to South Carolina, where he participated in drafting an ordinance of secession, and served on the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. From February 1861 through July 1865, Mary recorded her experiences. She was in Charleston when Ft. Sumter was fired upon on Friday, April 12, 1861, and watched the skirmish from a rooftop. In her diary, she described the city’s residents, along with what is now known as The Battery, sitting on balconies and drinking salutes to the advent of hostilities. 

James subsequently served as an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. During the war, Mary accompanied him to Montgomery, Columbia, and Richmond, where she entertained the Confederate elite.  

After the war, the Chesnut’s returned to Camden, struggling unsuccessfully to get out of debt. James had inherited two plantations when his father died in 1866: Mulberry and Sandy Field. They were heavily damaged by Federal troops, and slaves who had become freedmen still depended on him. James and Mary’s mother died within a week of each other in January 1885. According to his father’s will, the land was to be passed down to a male heir, and because he and Mary never had children, she lost her claim.  

Mary’s writing revealed her strong opinions concerning slavery and women’s rights, as well as criticism for conservative decisions made by Southern leaders, her husband included. She expressed her repulsion for lapses in morality caused by the male-dominated society of the South, using her father-in-law’s liaison with a slave as an example. 

In the 1870’s, she edited her diaries in an attempt to publish them, but failed. She tried her hand at fiction, writing three novels, but was also unsuccessful at having them published, so in the 1880’s, she revised her diaries into a book entitled Mary Chesnut’s Civil War. Only a small excerpt was published in the Charleston Weekly News and Courier as “The Arrest of a Spy.” Her final years were spent supplementing her $100-a-year income by selling eggs and butter. She died of a heart attack on November 22, 1886.  Historians believe she wasn’t finished with her work. In 1905, and again in 1949, her diaries were published in truncated and heavily edited versions as A Diary from Dixie. In 1981, C. Vann Woodward published a version that included her complete work, and won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1982. 

 

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An Ineffective Meeting

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On this date in 1865, Union and Confederate officials met to discuss an end to the Civil War. By now, the war had been raging for nearly four years, and the country was tired and heartbroken. Nevertheless, Union officials knew they had an advantage, and an agreement could not be reached.

General W.T. Sherman’s Union army continued their devastating march through the Carolinas in full force, following a successful campaign through Georgia as they chased down General Joseph E. Johnston’s troops. Sherman’s main target was South Carolina, since it was the first state to secede. He would later capture Columbia on February 17, 1865.

Two days after the meeting between Union and Confederate officials took place, another battle broke out – this time at Hatcher’s Run (Armstrong’s Mill), Virginia. The battle would claim over 1,000 men (mostly Confederates).

Confederate Cannonballs, Cartridges and More Found in River

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Researchers are trying to figure out the best way to get War for Southern Independence munitions out of the Congaree River in South Carolina. Historians have used sonar and metal detection to get an idea of where cannonballs, cartridges and knapsacks were dumped near the Gervais Street bridge in downtown Columbia.

On their way out of town, Union troops led by General William T. Sherman (“Willy T” for short) unloaded supplies into the river. In 1954, a gas-producing plant closed near the Congaree River in Columbia, South Carolina. But its presence lingers in the form of roughly 40,000 tons of “taffy-like” black tar that needs to be removed from the river. A most unusual side effect of damming the river to do so: the possible recovery of Confederate munitions seized and then dumped by Sherman’s Yankee army a century and a half ago.

A list of what Union troops logged as having captured from their Confederate counterparts in the seizure of the city on Feb. 17, 1865: 1.2 million ball cartridges, 100,000 percussion caps, 4,000 bayonet scabbards, 3,100 sabers, 1,100 knapsacks, and more. Whatever they didn’t bring with them as they marched toward North Carolina; they dumped in the Congaree River to keep it out of Confederate hands. The munitions lie beneath a layer of tar that oozed from the long-closed gas-making plant located near what is now the Governor’s Mansion. Consultants hired by the SCANA Corp. as part of the utility’s river cleanup found evidence of the artifacts. The energy company, SCANA Corp, will facilitate the Congaree cleanup, which involves exposing about 15 acres of riverbed and removing a tar cap that’s, on average, 2 feet thick—along with any Civil War artifacts, which would note would belong to the state of South Carolina.

While the company’s Director of Environmental Services says “we don’t have any direct knowledge of ordnance,” he also didn’t deny the findings of a September draft report SCANA commissioned that involved the use of sonar and metal detectors. That report identified 218 sites as “exhibiting signature characteristics that could be associated with ordnance.”

Though items have been documented as being salvaged in the 1930s, 1970s, and 1980s, the state’s underwater archaeologist, James Spirek, isn’t expecting a mass cache to surface this time around. “I’m sure there will be some interesting items. I don’t anticipate huge volumes,” he says. He also said the ordnance likely will be housed at the Confederate Relic Room in downtown Columbia.

(This article courtesy of General William Barksdale Camp 1220 Sons of Confederate Veterans newsletter, “Barksdale’s Mississippians,” Columbus, Mississippi, February, 2015)

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