The Civil War
South Carolina was at the forefront of the bloodiest war in American history. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, many Southerners believed that the federal government was now hostile to their constitutional rights and way of life. Fearing the worst, men from around South Carolina gathered at First Baptist Columbia to discuss the issue of secession. Due to a small pox outbreak, the convention adjourned to Charleston. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina voted to become the first state to secede from the Union.
Ordinance of Secession signed by 196 South Carolina delegates. This original lithograph belonged to signer Joseph Evans Jenkins of St. Paul Perish.
The War Begins
South Carolina’s secession encouraged other Deep South states to follow the same route. The Upper South, however, did not initially leave the Union and instead worked to reunite the nation. Meanwhile, both the Federal and Confederate governments waited in anticipation to see which side would move first. Finally, Lincoln decided to send supplies to reinforce Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor. Confederate batteries under the command of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard bombarded Fort Sumter April 12-13, 1861. Two days later, Fort Sumter surrendered and soon the upper South would also secede from the Union.
Cockades woven from palmetto fronds or made from ribbons helped men and women alike show their support for secession.
Throughout the course of the war, approximately 63,000 white South Carolinians took up arms to defend their state. From Manassas to Appomattox, South Carolinians were present at almost every major battle.
LEFT: Flag of the First South Carolina Rifles, known as Orr’s Rifles. The regiment was recruited from the Upstate counties of Pickens, Abbeville, Anderson, and Marion. In 1862, the unit transferred to Virginia with 1,000 soldiers. Suffering extremely high battlefield losses, the unit surrendered nine officers and 148 men in the spring of 1865.
RIGHT: Battlefront Case featuring the rifle of Sgt. Richard Kirkland from Camden. Kirkland became known as the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” when he gave water to wounded enemy soldiers at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Meanwhile, freed African Americans from the low country enlisted with the Union troops stationed at Beaufort, South Carolina. Nearly 4,000 South Carolinian freed slaves fought in seven South Carolina Union infantry regiments, served in Army support roles, and worked in the Union Navy.
Flag of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (Union), also known as the 34th Infantry United States Colored Troops. Of the seven USCT regiments from South Carolina, this is the only flag known to have survived.
Back on the homefront, women engaged in series of activities to support the troops in the field. Women demonstrated their support of the Cause by helping with fundraisers, organizing hospitals, sewing socks, and even wearing patriotic clothing. Some women stepped outside the house to take up roles in manufacturing, money printing, teaching, and nursing while others worked as spies or laundresses accompanying the armies.
LEFT: Malvina Gist signed Confederate money at the Printing Press on Gervais Street in downtown Columbia. Although jobs like this provided women with new freedoms and a sense of adventure, they were also tiresome under wartime conditions. RIGHT: Badge representing the state of Florida used at the last Great Bazaar at the Old State House on January 16, 1865. Women helped to organize the event to raise money for the Columbia Wayside Hospital.
In order to continue the flow of equipment and supplies into the Confederacy, blockade running became a necessary and lucrative occupation. Suppliers, aided by the Confederate government, developed a distribution route between Europe, the Caribbean, and Confederate ports. Charleston provided a vital port to the Confederate War effort. Recently, the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum purchased the Colin J. McRae Papers. These papers tell the story of England’s involvement with fueling the Confederate War effort.
LEFT: Vessels like the Robert E. Lee were redesigned specifically to outrun and outmaneuver Union blockade ships. Courtesy US Navy/ Parris Island Museum. RIGHT: S. Isaac and Campbell Company of England supplied a majority of the Confederacy’s imported military goods. This imported knapsack belonged to Pvt. William S. Dogan of the 5th South Carolina Infantry. The McRae Papers contain volumes of materials related to S. Isaac Campbell’s dealings with the Confederacy.
Sherman’s March through the Carolinas
On January 30, 1865, General Sherman began his march through the Carolinas, cutting a wide swath from Savannah to Bentonville, North Carolina. Along the way, the Union forces met light resistance. They were slightly delayed by fighting at Rivers Bridge on February 2-3. However, little else stopped the Union soldiers as they pushed forward a staggering ten to twelve miles a day, reaching the outskirts of Columbia on February 15th. Two days later, Columbia fell with little resistance. That night, liquor and cotton ignited one of the most debated fires of the War. In the fire’s wake, approximately 400 structures were destroyed, including private businesses, homes, churches, and government buildings.
LEFT: “The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her.” William Tecumseh Sherman, December 24, 1864. RIGHT: Union artillery under Captain Francis DeGress fired approximately 325 rounds into Columbia. This 20-Pound Parrott Shell is one of ten shells that struck the unfinished State House. Today visitors can still see the damage, marked by brass stars.
An estimated 620,000 Southern and Northern soldiers died during the four long years of war. Approximately 21,000 South Carolina men died due to battle wounds, disease, and imprisonment. This staggering mortality figure represents nearly one-third of South Carolinians who fought for the Confederacy.
While mourning for the dead and coping with the collapse of the Confederate cause, South Carolinians learned how to survive in new conditions. Towns across the state had been burnt. Personal property had been destroyed. Businesses, small farms, and plantations were lost. A sense of desperation and despair hung over the citizens of the Palmetto State. However, for slaves, the war’s end meant freedom and new opportunities.
Both white and black South Carolinians learned how to navigate within this new social and economic structure. South Carolinians began to reestablish their claim within the American identity by reenlisting in future military engagements, beginning with the Spanish-American War.
Battlefield relics became popular to collect as a way for people to personally connect to the Lost Cause. These types of collections became the core of the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room when it was founded in 1896. Since then, the museum has expanded its name and collection to include all of South Carolina’s military history.
During Reconstruction, a vigilante style war occurred in many Southern states as carpetbaggers, freed slaves, and former Confederates clashed. This violence spilled over into highly contentious elections. In South Carolina, Wade Hampton’s election as governor in 1876 signaled the end of Reconstruction. The election, however, took over six months to decide as both Republicans and Democrats accused each other of voter fraud. Supporters of Wade Hampton were easily recognizable wearing bright red shirts, such as this one.
Confederate Veterans organized and held reunions in order to cope with the emotional aftermath of the Civil War and to promote the Lost Cause. Additionally, the United Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans) held joint battle reunions to reminisce and honor their fallen comrades in hopes of promoting reconciliation and finding personal closure.
Right: Ribbon from a Confederate reunion.
- Continue to Spanish American War