As the US continues to recognize the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States it’s increasingly apparent that a significant number of Americans see the bloody four-year conflict as little more than a few key events: Fort Sumter, First Manassas, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination.
While we sometimes recognize the terrible toll the war took in terms of lives lost, that figure has become an abstraction. With current figures of dead from the 1861-65 conflict now estimated to top more than 700,000, many today can’t or won’t attempt to comprehend the war’s impact on American society a century and a half ago.
Many History Channel historians tend to think only of the victories and of the final success of the Union army; or, in the South, of the valiant, if doomed, tenacity of the Confederacy.
But the war was, if nothing else, millions upon millions of tragedies bundled up into the form of a tremendous calamity.
For every man in uniform who was killed in action or died of disease, dozens, scores or even hundreds of others were touched, some at the front, others at home.
And the tragedies weren’t always the result of the death of men in uniform, either.
On this date, 150 years ago today, an officer in a South Carolina cavalry regiment got perhaps the worst news of his life.
Allen Edens, second lieutenant with Company E of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, learned while stationed at Pocotaligo, SC, that his wife, Martha Jane, 35, had died the night before.
She left him with eight children, including an infant and two other very young children.
Edens, 37, was granted a 10-day furlough and was able to reach his home in today’s Marlboro County, SC, in time for his wife’s burial.
Shortly after the funeral Edens wrote Confederate officials seeking an extension of his leave, in order to make necessary arrangements for the security and comfort of his children.
“I am left with eight children, the oldest one being about fifteen years of age,” he wrote on Nov. 10, 1863. “I have among the eight an infant, and two other little ones that need almost as constant care as infants. My servants are all young and inexperienced, not one of them capable of taking charge of a family.”
It appears from correspondence sent on behalf of Edens to General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was then commanding the South Carolina region, that Edens had 10 slaves. However, the oldest was only 20 and only four were “old enough to be of service.”
The missive to Beauregard stated that Edens was concerned that if he “should he be required now to remain in camp his only course will be to break up and scatter his children and negroes wherever he can get shelter for them.”
According to Edens’ service records, his leave was extended into late January.
It’s not entirely clear what arrangements Edens was able to make for his children and slaves, but it appears that he remarried in mid-February 1864, to one Christian Chisolm, according to evidence found on Ancestry.com.
One can’t help but wonder if the marriage was one of convenience, rather than love, although it did last nearly 30 years.
According to Edens’ service records he was back with his company by the end of February 1864.
Edens traveled north with the rest of the 4th South Carolina in the spring of 1864 to Virginia as the regiment fought as part of General Matthew C. Butler’s Brigade, under General Wade Hampton and the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps.
The unit would return home in early 1865, attempt to stop Sherman’s army moving through the Carolinas and eventually be surrendered in late April.
Edens would be promoted to first lieutenant and, unlike many members of his regiment, survive the war.
He would live until 1892, when he died at age 66. His second spouse would outlive him by more than five years.
(Top: Hampton’s Cavalry Corps, which included the 4th South Carolina, at the Battle of Trevilian Station, Va., June 11, 1864.)