19th century farmhouse recalls fiery days of secession

Calhoun County 2015 035

Nearly 200 years old, the Keitt-Whaley-Pearlstine House sparkles amid the drab brown landscape of late winter in central South Carolina.

The large white two-story clapboard structure features six columns, first- and second-story porches, gabled roofs and touches of Greek Revival style.

Built in rural Orangeburg County, in what later became Calhoun County, near the Old State Road that ran from Columbia to Charleston, the structure’s interior features multiple fireplaces, some with hand-carved mantels with multiple cornices, according to the SC Department of Archives and History.

But for all the architectural appeal of the plantation house, its history is just as interesting.

Constructed between 1820 and 1825 for Dr. and Mrs. George Keitt, the Keitt’s son, Laurence, was born in the house in 1824. He would go onto become one of the South Carolina’s most ardent secessionists.

After serving in the South Carolina General Assembly while still in his mid-20s, Keitt was elected to the US House in 1853. He would be re-elected twice more.

Stephen Berry, writing in Civil War Monitor, described Keitt as the “Harry Hotspur of the South.”

“Keitt … was a Fire-Eater par excellence. Legendary for staging ‘pyrotechnic’ displays on the floor of Congress, Keitt paced his desk, scattered papers before him ‘like people in a panic,’ and pounding ‘the innocent mahogany’ until pens, pencils, documents, and even ‘John Adam’s extracts shuddered under the blows.’”

Continue reading

GAR outpost has thrived in heart of Dixie for 125+ years

Beaufort_Grand_Army_Hall

Beaufort County counted some of South Carolina’s most ardent secessionists among its residents as the War Between the States began. Its landscape was dotted with large cotton plantations featuring sizable slave populations until Union troops came ashore at Port Royal in November 1861 and took control, of the area, freeing thousands of enslaved blacks.

While Northern forces weren’t able to venture far inland from their beachhead in the southern part of the state until close to the end of the war, it served as a staging point for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and as a destination for escaped slaves looking for sanctuary.

Many of those former slaves would go on to serve in the Union Army, as members of US Colored Troop units.

Years after the war, a number of former USCT members formed one of the few Grand Army of the Republic posts in South Carolina, the David Hunter Post No. 9, organized in 1888.

In 1896, the post constructed the Grand Army Hall, on Beaufort’s Newcastle Street. Today, the structure, located in the Beaufort Historic District, is believed to be the only surviving building in South Carolina associated with the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR.

The GAR was a fraternal organization made up of men who had served the Union cause. At its peak, it boasted nearly 500,000 members nationwide.

The Beaufort post was named for Hunter (1802-1886), who rose to the rank of major general and was a strong proponent of arming blacks to assist the Union effort.

Continue reading

Grandsons of John Tyler – US president born in 1790 – still alive

john tyler

It seems rather remarkable, but two grandsons of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States and a man born less than year after George Washington was first inaugurated as president, are still alive.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., who turned 90 this week, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, who turned 86 last November, continue chugging along, nearly 175 years after their grandfather assumed the nation’s highest office.

John Tyler was born in Virginia in 1790. He was elected vice president in 1841, and ascended to the Oval Office a month later when President William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia and died after making an hour-long inaugural address in cold, rainy weather.

Tyler was the first vice president to become president on the death of sitting chief executive.

Tyler’s first wife Letitia was an invalid at the time he became president and died soon thereafter. He later married Julia, who was 30 years his junior, making him the first president to be married while in office.

Tyler was rather prolific. He fathered 15 children: eight with Letitia and seven more with Julia. Five of his children by his second wife lived into the 20th century and one repeated the pattern of his father.

Tyler’s 13th child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935), had three children with his first wife Anne Baker Tucker Tyler and three more with his second wife Sue Ruffin Tyler, whom he wed after Anne’s death. When he wed Sue Ruffin Tyler, Lyon Tyler was 70, twice her age.

While one of the latter three children died in infancy, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. lives in Franklin, Tenn., and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, lives at Sherwood Forest Plantation, the Tyler’s historic family home in Virginia.

Continue reading

Dirtbag desecrates Civil War veteran’s grave

635545120362552661-james_nichols

Grave robbing may not rank up there with murder, rape or assault with a deadly weapon, but there seems something particularly heinous about the crime. One supposes an individual willing to disturb the dead has, in all likelihood, little respect for the living, either.

It’s unclear how often this reprehensible act takes place, but it likely occurs more than most of us realize.

Among the most recent cases is one that came to light earlier this month in Georgia.

Nearly 150 years after a Confederate officer succumbed to disease contracted during the War Between the States, his remains were desecrated and dug up from a Crawford County cemetery.

First Lieutenant James Alexander Nichols of Company F of the 57th Georgia Infantry Regiment died from dysentery on Nov. 9, 1866, and was buried in Old Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery in west-central Georgia.

More than likely, Nichols’ remains were disturbed by a cretin looking for artifacts, such as uniform buttons or similar items. Many men who served in the Civil War, particularly those who died during or just after the war, were buried in their uniforms.

The Crawford County sheriff, Lewis Walker, said he was initially unsure why someone would disturb the grave, but, in a comment showing remarkably little intuition, said he was “hoping family members of the deceased might have ideas.”

Last year, two Georgia men were arrested and charged with grave robbing after the remains of five Confederate and Revolutionary soldiers were disinterred in Burke County, Ga., which is due east from Crawford County, on the border with South Carolina. Both men were later sentenced to five years in prison.

According to records, Nichols was elected brevet second lieutenant for Company F, 2nd Regiment, Georgia State Troops on Oct. 14, 1861. He was mustered out in 1862 and elected second lieutenant for Company F of the 57th Georgia on May 3, 1862, in Savannah. He was promoted to first lieutenant on Jan. 11, 1863.

Nichols was surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and paroled three days later. According to terms of his parole, Nichols agreed not to “ … take up arms again against the United States, nor serve in any military, police or constabulary force in any Fort, Garrison or field work, held by the Confederate States of America, nor as guard of prison, depots or stores, nor discharge any duties usually performed by Officers or soldiers, against the United States of America, until duly exchanged by the proper authorities.” Continue reading

Did famed French marshal end his days as NC schoolmaster?

Marshal Ney at Waterloo

As improbable as it seems, in some circles there is still doubt as to whether Michel Ney, one of France’s greatest military minds, was executed for treason in 1815 or instead ended his days as a North Carolina schoolmaster three decades later.

Ney was among the ablest of Napoleon’s military leaders, commanding troops during both the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded at least four times during his career, fought in scores of battles and commanded the rearguard of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it withdrew from Russia during the ill-fated invasion of that country. Ney was said to have been the last Frenchman on Russian soil during the Patriotic War of 1812.

Napoleon himself called Ney “the bravest of the brave.”

It was Ney, however, who in April 1814 led the Marshals’ revolt and demanded Napoleon’s abdication.

Initially, Ney was lauded by the Bourbons when they reclaimed the French crown, but the newly restored monarchy was said to have reacted coolly to Ney’s non-aristocratic beginnings.

Marshal Michel Ney.

Marshal Michel Ney.

When Ney heard of Napoleon’s escape from Elba in early 1815, he organized a force to stop his former leader’s march on Paris in a bid to keep France at peace and show his loyalty to the newly restored regime. But despite Ney’s promise to King Louis XVIII, he found himself unable to resist Napoleon’s siren song and rejoined his former commander on March 18, 1815.

Three months later, Napoleon appointed Ney commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On June 16, 1815, Napoleon’s forces split up to fight two separate battles simultaneously.

Ney attacked the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras while Napoleon attacked Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher’s Prussians at Ligny. The French won the initial battle, but weren’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

At Waterloo two days later Ney again commanded the left wing of the French army. At mid-afternoon, Ney ordered a mass cavalry charge against the Anglo-Allied line. Ney’s cavalry overran the enemy cannon, but found the enemy infantry arrayed in cavalry-proof square formations.

Continue reading

Why the Sand Creek Massacre needs to be remembered

At_the_Sand_Creek_Massacre,_1874-1875

This past weekend marked the 150th anniversaries of two bloody events in US history: The Battle of Franklin, a Union victory over Confederate forces at Franklin, Tenn., in the waning months of the Civil War; and the Sand Creek Massacre, in which US cavalry forces attacked an Indian camp of mostly women, children and old men more than 1,000 miles away in the Colorado Territory.

Both were routs, although only in the first were the odds anywhere near being even.

At Franklin, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of the Tennessee was annihilated by Union Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s Army of Ohio, while at Sand Creek a force of 700 Union cavalrymen destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe in an unprovoked attack that claimed as many as 200 lives.

The anniversary of the former, which effectively destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force, was noted by history aficionados, particularly Civil War buffs, and through media accounts, while the latter, among the most brutal of many assaults on Native Americans by US forces during the War Between the States, went relatively unnoticed outside Colorado.

My first brush with the Sand Creek Massacre, albeit tenuous, came earlier this year, when I visited a historic graveyard in the West Coast town where I attended high school, in Santa Cruz, Calif. Evergreen Cemetery features the final resting place for dozens of Civil War veterans, including Lanader Prindle, who served in the 3rd Colorado Cavalry Regiment.

Living in the South for the past 15 years, and away from California for nearly all of the past 30 years, I had little knowledge of units that served in the west during the War Between the States. In addition, the 3rd Colorado piqued my interest because it came from a territory, as Colorado was still a dozen years away from statehood.

It was after a bit of research that I learned that the 3rd Colorado, along with the 1st Colorado Cavalry and a company of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry Regiment, took part in the Sand Creek Massacre, another aspect of US history I knew little about.

The stage was set for the Sand Creek Massacre when Black Kettle, a chief of the Southern Cheyenne, led his band to Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, according to provisions of a peace parlay held in Denver in September 1864.

Colorado’s leaders, including Col. John Chivington, a former Methodist pastor, and Colorado territorial governor John Evans, had adopted a hard-line against Indians, whom white settlers accused of stealing livestock.

Chivington made no qualms about his view toward Native Americans: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

Continue reading

Providence church eyed as site for slavery museum

cathedral of st. john

Providence’s Cathedral of St. John may be shuttered, but out front of the 200-year-old structure is a church billboard with block letters that read, “GOD IS NOT DONE WITH US YET.”

Indeed, it appears the church may take on a second life as means to shed light on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the role that all early US states – North and South – played in perpetuating slavery.

The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island wants to use part of the Cathedral of St. John for a museum that would examine the state’s role in the slave trade, both those who profited from it and those who opposed it. Churchgoers and clergymen were on both sides.

“In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Rhode Islanders backed 1,000 trips between Africa and the Americas,” according to the Providence Bulletin. “Newport, Bristol and Providence were among the busiest slave trade ports in North America.”

The museum would be the only one in the nation centered on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It would also focus on the Episcopal Church’s role in that trade’s history and the often-overlooked legacy of slavery in northern states.

Ironically, the Cathedral of St. John is just a few hundred feet from both the site identified as where Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 and the location of Williams’ home. Williams, a proponent of religious freedom, has been called the New World’s first abolitionist.

Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, played a very large role in slavery.

A Brown University report issued in 2006 found that about 60 percent of all slave-trading voyages launched from North America came from the state, more than 1,000 in all. Some 80 of those came from a single family, the DeWolfs of Bristol, RI.

Continue reading