Book review

South Carolina in the Civil War: The Confederate Experience in Letters and Diaries.

Edited by J. Edward Lee and Ron Chepesluk

 

(184 pages, Jefferson NC and London: McFarland).

 

Review by: Allan Paterson Milne

 

"South Carolina," as one local unionist put it "is too small for a nation and too large for a lunatic asylum". That just about sums up the state's reputation as a hotbed of fanatical, almost deranged secessionists. Sherman's men certainly saw it that way. Having wreaked merciless mayhem as they marched through, they made an ostentatious point of behaving themselves when they crossed the state line into North Carolina.


But is this view justified? This collection of original source material from the Winthrop University archives suggests not. Here is a cross section of ordinary South Carolinians who speak to us. Of course they are Confederate patriots. Of course they want the South to win. Some of them even own slaves. But these, are not the voices of the arrogant slavelords; nobody cites John C. Calhoun. In fact, these South Carolinians seem no different from other Confederates in their concerns.

 

Inevitably the material published here varies in value. Diaries and letters written at the time, for example, are usually to be preferred over recollections set down afterwards.

 

The real gem is the diary of 34-year-old Emily Harris, left to manage a 500-acre farm and 10 slaves plus seven children of her own, when her husband marches off to war. She struggles to cope, but as the shadows lengthen for the Confederacy, she finds it ever harder to go on. "The dark days have surely come," she notes in November 1864. "The Confederacy! I almost hate the word."

 

Her main refuge is her oft-expressed belief that everything which befalls her and her family, must be according to God's will. That thought will have enabled her and many other Southerners to endure sorrow and defeat.

 

APM