Monday, March 28, 2011

TODAY IN HISTORY, 1818: Wade Hampton born in Charleston

Hampton was born in Charleston, SC and grew up in one of the wealthy families in the South, receiving private instruction. When his father died in 1858 his son inherited a vast fortune, the plantations, and one of the largest collections of slaves in the South.

Although his views were conservative concerning the issues of secession and slavery, and he had opposed the division of the Union as a legislator, at the start of the Civil War, Hampton was loyal to his home state. He resigned from the Senate and enlisted as a private in the South Carolina Militia; however, the governor of South Carolina insisted that Hampton accept a colonel's commission, even though he had no military experience at all. Hampton organized and partially financed the unit known as "Hampton's Legion", which consisted of six companies of infantry, four companies of cavalry, and one battery of artillery. He personally financed all of the weapons for the Legion.

Despite his lack of military experience and his relatively advanced age of 42, Hampton was a natural cavalryman—brave, audacious, and a superb horseman. He was one of only two officers without previous military experience (the other being Nathan Bedford Forrest) to achieve the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate service. On May 23, 1862, Hampton was promoted to brigadier general while commanding a brigade in Stonewall Jackson's division in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Post War, Hampton was offered the nomination for governor in 1865, but refused because he felt that those in the North would be suspicious of a former Confederate general seeking political office only months after the end of the Civil War. However, he did become a leading fighter against Radical Republican Reconstruction policies in the South, and re-entered South Carolina politics in 1876 as the first southern gubernatorial candidate to run on a platform in opposition to Reconstruction. Hampton, a Democrat, ran against Radical Republican incumbent governor Daniel Chamberlain in Charleston. Supporters of Hampton were called the Red Shirts and were known to practice violence. Due to their crude reputation and hopes of alleviating Union suspicion, Hampton used Grace Piexotto's "The Big Brick House", a prominent brothel located at 11 Fulton Street, to assure complete privacy for the Red Shirts' meeting ground, which was mainly served as campaign headquarters.

The 1876 South Carolina gubernatorial election was one of the bloodiest (and closest) in the history of the state. Both parties claimed victory. For over six months, there were two legislatures in the state, both claiming to be authentic. Eventually, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Hampton was the winner of the election. President Rutherford B. Hayes stated that "the whole Army of the United States would be inadequate to enforce the authority of Gov. Chamberlain." Hayes then ordered the evacuation of Federal troops in South Carolina. Thus the election of the first Democrat in South Carolina since the end of the Civil War signified the end of Reconstruction in the South.

In 1890, Hampton's niece Caroline, an operating room nurse, married the father of American surgery, William Halsted. It was because of her skin reaction to surgical sterilization chemicals that Halsted invented the surgical glove the previous year.

Hampton died in Columbia in 1902 and is buried there in Trinity Cathedral Churchyard.

Statue of Wade Hampton at South Carolina State House

In Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone With The Wind, Scarlet O'Hara's first husband, Charles Hamilton, served in Hampton's regiment, dying of measles only seven weeks later. As it was fashionable (according to Mitchell) to name baby boys after their fathers' commanding officers, Scarlett's son by Charles is therefore named Wade Hampton Hamilton.

In the North and South trilogy by John Jakes, the character Charles Main serves with Hampton's cavalry throughout the Civil War.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Today In History: May 26, 1776: South Carolina Declares Its Independence.

The Provincial Congress of South Carolina approved a new constitution and government on this day in 1776. The legislature renamed itself the General Assembly of South Carolina and elected John Rutledge as president, Henry Laurens as vice president and William Henry Drayton as chief justice.
John Rutledge
South Carolina took this action towards independence from Great Britain four months before the Continental Congress declared independence and five months before South Carolina learned of the declaration. Rutledge possessed quasi-dictatorial powers as president and commander in chief of the new state. In 1778, he resigned the post in protest over proposed changes to the state constitution. Rawlins Lowndes took over the presidency and instituted the changes Rutledge found objectionable. The executive power changed from a presidency to a governorship and veto power was taken away from the executive. The Senate became a popularly elected body, and the Church of England no longer held status as the state church. However, after the changes had been made, Rutledge was elected governor in 1779, a post he held until 1782.
William Henry Drayton
William Henry Drayton drafted the 1778 constitution that was opposed by Rutledge. The ardent Whig died while serving Congress in Philadelphia on September 3, 1779, at age 37. Rutledge lost much of his personal wealth during the British siege of Charleston, but survived to see the new century dawn before his death in 1800.
Laurens marker @ The Tower of London
Henry Laurens only served as vice president of South Carolina until June 1777. He was elected to the Continental Congress in January of that year and became the president of Congress under the Articles of Confederation on November 1, 1777, a position he held until December 9, 1778. Beginning in 1780, Laurens served 15 months of imprisonment in the Tower of London after being taken captive on a Congressional mission to Holland. He was the first American to be imprisoned in the Tower.
Tower of London
He spent the last years of his life in retirement on his plantation, where he lived until his death in 1792.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy 100th Frank Gilbreth, Jr.


On this St. Patrick's Day, everyone in Charleston should take a moment to remember one this city's most beloved adopted citizens, Frank Gilbreth, Jr. Gilbreth was born on March 17, 1911 and died in Charleston in 2001. He had a successful career as an author and newspaper executive but for more than 40 years he was more well known to Charleston readers of the Post and Courier as Lord Ashley Cooper, the author of the most popular column in Charleston history, "Doing the Charleston." During the 1960s-90s when most Charlestonians would open the paper often the first thing they turned to was not the funny papers, or the sports page ... it was Lord Ashley Cooper.

Before he became a Charleston icon, Gilbreth authored a family memoir with his sister Elizabeth Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen. The book is an American humor classic, and still one of the funniest books I have ever read. It details their life growing up as two of 12 children of "motion and efficiency expert" Frank Gilbreth. Frank, Sr preferred a large family because he claimed that children were "cheaper by the dozen." More than 60 years after its publication, the book is still in print. The Charleston County library system has several copies available.

The book was turned into a classic 1950 movie starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. If you have never seen it, please put it on your NetFlix list. (Forget the more recent Steve Martin / Bonnie Hunt films of the same title. The title is all they share with the original.)

"Doing the Charleston" was Gilbreth's long-running column under the Lord Ashley moniker. Readers provided much of the content with their contributions, usually humorous, about the local scene. As such it was a repository of local lore, custom and history, often irreverent.

Some of the best Lord Ashley Cooper quips:

  • "In aristocratic Charleston, money won't buy you friends, but it can make you a more socially acceptable bunch of enemies."
  • "It takes a Charleston gentleman of the old school to make his company feel at home when he wishes that's where they were."

The centennial of his birth seems to be a good time to reflect on the wit and wisdom of an adopted Charleston curmudgeon.

Monday, March 7, 2011


THE GIVEN DAY / Dennis Lehane **** Outstanding historical fiction, dealing with the Boston Police strike, WWI, and the Spanish flue epidemic.

THE SUMMONS / John Grisham * Awful. Poor plotting, zero character development. Avoid at all costs!

THE DUMBEST GENERATION / Mark Bauerlein *** So-so book about how modern technology is NOT making future generations most educated or informed.

THE CLINIC / Jonathon Kellerman *** Good, not great, Alex Delaware novel.

LIES THE GOVERNMENT TOLD YOU / Andrew Napolitano ** V-e-r-y dry book about ways in which the federal govt. has over reached it's authority. Nothing I didn't already know. Disappointing.

THE HUNT CLUB / John Lescroart **** Very good P.I./legal/police thriller.

EMPIRE OF ILLUSION: THE END OF LITERACY AND THE TRIUMPH OF SPECTACLE / Chris Hedges **** Often brilliant examination of how American culture has deteriorated by several colluding factors.

OLD CITY HALL / Robert Rotenberg **** Outstanding crime novel!

CHINABERRY SIDEWALKS / Rodney Crowell *** Good but overly-folksy memoir of the early life of one of America's greatest songwriters. As much as I love Crowell and his music, this book was slow-going in some sections. Here's hoping Crowell will, at some time, write a memoir of his creative life, writing and recording some of the greatest song of the past 30 years.

THE LOST GATE / Orson Scott Card *** Excellent modern day fantasy. Docked at least one star because the middle 1/3 is s-l-o-w going. Card is a writer always worth the time and effort, but here's hoping Vol. 2 of this trilogy picks up steam.

TREASURE HUNT / John Lecroart *** Decent sequel to The Hunt Club.

FAB: AN INTIMATE LIFE OF PAUL MCCARTNEY / Howard Sounes *** Pretty good bio of Sir Paul. Learned a few tidbits I didn't know. Biggest drawback: book was published in a font that made it difficult to read. The publisher should know better.

PAINTED LADIES / Robert B. Parker ** Another painful Spenser novel. And you wonder why I keep reading these books? Well, the first 15 Spenser books were brilliant, but the next 20 have been scattershot. Since Parker died last year, I decided I should go ahead and read every Spenser book, no matter how bad. Again, the scenes with Susan Silverman (the most annoying character ever invented) are painful. Reading those scenes is like being hooked up to The Machine from The Princess Bride.

HELL'S BAY / James Hall **** Excellent Florida-based crime novel featuring Thorn.

THE SUSPECT / John Lescroart *** Lescroart's crime books are fairly lightweight, but they are well-written and peopled with great characters.

THE TRILLION DOLLAR CONSPIRACY / Jim Marrs *** Another well-researched book of behind-the-scenes history by Marrs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TODAY IN HISTORY, 1861: Beauregard Takes Command of Charleston

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard became the first Confederate general officer, appointed a brigadier general in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States on March 1, 1861. Two days later, March 3, Beauregard arrived in Charleston and inspected the city's defenses with Gov. Andrew Pickens and found them "in disarray." Beauregard's main job was to secure Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor, which was manned by the 1st U.S. Artillery regiment commanded by Major Robert Anderson. Ironically, Major Anderson had been Beauregard's artillery instructor at West Point; the two had become close friends, and Beauregard had become Anderson's assistant after graduation

Beauregard sent several cases of fine brandy and whiskey and boxes of cigars to Anderson and his officers at Ft. Sumter. Anderson ordered that the gifts be returned. By April the Union troops had positioned 60 guns, but they had insufficient men to operate them all. Of the three levels of fort, the second tier of casemated gun positions was unoccupied.

Beauregard made repeated demands that the Union force either surrender or withdraw and took steps to ensure that no supplies from the city were available to the defenders, whose food was running low. A trained military engineer, he built-up overwhelming strength to challenge Fort Sumter.
  • Fort Moultrie had three 8-inch Columbiads. two 8-inch howitzers, five 32-pound smoothbores, and four 24-pounders. Outside of Moultrie were five 10-inch mortars, two 32-pounders, two 24-pounders, and a 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore.
  • The floating battery next to Fort Moultrie had two 42-pounders and two 32-pounders on a raft protected by iron shielding.
  • Fort Johnson on James Island had one 24-pounder and four 10-inch mortars.
  • At Cummings Point on Morris Island were stationed seven 10-inch mortars, two 42-pounders, an English Blakely rifled cannon, and three 8-inch Columbiads, the latter in the so-called Iron Battery, protected by a wooden shield faced with iron bars.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, Lt. Henry S. Farley, acting upon the command of Capt. George S. James, fired a single 10-inch mortar round from Fort Johnson. The shell exploded over Fort Sumter as a signal to open the general bombardment from 43 guns and mortars at Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the floating battery, and Cummings Point. Under orders from Beauregard, the guns fired in a counterclockwise sequence around the harbor, with 2 minutes between each shot; Beauregard wanted to conserve ammunition, which he calculated would last for only 48 hours.

The Union garrison surrendered the fort to Confederate personnel at 2:30 p.m., April 14. No one from either side was killed during the bombardment.

Beauregard became the Confederacy's first national hero for his resounding victory of the Union troops. He was called to Richmond and on July 21, 1861, he was also victorious at the Bull's Run (First Manassas.) After that battle he advocated the use of a new battle flag, he had designed, the famous "Stars and Bars." It became the most famous flag of the South.