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Confederate Phoenix$

Edmund L. Drago

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780823229376

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823229376.001.0001

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Widows and Orphans

(p.102) 9 Widows and Orphans
Confederate Phoenix

Edmund L. Drago

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the rising number of orphans and widows in South Carolina due to the Civil War. The number of orphans began ballooning by the summer of 1862. The number of widows started to rise equally at the same rate as the number of orphans. There were several citizens who tried to organize associations and institutions to aid widows and orphans. Major cities in South Carolina had orphanages before the war, including the Camden Orphan Society (1776) and the Ladies' Benevolent Society for Orphans and Destitute Children in Columbia (1839).

Keywords:   widows, orphans, South Carolina, Civil War, Sallie Chapin, Camden Orphan Society

Beginning in July 1861, Magnolia Cemetery became an integral part of Confederate folklore. Charleston nearly shut down as growing crowds watched a procession transport the dead soldiers of Bull Run from the train station to St. Paul's Church. The procession culminated in a ceremony at Magnolia, where there is now a Confederate section. Ten years later, on Confederate Memorial Day, six thousand people hailed the return of dozens of South Carolinians who had fallen at Gettysburg. They were reinterred at the cemetery. The Rev. John L. Girardeau passionately urged the gathering: “Afflicted Carolina, rise in thy mourning weeds, and receive thy returning children to their maternal breast.” Widows and other women relatives led private efforts to claim, honor, and rebury their dead.

The funeral of General Micah Jenkins struck a chord with white South Carolinians, especially adolescents. The South Carolina general died in May 1863 at the Battle of the Wilderness. Cadets from the South Carolina Military School (the Arsenal) escorted his body from Columbia to Summerville. Women from the village brought wreaths and flowers. Disabled soldiers participated in the procession. The coffin was draped with a Confederate flag. The beloved general was buried in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery. Born on Edisto Island, he had graduated from the South Carolina Military Academy (The Citadel), and had helped found King's Mountain Military Academy. He had taken seriously the education of the youth of the state and profoundly affected many by his example. Newspapers emphasized that his “young widow and orphaned children were left without their natural protector.”1

Carolina, following a custom that dated back to medieval London, defined an orphan as anyone who had lost one parent. By this definition, the war produced a staggering number of orphans. No one had to tell ordinary Confederates how devastating the loss of a father was. Fragments of a shell at Second Bull Run wounded Hodgin Fant of Chester District in 1862. The twenty-four-year-old soldier lingered for twelve days. His obituary read, “He left a devoted wife, upon whom this affliction falls with crushing power; and little Eddie is an orphan—too young to know his irreparable loss.”2

The number of orphans began ballooning by the summer of 1862. In July a Charleston newspaper, relying on reports from the Orphan House, predicted it (p.103) would have “a large accession to the family, already large from the desolated homes…in the track of war.” To address the issue of educating these orphans throughout the state, reformer Sallie Chapin worked with Richard Yeadon (a lawyer and an editor of the Charleston Courier) to establish the Soldiers' Orphan Education Institute in April 1863. John L. Branch, a friend of the Institute, believed that an endowment of $675,000 would be necessary based on the following logic. In September 1862 South Carolina had 42,973 men in the field, an average of 1,432 per district (the state consisted of thirty districts). One-third of the men (477) were married. Branch estimated that 119 husbands died per district, or 3,570 for the state at large. Since the war might continue, he increased his estimate to 150 dead husbands per district, or 4,500. If each man fathered three children, there would be 13,500 orphans needing the aid of the Institute. The estimated number of orphans per district was made before the trench warfare of 1864. Even with victories came “the wail of the widow and the orphan.”3

Baptist minister Basil Manly Jr. was another citizen deeply concerned about the orphans. He had dedicated much of his life to children and their families. His Little Lessons for Little People (issued in 1864) was used by South Carolina schoolchildren. In September 1864, Manly estimated that 525 families (2,120) persons in Abbeville District and 825 families (2,700 persons) in Anderson District needed support. Of these 1,350 families, “about 4,000 persons resided within the limits of the Saluda Baptist Association.” Twenty-eight hundred were under twelve years old. Six hundred were orphans; a third of them were of school age. Manly predicted the children would swell the ranks of illiterate adults. He concluded they “might as well have been born before reading was invented.” In 1866 Freedmen Bureau's officials offered similar estimates. One agent believed there were four hundred soldiers' widows in Greenville District and six hundred in Pickens. He could only imagine the number of orphans. The Survivors' Association of the State of South Carolina met in Charleston in 1869. The group professed that they must help many widows and orphans “left for destitute by the death of their husbands and fathers during the war.”4

In both cases, widows with orphans, or orphans without parents, were mostly absorbed by their extended families. Women's kinship ties were crucial; grandmothers filled in as surrogates when necessary. Alfred Doby had been particularly solicitous of his daughter because he had been an orphan himself. His widow had the support of the extended family in raising their daughter. Ten years after the war, Elise's grandmother showed her the room where her Papa was born. Some orphans resided with elderly widows who were heads of households. Even those widows with extended kinship networks struggled; households became pressure cookers. Take the case of Lucy Williams of Union (p.104) District. The household of this seventy-six-year-old widow certainly had the makings of an extended family by anyone's estimate. She was the mother and grandmother of 140 children. The elderly widow had several of her grandchildren as well as their widowed mothers living with her. The matriarch had four sons and many grandsons in the service; she wanted her youngest son, W. F. M. Williams, discharged from the Fifth South Carolina Regiment to help her “needy family.”5

Generous farmers did what they could to help. Colonel Ellerbe Bogan Cash, a general in the state militia, provided needy families with thousands of bushels of corn and other produce. He sold it in Confederate currency at antebellum prices. After the war, he cancelled all notes, claims, and mortgages he held on estates of soldiers. He gave $5,000 to one widow with a small family whose father had been killed in his regiment. Despite such aid, the unscrupulous, preying on widows, bought up their lands during the war in depreciated Confederate currency. After the war, white as well as black children were apprenticed.6

Other concerned citizens tried to organize associations and institutions to aid widows and orphans. Sallie Chapin was uniquely qualified for such work. She came from evangelical Methodists who had an abiding commitment to assist the poor. Sallie was born around 1830 in Charleston. Her father was a Methodist minister whose parents had come from Ulster. Her mother hailed from Rhode Island Huguenot ancestry. Their daughter was educated at Cokes-bury Academy in Abbeville District. In 1847 she married Leonard Chapin, a businessman and philanthropist from Massachusetts. He helped establish the Charleston branch of the Young Men's Christian Association. Both husband and wife had a strong sense of noblesse oblige. Sallie was active in the Sunday School Movement and served as president of the Soldiers' Relief Society in Charleston. The concern she felt for orphans was heightened by the fact that the couple had adopted her brother's daughter when his wife died. Her husband, a member of the Fifth South Carolina Cavalry, was wounded in October 1864; this just highlighted to her the gravity of the crisis posed by war widows and orphans. Fitz-Hugh St. Clair, the hero of her children's novel, was orphaned during the war.7

Major cities in South Carolina had orphanages before the war, including the Camden Orphan Society (1776) and the Ladies' Benevolent Society for Orphans and Destitute Children in Columbia (1839). Charleston's Orphan House (1790) was the first municipal orphanage organized in the United States. Some were religiously affiliated. Charleston had the Hebrew Orphan Society (1850) and the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. Unfortunately, the Sisters of Mercy house was destroyed in 1862, forcing the nuns to move out “with their little flock of (p.105) orphan children.” By 1869 their new house had sixty-eight children, male and female. These long-established orphanages had difficulty coping with the exigencies of war. The Columbia Ladies' Benevolent Society was hard put to manage the crisis. It was designed for girls, aged one to ten. In September 1864 it had a list of about twelve children. The society's constitution was amended to take in boys, but in October 1865 it had to close its doors because of the “utter inability of the ladies to meet the wants of the Orphan House.”8

The Charleston Orphan House was not established to deal with the flood of orphans. The war did not radically change the way the institution functioned until 1863 when the children were required to leave the city for their safety. Discipline was pervasive. Violations such as disrespect could lead to expulsion. Some of the children were rebellious, oblivious to the benevolence proffered them. In 1862 a twelve-year-old boy attempted to burn down the Orphan House. Banished from Charleston, the culprit was placed aboard a ship bound for other ports. Two other accomplices were locked in a closet for ten days and subsisted on only bread and water.9

Between April 12, 1861, and December 31, 1876, approximately 588 children were admitted to the Charleston Orphan House. Of them, 106 came during the war (1861–65), while 232 entered right after the war (1866–68) and the remaining 250 came from 1869 to 1876. Of the total admitted from 1861 to 1876, fifty-five appeared to have had a male parent in the war and were almost evenly divided by gender; only seven were admitted during the war. These fifty-five were between the ages of one and twelve, most between four and nine. Twenty-three were sent back to their mothers; twelve were indentured. Most orphans managed to survive their ordeal. Catherine Reilly Brown's two children, James and Michael, were admitted in 1866. Their father James Reilly, a Roman Catholic, had volunteered in June 1861 with a company raised by Captain Edward McCrady. Reilly died from wounds at Antietam. The children were eventually sent to live with their stepfather.10

Some Northern soldiers abandoned their Southern-born offspring. William Zehe sent his niece, Annie, to the Charleston Orphan House in 1870. The girl was born in 1864 in Gillisonville, South Carolina. The unnamed mother had married a German. When he absconded with all she had, she soon died, leaving three children including Annie. Similarly, Ann Elmore, a Confederate widow, married a Yankee shortly after the city was evacuated. When his unit was ordered home, she followed him to New York, where she discovered he already had a wife. Ann's son, three-year-old Michael Joseph, was accepted into the city orphanage on February 7, 1867. The distraught mother was to be confined to a hospital. In 1878 the child was returned to her.11

(p.106) Only forty-seven of the Charleston Orphan House children were admitted with their mother's name given. Only twelve applications listed a father's name. Susan Boyd's husband had “died in the army in Virginia.” Their two children, Andrew, age six, and Caroline, age ten, were admitted in 1866. Caroline returned to her mother on February 2, 1871, while Andrew was indentured to Thomas Holloway in August 1876. Mildred Ballantine's girls, Frances, age nine, and Susan, eight, were both admitted on June 28, 1867. Their father was described as “a Confederate soldier killed during the war.” They had been living at No. 681 King Street. The younger girl was “a cripple.” The two were returned to their mother in 1874.12

Mrs. Ballantine's children were Baptists, but most of the children came from the Catholic poor. For example, the Cross family were Roman Catholics. They lived at No. 216 Meeting Street. Catherine Cross was born in Ireland. Her husband Robert had served in the army and had been captured twice. He had spent considerable time in prison at Fort Delaware and Fort Lafayette. In 1867, just sixteen months after returning home, he died from war-related injuries. Their children, Josephine, age five, and the twins, Lilla and William, age eight, were admitted on February 16, 1871.13

New associations sprang up but were not equipped to help substantially the poorest families. May Anne Buie began her work with wounded soldiers during the war. With the help of Governor James L. Orr and Wade Hampton, she began raising funds to educate the orphans of Confederate soldiers. She succeeded in establishing an institute, named after her, in Edgefield. She later moved the institute to Whiteville. Former Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was her main financial backer. In 1867 the Episcopal minister A. Toomer Porter established a home school in Charleston for needy white orphan boys. It was later called Porter Military Academy. One of the most successful endeavors was the work of black Baptist minister Daniel J. Jenkins, who established an orphanage and industrial school in Charleston to cope with the ballooning number of destitute black orphans.14

Just a year after the war, Amarinthia Snowden and her sister mortgaged the only real asset they had, their own home, to open up the Home for Mothers, Widows, and Daughters in Charleston. Its initial charter applied to relatives of deceased soldiers, but its literature stressed the need to preserve the elite families and the best of prewar Southern culture. Soon “deceased” was dropped from the constitution. In 1868, fifty-eight students, mothers, and widows were living in the house. An increasing student population encouraged Snowden to open up a school for the girls. The Confederate Home College came to be located on Broad Street. The tuition remained $100 per student between 1867 (p.107) and 1884. The attendance rose from thirteen in the school year 1867–1868 to 118 in 1909–1910.15

The Catholics solicited aid from the North. In 1866 a Charleston newspaper reported that “The Ladies' Fair for Destitute Children of Charleston” was held in New York “for the benefit of the school, poor, and orphans of the S.C. under Bishop Lynch.” Poverty had always existed in Charleston, but aid for the poor was not extensive. In January 1862, Maria Walsh, unable to care for her infant child, left the baby at the corner of Wentworth and Rutledge streets. Charleston police arrested the poor woman. That year fifteen hundred people had to receive help from public and private sources to survive. In the last four months of 1864 and the first month and a half of 1865, thirty-six people were accepted in the Charleston Alms House. Nearly four hundred sought outdoor relief. For the year 1866 the number admitted to the Alms House rose to 211. Fifty-nine of these were foreign born; most of them came from Ireland. In 1867 the City Council tried to make a distinction between the respectable and the undeserving poor. The latter went to the city poor house, basically a “house of correction.” Crime had compelled the city to open the old workhouse. Designed to morally benefit the inmates and help the city, the workhouse demanded strenuous labor. Those who did not measure up were given only bread and water. It was the place of last resort for women who had no other place to turn for help. By 1869 there were ten blacks (two women and eight children) in the Alms House. Whites numbered one hundred. How many poor were without aid is impossible to determine.16

The rhetoric of those involved in benevolent work was heartrending, but it obscured a basic truth. Many families and orphans survived by the dint of their own efforts. State aid was slow in coming for those who suffered during and after the war. It was not until 1923 that South Carolina offered pensions to Con-federate veterans and their widows. The turmoil caused by the Civil War would continue to play itself out during Reconstruction. Children, not as fragile as Victorian America assumed, were involved in that struggle.17


(1.) Yorkville Enquirer, May 11, 1864. On May 25, 1864 the newspaper reprinted an item on Jenkins from the Charleston Daily Courier. See Seigler, Guide to Confederate Monuments, 111, 120, 133, 159; Faust, Republic of Suffering, 154, 238, 242–243; Ladies Memorial Association, Confederate Memorial Day at Charleston, S.C.: Reinterment of the Carolina Dead from Gettysburg (Charleston, S.C.: William G. Maczyck, 1871), 1, 7.

(2.) Confederate Baptist, Columbia, May 6, 1863.

(3.) Charleston Daily Courier, July 12, 1862; April 29, 1863; May 8, 1863; Yorkville Enquirer, May 27, 1863; Towles, A World Turned Upside Down, 1023; Harris Journals, May 13, 1864.

(4.) Confederate Baptist, Columbia, June 3, 1863, September 14, 1864; Snowden, South Carolina School Books, 14–15; De Forest, A Union Officer in the Reconstruction, xxix–xxx; Proceedings of the First and Second Annual Meetings of the Survivors' Association of the State of South Carolina and Oration of General John S. Preston, Delivered before the Association, November 10th, 1870 (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans and Cogswell, 1870), 3–10.

(5.) Elise Doby to her mother (Mrs. Alfred Doby), December 6, 1867, Means-English-Doby Families Papers; CSW, Reel No. 77, W-367–1862.

(6.) Dickert, History of Kershaw's Brigade, 103; Chapin, Fitz-Hugh St. Clair, 100–101; circular, dated October 4, 1865, in Yorkville Enquirer, October 19, 1865. After the war, the Freedmen's Bureau allowed the apprenticing of black children under state laws as long as there was no distinction based on race. There has been no comprehensive study of white apprenticeship in South Carolina after the war.

(7.) Ruth Bordin, “Chapin, Sarah Flournoy,” in John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4:696–697; Anne King Gregorie, “Chapin, Sarah Flournoy,” in Edward T. James, ed., Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), 1:231–232.

(8.) Camden Orphan Society Records, SCL; Ladies' Benevolent Society for Orphan and Destitute Children, Columbia, Treasurer's Book, 1839–1936, and other collections filed under this nomenclature, SCL; King, Charleston Orphan House, 1860–1899, 1–5; Hebrew Orphan Society, Charleston, Records, SCL; Charleston Daily Courier, February 3, 1862; W. Martin Hope and Jason H. Silverman, Relief and Recovery in Post–Civil War South Carolina: A Death by Inches (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellon Press, 1997), 112.

(9.) Susan L. King, “Children of the City: The First One Hundred Years of the Charleston Orphan House,” MS, ca. November 2005, copy in author's possession, 14–15; Barbara L. Bellows, Benevolence Among Slaveholders: Assisting the Poor in Charleston, 1670–1840 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), chapter 5.

(10.) King, Charleston Orphan House, 1860–1899, 95. King's book offers an alphabetical list of the names of the orphans and brief summaries of their cases. I base my statistics on these data. The examples are from the same source. See King's excellent introduction.

(11.) Ibid., 127, 140.

(12.) Ibid., 10–11, 16.

(13.) Ibid., 10–11, 32–33.

(14.) Hope and Silverman, Relief and Recovery, 115–116, 119; Porter, Led On, chapter 26; Drago, Initiative, Paternalism, and Race Relations, 75. In 1891 Jenkins approached the city council for help in housing his orphans. Two years later the orphanage opened on Franklin Street.

(15.) Blanton, “The Life of Mary Amarinthia Snowden,” 37: 7–11; Confederate College, Charleston, table of statistics, and postcard of Confederate College, SCL.

(16.) Charleston Daily Courier, April 16, 1866; Charleston Police Records, December 1861–March 1863, entry January 10, 1862, CLS; Bellows, Benevolence Among Slaveholders, chapter 3. This summary is based on Hope and Silverman, Relief and Recovery, 259–263.

(17.) South Carolina General Assembly, An Act to Provide a Pension Fund for Confederate Veterans and Their Widows and to provide the Distribution thereof: An Act to provide for Pensions for Certain Faithful Negroes who were Engaged in the Service for the State in the War between the States (Columbia: South Carolina General Assembly, 1923).