Monday, February 20, 2012

Rowland & Hoffius (eds.): "THE CIVIL WAR IN SOUTH CAROLINA: Selections from the South Carolina Historical Magazine"

[ The Civil War in South Carolina: Selections from the South Carolina Historical Magazine edited by Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen G. Hoffius (Home House Press, 2011). Softcover, illustrations, maps, notes, index. 607 pp. ISBN:9780984558025  $30 ]

South Carolina Historical Magazine is the quarterly publication of the South Carolina Historical Society. While the name has changed, the periodical has been going strong for 112 years. During that time, many Civil War related articles have appeared in its pages. In commemoration of the conflict's Sesquicentennial, editors Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen G. Hoffius have selected 44 of these Civil War pieces (with a few coming from Carologue, the society's more general audience directed magazine) for inclusion in their book The Civil War in South Carolina.

As one might guess coming from such a long lived print entity subject to evolving standards of scholarship, the quality and usefulness of the articles varies, with some chapters extensively annotated and others very little, if at all. The editors have grouped their selections into the following thematic areas:  the secession convention, Fort Sumter, the sea island occupations, the Charleston "siege", Sherman's March, the physical destruction of the war, business, technology, and the homefront. As one can see, the subject matter wanders down many different paths and spans the entire war.  For readers interested in first person accounts, a good proportion of the chapters comprise edited diaries, letters, and memoirs.

A sampling of the best scholarship from the book will reveal the impressive range of the articles.  Ralph Wooster's demographic analysis of the members of the South Carolina secession convention reveals a revolutionary body dominated by wealthy farmers, planters, lawyers, and physicians (over 90% of whom held slaves, with slightly over 61% classified as planters). Not surprisingly, eight articles, a mix of eyewitness accounts and later histories, pertain to Fort Sumter. 

A similar variety applies to the Union occupation of the sea islands.  W. Eric Emerson contributes a nice capsule history of the 1862 Pocotaligo and Coosawhatchie raids, Howard Westwood examines the difficulties and controversies surrounding the recruitment of regiments from the slave population that fled to the protection of the islands, and Kurt Wolf offers an extensive accounting of the experience of Laura Towne, one of many northerners who traveled to the occupied areas to run missionary schools for ex-slaves.  The case of Towne was exceptional in that she stayed through Reconstruction and beyond.

For the "siege", readers are treated to C.A. Bennett's often convincing revisionist portrayal of General Roswell S. Ripley as an unfairly maligned key defender of Charleston.  An interesting article about the life of artist Conrad Wise Chapman, and the historical and aesthetic importance of his painting "The Bombardment of Fort Moultrie, November 16, 1863", is also present. The many articles dealing with small battles, raids and skirmishes (e.g. in no particular order: Honey Hill, Mt. Pleasant, Camden, Cheraw, Crescent Ridge and the Brown, Stoneman, and Potter raids) are mainly limited to the 1864-65 years.  Larry Nelson argues strongly that the town of Cheraw was a critical 1865 Carolinas Campaign military objective that has been wrongly pushed into the historiographical background.  The chapter best highlighting the destructive interaction between Sherman's soldiers and South Carolina civilians is Sarah D. Trapier's narrative of her experience, masterfully edited by Karen Stokes. 

Near the end of the book, C.R. Horres's history of the pair of massive Blakely rifled cannon emplaced on the Charleston waterfront offers fascinating insights on the technological front.  The guns arrived without their manuals, forcing the Confederates to guess at their proper operation.  Unfortunately for the gunners, confusion sown by one of the Blakely's advanced features (a bronze shock absorbing chamber located in the breech), led to incorrect charge loading during testing and disabling of the gun. 

A home front themed article takes a extensive look at the preparation of food in an environment of critical shortages, with an appendix reproducing a Confederate recipe book (called a "receipt book" in period parlance).  The word "Confederate" itself became a derisive adjective, denoting unsatisfactory substitutions for formerly plentiful foods and food recipes.  Finally, while no one hews to the notion of a South uniformly behind the Confederacy, James Otten's account of upper district dissent in South Carolina will surprise many readers. It may remain true that South Carolina was the only Confederate state not to contribute organized white military units to the Union army, CSA formations raised in the region, such as Evans's Brigade, suffered mass desertion relatively early in the war.  Armed bands (perhaps as much as 1,000 in total) of these men operated freely in the upper districts of the state, protecting unionists, abusing Confederates, and actively aiding northern escapees from nearby prison camps.

As one can see, The Civil War in South Carolina contains articles dealing with many of the major modern interests and concerns of academics and non-professionals alike. This highly recommended compilation of previously published essays belongs in the libraries of all individuals and institutions devoted to the study of the Civil War in the Palmetto State.

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