Introduction, South Carolina Women in the Confederacy

It is confidently expected that this book will furnish abundant material not only for the poet and novelist who would forcibly portray “the strength and beauty of woman’s devotion,” but for the statistician and political economist who seeks to explain how the armies of the Confederate States could for over four years win many victories and hold Richmond and Charleston against tremendous odds on land and sea, the Northern ports all the time drawing freely upon Europe for men and supplies.

The Commissary and Quartermaster Departments of the new government, the first year of the war, were unable to clothe and feed the armies of the South, and probably the majority of the soldiers had not the means to furnish their own uniforms. When the commissaries and quartermasters had organized their departments in 1862, 1863 and 1864, the supplies of food, clothing, and medicine scarcely ever equaled the demand, and during the last year of the war cracked corn was the chief support of many a starving regiment. It may be questioned if the war could have been prolonged for four years but for the constant and untiring aid of the women of the South.

An officer, closely identified with South Carolinians, who doffed the garb of a minister of God to wear the Confederate uniform, describes the work of the women of the South in terms which, in the minutest detail, will be amply verified by letters and reports in this book. He says: “Houses were stripped of their blankets and carpets that the shivering soldier might be protected against the winter’s cold. Delicately nurtured women, unaccustomed to labor, toiled the livelong day for the soldier. The morning dawn lighted them to their labors, and the midnight lamp witnessed their close. The factories being inadequate to the emergency, the handloom was made to supply the deficiency. The spinning wheel again uttered its once familiar music as it was turned by hands accustomed only to the instruments of the drawing room. Fairy fingers, used alone to toy with delicate embroidery, boldly seized and made the coarse garment of the soldier. The ordinary pursuits of life were interrupted and ordinary associations ceased.”

No “Sanitary” or “Christian Commission,” heavily endowed by leading capitalists or government funds, brought nourishing food and medicine to the wounded or fever stricken Confederate. South of the Potomac, it was the mission of woman to attempt, and in hundreds of thousands of cases to successfully perform, this self imposed and unprecedented task.

There can be no question of the need for such a work as this, in justice to those who are gone, and that those who come after us may rightly estimate the character and services of the womanhood of South Carolina during 186165; but a brief account of the origin of this book may be of interest. Mrs. Thomas Taylor, as early as 1896, had urged upon Wade Hampton Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy, of Columbia, the importance of collecting the photographs and records of women who had been active in Confederate work during the war, and, assisted by zealous coworkers, gathered valuable data regarding the establishment of Wayside Homes at the State Capital.

At the Convention of the State Division, held in Abbeville in 1897, on motion of Mrs. Augustine T. Smythe, a committee was appointed “to collect statistics of Woman’s Work in the War.” Mrs. Smythe was appointed chairman and, with two other members of the committee, Mrs. W. W. Williams, of Greenville, and Mrs. James Evans, of Florence, immediately began the work. These ladies diligently and persistently sought throughout the State for records, and invited reports from those who had taken active part in soldiers’ relief work. The section of this book relating to Hospital and Soldiers’ Relief Societies is proof of the assiduity and rare judgment of Mrs. Smythe and her associates, and a cursory perusal of their report is sufficient to prove its value to the future historian.

At the Convention in Greenville, in 1899, Mrs. Thomas Taylor was elected President of the South Carolina Division. By resolution, offered by Miss Bythewood, of Greenville, a State Division historical committee was created “to collect historical material with reference to publishing the same” Miss M. B. Poppenheim Chairman. During the years 1900, 1901, and 1902, Mrs. Taylor gave close attention to this enterprise, believing that the invaluable services of the women as a factor in the war should be demonstrated as a part of the power of the commonwealth. The subject was kept before the Chapters, and in each Annual Convention was presented in the President’s address as an important consideration.

At the Convention held in Sumter, Mrs. Taylor, the retiring President, recommended the appointment of “a committee, who should petition the Legislature to appropriate a sufficient sum of money to enable the Daughters of the Confederacy to publish the records of the South Carolina women, these records being necessary for the presentation of a complete history of the war.” Mrs. James Conner, the President, appointed Mrs. Thomas Taylor as Chairman of such committee, with power to act. Circumstances making it impracticable to call together the representatives of the Chapters, Mrs. Taylor, accompanied by Mrs. J. W. Flinn, in January, 1902, appeared before the joint committee of the two chambers and, with the hearty cooperation of Senator J. Q. Marshall, of Richland, successfully proved to the satisfaction of the committee that the House and Senate, “in the State’s interest, might consider the question whether it were worth the expenditure of the State’s money to enable the association of her daughters to put into the country’s history the story of her womanhood as it was displayed in the war.” The committee agreed to recommend, and the Legislature subsequently confirmed, the appropriation of $500 for the purchase of 300 copies, which should be distributed to schools and institutions.

The editing committee appointed by the President, Mrs. James Conner, in 1902, consisted of Mrs. Thomas Taylor, Chairman; Miss M. B. Poppenheim, Mrs. August Kohn, Miss M. B. Washington, and Mrs. A. T. Smythe, and to the excellent editorial judgment and unremitting labors of this committee, and that appointed under Mrs. Smythe’s resolution in 1898, the merit and value of this work are due.

The committee is indebted to Mr. A. E. Gonzales, of The State, who has offered every facility, advantage and aid at his command, and to Mr. August Kohn, of The News and Courier, whose judgment and advice have been of material assistance.

Holding in lifelong recollection the constancy and devotion of those “South Carolina Women in the Confederacy” who are dead, the writer of this introduction would say to each and every survivor of that noble band:

Forgive this feeble script which doth thee wrong,
Measuring with little wit thy lofty love.

Yates Snowden

South Carolina Women in the Confederacy. Edited and Published By Mrs. Thomas Taylor, Chairman, Mrs. Smythe, Mrs. August Kohn, Miss Poppenheim, Miss Martha B. Washington, State Committee Daughters of the Confederacy. Columbia, South Carolina, The State Company, 1903.

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