Report of the Work of the Women of South Carolina During the Confederate War

At the Annual Convention of the South Carolina Division, Daughters of the Confederacy held in Abbeville in December, 1898, a committee was appointed to collect statistics and facts in regard to the work of the women of this State during the Confederate War.

This committee consisted of the following members:

Mrs. Augustine T. Smythe, Charleston.
Mrs. James Evans, Florence.
Mrs. W. W. Williams, Greenville.

It was intended that the report of the committee should embrace the work done by the women at their homes, whether in towns or on plantations, in soldiers’ relief associations and in hospitals.

Their report is now presented to you, and is necessarily very incomplete and unsatisfactory in many ways. This incompleteness comes from no want of effort on the part of the committee, as they have done everything in their power, by correspondence and otherwise, to elicit the desired information. Many of their letters were never answered, but such answers as were received were valuable and interesting.

As before reported, it has been impossible to find files or even many stray numbers of newspapers published during the war, except the Charleston Mercury and the Charleston Courier, of which complete files are kept in the Library of that city.

Because of this, our information as regards the lower districts is fuller. In fact, a complete history of the relief associations of Charleston could be had, but much has been omitted.

Mrs. Augustine T. Smythe.
Mrs. James Evans.
Mrs. W. W. Williams.

The State of South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, i860. In the Charleston Mercury of January 3, 1861, we see the following:

Charleston Mercury, January 3, 1861.
“The Surgeon-General respectfully and gratefully acknowledges the patriotic response of the ladies to the suggestion to supply bandages. They are rapidly coming in. They should be two and one-half and three inches wide, and six yards long. The ladies of Colonel Jacobs’ family have the honor of having made the first contribution.”

One of the “ladies of Colonel Jacobs’ family” is Mrs. Philip Wineman, of Charleston, who remembers well the making of those bandages.

While no time was lost in making preparations, the following editorial shows how little the terrible events and necessities of the coming days were generally realized:

Charleston Mercury, January 3, 1861.
“The Brave and the Fair”

“We suppose that everybody knows by this time that all the good ladies of Charleston are busy preparing creature comforts for the gallant men who are keeping watch and ward on the ramparts and breastworks which defend our city.

“We might enumerate a host of good things which we have been the happy instruments of transmitting to worthy recipients, good things of every imaginable kind, from mattresses to lint. For the last named articles we hope that our volunteers may have no special use, unless it be to stuff the mattresses.”

That some hearts were less confident, and felt the need of help and support, is shown by a gentle suggestion from a “devoted daughter of South Carolina” (Mercury, January 4th) of daily prayer meetings. So it is seen that the women began early with prayers and work that were never to cease for four long, weary years.

Charleston Mercury, January 5, 186
A day later we read that:

“The Columbia ladies are receiving contributions for the purpose of aiding in furnishing members of the rifle company with such articles of uniform and equipment as may be necessary, at short notice. Several ladies have agreed to make up the uniforms, and are now engaged in the patriotic work. All honor to the ladies of Columbia.”

The ladies of Savannah had already made sacks to be filled with straw, and sent to the forts for beds.

The Quartermaster-General, L. M. Hatch, acknowledges many articles for his department; among others, bed sacks from Miss Toye, and a Palmetto flag for Fort Morris, from the ladies of Mr. Hugh E. Vincent’s family.

Charleston Mercury, January 8, 1861
Surgeon-General Gibbes tenders his thanks for a contribution to his department from “an old lady born the day Charleston was surrendered to the British, May 12th, 1780.”

Charleston Mercury, January 9, 1861
F. F. Warley, of the Darlington Guards, thanks “three ladies” for an “appreciated gift” to that company, then on Sullivan’s Island.

New Orleans Delta, January 14, 1861
The Mercury copies the following extract from a letter of the aged widow of Gen. Nathaniel Green to one of her descendants in New Orleans:

“Rather than hear that Fort Moultrie was taken from South Carolina, I would have myself dragged there, and sit on the parapet till the last gun was fired.”

Charleston Mercury, January 16, 1861
Another woman writes of herself as “a poor, weak woman who can do nothing for her country unless to nurse the sick and wounded, which I would do to the best of my ability. * * * My boys are healthy, strong fellows. I wish they were old enough to do duty.”

Charleston Mercury, January 18, 1861
Surgeon-General Gibbes thanks a lady of Charleston for two dozen undershirts for the Richland Rifle Company.

Charleston Mercury, January 18, 1861
Some women ingeniously turned their minds at once to the home manufacture of articles for ladies’ dress, as for instance Miss Nixon advertises homemade furs, “a variety of articles of excellent quality.”

About this time, the natural desire of the women to be doing found relief in making and giving flags to the forts, or to those companies in which they were chiefly interested.

Charleston Mercury, January 19, 1861
The ladies of Charleston sent a flag to the Hon. D. F. Jamieson, the “Minister of War,” which was made to be opened for the first time on Fort Sumter.

Charleston Mercury, January 23. 1861
The Fairfield Volunteers thank “several ladies of Charleston for acceptable gifts,” while the Palmetto Guard are “indebted to ladies of Summerville.”

The cadets at Fort Morris return thanks to ladies for hoods, gloves, lint, bandages, etc.

Charleston Mercury, January 30, 1861
Surgeon-General Gibbes thanks Mrs. John Bryce, of Columbia, for liberal contributions of lint and linen, and acknowledges the receipt of $5.00 from a lady, for purchase of surgical instruments.

Charleston Mercury, February 12, 1861
The Rev. A. Toomer Porter asks ladies willing to work gratuitously for the soldiers to apply to him. He assures them that they need feel no fear of interfering with those who work for a support. “There is work enough for all.”

Charleston Mercury, February 25, 1861
Mr. James Tupper presents, in the name of a young lady of Charleston, a stand of colors, to the First Regiment of Rifles.

Charleston Mercury, March 6 and 11, 1861
Surgeon-General Gibbes acknowledges the receipt of $40.00 from a lady of South Carolina, living in New York; $20.00 from a lady in Charleston; and $5.00 from a young lady; and calls for more bandages, on account of the large number of troops ordered out; and returns thanks for $261.00, given by a lady, for the purchase of surgical instruments.

Charleston Courier, May 8, 1861. Copied from Columbia, S. C.
“We learn that the ladies of the little town of Pendleton, hearing that some of the volunteers were in need of uniforms, have offered to make 500 uniforms, in five days, if needed. This is practical patriotism, and shows the spirit animating the fair daughters of the upper districts. Besides this, they have raised a subscription for a handsome flag, to be presented to Captain Kilpatrick’s company, now encamped here, and another for a company in Pickens District, under the command of Capt. J. L. Shanklin.”

Charleston Courier, May 29, 1861
The readiness of the women to help in any way is showed by their offer at this date to make cartridges. As flannel and other material became scarce, dresses and other woolen garments were cut up to make woolen bags for cannon cartridges. These, as well as the small cartridges, were made in large numbers by women. Many rough, strong bags had also to be made, to be filled with sand, and used in constructing and mending fortifications. Later on, when the bombardment had become heavy, telegraphic orders for these bags would be sent to Columbia and, no doubt, to other towns, and the women would work night and day, and when necessary on Sunday, to complete them.

Charleston Mercury, June 11, 1861
A suggestion is made that “mothers, wives, sisters, and sweethearts” should begin to knit socks for soldiers.

This work had already been begun and, as time passed, every one knitted, some women becoming such adepts that a pair of socks, or even three feet, became their daily task.

Charleston Courier, June 18, 1861
Thanks are returned for “a lot of vegetables, kindly contributed for the use of the troops, by Margaret Noisette” (a colored woman).

Charleston Mercury, July 17, 1861
“The ladies of Augusta, Ga., are preparing sick tents, to be sent to Virginia.”

Charleston Mercury, July 18, 1861
Our Western sisters were much more enterprising in some ways, for we see an extract from a Vicksburg paper giving an account of a Woman’s Home Guard, “all good shots, and good riders.”

On July 21st was fought the first Battle of Manassas, and from that times dates the systematic, organized work of Southern women.

Charleston Mercury, July 23, 1861
On July 23d there is a call for families to prepare and set aside blankets for the use of soldiers.

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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