The following are some interesting historical tidbits from primary sources (emphasis added):

Gabriel Manigault (1809-1888) was a South Carolina lawyer, author, and planter. He was a signer of the Ordinance of Secession, and he served in the South Carolina Ordnance Department with the rank of colonel. In a letter found in his family papers, Manigault writes urgently to Colonel James Chesnut about the poor condition of the state’s armaments, and warns that war is imminent if South Carolina secedes. The letter is dated November 17, 1860:

“I take the liberty of sending you a small pamphlet on the ‘Army of the State’ also a little book ‘The Rifle and how to use it.’ If you have not seen the latter, or something equivalent to it, as Wilcox’s ‘Rifle and Rifle practices’ you will be interested and impressed by the facts established in it, and the applications which may be made of them. The State never was as unarmed as it now is, comparing our means of defense with the resources which may be brought to bear on us; and this is simply owing to the fact that the chief improvements in firearms, both small and large are of so late a date that the new weapons have not had time to supplant those of old patterns. Many people believe that we will pass through this crisis without having to resort to physical force in defense of our rights. I myself believe secession to be a peaceful right, yet am convinced that the people of the North know too well the money value of the cotton states to them to let us go without a struggle. This has induced me to urge in various quarters the necessity of arming the State and of possessing the arms of the most approved kinds.

William Lee Trenholm (1836-1901) was a Charleston merchant. In a letter dated November 15, 1860, he wrote to another South Carolinian, Julian Mitchell, who was serving abroad as a U.S. diplomat in Russia:

“South Carolina will secede from the Union as surely as that night succeeds the day, and nothing can now prevent or delay it, but a revolution at the North which shall hurl the agitators from the necks of the people…This though highly improbable is barely possible—nothing else can stay the action of our Glorious little State. Never before in the history of any people was there such unanimity as that which now prevails in our community…There is no complaint in any quarter, no impatience of the terrible monetary stringency, no popular violence, no servile disaffection, no selfish demagoguism….Banners are waving in every street, the very boys and women are wild with enthusiasm, and every man, indeed every youth, has gone thoroughly into military organization. There is a spirit aroused in this State and in many other parts of the South, worthy of Rome in the days of the Punic Wars, courage to encounter all dangers, fortitude to endure all distresses. You will no doubt see the sneers and taunts of the Northern papers—do not be disturbed by them. One thing is clear to my mind and that is that President Buchanan will have no power either to admit or deny the right of secession, but he must refer it to Congress. Congress alone can sanction the transfer to the State Government of United States property in forts, arsenals, etc…. It must be admitted that the difficulties of Mr. Buchanan’s position will be very great, and whatever course he may conceive himself in duty bound to pursue, I feel confident that personally he will retain the respect of all right thinking men here. If he suffers the revenue collections of this port [Charleston] to cease, he virtually annuls the tariff laws of the country, and cuts off the only certain source of income to the Government…In such a case all foreign goods would naturally seek this port, to escape taxation. West Indies and South American products, for instance, would immediately be rushed in, to the detriment of the commerce of other Southern ports, and to the serious curtailment of the Federal revenue. Whether under these circumstances, the President would be justified in employing the Federal army and Navy in supporting the revenue department, or not, is a question which I cannot determine. Upon its determination rests the probability of a collision between South Carolina and the United States.

Karen Stokes

Karen Stokes, an archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, is the author of nine non-fiction books including South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path, The Immortal 600, A Confederate Englishman, Confederate South Carolina, Days of Destruction, and A Legion of Devils: Sherman in South Carolina. Her works of historical fiction include Honor in the Dust and The Immortals. Her latest non-fiction book, An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865, includes the correspondence of seven brothers who served in the Confederate Army with great distinction.


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