Sunday, May 3, 2015

One of the Confederacy's last martyrs fell here

Anderson's 1897 courthouse and the 1902 Confederate monument are shown in this 1906 postcard. Behind them is the corner of East Benson and South Main, where McKenzie Parker was shot in 1865.

     Since 1902, a granite statue of a Confederate private at parade rest has stood watch over the courthouse square in downtown Anderson in honor of “Our Confederate Dead."
     However, there’s nothing on the monument to tell you that one of the last men to die for the Confederacy was mortally wounded right here on the square.
     I grew up in Anderson, but I had never heard this story before I pieced it together from accounts that are sketchy and sometimes contradictory. Here is what I think happened:

      As Anderson woke up on May 3, 1865, the town breathed a sigh of relief. Overnight, four thousand Yankees had exited toward Georgia. Even though homes and businesses had been looted, several residents had been tortured, and slaves roamed free, at least no lives had been lost. Judge J.P. Reed had wisely advised citizens not to resist or provoke the Yankees.
     On that Wednesday morning, just a few Union soldiers remained in Anderson. Judge Reed's daughter Emmala wrote in her journal May 3 that several of the provost guards (essentially a self-appointed police force) "and other rash boys" visited her father. They asked for arms to go out and arrest some "stragglers." That was probably a reference to the outlaws who followed behind the raid, seeking opportunities to loot and pillage. 
     Among those "rash boys" was 17-year-old McKenzie Parker, whom Emmala called Theodore. He was descended from the family of Henri Peronneau, a French Hugenot who emigrated to Charleston in 1701, became a wine merchant, and was once known as the wealthiest man in colonial America.
     Parker was a cadet at the Arsenal Academy in Columbia, which was essentially a prep school for The Citadel in Charleston. Two days earlier, the cadets had been caught up in a skirmish with some of Stoneman's troops near Williamston. But there was no reason to keep fighting, since Lee had surrendered and the Confederate government had collapsed. So the cadets were dismissed to go home to their families. Parker went to Anderson, where his family had a summer home.
      Judge Reed pleaded with the provost guard to not cause trouble. But they defied him, and according to Emmala's journal they arrested two Yankees. Then more Yankees showed up, and there was an exchange of threats and gunshots. "One youth was shot dead or left to die there, alone in the streets, whilst all scattered," she wrote.
      Cobbling together several accounts, it appears that Parker and some friends were in the courthouse square when mounted Union soldiers rode up East Benson Street headed onto South Main Street. On that same corner was B.F. Crayton's store, where the Yankees had discovered a cellar full of Charleston's finest wines.
      Parker ordered them to halt, but they refused. Then he raised his gun and pulled the trigger twice, but it misfired. One of the Yankees shot back and hit Parker in the chest. He was carried into a hotel on the square, where he soon died.
      Emmala Reed described Parker as "very rash, but brave."

      Parker was among 125 teenagers at the Arsenal Academy in what would have been The Citadel's Class of 1868. They never had the opportunity to graduate, because the Federal government kept The Citadel closed from 1865 until 1882.
     The Arsenal Cadets fled Columbia before Sherman invaded in February 1865. They spent the next month marching through Winnsboro, Lancaster, Chesterfield, Wadesboro, Charlotte, Chester, Union, and Spartanburg, before finally camping in Greenville.
     According to a letter by John Baylis Lewis, the cadets were well aware "that our Country was in her death throes." Lewis then shared the Confederacy's scouting report on Stoneman's Raid:
About the first days of April 1865, a report reached us that the heartless General Stoneman, with his band of robbers and thieves in the uniform of the United States government, was making his way through the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia for the purpose of accomplishing in upper South Carolina the ruin that Sherman had already done from Columbia to the coast.
His object was to capture Greenville, S.C. and deploy his raiders along the line of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad, laying everything in waste, as that part of the state had not suffered from fire and pillage at that time.
     (Actually, Stoneman never targeted Greenville, though the town had two brushes with his troops on May 2 and May 22, 1865.)
     Around April 29 or 30, northwest of Greenville near Marietta, raiders from Gen. Simeon Brown's brigade fired on the cadets and refused any negotiations. Hoping to avoid a fight, the cadets retreated to Greenville and received orders to return to Columbia. They marched at midnight and stopped for a break near Shiloh Methodist Church northwest of Williamston. That's where some of Stoneman's raiders stumbled across them the morning of May 1. The cadets had drilled for moments like this, but they had never been in battle before.
     The skirmish lasted only a few moments. One the cadets, James Spearman from Newberry, was shot in the hand. One of the youngest cadets, a 14-year-old boy named Coffin, shot a Yankee off his horse and wounded him so badly that he was left to die. Local women pleaded with the cadets not to kill him. Instead, they took him to a hospital in Greenville, and nursed him until he was well enough to go home. For years, this Yankee—whose name I have not foundreturned to Anderson County to thank those who saved his life.

     There are lingering uncertainties about Parker's death. The Citadel's website has a page for "fallen alumni" that says McKenzie Parker died May 9 in Williamston, not May 3 in Anderson. A solemn footnote says "last Confederate death."
     I am confident that the dates in Emmala Reed's journal are correct. She wrote May 4 that she attended Parker's funeral at the Baptist Church and placed a wreath of flowers on his body.
     In my research, I've found only one other rebel killed in action after May 3. That was a Texan named A.C. Wall who was shot by Ohio cavalry in Georgia as Stoneman's troops pursued Jefferson Davis. The exact date is not clear in Frank Mason's history of the Twelfth Ohio, but May 9 seems likely.
     There were several Union soldiers killed later, including two who died by friendly fire during the capture of Jefferson Davis on May 10. The last Union fatality appears to be Corp. John Skinner, who died May 19, 1865, in a skirmish at Hodby's Bridge near Eufala, Ala.
     Who shot McKenzie Parker? Most of Stoneman's soldiers have an alibi, since they were well on their way to Georgia by the morning of May 3. I can think of several suspects:
  • A member of Major James Lawson's battalion, detached from Stoneman's reserves in Asheville. They had had killed two men May 2 in Greenville and arrived in Anderson May 3.
  • One of Gen. Brown's rear guard, who remained in Anderson the night of May 2-3 while the rest of the cavalry marched off to Georgia.
  • A cavalryman with a hangover who was left behind by his regiment following the two-night wine bash at B.F. Crayton's store on the very same corner where Parker was shot.
     Please leave a comment if you have any additional information on this incident, or if you know any other Confederates killed in action after May 3.

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