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. Beyond the grandstand is the corner of East Benson and South Main, where McKenzie Parker was mortally wounded on May 3, 1865.

ANDERSON, S.C.
 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 or the Square to tell you that one of the last men to die for the Confederacy was mortally wounded right here.
 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 William McKenzie Parker, whose family lived in Charleston but had a summer home in Anderson. 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. Emmala Reed nicknamed Parker "Theodore" and described him as "very rash, but brave."
 Parker was enrolled in the South Carolina Military Academy, which we now know as The Citadel. In the years leading up to the Civil War, the academy had a freshman campus in Columbia (known as the Arsenal Academy) as well as the main campus in Charleston (Citadel Academy).
 The Citadel website includes a "List of Fallen Alumni" that says Parker would have been in the Class of 1868, meaning he was "fourth class" (freshman) in the spring of 1865. But according to The History of the South Carolina Military Academy by John Peyre Thomas, Parker was third class (sophomore) in the fall of 1864.
Class roster from Capt. John Peyre Thomas' history of The Citadel says Parker "died in service."
 The Arsenal Cadets were involved in a skirmish with Stoneman's raiders near Williamston May 1, 1865 that was one of the last armed conflicts of the Civil War. Several of the Charleston cadets were involved in this incident, and Parker may have been among them. After the Williamston incident, the cadets were dismissed to return to their hometowns. Assuming Parker was with the cadet battalion, it would have made sense for him to go to nearby Anderson rather than faraway Charleston.
 Judge Reed pleaded with the provost guards, including Parker, 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 once or twice, but his weapon 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. The town doctors had been tortured by gold-seeking Yankees two days earlier, so they probably were not able to help much. 


 The Arsenal Cadets fled Columbia before Sherman invaded in February 1865. They spent the next two months marching through Winnsboro, Lancaster, Chesterfield, Wadesboro, Charlotte, Chester, Union, and Spartanburg, before finally camping near 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 22-24, 1865.)
Around April 29 or 30, northwest of Greenville near Marietta, raiders from Gen. Simeon Brown's brigade fired on the Arsenal Cadets. 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 (probably Brown's men again) 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 with one casualty on each side. According to Lewis, cadet James Spearman of Newberry was shot in the hand, "the gun being fired by a negro who was piloting the raiders through the country for the purpose of robbery and pillage along the road."
Meanwhile, Cadet George Mathewes Coffin of Charleston shot a Yankee off his horse. According to Lewis' account: 
One of the younger boys, named Coffin, who had been with us more for protection than otherwise, had taken aim with his gun on a rail fence for a rest and when he fired he saw his man fall down from his horse, and he called out in his shrill boyish voice: "I got him all right," which was confirmed by some reliable parties who were hiding nearby the road, and also by ladies of the Way-Side Inn at Greenville, who had afterwards taken the wounded soldier to the hospital at Greenville and nursed him until he recovered sufficiently to go to his home, and for several years following he would make a pilgrimage to visit his fair friends who had saved his life.
There is also a local tradition that says the wounded Yankee married the Southern belle who cared for him. I wish I could verify this story (email me if you know details). There was a Wayside Hospital in Greenville at the time. 

 Some of the details are hard to reconcile. The Citadel's list of fallen alumni says McKenzie Parker died May 9 in Williamston, not May 3 in Anderson, with a footnote that 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, dispatched from Stoneman's reserves in Asheville to pursue Jefferson Davis. 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. It was not uncommon for a small detail of cavalrymen to stay behind briefly to cover the rear of the main army. 
  • A soldier waking up from a hangover 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, 1865.


The Citadel Class of 1868


     McKenzie Parker's fellow cadets never had the opportunity to return to school and graduate from The Citadel, because the Federal government kept the school closed from 1865 until 1882. Nevertheless, many of them became prominent in South Carolina in the decades following the war.
    Lt. George Coffin, the 17-year-old sharpshooter in the May 1 skirmish near Williamston, later became a bank officer in New York and New England. His elder son Haskell Coffin became famous for his portraits of Ziegfield showgirls and painted dozens of covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Younger son Frank Coffin was a pioneering pilot who worked with the Wright Brothers and was featured on Ralph Edwards' 1950s TV show "This Is Your Life."  
    George Croft from the Class of '68 was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1904 but served in Washington less than a week before he met his own tragic demise:


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