The Confederate in Me

When I moved to Spartanburg in 1981,

a time when Aug. Smith was in decline and Morgan Square less vibrant than it is today, I was nonetheless charmed by the defiant downtown statue of Daniel Morgan, ever vigilant against further incursions by Bloody Banastre Tarleton and other enemies yet unknown. High atop his lofty column, the General’s presence signaled pride and community cohesion, confidence and optimism for the future. A transplant from the Commonwealth of Virginia and, before that, the Midlands, I took to heart that I was moving to a new home where heritage was important.

I wondered though: where was the Confederate monument? As a child growing up in Columbia in the 1950s and ‘60s, I saw the Confederacy around me everywhere. I swam at Maxcy Gregg Park, named for a general of the Southern forces, and took proud note of the chinks and gouges created by William Tecumseh Sherman’s cannonballs still visible in the State House when my class visited the Capitol. Just outside the city limits, toward Sumter, were the ruins of Millwood, the home of General Wade Hampton, whose gubernatorial campaign stop in Kingstree was carefully recorded by my grandfather in his journal.

I had other strong memories of the Late Unpleasantness and faced countless reminders almost daily. My grandmother in Marion used to visit older women in her church after dinner on Sundays, and when I accompanied her I often heard first-person accounts of the Civil War and its aftermath. My father’s Aunt Nettie in Kingstree preserved ten- and twenty-dollar bills of Confederate currency printed by Keating & Ball in Columbia in a brick building that today houses a Publix supermarket. I even had special commemorative editions of The State and Columbia Record newspapers saved from their Civil War Centennial issues of 1961, when I was thirteen. I possessed a dozen or so Confederate States of America postage stamps along with a long-forgotten book entitled Confederate Stamps, Old Letters and History by an aged Georgian with the romantic name of Raynor Hubbell. Best of all, though, my father kept stored in the back corner of his bedroom closet the cavalry sword of Lieutenant William Epps, my great-grandfather who served bravely and spent many miserable months confined as a prisoner of war, had to swear allegiance to the United States in order to gain his freedom, and then stole back the oath he was forced to sign.

I had always been steeped in the legend and lore of the Civil War. Whether on the courthouse squares or Confederate cemeteries of small towns like Marion and Kingstree or in the lovingly preserved home of Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta, I was used to seeing memorials of the Lost Cause. But where were these memorials in Spartanburg? The city clearly cared about its past—Daniel Morgan’s presence downtown was evidence of that, as was the almost religious devotion paid to the city’s textile mills and their history—why, then, no paeans to the Confederacy?

As I considered the question and did research, several possible answers emerged. For one thing, cotton was never been the king in the Upstate that it was in the Lowcountry, and there were significantly fewer slaveholders in Spartanburg District who owned significantly fewer slaves than those in the coastal regions. Could it be that the cotton culture and allegiance to the Confederacy were less strong in my new hometown? Or could it be that as time passed and the country entered World War I, erecting a monument to the Confederacy became less of an issue as Spartanburg citizens rallied against a new set of national (as opposed to purely regional) concerns? Or could it be that so many of the prominent citizens of Spartanburg were mill owners, transplanted from the North. Perhaps the citizenry were loath to offend those whom they depended on for income?

The truth, as usual, was both more and less complicated than I imagined. For one thing, I discovered that there was a memorial to the soldiers of the Confederacy erected in downtown Spartanburg. Completed in 1911, it was located on Kirby Hill at the intersection of current Henry and South Church Streets. The Spartanburg Herald and local women who sold magazines and raised money in other ways promoted the funding. The granite column on which the statue rested was donated to the local United Daughters of the Confederacy by the General Assembly. In the early 1960s, redevelopment largely leveled Kirby Hill, and the Confederate soldier was moved to Duncan Park near the American Legion building, where it remains today. The local economy then was strong and the news concentrated more on civil rights and, later, Vietnam than the centennial of the Confederacy, and few people objected to the relocation of the old statue.

Years later I was to spend many happy hours at Duncan Park watching baseball games with my wife and children, but even then I was unaware of the Confederate Monument not far from the old ballpark. When I first moved to Spartanburg in 1981, I knew nothing about Duncan Park and little about the history of Spartanburg, certainly not about a monument which was removed twenty years earlier from a hill that no longer existed. Today I am better informed about these things, and I feel justified in my earlier assessment that heritage is an important part of Spartanburg, which I have called my home now for more than thirty years. The old Duncan Park baseball stadium is being restored, a local mill is being converted into an attractive residential complex, and who knows—maybe one day that lone Confederate soldier will once again attract the notice of passersby. His cause is indeed lost—and rightly so: my own grandmother, who was convinced that I was going to hell because I was dating a Catholic in college, was a relic in more ways than one—but we need to remember the conflict of the eighteen-sixties today because its legacy remains and because the heritage we leave for our children and grandchildren depends upon the resolution of issues that linger with us yet.

Edwin C. Epps

Edwin C. Epps is a freelance writer and veteran public school educator living in Spartanburg. He is the author of Literary South Carolina (Hub City Writers Project, 2004), a large number of publications in the educational trade press, and poetry in a variety of journals. He is currently at work on three books: a history of the Duncan Park baseball stadium, a collection of verse tentatively titled 'Middle Class Poems,' and a combined personal/professional memoir in which he will finally get to say all he's been wanting to say about public education for the last forty years.