My Dear Mrs. Taylor:
During your term of office as president of the South Carolina division, Daughters of the Confederacy, you urged me if possible to give you some outline of the work done by the women of St. Helena Parish for the relief of our soldiers during the War of Secession, in order that it may be incorporated with others now in your possession. I hesitated thus long to comply, as the task seemed well nigh hopeless after the expiration of so many years, and was disposed to leave it to someone more able than I to do justice to the subject; but how can I consult my own inclination when I may recall a few incidents which perhaps will be of interest to some persons and of assistance to you. It is with great pride and gratification I am at last enabled through the courtesy of friends to preserve for future reference what was accomplished by these noble women in six short months for the comfort of our men in the field and in hospitals – a record second to none, and should be handed down to generations “in letters of gold and pictures of silver.” To understand the enormous amount of work done, it must be borne in mind that the parish was composed of islands on our coast with two summer resorts – Beaufort and St. Helenaville – and it was during the summer of 1861 only they had concerted action, or the means to carry it out, for in November of that year the whole section was abandoned to hordes of negroes and unscrupulous confiscators. Surely “doth the city sit solitary that was full of people. How is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!”
The first endeavor to effect any definite plan of action for the relief of our soldiers was in the town of Beaufort, in the Baptist Tabernacle, August 14, 1861. The Rev. Dr. Jos. R. Walker, the venerable Episcopal clergyman, opened the meeting with prayer. The Hon. Edmund Rhett organized the association to be called the Soldiers’ Relief Association, and wrote the constitution and by-laws for its governance.
The following ladies were elected:
President, Mrs. Wm. A. Morcock;
Vice-President, Mrs. Thomas Fuller;
Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. Edward Barnwell;
Mrs. Thomas J. Wells;
Treasurer, Miss Elizabeth Barnwell.
Enthusiasm was at fever heat and work was immediately begun to uniform the Whippy Swamp Company. I quote from a letter of one of the co-workers: “About this time cloth was becoming scarce. The pants were made of bed ticking, all blue, except some which looked like peppermint candy and were reserved for the non-commissioned officers.” Blankets also were lined and quilted before distributing them. Dunnovant’s Regiment and a command from Kershaw County were indebted to these same untiring workers for caps, uniforms and “clothes” marked with the owner’s names. In many instances, shoes and socks were also provided. Besides the work pledged as members of the association, circles of willing workers were formed, meeting at private residences. Mrs. Stephen Elliott’s parlor was converted into a cap manufactory at short notice; and the home of the Rev. Wm. H. Barnwell, “The Castle,” was a depot for rival cotton comforts, “which were freewill offerings outside of the society, amounting to a round dozen.” These were made and quilted by his daughters and their friends. Mrs. Middleton Stuart is particularly mentioned “as having done much apart from the Relief Society.” Fancy work and delicate stitches were things of the past, giving place to sewing machines and knitting needles, which had undivided attention, and were in great demand, as no material was too rough or work too arduous to supply the soldiers’ needs. Mrs. Paul Hamilton was treasurer and quartermaster-general for all the organizations, great and small. She received moneys from those outside and supplied promptly the demands for funds as the occasions presented themselves. She also packed and shipped supplies to several destinations, seeing personally to this important branch of the work and sending the right thing at the proper time, when most needed. Just about this time, the Hon. C. G. Memminger (at the instance of Rev. Robt. W. Barnwell, then in Richland doing hospital work), wrote to Mrs. Jos. D. Pope, describing the sufferings and dire need of our sick and wounded soldiers after the Battle of Bull Run, and asked her aid in their behalf. No time was lost in bringing this communication to the notice of the ladies, and a hospital committee was established, consisting of Mrs. Pope, chairman; Mrs. Stephen Elliott, Mrs. Louis DeSaussure, Mrs. Prioleau and Mrs. James Verdier, her able and indefatigable associates. In a short while, lint, bandages, sheets, pillows, towels and blankets were packed and hauled thirty miles distant to reach the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, and sent with all possible speed to the hospitals in Virginia. Delicacies also which could bear transportation were not forgotten. But work now nearer home demanded their attention. Under their super-vision, two rooms on Murray’s wharf were secured and fitted up as a hospital for the use of the soldiers from the up-country, then stationed at Bay Point and Hilton Head. This move was the result of a suggestion from Dr. Turnipseed, who was army surgeon, and from his experience in the Crimean War recognized the great necessity of more comfortable quarters for the fever-stricken volunteers from the interior of the State. In a few days, the hospital was reported ready. Dr. Jos. T. Johnson, the able practitioner and their townsman, offered his services as local physician, which were gratefully accepted by these earnest though sadly inexperienced women in their self-appointed task. The care of the sick at home did not prevent, however, their continuing their monthly consignments of necessaries to Richmond, which only ceased when they themselves, in common with the whole community, were homeless and almost destitute refugees, bravely bearing untold privations for the cause they loved so well. Ten miles away, at St. Helenaville, the ladies were equally busy, having the mounted riflemen of that island as their especial charge. These men mounted and equipped themselves for service at their own expense. The only thing lacking was a flag. This deficiency the ladies determined to supply. Contributions were solicited and a generous amount realized which was sent to Charleston for the purchase of the necessary materials. Before many weeks had elapsed, the handsome banner, the work of the deft fingers of Mrs. Jos. D. Pope, Mrs. Daniel T. Pope, Misses Caroline and Ellen Pope and Miss Edwards, was completed. This was made of heavy blue silk, with the Palmetto tree and crescent on one side; on the other the star (emblem of State sovereignty) and motto “Vive Libertas in Patria, organized January 20, 1861,” and was presented by Rev. Robert W. Fuller in the name of the ladies of St. Helena Island. Mr. Jos. D. Pope received the flag in behalf of his comrades.
As one part of an army always receives the hottest fire and bears the brunt of the battle, so too this section of our State experienced the most disastrous consequences of our great struggle, and no people in our broad Southland gave more in blood and treasure, or of the work of their hands, to our glorious cause than these patriots – the women of St. Helena Parish.
The current of our history has not flowed as we once hoped, but there must be a future for us, with such heroic men and public-spirited women as we have. “He may be unwise who is sanguine, but he is unpatriotic and unchristian who despairs.”
Hoping that this sketch, imperfect though it be, may serve your purpose, and wishing you every success for the book you are engaged in compiling, I am, very sincerely,
Adeline P. Stoney.
Columbia, S. C, May 15, 1902