Living a Big War in a Small Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Confederacy

Living a Big War in a Small Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Confederacy

Living a Big War in a Small Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Confederacy

Living a Big War in a Small Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Confederacy

Synopsis

Most of what we know about how the Civil War affected life in the Confederacy is related to cities, troop movements, battles, and prominent political, economic, or military leaders. Far less is known about the people who lived in small Southern towns remote from marching armies or battles. Philip N. Racine explores life in one such place--Spartanburg, South Carolina--in an effort to reshape the contours of that great conflict.
By 1864 life in most of the Confederacy, but especially in rural towns, was characterized by scarcity, high prices, uncertainty, fear, and bad-tempered neighbors. Shortages of food were common. People lived with constant anxiety that a soldiering father or son would be killed or wounded. Taxes were high, inflation was rampant, good news was scarce and seemed to always be followed by bad. The slave population was growing restive as their masters' bad news was their good news. Army deserters were threatening lawlessness; accusations and vindictiveness colored the atmosphere and added to the anxiety, fear, and feeling of helplessness. Often people blamed their troubles on the Confederate government in faraway Richmond, Virginia.
Racine provides insight into these events through personal stories: the plight of a slave; the struggles of a war widow managing her husband's farm, ten slaves, and seven children; and the trauma of a lowcountry refugee's having to forfeit a wealthy, aristocratic way of life and being thrust into relative poverty and an alien social world. All were part of the complexity of wartime Spartanburg District.

Excerpt

Located in the northwestern part of South Carolina among the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Spartanburg District is made up of rolling hills drained by three river systems: the Pacolet, the Tyger, and along its most northeastern border with York District, the Broad. in the antebellum period half of the adjoining county of present day Cherokee was part of Spartanburg District. Dotted by shoals and in the dry season, shallows, none of the rivers is navigable to the coast. Since the latter part of the eighteenth century the upstate had the majority of the state’s white population and a minority of its black population. Some of South Carolina’s lowcountry districts had populations that were 80 percent slaves while its upcountry districts had populations that were typically about 30 percent slaves. By 1860, the lowcountry was dominated by plantations. Coastal areas grew rice and cotton (on the sea islands and up to thirty miles inland planters grew the long fiber, silky, “sea island cotton” and the rest of the area grew inland, short staple cotton) while the upcountry districts grew corn, other grains, and the short fibered cotton. in Spartanburg District 56 percent of the heads of households owned their own land and 44 percent were tenants; overwhelmingly they grew grains, especially corn, and only a few bales of cotton. Only about 30 percent of the heads of households owned slaves, and almost all of those households grew cotton.

The center of the district was the city of Spartanburg. the city was more of a village. It had been laid out in 1787 on the Williamson plantation after its owner had sold the district a two-acre tract which contained a substantial spring. the layout of the buildings was centered around a large rectangle of vacant land, which, in 1881, would become known as Morgan Square—named for the statue of Daniel Morgan erected to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of his victory at the Battle of Cowpens.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.