A Palmetto Boy: Civil War-Era Diaries and Letters of James Adams Tillman

A Palmetto Boy: Civil War-Era Diaries and Letters of James Adams Tillman

A Palmetto Boy: Civil War-Era Diaries and Letters of James Adams Tillman

A Palmetto Boy: Civil War-Era Diaries and Letters of James Adams Tillman

Synopsis

The Tillman family of Edgefield, South Carolina, is forever linked to Palmetto State history, but not all of its members have yet had their stories told. James Adams Tillman (1842-1866) never had the chance to become a governor or U.S. senator like his younger brother "Pitchfork" Ben or a U.S. congressman like his older brother George. But, like his more famous siblings, James also dedicated his life to the service of his community and state--a dedication that led to his death at the young age of twenty-four from injuries sustained during the Civil War. Overshadowed in the annals of history by his brothers, James has largely been unrecognized until now. Edited by Bobbie Swearingen Smith, these collected diary entries and family letters offer a significant historical record of the Civil War era as experienced by a steadfast representative of this prominent South Carolina family and offer meaningful insights into James's brief life and ultimate sacrifice.At nineteen James Tillman had completed secondary school and had intentions to pursue a teaching career when the outbreak of the Civil War changed his priorities. Tillman enlisted with the Twenty-fourth South Carolina Volunteer Infantry of Edgefield and attained the rank of captain during the war. He was initially stationed along the coastal defenses south of Charleston and fought in both battles of Secessionville in 1862. He was wounded at Chickamauga in 1863, and his mother and brother Ben brought him home to recover. Tillman returned to duty and spent much of 1864 under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston in Tennessee and North Carolina, retreating from General Sherman's advance. At the war's end, Tillman returned home crestfallen and witnessed the rough onset of Reconstruction, writing in his diaries about those he saw as descending on South Carolina to profit from the defeated South. In June 1866, a little more than a year after his discharge, he died of complications from his combat wounds.Through the combination of Tillman's diaries and letters, the modern reader is invited to share in both the immediacy of his thoughts from the war front and his contemplative expressions of those experiences for his home-front audience of family members. Tillman's personal narrative adds another layer to our understanding of the historical significance of the Tillman family and offers a compelling firsthand account of the motivations and actions of a young South Carolinian at war as he struggled to find sense in the midst of unfathomable chaos.

Excerpt

I was reared in the backwoods of Edgefield, roaming the woods and lands I took for granted. It was only later in life that I began to unfold the history of my father’s family and the ground that stood under my feet. As children we had roamed these woods, these fields, this terrain, waded in the streams of cold, clear water. the ruins of Chester, Highview Presbyterian Church, the family cemetery, the echoes from the Big Cut where the railroad had gone through, the creeks and forests surrounded us and offered mysteries and magic without divulging their history—a history that we would have to search for if we ever became interested. Though my father’s family lay in this land, I had never known my father nor had I known many of his people. We had been reared with Timor, our nurse who lived in a small residence in the backyard of the home of Anna Tillman Swearingen, my grandmother. Today the only residence that remains of that time and place is this home, now owned by my brother George Tillman Swearingen.

I had heard that there were papers of the family in the libraries of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, and I began to search for the history of my grandmother and, of course, my father, people gone from my life long before I began to look around me and wonder what it all meant and from where I came. I found in the Clemson library much more than I had ever dreamed. in those faded papers lay the history of my family, and the more I dug, the more fascinating it became. There in black and white lay the structure of the slave culture and the history of the people whom I had never known and of a state about which I knew little.

The Tillman family came from England to Virginia first, in 1646, and settled up and down the inlands of that colony, before my branch became entrenched in Edgefield County, South Carolina, by the 1700s. the Tillman name is widely known in the state, the first state to leave the union, to divide the nation during the War between the States. This . . .

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