Facing Freedom: the Civil War and Violent Outrages
This post is an excerpt from the temporary exhibit at the Anderson County Museum. We hope that you’ll come visit the exhibit to see the complete story.
The Civil War
With each new state to enter the union, slavery became an increasingly volatile issue of debate. The Compromise of 1850 prevented a split as California became a free state, but it served as a shaky scaffolding holding up an impossible load. By 1860, the political temperature had risen such that all it needed was a spark to erupt; a spark that came with the election of Abraham Lincoln.
The bloodiest war in American history ensued between 1861 and 1865. Anderson County men from all walks of life volunteered to fight, some in defense of their homes, or their state, and others in defense of their politics and business interests. For those at the top of the ladder, an end to slavery would mean an end to free labor. For those at the bottom, it may have meant leaving their homes and families to the mercies of Northern occupiers. But for everyone in the South, losing this fight meant an upending of the social order between the races and fears of the consequences that may bring.
South Carolina lost 23,000 men during the Civil War, 560 from Anderson County. The loss of life in addition to those who returned with crippling injuries left many areas of the South in a state of limbo following the war. Economic progress halted and in some cases regressed while the economy shifted away from slave labor. At the same time, infrastructure needed rebuilding having been destroyed by Northern campaigns like Sherman’s March to the Sea. Anderson was no exception as it ceased railroad construction, suffered in the waning agricultural market, and struggled to restore its businesses and trampled farmland. One of the main strategic bodies in helping rehabilitate Southern society, and promoting freed slaves as integral to that rehabilitation, was the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands established in 1865.
Anderson County narrowly escaped the total destruction characteristic of Northern raids which followed the Civil War’s end. However, violence became a part of the new normal as bitterness festered between the South’s many societal factions. Violence took a number of forms including incidents between black and white, ex-confederate and Union forces, within domestic disputes, and in mob settings.
The most documented clash between ex-confederates and Union soldiers occurred at Brown’s Ferry. Southern resources were often confiscated by US officials as having been the property of the defeated Confederacy, though this was not always justified. A load of cotton was seized under murky premises, held at Browns Ferry and guarded by three Union soldiers. The men were found dead on October 9th, 1865, and a trial commenced that consumed the statewide media. James Crawford Keys, his son Robert Lewis Keys, Elisha Byrum, and Francis Gaines Stowers were all on trial, but public outcry against what was seen as an overstep by the federal government resulted in their pardoning by President Johnson.
Manse Jolly himself had been suspected as an accomplice in the Brown’s Ferry incident, but then, he was suspected in most any case where a Union soldier’s life was taken. Jolly had several documented run-ins with the occupying law, but not as much attention is paid to his attacks on African Americans in the folklore. Jolly was listed on a May 23, 1866 outrage report after knocking Priestly Ware down with a pistol. Ware (African American) had a “scalp wound on head” but there was no loss of life in the case.
Mob violence provided a brutal outlet for anger throughout Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow Era. Freedmen and their allies were regularly targeted by whites in isolated attacks or even public lynchings. Extralegal forms of “justice” served to influence local politics, scare individuals or families into leaving town, discourage and prevent Republican votes, and even to control media exposure. In one Anderson County case, a mob stormed the post office to try and retrieve a copy of the New York Tribune they believed was to be delivered.