South Carolina
The Union Movement in Greenville County
South Carolina

Sergeant M.K Robertson, Company H, Sixteenth South Carolina

"Conquer or Die"
Music by Dayle K.

The Nullification Crisis of 1832

Played out against a national backdrop that pitted Andrew Jackson against John C. Calhoun, the nullification crisis raised issues that reached back to the revolution. The two emerging groups would act as the catalyst that would eventually split the nation. Calhoun, the Vice President, and Jackson, the President, would become so at odds that Calhoun would eventually resign. Calhoun was avid as a voice that spoke for the agricultural South. However, in many ways he hastened its destruction by opposing men, like Vardry McBee of Greenville, who were working to industrialize South Carolina. That industry and those railroads could have been put to good use in 1860. Fight Calhoun would, but he could never shake the enemy in his own backyard. Eventually, in his frustration, he would declare that the "bright light of nullification would never shine in that dark corner of South Carolina," that was Greenville County. The Unionists would haunt Calhoun even in his grave, and that would stop the movement which would have provided for secession in the early 1850's. However, when war eventually came, the sage words of Benjamin Perry would save Greenville County much, particularly in the early part of the war.

In 1832, with all the state a clamor to leave the Union, Calhoun was faced dealing first with this revolution in his own back yard. His opponent, Jackson, was also a Southerner from Tennessee, and a man with a long reach into the heart of the mountain country. Joel Poinsett was the father of the Unionist movement in Greenville County. His primary student, young Benjamin Perry backed by the militia leaders, very nearly took Calhoun's home congressional seat away from his control. In the end, although Calhoun did much to impede industrialization, men like John Weaver had a different vision. That vision could be slowed, but it would not be stopped.

Benjamin Perry studied law under Judge Earle of Greenville and James Gregg of Columbia. In 1832 he was a young man looking for a vigorous fight, and he got one. Taking control of the editorial department of the Greenville Mountaineer, he killed the editor of the nullification paper in a duel over the issues raised during the campaign. He was a delegate to the Union Party convention in Columbia and was defeated by only sixty votes in his congressional bid in 1834. He was seated in the State House in 1836 and the State Senate in 1844. Calhoun had found the thorn in his paw.

Col. Wilson Barton from the head of the Tyger was one of the leading men in the old Greenville District. Tradition states he was a close friend of Joel Poinsett, and in 1832 there was no greater supporter of Andrew Jackson than Wilson Barton. He drafted petitions and stirred the pot for Union as much as any leader in Greenville District. He would remain a staunch Unionist until he relocated to Texas in 1854 leading a legendary wagon train on the trail to new land. These two men allied with others like Vardry McBee, and they would make a grave difference in the world.

In Greenville County states-rights men like Judge Baylis Earle, Dr. William Butler, William Thruston, Tandy Walker, William Choice, and Waddy Thompson were pitted against the Unionists who consisted in part of Col. T.P. Brockman, Joel Poinsett, Benjamin Durham, W.L. Yancy, and former Governor H.A. Middleton. The battle would be a long and costly one for both sides.

The election of men to the State Convention in November of 1832 resulted in a poll of 1408 votes. All the delegates appointed from the District of Greenville were men running on the Union Ticket. The vote was 1055 for B.F. Perry, 1043 for Colonel Brockman, 1034 for Gov. Middleton, and 1022 for Silas R. Whitten. Of those who ran in favor of nullification, Judge Earle received the most votes with 381. As one can see, the Union Movement was very strong throughout the district. When the convention acted to support nullification and it appeared that the militia would be called out to support the issue, the militia in Upper Greenville County flatly refused to answer.

Captain D'Oyley of Company Number One of the First Regiment of State Militia in Greenville District stated that, "we unhesitatingly make our choice, and declare to our fellow citizens throughout the United States and to the world, that we infinitely prefer to cling to our invaluable and beloved Union, and to defend it with last drop of our blood." (1-33) Captain Lester of the militia at Glassy Mountain soon followed suit and appointed S.R. Whitten, John C. Hoyt, and Lewis H. Dickey to form a Committee of Correspondence to communicate with like-minded groups. In addition, they called upon Colonel Barton and Colonel Brockman to bring their regiments together, as they thought proper, for the purpose of instruction.

All of this was probably the result of a meeting at Captain Goodlett's Muster Ground at the head of the Tyger. Here S.R. Whitten, George Russell, John P. Pool, Thomas Howard, Captain J.C. Hoyt, Captain Joab Bruton, Joseph M'Millon, James McKinney, James Goodlett, Major Henry B. Prince, Major Robert Goodlett, and Colonel Wilson Barton were appointed a committee which authored and presented a resolution that included the following: "Therefore resolved, that should the Governor, in the exercise of the authority given him by the Legislature of South Carolina, call on the militia to enforce the ordinance or to fight any of the battles of nullification, we will not obey, and will fight only in the cause of Union." The rest of the document is even stronger in its opposition to nullification.

Having finished with a statement and having prepared and presented that in the form of a resolution, those in meeting then formed a Union Society with Major Robert Goodlett as President, George Russell and Captain Spartan Goodlett (The Colonel Spartan D. Goodlett, who was later the Colonel of the Twenty-second South Carolina in the W.B.T.S, was born in 1831, Krick) as Vice Presidents and Major Pleasant Moon as Secretary and Treasurer.

These actions set the stage for a struggle that would wax and wane until South Carolina finally withdrew from the Union in 1860. The Greenville District was all for Union. The Pendleton States Rights boys would eventually win the battle, but they would lose the war. The seeds of dissent in the militia and the refusal of the Greenville men to exchange their beautiful eagle for an odious palmetto would have long reaching effects. In the elections of 1828, 1829, and 1832, the Anderson and Pendleton boys had their way, but Ben Perry fought on.

In 1834, Perry received the nomination of the Union Ticket to run for Congress. This seat represented all of today's Anderson, Pickens, Oconee, and Greenville counties. Perry's grassroots campaign began with the reorganization of his "Washington Clubs" in both districts. In a look at how gun rights were viewed at the time, the Pendleton Messenger questioned reports of Unionists with cannon approaching a supporters' stronghold on Little River. The supporter would later become a states rights man and sign the Ordinance of Secession, from his district in 1860, but that was still thirty years away. In this campaign he stood with Union.

Warren Davis, a Calhoun man of the first stripe, was Perry's opposition. Perry swept all of Greenville District, but Davis held on to beat Perry by fewer than 100 votes. Greenville sent a Unionist delegation to the State House and Pickens sent a states-rights delegation. The split between the two districts was fluid, but the heart and soul of both remained in the same place.

In an unusual turn of events, Davis died soon after the election. This resulted in another run, and General Waddy Thompson of Greenville agreed to stand against Perry. The decision was clearly for Thompson, and the Unionists were outraged. Thompson was a Greenville man, and his defeat of Perry resulted in the great fiasco in which the militia in Greenville revolted. Prior to the encampment of militia called by General Thompson in 1835, rumors circulated that the Greenville men would not attend. At the time of the encampment, these Greenville officers were as good as the rumors. They failed to appear, and General Thompson called for a court martial. The Pendleton Messenger and the Greenville Sentinel were filled with debate. The Pendleton Paper defended Thompson and the Sentinel spoke for the Greenville Unionist.

Colonels Garvin, Hammond, McKinney, Morris, and Hamilton were appointed to hear the court martial of Colonel Brockman, Colonel R.P. Goodlett, Colonel McNeely, and Major Smith. All were found guilty as charged, fined $60, and forced to surrender their commission. It was revealed in the course of the trial that the entire plot was hatched in Benjamin Perry's office. Thus ended the major events of the 1832 nullification crisis in Greenville County. The Unionist were a powerful thorn in the side of the states rights boys, and the sore festered. But southern eyes were turning west. Texas was on the verge of being born, and the events in that soon to be Republic and issues with Mexico would dominate the attention of the South until after the Mexican War.

Perry would look back many years later and reflect on the dark corner of South Carolina which had supported him so well. It is Perry who reports that the dark corner first got its name from the nullifiers. Calhoun and his men lamented, "that the bright light of nullification would never shine in that dark corner of South Carolina." At Mason's Box in 1832 only one vote was cast for nullification. As Perry reflected after the war, "would that the entire state had been such a dark corner," How many sons and fathers would be yet alive?

A History of Upper Greenville County, South Carolina; Mann Batson

Vardry McBee: Man of Reason in an Age of Extremes; Roy McBee Smith

Reminiscences with Speeches and Addresses; B.F. Perry

Churches Divide:
The epicenter of life in the last century in America was the church. Everything that affected the individual or the society also found voice there. A frequent contributor here found the following information in Wesley Taylor's sketch of the history of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Taylor was a member of the Sixteenth South Carolina and worked in the church at Pleasant Grove for over forty years after the war. This information shows how "deep to the core" the nullification crisis of the 1830's struck in Greenville County.

"Pleasant Grove Baptist was organized March 9, 1833, by fourteen members from Brushy Creek Baptist Church who drew out from that body because of nullification. These fourteen men and women did not believe in this act and were not in favor of secession. They met near our present building and perfected organization having as the presbytery, elders Samuel Gibson, Lemuel J. Hudson, and Elias Rogers...Brother John C. Green was appointed as a mouth-piece for the body to answer the questions put by Elder Gibson, which were answered satisfactorily... The body proceeded to enroll the names, which were as follows: Joel Hammett, Jesse Foster and wife, Martha Foster, Stephen Holtzclaw, John C. Green and wife, Amela Green, William Cunningham, Nancy Hamett, Poly Mason, Alcy Wood, Albert Cunningham, John Carney."

From the Brushy Creek minutes of Feb. 16 1833..."Given Letters of Dismissal to form new church at the new Meeting House near Mr. _____ were the following; Joel Hammet, Jesse Foster and wfe Martha, Stephen Holtzclaw, John C. Green and wife Milly, William Cunningham, Senr., Nancy Hammett, Polly Mason, William I. Wood, Washington Wood, Mrs. Rebecca Edwards, Albert Cunningham and John Carney. At a later date several other members and their servants too were given letters of dismissal to join Pleasant Grove."

From the Taylor family history, "------then a brother laid a query before the church to know whether they could fellowship nullification or commune with those who persisted in the cause. Without debate, it rose up that they could not commune..." South Carolina had threatened to leave the Union if the Federal Government attempted to enforce the tariff laws passed in Congress. It was a great debate in all the churches because the tariff laws affected the cotton-growing states. They go on to note that Thomas Taylor stayed with Brushy Creek when the church split. Taylor had made the journey down from Virginia with the Holtzclaws and Greens and others who did leave the church.

As you can see not only churches split, but also families who had been together for many years.
Guns and Jackson

When the convention (1832) was assembled, Colonel Memminger submitted a plan for organizing the Union party throughout the state for self-defense and protection. "Washington Societies" were to be formed in each district, with as many branches in every neighborhood as possible. Each society was to have a president and three vice-presidents. In case of emergency and in defense of their constitution and legal rights, these societies were to become military companies. Mr. Poinsett was commander-in-chief, with division officers in different sections of the State. Colonel Robert Cunningham was appointed for the upper division of the State. This looked very much as if we were preparing for war...

Mr. Poinsett said if guns were needed, the arsenal at Augusta would be opened to us. "OR" said he, "if you want money to sustain yourselves in defending the country, it shall be supplied to you."

Two letters had been read to the convention from General Jackson. In these letters he said the Governor's message was rebellious throughout, and if he raised an army, it would be treason. He pledged himself to use all the power of the government to enforce the laws and put down nullification.

Reminiscences with Speeches and Addresses; B.F. Perry

The Convention in 1853

In 1850, Christopher Memminger, owner of the home that Carl Sandburg would later live in, set Greenville on fire. Memminger, a brilliant mind from Charleston who would later serve in the Confederate Cabinet, addressed the issue of leaving the union to stand alone if needed. One of the difficulties South Carolina always faced was that other states were never as eager to leave the union as she was. Memminger's speech that night was prophetic in content. "If we are to wear chains, he exhorted the group, I prefer they should be put on me by force." As we all know, that too would come. The subject of all the excitement was the Wilmot Proviso, and with it, the tide of breaking from union began once again to flow.

It was at this time, that Ben Perry and Vardry McBee decided to start a new paper in Greenville to counter the voice of the Greenville Mountaineer and the Pendleton Messenger, both states rights papers. The new project would have a difficult start up but would eventually take flight. The co-editor of the paper would be C.J. Elford; the man who would ten years later organize the Sixteenth South Carolina.

Again, a call was made for a convention and again Greenville District responded. Joel Poinsett called on the new paper to remain a voice of reason and so the Southern Patriot became the sole voice for union in the state. From 1851, until the Convention of 1853, Perry worked to turn the tide, not so much to union, but away from lone secession. His list of supporters was long including some of the most successful men in the state. Captain Moore of Sumter, Colonel Irby of Laurens, Colonel Thompson of Spartanburg, Judge O'Neall of Newberry, Vardry McBee of Greenville, Colonel Arthur P. Hayne of Charleston, Samuel Maverick of Pendleton and Colonel Joseph Grisham of Pickens were all listed as supporters and subscribers to the Southern Patriot.

When the convention finally met the representatives from Greenville were once again Unionist. Vardry McBee, Thomas P. Brockman, Perry E. Duncan, Jesse Senter and Ben Perry. These men had some of the best seats in the convention, and that became the subject of remark at the event. The issue finally brought before the convention was to affirm only that South Carolina had the right to leave the union and provided a list of grievances against the government. Perry and the others were able to swing a total of 19 votes against even this watered down version of the original intent of the convention. Robert Barnwell Rhett, the fire-eater from Charleston, would resign from the Senate because the convention did not vote for Secession. With this final flash in the pan, issues once again returned to a low simmer. However, the final rolling boil that would empty the pan was but a scant few years away.

The End of Reason:

The split of the Democratic Party and the nomination of several candidates with one representing the northern centrist position and the others representing the southern position lead to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President by about one-third of the vote. With his election and the control of the country in radical hands there was little Benjamin Perry or the Unionists could do. South Carolina led the way out to form a new nation that would properly represent the state and her voters. The men from Greenville County at this convention would be forced to do little but agree and so the curtain was torn. P.E. Duncan and Joseph Grisham would, like so many of their friends and neighbors, now make the attempt to peacefully leave the union, both voted for the Ordinance of Secession in the Charleston Convention. Ben Perry would not be present, like so many of his friends and neighbors, he was torn between the two pillars.

Typical of these friends was L.H. Shumate. Shumate was a Calhoun man in 1832; he raised a company of minutemen at that time. He served as Captain, Major, and Lt. Colonel of the militia in the Greenville District, but by 1860 he had changed his position. He supported Benjamin Perry and the Unionists. It was his stated position that if the south did secede, war would be inevitable and we would be whipped into submission. He voted for the Union candidates to the State Secession Convention, but in that vote, the die was cast. He, like Perry, then cast everything behind the state. Shumate sent four sons to fight, one of whom was killed in Virginia.

The mood in Greenville had changed greatly by the time William Hans Campbell, P.E. Duncan, William King Easley, James Clement Furman and James Perry Harrison voted to leave the union. Groups like the Southern Rights Association (See the William Green Papers in the letters section) had gained more support as the tone in the north had changed. Vardry McBee spoke to the people of Greenville at a great public meeting, he cautioned that South Carolina must leave the union peacefully. His wisdom was not heard in the fever of the moment. Benjamin Perry called for the men of the dark corner and to them and his long time supporters he stated, "South Carolina has chosen to go to the devil, I have no choice but to go with her." A Charleston lawyer and long time Unionist said it a little more clearly, "South Carolina is too small too be a republic and too big to be an asylum." However, it was Perry's spirit that would allow South Carolina to bring forth the men of the dark corner to fight for the new nation and that spirit would be needed.

The only regiment formed in South Carolina that came from a single county was the Sixteenth. All of its members came from Greenville, the Colonel who organized that regiment was Colonel C.J. Elford, the co-editor of the old Unionist newspaper, and these are facts. The author has often speculated if South Carolina was not trying to put all of its bad eggs in one basket. The use of the Sixteenth both on the coast and in its early engagements seems to indicate some lack of faith. Certainly, the habit of certain companies in naming their camps Camp Perry seems to be a red flag of sorts. It should be remembered that when the Sixteenth followed General Evans Brigade to Mississippi, the mass exodus by that unit seems to have been anticipated for the Sixteenth. Certainly the Sixteenth was placed on the last train to leave Charleston, and the last to arrive in Jackson, and Gist rode the train with them. Crossing the Georgia line, I am sure Gist breathed a sigh of relief, between the conscription laws and the unionist had to be a tough position, as defense of your native state is one thing, defense of Mississippi quite another. It does appear that the Sixteenth did behave well in the short move to Wilmington earlier in the year. However, all of this was before Evan's Brigade presented such a problem when leaving the Charleston coast and at the Georgia line. In the later deployment to northern Georgia from Mississippi, the 16th is once again at the tail of the line and although all the other units in Gist Brigade fought at Chickamauga, the 16th is left on a railroad siding as Longstreet's men pour by.

There is more, including the growth of the Palmetto Light Artillery in the months prior to and during the deployment of the Sixteenth to Wilmington and Jackson. The use of many men in the Sixteenth for the attendant service duties of the brigade, as opposed to committing the unit to action is a fact that appears worthy of mention. However, when the call finally came in the battles around Atlanta and Hood's Tennessee Campaign the men left served well. They did indeed write the name of the Sixteenth in blood from Atlanta to the end of the war. One of the interesting things about the Sixteenth is that the higher rate of desertion and surrender in Mississippi and after Missionary Ridge seems to end about the middle of the Atlanta Campaign, just as the disbanded units of the Palmetto Light Artillery begin to join them. Admittedly this is also when musters and service records are no longer kept, so really knowing is difficult. What effect if any this joining had is unknown but the unit seems to solidify at about that point. However, there is a hopelessness in the letters home that will continue until the war ends. This solidification is near the time when Col. McCullough leaves the unit, as well. He left in August or September at the end of Atlanta. After that, the core that remains, seems to be present to the end. Another interesting fact is that after McCullough left the unit at the end of Atlanta, her Captains commanded the Sixteenth until the consolidation. Boling, from the mountains was the Senior Captain, he appears to have been supported by Holtzclaw, a very sound "rebel" from Brushy Creek and C.M. Furman, a man of considerable means with family connections to the Furman family mentioned earlier. None of these men were ever promoted, nor would they hold regimental command rank in the consolidated regiment formed at the end of the war.

On the home front as the Confederate fortunes slipped so did the conditions in Upper Greenville County. Those men, who felt strongly about Union, often came home and ran the mountains they knew so well.( See William Peahuff) The "English" gentry ruled the flatlands but in the mountains, the old "Scots" and their allies fought a different kind of battle and it was one that centered on Unionism and the ways of the outlaw. In short, it was the way of the highlands. It was a story straight from the revolution and the word Tory is often found in letters of the time. Groups like the one Lt. Kendrick headed, that is mentioned in his letters, hunted many of the men who had served in the Sixteenth. The Dill mentioned as having been killed by bushwhackers is a good example of the nature of this war. The men who hunted these boys were as brutal as the outlaws themselves (Ferguson). It was a return to the Revolution as neighbor killed neighbor. The stories of Shadrack Crane and Wm. Peahuff are typical of both sides of the coin. Well-documented accounts of the escape of Union soldiers and aid given in the mountains of Greenville and Pickens County can be found in many places. It was a horrid time to be alive and a horrid place to try to survive. At one point the "border" was so inflamed and concern about an invasion from Tennessee so intent that Col. Black of the First S.C. Cavalry was sent from Charleston to survey the situation. Consideration was being given to the dispatch of the entire First S.C. Cavalry to the mountains. At another point, a cannon was called for to drive the outliers from possession of one of the Revolutionary forts they occupied.In time with Stoneman's raid and an end to the war this ended, but the old hatred still smoldered and occasionally ignited in unforeseen places. Many left for a new life in the West or Texas. Men of great fortune in the mountains had sons who had deserted and in the light of the new peace felt it best to go west or too Texas, some of them became very wealthy. However, it is doubted that they ever slept well, if they did they were not prudent. Blood feuds died hard in the high cold places and are remembered even today.

A History of Upper Greenville County, South Carolina; Mann Batson

The Sword of Honor; Lt. H.A. Johnson

Vardry McBee: Man of Reason in an Age of Extremes; Roy McBee Smith

Crumbling Defenses or Memoirs and Reminiscences of John Logan Black; McSwain, Eleanor D.

Reminiscences with Speeches and Addresses; B.F. Perry

A Rising Star of Promise, The Civil War Odyssey of David Jason Logan;Thomas, Samuel N. and Silverman, Jason H.:

The Reader of the Law
The Tailor's Apprentice

In his excellent book on Vardry McBee, Roy McBee Smith alludes to a most provocative incident. In 1826, an eighteen year old boy entered into a working arrangement with George Boyles a tailor in Greenville. Ben Perry was reading law at this time in Baylis Earle's office in Greenville. Although Perry had no recorded recollection of having met the young man, in later years he had "the nagging suspicion he had not treated the young apprentice cordially." If that is the case time did not bear out the impression or it was unfounded. The young tailor's apprentice was Andrew Johnson and he would appoint Ben Perry Provisional Governor of the State of South Carolina following the war. "When they met in Washington, Perry tried to lead the President to speak of his days in Greenville to determine what the encounter had been, but the President would only say he remembered Perry." Perry always spoke of Johnson in the highest terms and considered him one of greatest men he had ever known.

Vardry McBee: Man of Reason in an Age of Extremes; Roy McBee Smith

To learn more about Perry's view of Johnson see, Reminiscences with Speeches and Addresses; B.F. Perry

What might have been?

One of the most beautiful stones in a cemetery of beautiful stones is this one found in Christ Church Episcopal. It is the stone of the son of Ben Perry. In full naval motif, it marks the passage of the famous Unisonist son. The time and place of that passing strike me full of questions. What would have happened had the young man whose death is recorded lived but a few more months or years? How would he have stood on the issue of Union and would he have followed his father reluctantly out of the Union? Would he have served and perhaps changed naval history in some way, as a young Ensign on the Alabama, or perhaps with the Union fleet? History and the places of the dead abound with such questions, but few are as compelling as the questions of young Active Midshipman Benjamin Franklin Perry. The stone is inscribed as follows:

Midshipman Benjamin Franklin Perry
Active Midshipman
United States Navy
Born: June 19, 1843
Died: July 3, 1860
Aged: 17 years

The Occupation and a New Brand of Disappointment and Insanity

The death of Lincoln and the appointment of Andrew Johnson placed the Southern Unionist in the spotlight as never before. Johnson, the only Senator from the south to stay loyal, was known to all in the south. A profoundly complex man he was often maligned in his own time and forgotten in ours. His presidency began with a time of great hope for the old Unionist party. Benjamin Perry was quickly thrust in the forefront and the Greenville Unionists were for the first time in control within the state government. If Perry’s concern about offending Johnson was warranted, Johnson in no way showed this to be so, that Perry directly recorded. Perry served well and was followed by James Orr who also served well in difficult times. Johnson's defeat, and the Unionist party’s defeat however sent the men who supported that party to the far corners of the earth. Most were forced to follow the Republican standard and the result was one of the worst occupation administrations in the history of the world. In Greenville County, fair-minded men, like M.K. Robertson and A.A. Stewart (Both members of the Sixteenth) attempted to advance the goals of the old Unionist party within the framework of the corrupt Republican Party. In 1876, M.K. Robertson was defeated in his bid for Sheriff of Greenville County by another man from the Sixteenth, Captain P.D. Gilreath. Gilreath and his old friends from Hampton's Second South Carolina Cavalry were about to end the Republican Party in South Carolina for another 100 years. This, the end result of Reconstruction, was inevitable. It had taken a war and reconstruction, but the Unionists were finally rebels, and so they remain to this day. This era proved one thing to them and to their descendants, the only good government, is no government. Finally, they agreed with the nullifiers who had come to the same conclusion about government in 1865.

For more information about the end of reconstruction in Greenville County follow the link to the Aftermath Section . For a good look at Greenville during Reconstruction, see A Union Officer in Reconstruction.

BATSON, W.M.:A History of Upper Greenville County, South Carolina

DEFOREST, J.W.: A Union Officer in Reconstruction

SINGLETARY, OTIS: Negro Militia and Reconstruction

THOMPSON, HENRY:Ousting the Carpetbagger from South Carolina

WILLIAMSON, JOEL: After Slavery, The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, 1861-1877

Follow General Gist to Aftermath Index, or follow the Flag to the Main Index.

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