Petition to Governor Andrew G. Magrath asking for a military exemption for J.A. Stevenson, 7 January 1865
This petition comes from the papers of South Carolina Governor Andrew G. Magrath (1813-1893). He served as governor from 1864 to 1865 in the closing months of the American Civil War. As the last Confederate governor, his papers document the frustrations, anxieities, fears, and hopes of South Carolinians.
Writing from Marion, the petitioners request an exemption for 48-year-old J.A. Stevenson. Stevenson is in poor health—“of very delicate constitution,” as they phrase it. He has chronic problems with congestive chills [malaria] and typhoid; he also suffers from “gravel in the kidneys,” or kidney stones. He is not fit for active service.
The petition is not striking because it describes Stevenson’s debilitating illnesses. Rather it is striking for the almost imperceptible way in which it illustrates people facing choices. As a “bonded agriculturalist”—someone who has been supplying the Confederate government—Stevenson is important to the cause on the home front. He is “the only one in the neighborhood who has the means of alleviating the wants of the many poor around him.” And he is the “only male person over the age of five years on his premises and his abstraction from home would lay his provisions liable to waste and depredations from the many deserters who infest our neighborhood.”
For Stevenson, the choice was between militia service and, as he had his petitioners phrase it, the cause on the home front. He suggests that he could better serve at home, being sure to emphasize the sustenance he provides to the poor. All of which may be true, but it begs us to ask whether a sense of lost cause is shaping Stevenson’s choice. Others in his area have already made their choice and deserted the cause. For Magrath, who holds the power of exemption, the choices are essentially two: does he believe Stevenson? After all, a man in such poor health seems no match for pestiferous deserters and potential slave rebels. And whether or not he believes Stevenson, Magrath still faces the choice of how best to allocate the state’s resources; he essentially has the power, and the choice, of assigning Stevenson to the duty the state mandates of him, whether in arms or on the farm. The petition reminds us that any decision to exempt from conscription was not denial of state authority, but an extension of state authority. -- Dr. Paul Anderson, Clemson University.
Petition to Governor Andrew G. Magrath. 7 January 1865. Series 513004. Governor Andrew Gordon Magrath, Letters received and sent, 1864-1865. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction and South Carolina’s role in these events.
Indicator 3-4.4 Outline the course of the Civil War and South Carolina’s role in significant events, including the Secession Convention, the firing on Fort Sumter, the Union blockade of Charleston, and Sherman’s march through South Carolina.
Indicator 3-4.5 Summarize the effects of the Civil War on the daily lives of people of different classes in South Carolina, including the lack of food, clothing, and living essentials and the continuing racial tensions.
Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America
Indicator 4-6.6 Explain the impact of the Civil War on the nation, including its effects on the physical environment and on the people—soldiers, women, African Americans, and the civilian population of the nation as a whole.
Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.
Indicator 8-3.6 Compare the effects of the Civil War on the daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, women, Confederate and Union soldiers, African Americans, and children.
Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.
Indicator USHC-4.4 Outline the course and outcome of the Civil War, including the role of African American military units; the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation; and the geographic, political, and economic factors involved in the defeat of the Confederacy.