Letter from W.F. de Saussure to Governor Andrew G. Magrath regarding the "silent sufferers" among the faculty at the University of South Carolina, 15 April 1865

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Document Description:

This letter 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.

As we know today, the war was all but over by April 15, 1865. Here we see a different mindset, even as we also glimpse the hard hand of war reaching into places beyond armies, navies, or what most of us would consider high statecraft. DeSaussure, a former Senator, active secessionist, and signer of the Ordinance of Secession—his son, William Davie, was killed at Gettysburg—writes on behalf of the “silent sufferers” on the faculty of the University of South Carolina. They haven’t been paid for almost a year. Affairs on the home front are so out of whack that the Trustees (of which DeSaussure is one) can’t hold a meeting. And he’s working entirely from memory, “my memoranda in relation to collage matters hav[ing] been burnt with all my other papers.”

A profound sense of disorder—the gloomy state of public affairs—follows. What Thomas Jefferson Goodwyn suggested in March, after the burning of Columbia, seems even worse now. Some sense of hope against hope appears—yet DeSaussure is relying on history for sustenance, particularly the American Revolution, rather than the gloomy tide of current events.

What choice remains but to fight it out? Complete loss, utter degradation, the depth of absolute infamy and dishonor—note the totality in the categories; there is no partial shame, partial loss, partial dishonor—follows surrender. And, as Magrath had stressed in his December proclamation, nowhere was more at stake than in South Carolina, the first to secede. Better to die than to give up. And yet we know that Confederates did give up; indeed those with Robert E. Lee had already done so, at Appomattox Court House, less than a week earlier. That they did perhaps tells many things: and it raises a question we perhaps ought to ask with great sensitivity to a variety of possible answers. In fact it forces us to ask that question. Why, given the totality of their terrors, did the Confederates not fight it out to the bitter end—to the very last man, as DeSaussure seems to suggest they should? --Dr. Paul Anderson, Clemson University


W.F. de Saussure to Governor Andrew G. Magrath. 15 April 1865. Series 513004. Governor Andrew Gordon Magrath, Letters received and sent, 1864-1865. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

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 3-4.5 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.

Indicator 3-4.6 Explain how the Civil War affected South Carolina’s economy, including destruction of plantations, towns, factories, and transportation systems.

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.

Related Virtual Tour and Resources:

Governor Andrew G. Magrath And The Box They Buried The State In (Virtual Tour)

Governor Andrew G. Magrath Papers