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Queen of the Confederacy

The Innocent Deceits of Lucy Holcombe Pickens

Elizabeth Wittenmyer Lewis

Publication Year: 2002

"Submissiveness is not my role, but certain platitudes on certain occasions are among the innocent deceits of the sex." A strong character with a fervent belief in woman's changing place, Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1832-1899) was not content to live the life of a typical nineteenth-century Southern belle. Wife of Francis Wilkinson Pickens, the secessionist governor of South Carolina on the eve of the Civil War, Lucy was determined to make her mark in the world. She married "the right man," feeling that "a woman with wealth or prestige garnered from her husband's position could attain great power." She urged Pickens to accept a diplomatic mission to the court of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and in St. Petersburg Lucy captivated the Tsar and his retinue with her beauty and charm. Upon returning to the states, she became First Lady of South Carolina just in time to encourage a Confederate unit named in her honor (The Holcombe Legion) off to war. She was the only woman to have her image engraved on Confederacy paper currency, the uncrowned "Queen of the Confederacy."

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Queen of the Confederacy

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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi

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pp. vii-ix

Paul Rigali, a Civil war buff in Houston, Texas, told me that the only woman to have her image engraved on Confederate paper currency was a Texan. I dismissed the statement as another Texas brag. To prove his point, Mr. Rigali produced Confederate one dollar and one hundred-dollar bills engraved with the image of Lucy Holcombe...

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pp. xi-xiii

A life story of Lucy Petway Holcombe Pickens would not have been possible without the interest and cooperation of Lucy’s great, great grandnieces, Gretta Greer Davis and Cherry Ann Greer Little. These sisters showed me their cache of Holcombe/Greer family letters, memorabilia, photographs, and the book, Leaves from a Family...

Principal Characters

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pp. xiv-xvi

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CHAPTER ONE: Changing Times (1830–1840)

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pp. 1-7

Lucy Petway Holcombe was nineteen when her fiancé was killed in a filibustering expedition to free Cuba from the bondage of Spanish rule. The year was 1851 and the young girl expressed her feelings by writing, “What life is more sublime than one given to a nation struggling for the principles of moral and political freedom?”1 Sentiment such as this, typical of Victorian prose...

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CHAPTER TWO: “Riches have taken to themselves wings and flown away.” Eugenia Dorothea Holcombe (1840–1846)

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pp. 8-17

Lucy, born into an antebellum, slave-holding society, would be aware of the responsibility and demands of this oppressive system that the mistress of the plantation helped maintain.1 From dawn to dusk she would see her mother tend to the basic needs of the slaves and to the instruction and supervision of work. Everything was taught and done by hand on the premises...

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CHAPTER THREE “If she wears blue stockings she contrives to let her petticoats hide them.” Lucy Petway Holcombe (1846–1849)

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pp. 18-26

Early on a February morning in 1846, Lucy and Anna started their journey to the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.1 Shivering from cold and excitement, they’d be urged to hurry, as their father waited with the carriage. Off to the side, Mr. S. H. Mathews, entrusted as guardian to the Holcombe sisters on this voyage east, watched as the girls said their...

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CHAPTER FOUR: “A stranger in a strange land.” Eugenia Dorothea Holcombe (1850)

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pp. 27-35

The town of Memphis, Tennessee, sat on clay banks high above the Mississippi River. Below the town the noisy, whiskey-soaked waterfront of saloons, brothels, and warehouses waited for the trade brought by steamboats. On this January morning in 1850 all action centered on the steamboat Eclipse. The shriek of its steam whistle warned loiterers off the gangplank as wood smoke billowed...

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CHAPTER FIVE: “My spirit is restless and longs for activity.” Lucy Petway Holcombe (1851)

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pp. 36-42

Lucy traveled to New Orleans with her mother and sister to shop for Anna Eliza’s trousseau and while there she met her old suitor, St. George Lee. The meeting was not by accident but, when the time came for Lucy to return home to Marshall, St. George refused to accompany her as she requested. No explanation of his need to return to his business in Mobile satisfied the...

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CHAPTER SIX: “The only kindred blood I ever knew, stains the green shore of Cuba.” Lucy Petway Holcombe (1851)

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pp. 43-48

The rendezvous, as described by Lucy in The Free Flag of Cuba, took place Friday, 31 July 1851, at Old Hickory, the plantation owned by the Sigur family, which was close to the Mississippi River and New Orleans.1 A group of men sat in the center of the room, their attention on a large map spread out on the table. General Narciso Lopez hovered nearby while the handsome Colonel...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: “My home is in the prairied West and God is nearer us than fashion.” Lucy Petway Holcombe (1852–1857)

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pp. 49-61

Lucy spent much of the following year at home, and, as her mother wrote to Theodore, she was occupied with, “sleeping, reading, writing and music.”1 Comforted by the love of her family, she probably enjoyed the daily pleasures of gardening with her mother and riding out to the farm at Fern Lake with her father. Although Colonel Holcombe may not have been a practical businessman...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: The Marriage Mart of the South (1857)

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pp. 62-72

The mountains of western Virginia provided a welcome summer retreat for residents of the fever-infested lowlands and coastal regions of the Southern States. Resort hotels and cottages were clustered in valleys ringed by numerous mountains and mineral springs. The grandest of these hotels, White Sulphur Springs, known as “The White,” ruled over lush green lawns against a...

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CHAPTER NINE: “The heart hath reason which reason knows nothing of.” Blaise Pascal (1858)

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pp. 73-78

It was April and Wyalusing never looked prettier. Yellow jessamine twined about the tall white pillars and filled the air with a sweet scent. From the swing on the wide verandah the singsong laughter of sister Anna’s children rippled on the breeze. The clopping of horse hooves signaled the town’s only carriage for hire coming up the curving driveway. A shiver of panic may have seized...

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CHAPTER TEN: “talking of elevated and mighty themes . . .” Francis W. Pickens (1858)

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pp. 79-86

Francis, with Lucy by his side, was about to realize his fondest dream of crossing the ocean with his love, “Holding each others hands, looking at the stars and to the heavens, talking of elevated and mighty themes . . . mingling our souls together in the rapture of holy and consecrated...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: “The confused sound of an unknown language . . . made me feel my isolation.” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1858)

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pp. 87-91

They boarded a ship at Stettin, on the Baltic, and sailed to the Russian port of Kronstadt, docking the morning of 6 July 1858.1 Francis paced the cluttered stateroom, pocket-watch in hand. Lucy, her new Paris bonnet shading the whiteness of her face, may have mollified her husband with a light kiss to his cheek and handed him the enameled violet and diamond breast pin...

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CHAPTER TWELVE: “It was very marked and not known to happen before to a foreigner.” Francis Wilkinson Pickens (1858)

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pp. 92-100

Having arrived at St. Petersburg in the summer, they saw the city built by Peter the Great at its best, its construction a marvel of engineering. Thousands of serfs from Russia’s vast regions had driven piles deep under the marshy ground and laid on them great slabs of granite to form the city’s foundation. On these slabs rose magnificent palaces and churches with walls three and four...

Image Plates

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: “I suspect it will look more like a Moscovite Don Cossack than an honest American child.” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1859–1860)

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pp. 101-107

The November winds from off the Baltic Sea beat against the double windowpanes and chilled the thick walls of the Palace. Daylight hours shortened. The sun did not rise until nine-thirty in the morning and hid its pale face below the horizon by two o’clock in the afternoon. A central furnace brought warmth by a system of flues. Confined to the house as a precautionary measure by...

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN: “There is nothing real about European society but its hollowness.” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1860)

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pp. 108-115

Sick with longing for home and feeling trapped in Russia, Lucy prayed that God would show her what was her duty. Not waiting for divine manifestation, she made up her mind on a Saturday in early December 1859 to leave in the coming week and take Tom with her. That Sunday night Francis became seriously ill. Two doctors attended him while he remained in danger. Frightened...

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: “I find myself going up the hill to Wyalusing.” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1860)

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pp. 116-125

The warm air of June 1860 melted the thick ice on the Neva and swarms of carpenters, plasterers, and painters began repairing the damage caused by the sub-zero temperatures of the Russian winter. Little Eugenia fussed with a cold and teething, and the American doctor thought she might benefit from a more moderate climate. An alarmed Francis urged Lucy to take their child...

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: “I am where duty & honor demand me.” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1861)

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pp. 126-133

Governor Pickens settled his family into a luxurious suite of apartments at the Charleston Hotel, and Lucy initiated her new role with dignity. Friends noticed the change. No longer the chatty, frivolous young belle they had known at the Springs, her graceful movements and soft musical voice communicated a tone of gentility and intellect. People, particularly men, continued to be drawn...

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: “It was grand—it was awful.” Clara Victoria Dargan (1861)

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pp. 134-140

The stagecoach rolled into Marshall and turned up Burleson Street, trailed by boys looking for excitement. The coach’s leather curtains pulled aside and two eager faces peered through the narrow opening, anxious for sight of the dear ones they had not seen in three years. Lucinda’s hands shook as she brushed the dust from her mistress’s heavy cape while the coachman urged...

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: “Submissiveness is not my role . . . ” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1861)

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pp. 141-147

The flag of the Confederacy waved above the battered walls of Fort Sumter, beside it the flag of South Carolina. Charlestonians exulted. But the cheering turned to anxiety when the news reached Charleston that President Lincoln had called up 75,000 men to defend the Union. The nation now faced the stern realities of war. This spurred the holdout state of Virginia to secede, the eighth...

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CHAPTER NINETEEN: “The only comfort in all this misery is a little good talk now and then.” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1861–1863)

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pp. 148-157

The fall of Sumter, followed by the Confederates’ victory at Manassas in July, 1861, raised the fighting spirit of the South’s soldiers. The Confederate Legislature selected the motto, Deo Vindice, (defended by God).1 Bulletins arrived daily, citing the Union forces as panic stricken and fleeing in terror. The South felt justified in separation from the Union and looked on itself as God’s chosen...

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CHAPTER TWENTY: “A volcano under that exterior of stillness and glitter.” Clara Victoria Dargan (1863–1865)

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pp. 158-164

The administration of Francis Wilkinson Pickens as governor of South Carolina ended 31 December 1862. At the forefront of politics since the age of twenty, he had thrived on the arguments and decision-making of government. Having reached the age of fifty-nine, tired and ill, he longed to return to the quiet solitude of his beloved Edgewood. It is doubtful that Lucy shared this longing...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: “Out of the dead, cold ashes, life again.” John Bannister Tabb (1865–1869)

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pp. 165-176

Early in February of 1865, Union soldiers left Augusta, Georgia and headed to Columbia, South Carolina. Their route took them close to Edgefield and talk ran high of plundering the ex-governor’s plantation. It was rumored that Francis had vanished into the dim unknown of the interior.2 He may have gone to his sister’s plantation in Alabama. It is not known if Lucy went with him...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: “Rouse yourself from the sweet sad dream and face the battle of life.” Ellen Middleton (1869–1875)

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pp. 177-183

Tears blur Lucy’s letter to her mother—“Come back. I can not stand another night or day . . . I feel an insane instinct to flee to the uttermost parts of the earth yet I know I can never flee from the awful void & dreary pain & desolation in my breast & in my miserable life . . . Aunt Charlotte [one of the house servants] has come in to say she must have her winter frock—checked homespun...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: “The Joan of Arc of Carolina” John Hope Franklin (1876–1893)

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pp. 184-191

Douschka returned to Edgewood the summer of 1876, a time of unrest and revolt. Throughout her adolescent years, Douschka witnessed her mother and others loyal to the Confederacy refuse to accept defeat and, like most White Southerners, found it difficult to accept the concept of Blacks and Northerners placed in positions of authority. Unable to adjust to the changed...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: “We do not forget!” Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1894–1899)

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pp. 192-198

Grieving friends and family gathered to comfort Lucy and Douschka’s children. Fleming Gardner arrived with love and support for his dear “Lady Bird.” And there were Theodore and dear “Mamee” Lucinda to console, for they, too, were heartbroken. Lucy tried to rouse herself from the depths of despair, knowing that with Lucinda’s help, she must care for her grandchildren. They...

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pp. 199-201

Theodore Holcombe continued to live at Edgewood at the invitation of Lucy’s granddaughters. He wrote to his brother, Philemon, saying he had little to do but “superintend with the general charge of the place and things.” He rented out the parcel of land that Lucy gave him but regretted that he hadn’t the means to develop it. Theodore missed his sister and dreamt very often of her, “always lovely...


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pp. 203-205


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pp. 206-207

Appendix C: HOLCOMBE GENEALOGY and Abbreviations

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pp. 208-210


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pp. 211-234


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pp. 235-242


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pp. 243-253

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414356
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411461

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2002

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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
  • Pickens, Lucy Petaway Holcombe.
  • Governors' spouses -- South Carolina -- Biography.
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