- Living a Big War in a Small Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Confederacy by Philip N. Racine
This case study of Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Civil War is narrowly conceived in both coverage and significance. Philip N. Racine is intimately familiar with Spartanburg and the events that took place there during the war, but he does not use that focus to expand on the war’s impact for the rest of the South.
Spartanburg was an up-country farming district, producing primarily grain rather than cotton. The local population was almost evenly split between farm owners and tenants. Approximately a third of the population was African American, mostly slaves, but slaveholdings were small. Half the slave owners possessed six or fewer slaves. A small town in the district, also named Spartanburg, was home to Wofford College and the Spartanburg Female College.
Like most South Carolinians, residents of Spartanburg became convinced that northern abolitionism posed a threat to their way of life. They supported secession and were initially enthusiastic about the outbreak of war. There was enough antiwar opinion, however, for one resident to warn that speaking in favor of the Union constituted a “HANGING CRIME— treason” (89). As the war continued, the initial martial fervor dimmed. Spartanburg residents grumbled about conscription, taxes, war speculators, and shortages of food and goods. Deserters and soldiers returning after the surrender brought disorder. [End Page 599]
Fortunately for the district, Spartanburg remained out of the path of the armies throughout the war. Although the district suffered a high casualty rate among its young men and the toll of inflation and economic hardship, civilians remained at a farther remove from the war than was true in other parts of the South. As a result it became a favored destination for refugees from elsewhere. Charlestonian Margaret “Meta” Grimball provided an account of refugee life, at least for the wealthy, in Spartanburg. Union troops finally invaded Spartanburg at the close of the war in pursuit of the fleeing Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.
Racine devotes two chapters to the situation of African Americans during the war. Always sensitive about preserving white supremacy, whites in the district feared more overt attacks on their power, including slave rebellion, during the war. In particular, Racine quotes at length from judicial records showing the increasingly severe penalties assessed for what, before the war, would have been considered minor offenses. A second chapter is a case history of the slave Catherine, accused by her master David Lipscomb of burning his stables in early 1865. South Carolina governor Andrew Magrath received a petition from local citizens asking that Catherine be pardoned. Although the disposition of the case remains unknown, the petitioners acted because of Catherine’s youth and feeblemindedness as well as Lipscomb’s reputation as a severe master. Rather than seeing in the neighbors’ intervention an example of slave society paternalism, Racine notes the extreme level of cruelty necessary before local whites acted on Catherine’s behalf.
The diary kept by Emily Lyles Harris, whose husband, David, enlisted in the war provides Racine the opportunity for another case study. With David absent, Emily ran the farm, raised their six children, and supervised the ten slaves. She struggled not just with the practical problems this work entailed, but with her own depression, nervousness about her increasingly disobedient slaves, and desperation to the point that she feared for her sanity.
This short book will be useful to those with a specific interest in Spartanburg, but Racine does not situate the book in a larger historiography. There is a massive literature on the southern home front that addresses issues of southern nationalism, changes in race and gender relations, and the reasons for Confederate defeat. Occasionally, Racine ventures a general conclusion based on his evidence. For example, the civic-minded ladies in Spartanburg sewed and raised supplies for the troops but objected when the products of their labors were diverted to soldiers from other states. Racine notes that this kind...