Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 26/Charles Jones Colcock
CHARLES JONES COLCOCK.
A TYPICAL CITIZEN AND SOLDIER OF THE OLD REGIME.
According to Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, his Commanding Officer,
Col. Colcock, of the Third South Carolina Cavalry, "was the Active
Commander on the Field, Placed the Troops and was Entitled
to the Honors he Won" at the Battle of Honey Hill—A
Brief but Glowing Sketch of Col. Colcock's Career as a
Merchant of Charleston and Public-spirited and In-
Seven years ago, on the 22nd of October, 1891, one of the best of citizens and a gallant soldier in the gloomiest times, (my words are weighed and measured) entered into rest at "Elmwood," his plantation in Hampton county; his remains we're buried at Stoney Creek Church.
When this sad news went forth who, that knew and appreciated him living, will forget the pang inflicted?
In South Carolina it was quickly realized that a courtly gentleman, a gallant soldier, a genial and lovable Carolinian, honored and esteemed throughout the State, had passed away.
It has been wisely remarked that "men of character are the conscience of the society in which they live;" that "character is an estate in the good will and respect of men, and they who preserve it through life find their reward in a general esteem and a reputation fairly won."
Of Colonel Colcock all this may be truthfully said; he was certainly an admirable citizen, and it is to me a privilege to recall, though imperfectly, the story of a life such as his.
The name revives that of his grandfather, Judge Charles Jones Colcock, son of John and Mellicent Colcock, born in Charleston, 11th August, 1777, and died there on the 26th of January, 1839, a noble Roman, who in his day and generation was held in the highest public and private esteem. As a Judge upon the Bench, and afterwards as president of the Bank of the State of South Carolina, managing millions of the funds of the State, he was a conspicuous figure, a man of ability, piety, courage and public spirit. His wife, Mary Woodward Hutson, was one of a noted family of attractive women; their sons were Thomas H., a planter; John, a merchant of Charleston; Richard W., a graduate of West Point, and superintendent of the Citadel Academy, 1844-52; William F., member of Congress for two terms, 1849-53, and collector of the Port of Charleston, 1853-61.
The subject of this brief memoir was the eldest son of Thomas H. Colcock and Mary Eliza Hay of (old) Beaufort District, a grand-daughter of Colonel A. Hawkes Hay, born in the island of Jamaica, commanding a New York regiment in the war of American Indpendence, and she was a great granddaughter of Judge William Smith, on the Supreme Bench of New York, in Colonial days.
He was the favorite grandson of Judge Colcock, for whom he was named, and with whom he lived from youth to manhood.
Colonel Colcock was a handsome man, of engaging manners, vivacious and charming in conversation, he made friends everywhere. His ruddy complection and hazel brown eyes were inherited from his mother, who was a beautiful woman.
He was born ten miles south of Barnwell Court House, at Bolling Springs, on April 30, 1820.
He first married Miss Caroline Heyward, granddaughter of Thomas Heyward, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and had two children, Caroline and John, both deceased, the latter having fought as a soldier through the late war.
In 1851 he married Miss Lucy Frances Horton, of Huntsville, Ala., whose father was a lawyer from Virginia and whose mother was Miss Otey, also from Virginia. By this marriage he had three children, Charles Jones, now head master of the Porter Military Academy, Frances Horton, assistant professor of mathematics at the South Carolina College, and Errol Hay, who died at the age of 21.
In December, 1864, he married Miss Agnes Bostick, of Beaufort District, daughter of Mr. Benjamin Bostick, who now survives him. It is a romantic circumstance that this wedding had to be postponed for three days because it had been first appointed for the very same day on which the battle of Honey Hill was fought. The following children were born of this union: Catherine, now Mrs. Robert Guerard; Helen McIver, now Mrs. C. C. Gregorie; Woodward, William and Agnes. Of the last three William alone survives.
Colonel Colcock married at the early age of nineteen, and at first lived on his plantation, "Bonnie Doon," on the Okatie river, near Grahamville, spending his summers at this latter place, this community noted as was Bluffton, his later home, for culture, refinement and hospitality.
Later he purchased a plantation where the Colleton river empties into the Broad, and next to Foot Point, his hospitable house with broad piazzas, commanded several fine views of the Broad river and the beautiful Port Royal region. It was here that he was a planter of sea island cotton.
Colonel Colcock had a good school education, but was not a collegian; he was of an observant and suggestive mind and was full of plans and projects of both private and public character.
In those days there was only one daily steamboat connection between Charleston and Savannah, and great inconvenience was felt in the intervening tide-water section, for want of more direct transportation facilities. At an entertainment given to a number of gentlemen at his home, in 1853, he proposed the building of a railroad between the two cities, and he had the honor and credit of projecting and assisting to construct this railroad line, which proved afterwards to be the military backbone of our coast defence, and which later in life he greatly distinguished himself in successfully defending, through the years of the war, with his brave and self-sacrificing regiment.
Colonel Colcock was a director of the Bank of the State, a director of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and he was also one of the proprietors and stockholders of the "Foot Point Land Company," the purpose then being to build up a new city and port at the land-locked junction of Port Royal harbor and the Colleton river, with all the great advantages of deep water; a project participated in by many other leading citizens of Charleston and foiled by the adverse results of war.
After the war ended the other stockholders in this company apparently lost all interest in their land property, and Colonel Colcock, having faith in the future development of the place, based on his knowledge of its great advantages as a deep water port, resolved to protect the interests of the company, and during about twenty-four years paid from his personal means the taxes on the property.
About one year before his death it was rumored that a syndicate had been formed to buy up "Foot Point" to make it the terminus of a railroad, which would make the company lands very valuable. A few outsiders then purchased the interests of one or two stock-holders, and got a receiver appointed for the entire property in opposition to Colonel Colcock's efforts and those of a majority of the stockholders to hold on to the property and prevent its sacrifice.
An incident of his life, which illustrates his fidelity to the South and its cause, grew out of the suggestion made to him, during the progress of the "war between the States," to sell certain property and place the proceeds in England pending the issue; this he indignantly refused to do and forbade any further remark on the subject, saying: "Rather than exhibit such a want of faith in Southern success, and so weaken the faith of others, I will cheerfully submit to the loss of all the property I possess should the North eventually triumph."
When the war had ended and the planters on the coast had no resources with which to commence their planting operations, Colonel Colcock proposed that the United States government issue to the planters on credit the large supplies which had been prepared for the Union soldiers on the coast.
This was done, and it enabled many to start planting who would otherwise have had no resources. Eventually the debts were cancelled, as the crops were all lost.
After his second marriage, Colonel Colcock entered commercial life in Charleston as a member of the cotton firm of Fackler, Colcock & Co., which did a large business, receiving cotton from North Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, Charleston then being the chief market for several cotton growing States. This firm was a branch of the great factorage house of Bradley, Wilson & Co., of New Orleans.
By a curious coincidence the completion and opening of the Charleston and Savannah Railway, projected by Colonel Colcock, was being celebrated in Charleston when the news of Mr. Lincoln's election was made known, with its attendant excitement. The sentiment of resistance was largely developed at these festivities, where the eloquence of Bartow, of Savannah, and (Alfred) Huger, of Charleston, electrified the great assemblages.
After the death of his second wife from pneumonia a new phase of Colonel Colcock's life developed; without military training and experience, his fondness for fine horses and skill as a horseman soon transferred him from civil life to the command of 3d South Carolina cavalry. He was elected colonel early in 1862, and led the regiment with signal ability until the close of the war. Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Johnson, and Major John Jenkins, being the other field officers. He was constantly on duty on the coast line of defences for more than three years, active and enterprising; the 3d South Carolina cavalry performing this arduous and important duty under daily disabilities and hardships, and it should be added—a service unobserved and to a great extent unknown to the armies elsewhere.
It is in order to say that the "3d South Carolina cavalry" was a volunteer regiment, numbering about one thousand men, from Barnwell, Colleton, Beaufort and Charleston districts; officers and privates were largely property owners and representative citizens of the tide-water section of the State; their simple creed was: "Love South Carolina."
Colonel Colcock had lived all his life in this region, and was personally known in every parish from the Ashley to the Savannah, and so it was that when war came to these peaceful and refined homes. Colonel Colcock was called upon to lead this well-equipped and devoted volunteer force!
An incident of the battle of Honey Hill properly belongs to this memoir, and should be related here.
Colonel Colcock was in command of the 3d military district, in which the battle was fought. Of course when Major-General Gustavus W. Smith, with the small force of Georgia infantry, arrived on the field the question of command was definitely settled, but they graduate gentlemen as well as soldiers at West Point. General Smith, as a soldier, knew that Colonel Colcock was very familiar with the locality, that he must depend on him for information of the field; he, therefore, with rare courtesy, requested him to remain in command of the battle line, and made his headquarters a little in the rear of that line, so that he could be readily consulted in case of need.
Colonel Colcock promptly assigned that gallant gentleman and devoted soldier, Major John Jenkins, to the left, with all of the 3d cavalry on the field, about 250 men with rifles, and a howitzer from Earle's Battery, under Lieutenant J. P. Scruggs; the Georgia infantry to the centre; while he took position with the artillery on the right, at the head of the Grahamville road, and placed Captain H. M. Stuart, of the Beaufort Artillery, in command of the guns.
The writer, in an official interview with General Smith the morning after the victory, congratulated him on his timely arrival with the Georgia troops, and the decisive success of the day before. Pointing to Colonel Colcock, General Smith replied: "Captain! congratulate that gentleman; he was the active commander on the field, placed the troops and is entitled to the honors he has won."
Colonel Colcock, in reply to General Smith, paid a glowing tribute to the Georgians and Carolinians, who had held their ground all day.
General Smith was surely a man of noble impulses and high character to have waived the command to a junior officer, and then awarded him high praise for such a splendid victory.
In the four months succeeding the victory of Honey Hill Colonel Colcock was constantly in command of his regiment; he was at Tullyfinny and other engagements on the coast, until the advance of General Sherman's right wing from Port Royal Ferry, through South Carolina, when General Hardee assigned the 3d regiment to duty on General's Sherman's right flank, which placed Colonel Colcock's command between Charleston and the enemy during the movement of the troops from that city to North Carolina. The 3d cavalry was in a number of small engagements, notably near Florence, and were uniformly successful, and finally reached Goldsboro, N. C., the day that President Davis met General Joseph E. Johnston in conference. Colonel Colcock heard there of General Lee's surrender. As. is well known, this was soon followed by the capitulation of General Johnston's army and the end of the war. At Union Court House, where the regiment had been ordered, President Davis passing through, sent for Colonel Colcock, informed him that the war was virtually over, that it was useless to attempt to cross the Mississippi and join General Kirby Smith, and advised him to furlough his command for ninety days, unless sooner assembled. This was done the parting was a sad one. There were many pathetic scenes and touching incidents between the colonel and the several companies of this distinguished regiment when farewells were exchanged and last words spoken. There is multiplied testimony in my correspondence as to the very close relations existing during more than three years' service between the commander and his brave soldiers, each and all so devoted to the State and "the Cause." My space is limited, yet I cannot forego two extracts of many letters received, which faithfully reflect the sentiment of the regiment. Lieutenant Rountree, of Company "K," writes:
"I readily recall that the entire regiment had every confidence in Colonel Colcock as a commander, and we were proud to have him in charge of us. His military bearing, the suavity and mildness of his manners, his polite consideration of any personal or official request, no matter from what source, stamped him as a superior man. These were the traits that endeared him to every member of his regiment. The term popular can be applied to him in its fullest sense."
The Rev. John G. Williams, lately deceased, says of him:
"I was chaplain of the 3rd cavalry from its organization to the surrender; was near Colonel Colcock those four years in camp, on the march, in battle, and can truly say South Carolina sent to the war no son nobler, braver, more devoted to the cause, than Charles Jones Colcock. A typical gentleman, he stood before his regiment, numbering over one thousand men, an inspiring example, to be honored and imitated. Nothing mean came near his head or heart. He was a sincere Christian; his life in the army contradicted the general belief that it was impossible to lead a Christian life in camp; he was the same there as at home. No one ever heard an oath or improper story from his lips; he felt the responsibility of his position, and did his duty daily to his command, his country, and his God.
"I can never forget the disbanding of the regiment at Union Court House. After telling the several companies that the war was over, and bidding each and all an affectionate farewell, he retired to his tent, and, unable to restrain his feelings, sobbed aloud with uncontrollable grief.
"His death was a very happy one. While passing through the valley of the shadow of death he asked his wife to sing his favorite hymn, 'Jesus, Lover of My Soul,' which she tried to do, and weak as he was he tried to join. In the fight with the enemies of his country he was vanquished; in his last fight with death he was more than conqueror, through the Great Captain of his salvation, whom he loved and trusted."
As to his military career, it may be written of him as of another knightly leader of men, that—
"Wher-e'er he fought,
Put so much of his heart into his act,
That his example had a magnet's force,
And all were swift to follow whom all loved."
At the close of the war, having the care of two sea island plantations, about seven miles from the mouth of Broad river, he made his summer home in Bluffton, near by. It was the period of that demoralizing Federal agency, "the Freedmen's Bureau," with its false promises, "forty acres and a mule," and kindred follies.
As long as full rations were freely distributed the laborers were few indeed. With unmanageable labor, largely increased planting expenses to be provided for, crops swept away by the devastating caterpillar for three or four successive years, and scarcity of money, which prevented factors from freely furnishing capital to meet these new conditions, sea island planting was largely deferred!
He moved his family to Savannah, Ga., and engaged in the life-insurance business, for which he was well qualified. He finally made his home in Hampton county, and planted short staple cotton with some measure of success in difficult times.
This too imperfect tribute of respect is finished. Would it were worthier. I could do no less in memory of one "gone before," who filled my eye in early life as a public-spirited, forceful citizen, and later a gallant soldier.
It had been my privilege to know him, to feel the radiant atmosphere which habitual courtesy and sparkling conversation generated around him, and when the sad news of his death came to me I realized that a kind, hopeful and brave spirit had passed from earthly view, which for so many years had shone conspicuously, as well in the sweet amenities as in the stern realities of life!
William A. Courtenay.
Innisfallen, October 22, 1898.