April 11, 2011

A Letter from South Carolina

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, or the War Between the States. My family lost a lot during the war and it changed the course of the family’s lives.

My many-greats grandfather, Lucius Bellinger Northrop, was the Commissary of the Confederate Army and was exiled to the north after the War… the North being Maryland. One of my American cousins, now living in England, wrote a lengthy book about the General.Jerry's bookOne of my beloved cousins, Judge Edward Skottowe Northrop, another direct descendant of the Generals, and I went to find the General’s grave in Baltimore on the anniversary of his death. We went armed with a roll of brown paper and some crayons, and took a rubbing of the grave. general northropI remember as a child, reading a letter from my great-grandmother to my grand-mother, Miss Nina Constance Pinckney Didier, then a young teenager. 4-10 003 The letter was written in 1906 to my grandmother who was summering with the General’s brother, the Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, at Sullivan’s Island.letter fort sumpter copyIt reads, in part,

Your post card of Fort Sumter has just come… It takes me back to my baby days, I can see myself again, in my dress with lilac rosebuds on it, playing in the garden at the Sisters’ school in Charleston and watching the shells from the southern batteries falling into Fort Sumter, held by Yankees.

I know that the Civil War is still very controversial, and while I am not celebrating it, or the South, I am acknowledging my history and my ancestors and the role they played in shaping this country, 150 years ago this week.


  1. What facinating family history! As an american history major in undergrad I esp love this post - thank you for sharing!
    xo Allison

  2. The Pinckney Family through Charles Pinckneys line (1699-1783) married into the Lowndes line which is my husbands line.

  3. That letter is a treasure! Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Meg, that is so poignant and fascinating. the detail of the lilac rosebuds contrasting to the shells falling on Fort Sumpter makes it unforgettable. I am about to improve my hazy knowledge of the Civil War as I heard a marvellous Radio 4 programme about the American poets of that time. I hadn't realised Walt Whitman nursed so many wounded soldiers.

  5. I find all this so fascinating. The letter especially so. My family, also Southern, lost everthing in Virginia. The upside is Burke, Virginia is named after my ancestor.

  6. Great post and great history. Last sentence, however, was a downer. A little over the PC top.

  7. Loved this post - love knowing how American history relates to our everyday lives.

    I have an ancestor who fought for the North from Maine. My mom has a picture of him in uniform hanging in her stairway.

    It's always so interesting how everything is connected.

  8. Oh, we just watched, yet again, The Civil War Series by Ken Burns last week. Truly an amazing record of history. Love that you have that letter. So special.

    Hope you are well.

  9. Thank you. The War was a sad part of our history--but the people who fought for their principles on both sides are to be honored. Mary

  10. The fraternal side of my mother's family also had a Pinckney connection in the Carolinas - need to do some research on that! There must be lots of Pinckneys to find out about.

  11. People forget there was a draft to fight the war. People were drafted. the event 50 years after the ending where warriors from both the North and South shook hands lacked members of black troops that served. lacked because they were not invited-- -- they did not form organizations --perhaps to difficult to locate --many had passed? -- I don't know, but if they exist where are those organizations?, and where do they publish their historical magazine or monographs?? Friday is Emancipation Day in Washington D.C. and our President is in Williamsburg-- who built all those great buildings who made all those bricks??

  12. Well said. My roots are in Baltimore (paternal) and Middleburg/Upperville, VA (maternal). I've lived in CA for 40 years and am thinking of moving back to the South. I agr4ee that it's important to acknowledge and honor both the horror of the Civil War Between the States, in every sense - the issue of slavery and the devastating bloodbath and it's sociopolitical aftermath with which we are still dealing today- and the familial and social histories of North and South.

    It's not about PC (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's about understanding and claiming the truth and using it to move forward positively.

    Thanks so much for your post and sharing the letter!

  13. Meg, what a history!
    My son (11) had to work out his first oral presentation about Lincoln's assassination and I learned so much about the civil war!
    There is much to be said about the hardships, positions and the controversy of this horrible war and to find oneself on the "wrong ' side of history must have been terrible for many Southerners...
    As a German living after the horrors the Nazis did to others I feel so strong about that image and the impact it still has on me today! The comparison is perhaps too strong, but you surely know what I mean.
    It is wonderful that you could keep the correspondence from so long ago! All those stories!
    I have many as well, unfortunately letters are mostly lost!

  14. I have the utmost regard for your knowledge and appreciation of objects that link us with artisans who made the past worth remembering and who make the future worth preserving. For this, you have my deepest respect and fondest best wishes.

    I am, however, in adament disagreement with this post.

    I am not a native-born American. Thus, it never fails to amaze me the lengths to which those of you who are will go to establish your bona fides – your links to ancestors who fought here or there; to the length of time your forbears spent on these shores.

    Why does it matter?

    Are you a more worthwhile person because great-great Grandpa came over on the Mayflower? Or fought at Appomattox?

    Is this not why a Revolution was waged?

    If your ancestors were on the wrong side of history, it is not your doing. If they were on the wrong side of the greatest moral question of our age, it is not your responsibility. On the other hand, it is repugnant to "acknowledge" that they “shaped this country” without noting that it was in the most horrific way. They were as wrong as it is possible to be, and we suffer the consequences to this day.

    If your ancestors fought for the Confederancy, they did not have the moral wherewithal to recognize that they were committing a grave sin, a crime against humanity. It is not your fault - let it lie.

  15. The Civil War is and will always remain controversial as you write. I believe it is appropriate to celebrate the men and women of both the Confederacy and the Union and the sacrifices they made during it and because of it. It is our nation's history, and for some of us, our patrimony. I am glad that we are a united nation today, and I believe the division of America into two separate nations would have been a tragedy. However, even though I may disagree with some of our ancestors motives, I celebrate the love of their country they had that unfortunately led to the war between the States.

  16. I'm a little behind in my blog reading but just wanted to thank you for sharing this letter. What made the Ken Burns series so compelling were the readings from letters written by common folk who lived through the war. These personal accounts really make history come to life.

  17. Even the NY Times is doing a series (Disunion)to examine this period in America's history. Thanks for sharing your bit of family history.

  18. For me, it is always well to honor the past so as to not forget the lessons contained there. The Civil War was fought and won/lost by a people far different from the nation we are today. Thanks for remembering. Mary


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