Perhaps every mother needs to face up to the fact that her son entertains dreams of glory which may find their way out into reality when he enlists in the army. I don’t know how young men’s dreams took shape in the 1800s, but as soon as he could after the 1861 start of hostilities, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles grabbed his chance to turn his own dreams into reality. On September 5, 1863—supposedly as soon as he could after school graduation—T. T. Broyles enlisted at McPhersonville, South Carolina. Lieutenant L. J. Walker did the honors, enrolling him as a private in Company A of the Rutledge Mounted Riflemen and Horse Artillery.
At some point, Company A combined with Company B, Seventh Regiment of the South Carolina Cavalry, as noted on Thomas Broyles’ service records:
Shortly after that date, on May 27, 1864, newly-promoted Colonel Alexander Cheves Haskell assumed the responsibilities of the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry—a position which he held through the remainder of the war. Haskell’s appointment there replaced the command of Wade Hampton III, ironically later becoming the South Carolina Governor who subsequently saw to it that Haskell received a position as justice on the state supreme court. With his many significant roles in South Carolina military and political history, as well as commerce and transportation, a sizeable collection of Haskell's papers have been preserved and housed at the University of South Carolina library.The 7th Regiment South Carolina Cavalry was formed by the addition of five independent companies to the five companies of the Cavalry Battalion, Holcombe Legion, South Carolina Volunteers, by S. O. No. 65, A. & I. G. O., dated March 18, 1864.
While notes concerning the Haskell Papers provide an overview of conditions of war under his command—and thus a bird’s eye view of what my great-great-grandfather may have also been experiencing in part—they, combined with sections of Thomas Broyles’ obituary, serve to introduce some doubt in my mind as to the reliability of the statements contained in that memorial.
I noticed, for instance, the report in the introduction to the Haskell collection:
Tell me, where have I heard such a line before? Could it be that statements like that in Thomas’ report are a popular romanticization of the time period?Haskell graduated from South Carolina College on the eve of the Civil War, second in his class, and immediately volunteered in the First Regiment…
The parallel is too uncomfortable for me. Was it just fashionable to say one was so committed to this war that he could hardly await the chance to serve?—well, after graduation from college first, of course.Thomas Broyles graduated from the University of North Carolina at eighteen years of age, and three days later was in the saddle as a member of Heiskell's Cavalry.
Then to some of the other facts: why, for instance, would a publication such as the Confederate Veteran misspell Haskell’s name? Editorial sloppiness? Disinterest in proper spelling? A dreadfully caricatured southern drawl? Or was there really another cavalry leader with the surname Heiskell, who just happened to carry the same two initials as Haskell? Why, then, would records—now preserved online—show company rosters detailed under the name Haskell and not Heiskell?
And then there is this little matter of math. Here, I’m hobbled in that I don’t feel entirely confident about Thomas’ birth date. But if he enlisted in the army in 1863, being eighteen years of age at that point would make his year of birth 1845. The birth date I’ve noted on my records was originally received from a footnote in volume one of Arthur Leslie Keith’s History of the Broyles Family (I've since found corollary evidence in the death certificate—though that only provides me a modicum of confidence). If the date given, October 28, 1842, is correct, an enlistment date of September 5, 1863, would put Thomas just shy of his twenty-first birthday. Not the eighteenth.
Bringing Dr. Keith’s long out-of-print manuscript into the conversation introduces another discrepancy: that same source indicates Thomas graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1860. That’s not exactly just a few days away from that September, 1863, enlistment, now is it?
Whatever the case may be—and especially adding the issue of his missing headstone to bolster my resolve—I propose a lot more study should be invested in sorting out the details of this man’s history.
And, above all, never trust an obituary. If ever there was a time to wax eloquent, it is in eulogizing a loved one recently departed.