Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In the Cavalry: Getting Down to Details

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:
            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.
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.

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:
            Haskell graduated from South Carolina College on the eve of the Civil War, second in his class, and immediately volunteered in the First Regiment…
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?

            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.
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.

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. 

Above right: Kurz and Allison, Battle of Cold Harbor, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in Washington, D. C.; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. Cold Harbor was one of the battles in which Thomas Taliaferro's commanding officer, Col. A. C. Haskell, was injured.  


  1. I was (wuz) thinking about the Haskell - Heiskell thing, and have a theory.

    The 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment was led by C W Heiskell - and he was quite famous (and well up in the ranks) - his unit was in Knoxville and in Jonesboro Tennessee, from what I read, more than once.

    Colonel Heiskell was born ten miles west of Knoxville, Tenn., in Knox county... states the 19th was busy as early as August 15, 1861.

    So - the "biographer" might be correct or confused about his Haskell/Heiskell?

    1. Thanks so much for that link, Iggy. In one way, it complicates things. In another way, it's good to know what--or who--else is out there, and to double check against assumptions. From other records I've seen, I'm inclined to stick with the South Carolina company, though. The link you provided was for infantry, and I believe T. T. Broyles was part of the cavalry. Plus, his home state through graduation from college was South Carolina, not Tennessee.

      However, there is so much more to study on this. Dr. Broyles certainly left quite a few important stages in his life as enigmas.

    2. What I meant to imply was that the biographer, presumably being "Knoxville" (and Jonesboro) minded, simply wrote the name that came to his head (spelling-wise) and thus goofed.

    3. That's totally understandable. I see what you mean...

  2. P.s., the "enlistment date" you have might be a RE-enlistment date. If I recall correctly, the south had soldiers enlist for short terms like the north with its 3 month enlistments. I think the south had a 13 month enlistment early in the war. Furthermore, Thomas T. might have entered the state militia, and then enlisted in the CSA army later on -

    1. This is definitely something else to keep in mind. I'm hoping it will become apparent as I sift through all the online military records I've found at and Fold3.

    2. While this does not directly apply to Thomas T. Broyles, it does illustrate the timing of Civil War service units:

      "The origins of the 5th SC Cavalry can be traced to Captain Robert J. Jeffords’ Co. (South Carolina Rangers) SC Mounted Militia, and Captain Wheeler G. Smith’s Co. (Beech Hill Rangers) SC Mounted Militia. These volunteer companies were organized in Charleston and Colleton Districts, respectively, during the summer of 1861, and were incorporated into the 1st (Martin’s) SC Mounted Militia Regiment in September of that year. Martin’s Regiment was called to active duty in November 1861, in response to the occupation of Port Royal by Federal troops, and its companies were dispersed to various points along South Carolina’s southern coast.

      On 7 December 1861, the South Carolina legislature passed a bill enabling the Governor to call out the militia for 12 months’ service, and allowing for the organization of troops into regiments, battalions, and squadrons. Two days later, the Governor issued a call for 12,000 volunteers for 12 months’ Confederate service, and ordered a draft to meet the required number if sufficient volunteers were not forthcoming. The effect of this proclamation was to require all volunteer military organizations to reorganize for 12 months’ service, which Jeffords’ company did almost immediately."

      Which would go far in explaining the "enlistment date" I think?

    3. Actually, Iggy, I just re-upped my subscription to Fold3, which has a large collection of military records. My Thomas T. Broyles' records are there in several files. It's just a matter of going through each entry and seeing what can be found in the details. There may be some verification of a scenario like the one you laid out above, just waiting to be uncovered.

  3. The search are relentless..I see Iggy is hot on the trail!! :)

    1. Yes, the things Iggy finds are sometimes priceless...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...