Biography of a Southern Soldier

Cadets fire upon the Star of the West from Morris Island

Around every corner in Charleston, one can find a history as rich as the land it sits upon.  Ask any historian and you’ll likely hear mention of the Civil War–more specifically, Charleston’s involvement in the early days.  Less likely, however, is talk of the firing of the Star of the West–a ship destined for Charleston in order to bring supplies to nearby Federal Troops.  The city of Charleston, as well as one of its oldest academies, The Citadel, will remark that the shots fired by cadets at Fort Sumter were the first in the war itself.

As a senior English major, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never had a great interest in history itself.  However, over Christmas break, my boyfriend (who is frequently involved in reenactments) was invited to Morris Island in order to reenact the firing upon the Star of the West.  Despite the chilly weather and torrential downpour, I joined the crowd of spectators – and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting I found it to be.  Afterward, I began to research the history of the firing, eventually leading to the formation of several questions about the men behind the cannons themselves.  This spontaneous research led to an interest in history that I’d never experienced before.  As such, I continued to look into the events and eventually explore the life of one George Edward Haynsworth, the cadet behind Gun Number 1.

After checking in with the Citadel Museum and Archives, I was pleased to find several city records, an old farm log, a series of letters, and newspaper articles regarding the life of Haynsworth.  One of the pieces that caught my attention the most was a letter written by Haynsworth to his niece in 1864, shortly after his time in Charleston involving the famous firing.   Inspired by the realization that I had in my hands a letter from nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, I decided that I would attempt to put together a more in depth biography of Haynsworth in the form of a journal.  After checking online, I was able to find very little about the man, save for his time of birth, death, and contribution to the start of the Civil war.  With access to the original letters and articles, however, the electronic scrapbook was able to be brought to life in rich detail, both with direct quotes and photos of the original documents.

My research led me to uncover several different aspects of autobiography that I hadn’t taken into consideration.  One of these elements was the collaborative autobiography, which hadn’t been discussed frequently in class.  The concept is mentioned by Smith and Watson as involving several different sources in order to form a personal narrative.  While Haynsworth himself kept few infrequent logs and personal marginalia, there were several different newspaper articles published during the time that allowed me to piece together his major life accomplishments in electronic form.  In addition to this, I incorporated his early farm logs and letters to form a chronological account of his life.  In a sense, my job was to act as a “ghost editor” of sorts.  However, the difficulty here has been to remain as unbiased as possible as I piece together the online scrapbook.

The second element that may be incorporated into this project is the concept of memoir.  Smith and Watson define the term as ‘a mode of life narrative that situated the subject in a social environment, as either observer or participant, the memoir directs attention more toward the lives and actions of others than to the narrator’.  While no official memoir of Haynsworth exists, this concept applies to the scrapbook in the sense that it reflects his role as one individual in a greater event – namely the beginning of the Civil war itself.  The challenge here was finding a balance between researching the firing of the Star of the West and Haynsworth’s personal life.  While he did play a great role in the firing, it was important to me to maintain a consistent biography of his life as well as his contribution to the war.  Through the use of his personal letters and logs, this was possible to accomplish with a healthy balance between the two.

During the course of the project, I experienced several hangups – namely my attempt at trying to incorporate all of the information I had gathered.  Most of my time had been spent on obtaining as much research as possible, and I found myself overwhelmed with the amount of information I wanted to include in Haynsworth’s makeshift scrapbook imitation.  In retrospect, I would have benefitted from allowing myself more time to actually develop the physical product.  I began with the idea to create a biographical website for Haynsworth – but the further I got into the project, the more I found this difficult.  As stated before, I discovered my tendency to explain the firing upon the Star in greater detail than of Haynsworth himself.  After several days battling with the website, I took some time to reflect on my research.  As I was flipping through the original farm log with Haynsworth’s handwriting, I found myself inspired by the raw material I’d been given as tangible research.  It was this revelation that really brought the project to life, and I opted to create a scrapbook modeling Haynsworth’s own farm logs.  Once I began this direction, I found that I had a much easier time placing Haynsworth in the center of these events.

And it was in this way that a veteran English major decided she could tolerate history after all.  From years of reading line after line in history books, I had grown hopeless to the idea – but attending the reenactment really brought the events to life for me.  And my archival research inspired me to search much deeper.  So, in the long run, I am glad that I encountered such a roadblock with the product – if I hadn’t, I might not have discovered my own interest in the history itself.  Now, here I sit on the day before my presentation, spending the entire morning quizzing my boyfriend on the events leading up to the Civil war, including South Carolina’s secession.  And for once in my life, I think I’ve got a firm grasp on the dates.  I can only thank this project for that.

The online scrapbook can be found embedded below (just click on the right-hand side of the image after it has loaded).  You can also visit the website itself:

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Note: All photocopies are the property of the Citadel Museum Archives


The Citadel Archives & Museum

171 Moultrie Street
Charleston, SC 29409

Harper’s Weekly.  January 26, 1861.

Kullberg, Andrew D. First to Fight: Citadel Cadets, the Star of the West, and Fort Sumter. Charleston, SC: Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, Historical Society, 2010.

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