March 17, 2008
Mullins family donates valuable Civil War letter to South Caroliniana Library
A letter written by South Carolina soldier William Sidney Mullins that captured the gory details of the battle of First Manassas will find a new home at South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina.
Edward Mullins Jr. of Columbia, along with more than 30 of William Sidney Mullins’ descendants, will present the letter to university president Andrew Sorensen Thursday, March 20, at a reception at the South Caroliniana Library, adding to the depth of primary materials on the Civil War preserved by the library.
The letter, which had its own circuitous route through the old Confederacy before landing in the hands of the Mullins family, provides a detailed account of Sgt. Maj. Mullins and his unit’s participation in the battle of First Manassas (also known as the Battle of Bull Run) on July 21, 1861. In the letter, dated Aug. 6 of that year, Mullins criticizes Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate commanders and the inadequate resources for treating the sick and wounded. He writes that his enthusiasm over the Confederate victory was tempered when he observed in a heavy rain the cries of the wounded, some of whom implored “the passersby to kill them to relieve their agony.” Mullins declared, “If it please God, to stop this war, I will unfeignedly thank them.”
Patrick McCawley, accessions archivist for the S.C. Department of Archives and History, said the letter provides an important firsthand account of the first major battle of the war and the prominent role that South Carolina regiments played in it.
“In the first months of the war, South Carolinians, including politicians, were quick to volunteer, believing that the war would be swift,” McCawley said. “They didn’t want to miss what they thought would be a grand adventure and a chance to bathe in military glory. The Battle of Bull Run was a dash of cold water in the face of many who thought that war was pageantry, but instead found it was hell.”
Mullins described the hellish nature of war and Manassas in gruesome detail.
“Of the dead hideous in every form of ghastly death: heads off, arms off, abdomens protruding, every form of wound, low groans, sharp cries… convulsive agonies as the souls took flight.”
The Mullins family had the opportunity to purchase the letter, which was part of a collection of some 450 Civil War letters that had belonged to families in Florida, Alabama and Charleston before being auctioned in Columbia last year.
“We didn’t want the letter to go out of state and be lost forever,” said Louisa Tobias Campbell, great-great-granddaughter of Mullins and Columbia resident. “We wanted it preserved, and we knew the library would take care of it so that it always would be available to family members, historians, scholars and others. The letter presents a graphic and slightly different picture of the battle of First Manassas. W.S. Mullins wrote the letter to Gen. William W. Harllee, whom he respected and felt comfortable with to be so honest and open. That’s why the letter has such integrity.”
Most of the letters in the collection were correspondence of the governor’s office during the war, including draft copies of letters written by S.C. Govs. Francis Wilkinson Pickens and Milledge Luke Bonham, as well as letters they received.
McCawley suggests that Mullins’ letter ended up among those documents because Harllee gave the letter to Pickens to make him aware of the conditions in the Confederate Army.
The collection and the Mullins letter first came to the attention of the Mullins family in 2000, when Charleston book dealer Bob Schindler called it “the jewel in the collection,” Campbell said. She said Schindler wanted the family to have a transcription of the letter, regardless of what ultimately would happen to the collection, she said.
Seven years later, with the help of Columbia book dealer Ron Bridwell, the family bought the letter.
“The Mullins letter will take its place alongside many other unique letters, manuscripts, logbooks and other records provided to the South Caroliniana Library over the years by faithful donors,” said Dr. Allen Stokes, the library’s director. “Some items are purchased at auction, as was the Mullins letter; others have been handed down and cherished through several generations before being entrusted to the library. Students, researchers and the cause of scholarship itself are the beneficiaries of these materials.”
William Sidney Mullins was born in 1824 in Fayetteville, N.C., graduated from the University of North Carolina and practiced law in the state. In the 1840s, Mullins moved to Marion, where he married Sarah Ann Hodges, the daughter of Samuel Hodges, a prominent physician. He served briefly as president of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad in 1857 before turning his interests to planting after inheriting extensive land holdings on the death of his father-in-law.
Mullins was a prominent voice during the secession crisis of 1851 and was credited with carrying the Marion District for those who favored cooperation over separate state action. In 1852, he was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives, where he served until 1866.
During the Civil War, Mullins served as adjutant with the 8th Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers commanded by Col. E.B.C. Cash. After the war, Mullins attempted to restore his agricultural holdings. He was elected to the state Senate in 1872 but did not serve, as the results of the election were overturned.
He died on Dec. 6, 1878, two years after the death of his wife. The South Carolina town of Mullins is named in his honor.
For more information about the South Caroliniana Library, visit the Web site -- http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/ -- or call 803-777-3131.