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MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION 2001
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Alexander Cheves Haskell Papers, 1804-1943
The life of Confederate colonel, University of South Carolina law professor, Democrat party official, railroad company president, banker and businessman A.C. Haskell (1839-1910) of Abbeville and Columbia is chronicled in this collection of one hundred twenty-six manuscripts and one manuscript volume.
Haskell graduated from South Carolina College on the eve of the Civil War, second in his class, and immediately volunteered in the First Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers. Able and well-connected, Haskell quickly advanced through the ranks and ended the war as colonel of the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry. The war years, however, were especially tragic for him. His wife, Rebecca "Decca" Coles Singleton, whom he married in September 1861 in Charlottesville, Va., died in Columbia, 26 October 1862, six days after the birth of a daughter. Haskell also lost two brothers, an uncle, and several close friends during the course of the war. Haskell was wounded four times during the conflict: in the shoulder at Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862; in the left ankle at Chancellorsville on 2 May 1863; in the abdomen on 29 May 1864 near Cold Harbor; and most seriously on the Darbytown Road just outside Richmond on 7 October 1864. He and a squad of his troopers encountered a squadron of Union cavalry. Haskell ordered his men to charge the Federals, personally shot two officers from the front rank, but was himself shot in the head and left for dead on the road. After an amazing and rapid recovery, Haskell, minus his left eye, was able to rejoin his unit in time for Robert E. Lee's last campaign of the war. He surrendered at Appomattox, received his parole, and made his way back to Abbeville, the home of his parents.
Much of the collection focuses on the war years. A series of nineteen letters written from Columbia and Virginia to his parents, Charles Thomson Haskell and Sophia Cheves Haskell, in 1864 and 1865 provides an overview of Haskell's military activities, the news of the army and friends, and often reflective and revealing insights into Haskell's inner struggles with the tragedy of war. Writing from Columbia, 31 January 1864, he informed his father-"I will go on direct to the Army, but write before I leave Columbia. I hear of letters from the Army, one from Major Venable which offers hope of peace with the spring. I trust he may be a prophet as true as he is welcome." From Orange Court House, Va., on 9 February 1864, Haskell wrote his father-"I am safe in Camp after a very successful journey, and find the Brigade in the very best condition. Rations somewhat scant, but with the home supplies, there is a sufficiency of food. And in the matter of health, high spirits, and hopeful courage, it would do your heart good to see them." To his mother on 14 February 1864 he wrote from the same place and related the following story-"An Alabama soldier was seen the other day by a friend of mine sitting on a log in front of his hut, barefooted & ragged, munching a piece of dry corn bread & drinking a cup of water. This was his dinner-the same had constituted his fare for two days past-and he excused himself for hurrying through his dinner, saying he must hurry up to the meeting and 'reenlist for the war.' Such is the spirit which will sustain our army through all the difficulties which lie before us." A few days later, in a letter to his father dated 17 February 1864, Haskell remarked that "I saw Genl. Lee at church last Sunday, looking strong and well. I trust he is prepared for great events in the next campaign." Once more in a letter to his mother, dated 19 March 1864, Haskell wrote with optimism about the success of the Confederacy-"There seems to be a general confidence that this summer will end the war in our favour. The general voice of a thinking and suffering people is not often wrong." He was also anxious to assume a field command in time for the summer campaign. "I am getting on very pleasantly, but still trust to chance to throw me into some command in the line before the summer comes," he concluded. In that hope he was not disappointed. On 27 May 1864, Col. M.W. Gary issued an order placing Lieutenant Colonel Haskell in command of several units that were reconstituted as the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry.
On 27 July 1864 Haskell was back in Columbia, recovering from his third wound of the war, visiting with friends and his young child. He also took care of another pressing matter, as he wrote his father-"The remainder [of a sum of money] went to help in paying my bill to Dr. Patrick for nine plugs which he put in my mouth. I went to him just in time to save myself great pain & much injury." While convalescing in Columbia from his head wound and the loss of his eye, he wrote his mother on 24 November 1864-"I am still doing well though my wound is getting slow….I think it doubtful whether I can ride or drive home the same evening, as I am unable to go any distance without great fatigue." Again, from Columbia on 20 December 1864 he wrote his father-"There is no news in Columbia-the people are preparing in mind and body to suffer under the invasion of Sherman." "I am still in Columbia, kept here by the destruction of bridges & trestle works which renders transportation impossible between Charlotte & Greensboro and between Greensboro & Danville," he wrote his father on 16 January 1865.
Back in Virginia by 11 February and in command of the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry, Haskell informed his father that "I hear rumours this evening of our defeat in So. Ca. and that Sherman is rushing upon Columbia. I will delay my grief until I receive certain information. I would be happy even in the misery of a bloody fight if it were against this hateful Sherman." Haskell remained convinced of the eventual success of the Confederate cause and as late as 27 February 1865 wrote-"I am making a desperate effort to remount my Regt. and could I be heard would make a speech to my whole State which might induce our friends and patriots to help us, and in helping a good Regiment contribute largely to the success of our good cause. I suppose too I have personal ambition. I always desired to command the best Regiment in service, but am now very desirous to win on the field what I do not win in the Cabinet. My rivals Logan and Bonham have so conducted their affairs as to secure (the first one a proper case-the second one questionable) the only two Cavalry Brigades to one of which I had some reason to suppose I would be given. I hope to make my Regiment so good that it will be as serviceable as other peoples Brigades. If this can be done my Triumph will be sincere and honourable." In the last letter from Virginia, 10 March 1865, Haskell informed his mother that "our Armies are being well managed. The spirit of the soldiers is rising, and the desertion which has disgraced our Army (but not my Regiment) is diminishing. Concentration under the great old General Lee begins already to assume character as a form of salvation. This will repay us for the bloody passage across our state."
Included in the collection is the manuscript of Haskell's "Recollections," the story of his life from birth through the end of the Civil War, which he wrote as a series of thirteen letters at the urging of his daughter, Mary Haskell, during the winter of 1908-1909. Mary (1873-1964) left the South to attend Wellesley College and stayed in New England where she ran a girls school in Boston. Perhaps she realized that her father's story was worth preserving when father and daughter toured Europe together during the summer of 1908. In his first letter of "Recollections," Haskell reminded Mary-"You place importance on 'beginning'-that is easy, I begin 'now.'" She preserved the lengthy manuscript, totaling one hundred ninety-one pages, perhaps with the intention of publishing it herself, but later turned it over to her sister, Louise Haskell Daly. Louisa (1872-1947), or Louise, as she later spelled her name, attended Radcliffe College where she studied English and history. While still a student, she presented a paper at the December 1896 meeting of the American Historical Association in New York on "Langdon Cheves and the United States Bank." Cheves was her great grandfather, and the paper was drawn from "…a mass of family correspondence [which] has been preserved…." The paper was published in the annual report for 1897 and Louise, "the only lady upon the programme," was praised for her "excellent paper" and "good reading." Louise began her teaching career in 1897, even before she was awarded an A.B. degree by Radcliffe in 1902. She taught history and literature at the school her sister headed until her marriage in 1903 to Reginald Aldworth Daly, a geologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. It was not until much later in life that Louise Daly published Alexander Cheves Haskell: The Portrait of a Man. Privately printed in 1934 in a very small edition, probably about one hundred twenty-five copies, the book was intended for members of the extended Haskell family. Mrs. Daly did send copies to the Library of Congress and the British Museum and to Douglas Southall Freeman who had published his monumental R.E. Lee in 1934. Included in the Haskell papers is Freeman's two-page letter of acknowledgment, dated Richmond, Va., 13 June 1939, in which he praised Haskell and the book. "Of course I knew of your gallant father, whom I mentioned in the fourth volume of my 'R.E. Lee' and I had measurable familiarity with most of his connections; but I have now to say, in warmest admiration, that your beautifully-printed book, written in perfect taste, is the most stimulating of all the personal narratives of the war between the States." Freeman, then preparing for the publication of his book The South to Posterity (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1939), asked Mrs. Daly's permission to include one of Haskell's letters. "Dangerous as superlatives always are, I believe that his letter to his mother from Camp Gregg, April 2, 1863 (p. 95ff.) is the noblest single letter of the war that ever I have seen," Freeman wrote. Mrs. Daly noted on the envelope of Freeman's letter-"leave given to use the letter." Freeman reprinted the entire letter, calling it "…one of the most beautiful born of war" and lamented that the "…memoir and letters, which are among the dozen most charming books of Confederate history, should not have been published for general circulation."
The Haskell papers are noteworthy not only for the Civil War material, but also for family letters written before and after the war. The earliest letters present were written by the grandparents of Haskell's second wife. Alice Van Yeveren Alexander (1848-1902) married Haskell 23 November 1870. She was the youngest of the ten children of Adam Leopold Alexander (1803-1882) and Sarah Hillhouse Gilbert (1805-1855) of Washington, Ga. A love letter written in New York by Felix H. Gilbert to Sarah Hillhouse, dated 5 August 1804, is the earliest item in the collection. Felix and Sarah were married by the date of the second letter, 15 February 1805, and on 23 October of that year their daughter Sarah was born. A third letter, this one from Sarah Gilbert to her husband, dated 17 November 1807, and written from Fairfield, the Gilbert home in Washington, Ga., related the latest plantation news-"Willis with his Negroes has come out. I have had my feelings a good deal interested for several of them. They were lo[a]th to go farther than Fairfield for masters particularly one woman who says Willis told her she was for us. She appears an excellent house servant but we have already…[too] many for me to think of her."
Slavery is also a major topic in a letter written by Sarah Gilbert's daughter, Sarah Hillhouse Gilbert Alexander, to her son William Felix Alexander while he was a student at Yale College. Dated 23 January 1849 and written from Washington, Ga., this letter provides news of the family and speculates about William's future-"I have thought a good deal lately, of your future course of life, and what turn yr. mind wd. take, in relation to it. If you determine upon being a planter, with slave labor, I hope you will realize fully beforehand, how great are the responsibilities which rest upon such a pursuit, in the sight of God, if not in that of man. I wd. not have you take them as so much mere brute force, to be turned to the best account for profit, but as rational, human beings-God's creatures, for whose physical & spiritual necessities you are bound to provide."
Other family letters, related to the four in this collection, were published as The Alexander Letters, 1787-1900 (Savannah: privately printed, 1910) in an edition of one hundred thirty-one copies.
After 1865 there are no letters from Aleck Haskell until 8 February 1872 when he wrote a love letter to his wife, then visiting her sister in Savannah. A letter of P.Y. Hudson dated Atlanta, 5 February 1872, acknowledged the receipt of $100 in payment for a portrait of Judge Cheves that had been painted by Edward Mooney in Savannah in 1852. Alice Haskell wrote her cousin on 30 October 1876, just before the November election, and commented on her husband's efforts on behalf of Hampton-"Aleck is Chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee, an office with much honour & no pay, & I tell you if I never was proud of him before I am now." She continued-"He is looked up to like a demigod….Aleck has declined all office, so I'll have the pleasure of his company once more after the Election."
Haskell addressed a birthday letter to his daughter Louisa on 25 July 1883 while she was away on vacation with her mother and siblings at White Sulphur Spring, near Waynesville, N.C.-"My very dear eleven-year-old Daughter: I write to wish you many happy returns of your birthday & to tell you how glad I am to have a daughter who is loving and dutiful to a high degree and is steadily trying with advanced age to improve and strengthen herself in the path of right."
Alice Haskell, in a letter of 7 February  written to her children, described the fire that consumed the family home, the Gov. John Taylor house on Arsenal Hill, on the afternoon of 4 February. Haskell had purchased the large house in 1882 to accommodate his growing family, then numbering seven children, but soon to be eight. Mrs. Haskell explained how the fire started and described the efforts to save the house and its furnishings-"There must have been 800 men rushing to & fro, pulling & hauling such heavy furniture, throwing things about, it seemed to me like the terrors of the judgment day," she remembered. "The work that was done there from 2 to 5 is almost incredible, & when you think of the house having only one, narrow stair case, what was saved was wonderful." In a continuation of the letter dated Friday the 17th, Mrs. Haskell wrote of the kindness of friends and their effort to find a suitable home. "We went yesterday to look at Dr. Dunn's place (Mrs. Singleton's old place on Senate & Pickens Sts) which is beautifully fixed up & in apple pie order…." This house, at 116 Senate Street, was purchased in 1893 and remained the family's residence until it was sold in 1909. It had been owned by Mrs. Mary Singleton during the Civil War, and it was there that Haskell's first wife, Decca Singleton Haskell, died in 1862.
The remainder of the collection consists primarily of letters written by Alice Haskell to her children, beginning in 1893. In that year both Louisa and Mary began their college careers in New England institutions. Occasional letters from the children are present in the collection as well. Louise wrote a long letter dated 6 January 1901 to her mother about a trip she had taken to Chicago and Detroit; another dated Venice, Italy, 20 July 1902, described her delight with that country. Adam Leopold Haskell, in a letter of 3 August 1904 written to his father from Lynn, Mass., described the work he was doing for the General Electric Company-"At the River Works they make the castings, etc., and all the heavy machines, and all the steam turbines, and test the larger size turbine machines which are non-condensing; and I am on the job." He also mentioned the receipt of his Harvard diploma, awarded in 1903.
In the summer of 1908 Haskell toured the British Isles and France with his daughter Mary. In the collection is a traditional travel diary in which Haskell recorded his impressions of the sites he and Mary visited and the people they met. Covering the period 14 June-3 September and numbering one hundred forty-seven pages, the diary was written primarily by Haskell, except for the period spent in Paris, 30 July-5 August, when, as Haskell later recorded, "I was deaf & dumb there, & eyes had more than they could comprehend. Even if I had two, instead of one, & that having rusty wires for its brain communication & a dilapidated receiver as well as transmitter." This diary served as the basis for a chapter devoted to the European trip in Louise Daly's biography of her father.
A black-bordered card from The National Loan & Exchange Bank of Columbia informed the public of Haskell's death-"With profound sorrow the Officers and Directors of this Bank announce the death of its Vice-President Alexander Cheves Haskell which occurred in Columbia, S.C. Wednesday, April thirteenth Nineteen hundred and ten."
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