The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry Cover

The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry

How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War

Ron Roth

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019, 197 pages

Book Review published on: May 28, 2021

The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry: How a Confederate Artillery Battery and a Black Union Regiment Defined the War provides a vivid picture of the violent nature of the Civil War era. Ron Roth examines the Civil War activities that occurred in the South Carolina Sea Islands, focusing on two diverse units that fought in that region: the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery (BVA) and the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The BVA—an all-white artillery battery—fought for the Confederates, while the 1st South Carolina Regiment, the first black combat unit, fought for the Union; these two units faced each other in battle. This book is far from a battle-by-battle synopsis of the Civil War. The author also highlights the crude nature of slavery and the associated racial, social, and political dynamics that divided a nation and fueled a civil war. The author does an exceptional job of contrasting the diverse lifestyles of the BVA and 1st South Carolina Regiment soldiers before, during, and immediately following the Civil War and explaining how their lifestyles shaped their willingness to volunteer and fight for their respective armies.

The BVA consisted of southern whites, who mostly lived in the Beaufort area and made their fortunes from the institution of slavery. As the book highlights, Beaufort was one of the wealthiest and most aristocratic cities in America. Thus, many members of the BVA, particularly the officers, were well educated and many attended South Carolina College. Two major goals of the college were to prepare male students for leadership and public service, and to indoctrinate them into the southern principles of states’ rights and the rationale for maintaining slavery.

In contrast to the BVA soldiers, the 1st South Carolina Regiment was comprised of former slaves of Beaufort, men who were mostly uneducated and spoke Gullah—a combination of English and West African dialect. However, these men possessed a fighting spirit fueled by their harsh experiences as former slaves, their desire for emancipation, their right to be treated equally to white people, and their desire to raise families and earn a living for them. The author did an excellent job of detailing a major hurdle that existed for the black soldiers—overcoming the misconception that blacks would not make good soldiers. However, the performance of the first black combat unit marked a turning point for the Union, dispelling a popular notion by Union white soldiers and society that black men would be horrible soldiers and fail in battle.

Roth does an excellent job of intertwining the lifestyles of the combatants with the details of the various battles between the BVA and the 1st South Carolina Regiment and their respective contributions to the Civil War. Although I enjoyed reading the portions of the book that chronicled the lifestyles of the combatants and the brutality of the institution of slavery, the title of the book, The Civil War in the South Carolina Lowcountry, could be misleading. Although the book provides details of some the contributions of the units during the war, it could have focused more on those contributions and how they helped define the war. Perhaps the author could have devoted a section of the book to recap how each unit helped define the war. Also, the book contains some off-color language that was used to describe black people during the Civil War era that might offend some readers. Nonetheless, the book provides excellent insight into the horrible institution of slavery and battles that occurred in the region of South Carolina Sea Islands during the Civil War.

Book Review written by: Fredrick Sanders, Fort Belvoir, Virginia