There are dozens of Confederate veteran’s monuments in South Carolina bearing statues but only five are known to be likenesses of historic figures. Anderson County’s Confederate Monument is one of those. The statue atop the monument is in the likeness of General William Wirt Humphreys. This is his story.
William Wirt Humphreys was born October 30, 1836, in Anderson County in the vicinity of Roberts Presbyterian Church. He was the first child of Rev. David Humphreys, a noted Presbyterian clergyman, and Rebecca Cunningham. Both his parents were natives of South Carolina, and his paternal grandfather, David Humphreys, had arrived in Virginia in the 1700’s. Rev Humphreys was the pastor of Good Hope and Roberts Presbyterian Churches for nearly fifty years, and is buried in the Roberts churchyard.
For their time, the Humphreys were fairly well off. According to the 1850 census, Rev. Humphreys’ real estate was valued at $9,000, approximately $262,000 in today’s money. This afforded his son an excellent education. After attending the Anderson schools, he graduated in 1857 from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He passed his bar exam in 1859, and set up a practice in Anderson.
After about a year of practice, Humphreys took on an additional career: editor. His name first appeared as an editor of the Anderson Intelligencer in the February 21, 1861, issue along with James A. Hoyt. Underneath the new “Edited By” line appeared a South Carolina flag. This was an indication of a new direction for the weekly paper. Humphreys was a strong states rights supporter, and the editorial pages and tone of the articles reflected that position. He took no time in expressing these views, in fact. In the same paper appeared these words praising the newly formed Confederacy.
“The sovereign people of seven States have, from sufficient cause, exercised the right of secession from the Federal Government, which had become oppressive in its course and perverted from its channels – they have, in addition, proceeded to establish a more perfect union for mutual protection, safety and happiness, and now the experiment is fairly begun, with every prospect of a pleasing solution.”
He went on to offer an invitation of sorts for other like-minded states looking for a new political home:
“For ages to come, slavery as it now exists must be profitable and beneficial in the Cotton States. Yet, if not sooner, the remaining slave States must unit with us in a few years, and it is wise and proper to devise means whereby we can make their union perpetual and place a check upon the growth of abolition sentiment in their borders.”
The Anderson Intelligencer ceased publication in the spring of 1861 due to the financial constraints of its owners and their involvement in the Palmetto Riflemen. Both editors fought in the war. Humphreys volunteered for and helped to organize Company C, nicknamed the Palmetto Riflemen, of the Palmetto Sharpshooters Regiment, commanded by Colonel Micah Jenkins. The Palmetto Sharpshooters were assigned to General James E. Longstreet’s Second Division of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Palmetto Riflemen was composed entirely of men from Anderson County. Humphreys was promoted to captain of Company C in May 1861. He led his company in several engagements including First Manassas (the opening battle of the war, July 21, 1861), Williamsburg (May 5, 1862), Seven Pines (May 31-June 1, 1862), Gaines’ Mill (June 27, 1862), and Frayser’s Farm (June 30, 1862), where he was seriously wounded by a ball in the shoulder. The Sharpshooters, in fact, suffered heavily at Frayser’s Farm. Of the 375 engaged in the battle, sixty-eight percent died.
Unfit for duty, Humphreys suffered for months as he slowly recovered from his wound, nearly dying several times. After healing he reenlisted and was promoted to Major of the Palmetto Sharpshooter Regiment, S.C. Volunteers. He held the rank of major until the end of the war, and fought in the battles of Spotsylvania Courthouse (where he received a slight wound, his second in battle, May 8-20, 1864), Second Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12, 1864), Bermuda Hundred (May 1864), the siege of Petersburg (June 9-March 25, 1865), and finally at the surrender at Appomattox (April 9, 1865). His leadership was admired by his men, and he was often in command of the picket and skirmish lines.
Upon returning home to Anderson, he found his town devastated not by war but by Union invaders. From May 1-3, 1865, Anderson was occupied in an unprovoked invasion by Union troops. They ransacked the city, tortured leading citizens, and nearly burnt the town down. Anderson had never been a military target during the war, and this attack, three weeks after the surrender, stoked a real hatred in the hearts of the many of its citizens. Humphreys resumed his legal practice and editorship of the Anderson Intelligencer.
The Palmetto Riflemen were remembered often and fondly in Anderson. The first event honoring the company was a barbecue held in their honor on July 29, 1865, at the farm of J.C. Keys, located about two miles outside of Anderson. This was but one of the honors and celebrations held for this unit for the next few decades. Humphreys was always present at the reunions and celebrations. He was also a leader in the Riflemen veterans group.
His reputation from the war and his status as the editor made Humphreys a likely candidate for public office which he accepted but only on a local level. From 1865 to 1882, he held two positions, which were basically the same function. He was elected Commissioner of Equity from 1865 to 1868. The title changed to Probate Judge in 1868, and Humphreys was reelected, serving until he resigned in 1882.
On February 27, 1868, Humphreys married his wife, Anna Josephine McCully. She was the daughter of an Irish immigrant called Stephen McCully who was one of the early settlers in the Anderson District. They had two sons and three daughters. He was also appointed a brigadier and a major general in the State Militia.
While he was probate judge, Humphreys was also elected intendent of Anderson in August 1878. The position is the equivalent of today’s mayor. He served for one two-year term. In 1882, Humphreys was appointed President of the Savannah Valley Railroad which ran from McCormick to Anderson. The railroad was a major accomplishment for the time. It also resulted in some changes. Ten miles south of Anderson was a small village named Twiggs. The new railroad would pass through the town so its name was changed to Starr, in honor of one of the railroad engineers.
Humphreys was, throughout his life, a mason and a longtime member of the Hiram Lodge No. 68. In 1877, he was appointed Worshipful Master, and from 1883 to 1884, he was the Grand Master of the Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina.
For several weeks before his death on October 6, 1893, Humphreys’ health had been in decline. About two weeks before he died, he went north for treatment, but after making the journey and hearing of the surgical procedure needed, he decided to return home. He had no confidence that the procedure would help him and he wanted to be near his family. He knew in his heart it was time. By the time he reached Anderson on Wednesday, October 3, he was in a semi-conscious state. He never regained full consciences and died on Friday.
The funeral services were held at First Baptist Church on Sunday. Even though Humphreys was not a member, the church offered the sanctuary because the seating offered more that at Roberts where he was a member. The service was standing room only. The entire sanctuary plus the Sunday school rooms were filled to capacity.
Humphreys’ body was escorted by fourteen members of the Hiram Lodge. As the body was brought into the church, a soloist sang “Nearer My God to Thee,” followed by the choir singing “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” After a short address and another hymn, the congregation was dismissed and the body was taken to Old Silver Brook. James A. Hoyt, longtime friend and co-editor of the Anderson intelligencer, delivered a heartfelt eulogy for his friend at the graveside. Hoyt emphasized two aspects of Humphrey’s life: his dedication to his Masonic brothers, and his devotion to his fellow Confederate soldiers. Humphreys, Hoyt recalled “was born a soldier, endowed by nature with a martial spirit and with an ear attuned to the call of duty.”
Humphreys and his wife share a large monument which bears their names and dates on opposite sides. On May 6, 2013, an iron cross was placed by the ladies of the Emmala Reed Miller U.D.C. Chapter 2694, to replace the missing cross.
While delivering the eulogy, Hoyt also called for a monument to be erected in Old Silver Brook. This monument was to be dedicated to the Confederate dead of Anderson County. “What more appropriate service can we render to them,” he asks, “than to rear a marble shaft in lovely Silver Brook as a testimonial to the gallant dead of Anderson County?” The cemetery seemed the appropriate place since it was the city’s new public burial ground, and there were already a number of Confederate veterans buried there.
As history would have it, such a monument was never erected in Old Silver Brook, but rather in downtown Anderson. The story of the monument to Anderson’s Confederate Dead is told in Part Two.