St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Coward by name, not by nature

I was on another manhunt.

This time, I was furiously searching for those elusive Cowards on my maternal side. I had just returned home from a trip to Charleston, where I spent a full day digging and sneezing my way through their main library files. A kind older employee named Henry in the South Carolina Room took pity on my wide-eyed look of confusion as I asked where to find any information I could. He pitied me so much that he took me by the elbow and spent several hours at my side and explained some of the databases to me. By the way, I strongly encourage you to find such a kind soul the first time you really dig deep in a large library. With his assistance, I was able to locate the units of several of my kinsmen from the Civil War as well as several birth and death records from the area. This in itself is rather amazing as South Carolina was rather late in joining everyone else in requiring vital statistics. Henry was amazed when he found out that I was kin to Lt. Col. Asbury Coward.

Lt. Col. Asbury Coward lost so much during the War of Northern Aggression. He lost most of his family, several children, and all of his money. Not so uncommon for the time. What he did after the war deserves remembering. Lt. Col. Asbury Coward was born in 1834 on Quenby Plantation outside of Charleston, SC. His parents were Jesse Coward and Keziah Anne Dubois. Asbury graduated from the Citadel at the age of 19 in 1854 and was a professor by 1860. He was a cofounder along with Brigadier General Micah Jenkins of the King's Mountain Military School in the poverty stricken area of York Co, SC. General Jenkins was subsequently killed in the Civil War.

On Christmas Day in 1856, he married Eliza Corbet Larimore Blum, the youngest daughter of John A Blum. Together they had several children who died either as infants or as children.

When the disagreement between the North and South raged into war, he joined the 5th Regiment, SCV, and served under General Robert E Lee at Bull's Run. Asbury witnessed the shot that mortally wounded his younger brother, Jesse James Coward, as he was helping another fallen soldier. Asbury sat with his brother and prayed earnestly. After Jesse's death at age 25, Asbury arranged for a coffin and sent his slave, Charles, to accompany his brother's body home. Col. Coward was at Appomattox during Lee's surrender to Grant. His last commendation by General Longstreet, which is found in the book The South Carolinians, had a handwritten postscript by General Lee of "I concur in the commendation bestowed on Colonel Coward by General Longstreet. I have always considered him one of the best officers of this Army."

After the war was over, Asbury made his way back home to South Carolina. His memoirs tell us that as he crossed over into South Carolina amid all of the destruction and utter ruin, his spirits soared. He was back home, back to a new beginning, and had the faith he would triumph again. And he did. Asbury returned to his school and ran it for 20 years after the war. His former slave, Charles, elected to remain with Asbury as a cook for the school. Asbury served as SC State Superintendent for Education from 1884-1886, before becoming the Superintendent of the Citadel in 1890. His portrait hangs at the Citadel and the dining hall is named in his memory. Lt. Colonel Asbury Coward died in 1925 and is buried at Rock Hill, SC, next to his brother.Keep digging up those roots. You never know where the next clue will take you.

Lt. Colonel Asbury Coward, the man my mother called "Old Uncle", a true American giant. Asbury Coward, my cousin. The man who exemplifies the family motto- Coward by name, not by nature. Indeed.


Anonymous said...

I believe he is buried in York, SC, in the Rosehill Cemetery. Also, some sources have him as being born a year later than you have. Not sure which is right.

My step-father is Asbury Coward IV.


Anonymous said...

Asbury Coward was very fond of his slaves and not unlike many prominent men of his time her also had a slave wife named Ellen Hargrove that he fathered 5 children with. There names were Mary Anne, Julia, Henry, Paul and Ellen. T

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this history! I am proud to say my great-great-grandfather Jesse Roberts and his brother Nick Roberts both served under Col. Coward in Co. G, 5th Reg. I don't know what they thought of your ancestor, but I believe he is to be held in high regard. Kindest regards, Melissa