St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: What a Carolina Coward in the Civil War

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots being fired at Fort Sumter and the true fighting of the Civil War.  With all eyes on Charleston as the single beam over Fort Sumter split into two this morning, I find myself thinking of Lt Colonel Asbury COWARD, the man my grandfather called "Uncle Asbury".

This man who fought with Robert E Lee; the man who lost everything during the Civil War; the man who was a military man and educator;  his story is fascinating.  His memoirs of the Civil War bring tears to my eyes when I read it.  The pain, the suffering, the glories and the final defeat.  It's all there in his words.

I know Asbury was at the battle of Chickamauga.  I wonder if he was there when his cousin, my 2g grandpa was gravely wounded. 

In the book of his memoirs,  he tells how he sat with his brother as he died after being wounded.  He tells of the loss of his children.  As he rides back into South Carolina after being with Lee at the surrender, he felt his spirits rise.  He had come from nothing.  He made something.  He lost it all.  He would have it again.

Yes, indeed, Asbury.  You did.

Coward by name, not by nature
October 18, 2006

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.

Ahh, genealogy. April 12, a day when so many families were torn apart 150 years ago. May we honor all our heroes, past, present and future.

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©2011 AS Eldredge

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