Thursday, July 17, 2008

Of Camden and Cannon

Camden, S.C., bills itself as the state's "Oldest Inland Town". It was first settled in 1732, the year that George Washington was born, and while there is no house labeled "George Washington slept here", there is one where he ate dinner. The Marquis de Lafayette planted the cedar tree near the courthouse when he visited in 1828, and the Baron de Kalb is buried in front of Bethesda Presbyterian Church. It's a historically self-conscious little town.

My wife and I took a walk after breakfast and stopped by Rectory Square. Camden has a number of small parks scattered around downtown, and this one is a smallish block next to the former Episcopal manse. The centerpiece is the Pantheon, six fat columns encircling a fountain, dedicated in 1911 by the schoolchildren of Camden in honor of "the six Camden schoolboys who attained the rank of general in the Confederate Army". I had to go see it up close, because this year the fountain has been reactivated -- the pipe had always been there, but from my childhood there had never been any water.

There were six generals who came from Camden. James Chesnut (no "t") was close to Jefferson Davis, but he's best known through A Diary From Dixie, which was written by his wife, Mary Boykin Chesnut. I don't know anything in particular about Deas, Kennedy or Cantey. Villepigue was only 32 when he died in 1862, which I pointed out to the boys as an example that even a young man can answer the call to serve and to lead. J. B. Kershaw was descended from one of the town's founders, and was the commander who gave Sgt. Richard Kirkland permission to cross the line at Fredericksburg to take water to wounded Federals while under fire -- the action which gave Kirkland the title, "The Angel of Marye's Heights".

There is one cannon, a Parrott ten-pounder I think, which is aimed defiantly northward (coincidentally, toward the genteel neighborhood where Northern industrialists like the Buckleys located their winter mansions). I found this remarkable, because the two times Camden was captured, the enemy came from the south -- Lords Cornwallis and Rawdon advancing from Charleston, and General Potter's raid coming from Sumter. Apparently the cannon's placement is more symbolic than historical.

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