Sorry, Colonel Rhett, we are not impressed

On this day in 1865: George W. Nichols, a major in Sherman’s army, writes in his journal in Averasboro in Harnett County, where Confederate Col. Alfred Rhett, former commander of Ft. Sumter, has just been captured:

“Rhett [is] one of the ‘first family’ names of which South Carolina is so proud. From the conversation of this Rebel colonel, I judge him to be quite as impracticable a person as any of his class. He seemed most troubled about the way in which he was captured. . . .

“One of [the Union soldiers], without any sort of regard for the feelings of a South Carolina aristocrat, put a pistol to the colonel’s head and informed him in a quiet but very decided manner that if he didn’t come along he’d ‘make a hole through him!’ The colonel came; but he is a disgusted man. I made no doubt that [the soldiers] would have had but little scruple in cutting off one branch of the family tree of the Rhetts if the surrender had not been prompt.”

3 thoughts on “Sorry, Colonel Rhett, we are not impressed”

  1. Until a surname change effected in 1837 the colonel and his sociopolitically ambitious brothers had been Smiths. On this day in 1865 he may have wished he were again a Smith.

  2. The brothers did not change their names to Rhett because of political asiprations. The Rhett name was assumed to honor their grandmother.

    Laura Lassiter
    discendant of William Rhett

  3. Those two factors aren’t mutually exclusive. Here’s what William C. Davis has to say in “Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater” (2001):
    “Several of [the Smith brothers] had political aspirations now….and even though theirs had the most distinguished of histories in the state, it was still among the most ordinary of names….
    “Barnwell Smith [later Robert Barnwell Rhett, “father of secession”] would tell people he was indifferent to the change but acquiesced at the urging of his brothers…. but more probably he was fully aware of the political and social benefit of discarding the Smith surname in favor of one more distinct and distinguished.”

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