(from the May 2010 Update)
By Leslie K. Drummond
THREE of my great-great-grandfathers who lived in Kershaw County fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War: Gaillard Percival, Rev. Brown C. Ross and John Warren Rose. This story concerns John Rose, the youngest of the three.
John, born in 1848, was the son of John H. Rose, who owned Rose Plantation and Rose’s Mill Pond in the now-Clemson Road area of Columbia. He was one of ten children and a very young man when the Civil War began.
When he was 15, John became interested in a young girl, Mary Elizabeth Watts, known to the family as Mary Ella, who also lived in the area. Unfortunately, another young local man named Henry was also interested in her and they became rival suitors.
By 1864, one of John’s older brothers had been fighting for the CSA for several years and an uncle was killed at Gettysburg. The battles continued, and relatives and friends were wounded or killed. John became determined to join, even though he was only 15 years old.
In March of 1864, John secretly went to Columbia, and lying about his age, enlisted in Company C, 12th Regiment, SC Volunteers. This company was originally known as Gregg’s Brigade and later as McGowan’s Brigade. Although John didn’t realize it at the time, his rival Henry also enlisted in this company.
Company C was leaving for Virginia and both John and Henry made a farewell visit to Mary. She gave Henry a picture of herself to take with him, and she gave John her ring.
Arriving in Virginia that spring, Company C was engaged in terrible battles. Among them were the Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse in May, and Cold Harbor and the Petersburg Siege in June. More battles followed in the fall of the year and somehow John escaped being injured.
While the company was moving to another location, John and Henry found themselves in the same boat crossing a river. Henry took out Mary’s picture and showed it to the other soldiers in the boat. A sudden gust of wind whipped the picture out of his hand and the men watched as Mary’s likeness went floating off.
Henry then turned to the other men and announced that if anyone wanted to jump in after it, they were welcome to keep it. Hearing this, John immediately dived in the water and retrieved the picture. Now he had both Mary’s ring and her photograph.
John turned 16 in August, and in October, after the 1st Battle of Pegram’s Farm, his lie about his age caught up with him. His father was anxious and worried about him and asked that he be released from duty.
The superior officers agreed and family legend says John’s father traveled to Virginia to bring him home. His company muster roll reads, “Discharged, having enlisted without his father’s consent, Oct. 12, 1864, he being underage.”
John returned to Kershaw County and married Mary a couple of years later. He became a successful landowner and farmer, and together he and Mary raised six children. They had been married over 50 years at the time of her death in 1920; John lived until 1932.
Along with many of their descendants, John is buried by his Mary’s side in Union Baptist Church in Elgin.
This tradition was one of the stories handed down through generations that inspired the author, a Camden native and resident, to embark on family research.