Skip to main content

Smith and Wells families papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-10261

This collection of one hundred twenty-four letters and five volumes contains papers of the Smith family of Charleston, S.C., and the Wells family of New York and South Carolina. The collection consists primarily of Civil War correspondence of Edward Laight Wells (1839-1917), attorney and Confederate cavalryman, and of Eliza Carolina Middleton Huger Smith (1824-1919), wife of William Mason Smith.

Edward Laight Wells was the son of Thomas L. and Julia Wells of New York. The bulk of his letters are addressed to his parents at their farm in New Brunswick, N.J., and date from late 1863 to 1865. Wells was present in Charleston, S.C., during the secession crisis, by which time he already exhibited a strong and articulate advocacy of states rights. He characterized the mood in Charleston in a letter of 4 Dec. 1860 to his brother John— 'South Carolinians are returning from all parts of the Union, determined to stand or fall with their state. From what I hear secession seems inevitable, [and] a peaceful one almost impossible. The air smells strongly of gun-powder.' Late in 1863, facing conscription into the Union army, Wells abandoned his nascent New York law practice and in November ran the blockade, steaming from Nassau to Wilmington, N.C., and then traveling to Columbia, S.C. On the advice of Wade Hampton and others, Wells joined a volunteer cavalry company, ensuring that he would be among gentlemen of his own class and station in life and avoiding the tedious picket duty faced by regular cavalry during the winter. Wells joined the prestigious Charleston Light Dragoons, which would become Co. K, 4th South Carolina Cavalry, in which he served to the end of the war, participating in numerous battles and engagements and earning the praise of Wade Hampton. Later in life, Wells would write a short history of the Charleston Light Dragoons and a history of Hampton's cavalry during 1864.

The correspondence of Eliza Smith is mainly with her children: William Mason Smith (1843-1864), Robert Tilghman Smith (1845-1923), Daniel Elliott Huger Smith (1846-1923), Isabella Johannes Middleton Smith (1847-1920), and Anna Mason Smith (1849-1924). Anna would marry Edward Laight Wells in 1869. Living in Charleston, Greenville, Augusta, and Athens during the war, Mrs. Smith did her best to maintain her family during the hostilities, and the collection includes heartrending letters recounting the deaths of her sons Joseph Allen Smith (1851-1863) from illness and William Mason Smith from wounds received at Cold Harbor. The collection also includes the diary of Isabella Sinith, 11 June 1865 - 7 Aug. 1866, containing irregular entries chiefly commenting on social visits paid and received while in Athens and Augusta. A number of the letters included in this gift are published in Mason Smith Family Letters (1950) edited by Daniel E. Huger Smith, Alice R. Huger Smith, and Arney R. Childs. The published versions of the letters often exclude passages containing primarily personal news. Letters written shortly after the surrender of Lee and his army testify to the desolation and sense of defeat of those at home, both in the South and among supporters of the Southern cause in the North. Sabina E. Wells, writing from New York, lainented to Mrs. Thomas L. Wells, 10 Apr. 1865—'I am so completely overwhelmed that I can hardly hold myself up.... All is over and God help the poor South.... If I could only leave the Country and never see it again.... Sister and I have been weeping all day.' Dr. Benjamin Huger, Cordesville, S.C., exclaiined to Thomas L. Wells, 17 Sept. 1865— 'We hoped that when peace came, venge[a]nce would have been satisfied [and] hatred glutted but it is not so; the licentious [and] ferocious Negro is encouraged to insult us, [and] no atrocity which he may commit meets with punishment. I am disarmed while every Negro on my plantation has a gun.... The whole labour system subverted, every relation in society violated [and] destroyed.... Yet your people do not see it....' Writing his sister on 1 May 1865 from Cheraw, S.C., Edward L. Wells noted his intention to go to Mexico with other Confederates 'If the worst comes to the worst.' And in a letter of the same date to his mother noted his presence as part of the rear guard during the evacuation of Columbia— 'We were obliged, being ordered not to fight in the streets, to witness tamely the entrance of the Enemy's column.... Of the barbarity, [and] cruelty of the Yankees I presume you have heard.... Thank God, I have never surrendered [and] my arm is still free to strike against oppression [and] wrong.... God bless you all but curse New England, [and] her subjects in other states.' Describing the immediate aftermath of hostilities, 29 July 1865, Louisa Porcher, writing from Greenville, S.C., informed Anna Mason Smith— 'The Yankee garrison are here.... The General is here too, Van Wyke, but of course no one that we know, fraternizes with either him or his officers.' Two letters, written after the war, from Alfred Huger, Charleston, S.C., to Thomas L. Wells, are of interest for their comments upon the government. The earlier letter, 1 Sept. 1867, also recounts Wade Hampton's praise of Edward Laight Wells' heroism at Fayetteville, N.C., where Wells, Hampton, and approximately seven other cavalrymen charged and routed a Union cavalry company, killing eight and wounding sixteen, and comments upon President Andrew Johnson— 'poor man, he has been a Jacobin all his Life! Honest I believe, but like the inventor of the Guillotine, likely to fall by his own weapon.' The second letter, 30 Oct. 1868, suggests the mood of despair during the period— 'Tom, the Government is a failure!... You are totally incapable of conceiving our degradation or of measuring our anguish! And if Seymour [and] Blaine are by divine interposition elected, a Generation must pass away, before what has been, can be forgotten, if Gent. Grant is put over all Law, all constitutions, all Mercy [and] all Justice, then the American Nation is itself debased!' The emotions are quite different in a letter of 8 Nov. 1876, in which Lawrence Wells informs his father of the recent election of Wade Hampton as governor of South Carolina— 'We have routed them.... never again will federal Bayonets [and] United States Marshalls interfere with the free expression of the People's Will at the Ballot Box....'


  • 1856 - 1914

General Physical Description note

124 items and 5 volumes.

Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.


5 Linear Feet


The Smith and Wells Papers, dated from March 1856 to October 1907.

Administrative History

The calendar for this collection was completed in 1994 and encoded in 2010. Provenance information and other details can be found in the University South Caroliniana Program, 1985, pp.3-4.

Arrangement of the Collection

This collection is arranged in five chronological series:

Missing Title

General Physical Description note

124 items and 5 volumes.

Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script