As a forward-looking community, Sumter does not spend a great deal of time dwelling in the past. However, we do have a fascinating history that will capture the interest of anyone who enjoys researching and exploring days gone by.
The Visitors Center receives a number of queries each year from history buffs asking if there are any Civil War sites located within the community. One of the most momentous events in United States history, although it did not happen on a local site, has roots stretching back to the sleepy agricultural community that we were in 1861. The State newspaper has been running a daily series of the events leading up to the war, and I think it’s significant that some of this has to do with Sumter…little old Sumter, which at that time was a mere dot on the railroad! There were many events throughout the war that touched our local citizens…many more than I have space to talk about here.
On January 9, 1861, the first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, in an effort to prevent the supply-laden Federal ship Star of the West from approaching land. The young man who pulled the lanyard was a Citadel cadet named George Edward Haynsworth (b. 1841). Nicknamed “Tuck,” he was born and raised in Sumter and furthered his studies at South Carolina’s military college. Cadet Haynsworth went on to serve in the Confederate Army and eventually retired to his hometown, where he became a successful lawyer and raised his family. In 1887, he was fatally wounded while discharging his duties as City Magistrate (the building where this occurred still stands on Law Range and is privately owned). George Edward Haynsworth’s grave can be found in the Sumter Cemetery on West Oakland Avenue.
Now—flash forward to April 8, 1865. In the last days of this vicious and bloody war that had pitted brother against brother, Federal troops arrived in Sumter in an attempt to destroy the Wilmington & Manchester railroad line, leading to what is known as Potter’s Raid. Fighting broke out at Dingle’s Mill on April 9, the very day that General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va. On April 21, word finally reached General Potter’s troops that war was over, following the last Union casualty to take place in Sumter County. The site of this battle is now Beech Creek Golf Plantation. In other, more isolated areas, fighting continued until June, but in Sumter, it was all over by April and our community immediately set to work rebuilding.
Since that time, Sumter has become one of the state’s largest metropolitan areas, with a progressive attitude and impressive military and industrial developments. However, some of the old sites still remain. The Dingle’s Mill monument on US Highway 15 South stands as a memory to those who lost their lives during the final campaign of the war. The Civil War monument on Washington Street is a reminder of the Confederate dead. Many soldiers were brought home to rest at Sumter and Holy Cross cemeteries.
Although the Haynsworth family has few or no direct descendants left in the community, their legacy is still visible in various areas, as they were a prosperous family. Haynsworth Street is a main thoroughfare through the residential historic district. At the corner of Haynsworth and Salem Streets stands the home of Henry Haynsworth, a close relative of Tuck’s. The O’Donnell House on East Liberty Street was originally built on South Main Street by Major John Haynsworth. The Cubbage House on Church Street, now owned by the Sumter County Museum, was also once a Haynsworth family home.
If this blog entry has whetted your appetite for more of Sumter’s rich historical legacy, there is plenty more to be had. Some good places to start:
- The Sumter County Genealogical Society hosts a monthly meeting, open to the public, during which a speaker highlights persons, places and events of note in our community history. Meetings will be held February 16, March 10, April 25 and May 25. For more information, call (803) 775-4985. The Genealogical Society also maintains an extensive archive at the old Carnegie Library building at 291 West Liberty Street.
- The Sumter County Library hosts workshops in its Williams-Brice SC Room, filled with more than 2,500 items of local historical interest. For more information, please call (803) 773-7273.
- The Sumter County Museum houses the “Mayor Bubba” archives and the Myrtis Ginn Osteen collection, both of which are full of interesting information and local color. Call (803) 775-0908.
- The Sumter County Historical Commission hosts a “Potter’s Raid” tour, detailing the last days of the Civil War in Sumter County. For more information, please call the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640.
If you’re a newcomer to the Sumter community, there’s a lot to learn about this wonderful place that we call home. If you’re a longtime resident or even a native, you might just have some fascinating treats in store! Watch, read, and see the past come alive!