William Hunt Beckwith, Infantry

William Hunt Beckwith enlistment

In 1850, William Hunt Beckwith and Laurence Ranson Beckwith were 4 and 8 years old, respectively. They lived in the town of Columbia, South Carolina with their mom, their dad, and their two sisters. A native of Virginia, their father worked as a town clerk while their mother ran the house. The boys’ neighbors were a mix of native and foreign born, most with small families they supported as clerks and merchants with the exception of the engineer two houses down.

Eleven years later, on August 15, 1861, William and Laurence, ages 15 and 19, joined Company A of the 15th Regiment, South Carolina Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia.

William’s enlistment card gives an age of 16 in 1861. His tombstone, weathered but standing, does not stretch the truth. Died January 4, 1862. Age 15 years, 9 months. At the time of William’s death, their unit was not fighting any battle but disease was rampant at camp.

He was picked up in Lightwood Knot Springs, ready to fight alongside his older brother, and laid to rest next to Trinity Episcopal in what has grown to be the city of Columbia.

Laurence fought another year as a Private after his brother’s death, but secured a rank of First Sergeant when he reenlisted. June 12, 1862, he joined the 6th Cavalry Regiment South Carolina, Company G. Upon leaving military service with his own grave injury, Laurence made the decision not to return to the town where he and his little brother had enlisted to fight.

More on his story here.

Presidential Cousin

I have a quickie since I’m working on two big posts — one on the life of Jennings Beckwith and one of Martha (Patsy) Moon’s brothers and their participation in the American Revolution as Free Quakers.

I’ve never mentioned the Madison connection. My great (x6) grandmother is the aunt of President James Madison, Jr. She was born on Montpelier (Mount Pleasant) herself and the branches of the Madison family tree had close ties for a couple of generations.

My great (x7) grandfather was Ambrose Madison. I’d recommend reading a bit about him. Three of his slaves allegedly poisoned him. One was executed for the crime and two were punished for the involvement. I am not even getting into Ambrose’s death. All of the histories I have read seem to have quite the tilt one way or another.

Ambrose’s daughter was Frances (with son James Sr. and others).

Frances’ was George Hite, Pres. James Madison Jr.’s first cousin and contemporary. George had a daughter named Sarah Eleanor Madison Hite.

Sarah married Laurence Butler Beckwith and the names start to get familiar. They had Laurence Ranson Beckwith, of hand cut off at Trevilian Station then moved to Orangeburg fame. L. R. Beckwith has a bunch of kids, including my great grandfather, William Felder Beckwith.
Ta da and good night.

The Obituary of an Eigth Year-old

I have long been curious about where our family picked up the first name Laurens. This was the name of my grandfather, often confused for Laurence, and seeming to harken back to some proud long ago heritage.

Aware of the famous South Carolina Laurens family, I have search for a connection, but nowhere have I found our people to have crossed paths. They were prominent in The Palmetto State during the American Revolution while the Beckwith family was largely still in Virginia. Nowhere have I found the Laurens family mingling with any other Beckwith or associated family lines.

Any hint of the name Laurens though has always been a sure way to make sure I compulsively poke my head into every possible rabbit hole of available records. This is how I found myself ordering a copy of an obituary from Wofford College indexed on their website under an interesting name. Beckwith, Laurens H. 5/30/1907.Gravestone Beckwith

I knew that Laurence Ranson Beckwith, namesake of his grandfather and son to Laurence Henry Beckwith (my great grandfather’s brother), had died as a child in 1907. I’d seen his grave marker in the Prospect Cemetery on the Jamison side of Orangeburg, South Carolina. I’d raced there in a rental car one evening after I had finished at the South Caroliniana, fighting some surprisingly thick traffic through Columbia to find myself suddenly standing alone at dusk in an old graveyard full of familiar names.

So I knew about Laurence. I knew about his father Laurence. I know about his grandfather, who went by “L. R” but had, during his time in the Confederacy, clearly signed his name as Laurence more than once.

The obituary arrived.

BECKWITH. — Laurens Ranson, third child and oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Laurens H. Beckwith, was born April 9, 1898, and died February 14, 1907. For one so young, he was a bright light in the home circle, very bright in intellect, gentle, and kind. How his willing hands are missed. He has left this blighted land where flowers so quickly fade, for the one where they constantly bloom. How soon his little soul was wafted above on angel’s wings far from earth to his God, where he sits and sings with that little band. How dear father missed his footsteps following him. He was sick but a short while, falling victim to that dreaded disease whooping cough. While he is not here with father, mother, sisters, and brother, his dear spirit shadows them. Dear father and mother, while your hearts are crushed and bleeding, you know where to find our dear boy. The Lord says, Suffer little children to come unto Me of such is the kingdom of heaven.


1SG L. R. Beckwith's 1864 requisition of horses. Interesting signature.
1SG L. R. Beckwith’s 1864 requisition of horses. Interesting signature.

Okay, first of all, I’d like to take a moment to thank anyone who ever had anything to do with the development of childhood vaccinations. Next… what? The obituary writer is a family member herself, taking great pains to elegantly describe the pain and glory of the little boy’s passing, so it seems unlikely that this is a matter of a misspelling. Did the grandfather, the L. R. Beckwith who signed as Laurence at one point in his life, come up with Laurens? Was it the boy’s father, Laurence Henry, who decided that he wanted to be Laurens Henry?

What I do know is that my grandfather was not the original Laurens and that’s where I will leave it for now, stalled again but a little closer to an answer.


After writing this post, some dear Find a Grave volunteer photographed the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Cemetery, including the grave of Laurens Ranson Beckwith’s father, Laurens Butler Beckwith (1814-1869) confirming the name on the gravestone. The gravestone certainly looks original, but I am no expert. However, his name is given as Laurence in the obituary that ran in The Spirit of Jefferson following his death.

The only conclusion I can come to is that they probably used nicknames and signed things with their initials, as was customary, so their actual first name didn’t really come up very often.

The Beckwiths Come to Orangeburg

I am not fascinated with my family tree as simply a collection of genes, but in how history and war and geography shaped that tree. Orangeburg, South Carolina is a huge part of that. Orangeburg was where the Beckwith family and the Moorer family came together. I kind of knew that, but hadn’t dug out the details of it because I’d assumed the story was boring and full of people named Henry growing corn.

Burnt out on researching the Martin family, I set out to answer the questions of why and how the Beckwith family came to Orangeburg. I wasn’t expecting much, but what I began to unearth was, to me at least, kind of amazing in its dramatic expression of our country’s violent relationship with itself.

Laurence Ranson BeckwithLaurence Ranson Beckwith* was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1842. Two short autumn months after L. R.’s eighteenth birthday, his home state would be the first to secede from the union. When he enlisted in the 6th Regiment South Carolina Cavalry in Columbia on June 12 of 1862, he brought with him a horse valued at $250 and equipment worth $60. Shortly after being furloughed with grave injuries two years later, he would carry with him the rank of of First Sergeant, the remains of a subordinate, and a bearing towards that man’s family burial ground in the rural countryside. America’s bloodiest war officially ended before Beckwith’s twenty-fourth birthday.

[UPDATE: I recently discovered that L. R. Beckwith served alongside his younger brother in the Infantry prior to his service with the Calvary]

The son of Laurens Butler Beckwith and Harriett Hunt, L. R. was the type to show up later in books about prominent Virginia families, even after being born himself in South Carolina. L. R.’s grandfather had two middle names and a plantation, the son himself of an English baronet. They married people who were related to people who signed the Constitution when they weren’t marrying their own first cousins.

According to Some Prominent Virginia Families (Volume 4, Page 24), L. R. was captain in the “Hampton Legion,” Confederate States Army. However, I’ve had some issues with this particular book, so anything that I get from it is pretty much for “good starting point” value only.

The more I looked into the captain claims, the funnier they smelled. Finally, my nose led me to Battle of Trevilian Station: The Civil War’s Greatest and Bloodiest All Cavalry Battle (Col. Swank, USAF Ret.), a book that had both the story and some documentation to go with it. 1st Sergeant Beckwith’s military career ended in Louisa County, Virginia in June of 1864. The paperwork for his furlough was done by July. Advertisements for an insurance agency that L. R. was involved in during the 1880s list his name with no title along with an associate who is designated as “Capt.” I’m pretty confident that Beckwith was indeed a first sergeant when he was taken to the C.S.A. General Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia with service-ending injuries at the age of twenty-one.

Laurence stayed in the C.S.A. hospital from June 13 to July 5.  The details of the medical board examination are at the National Archives and this is my official note to myself to go look at those next time I’m in DC.  Confederate Archives, Chapter 6, File 215, Page 362.

Col. Swank (RET) prints in his book a letter from Robert B. Wilkinson, Jr., of St. Matthews, that provides some detail to the story:

Francis Marion Moorer was the great-great-great uncle of Robert B. Wilkinson, Jr., and Captain John L. Wilkinson, USAF, of the Wade Hampton Camp #273 of Columbia, S.C. He was born Jan. 1, 1825, in Orangeburgh District, being named for the “Swamp Fox,” (Francis Marion, who was one of South Carolina’s heroes of the first war for independence) under whom his grandfather served in 1781 as a lieutenant. At the time of his enlistment on Dec. 21, 1861, “Frank” as he was known, was a moderately successful planter. His plantation ‘Magnolia Grove,’ was built in 1810 and inherited from his father. It was built adjacent to his great grandfather’s land (who was one of the first settlers of Orangeburg, S.C., in 1735, a Swiss.) He was enlisted at the age of 36, in the 20th Regiment, S.C. Volunteer Infantry, later Company B, under Capt. P.A. McMichael, serving on Sullivan’s Island and the defenses of Charleston, S.C. On Feb. 1, 1863, he requested transfer to the 5th S.C. Cavalry, Company A and served with them in Charleston until called to Virginia. While serving under General Wade Hampton’s command, he was mortally wounded in the fighting at Trevilian’s Station, Virginia, on June 11, 1864. He died the next morning. His young friend, Sgt. Lawrence Ransom Beckwith, marked his grave. (Beckwith was also wounded in that battle.) Beckwith who was to become Frank’s nephew after the war, returned to the grave with Frank’s brother, John Lewis Moorer and a two horse wagon. They recovered his remains in some sort of bag and solemnly rode the 460 miles back to their home. His final resting place was the old family burying ground on his great grandfather’s land. Frank’s widow and two daughters survived the barbaric horde of Gen. William T. Sherman eight months after his death only one daughter was to survive past 1880 on the impoverished plantation.

As Mr. Wilkinson alludes to, after his return to Orangeburg with Pvt. Moorer’s brother, L. R. stayed and married Ann Hess Moorer a short time later. L. R. went into business with the Moorer family, competed in the local agricultural fair against them, and was buried in the cemetery alongside the man he had once fought great and bloody battles with.

There’s so much more to the story, but in the interest of actually hitting Publish on this thing, I will save that for another time. L. R. died in 1884 at the age of 42 and the second half of life may be worth even more discussion than the first. Reconstruction was not an easy time for men like Beckwith.


*Laurence Ranson Beckwith’s first name can be read in his signature as either Lawrence or Laurence. I usually see it written by other people as Lawrence because that is the traditional spelling. His middle name is printed in some records as Ransom and others as Ranson.

I believe the first name is Laurence and middle name is Ranson because he named his son after himself and that son’s name is most definitely Laurence Ranson Beckwith (1898 – 1907). That is how the name is spelled on the son’s gravestone in the cemetery of Prospect Southern Methodist Church in Orangeburg, South Carolina. That gravestone would have been erected under the direction of the senior Laurence Ranson Beckwith himself and most certainly wouldn’t contain a misspelling.

It is also worth noting that, a generation before, the family lived in what later became Ranson, West Virginia. Either way, it seems that he went by L. R. Two Three of L. R.’s grandsons (including my grandfather) were named Laurens so the name thing is of a bit of interest to me.