Finding Private Jamison

As I’ve mentioned in my column on more than one occasion, parks are about connections; how we connect with family, friends and the national and cultural sites that define our state. This month’s column about a man named Private Jamison, discusses connections and discovery.

Archie Jamison is a 34-year-old man from Greenville, caught up in our country’s most difficult days during the Civil War. Archie is a farmer, husband and a father. He’s a member of Earle’s Battery of the Palmetto Battalion, and finds himself almost 200 miles from home. The familiar, red clay and backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains have been replaced with sand, swamps and Spanish moss hanging from trees with knees. The site is located along the Salkehatchie River and is known as Rivers Bridge. This is not where he pictured himself at 34 years old. Confederate forces are there preparing to stop General William T. Sherman’s sweep across the South. The fighting is fierce and brave men from both sides lose their lives. Countless others are wounded and their lives changed forever. While I don’t know for sure, I believe sometime during the battle Private Jamison’s thoughts turn to home to his wife and family. Eventually Sherman’s troops overwhelm McLaws’ Confederate troops, and they retreat toward Branchville after stalling the advance for only one day. What was Private Jamison thinking then? Would he ever go home and see his family, the red clay and the mountains again?

Fast forward 149 years to an uneventful Saturday afternoon when my phone rings. It’s my first cousin, our family historian, who is working on the genealogy of my mother’s side of the family. He called to ask if I had connections at Rivers Bridge State Historic Site. “A few,” I said with a chuckle, as I have known the historian and site manager for more than 20 years. My cousin told me he believed there was a chance our great, great grandfather fought at Rivers Bridge. I was completely shocked, and immediately interested in joining his search. After some research, we found that our great, great grandfather did indeed fight at the Battle of Rivers Bridge during the Civil War. I had found Private Jamison.

I’ve been to Rivers Bridge more times than I can count, but I knew my next visit would be different. I would be connecting to the park’s history on a different level. By examining war records we know exactly where Earle’s Brigade stood and fought, and I was going to stand where my great, great grandfather stood and fought in the Civil War. My friend and Park Interpreter John White, anxiously took me to the site. He told me about the battle, and although I have heard the story before, this time it was different. I could not help but think about Private Jamison, and wonder what he would have been thinking. John left me to reflect where Earle’s Brigade position was. Standing in that spot was a powerful moment for me.

As I rejoined John, he was talking to visitors from Maine and telling them the history of the battle and its significance. He introduced me and enthusiastically told them why I was there. We talked about the impact of the battle, and the Civil War in the South. It was almost 150 years ago, one of them stated. Such a long time it’s hard to imagine and put history in perspective.

I explained that parks and historic sites are about connections. Once we experience these historic sites, we are better connected to the facts, stories and pictures that go along with them. Once connected, 150 years doesn’t seem so long ago. Private Archie Jamison fought at the battle of Rivers Bridge and left his four-year-old son Adam at home in Greenville. Adam grew up and had a daughter named Marguerite, who had a daughter named Virginia Wayne, who had a son named Phillip, who now goes by Phil, who just stood in the same spot that Private Jamison stood during the battle of Rivers Bridge. Connections are powerful. I’m glad I found Private Jamison.

See you in the parks,
Archie’s Great, Great Grandson