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Bill Thayer

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The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Second Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1891.

 p63  Thomas F. Drayton
No. 535. Class of 1828.
Died, February 18, 1891, at Florence, S. C., aged 83.

Thomas Fenwick Drayton was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 24, 1808.

He was the eldest son of William Drayton by his first wife, Anna Gadsden.

His father was a Colonel in the War of 1812, and after the war was elected Recorder of the City of Charleston, which office he filled until 1825, when he was elected to Congress from the Charleston District and served in that body until 1833. During his congressional career he took a leading position in opposition to nullification in South Carolina, and at the close of his third Congressional term moved from Charleston to Philadelphia, where he died in 1846.

General Drayton's mother was a granddaughter of Christopher Gadsden, a man whom Bancroft regarded with Harrisonº Gray Otis, as the prime movers in the Revolutionary War in this country.

He was connected with the four signers of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina.

His mother dying when he was about seven years old, he with two of his brothers, Percival and William (both afterwards in the United States Navy) were taken by their grandmother, a sister of General Fenwick, to Philadelphia.

Shortly after this he was sent to school in England and remained there for some years. On his return to America he obtained a Cadetship at West Point where he was graduated in the same class as Jefferson Davis for whom he always entertained a deep regard and affection.

Commissioned Second Lieutenant of the Sixth Infantry in July, 1828, he served until August 15th, 1836, when he resigned and accepted the position of Resident Engineer of the Charleston, Louisville and Cincinnati Railroad.

 p64  After his marriage to Miss Catherine Pope​a he took up the active management of his plantation near Beaufort, where he remained until the breaking out of the war.

Shortly before the war he was asked to superintend the building of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, and remained in charge of this road as President until some time after the war began, when his sense of duty to his State induced him to accept a commission in the Confederate Army.

In a letter to one of his family in Philadelphia dated July 7, 1861, he writes: "The claims of home and the pecuniary difficulties of the road have thus far kept me from any military command; but if the war continues much longer, which I think it will, I too will follow the footsteps of my father, do duty as a soldier on some active field, and leave the consequence to God."

In September, 1861, he was commissioned Brigadier-General and commanded the forces at Fort Walker or Hilton Head, November 7, 1861.

A curious incident in the war was the fact that his brother, Percival Drayton, was in command of the Pawnee, one of the ships under Dupont, which took part in this engagement, actually shelling his brother's troops without being aware of the fact until afterwards.​b

When Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.General Lee took command in South Carolina he divided the South Carolina Department into five divisions, and by general order of December 10, 1861, General Drayton was assigned to the command of the Fifth Division, (see Official Records of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 6, page 345) his headquarters being at Hardeeville.

Here he continued until July 15, 1862, when he and General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Evans were ordered to be sent with their commands to reinforce General Lee's Army in Virginia, arriving there on the twenty-eighth, and were at once ordered to Gordonsville.

He took part in all the battles of that campaign, especially in the hard fighting of August 28th to September 1st under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet, to whose corps his Brigade was assigned.

On the 18th of February, 1863, he was appointed with Hindman  p65 and Gardner on a Court of Inquiry to investigate the campaign and conduct of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.M. Lovell at New Orleans. He was kept busy on this duty until July 15, 1863, when the Court rose.

On August 26, 1863, General Drayton was ordered to report to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Holmes at Arkansas in the Trans-Mississippi Department.

Holmes was soon after relieved and General Sterling Price placed in command of the Corps, and General Drayton of the Division in November, 1863. Some months later General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.E. Kirby Smith took command of the Trans-Mississippi Department and General Drayton was sent to the Rio Grande Department on the borders of Mexico, where he remained until the close of the war.

In the battle of Boonsborough Gap he had several narrow escapes, his sword scabbard and a button from the breast of his coat being shot off. At Sharpsburg, Wm. Fuller, his aide-de‑camp, was shot down at his side, and while holding him in his arms a second shot pierced Fuller's head. These, however, are incidents in the life of every soldier on both sides.

After the war was over General Drayton bought a plantation in Georgia with a legacy left to him by his brother Percival, but the changed condition of things made this a disastrous experiment and he lost everything that he had.

With untiring energy he commenced the struggle for existence again at a time of life when most men are thinking of taking a well-deserved rest.

Moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1871, he engaged in a real estate and insurance agency and managed to make a living for himself and keep a home for his daughters.

How hard the struggle was none knew but himself, for he never complained, and for twenty years, until he was stricken down by paralysis on October 2, 1890, he kept up a cheerful front, hopeful to the last that the growing prosperity of the South would enable him to make a fortune for his children.

After the first stroke he rallied and was taken to the home of his daughter in Florence, South Carolina, where he died on February 18, 1891, at the age of eighty-three.º

 p66  The following extract from the Charlotte (N. C.) Chronicle will show the estimation in which he was held by those with whom he spent the last twenty years of his life:

"He was over sixty years of age when he came to Charlotte and began the world anew, as it were. During more than twenty years he labored with unfailing courage and cheerfulness. A more ready zeal for every enterprise which promised real benefit to the community could not be found; a heart more warm to every demand of sympathy, nor a hand more unstintedly open to every demand, he has not left behind him.

From an early period of his manhood he was a most zealous and devout Christian. His religious character had that in it which illustrated the Saviour's command that his followers should become as little children. There was a simplicity of faith, a purity and fixedness of purpose about his life that challenged the world's criticism.

He was a member of the Episcopal Church, and for the greater part of his life was actively engaged in the work of the church. He was a vestryman of the several parishes in the places where he had formerly resided, and was a member of the Diocesan convocations, first of South Carolina, then of North Carolina. Up to the time of his fatal sickness he was a member of the vestry of St. Peter's Episcopal Church of this city.

As it was his request to be buried here his remains will be brought here this evening on the C., C. & A. train, and be escorted to the Episcopal Church by the Mecklenburg Veterans, whose association he was a member of."

The above account is but a meagre one, but it was extremely difficult to induce General Drayton to talk about his military career, even in the midst of his own family.

When the war was over he accepted the result and only strove to make the best of his opportunities, displaying no chagrin at ill success and always grateful for any good fortune that befell him, as one of his aides writes, speaking of his conduct in the field: "In all these actions General Drayton was conspicuous for his courage. Always leading his men, always bright and cheerful in  p67 action, he gave them that spirit and courage which has made Lee's ragged infantry celebrated."

J. C. D.

Thayer's Notes:

a Properly, Emma Catherine Pope; she died in 1854, well before the war.

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b A historical marker — presumably well researched — placed in the area by the Beaufort, SC County Council, identifies the engagement as the Battle of Port Royal, November 7, 1861; and brother Percival's ship not as the Pawnee, but as the Pocahontas. See the good page at HMdb.org, The Historical Marker Database, which has photographs of both brothers and further information and links.

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