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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A photograph of a man of early middle age, with a large square head, receding hair, and a large dropping mustache. He is Wade Hampton Gibbes, an American and Confederate soldier, whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Colonel Wade H. Gibbes

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 14th, 1904.

 p100  Wade Hampton Gibbes
No. 1874. Class of 1860.
Died, June 12, 1903, at Columbia, S. C., aged 66.

To one whose modesty and merit were equal proverbs amongst his many friends; whom such qualities led to the front only in the crucial time of action; and again into retirement after duty nobly done; it is hard to do justice in any public narrative.

The subject of this sketch was descended from an ancestry distinguished for centuries in England before their settlement in South Carolina during her early Colonial History, one of whom Robert W. Gibbes was in 1709 Governor of the Province under Proprietary Rule. His father, Dr. Robert Wilson Gibbes, was a gentleman of comfortable estate and of high local reputation in science, literature, and his chosen profession of medicine, being Surgeon General of South Carolina under the Confederate Government.

Wade Hampton Gibbes was born April 3, 1837, and received his education in the schools of Columbia, the Arsenal Academy, and the South Carolina College, after which he entered West Point in 1855, graduating in the summer of 1860 after a five years' course.​a Some of his classmates were Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Horace Porter, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wesley Merritt, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. M. Wilson and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Benjamin Sloan, now President of the South Carolina College. The latter was a friend of his youth and age, through life  p101 unto death, and singularly like him in his fine character and retiring modesty. In truth the best epitaph for Major Gibbes would be that Ben. Sloan knew him throughout his life, in war and peace, loved him till his death and still mourns his loss.

He was married to Jane Alan Mason, a daughter of Dr. Alexander Mason, of Virginia, on November 14, 1860. It maybe of interest to state that in this family there were five marriages to West Point men. The wives of Major W. H. Gibbes and General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.E. P. Alexander were sisters; those of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles W. Field, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Dabney Maury and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Collins were sisters to each other and double first cousins to the two former.

While at home in Columbia, making preparations to proceed to the frontier by private conveyance and join his U. S. Army command at Camp Cooper, Texas, South Carolina seceded and Lieutenant Gibbes resigned his commission in that service, and accepted one of the same grade in the Artillery branch of the Confederate Army. At once he was assigned to the duty of training raw recruits into disciplined soldiers, and Colonel Robert Aldrich, now State Senator, has told the writer that while acting as Major Gibbes' Adjutant in his camp of instruction he was deeply impressed with that officer's fitness for high command, and that the lessons he then learned were invaluable to him in his own subsequent military experience.

At the beginning of hostilities Lieutenant Gibbes was stationed under Captain Geo. S.º James at Fort Johnson on James Island.

There have been conflicting statements as to who fired the first gun upon the memorable occasion of the bombardment of Fort Sumter,​b and I insert Major Gibbes' own statement of his part in that affair:

 p102  Columbia, S. C., April 2, 1902.

"Col. John P. Thomas.

Dear Sir — At your request I will undertake again to relate the incident as it occurred, of the firing of the first gun of the war of '61‑'65, at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. The post at Fort Johnson was garrisoned by one company of Confederate States artillery, commanded by Captain George B.º James, W. H. Gibbes, First Lieutenant; H. L.º Farley, Second Lieutenant; and Theo. Hayne, Third Lieutenant. On the night of April 11, 1861, the post was visited by General Stephen D. Lee and General Wigfall and General Chester, I think,º with orders to Captain James to open fire upon the fort at daylight of the next morning. There were two batteries, each of two 10‑inch mortars, one in the sandhills, some one hundred yards or more from the beach, and one directly on the beach, the first under my immediate command, and the second commanded by Lieutenant Farley, at which Captain James stationed himself. My orders were to fire a shell, to burst high up in the air, as a signal, after which signal to commence a general bombardment and to blow up a house which was inconveniently near the battery. The first shell, fired at 4:30 A.M., was immediately followed by the blowing up of the dwelling, or, rather, its attempt, and the firing of a shell aimed so as to fall into the fort. Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meade told the writer, when the fort was surrendered, that the second shell fell into the parade ground of the fort.​c

So the facts are as stated; the first shell was fired by Captain James' battery, and, incidentally, by me as his First Lieutenant.


W. H. Gibbes.

Our orders were from Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard and not through Gen. Ripley."

In spite of conflicting claims he has never deviated from this position, and from my childhood until his death, during the forty years of which he never told me an untruth, he gave invariably the same statement and the details are too simple and clear not to be convincing. He is corroborated by Mr. D. A. Thomas, of Gaffney, South Carolina, who was on Morris Island at the time, who writes: "I do know that 'who fired the first gun' was a subject talked of for some days after Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Anderson surrendered. At that time and place I only heard that Lieutenant Wade Hampton Gibbes fired the first gun at Sumter; none disputed it; all conceded it; and I have always believed, and do now believe that he did it."  p103 Also Major J. J. Lucas, of Society Hill, South Carolina, is writing a historical sketch for Camp Hampton, Confederate Veterans, states: "When it became apparent that the Government at Washington meant subjugation, the Confederate Government directed General Beauregard to capture Fort Sumter. Accordingly General Beauregard ordered Captain Geo. B.º James to fire the signal gun at 4:30 A.M. on the 12th of April, 1861. This gun was fired by Lieutenant Wade Hampton Gibbes, afterwards Major of Artillery in the Army of Northern Virginia."

My understanding has always been that Major Gibbes pulled the lanyard of this gun himself, while his immediately surrounding subalterns pulled those of the mine and the shotted gun, which he had sighted in advance.

After the fall of Sumter he resigned from the State service and reported at Richmond for service, where he was assigned to the command of General Henry A. Wise, in Western Virginia, with the rank of Major of Artillery. He served three or four months with General Wise, when illness compelled him to return to Richmond, where he was laid up about six weeks. He then came to Columbia where he took charge of a camp of instruction for about four months, until he recovered his strength. He then reported for duty and was assigned to the command of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Kirby Smith, in Kentucky, joining it the next day after the battle of Perryville, and was detailed on General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Heth's staff. When the retreat from Kentucky was commenced he went with his command and was again attacked with typhoid fever at Knoxville, Tennessee. With great effort he reached Columbia, where he remained for some time. On his recovery he went to Bermuda and Nassau for a month or six weeks. On his return he was assigned to duty at Wilmington, North Carolina, as commandant, remaining about nine months and then reported to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet at Charlottesville, Virginia, and soon  p104 after went into the Wilderness Campaign, which commenced with the Battle of Petersburg, where he was dangerously wounded. He was in the battles of Spottsylvania, Second Cold Harbor and the Battle of Petersburg, where the mine was exploded. About a month after being wounded he got home to Columbia where he remained three or four months until recovered. He then reported for duty and took charge of the artillery at Chapin's Bluff, ten miles below Richmond. Here he remained until April 3, 1865, when the retreat to Appomattox commenced and the surrender of Lee at that place.

In regard to the Crater Incident, Judge George Savage, of Baltimore, Chief Judge of the Orphan's Court of that city, writes as follows, after stating the fact that Major Gibbes was in the command of the Lynchburg and Otey batteries at Petersburg: "I now write of my beloved and well remembered commander with a distinct recollection of the events which impressed him indelibly and most favorably on my mind. **** When on the morning of July 30, 1864, the mine, which had been placed by Union troops under the Confederate works, was fired and exploded, Major Gibbes and I were asleep in a cottage. We hurried to the front. He quickly took in the situation, and in sharp tones ordered me to go to a mortar battery with orders to Lieutenant John B. Langhorne of the Otey Battery. In the mean time the heroic South Carolinian was doing his noble duty by example, commands and actions. While fearlessly exposing himself he was shot by a sharpshooter in his right shoulder, and his life trembled in the balance. Let me add that I will ever cherish the memory of Major Gibbes with pride and affection."

It was while being nursed back to life from the very jaws of death as a result of this wound, that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee urged Major Gibbes' devoted wife to bring about his recovery as soon as possible for he sorely missed the services of one of his best officers."

 p105  By General Lee's personal recommendation Major Gibbes was about to be promoted when the war was ended.

A short summary of his civil life is appended:​d

"After the surrender he located on a farm he bought at Keysville, Virginia, where he remained for six months. Then he returned to Columbia where he engaged in contracting to build a railroad, which kept him employed about a year, and he then went on a farm near Columbia where he remained until 1876. In the strenuous days of '76 he was one of those in the forefront and was always a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic party. His money was always ready for the support of his party and his political belief. In 1877 he was appointed Treasurer of Richland County by Governor Hampton, which office he held until the expiration of the term, and was re-elected three times. In 1885 he was appointed Postmaster of Columbia by President Cleveland, holding that office for four years and a half. At the expiration of his term of office he went into the machinery business with his son, the style of the firm being W. H. Gibbes, Jr., & Co.

He was, from the organization of the old Central National Bank, until it was merged into the Loan and Exchange Bank, one of its most prominent directors. Under the supervision of W. H. Gibbes & Co. the present system of water works was instituted.

Columbia has lost one of her best citizens in Major Gibbes. A true Southerner, he was a gentleman of the old school and was a friend of all who knew him.

The Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, General Ellison Capers, formerly of the Confederate Army, thus writes of him: "He was my Senior Warden when I was Rector of Trinity and my life-long friend. A gallant Soldier of his Country, a good Churchman, a faithful friend, his death is a loss to the Church and to the State."

 p106  I have before me a letter from General Longstreet which shows that he volunteered for service at the outbreak of the war with Spain, showing that he was ready to again woo his old love, the Stars and Stripes, and risk his life for that Union he had once deemed it his duty to try to dissolve in discharging what he deemed a higher duty to his own, his native Carolina.

In writing of my father at the request of the historian of his class it has seemed best to let the words of others fill the greater part of my space. Could I show him to others as he was to his dear ones, then indeed in his case would the world say, "De mortuis nil nisi bonum."

W. H. Gibbes.

Thayer's Notes:

a Not by way of exception, where a Cadet does an extra year over his original classmates, but with his entire Class: the Class of 1860 was put thru a five-year course.

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b For a candidate other than Gibbes, see The First Shot on Fort Sumter — S.C. Hist. & Gen. Magazine 12:141‑145, written by an eyewitness.

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c The military service of Richard Meade in the War between the States, as will be seen from his career sketch in Cullum's Register, linked above, was unusual. As a Union soldier defending Fort Sumter, he was in a good position to know where that shell landed; as a Confederate soldier afterward, he was in good position to convey the information to Gibbes.

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d The beginning, but not the end, of the quoted passage is marked (by a quotation mark: the indent is mine). The first paragraph therefore surely belongs to it, but where the passage ends was my own guess.

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Page updated: 17 Mar 16