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The Five Crenshaws of Oconee County


July 18, 2014 by kristin

When I was 10 or 11, one of my favorite books was The Last Silk Dress by Ann Rinaldi. It was about 14-year-old Susan Chilmark, living in Civil War-era Richmond, Va., and torn between her loyalty to the South and her growing conviction that everything the South was fighting for was wrong. I’m sure reading this book dozens of times planted the seed for my own novel about a teenage nurse in the Civil War.

Then today I discovered two of my third-great-uncles, William and Newton Crenshaw, were patients at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, where Susan and her mother volunteered in The Last Silk Dress.

William was shot in the thigh at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, ended up at the largest hospital in the South, and was later discharged “by reason of disability.” That same month, Newton went to Chimborazo for “diarrhea.”

William Jasper Crenshaw

William Jasper Crenshaw

William and Newton were two of five Crenshaw brothers who fought for the Confederacy in various South Carolina regiments. Some were conscripts, some volunteers. Most were farmers, and all under 30.

Hezekiah, my third-great-grandfather, known as “Kie,” fought in several battles without major injury or illness, and was captured at Petersburg in the last month of the war.

Hezekiah Crenshaw

Hezekiah Crenshaw

Samuel was captured at Falling Waters in 1863 and spent almost two years as a prisoner of war, much of that time in “Hellmira” prison in New York.

Henry, the youngest, died of diphtheria at age 20, in a different Richmond hospital.

Four out of the five boys made it home, got married and had lots of children. But Henry’s spot on the family tree is empty – no wife, no kids, no census records beyond 1860, not even a gravestone.

I wonder how his older brothers felt, knowing they all lived and he died. I wonder if their mother told them to look out for him, and if they felt they’d failed her. I wonder if any of them was with him when he died, or if they were all somewhere far away, feverish or fighting in their own hellish version of the War.

This is why I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War, since the first time I learned about it in elementary school, since before I read about the fictional Susan Chilmark. For me, for many of us, Civil War stories are our family stories, whether we know it or not. It was only a few generations ago, and its repercussions can still be felt everywhere.

I’m only here today because my third-great-grandfather Hezekiah was not the brother who died.


  1. Judy Miller says:

    Wow! I didn’t know any of this.
    I sorely regret that we didn’t ask Mother or Daddy about any of their own history – which is our great loss – we know almost nothing of their personal younger lives. I’m sure you will not make that mistake.

    Once when Teen and I were visiting in Walhalla,SC, we went way out to an old old house to visit with an old old cousin,
    and her walls and furnishings were covered with great old portraits like this one of Hezekiah. Her only remaining close rel was a sorry and drunken son. and I so wished to relieve her of her pictures. I shudder to think what happened to those wonder -full treasures after her death. Such a loss – for all of us. Mother knew at least the names, when the lady told us about them – but DUHHHHH!!! I did not make a note of any of it. (Place boot own against backside and kick like a mule!)

    Thanks for this info. I love this.

  2. Leigh Ann says:

    Oh my goodness- more small world connections! My father, W. C. Stegall, grew up in Oconee County SC, near Bear Swamp, as did his parents & grandparents. My grandmother lived in Walhalla until she moved to Birmingham to be close to her ” Buddy” & family ( us) in 1983. She worked in the lunchroom at Walhalla High School for many years previous to her retirement. Now I will go look at Daddy’s memoirs to remind myself of his family’s involvement in the War between the States. Fascinating.

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About Kristin

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Historical fiction writer and reader. Procrastinator. Sewist. Slytherin. Fan of red lipstick, rock 'n' roll, and everything vintage.

Current Work-in-Progress

The Boy in the Red Dress

When her drag queen best friend is accused of murdering a socialite, a Jazz Age Veronica Mars searches for the real killer in the seedy underbelly and glittering upper crust of 1931 New Orleans.


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