Colonel James D. Nance South Carolina's Civil Wars 'Proper Commander'

Sammy Franks, Clemson University


Colonel James Drayton Nance was born in Newberry, South Carolina on October 10, 1837. He was a graduate of the Citadel and a practicing attorney at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was also instrumental in the training of the 3rd South Carolina Infantry. Most of the young men who went to war were wholly unprepared. Many on both sides felt the war would be short and never contemplated the horrors they would encounter. These young men had no military training, and what military knowledge they did possess came from ramshackle militia units whose real purpose was to patrol for runaway slaves. These militia units were described as worthless. They had no uniforms and no weapons of impact. They joined the militia units for fun and frolic, never realizing that war was a serious business. All students of the Civil War are familiar with the Lee's, Stuarts, Jacksons, and Hamptons, but what about the colonels? It was men like James D. Nance in the fog of battle that would make the crucial decisions about life and death. Historians have devoted little attention to these men. Although there are excellent unit histories, little has been written about the men who trained and led these units. It has been stated that Nance showed an outstanding ability to lead, and that his command followed him never questioning his skill. His ability to advance under the pressure of combat and his ability to extract his command from destruction never faltered. His mental capacity was always sharp and his decisions toward his command sound. Nance was a strict disciplinarian who had a demanding nature. His devotion to duty never wavered and he expected the same from his men. This is an excellent opportunity to study and analyze a part of the command structure of the Civil War that has been neglected by historians.
I have relied upon Colonel Nance's letters to his sister Laura more than any other source to tell Nance's story in his own words. It is not only an opportunity for Nance to speak for himself; it is also an addition to Civil War historiography. Nance had a close relationship with his sister, and his letters to her reveal a man devoted to his cause, his ideology, his family, and his God. These letters have provided a window into another time.