Thomas F. Drayton to Percival Drayton, April 17, 1861
Few things are more representative of how the American Civil War affected the nation than the personal narrative of a family on different sides of the conflict. The Draytons were just such a family. Percival and Thomas Drayton were born in South Carolina, but their father moved the family north during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. Thomas stayed behind, determined to own a plantation. By the mid-1830s, Thomas had established his plantation at Hilton Head, South Carolina. His brother Percival left South Carolina with his father and became a translator for the US Navy. When Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate troops in 1861, Percival and Thomas found themselves on opposite sides of a military and philosophical conflict.
While Percival was given command of a Union battleship, Thomas received a commission to become Brigadier General in the Confederate army. The brothers were both present at the battles of Port Royale and Antietam. Although they fought on different sides, their respect for each other was immortalized in the letters they exchanged. Each sibling was convinced of the righteousness of his cause, and each truly believed that he was fighting for freedom. Percival and Thomas tried to convince one another to change allegiances throughout their correspondence.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania does not have the letters Percival sent to his brother, although Thomas's letters offer insight into Percival's arguments. Percival volunteered to fight with the Union to abolish slavery, his primary justification for not joining the Confederacy. Percival had accused Thomas of upholding the institution of slavery by supporting the Confederacy, but Thomas saw the Civil War as a conflict between individual state rights and an autocratic federal government. From his perspective, he was fighting for his own freedom while Percival was unwittingly fighting for tyranny. Even with an impassable divide between their ideologies, Thomas writes about the pain of arguing with a family member he loves in the postscript. The letter from Thomas Drayton to Percival Drayton encapsulates the fraternal and intellectual struggles of the American Civil War.
Ron Chepesiuk, "Eye Witness to Fort Sumter: The Letters of Private John Thompson," South Carolina Historical Magazine 85 (1984): 271-279.
"Details of the Taking of Fort Sumter," New York Times, April 14, 1861.
Drayton Family Papers (Collection 1584), Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Finding aid
Charles W. Ramsdell, "Lincoln and Fort Sumter," Journal of Southern History 3 (1937): 259-288.