Sons of Privilege: The Charleston Light Dragoons in the Civil War

Overview

Sons of Privilege traces the wartime experiences of a unique Confederate cavalry unit drawn together from South Carolina's most prestigious families of planters, merchants, and politicos. Examining the military exploits of the Charleston Light Dragoons, W. Eric Emerson finds that the elite status of its membership dictated the terms of the dragoons' service. For much of the war, the dragoons were stationed close to home and faced little immediate danger. As the South's resources waned, however, such deference ...
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Overview

Sons of Privilege traces the wartime experiences of a unique Confederate cavalry unit drawn together from South Carolina's most prestigious families of planters, merchants, and politicos. Examining the military exploits of the Charleston Light Dragoons, W. Eric Emerson finds that the elite status of its membership dictated the terms of the dragoons' service. For much of the war, the dragoons were stationed close to home and faced little immediate danger. As the South's resources waned, however, such deference faded, and the dragoons were thrust into the bloody combat of Virginia.

Recounting the unit's 1864 baptism by fire at the Battle of Haw's Shop, Emerson suggests that the dragoons' unrealistic expectations about their military prowess led the men to fight with more bravery than discretion. Thus the unit suffered heavy losses, and by 1865 only a handful survived. Emerson tracks the return of the survivors to ruined homes and businesses, the struggle to rebuild lost fortunes, and the resurrection of exclusive social organizations that would separate them from Charleston's more prosperous newcomers. He chronicles efforts of veterans to reestablish the unit and evaluates the influence of writings by survivors on the postwar veneration of the dragoons.

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What People Are Saying

James M. McPherson
"W. Eric Emerson’s well-paced narrative shows how the Civil War experiences of the Charleston Light Dragoons mirrored those of the South Carolina lowcountry’s elite as a whole. Sheltered duty and good living during the war’s early years gave way to devastating casualties that almost destroyed the unit after it went to the front in Virginia in 1864, even as the wealth of Carolina’s tidewater aristocracy was also being wiped out by the war."
author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
Gary W. Gallagher
"Emerson draws on an impressive array of sources to offer this fascinating analytical portrait of an unusual Confederate military unit. Readers interested in the long-standing debate about whether the conflict was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight will find Sons of Privilege especially useful, but all students of the Confederacy will turn to its examination of an elite group of soldiers with profit."
author of The Confederate War
Tracy J. Power
"Sons of Privilege blends social, economic, political, and military history to paint a sophisticated portrait of a unique company whose officers and men were so concerned with notions of status, wealth, and the concept of honor that these ideals shaped both its Confederate service and the ways in which the unit chose to remember it after the war."
author of Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox
Emory M. Thomas
"Emerson has a good story, very well told. He blends diverse aspects of social and military history in a way that places him on the leading edge of scholarship in the field. This work also highlights the outstanding resources available at the South Carolina Historical Society. Here is Confederate unit history at its best."
author of Bold Dragoon: The Life of J. E. B. Stuart
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611170108
  • Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2011
  • Edition description: Civil War Sesquicentennial Edition
  • Pages: 226
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


W. Eric Emerson is director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in Columbia. The coeditor of Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose, Emerson has also served as director of the Charleston Library Society and the South Carolina Historical Society.
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