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Davidson College and the Civil War

by | Nov 18, 2023

William Alexander Smith was born in Anson County in 1843, and he enrolled at Davidson as a freshman in 1859. In his 1920 reminiscences, found in the Davidson College Archives, he describes his experience at the college, culminating in his enlistment in the Army of the Confederacy in 1861. The following is a slightly edited version of his comments on the run-up to the Civil War.

According to Smith, by May of 1861, “Rumors of war filled with hot air of orators on the campus prevailed. Just a few ordered guns from Colts Manufacturer and they were shipped in and received. Practice beyond College bounds on Saturdays was the order of the day. How do I remember proudly bringing a trophy of marksmanship—a red-headed wood knocker. Shot in the head, with a Colts pistol. The bird was on a limb of a tree forty yards or steps away. Two by two, one by one, the boys left the college halls for army camps.

The material for a secession flag was purchased, made and fastened to a staff about fifteen feet long. This flag was there by use of a ladder placed on the pinnacle of

North Carolina Secession Flag

the cupola of the College Building and proudly gave its folds to the breeze. It was very dangerous as the cupola was covered with stay-light glass, and I was always glad to descend and find myself in the rotunda… Fast and furious speed the days—fast and furious the term of war sounded—fast and furious sentiment crystalized—fast and furious the students fled the college halls to stem the invaders’ march into our sacred southland…

[The flag] was still flying when I left for the army. No objection was made by Faculty to the flag that came to our knowledge. I was joined Co. C. #14 Reg. N.C. Volunteers. Known as the Anson Guard. The first Company in the state to offer its services to Governor Ellis in defense of state’s rights…known as the Bethel Regiment, but the young, high-strung, headstrong boys would not submit to discipline, nor obey orders.”

William Alexander Smith in his later years (Photo from

Smith was wounded at the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862, and re-enrolled at Davidson in 1863. As a result of his wound, he used crutches for the rest of his life. He graduated in 1865 and later was a businessman in Ansonville; he was first a merchant, and then he engaged in cotton manufacturing. When he retired from the cotton industry in 1905, he made his living mostly from investments. During his life, he also farmed extensive property in Anson County. He died in 1934.


Find more at: William Alexander Smith Reminiscences, DC0154s. Manuscript Collections. Accessed November 16, 2023.

Nancy Griffith

Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989.  She is the author of numerous books and articles on Arkansas and South Carolina history.  She is the author of "Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter," a history of the Ada Jenkins school and center.

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