My friend Dr. Jack Simmons, who has been living at 15 Church St. for 70 years, was interested in the column here a few weeks ago concerning Professor Yates Snowden, whom many believe originated the term that refers to Charleston as “The Holy City.” Well, it turns out Dr. Simmons has a connection to Professor Snowden, to the extent that the professor grew up at 15 Church St.
His mother was Mary Amarinthia Yates Snowden (or Amy, as she was known to her closest friends). Dr. Simmons did some research on the professor’s mother, who moved at age 23 to the 15 Church Street house. Dr. Simmons has kindly allowed me to condense his research from an article, which appeared in GS Magazine nearly a decade ago. And why not? I need all the help I can get.
And it doesn’t hurt that the subject ends up such an interesting story — a strong-willed and civic-minded lady who decided to forego marriage until the “old” age of 37 in 1857. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Amarinthia turned her attention to “The Cause” and the house at 15 Church into a hospital for wounded soldiers, often accompanying her husband, a physician, to the battlefield to tend troops, including the Second Battle of Manassas. In the living room she founded the Soldiers Relief Fund to raise money and clothing for troop uniforms, and her passion to get involved was such that people never forgot her.
According to the article, she took an entourage to Columbia in 1865 where she organized a bazaar in the Statehouse, raising some $350,000 for the war effort. (Dr. Simmons presumes those were Confederate dollars.)
While she was still in Columbia, Union General William T. Sherman bypassed Charleston and began laying waste to that city. Mrs. Snowden requested that she and her entourage be received in his camp. According to the article Sherman’s reply indicated he would be honored to receive “Amy.” How could this happen? It turns out that Sherman, who had garrison duty at Fort Moultrie in the 1840s, had once been given leave to attend a wedding in Charleston around 1850. He escorted Amy to the festivities. Obviously the general hadn’t forgotten her.
She used her audience with Sherman to convince him to let her convert a public building in Columbia into a hospital. She also used the opportunity to smuggle $39,000 in U.S. dollars through Yankee lines by sewing the funds into the hems of her skirts. The slaves in her entourage were offered freedom by the Federals, but decided to stay with Mrs. Snowden and received lifelong pensions.
Returning to a prostrate Charleston, she founded the Home for the Mothers, Widows, and Daughters of the Confederate Soldiers by putting a mortgage on her house. She traveled to Gettysburg to exhume 84 S.C. Confederates and re-inter them at Magnolia Cemetery — all at her own personal expense. The $39,000 she smuggled into Charleston played a major role in the funding of the statue of John C. Calhoun erected at Marion Square. Her efforts are recognized by a bronze plaque at the base of the statute and by a sign at the Confederate Home on Broad Street.
At home in 1886 when the great Charleston Earthquake nearly reduced the city to a pile of rubble, she oversaw her home’s reconstruction, which included a new mansard roof.
Mrs. Snowden died at 15 Church on Feb. 23, 1898 and has had many posthumous honors awarded her over the years. In 1917 she became the first woman in state history to have a stone tablet unveiled in her honor at the entrance to the S.C. House of Representatives.
Dr. Simmons, not one to really believe in ghosts or sense the presence of one, can nonetheless discern the spirit “of this remarkable woman in my life” during those quiet moments at his house.
“May I be as good a steward of her home and of her memory,” he writes, “as she was to her fellow man.”
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.