(1830 - 1910)
Home State: South Carolina
Education: The Citadel, Class of 1849;Class Rank: 1
Command Billet: Regimental Commander
Branch of Service: Infantry
see his Battle Report
He was born on a sugar cane plantation near Tallahassee, Florida on 22 June 1830 but was raised by his mother at Pendleton in northwestern South Carolina. His parents were Sarah Johnson Fayssoux, a physician's daughter, and Clement William Stevens, a wealthy Charlestonian who died in Florida in 1836 when Peter was only 5 years old.
Young Peter applied to be a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point in 1845, recommended by prominent South Carolinian Colonel James Gadsen, later namesake of the Gadsen Purchase, but was not selected. He then attended the South Carolina Military Academy (SCMA) at the Citadel, graduating at the top of his class in 1849. He was appointed First Lieutenant and Professor of Mathematics at the Arsenal campus of the SCMA in 1851 and in 1856 he was promoted to Captain, taught Ethics and French, and was transferred to the Citadel campus. In 1858 he was appointed head of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy and in 1859 he attempted to resign, but his resignation was refused and instead he was commissioned Major of State troops and selected Superintendent of the Citadel. He was not yet 30 years old.
The Major and his cadets were central to a key event which precipitated the Civil War, as described by the Academy’s historian:
On or about the 25th December, 1860, Major P. F. Stevens was ordered by the Executive of the State to take to Morris Island a detachment of cadets and four 24-pounder siege guns, and to put the guns in position to command the channel, with a view to keeping out all suspicious vessels from Fort Sumter ... Major Stevens and his command engaged in constructing what was, after the 9th of January, called the Star of the West Battery; as it was from that point, and with the 24-pounders manned by the cadets, that the United States Ship "Star of the West," was driven off while attempting to relieve Fort Sumter. ... the Citadel Cadets, under the command of Col. Branch, as commanding officer of the post, and of Maj. Stevens, as immediately in charge of the guns, fired the first shot of the War of Secession.He resigned from his post at the Citadel in October 1861 to be ordained an Episcopal priest but soon after was authorized by Governor Pickens to form a "legion for coastal defense", which he named after the governor's wife, Lucy Holcombe Pickens. He was commissioned their Colonel on November 21, 1861. The Holcombe Legion Infantry regiment was assigned to Brigadier General Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans' new brigade on July 17, 1862; although intended to be a combined-arms unit, the Legion served without artillery or cavalry components. The brigade joined the Army of Northern Virginia on the Peninsula Campaign after the Seven Days Battles.
On the Campaign
At the start of the Maryland Campaign Brig. Gen. Evans had command of a temporary division consisting of Brigadier General John B. Hood's brigades and his own independent brigade, and he assigned his senior colonel Stevens to command the brigade. After an exhausting march from Hagerstown they were posted near Turner's Gap on South Mountain on September 14, then a brigade of about 550 men, but were soon driven off the mountain by Federal attacks, with more than 200 of those soldiers lost as casualties. He reported that many of the men of the brigade he could personally see fled under fire, that “two or three bravely faced the foe, but a general lack of discipline and disregard for officers prevailed …”
He later wrote of his experience at their next engagement, three days later at Sharpsburg:
… sickness, fatigue, and the casualties of battle had reduced the brigade to a mere skeleton [of perhaps 300 men] … it acted as a support for different batteries on either side of the road until Wednesday afternoon, when ... it was deployed as skirmishers to meet those of the enemy ... [S]eeing my men falling rapidly, while the enemy was still advancing, I was apprehensive of being flanked, and ordered them to fall back to a stone wall in our rear. Perceiving that my retreat had left unsupported a section of Boyce's artillery, which I had not before seen, I again resumed my position, and, bringing up Boyce's battery, opened fire with musketry and artillery upon a line of the enemy advancing on the right of the road. The line was broken and driven back ... It was now late in the evening, and, my men having nearly exhausted their ammunition... had fallen back ... and, finding them scattering in town, I marched to the rear and bivouacked for the night.
Two days after, General Evans took command of the brigade and I of my regiment.
The rest of the War
Colonel Stevens may have been offered promotion to Brigadier General and a brigade of his own, but on October 8, 1862 he resigned his commission saying he had agreed to defend South Carolina but not to fight in Virginia or Maryland. He returned to the ministry and was pastor of Protestant Episcopal (P.E.) churches at Black Oak and Mt. Pleasant, SC.
After the War
After the war, unexpectedly for a former Confederate officer, he took up the cause of organizing churches and training ministers among freed persons, former slaves, in South Carolina. He established at least 3 congregations and was instrumental in educating and advocating for ordination of at least two former slaves. In late 1874 he resigned his position in the P.E. Church because they would not ordain any freedmen, and joined the Reformed Episcopal Church, which would. In 1879 he was put in charge of the Colored Churches in South Carolina. He was ordained Bishop in 1890 and served in that office to the end of his life.
Known also for his work in education more generally, he served on the Charleston County School Commission, founded the Reformed Episcopal School for African-American children in Charleston (1899), and was professor at Claflin College in Orangeburg from 1900.
In December 1909 he attended his final church convocation after which a newsman wrote of him:
What South Carolinian is there who lives within the bounds of this state who has not heard of this good and great man? Bishop Stevens is a white man, who has devoted the best days of his life to the education and elevation of the negro … he is now old, feeble, and blind …He died in Charleston a month later at age 79 and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery there, his casket borne by black Episcopal ministers.
References & notes
His service history and the military quotes above are from U.S. Military Academy Cadet Application Papers 1805-1866 at the National Archives, John Peyre Thomas's The History of the South Carolina Military Academy (1893), Brigades of Antietam,1 the ORs,2 and Stone.3 Personal details from family genealogists, the US Census of 1880, the Reformed Episcopal Church/Diocese of the Southeast's History, and Eastman, Donohoe, and Thompson's The Huguenot Church in Charleston (2013). His gravesite is on Findagrave. His picture here from a portrait painted by his granddaughter Grace Annette DuPré, now in the archives at the Citadel.
In 1853 Stevens married Mary Singletary Capers (1833–1894), sister of Citadel Superintendent Francis W. Capers and of Ellison Capers, a fellow SCMA graduate (1857) and fellow professor. They had seven children together over the next 20 years, but only three survived childhood. In 1895, a recent widower at age 65, he married for the second time, Harriet Rebecca Palmer (1842-1922), a 53 year old physician’s daughter from Charleston.
06/22/1830; Tallahassee, FL
01/09/1910; Charleston, SC; burial in Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC
1 Gottfried, Bradley M. (editor), Brigades of Antietam: The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Antietam, Sharpsburg, MD: The Press of the Antietam Institute, 2021, p. 302-304 [AotW citation 29929]
2 US War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR), 128 vols., Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1880-1901, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 1, 941-2 [AotW citation 29930]
3 Stone cites Stevens’ Autobiography, not located.
Stone, Jr., DeWitt Boyd, Wandering to Glory: Confederate Veterans Remember Evans' Brigade, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002, p. 24, 31, 43-44, 48 [AotW citation 29931]