Drayton Hall
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The Civil War

How Drayton Hall survived


Though Drayton Hall was still the family seat at the start of the Civil War, it was no longer the family's main residence. At the start of the war, Dr. John Drayton — brother to Charles III, Thomas, and James — managed Drayton Hall. Although Charles III had passed the plantation to his son, Charles Henry Drayton, Charles Henry was just five years old when his father died.

At the beginning of the war, there were approximately 30 enslaved people at Drayton Hall. By the time the war ended for Charleston — on February 18, 1865 after the city surrendered to Union forces — only a few of these people remained. One was Caesar Bowens. (see Bowens Family)

Soon after Charleston's surrender, the Union army began to secure the plantations around Charleston, and by the end of the month there were Union soldiers marching up and down Ashley River Road. Drayton Hall was one of just three plantations on the Ashley River that escaped destruction, and without a doubt one of Drayton Hall's greatest mysteries is how it managed to survive. For years, three stories circulated without any hard evidence. In the first story, an enslaved person prevented Drayton Hall's destruction by claiming that Drayton Hall was owned by "a Union man" — perhaps a reference to a Drayton cousin, Percival Drayton, who served as a commodore in the Union Navy (though if that is the case, he was unable to save his family's ancestral home, Magnolia). The second credits General William Tecumseh Sherman and the love he had for one of the Drayton women. The third credits Dr. John Drayton who may have had yellow flags posted at the entrances to the property indicating that it was being used as a smallpox hospital.

Recent research has revealed that a version of the third story has the most credence. In 2005, two unrelated letters were discovered that make reference to Drayton Hall as a hospital. One ends with the question, "Did you know that all the old residences on the Ashley River were burned by the Northerners except Drayton Hall, which was used by them for a small pox H[ospital]?" The second letter states, "Doctor J. Drayton posted his land as a cholera epidemic hospital and frightened away all of the wandering thugs." Whether using Drayton Hall as a hospital was an elaborate ruse to save the house is another question. Certainly, John Drayton could have used the house as a make-shift hospital for locals suffering from cholera and other illnesses. Either way, there appears to be enough evidence to support that it was used as a hospital of some sort, and that is why it was spared.

By the summer of 1865, Dr. John Drayton had returned to Drayton Hall. He wrote a letter in June to the Middleton family in which he described the devastation of the area. In July he was issued a pass by the Federal Army's provost department. Later that same month, he was forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the United States in order to reclaim his property.