Greenville, much like South Carolina as a whole, was one of the first places to be touched by the idea of secession and the feeling that the south must protect slavery. As early as 1847, Greenville held a public meeting to protest the Wilmot Proviso which prohibited slavery in lands gained from Mexico after the Mexican War. Two years later another public meeting was held in May to endorse John C. Calhoun’s Southern Address. This address “called on Southerners to stand up in defense of their property, prosperity, equality, liberty, and safety” (Huff). In 1850, another public meeting was held, this time to form a Greenville chapter of the Southern Rights Association. H. Lee Thurston and William H. Campbell helped mobilize the Greenville District for secession, and were both officers in the Minute Men for the Defense of Southern Rights. In December of 1860 the Greenville area supported a convention to debate the issue of secession for the state. The Greenville District wound up sending James C Furman, William K. Easley, Perry E. Duncan, William H. Campbell, and Dr. James P. Harrison as their delegates to the convention. On December 20, the state convention, as well as the Greenville delegation, voted unanimously in favor of secession.
During this same month, the Greenville Guards organized, and by the middle of 1861 three companies of volunteers had left Greenville with three more companies ready to leave. Another public meeting was called in late May to “outfit a new group” (Huff 135), named the Brooks Calvary which served under Colonel Wade Hampton III. All told, Greenville County provided more that 2,000 soldiers to the Confederate armies, an impressive number considering that Greenville had a voting population of only 2,200, and a white population of only fourteen thousand people. In 1862 a call for men of forty five years or older was made by the South Carolina legislature. Greenville created the Sixteenth South Carolina Regiment, “recruited entirely from the county and almost exclusively from men past middle age” (Richardson 85). The Greenville District alone gave the confederacy fifteen companies of soldiers, and its highest ranking officer was General M.C. Butler.
Once the War began in earnest in mid-1861, life in Confederate Greenville was little different from the situation experienced by Southerners across the Confederacy. The Union blockade of Southern ports did not discriminate between different regions of the Confederacy. Most mills and factories around Greenville were pressed into service to produce goods needed by the Confederate war effort. The Batesville Mill was pressed into producing clothing while the carriage works of Gower, Cox & Gower produced buggies; no one escaped the shortages and deprivations associated with wartime production and consumption. Because of Greenville’s inland position and railroads, the State Military Works were established there in March of 1862. Although providing jobs repairing firearms for local men not serving in the war, the Works was not economically profitable to the State. All areas of the South faced a shortage of young men and Greenville was no exception. Lacking both Professors and students, Furman University had to cancel commencement activities in 1861, and would not re-open until the fall of 1865. The seminary part of the University stayed open during the first year of the war, but when its students were not exempted from the draft, it too closed for the remainder of the war.
But despite the areas’ lack of men, the entire female community got behind the war effort with the formation of the Greenville Ladies’ Association in July 1861. President Mary Duncan motivated the Greenville area to support the troops even though most were not heavily in favor of the war. By supplying needed goods and foodstuffs as well as medical assistance, the women of Greenville played their part in supporting the South’s war effort. But despite local support, as the hostilities wore on many men from the Greenville area deserted the Army in order to return to their families and their farms. The demands for war-time goods drove prices higher and higher, a situation not helped by the staggering inflation experienced in the South, to the point that many people worried more about feeding their families than fighting a war. Greenville luckily spent most of the war away from direct fighting, but that all changed during the last few weeks of hostilities in April 1865. Major General Stoneman, Union commander in East Tennessee, ordered his cavalry to capture fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he escaped through South Carolina. Major James Lawson and some 150 Cavalry rode down Buncombe Road from Hendersonville into Greenville. Looting and destroying property, the Union Cavalry searched for weapons and military goods and ended up killing a white man and a former slave.