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Queen of the Confederacy

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"Submissiveness is not my role, but certain platitudes on certain occasions are among the innocent deceits of the sex." A strong character with a fervent belief in woman's changing place, Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1832-1899) was not content to live the life of a typical nineteenth-century Southern belle. Wife of Francis Wilkinson Pickens, the secessionist governor of South Carolina on the eve of the Civil War, Lucy was determined to make her mark in the world. She married "the right man," feeling that "a woman with wealth or prestige garnered from her husband's position could attain great power." She urged Pickens to accept a diplomatic mission to the court of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and in St. Petersburg Lucy captivated the Tsar and his retinue with her beauty and charm. Upon returning to the states, she became First Lady of South Carolina just in time to encourage a Confederate unit named in her honor (The Holcombe Legion) off to war. She was the only woman to have her image engraved on Confederacy paper currency, the uncrowned "Queen of the Confederacy."

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Principal Characters

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Principal Characters

Principal Characters

Major Philemon Holcombe—Lucy’s paternal grandfather, Revolutionary War hero

Lucy Maria Anderson Holcombe—Lucy’s paternal grandmother, blood relation to Marie Antoinette

Beverly Lafayette Holcombe—Lucy’s father, youngest son of Major and Lucy Maria Holcombe

Eugenia Dorothea Vaughn Hunt Holcombe—Lucy’s mother, wife of Beverly Holcombe

John Hunt—Lucy’s maternal grandfather, father of Eugenia

The children of Beverly and Eugenia Holcombe:

Anna Eliza

Lucy Petway Holcombe Pickens (non de plume H. M. Hardimann)

John Theodore Hunt

Martha Maria Edgeworth

Philemon Eugene

Helen, adopted

Elkanah Bracken Greer—husband of Anna Eliza

Beverly Holcombe Robertson—Lucy’s first cousin and ardent admirer

Dr. William Henry Holcombe—Lucy’s cousin, of Louisiana

Maria Hawley—governess to Holcombe children

Mr. C. H. Alexander—friend, builder, and entrepreneur.

Mr. S. H. Mathews—La Grange, Tennessee merchant and family friend

“Uncle” Nat Willis—friend, of La Grange, Tennessee

The Reverend Henry Shultz—Headmaster at the Moravian Female

 

CHAPTER ONE 1830–1840 Changing Times

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Changing Times the ranks to become a major. He saw action with General Harry Lee’s

Light Horse Brigade and served as aide-de-camp to the Marquis de

Lafayette at the siege of Yorktown.3 The Major’s wartime tales of surviving on parched corn and sweet potatoes amused his grandchildren. Lucy, however, was more impressed by his marriage in 1781 to

Lucy Maria Anderson, a blood relation of the French Queen, Marie

Antionette.4

After the wars, Major Holcombe and Lucy Maria settled in Amelia

County, Virginia, on his father’s 800-acre plantation, The Oaks, near

Seven Pines. Here they raised a large family of ten children, the last of whom, born in 1806, was Beverly Lafayette, the father of Lucy

Holcombe Pickens. Years later, Lucy’s older sister, Anna Eliza, was to say of their grandmother, “She petted especially her little namesake, my sister, Lucy, saying, ‘There never was a sweeter child.’”5

The Holcombe plantation thrived until successive years of crop failure resulted in Major Philemon Holcombe’s ruin as a farmer. In an effort to rebuild their fortune, Major Holcombe and Lucy Maria, now in their sixties, resolved to move to the “Congressional Reservation” of Western Tennessee. Here the soil was said to be rich and ideal for raising cotton.6

 

CHAPTER TWO 1840–1846 “Riches have taken to themselves wings and flown away.”

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Riches have taken to themselves wings

CHAPTER TWO

1840–1846

“Riches have taken to themselves wings and flown away.”

Eugenia Dorothea Holcombe

ucy, born into an antebellum, slave-holding society, would be aware of the responsibility and demands of this oppressive system that the mistress of the plantation helped main1 tain. From dawn to dusk she would see her mother tend to the basic needs of the slaves and to the instruction and supervision of work.

Everything was taught and done by hand on the premises—butchering, preserving, canning, soap making, butter churning, spinning, weaving, and sewing. The once-a-year supplies and storehouse of provisions were kept under locks, the keys fastened to the mistress’s belt.

Duties did not end with directing daily chores. Lucy might see her mother called out in the night to tend the sick, say prayers for the dying, or help with the birthing of a slave-child.

Slavery may have been essential to the South’s economy and, as a social system, shaped the lives of its womenfolk.2 The Southern plantation mistress found herself locked into a position of isolation, some-

 

CHAPTER THREE 1846–1849 “If she wears blue stockings she contrives to let her petticoats hide them.”

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If she wears blue stockings

CHAPTER THREE

1846–1849

“If she wears blue stockings she contrives to let her petticoats hide them.”

Lucy Petway Holcombe arly on a February morning in 1846, Lucy and Anna started their journey to the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.1 Shivering from cold and excitement, they’d be urged to hurry, as their father waited with the carriage. Off to the side, Mr. S. H. Mathews, entrusted as guardian to the

Holcombe sisters on this voyage east, watched as the girls said their good-byes. A dry goods merchant in La Grange, Mathews traveled at least twice a year to Philadelphia for supplies including bolts of material and pattern pieces for the ladies. The fusty, aging bachelor would see that his “dear girls” received his undivided attention, particularly

Miss Anna.

Hours later the travelers arrived at Memphis and boarded a paddle wheel steamboat, a relatively safe transport except for danger from exploding boilers. The novelty of the large, ornately decorated, three-

 

CHAPTER FOUR 1850 “A stranger in a strange land.”

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1846–1849

CHAPTER FOUR

1850

“A stranger in a strange land.”

Eugenia Dorothea Holcombe

he town of Memphis, Tennessee, sat on clay banks high above the Mississippi River. Below the town the noisy, whiskey-soaked waterfront of saloons, brothels, and warehouses waited for the trade brought by steamboats. On this January morning in 1850 all action centered on the steamboat Eclipse. The shriek of its steam whistle warned loiterers off the gangplank as wood smoke billowed from its twin stacks. The buckets of the boat’s double paddle wheels slapped the water and, pushing free of the wharf, the Eclipse headed downriver to Vicksburg.

High above, on the white-railed gallery deck, Lucy and Anna Eliza pulled their woolen capes about them and waved kisses toward friends on shore who came to bid them farewell. The wind off the river whipped the girls’ capes about their high-laced shoes and tugged at the ribbons of their bonnets. Barely eighteen months apart in age, both girls were beauties. Anna Eliza possessed the more perfect fea-

 

CHAPTER FIVE 1851 “My spirit is restless and longs for activity.”

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My spirit is restless

CHAPTER FIVE

1851

“My spirit is restless and longs for activity.”

Lucy Petway Holcombe

ucy traveled to New Orleans with her mother and sister to shop for Anna Eliza’s trousseau and while there she met her old suitor, St. George Lee. The meeting was not by accident but, when the time came for Lucy to return home to Marshall,

St. George refused to accompany her as she requested. No explanation of his need to return to his business in Mobile satisfied the selfcentered Lucy. The unhappy suitor left and poured out his emotions in a letter written on board the steamboat Florida, “I lay awake all night thinking of how I left you like a broken lily drooping your fair head in utter prostration. I felt almost criminal . . . I am on the rack

‘till I hear from you.”1

Lucy left him on the rack. She broke off their long-standing friendship and told him she’d never marry. It would be many years before she forgave St. George but at the moment the excitement of Anna’s wedding demanded her attention. On 14 January 1851, Anna Eliza,

 

CHAPTER SIX 1851 “The only kindred blood I ever knew, stains the green shore of Cuba.”

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The only kindred blood I ever knew

Once again General Quitman urged delay, stressing that five hundred volunteers would not be enough to carry out a successful expedition. His caution went unheeded. The assembled officers, tired of waiting, hailed the earliest departure as expedient. With much bravado they toasted the ladies present, their host, and the success of what was to be known as the Bahia Honda Expedition. The party continued until the officers left for New Orleans to join their men on board the Pampero.

Before daybreak, 3 August 1851, five hundred soldiers crowded the decks of the Pampero.2 Seasoned soldiers from Kentucky, adventurers, and a good number of Hungarian refugees had signed on.

Excitement ran high. Honor and glory overshadowed all thought of danger. They called themselves filibusters, even if President Millard

Fillmore considered them “pirates.”3 The expedition seemed doomed from the very start. The Pampero’s engines would not turn over. Towed to the mouth of the river, the ship wallowed in the swells while mechanics among the volunteer soldiers worked to repair the engines.4

 

CHAPTER SEVEN 1852–1857 “My home is in the prairied West and God is nearer us than fashion.”

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My home is in the prairied West

The concern of the Holcombe family now centered on the education of their sons. Philemon, the younger of the two, attended schools in Marshall. Because of his deafness, he may have been encouraged to do manual rather than cerebral labor. John Theodore, the favored older son, was expected to bear the Holcombe name with honor. They sent him to the Moravian Seminary for male students in

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His mother wrote weekly letters full of advice and gently admonishing him for his lack of studious and pious habits. Lucy wrote the following letter 26 July 1852.

My dearest Theodore!

We received a letter from you last week which greatly relieved our anxiety, our precious mother was suffering very much from anxiousness. She was fearing a thousand things about which no one else would have imagined. Her only thought—only anxiety, only hope of life seems centred [sic] in you her first born son. Your future moral and intellectual character is the theme of her hearts study, and now my dearest brother, I fear you do not appreciate all this deep devotion and interest as you ought. Do you read her beautiful letters so full of nice useful and heartfelt advice over and over again?

 

CHAPTER EIGHT 1857 The Marriage Mart of the South

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The Marriage Mart of the South

CHAPTER EIGHT

1857

The Marriage Mart of the South

he mountains of western Virginia provided a welcome summer retreat for residents of the fever-infested lowlands and coastal regions of the Southern States. Resort hotels and cottages were clustered in valleys ringed by numerous mountains and mineral springs. The grandest of these hotels, White Sulphur Springs, known as “The White,” ruled over lush green lawns against a backdrop of mountains criss-crossed by trails for riding and hiking. Romance flourished in this setting and The White enjoyed a reputation far and wide as the Marriage Mart of the South.1

Families made yearly pilgrimages to the springs in search of social distraction and health and, more importantly to some, to launch their daughters into society at one of the coveted balls in The White’s ballroom with its magnificent chandeliers. Many arrived in elegant carriages trailed by wagons loaded with servants and trunks of finery.

Some took up residence in the cottages surrounding the main build-

 

CHAPTER NINE 1858 “The heart hath reason which reason knows nothing of.”

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1857

CHAPTER NINE

1858

“The heart hath reason which reason knows nothing of.”

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

t was April and Wyalusing never looked prettier. Yellow jessamine twined about the tall white pillars and filled the air with a sweet scent. From the swing on the wide verandah the singsong laughter of sister Anna’s children rippled on the breeze. The clopping of horse hooves signaled the town’s only carriage for hire coming up the curving driveway. A shiver of panic may have seized

Lucy as she recognized the stocky passenger, an ill-fitting wig covering his bald pate. Regaining her composure, perhaps she tucked a rose in her hair, as was her habit, before smiling a greeting to Francis

Wilkinson Pickens, her passport to fame and fortune.

Her mother’s reception of the Honorable Mr. Pickens was less cordial. Only Anna Eliza received him with affection, remembering his kind concern for her children during the scarlet fever epidemic at Sweet Springs the previous August. But Lucy’s parents resented this interloper who wished to marry their beloved second daughter

 

CHAPTER TEN 1858 “talking of elevated and mighty themes . . .”

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talking of elevated and mighty themes . . .

Rooms were engaged for them at the Queen’s Hotel. Lucy was pleased with the private parlor and rooms but thought the food inferior and was happy to leave the morning of 9 June for London. She had much to write about in her letters home, letters that show Lucy to be acutely observant of her surroundings. Extracts from these letters were printed in the Memphis, Tennessee, Eagle and Enquirer newspaper in 1858.

Lucy wrote—

I must confess myself a little disappointed in the appearance of ‘Old England’ although it is beautiful. It has very much the appearance of Pennsylvania and the New England States with its patches of green, its running water and grazing cattle.

But there is one thing lovely beyond description, I mean the daisies and butter-cups that sprinkle the earth as a shower of silver and gold; the brilliant hues of the red poppy, growing wild as it does among the rye, oats, etc., gives a picturesque effect, especially when relieved now and then by bunches of gay dandallions [sic].

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN 1858 “The confused sound of an unknown language . . . made me feel my isolation.”

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The confused sound

When Lucy stepped for the first time on Russian soil her excitement turned to panic. She confessed in her letter home, “It was the confused sound of an unknown language, the long beard, and singular costume that made me feel my isolation in full force.”3 Grateful that the bonnet’s veil hid her tear-filled eyes, she accepted Governor

Seymour’s arm and stepped up to the waiting carriage. The smoothriding vehicle bore them toward St. Petersburg, the “City of Palaces.”

Approaching the wide avenues and well-kept grounds of the aristocracy’s residences, the driver pulled his team to an exaggerated prancing gait. Lucy might have made note that her father would take particular pleasure in the performance of these horses, a cross between Arabian and Cossack from the looks of their short, powerful necks and sturdy legs. He would also be amused at the driver dressed in an ankle length coat, sashed and padded at the waist to give the affect of portliness so favored by the Russians.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE 1858 “It was very marked and not known to happen before to a foreigner.”

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1858

On Lucy’s first visit to St. Isaacs, her carriage rolled along streets paved with smooth blocks of granite, yet the driver stopped the carriage frequently to avoid hitting the numerous pigeons feeding in the streets. Irritated by the jerky ride, Lucy ordered him to keep the horses going. The driver turned and gravely informed his passenger that Russians love the pigeons for they are considered the “bird of the Holy Ghost.”1

From a distance she saw St. Isaac’s immense gold dome gleaming in the sunlight and from its pinnacle a large gold cross pointing to a cloudless blue sky. The four porticoes, supported by highly polished columns of granite, dominated the vast St.Isaac’s Place. Lucy found the interior of the church to be even more breathtaking, with its sparkling jewels and the mysterious scent of incense. Pillars of dark green malachite, red, yellow, and brown jasper, and the reddish-purple porphyry stone lined the white marble interior walls and supported the vaulted ceiling. Paintings of the Virgin and saints, their frames sparkling with diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and other gems, hung above the side altars. Silver and gold bars and precious gems made up the central altar. Lucy saw no seats or pews or cushions to rest on and no organ was visible, yet she heard the “most heavenly” music ever listened to and described her experience in letters to her family.2 “All kneel or stand and come and go as they please. Priests walk through the church, swinging their incense filled censors, mumbling prayers and blessing all who approach but no sermons are preached . . . They profess not to worship images yet you see a prince of the blood and the poorest serf prostrate themselves, side by side, before the Virgin or some saint, rise, light their offering of wax candle at the altar, drop some coins in the alms-box, and go out, crossing themselves devoutly.” 3

 

photo gallery

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN 1859–1860 “I suspect it will look more like a Moscovite Don Cossack than an honest American child.”

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1858

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

1859–1860

“I suspect it will look more like a

Moscovite Don Cossack than an honest American child.”

Lucy Holcombe Pickens

he November winds from off the Baltic Sea beat against the double windowpanes and chilled the thick walls of the Palace. Daylight hours shortened. The sun did not rise until ninethirty in the morning and hid its pale face below the horizon by two o’clock in the afternoon. A central furnace brought warmth by a system of flues. Confined to the house as a precautionary measure by her doctor, Lucy spent much time in her sitting room reading and writing. The doctor said that she was “nature’s model for child-bearing,” and although she suffered intermittently with heartburn and nervousness, her greatest concern was for the child she carried in her womb. She wrote to her sister, “It is so natural for you and Mother to say, ‘don’t set your heart on a son,’ but it is already set, and I could not help feeling sorry, tho’ [sic] I will thank God for whichever he

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN 1860 “There is nothing real about European society but its hollowness.”

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1860 my home and, above all, I have no one even to speak to of all I feel. Do not think I complain of my lot. No, I will be a very happy one if I am spared to return with my husband and child to my mother and home.”1

While Francis recuperated, Lucy resumed her regimen of reading, writing, and study. She arose at eight and took breakfast with her daughter. Afterwards she studied her French and practiced her voice lesson. At eleven she made coffee for her husband’s breakfast and read the French paper to him. Weeks later, when he was able to leave for the office, she went for a drive with her baby or paid and received visits until six o’clock, when they dined.2 A comparative peace settled over the household. The pleasure Francis took in their daughter and his trustful worship of Lucy compensated for his irritating paternalism. With peace at the family hearth, he likened Lucy to the mythical water sprite, “Undine,” who attained a soul after she married a mortal and bore a child. No doubt Lucy smiled to herself for it was the kind and fatherly Rev. Henry Shultz at the Moravian Seminary who first called her by that name.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN 1860 “I find myself going up the hill to Wyalusing.”

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I find myself going up the hill

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

1860

“I find myself going up the hill to Wyalusing.”

Lucy Holcombe Pickens

he warm air of June 1860 melted the thick ice on the Neva and swarms of carpenters, plasterers, and painters began repairing the damage caused by the sub-zero temperatures of the Russian winter. Little Eugenia fussed with a cold and teething, and the American doctor thought she might benefit from a more moderate climate. An alarmed Francis urged Lucy to take their child abroad to one of the health-giving Spas.1 Lucy needed no urging.

Her bags packed, she gathered her small retinue—fifteen-month old

Eugenia, Lucinda, and a young German nursemaid from Hamburg,

Miss Fanny Langdon. By mid-July they were on their way across the

Baltic Sea.

“I was seasick and suffered death almost,” Lucy wrote to her sister. “Just imagine yourself more hopelessly sick than you ever saw mother, and [a] screaming feverish child in your arms day and night.”2

She worried because her daughter had not been baptized in a Protes-

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN 1861 “I am where duty & honor demand me.”

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I am where duty & honor demand

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

1861

“I am where duty & honor demand me.”

Lucy Holcombe Pickens

overnor Pickens settled his family into a luxurious suite of apartments at the Charleston Hotel, and Lucy initiated her new role with dignity. Friends noticed the change. No longer the chatty, frivolous young belle they had known at the Springs, her graceful movements and soft musical voice communicated a tone of gentility and intellect. People, particularly men, continued to be drawn by her femininity and warmth of feeling. More memorable perhaps was Lucy’s ability to listen, gracing the speaker with a sense of importance. Placed in an elevated position as wife of the Governor, Lucy, with her keenness of mind, would certainly be aware of her contemporary and social rival, the popular and witty diarist, Mary Boykin

Chesnut.

These two women were both consummate flirts, their egos bolstered by the adoration of men. The astute and perceptive Mary

Chesnut made many references to Lucy in her diary conceding that

 

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