Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Thomas Brown


This paper reconstructs the history of the Governor’s Guards in Columbia, South Carolina from 1843 to 1874. In addition to examining the conditions that influenced the formation of the company, this paper analyzes the ages, wealth, class, and occupations of the men that served in the company before, during, and after the Civil War. Specifically for white men of Columbia’s fledgling middle and upper classes, the Governor’s Guards facilitated opportunities to network, climb the social ladder, seek political advancement, and influence the social, political, and economic landscape of Columbia.

This work also illuminates the company’s involvement in numerous local, state, and out-of-state militia excursions like parades, banquets, holiday celebrations, and anniversaries. The company’s participation in these events not only shaped Columbia’s community life, but enabled men to publicly display their masculinity and affirm antebellum hierarchies of race, gender, and class. Furthermore, militia excursions likely enabled men to discuss and establish political and economic opportunities between cities, transforming certain members, like merchants and politicians, into quasi-emissaries.

Lastly, this paper discusses the impact of the Civil War on volunteer militia companies like the Governor’s Guards. Despite South Carolina’s ban on volunteer militia companies after the war, men found ways to circumvent the law by forming rifle clubs that nearly mirrored the purpose of pre-war volunteer companies. In addition to forming rifle clubs, pre-war militia members created politically influential and powerful Civil War survivor associations that worked to elevate and promulgate the Lost Cause narrative.


© 2021, Justin Harwell