Illustration depicting the fighting at the Brock Road in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, where Col. Asbury Coward grabbed the colors of the 5th South Carolina and led them in a charge over the works. From Battles & Leaders, based on a period sketch by Alfred R. Waud.
Mainly recruited from Upstate South Carolina, the 5th South Carolina Infantry Regiment was organized and mustered into state service in April 1861. Citadel graduate and commander of the Jasper Light Infantry, Micah Jenkins, was appointed colonel. The regiment was then sent from Columbia to Charleston and stationed at Sullivan's Island during those first couple months, until transported to Virginia in June 1861.
Just before their departure, the Fifth was mustered into Confederate service at Orangeburg, SC, on June 4, 1861, for 12 months' service. This was the organization of the regiment at the time:
Col. Micah Jenkins
Lt. Col. George Washington Hamilton Legg
Maj. William T. Thomson
Company A — Johnson Rifles, Union District, Capt. John Wesley Goss
Company B — Kings Mountain Guards, York District, Capt. Andrew Jackson
Company C — Lawson's Fork Volunteers, Spartanburg District, Capt. Rial B. Seay
Company D — Tyger River Volunteers, Union District, Capt. John Robert Russell Giles
Company E — Pea Ridge Volunteers, Union District, Capt. W. J. Thomas Glenn
Company F — Morgan Light Infantry, Spartanburg District, Capt. Alfred Harrison Foster
Company G — Pacolet Guards, Spartanburg District, Capt. Jacob Quickle Carpenter
Company H — Catawba Light Infantry, York District, Capt. William J. Bowen
Company I — Jasper Light Infantry, York District, Capt. Cato Ashe Seabrook
Company K — Spartan Rifles, Spartanburg District, Capt. Joseph Walker
Not long after their arrival in Virginia, the Fifth saw its first action in the battle of First Manassas/Bull Run, July 21, 1861. They were not engaged on the main field of battle, however, but in a separate action to the east at McLean's Ford.
Part of Brig. Gen. D. R. Jones' brigade, the 5th South Carolina and the 17th and 18th Mississippi were sent across McLean's Ford at noon on July 21 in order to silence an eight-gun Federal battery. The battery was positioned on a hill just across the ford and was supported by four New York regiments. In the advance up the slope, the two Mississippi regiments halted and began to withdraw, leaving Jenkins and his Carolinians unsupported. Despite that, Jenkins managed to drive back the artillerymen and their infantry supports, holding his position for forty-five minutes. He then sent three messages back to Jones requesting for further orders but, according to his report, received no reply and, being outnumbered and unsupported, eventually decided to withdraw, albeit unwillingly. Jones, however, states that he sent Jenkins three orders to withdraw, the 5th South Carolina eventually retiring "well formed and in good order from the field."
The Fifth suffered 3 killed and 23 wounded. They had fought well for their first battle. As Gen. Jones later wrote in his official report, "Too much cannot be said in praise of the gallantry displayed by Colonel Jenkins and his regiment of South Carolinians."
Placed in a division under Maj. Gen. James Longstreet that fall, Lonstreet's aide, Maj. Thomas J. Goree, wrote in a letter home that the general thought Jenkins was "the best colonel in the army." Goree also added that the 5th South Carolina was "one of the finest, if not the finest, regiments in the army."
In a review of Longstreet's division at Centreville, Va., November 28, Gen. Beauregard presented each regiment with a new, silk Confederate Battle Flag. Upon receiving his, Jenkins gave a short speech:
"As Colonel of the 5th S.C. Regiment, I accept this as our battle-flag. Our native soil [in South Carolina] is now oppressed with the footsteps of the fell invader; his beacon fires are lighted upon our headlands. To us a battle flag can only be one under which we must conquer or die. As such, I accept this."
(The Yorkville Enquirer, Dec. 12, 1861)
The First Battle Flags by Don Troiani, depicting the flag presentation at Centreville.
Later rising to a brigadier general, this is a photo of Jenkins when colonel of the 5th South Carolina. Born on Edisto Island, SC, Dec. 1, 1835, Jenkins graduated from the the Citadel (the South Carolina Military Academy) in 1854 — first in his class. He then went on to co-found the Kings Mountain Military Academy (a prep school for the Citadel) in Yorkville, SC, with his close friend and fellow Citadel graduate, Asbury Coward, only a year later. In fall of 1859, Jenkins raised the Jasper Light Infantry from Yorkville, later organized as Co. I of the 5th South Carolina and Co. G of his second regiment, the Palmetto Sharpshooters. Though a strict drill master, Jenkins was generally well liked by the men under his command. With his experience and their trust, they formed a superb unit. (Photo from Library of Congress)