17th South Carolina Regiment Reunion--1889
by Louise Pettus
After the withdrawal of Federal troops from the state of South Carolina in 1877 Civil War veterans began planning reunions. At first the reunions were generally small in scale but as the state began recovering economically and railroads began offering special rates, the reunion groups became larger and met more frequently.
In August 1889 the Seventeenth South Carolina Volunteers met in their 25th reunion in what was described as the biggest entertainment of the kind ever held in the upcountry. The Seventeenth had a considerable number of York County soldiers (4 companies) along with Chester (2 companies). Lancaster and Barnwell counties had present one company each.
The reunion was held in a park called Overlook Place on Whitaker Mountain near the town of Blacksburg, now in Cherokee County but in 1889 in York County (Cherokee County was created in 1897 from York and Spartanburg counties).
The town of Blacksburg was created in 1872 by the arrival of the Chicago, Cincinnati and Charleston railroad. Sally Whitaker had once lived with her family in the gap of a nearby mountain. One day Sally took her little brother with her to search for the familys cows. The boy was attacked by a large panther. Sally carried a rifle and managed to kill the panther. The mountain was named Whitaker Mountain in Sallys honor.
The old soldiers arrived in every way possible: by train, wagon, horse or mule back, even on foot. Blacksburg had several hotels which quickly filled and a number of citizens invited veterans to their homes. Some camped in wagons or tents on the outskirts of the town.
Col. F. W. McMaster met the veterans at the depot to shake their hands and distribute badges to 109 of his old comrades. McMaster then mounted a white horse and led a parade through the main street of Blacksburg and headed to Overlook Mountain where the special events would take place. An observer noted that some marchers were vigorous while others were weak and tottering. He also noted empty sleeves and here and there a wooden leg.
Originally the Seventeenth had 1,035 enlistees with 230 of that number either transferred or dismissed. Of the remainder, 393, or 49 per cent, were killed or died of disease. The casualties were 67 per cent at Second Manassas. At the end of the war the regiment had 410 survivors.
At Overlook Place there were present some 2-3,000 people to cheer the veterans. A sumptuous feast was laid out on tables. The band played Dixie and Yankee Doodle.
The Orator of the Day was Col. William Blackburn Wilson, captain of company F and now a distinguished Yorkville lawyer. Wilson was followed by Colonel McMaster who opened with a resounding Comrades!, followed by a long pause. Visibly affected, the colonel added friends of my might! He spoke in glowing terms of those soldiers who had sacrificed their lives.
When the speeches were over a resolution was presented to have the next years reunion at the Columbia fair grounds. Within a few years most state reunions would be held at the State Fair on the same grounds. The State Fair was generally held in late October when farmers were likely to have sold enough of their crops to have money to spend.
Later, a huge tent was erected yearly on the fair grounds to house the Confederate veteran groups. United Daughters of the Confederacy would serve the old veterans food and drink contributed by various businesses. This practice, along with free admission, lasted as long as their were veterans who could manage to travel to Columbia.