In 1855, construction began on College Hall, intended as a college hall, auditorium, and chapel. Poor acoustics made this purpose impossible. During the Civil War, the building was a military hospital, and it was an arsenal and armory for the U.S. Army from 1870 to 1887. In 1888, it was renamed Science Hall and housed various science departments and laboratories. The Science Hall operated with a gymnasium in its basement until 1939, when the Works Progress Administration funded the construction of an indoor swimming pool and the name reverted to College Hall.1
The now-gymnasium was named for Longstreet, after college president, minister, and Georgia Scenes author Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790-1870) in 1968. Newspaper coverage and the Board of Trustee minutes cite Longstreet’s term as president and his varied career as reasons for the naming. At least eight other buildings were named at this board meeting. Longstreet Theatre opened in 1977 after a thorough remodeling that converted the building into a theater in the round.2
Longstreet’s connection to South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina:
- President and faculty member, 1856-1861
- Chair of history, political economy, political philosophy, and elocution
- President during the outbreak of the Civil War until the college closed in December
- Encouraged students to support secession; tried to stop students from dropping out and joining the Confederate war effort
- Was a slaveowner and published many pro-slavery and secessionist treatises, claimed
abolition would “turn loose two or three millions of paupers among us” and “make our
slaves free at an expense of seven hundred million dollars in slave property.”
- Refused to attend International Statistical Congress in London when he learned that a Black man was also a U.S. delegate.
- Included these political beliefs in his theology and lectures to students
- Actively supported the Confederacy through his writing
- Has no particular connection to the building’s construction or the many uses of the building
Augustus Baldwin Longstreet was born to William Longstreet and Hannah Randolph in Augusta, Georgia, on September 22, 1790. He attended Moses Waddel’s school in South Carolina, boarding with the family of John C. Calhoun. Like Calhoun, Longstreet attended Yale College, and graduated in 1813. He attended law school in Connecticut and returned to Georgia as a circuit lawyer in 1815. Longstreet married Frances Eliza Park on March 3, 1817, and had eight children. Only two: Frances Eliza and Virginia Lafayette, survived to adulthood.3 They remained married for over fifty years, when Frances died in 1867.
In 1821, Longstreet was elected to the Georgia legislature, and became superior court judge of Omalgee District in 1822. In 1824, he ran for Congress, but dropped out of the race after the death of his firstborn son Alfred Emsley, which deeply shook the family and prompted Longstreet to join the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1827. He began preaching locally in 1828 and he became a minister in 1838, when he became a travelling minister for a year. He played a central role in the division of the Methodist Episcopal Church along sectional lines over the issue of slavery in 1844.
Alongside his newfound religious endeavors, Longstreet returned to Augusta in 1825 and resumed his law practice. In the early 1830s, Longstreet began publishing literary sketches of rural life in Georgia. The first, “The Dance,” was published in 1833 in the Milledgeville Southern Recorder. Shortly after this Longstreet purchased the North American Gazette newspaper and renamed it the Augusta State Rights’ Sentinel in 1834.4 He published more sketches in the Sentinel and, in September 1835, published a book from the newspaper office titled Georgia Scenes: Characters, Incidents, Etc., in the First Half Century of the Republic. Edgar Allen Poe gave them a rave review and the book was reissued by Harper and Brothers in 1840. Longstreet is most remembered for these sketches, which were extremely popular and frequently reprinted. They are known as one of the best examples of southern backwoods humor.
Despite this popularity, his future works of fiction did not receive similar accolades. He became well-known as a pro-slavery defender of the South, publishing Letters to the Epistle of Paul to Philemon, or the Connection of Apostolical Christianity with Slavery in 1845 and A Voice from the South in 1847.
In 1839, Longstreet began his first of many college presidencies as the president of Emory College in Oxford, Georgia. In 1849, he moved to Jackson, Louisiana to be the president of Centenary College, but left in 1850 to become the president of the University of Mississippi. On November 29, 1856, Longstreet was elected president of South Carolina College. Three trustee members advocated for Longstreet’s nomination: James L. Petigru, Francis H. Wadlaw, and David L. Wadlaw, all of whom attended Waddel’s school together. As college president, Longstreet was known to be a strict disciplinarian but not a very devoted professor.
At age 70, Longstreet announced his resignation from the College in May 1860, to take effect a year later. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Longstreet agreed to stay on until fall 1861, at which point the school had all-but closed as most students and even some faculty joined the Confederate war effort.
In 1861, Longstreet returned to Oxford, Mississippi, where his wife was living on
the plantation owned by daughter Virginia and her husband, Lucius Q.C. Lamar, former
student of Longstreet’s and future Supreme Court Justice. In December 1862 U.S. troops
burned Longstreet’s house in Oxford, using his own papers as kindling. He then relocated
to Oxford, Georgia, and then Columbus before returning to Oxford, Mississippi, after
the war. Longstreet died on July 9, 1870. He is buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery in
Slavery and Secession
In 1820, Longstreet owned 26 enslaved people.5 After leaving the congressional race, Longstreet purchased a plantation in Augusta named Westover in 1827. It is now the site of Westover Cemetery and part of the Augusta National Golf Course.6 In 1830, Longstreet owned at least twenty-one enslaved people.7 Upon the death of Eliza Longstreet’s brother, she became the sole owner of between forty and fifty enslaved people. By spring 1834, Longstreet was unable to manage the plantation and sold the people owned by his wife, thus ending his so-called “eternal torment of negroes, overseers, and creditors.” The Longstreets sold their plantation off plot by plot until finally parting with their mansion of the same name in 1844.8
Longstreet was an ardent slavery apologist as early as 1845. Biblically, he argued that Christian scriptures did not forbid “the relationship of Master and Slave”—if anything, the relationship was “perfectly innocent.” The Epistle of Paul proved “that a slaveholder may be a good Christian, and worth of the holiest man’s love and fellowship,” and “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were Slaveholders, are all safely housed in Heaven.”9 Longstreet asserted that enslaved people were “unchecked by care for the present, or thought of the future…there are not three millions of happier beings anywhere than my slaves.”10 Enslaved people were not capable of rebellion, both because “these people can form no concert of action” and it would “insure their destruction.” He acknowledged that cruel slave owners existed, but were outnumbered, because “what man so stupid and so brutal” would “murder himself out of six or eight hundred dollars?” By 1847, Longstreet was already predicting that abolitionism would “produce a dissolution of the Union” as the “only alternative left to the South” and urged the Southern states to “prudently” prepare for war by organizing a “military school in every State…the best way to secure peace is to be always prepared for war.”11
Longstreet’s proslavery works made him very popular in South Carolina, especially among the students. On December 3, 1860, Longstreet told the graduating class at South Carolina College that the state would “almost certainly resume her independence in a few months” because abolitionists “have broken up the most splendid government ever devised by the ingenuity of man.” “The revolution is actually begun…neutral you cannot be” he told his students. Slavery, Longstreet asserted, was inherited by the Southerners through the business dealings of the same Northern states “who are now crushing every thing to abolish it.” He scoffed at the idea of freeing African Americans as it would “turn loose two or three millions of paupers among us—helpless old men and women…blind, decrepid [sic], diseased” and “make our slaves free at an expense of seven hundred millions of dollars in slave property.” In their “ignorance,” Longstreet believed, freed African Americans would “perish by the thousands.”12 Furthermore, “having never known liberty,” he argued, “they [enslaved people] rarely think of it, and still more rarely sigh for it.”13
On the eve of secession, Longstreet did not yet believe there would be war. Despite this, during the same address in which he told his students to cease their martial preparations, Longstreet issued a caveat: “should you be called to the field...name the uniform you would prefer, the arms which you would desire, the material and emblazonry of the flag under which you would fight, and if my [means] should then be as they are now I will feel myself honored in equipping you to your will out of my own pocket.” In Shall South Carolina Begin the War?, Longstreet asserted secession “never will end in a war, if the South will be prudent” and urged that “no Southern State [must] begin it.” He knew that nothing good would come from South Carolina drawing first blood, and to do so would be “the most dangerous, useless, ill-advised measure which could possibly be adopted.” 14
In summer 1860 Longstreet was nominated as the United States delegate to the International Statistical Congress in London. Upon learning that a Black man, future U.S. Army major Martin R. Delany, was in attendance and received applause by the Congress, Longstreet withdrew his attendance immediately. Perceiving this cheering as a slight against the South, he wrote to the London Morning Chronicle that the South’s “slavery is a heritage, not a creature of her own begetting...it has become so completely incorporated with her very being, that it is now impossible to eradicate it.” He vowed to never return to England.15 This action made him even more popular in the state of South Carolina.16
After secession, Longstreet was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy. He published a leaflet of encouragement to Confederate soldiers titled Valuable Suggestions Addressed to the Soldiers of the Confederate States as well as letters of advice to his nephew, Confederate general James Longstreet. Augustus Longstreet was even involved in a plot to destroy the U.S. navy with the help of his students near Charleston in early 1862. According his contemporary George W. Williams, Longstreet hatched a plot to dress up as a Black man, “black” the faces of “six of his college boys,” and pretend that they were providing the U.S. ships with food, as he heard several enslaved African Americans were doing via small boat and canoe along the coastline. He decided upon a day to launch the mission and had packed his explosives before a meeting with Robert E. Lee dissuaded him of the idea. Williams noted that Longstreet could “mimic the low-country negro to perfection.” Longstreet remained near Lee in Pocotaligo — the Lowcountry location of his planned attack — and established a Sunday school and preached to the soldiers for two months before returning to Charleston. Williams noted that Longstreet might not have forgiven Lee from forbidding his attack, as he stated that Lee lacked “push and energy” and deficient in aggressive qualities.”17 After this, Longstreet was briefly made Chaplain of the Georgia Militia by Governor Joseph E. Brown.
Longstreet at South Carolina College
Longstreet served as president of South Carolina College for around four and a half years. He arrived at the college in 1856 after years of controversial battles between faculty, trustees, and the college president, and the trustees hoped Longstreet would usher in a period of stability. He was elected president by a vote of 15 to 7 over professor Maximillian LaBorde.18 Though warned that his new students were far from docile, he enjoyed Columbia, “living elaborately…and fitted happily into the hedonistic South Carolina of William Harper, the Hamptons, W.C. Preston, and pleasure-loving Charleston.” The new president became the chair of history, political economy, political philosophy, and elocution at the college. Longstreet was a relatively apathetic professor who was known for inviting students to his house to entertain with his storytelling rather than requiring that they practice elocution.19
Longstreet quickly revealed his disciplinarian nature. In 1858, the students demanded classes be suspended in honor of John C. Calhoun’s birthday and — when the president refused — tarred the benches so that classes became impossible. In response, Longstreet and the faculty expelled half the student population. He candidly defended his actions to the Board of Trustees, remarking that “if therefore you regard the number of students in a College as the only test of its prosperity you have cause for despondency at the present condition of the Institution over which you preside.”20 When the 102 expelled students were tested for readmittance to the College, only one half of them passed, and of those who failed only half of them passed upon their second attempt the next term. There were no more major student disturbances until secession in late 1860.21
Longstreet continued his states’ rights advocacy at South Carolina College. In a baccalaureate address to the class of 1859, Longstreet urged his young men to defend Southern rights and, while not striving to break up the union, not “make a dishonorable surrender of the thousandth part of the mill to save it.” Freeing slaves, he argued, would be ruinous to Southern society, and the South had long suffered at the hands of the North. He told them that secession would not lead to war, but if it did, a united South would win.22 In 1860, Longstreet published “An Appeal to the South” in the Southern Guardian, in which he asked “What is the Union worth to the slaveholder?” His confident diatribes in favor of disunion caused trustee and unionist James L. Petigru to object, though he was in the minority.23
Despite his secessionist ardor, Longstreet outright refused to allow his college students, inspired by his own pro-Southern articles, to volunteer to assist the troops in Charleston during the siege on Fort Sumter. It was his hope that students would remain at the College until called upon by the state, rather than volunteering. Despite his and the faculty’s admonitions and attempts to restrict its existence, a student cadet unit quickly formed at the College. In April 1861, during the firing on Fort Sumter, the cadets boarded the train to Charleston so quickly that all Longstreet could do was make it to the station in time to see them off. By June 1861, only 108 of the original 170 students remained on campus.
In fall 1861, enrollment for the new term numbered 75 students and six faculty members, which Longstreet called “flattering prospects.” However, when the U.S. Army attacked Port Royal in November, Longstreet refused to let Lowcountry students return to their homes and the students left during faculty deliberations. Longstreet hastened to reach Governor Francis Pickens to stop their departure but could not reach him in time. In response, Longstreet and the faculty expressed their “serious apprehension that the sudden departure of the students at this juncture will peril the existence of the institution, unless something can be done to avert the lamentable result.”24
Longstreet did not remain to watch the dwindling attendance and effective closing
of the College during the war. He retired by December 1861, having already stayed
one term longer than his initial retirement announcement claimed at the urging of
his senior students.
1 A Spirit of Place: Buildings and Gardens of the University of South Carolina Columbia Campus, 1801-2016 (Columbia: Division of Administration and Finance, University of South Carolina, 2016), 22; “’College Hall’ History is Uniquely Frustrating,” The Columbia Record, February 10, 1976.
2 “Buildings Named for Educators,” The State October 10, 1968; “Honored Names” The State October 14, 1968.
3 SC Encyclopedia says his wife is named Eliza Frances, Georgia Encyclopedia says she’s Frances Eliza.
4 By late 1836, Longstreet had sold the Sentinel to William E. Jones, who merged it with the Augusta Chronicle to make the Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel in January 1837. It is now the Augusta Chronicle. "Weekly state rights' sentinel." (Augusta, Ga.) 1834-1836
5 1820 U.S. Census, Georgia, Greene County, Captain E. Woodhams District, 206. Greene County is very close to Augusta so it’s very likely this is Longstreet.
6 O.P. Fitzgerald, Judge Longstreet, A Life Sketch (Nashville: Barber and Smith, 1891).
7 1830 U.S. Census, Georgia, Richmond County, Holts District, 292. In this census there are also seventeen free people of color in his household. In 1840 and the 1848 register of free colored persons Longstreet is listed as the guardian of 6 free Black residents of Augusta. To exist as a free person of color in the South, Black Americans had to pay a yearly fee and report to a white guardian, usually an “upstanding” member of the community.
8 Quoted in John Donald Wade, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Development of Culture in the South (New York: Macmillan, 1924), 117-8.
9 Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Letters on the Epistle of Paul, or The Connection of Apostolical Christianity with Slavery (Charleston: B. Jenkins, 1845), 9. Longstreet, A Voice From the South (Baltimore: Western Continent Press, 1847), 49.
10 “My” is the voice of the state of Georgia or the South. Longstreet, A Voice from the South, 52.
11 Longstreet, A Voice from the South, 32, 25, 58
12 Longstreet, “Baccaleaurate Address to the 1859 Class of South Carolina College,” quoted in Fitzgerald, Judge Longstreet, A Life Sketch, 99, 101.
13 Longstreet, A Voice from the South, 52.
14 Longstreet, “Shall the South Begin the War?” quoted in Fitzgerald, Judge Longstreet, A Life Sketch, 130.
15 Cited in David Rachels, ed., Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes Completed: A Scholarly Text (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), xl. Cannot access the London newspaper.
16 Daniel Walker Hollis, University of South Carolina Vol.1, South Carolina College (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951), 211.
17 George W. Williams, Advice to Young Men, and a Sketch of Nacoochee, Georgia, and its Surroundings (Charleston: 1899), 113-116. Lee was stationed along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina from November 1861 to June 1862. The First Battle of Pocotaligo was fought on May 29, 1862, so this event likely took place during this period. Longstreet was not alone in critiquing Lee’s time spend digging earthworks near Savannah and Beaufort, which Longstreet called using the “gun more and the spade less.”
18 See Hollis chapter McCay and Longstreet, particularly 204-206 in University of South Carolina vol. 1. The Board of Trustees held a particular dislike of Professor LaBorde.
19 Hollis 208, 210.
20 South Carolina College Trustees Minutes, 5 May 1858, quoted in Hollis, 209.
21 Hollis 210
22 Quoted in Fitzgerald, 106.
23 Quoted in Hollis, 211.
24 South Carolina College Faculty Minutes, 2 Nov. 1861, quoted in Hollis, 218.