Confederate Hero or Deranged Killer?

By: R. Gibson*

Manse Jolly was a native of South Carolina. During the Civil War, Manse distinguished himself in the Confederate Army, first in the infantry and later in the cavalry, rising to the rank of first sergeant. After the war, Manse returned home to the Lebanon district of Anderson, South Carolina, where his name has become synonymous with heroism and a noble sense of honor. But, Manse has also come to be known as an outlaw and a murderer, a deranged killer of United States soldiers. Who was Manse Jolly? Was he the Defender of Southern Honor, the Avenging Angel of a lost cause that many have called him or was he the unrelenting killer of Union soldiers, a deranged Confederate renegade?

Manson Sherrill Jolly was born in the Lebanon Community of Anderson District in 1840 to Joseph Moorhead Jolly and Anna Cole Sherrill. He was one of eleven children. During the years before the Civil War, Manse worked on the family farm. His work on the farm was interrupted only by infrequent attendance at the Lebanon community school and church on Sunday. Manse was taught the fundamentals at the community school: arithmetic, writing, penmanship, grammar, and reading, mostly passages from the Bible, but also the works of Thomas More and Walter Scott. When studying Manse, it is important to realize that he was raised in a paradoxical culture which held to romantic ideals very similar to those in the books Manse read in school. The upcountry of South Carolina was made up of hard-working farmers. These people saw themselves as heroic, chivalrous knights, ready to defend their homeland. The upcountry men of the time were puritanical, fundamental Christians, yet they held to the idea of a slave-based southern economy, though most people did not own slaves and those that did found slaves to be less and less profitable after 1840. Law and order were the creed of their lives, but they maintained a certain disregard for life; the slightest threat or insult, real or imagined, to their or their families honor demanded immediate reprisals with fists and/or guns. Manse grew up in this culture in which the men felt honor bound to defend family, womanhood, and "Mother Carolina." The generation of Manse Jolly did not recognize the Civil War as a war between people of the same country, but as a war for southern rights against tyrannical northern aggression. The believed that they were fighting for a righteous cause against an evil one. It is also important to understand that Manse, like most returning confederate veterans viewed the occupying Union force as foreign invaders, as alien as the German or Japanese would have been. Therefore one must realize that Manse was molded by the culture he was raised in.[1]

The escapades of Manse Jolly have become as legendary as those of the greatest American folk heroes. But, how many of his exploits are real and how many are fictional. To answer the question of whether Manse was a hero or a villain, we must separate the Manse of reality from the Manse of legend, a task that is nearly impossible. When the war ended Manse felt betrayed. He had believed in the southern cause completely and he felt he had been deserted by it. Manse could not come to accept the defeat of the Confederacy. He could not let the deaths of his five brothers in the War for Southern Independence be in vain. As the heroes from the stories he read as a child, he vowed to continue the battle for right. [2]

Soon after his return to South Carolina, Manse became the leader of a small group of young ex-confederates. Unfortunately, only one name of Manse's band is known, that of Walter L. Sargent. Manse had more compatriots, but there names can only be left to speculation.  Manse, with his small group of raiders, began to harass Union forces in the Anderson area. It is here that the Manse Jolly of reality becomes interwoven with the Manse Jolly of legend. Manse was not the only outlaw in Anderson, but many of the illicit deeds of the other lawless groups were attributed to Manse and his men. One major point of confusion is the locations that Manse and his men used as bases from which to harass Union troops. Some authorities of the day reported that Manse and his raiders used the "Horse Pasture" and the mountain passes of Greenville and Pickens. However; this cannot be true. It is a proven fact that marauding bands of confederate deserters used these locations as their bases. Manse's sense of honor would not have allowed him to consort with men such as that.[3]

Before one can answer the question of Manse's heroic or murderous nature, one must know the legend of Manse Jolly, but this to can prove difficult. There is not one single version of the Manse Jolly legend; rather there are many different versions. However; there are four major events that are repeated in all versions of the legend and in many different books and newspaper articles.

The first event pertains to an incident between Manse and a Colonel Bartow (or in some of the legends Captain Bartow.), provost marshal of the 15th Maine Regiment stationed in Anderson. According to the legend, Bartow had put up reward posters for the capture of Manson Jolly in every corner of the district. Manse discovered this and rode into Anderson. Manse found Bartow on the porch of the Benson House(a hotel). Manse rode up to the colonel while he relaxed after dinner. Manse asked for Colonel Bartow and the colonel replied, not recognizing that the man before was Manson Jolly, that Manse had found him. Manse then further inquired if the colonel had placed a reward for the capture of Manse Jolly. The colonel said that he had and further added that he assumed that the rider had brought Manse in. Manse replied that he was Manse Jolly. Colonel Bartow attempted to react, but before he could, Manse drew his pistol and fired several quick shots and rode off. Manse did not kill the colonel; however. The shots Manse fired were aimed into the air (In some versions of the legend, Manse fired his shots into the floor of the Benson House porch.).Manse's purpose for confronting the colonel was to intimidate only.[4]

The next episode also pertains to Jolly and an officer in the Union Army. According to legend, the Jolly family, especially Manse's mother and sister, were constantly being persecuted by Yankee soldiers searching the Jolly farm for Manse. On one such search, a Lieutenant Chase of the 25th Michigan Regiment stole a watch belonging to Manse's sister. Shortly thereafter in the Pendleton town square Manse encountered Lieutenant Chase. The Lieutenant recognized Jolly and attempted to arrest him. Chase turned to request assistance, which no one was ready to lend, and when the lieutenant turned back to Jolly, Manse put a pistol in his face. Jolly told Chase that if he returned the watch that he had stolen by a certain time and buy drinks for the crowd of people watching the affair that no harm would come to him. Chase ordered the drinks and after everyone was served Manse told Chase that if he did not return the watch Jolly would kill Chase the next time he saw him. Manse then moved off keeping Chase covered with his pistols until he was a safe distance away and then galloped off. The legend goes on to say that the watch was returned by the time Manse stated.[5]

The third event is one of the best known and exciting recorded. According to the legend, one Sunday while Manse was attending church the Union forces attempted to capture him. The soldiers surrounded the church and burst through the front and back doors simultaneously. Manse; however, planned for just such an event. Manse had tied his horse outside of one of the church windows. When the Union troops entered the church, Manse jumped out the window on to his horses back and rode off into the woods surrounding the church before the Union troops could react. [6]

The fourth event is perhaps the most famous incident. The famous "Last Ride" is recorded by many numerous sources with very little differences between each account and is the only event that records a date. January 29, 1866, according to the legend, was the finale of Manse's exploits in South Carolina. Manse and his men made preparations to leave for Texas. Before he left, Manse boldly rode down Main Street in Anderson on his horse Ironsides. Manse then turned on to Fant Street where troops of a Massachusetts colored regiment were encamped. Manse drew both his pistols and rode through the Union camp knocking over soldiers and shooting those that tried to stop him. Manse worked his way along the entirety of Fant Street then rode back to his men and departed for Texas. [7]

These four events are pivotal in the legend of Manse Jolly. These events make Manse into a larger than life hero; however when these events are researched, one finds that three of these four events cannot be true.

The first event has several discrepancies with history. First there was never a Colonel or Captain Bartow serving with the 15th Maine Regiment. Furthermore the 15th Maine Regiment never served in the Anderson area. The 1st Maine Battalion, Volunteer Veterans served in Anderson, but no Colonel or Captain Bartow served with them either. [8]

The second event has one major discrepancy with actual events. The 25th Maine Regiment, like the 15th, was never garrisoned in Anderson. In fact, it was mustered out of service in June 1865. Therefore it could not have been an officer in this company that Manse confronted. [9]

The fourth event is perhaps the easiest to disprove, since this would be a highly public event. When one researches the Anderson Intelligencer from January and February 1866, one finds no mention of a disturbance at the military garrison in Anderson. Furthermore, only three colored regiments saw service in South Carolina. None of these saw service in Anderson and all three were mustered out service in 1865. Therefore no colored regiment could have been stationed in Anderson at the time of Manse's last ride. The final nail in the coffin for this myth is that Manse did not depart South Carolina until September 1866, so the famous last ride could not be the finale of Manse's exploits in Anderson. Another small discrepancy in the account is that Manse did not have a horse named Ironsides. Manse called his horse Dixie and kept it until he died in Texas. [10]

The truth is that Manse was involved in stealing from the Union soldiers, not actively hunting and killing them. Manse was not opposed to killing Union soldiers, but he did not kill the fifteen to a hundred that the legends claim. There are only three references to Manse's direct involvement in killings of Union soldiers, none of which can be reconciled with actual events. Manse can only be connected with one incident that claimed the lives of Union soldiers and it cannot be proven if he actually killed anyone during that event. The Brown's Ferry affair involved Manse and his compatriots. Manse and his raiders were shipping a number of stolen horses to Brown's Ferry. As they approached they were confronted by what they believed to be a company of men sent to ambush them. They rode to the ferry firing their pistols as they went. When they arrived they discovered that the "company" was, in fact, only three young troopers. Four men were arrested for this, none of whom had a strong connection to Manse and his men. However, Manse and his right hand man, Sargent, were wanted for questioning. [11]

The legend of Manse Jolly began to be woven during Manse's life time. Manse was not pleased when heard the stories being told about him. In one of his letters home Manse told his sister "I have understood since I left S.C. that Thos Harper has been calling me a murderer and a highway robber. He would be a little surprised if I was to ride up into Anderson and throw a lasso on him and wear him out with a Texas raw hide whip. I don't suppose he even thinks of this." [12] Manse did not think of himself as an avenging angel of the South and he did not try to be that. Manse was concerned much more with making a living, finding a wife, and starting a family. Manse spoke heavily in his letters home about the life he was creating in Texas. Several times in his letters home to his family Manse mentions what a "miserable" life bachelorhood was. Manse eventually married the daughter of a highly decorated Confederate officer and they had one child together. Manse died in 1869 while attempting to cross a flood swollen river after a day of working on a house for his family. [13]

Now that one knows both truth and fiction about Manse Jolly, one can make the choice, hero or villain. The answer is that Manse was a normal man. He did nothing that made him a great Hero of the South or an Avenging Angel of a Lost Cause, nor can he be called a deranged killer of a hundred men. Manse did what many did during the chaotic time that was the Era of Reconstruction. He stole from the Union, as many did. Perhaps he killed several Union soldiers, but he did not do it for revenge. He was a man, but he has become the legend. In the finest vain of American folklore, Manse has become what he was not. For many in the Lebanon District of Anderson, South Carolina, Manse is the embodiment of a spirit of resistance against injustice. Regardless of what Manse was, this is what he has been made into and what he will remain.

Primary Sources:

Letters written by Manson Sherrill Jolly 1867-1869

Secondary Sources:

Herd, E. Don The South Carolina Upcountry, 1540-1980: Historical and Biographical Sketches. Greenwood: The Attic Press, 1982

"The Legend of Manse Jolly" Anderson Independent Mail, 12 April 1981, pg 1-A and 6-A


  1. E. Don Herd, "Unreconstructed Rebel", In The South Carolina Upcountry, 1540-1980: Historical and Biographical Sketches Vol. II (Greenwood: The Attic Press, 1982), 387-390
  2. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry,390-391
  3. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 401
  4. "The Legend of Manse Jolly," Anderson Independent Mail, 12 April 1981, pg 1-A
  5. "The Legend of Manse Jolly," pg 6-A
  6. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 420-421
  7. "The Legend of Manse Jolly," pg 6-A
  8. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 416-417
  9. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 420
  10. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 419
  11. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 402-403
  12. Manson S. Jolly, letter to his sister, 24 February 1867
  13. "Unreconstructed Rebel," The South Carolina Upcountry, 442

* This paper by R. Gibson was submitted for a history class at Charleston Southern University in 2005. Used with permission