Ellison Capers, D. D., was born in Charleston, South Carolina, October 14, 1837. His parents were Willima and Susan (McGill) Capers. His father was a distinguished and eloquent divine of the Methodist Episcopal Church and one of its first bishops in the South. He founded the missions of his church to the Negroes in South Carolina and wrote a catechism for their use. He also wrote useful works for the moral training of children. He ably edited the “Southern Christian Advocate,” and served efficiently as a missionary to the Indians in the Southwest. The earliest paternal ancestor to settle in America was William Capers, a Huguenot of France, who had fled to England to escape religious persecution. About the year 1690 he settled on grants of land from the “Lords Proprietors,” in Christ church parish, on the seaboard of South Carolina. Capers Island and inlet were named for this family. William Capers, the grandfather of Ellison Capers, was one of Marion’s Captains in the Revolutionary War, and his brother, G. Sinclair Capers, also fought under the same great leader. The first ancestor on his mother’s side came to this country emigrated from Ireland and became a farmer in Kershaw county.
Ellison'schildhood and youth were passed in the city of his birth, but in his twelfth year, his father moved the family to Anderson County, where he was appointed to the arsenal in Columbia. Elision graduated from the South Carolina Military Academy in Charleston, November 18, of 1857. No degree was given back then. A stirring address to the class, was made by his brother, the superintendent of the Academy, Major Francis W. Capers. This speech made a strong impression on Ellison. He was of vigorous physique and was especially fond of horses and outdoor exercise, including the task of weeding the flower and vegetable gardens. He served as a resident graduate and assistant instructor in mathematics and rhetoric in the Citadel in 1858. His inclination was for the profession of law, and he commenced the study in the office of Hayne & Mills in Charleston. On his return from Winnsboro, in 1860, where he taught in Mount Zion Academy during the intervening years, he recommenced the study of law. On February 24, of 1859, he married Charlotte Rebecca Palmer, fourth daughter of John Gendron and Catherine Cutrurier (Marion) Palmer, a scion of the distinguished Dwight family of America, of St. John’s Berkeley. They moved to Winnsboro, South Carolina. In 1860, he was elected Professor in the Citadel with the rank of second lieutenant, in which position he was highly regarded by the cadets and his superior officers.
In 1861 he was commissioned Major of the First regiment of South Carolina Rifles, for the Confederate service, and assisted General Pettigrew in the organization and drill of that splendid command. He commanded the light battery on Sullivan’s Island during the siege and bombardment of Fort Sumter. When Colonel Pettigrew reassigned to go to Virginia, Major Capers succeeded him in command. He resigned in 1861 and joined Colonel C. H. Stevens in organizing the Twenty-fourth South Carolina Volunteers, as the company’s lieutenant-colonel. He did gallant service with that regiment on the coast of South Carolina and at Wilmington, North Carolina, during the year of 1862. On James Island he led a gallant charge in which the One Hundredth Pennsylvania regiment was driven back half a mile and twenty-two of their company were captured. This was the first conflict on James Island, which later became the scene of many engagements and skirmishes. At Secessuonville, Colonel Capers received the thanks of General Evans and Smith for the gallant service he rendered. In May of 1863, with Gist’s brigade, he was ordered to the relief of Vicksburg, where he was in a bloody battle. He commanded the left wing of the brigade from sunrise to midday, being severely wounded in his left leg and having his horse killed. At Chickamauga he was again severely wounded. In 1863, at Dalton, Georgia, he was promoted colonel, and served with conspicuous gallantry at the head of his regiment. He commanded Gist’s brigade in the siege of Atlanta and the battle of Jonesville. At this battle the commanding general complimented him and his company for their brilliant deportment against Sherman’s assault. In the desperate battle of Franklin, Tennessee, Colonel Capers was a third time severely wounded. In February of 1865, he was promoted to Brigadier-General. He was assigned to General Johnston’s army in North Carolina and placed in command of his old brigade. Throughout the war he had proven in every position his absolute fidelity and devotion to his country’s cause.
In 1866 General Capers was elected secretary of the State for South Carolina, and such was the exigency of the time that he remained in that position even while studying for the Episcopal ministry, in which he was ordained in May of 1867, by Bishop Davis. He then tendered his resignation as secretary of the state, but it was declined by Governor Orr until the legislature could meet, and General Capers held the great seal of South Carolina until July of 1868, when he turned it over to F. L. Cardoza, a Negro representative of Federal usurpation.
For twenty years he remained the well-beloved minister of the mountain parish of Greenville, South Carolina. He then went to Columbia as the rector of Old Trinity, and for five years the people of that parish were blessed in having the guidance of his strong yet gentle hand. He was elected bishop of South Carolina in May of 1893, and consecrated in the July following. The degree of D. D. was conferred to him by the University of South Carolina in 1892, and by the University of the South in 1893. After the death of the Right Reverend Thomas Underwood Dudley, chancellor of the last-named institution, Bishop Capers was elected to succeed him in June of 1904. He was a Mason; a member of the S. A. E. Greek fraternity; of Camps Sumter and Hampton, United Confederate veterans’ of the Historical committee of the Grand Camp, United Confederate Veterans; and of the Historical Society of South Carolina. In 1882, at a Democratic convention, he was nominated without his knowledge or consent, state superintendent of Education. He positively declined to accept the position, deeming it inconsistent with his ministerial duties.
He impressively stated that the period of the stupendous struggle of the South for sacred rights were years of feeling, impluse, impression, and resolution, which could but leave their indelible mark and influence in directing brain and heart. “To this impress I owe the convictions and resolutions which ultimately brought me to the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church.” To the “Confederate Military History,” edited by General Clement A. Evans, and published in Atlanta, Bishop Capers contributed chapters 1-16 inclusive, embracing the Confederate history of South Carolina. Save for one year spent in Selma, Alabama, he held no charge beyond his own home state. His consecration as bishop, his devoted parishioners there sent him a magnificent Episcopal ring as a testimonial of their regard.
Blessed in a devoted wife, the embodiment of womanly virtues, the guide and inspiration of their children, he lived in Columbia in one of the old-time mansions spared from Sherman’s fire.
Source:Men Of Mark in South Carolina, Volume I
Author:James Calvin Hemphill
Publisher:MEN OF MARK PUBLISHING COMPANY, Of Washington, D.C.