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Guide to the Alexander Robert Chisolm Papers
 MS 670.5

New-York Historical Society
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New York, NY 10024
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© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Rachel Schimke

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Biographical/Historical note

Colonel Alexander Robert Chisolm (1834-1910) served as the senior aide-de-camp and, in Chisolm's words, the "confidential friend" to General G. T. Beauregard from Beauregard's arrival in Charleston, South Carolina on March 2, 1861 until May 6, 1865. Chisolm was born on November 19, 1834 in Beaufort, South Carolina to Edward Chisolm and Mary Elizabeth Hazzard. Two years after Edward's death in 1836, Chislom's mother took Chisolm and his sister, Sarah, on a visit to New York. On this trip, Mary Elizabeth died after being thrown from a horse. Chisolm and his sister were therefore cared for from a young age by their aunt and uncle in New York.

At age eighteen, Chisolm returned to South Carolina to visit his relatives and survey the land that he and his sister had jointly inherited. Their inheritance comprised the western half of the Coosaw Plantation in Beaufort, also called Chisolm's Island, and some two hundred and fifty slaves. Chisolm purchased his sister's interests in the land and slaves and also bought another 3,321 acres of land suitable for growing rice and cotton. Chisolm found plantation life "most delightful" and contentedly managed his properties during the 1850s. When he was not overseeing his land, he also spent time traveling in Europe.

In 1861, the governor of South Carolina requested that Chisolm bring some of his male slaves to Charleston to assist with constructing batteries on Morris Island. The construction of these batteries was a defensive measure to prevent the United States from reenforcing Major Anderson at Fort Sumter. Chisolm supervised the construction and asked the governor for an official military appointment in return for offering to use his own boat and oarsmen in defense of the harbor. Chisolm's proposition was approved by General Beauregard, and he was made a Lieutenant Colonel on March 2, 1861. Chisolm spent his early days in the military "bearing orders to the commanding officers of the forts and of the guard vessels between Sumter and the outer bar on the ocean."

Beauregard found Chisolm so useful that he began using Chisolm as his confidential aide-de-camp. As part of Chisolm's duties, Beauregard dictated to Chisolm his notes for meetings with his generals. Many of Beauregard's important orders and communications were derived from these notes, including his orders regarding the Battle of Shiloh and the final agreement between General Johnston and General Sherman at Greensboro, North Carolina after General Lee's surrender. For four years and two months, Chisolm accompanied Beauregard wherever he was ordered. Chisolm was present at many battles, including Fort Sumter, Shiloh, and the First Battle of Bull Run.

After the war, Chisolm traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive a pardon from the attorney general. As the first Confederate officer to appear in Washington, Chisolm also met with President Johnson. He was officially pardoned in December 1865. Chisolm sold his plantation in Beaufort and began working as a shipping merchant in Charleston. He moved to New York in 1870, and for a time served as the commander of the Confederate Veterans Camp of New York. Chisolm married Helen Margaret Schieffelin, the daughter of General Richard Lawrence and Margaret Schieffelin, in 1875. The Chisolms lived on East 48th Street and established a country residence in Morristown, New Jersey called Airy Hall.

A.R. Chisolm died in 1910.

Source: A.R. Chisolm's autobiography (Box 1, Folders 1-3), the Alexander Robert Chisolm Papers, MS 5002, The New-York Historical Society.