Wilmot Gibbes DeSaussure, 33°
Wars, Heroes, Sacrifices
By: Ill. McDonald L. “Don” Burbidge, 33°
Summary: Fragments of history form a portrait of Ill. DeSaussure as an outstanding General, Freemason, and Charlestonian.
General Wilmot Gibbes DeSaussure was born on July 23, 1822, in Charleston, S.C. His father, Chancellor Henry William DeSaussure, was a well-respected local lawyer, and his son soon took a similarly prominent role in Charleston society. Bro. DeSaussure was raised a Mason on November 16, 1855, in Charleston’s Union Kilwinning Lodge No. 4 and was elected Worshipful Master in 1867. In 1876–1875, when he served as Grand Master in South Carolina, he won recognition of his services as the Grand Master, historian, and financial agent of the Grand Lodge. In 1879, he was presented with a jewel by the Grand Lodge for having served Freemasonry in South Carolina with efficiency, honor, and distinction.
In the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Bro. DeSaussure presided over all the Subordinate Bodies in the South Carolina, and on May 5, 1874, he was invested with the 33° at Louisville, Kentucky. On May 30, 1876, Grand Commander Albert Pike appointed him one of the two Active Members of the Supreme Council at Washington, D.C., for South Carolina.
Regarding DeSaussure’s military career, after the U. S. Army evacuated Fort Moultrie in 1861, he was placed in charge of the abandoned fortress. At the time of the bombardment of Fort Sumter by Confederate military forces, he was in command of artillery on Cummings’s Point. He later took command of the Fourth Brigade, South Carolina Militia, and held this position to the close of the War. He commanded the force of reserves, which engaged in the defense of Charleston, and, after the resignation of General States Rights Gist, DeSaussure was appointed Adjutant General of South Carolina.
In a letter, General G. T. Beauregard (also a Mason), Commander of the Southern Forces, made the following comments about Gen. DeSaussure: “I feel much indebted to General De Saussure commanding on Sullivan’s and Morris Islands, for his valuable and gallant service, and the discretion he displayed in executing the duties devolving on his responsible position.”
As a military man, General DeSaussure always had a special relation to the Society, or Order, of the Cincinnati which was instituted by the officers of the Continental Line at the cantonment on the Hudson River in May of 1783. General Washington’s Chief of Artillery, General Henry Knox, suggested a formation of a military order. This order was to be comprised of officers who would meet once a year so they might have the opportunity of renewing old friendships.
The Society of Cincinnati was first established in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 29, 1793, and the first elected President was Major General William Moultrie, who was a distant relative of Ill. James Moultrie, a founder of the Supreme Council, 33°, S.J. Major General Moultrie held this office until his death on September 29, 1805.
In an address he delivered before the Society of Cincinnati on July 4, 1855, Brother DeSaussure provided a detailed report, “The Siege of Charleston,” which started in February 1780, by the British Armies. In his address, DeSaussure included the story of Jacob Brawler and his 23 sons who served under the famous General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion in the defense of our country. At the end of the Revolutionary War, Jacob Brawler and 22 of his 23 sons were killed or died while defending this country. The one son that did survive came out of the war a cripple.
On July 4, 1876, Ill. DeSaussure was elected the 10th President of the Society of Cincinnati (his father was the 8th President) in Charleston. Like the other nine Presidents of the Society before him, Ill. DeSaussure held this office until his death. In another speech he gave before the Society of Cincinnati in 1886, Ill. DeSaussure provided the names and units of the Confederate Soldiers of Charleston as well as other valuable information. Had it not been for Brother Wilmot, this information would have been lost to history.
Ill. DeSaussure was a member of nearly every one of the useful and charitable associations and institutions in Charleston, and from 1848 to 1864, he was an active member of the South Carolina Legislature. In 1886 when his health started to fail, he was taken to Florida in the hope that the balmy weather would restore his health. During the last moments of his life on February 1, 1886, his two sons, Mr. H. A. DeSaussure and Dr. P. G. DeSaussure, were by his bedside.
After his death, a telegram was sent to his friends and relates in Charleston announcing his death. The flags over the Chamber of Commerce were promptly displayed at half-mast to let the community know that a prominent citizen of Charleston had passed away. Charleston’s News and Courier announced his death, and 21 of Charleston’s most prominent societies, each noting Ill. DeSaussure as an active member, expressed regrets at his passing. In a rare move for Charleston, the prestigious St. Cecilia Society postponed its annual banquet, scheduled for February 4, in honor of General DeSaussure, their late President, who had passed away a few days before in Florida.
Ill. DeSaussure’s remains, accompanied by his two sons and relatives, were brought back to Charleston by train. His funeral service was held at St. Philip’s Church at 3:00 PM on February 3, 1886, by Rev. John Johnson. At the conclusion of the service, Ill. DeSaussure’s casket was taken to Magnolia Cemetery and interred in the family plot. His headstone, pictured here, is a tribute to his lifelong leadership in nearly every aspect of South Carolina’s military, civic, and fraternal life.
“Reprinted with permission of the Scottish Rite Journal, October, 2002”
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