Death on a March Afternoon

Today, the remarkable life of Capt. Francis Warrington Dawson is little more than a footnote in the history of an era that brought an end in the South to Reconstruction and saw the advent of the “Redeemers” and their Conservative Regime.  But in the 1870’s and 80’s, Dawson, founder of the Charleston News and Courier, was a maker of governors and a Confederate hero who dominated the politics of South Carolina for almost two decades before his untimely death in 1889.  Born Austin John Reeks in 1840 in London, he was the eldest son of a Catholic family that dated back to the Wars of the Roses.  In 1861, he declared his romantic intention to sail for America and join the Confederate struggle for independence, adopting the nom de guerre by which he would be known for the rest of his life.

Three times wounded, Dawson rose to captain’s rank by war’s end.  Determined to remain in America, he became a journalist and, by 1867, had acquired an interest in the failing Charleston News.  Five years later, Dawson bought out his rival, the Courier, and published the first issue of the combined News and Courier in 1873.  During the same period, he married Sarah Morgan, the daughter of a Baton Rouge judge, whose diary of the Civil War years would later make her famous in her own right.  By 1876, Dawson had become not merely a Charleston...

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