|Old Bull Lee
A Voice From the Reality-based Community
Notes from a Study of Things Themselves
The legend of Manse Jolly is not widely known outside the vicinity of Anderson, South Carolina. However, in upstate SC the stories of the embittered Confederate's daring and deadly raids against Union occupation soldiers in the late 1860's have been passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation. Most of those who kept his memory alive hoped Manse Jolly would be remembered as a heroic figure who resisted the hated occupation by an alien military force. As political correctness took hold across the country and as the old timers died out, the legend faded. Wilton Earle's 1996 book Manse (One Man's War) has brought the legend back to life.
Wilton Earle's Manse bills itself as a "biography based on the life and legend of Manson Sherill Jolly." Since the book has no footnotes or bibliography, it's impossible to know which part is "life" and which part is "legend." Obviously such things as unknowable thoughts and conversations have been fictionalized by the author. Wilton Earle claimed in an interview  that all characters and situations in the book are real.
In Earle's narrative Manse Jolly returns to his family's 240-acre farm after fighting in Virginia, where he had been a Confederate infantry scout. Five of his seven brothers have been killed in the war and his mother has been a widow since 1856. His family had been
"...Small Planters -- several rungs below the Southrons who owned vast plantations and counted their acres and slaves by the hundreds and thousands. But their postion was equally far above the Crackers who owned small patches of land and barely eked out an existence, but were still above the Low-Downers who owned nothing and worked as plantation overseers and paid hands, but remained a step above the White Trash, who were above only the slaves."
Manse, along with his mother, brother, sisters and friend Tom Largent, begins working to restore his farm to its earlier productivity. He soon faces a property tax levy of $192, which he is unable to pay. In trying to resolve his crisis, he gets acquainted with Texas Brown, a sinister character who hangs out at the courthouse, offering sympathy to landowners burdened by extortionate property taxation. He's a recruiter for resistance fighters against the Union occupation and the corrupt local government controlled by carpetbaggers, scalawags and freedmen. The resistance organization, brainchild of legendary Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forest, is called the Ku Klux Klan.
About a year after the end of the war, Manse's only remaining brother Larry is murdered in a robbery. Texas Brown helps Manse identify Larry's killers and Manse seeks revenge. Manse tracks down one of them and kills him along with two companions who happen to be Union occupation soldiers based in Anderson. The army garrison offers a $300 reward for Manse's capture, and Manse goes on the lam.
Manse stays in contact with Texas Brown, who gives him ongoing intelligence about the activities and movements of the occupation soldiers. As a favor to Manse, Texas Brown leads his Klansmen on a midnight raid of the home of one of Larry's killers, murdering the killer and a number of innocents in the process.
Manse Jolly begins his rampage of violence as a fugitive, using a cave in the mountains as a haven. He ambushes search parties. He sabotages a bridge carrying a patrol of soldiers. He rides into Anderson wearing a Union army uniform and fires on a formation of Union soldiers in front of the courthouse, killing a captain and five soldiers. Major Lowell Bartow, a Union Civil War hero, is assigned from Washington to Anderson to bring order to the district and to capture or kill Manse Jolly. Bartow places the town under martial law and raises the reward for Manse Jolly to $5,000 in gold, then to $7,500.
Manse continues his murderous campaign. Using a bayonet he kills a scalawag tax collector inside his elegant home. A few months later Manse and Texas Brown hatch a plan to kill Bartow at a brothel south of Anderson. Along with a band of Klansmen they surround the brothel, capturing and killing two army guards. They set the building afire, and, as men and women flee the conflagration, the Klansmen shoot them. Manse dispatches the major with a bullet between the eyes.
After the murder of Bartow, Manse flees to Texas, where he resumes a more or less normal life. He marries the daughter of a former Confederate officer (and Anderson native) who shelters him there. His wife bears him a daughter. In 1869 Manse Jolly dies of an accidental drowning in the flooded Walkers Creek in Texas at the age of 29. The last page of the book shows a photograph of the book's author kneeling beside the tombstone of Manse Jolly.
 "Author's Book on 'Radio Reader'", Greenville News, 21 Sep 2005.
- 30 May 2007
I talked to Wilton Earle, author of Manse, at the Open Book bookstore in Greenville on September 20, 2005. He was there at a book signing, along with Dick Estell of the NPR Radio Reader program. Dick Estell was at that time reading Manse for listeners in the area.
I told Wilton Earle that my father had been interested in Manse Jolly and had once shown me a house near Anderson where Manse Jolly had lived.
I asked him how much was known for sure about Manse Jolly. He said, not much, except for his birth, service record, and his life and death in Texas.
Wilton Earle said he had gone through the federal archives and they showed the Union Army was extremely concerned about Manse Jolly. They considered him a "bushwhacker." Earle estimated Manse Jolly killed 75-100 Union occupation soldiers, but the actual number would be difficult to ascertain because many unsolved deaths would be attributed to Jolly.
Was the character Texas Brown real? Yes, said Earle. Texas Brown was been given the Klan franchise for the Anderson area by Nathan Bedford Forest.
- 20 September 2005