Mr. Michael W. Kirby, of Monks Corner, SC, made an interesting discovery while touring The Citadel with his son nearly three years ago. His son, Christopher M. Kirby, was attending a prospective cadet orientation/tour of the military college when they both noticed the name S.S, Kirby, class of 1860 on a marble tablet in Bond Hall. The monument honored graduates killed in the Civil War. Mike Kirby knew that his family were poor share croppers and could not afford to attend The Citadel. He told his son “I doubt he is related to us because our family was just poor farmers from the Sumter area.”
Despite his earlier thoughts about his family history, he felt compelled to find out if S.S. Kirby was a relative. He contacted the Director of The Citadel Archives, Ms. Jane Yates, and found out that Lt Simeon S. Kirby was from Darlington District, graduated in 1860 and was killed in action at the Battle of River’s Bridge in 1865. The class of 1860 lost 5 of 7 graduates to wounds inflicted by the Civil War, the highest casualty percentage of any Citadel class. He also found out that The Citadel offered scholarships to the “poor but deserving boys of the state.” These cadets, called Beneficiary Cadets, were awarded a full-four year scholarship. One of these poor but deserving Beneficiary Cadets was Simeon Sylvester Kirby, who graduated in 1860. To Mike Kirby’s surprise, and after 2 years of research, he determined that his Great-Great-Grandfather, William Isaiah Kirby, had a brother, Lt Simeon Sylvester Kirby, a Citadel graduate, killed at the Battle of River’s Bridge, defending South Carolina as General Sherman entered the state.
Simeon S. Kirby was born Feb 20, 1838 and grew up in Effingham, SC. He was the son of a farmer and a Free School teacher. His father owned a small farm valued at $90.00 according to the Darlington, SC census of 1850. His mother taught at the Free School, giving her young children a good, solid education before her death in 1848. At ten years old, Simeon Kirby deeply missed his loving mother. Her death brought much hardship on the five young children aged 2 to 12 years old, and their father. Their education had to be put on a much lower priority. The family farm put food on the table, provided clothes, and a roof over their heads. The young children worked hard with their father on the farm. The small family farm did not have any “hired hands” or slaves; everything was done by the Kirby family. The young man overcame incredible odds when he was accepted to The Citadel. The excellent early childhood education provided by his mother allowed him to continue his education after her death. He spent the daylight hours working on the farm, and would read the Bible and other books at night. His family could not afford $200 per year for tuition and board at The Citadel. The annual tuition cost more than twice the value of the entire family farm. Through a competitive examination process young Simeon S. Kirby won an all-expense-paid scholarship as a Beneficiary Cadet in 1856.
Cadet Simeon S. Kirby was excited to be at The Citadel and did well. After his freshman year at The Arsenal in Columbia, SC, Kirby wrote a letter to members of the Elim Baptist Church in Effingham, SC stating that he would like to return to his home town, devote his life to God, and pursue his calling to the ministry after graduation. His proposal was affirmed by a church committee that later raised money and bought him several religious books for his study of theology. After graduation from The Citadel in April 1860, Kirby began as a teacher in the Free School while studying to be a minister. In 1861, young Kirby began to minister to the religious needs of soldiers leaving for the Civil War. He was quoted as saying “soldiers come to me for Bibles and Hymns like the hungry come for bread.” He completed his courses in Theology and became an ordained Baptist Minister in 1862. As a skilled citizen-soldier leader educated at The Citadel, his services were also needed to defend the state. He put his ministry on hold to defend the state from attack and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, 3rd SC Artillery in 1862. He served honorably and was universally loved by the men under his command. One of his men, William Clarke, said “I was with him constantly from ’61 to ’65 and I can say that a more pure minded, noble, generous, Christian man never lived.” He also went on to say, “Every man under him would have divided their last crust with him, or would have died for him if necessary, but God willed it otherwise.” A sniper’s bullet pierced his heart and he died almost instantly. His men recovered his body and brought him home to his family.
Mr. Mike Kirby found his Great-Great Uncle’s grave at the Elim Baptist Church in Effingham, SC. Since he came from a poor family, his grave was simple and did not even mention that he died in combat, was a minister, or was a Citadel Graduate. His simple headstone states his name, birth date, death date, and “He loved and served God.” His poor family had little money to provide a memorial to this heroic young man who died in the prime of life. Long forgotten until now, he is finally going to have a memorial service on Saturday, January 27, 2007, 11 am, at Elim Baptist Church, Effingham, SC. The memorial service is one week prior to the 141st anniversary of his tragic death.
Graduates and cadets from The Citadel, including his Great-Great-Great Grandnephew, Cadet Christopher M. Kirby, will be in attendance to honor him. Several other organizations including the Sons of Confederate Veterans will also attend. This may be the last of The Citadel’s Civil War graduates to be so honored.
Andrew D. Kullberg, Lt Col USAF (retired), Citadel Class of 1983