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James Petigru Lesesne was born on October 15, 1847 in Charleston, South Carolina. James was the son of Henry Deas Lesesne, a law partner of James Louis Petigru and the last Chancellor of the State of South Carolina and Harriette Petigru.   Being only 13 years of age and too young to enlist in military service at the outbreak of the Civil War, Lesesne was inducted into the Citadel Military Academy and served as a private with Company A, Battalion of State Cadets, South Carolina Volunteers in the Confederate States Provincial Army. Going to school and in training, classes were often interrupted by calls from the Governor of South Carolina for the Corps of Cadets to step forward for service, of one kind or another. When their services were no longer required, Cadets would return to the classroom and classes would again resume. In preparation for war, the South Carolina General Assembly passed an act, on January 28, 1861, combining the Arsenal and Citadel into one institution. The eastern portion of Citadel was refurbished and set aside for the badly needed production of munitions, which were shipped out to fighting units. It was the first such manufacturing facility to be set up in the Confederacy with the outbreak of war and proved highly successful.

 

After the first shot of the Civil War was fired, at the Chattahoochee Arsenal in Florida, the Citadel was said to have fired the first defensive shot; when the Union supply ship the “Star of the West” sailed into Charleston Harbor on January 9, 1861, in an attempt to land supplies at Fort Sumter. Prior to that Cadets of the Citadel had been ordered to Morris Island on January 1, 1861, to construct and man a site on Morris Island, in Charleston Harbor, to command the channel and prevent any reinforcement of Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, the Cadets fired on the Federal steamer, “Star of the West”, as it approached Fort Sumter with 200 armed infantry troops. As a result, the “Star of the Wes” quickly retraced its route out of the harbor and returned to New York. Three months later the bombardment of Fort Sumter commenced, and the Cadets were relieved of their burden of responsibility for the devastating conflict that followed.

Historians at the Citadel report Leslesne was not at the Citadel when that action occurred, but did participate in the engagement at James Island between December 1864 and February 1865. They also participated in action at Williamston in May 1865. Due to such actions and the fact the Citadel was authorized to carry battle streamers, and due to its service and that of Lesesene’s to the Confederacy, Lesesne is considered to have been a bonifide Civil War veteran acting under orders of the Confederate Government.  

In the History of the South Carolina Military Lesesne was listed from January through April, 1865, as a Fourth Class Cadet at the Citadel Academy.   Upon the conclusion of the “War Between the States” James Lesesne,  In the 1869 Charleston City Directory is listed as a student at law, residing in Summerville at his father's home.  His father's law practice, Lesesne & Miles, was located at 23 Broad Street in Charleston and James  practiced law in Charleston, South Carolina as well and married Harriett Hunter in 1874. Their only child, James, unfortunately died as an infant. James then ended up joining the State Department’s Foreign Service, on October 10, 1888, and was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as the U.S. Consul General to Melbourne, Australia; replacing James Morris Morgan. On March 18, 1889 his appointment was approved in a document signed by Queen Victoria of England.

Lesesne arrived in Australia alone, leaving his wife behind, and developed a heavy gambling and horse racing addiction. He got into the habit of borrowing large sums of money from the Solicitor to the Consulate, but which he always repaid punctually. In October 1889, however, he requested some 450 pounds from the Solicitor, as he was pressed by the bank for an overdraft and the Solicitor agreed to cover his debt for three days. When the three days expired and he failed to repay the sum, the Solicitor let it ride until mid-November; but being unable to bring it to a conclusion, he undertook civil action against Lesesne and acquired a judgment against him. Still receiving no satisfaction, the Solicitor filed fraud charges. In June the case was heard and when Lesesne failed to appear, the court levied an order for 400 pounds against him to be paid within three weeks; 100 pounds having been previously paid to avoid a months imprisonment. Lesesne was present at a July 4th reception, but four days later he simply disappeared. Apparently he eventually got his financial situation in order, because on December 18, 1891 a memo from the Colonial Secretary’s Office directed all “Heads of Department and other Officers under the Government of New South Wales to afford facilities to enable Mr. J. Lessane and party to inspect the Public Institutions under their control, available for one month”.

The year 1892, however, brought about the demise of James Lesesne. On June 22, 1892 seaman Mineham of the “HMS Mildura” discovered the body of a man floating in the water at Geddes Wool Warehouse; in North Sydney. The police were called, the body was recovered and the well dressed individual sporting a sandy moustache and graying hair, tweed trousers, black walking coat, white linen shirt with a stand up collar and neck-tie, was also found wearing a white singlet marked “J.P. Lesesne”. In his pockets were found a number of high value betting stubs. An inquest was held on June 23, 1892 which concluded “that the death of James P. Lesesne took place on or about the 13th June in Sydney Harbour and that same arose from asphyxia by drowning, but how or through what means deceased got into the waters there is no evidence to show”. There was no mention of foul play within the inquests findings, but after examining Lesesne’s recent undertakings, it left everyone with the thought it may have been the result of a gambling disagreement; which left an unsolved mystery.

James Pettigru Lesesne died at the age of 44 and was buried in a plot of ground owned by Mr. Alexander Cameron, Vice-Consul of the U.S. Mission in Sydney, in Rookwood Cemetery, Church of England Section RRR, row 16, grave number 767 in New South Wales. The headstone provided by Mr. Cameron had over the years become badly deteriorated and almost unreadable; on it was stated: “In Memory of, J.P. Lesesne, died 14 June 1892, aged 44 years, Native of Charleston, South Carolina USA”. On April 23, 1995 a new marble memorial headstone was acquired from the American Veterans Administration in Washington DC and placed on the Lesesne gravesite with a dedication ceremony.

 

Birth, Marriage and Death Records, New South Wales

Cadets in Gray, Gary Baker, Columbia, S.C., 1989

“History of the South Carolina Military Academy”, John P. Thomas, Charleston, S.C, 1991

Museum of the Citadel - Rookwood Cemetery Records

South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Archives & History Center,

Columbia, South Carolina

“The Age”, Melbourne News

U.S. Consulate Files

U.S. Pension Files - Veterans Administration, Washington, D.C.

Patrick McCawley, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina 

 

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