Dr. Charlie – the gentleman-historian

Wofford’s history department has a century-long tradition of
teaching and writing about South Carolina history.  The first professional historian to teach
history at Wofford, David Duncan Wallace of the class of 1894, went on to earn
a PhD in history at Vanderbilt before returing to Wofford in 1899.  He remained as a historian at Wofford until
1947.  Wallace’s legacy lasted for years
after his death, as two of his students also taught in the department, one for
over twenty years, and the other for forty.

CauthenCE The first of these was Charles Edward Cauthen.  A 1917 Wofford graduate, Dr. Cauthen had
played end, halfback, and fullback on the football team while a student.  He is credited with a play that secured a
victory over Furman in 1916, the last such victory for decades.  Like many members of his family, he was a
member of Kappa Alpha at the college and was a lifelong supporter of the
fraternity.  After Wofford, he trained as
a naval aviator during World War I. 
Later, he earned his master’s degree at Columbia University and his
doctorate at the University of North Carolina and joined the faculty of
Columbia College, Wofford’s sister Methodist institution.  In 1943, he was called to the history
department at Wofford, where he would make his home for the next 21 years. 

Doctor Charlie, as some of his students called him, was
known for many of his colorful expressions in class.  “The political platform only stands until the
train leaves the station” was one. 
“Remember, primary sources are more reliable than secondary news” was
another.  When a student disputed Dr.
Cauthen on a historical fact, he would demand “Please give us your source,
sir.”  Like other historians who taught
in the department, he was known for his dry sense of humor. 

Dr. Cauthen was also a writer and editor.  He edited the family papers of the three Wade
Hamptons as well as the Records of the South Carolina Executive Councils of
1861-62.  His book, South Carolina Goes to War, was a chronicle of the state’s
political history during the Civil War. 
That book, with a new introduction by Dr. Tracy Power, was reprinted
recently by the USC Press.  He was
working on an essay on the Coming of the Civil War for the book Writing
Southern History when cancer made him too weak to continue writing.  Dr. Lewis Jones, his successor as department
chair, completed the essay. 

Dr. Cauthen is sometimes the overlooked of the triumvirate
of Wallace, Cauthen, and Jones.  Both
Wallace and Jones had longer tenures; Cauthen, being the one in the middle,
sometimes appears somehow less significant.  Wallace was the pre-eminent South Carolina
historian for so long, and his four-volume magnum opus will likely never be
supplanted as a history of the state. 
Dr. Jones also taught at Wofford longer, wrote more, and interacted with
students from the greatest generation through the baby boomers and the early
Generation X students.  That’s a little
unfair to Dr. Cauthen, for he was an eminent scholar and teacher in his own
right, and he influenced the growth and development of a generation of
historians who became influential.  He
was devoted to the college as much as his predecessor and successor as
department chair.  He had strong family
connections to the college, and to the Methodist Church in the state.  Dr. A. V. Huff, the former dean at Furman and
a history major in the class of 1959, explained that it had been a great
pleasure for him “in some small way to follow in his footsteps as a student of
South Carolina history.” 

Dr. Cauthen’s son, Dr. Charles E. Cauthen Jr., a 1952
Wofford graduate, compiled a book of his memories of the Cauthen family, of his
time at Wofford, and of being the son of a Wofford faculty member, and a copy
of these is in the archives.  I drew on
them as I wrote this post.