April 10: The story of Thomas and Percival Drayton

The Civil War is often referred to as a war fought “Brother against brother,” a description perfectly suited to Thomas and Percival Drayton.

Born to a prominent family in Charleston, the brothers were separated in 1833 when their father, a unionist, moved the family to Philadelphia. Thomas chose to stay in South Carolina, working as an engineer and later elected to the State Legislator, where he was an outspoken supporter of slavery and state rights. Percival began his military career in 1827, serving as a midshipman and lieutenant before being promoted to commander in 1855.  

Percival Drayton, Wikimedia Commons

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas was appointed as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army by longtime friend Jefferson Davis, and assigned to the military post of Point Royal, South Carolina. Percival, a Union man, was stationed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard before being put in command of the USS Pocahontas. Letters from Thomas to Percival during this time reveal a loving, yet strained relationship:

 “…however much we may differ on the present issue—let no unkind word escape to lacerate the heart of the other. Defend the soil of Pennsylvania if you will. Then, you and I will never meet as armed foes;—cross her southern boundary—with hostile purpose-and we shall face each other-as brothers never should.”

-Thomas Drayton, May 1, 1861* 

Thomas Drayton, Wikimedia Commons

On November 7, 1861, Percival commanded the USS Pocahontas in the Battle of Port Royal as it attempted to capture forts commanded by Thomas. The Union successfully captured and occupied the area, forcing Thomas and his men to retreat. Thomas was reassigned to an infantry brigade, followed by an administrative placement that he would hold for the remainder of the war. Following the surrender of the Confederate Army, Thomas was unable to reclaim his confiscated land and worked as an insurance salesman until his death in 1891.

Percival was promoted to captain in 1862 and given command of the USS Passaic, which saw action at Fort McAllister and Sumter. He was also assigned as Superintendent of Ordnance at the New York Navy Yard and commander of the USS Hartford. After the war, he was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, a position he held for only 4 months before his death in August 1865.

The following month, John Jacob Astor Jr. and Alexander Hamilton Jr. contacted Trinity Church on behalf of Percival’s friends with a request to erect a monument in his honor. The request was granted and the monument was completed in 1867. 


*Letter excerpt: Grace Under Fire, Letters of Faith in Times of War.