Pinckneyville in Union County South Carolina was supposed to become the “Charleston of the Upstate” but instead is now a ghost town. Some say there’s a large cache of lost treasure (Confederate gold) hidden there. (One person believes it was quietly found and carted away just a few years ago).
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, the ruins of Pinckneyville are located not far from Jonesville in the northeastern portion of Union County, 13 miles from Union and one-half mile from the confluence of Pacolet and Broad Rivers.
When Pinckney District was created in 1791, it comprised the counties of Union, Spartanburg, York, and Chester. Three commissioners appointed by the Legislature selected a place in the northern part of Union county for the new court house town to be established. Pinkneyville is one of the earliest settlements in the South Carolina backcountry. It reflects the spread of justice throughout the state in the early years and the beginnings of representative government beyond the border of Charleston. As early as 1752 it was an important trading post. It is found on the confluence of the Pacolet River and the Broad River. Once they chose Pinckneyville to be the county seat and a court and jail were begun there was a heavy rain storm in May, 1792 which caused the rivers to flood the town. So the commissioners decided to move the location of Pinckneyville to higher place and on the southwest side of the Broad River. It was named after Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and was possibly laid out by a Charleston surveyor with street names that mimicked street names of Charleston. It was envisioned to become an upstate metropolis. A one roomed brick jail was built with 18″ thick walls and was 14′ x 20′. It was plastered inside and had 2 doors and 2 windows and the doors were double planked and the windows were shuttered with double planked shutters. There was a fireplace on one end and the jail cells were planked walls and the criminals were literally lowered into them from the top. There was a post office by 1795. It was a stage coach stop, about a mile from the Pacolet Ferry. There was a log school house but no church in the town. There was another brick building which may have been the courthouse. The town was abandoned and the countyseat became the town of Union. The National Register property consists of 1.75 acres of the original site of Pinckneyville and contains the ruins of the brick jail and one other brick building, usually referred to as the old store.
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Excerpt from an article in Lost Treasure, a magazine for treasure hunters:
Pinckneyville Fort Knox Of The Confederacy
Scores of large cities and towns in the south were completely devastated – burned to the ground – by Yankee Armies. During the reconstruction period, most were eventually rebuilt. Not so for Pinckneyville. It was completely forgotten about; the avenues of highways and all forms of transportation by-passed this quaint little town. Decaying and dying, it fell into obscurity and completely vanished. All that remains is a large monument erected to signify where the Main Street Courthouse stood in 1791. In north central South Carolina, at the confluence of the Pacolet and Broad Rivers, the small thriving inland port of Pinckneyville stood. It was beautiful and magnificent, laid out with hundreds of acres of rolling and relatively flat land. Hardly anyone will believe or could imagine the interest and significance the Confederate States of America (CSA) and its government placed there over 142 years ago. There was the location destined in its infancy to become the essential storage vaults for gold, silver and jewelry the south so desperately needed to finance its war efforts. As the trade in pelts and furs declined, the trade in rice and indigo expanded and the inland waterways became the chief avenues to market. Thus, the location of Charleston, South Carolina, was at the center of an inland water system that stretched from the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina to the St. Johns River in northern Florida. This was a natural waterway that needed only a few cuts or improvements, such as the Wappoo Cut that connected the Stono and the Ashley opposite Charleston, to join in an almost continuous system. In 1800, the Santee Canal was completed, which connected the Cooper with the Santee River. Charleston was now connected to the largest river systems in the state of South Carolina, with many tributaries into surrounding states. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney envisioned an even greater inland waterway network. He believed the Broad River, which flows by Columbia, its capitol city, to the port city of Charleston, with dikes and canals at strategic points, could be connected into the French Broad and Tennessee Rivers. Thus giving access to the mighty Mississippi River, which has tributaries to over two-thirds of the entire country. Charles Pinckney put his ideas to paper after investing thousands of dollars and placed his plan into action. Along the Broad River, he had several canals with locks built so larger ships would have access to navigate the river, without which the task would have been impossible. About three miles below Pinckneyville, the small town of Lockhart lies. Its name given for the massive, skillful and innovative feat of engineering work Mr. Pinckney was able to achieve by building locks in such an isolated location. After the completion of the Erie Canal in New York, sometime in 1825 with its weekly packet crossings, Charleston and its merchants got to where they could no longer compete for the market. Business declined as the shipping lanes shifted to New York. Charleston was never again able to become the number one port for the eastern seaboard of the United States. It slowly began to scale down and cut back on ships and dock workers. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War, southern merchants could no longer use New York City as a base for its exports and imports. Charleston once again revived as a major port of activity and renewed life for a second time. Port cities of Wilmington and New Bern, North Carolina, brought in shiploads of specie that was payment in exchange for the Souths largest commodity – cotton. Railways either to the mint and treasury vaults in Charlotte, North Carolina, or by the City Point Railroad to the Federal Reserve Bank vaults in Richmond, Virginia, transported this money. During the first two years of the war, the confederacy received shipments of gold and silver at Locketts just south of Richmond City. The money was then transported by wagons to the Treasury Building. With Union blockades expanding and tightening up with more and more ships, it was becoming increasingly harder to dock ships at Locketts in Richmond. Especially after General Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to Richmond and Petersburg during the closing months of the war. All emphasis was then placed on having the shipments sent to Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, with Charleston serving as the primary port of interest with its access to inland roads, railroads and cities via its canal systems. Pinckneyville was chosen as a central location where the Confederate Government planned to make one of the largest, if not the largest, inland port in the country. It was determined that this was an isolated location which no-one would suspect as being a depository for the Souths Treasury of gold, silver and jewelry. Blockade-runners could readily export commodities, such as cotton. The Yankees placed more effort on capturing ships on their return voyages loaded with weapons, war supplies, food and specie, or hard money. Money was the financial element of the Souths economy with its prominence in purchasing power and influence on foreign countries, particularly England and France. C.C. Memminger, while Secretary of the Confederate Treasury said, The South will live or die by the amount of money it keeps in the treasury. William T. Sherman and his well-armed cavalry units were marching across the South, destroying, plundering and pillaging plantations while consuming crops, food and livestock. Columbia itself was threatened and eventually burned to the ground; the same fate Atlanta, Georgia, and other cities had already witnessed. American Systems Printing Company in Columbia, South Carolina, printed all of the confederate banknotes used by the South. A large amount of specie from evacuated cities, silver plate and jewelry accumulated by taxes and donations were also on hand. With Sherman only a couple of days away, the treasury department decided to remove the hard money to keep it out of the hands of Shermans bummers. Advance Union Cavalry, under the command of General James Wilson, had already maneuvered themselves onto the highways north of Columbia to block the escape route of wagon trains filled with supplies, weapons, food, medicine and money destined, most likely, for Charlotte, North Carolina. Large trees were cut across the roads and bridges and railroad culverts were burned to stop this evacuation effort. Columbia had waited too long. (This tactic was later used by General Joseph Johnston to stymie Shermans advancement and threat on Charlotte, North Carolina.) Such a large cavalry could not stop for more than two or three days because they and their animals would consume all the food an entire county could provide. Sherman saw no recourse but to turn east towards Raleigh, North Carolina, and the coast to replenish he and his armys supplies. Specie and anything else needing to be saved from Columbia had to be shipped up the Broad River on a ship flying the British flag to Pinckneyville. It docked at the wharfs near the pontoon bridge that transversed the Broad River. Medical supplies, food and weapons were then shipped by wagon trains from there to Yorkville and eventually to Charlotte. Specie was kept on the British vessel awaiting the arrival of the CSA Arrow, a 60-ton British Schooner employed by the CSA. While, Jefferson Davis was in Charlotte, he sent out messages on his contingency plans, should they be unable to sign an armistice or formal treaty of surrender with the Federal Government. The CSA Arrow was on its southern run from Canada to the eastern Florida coast when it received the message to run the blockade at Charleston and sail up the Broad River to Pinckneyville to rescue President Jefferson Davis, six members of the Confederate Cabinet and the treasury department gold for transport to Liverpool, England. After the armistice talks broke off, President Davis fled Charlotte on the 26th day of April 1865. With an escort of four brigades of cavalry under Generals Duke, Ferguson and Dibrell, with scattered detachments of Vaughns, Hanies and Butlers commands, the remaining remnants of the confederate government and treasury moved out of Charlotte for Abbeville, South Carolina, via Yorkville, Unionville and Newberry with final destination unknown, except for thoughts of crossing to the Trans-Mississippi to join up with General Kirby Smith, sailing to Liverpool, England, or exiling to Mexico or some other foreign country. If the CSA Arrow for any reason was not at Pinckneyville, President Davis had other escape plans, including ships in the Savannah and St. Johns Rivers, or the railroad out of Washington, Georgia, through Atlanta. This route would take him to the Trans-Mississippi, but there was a large problem; the Yankees had taken possession of this route. Major General George Stoneman and the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, ordered Brigadier General William Jackson Palmer to pursue President Jefferson Davis, his cabinet members and the confederate treasury to the ends of the Earth, if necessary. Palmer had already put fear into the hearts of South Carolina citizens with his atrocities; many ranked him worse than the devil, Sherman. Palmer was born near Leipsic, Kent County, Delaware, on September 18, 1836. Being a son of Quaker parents, with the coming of the war Palmer followed his conscience in forgoing his Quaker principles. He was given credit for the organization of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry and was its first captain. He went on to be the brevet Brigadier General. One of Palmers regiments, the 12th Ohio Calvary, ran into a skirmish with the rear-guard of President Davis escort at Smiths Ford on the Broad River. Ten prisoners were captured, from whom definitive information was obtained about the escort, their strengths and numbers, and the amount of treasury money. The specie was in wagons and contained in about 100 boxes of gold ($2.5 Million) and 60 kegs of silver ($186,282.) The prisoners thought there was about $10 million of specie in all. Also, the prisoners said their Cavalry escorts of 3-4,000 men were promised back pay from this specie, if and when they crossed the Savannah River into Georgia. On the morning of May 8th, 1865, while searching for President Davis near the forks of the Appalachee and Oconee Rivers, Colonel Betts of the 15th Pennsylvania Union Cavalry captured seven wagons that had been hidden in the woods. Concealed in the wagons was $188,000 in specie, $1,588,000 in banknotes, bonds etc., of various southern states, and about $4 million in confederate money, besides specie, plate and valuables belonging to private citizens of Macon, Georgia. The main portion comprised the assets of the Georgia Central Railroad and Banking Company. In regards to the confederate treasury specie, Colonel Betts went on to say, I am satisfied that Davis has not any considerable amount with him, at least it seems probable that little specie crossed the Savannah River. As Breckenridge stated that the government had no more than $60,000 actually belonging to it. “It is estimated the confederate government may have some $32 million removed from various points to an undisclosed location to avoid capture. Why not Pinckneyville? General Matthew C. Butler dropped behind President Davis and party. He had about 2,000 troops, most being older soldiers of the South Carolina home guard. A few were of the 21st Regiment of South Carolina Infantry from the surrounding countryside. A trap had been set in place for General William Palmer. The British Ship anchored at Pinckneyville was used as bait. Since President Davis had already gone south three days before the arrival of the CSA Arrow, the other British frigate was to to do the extraction. Word was passed by rebel spies, through their connections to Yankee spies, in hopes Palmer would believe the vessel was there to pick up Jefferson Davis and six cabinet members to transport them to England. The CSA Arrow was anchored two or three miles downstream waiting for the trap to spring shut, then it was going to sail to Pinckneyville to load the confederate treasury of gold, silver and jewelry. But something went terribly wrong. Six members of a Tennessee rebel regiment got to Browns Mill before General Palmer. The confederate army had orders to kill to the last man any and all army detachments between Browns Mill and Pinckneyville, no matter what uniform they were wearing. They were soldiers returning to their homes near Kingsport and Nashville, Tennessee. Innocent as they were for this trap, they had committed the crime of the century a few days back when they robbed confederate gold in Georgia. They didnt pay for their crime in Georgia, but they paid with their lives here. Four soldiers and a local guide were killed instantly; a fifth soldier, Corporal Morgan, was treated by a doctor in Gaffney. He held on for a couple of days, and then he, too, died. (It is rumored they buried their gold near Browns Mill during the ambush and massacre. This gold, I believe, was the $86,000 entrusted to a bonded agent of the confederate navy, James Semple, and his assistant, Edwin Tidball.) The noise of the skirmish alerted General Palmer, who was nearby with about 50 men of his command. He and his men hid and scouted around to watch and find out exactly what was going on at Pinckneyville. A day or so later, General Butlers troops left for home. The CSA Arrow was brought upstream and docked. Why they didnt keep the soldiers until after the loading of the CSA Arrow, I could never understand. Palmer and his men witnessed wagon after wagon of gold, silver and jewels being loaded into the cargo hold of the CSA Arrow. With the vessel loaded, it left the docks and headed down the Broad River for England. The CSA Arrow made only about two miles downstream when it struck head-on into a sandbar. The side-wheel broke off and its hot boiler, which was exposed to the cold river waters, exploded, blowing the CSA Arrow into a large mass of debris. Treasure was scattered all over the banks of the river, with the largest portion sinking into the depths of the Broad River. Amid the confusion and the thick fog, General Palmer said, This money will be mine. He moved in with his Cavalry and recovered several boxes of gold and an assortment of fine jewelry. He buried eight kegs of silver and at least 10 boxes of gold. At todays prices, this alone would be worth $8 to $18 million dollars. Palmer shared a small portion with his troops, keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself and left South Carolina a very wealthy man. In 1869, Palmer was traveling west by stagecoach when he was so taken by some amazing rock formations at the Garden of the Gods, and the magnificent mountains, that he determined to make his home there, near present day Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was given credit for the founding of Colorado Springs. He worked for several railroads and formed a couple of his own, including the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Through General William Jackson Palmers purchases and investments in the railroads, Colorado Springs grew and flourished, as did he and his investors bank accounts. Almost all of Palmers investment money and wealth was from the taking of confederate gold near Pinckneyville. How many millions of dollars are still submerged below the waters of the Broad River or buried in and around the forgotten town of Pinckneyville? One can only imagine! Sources: History and Culture, History of Colorado Springs, www.remax-allstars-cs-co.com www.Ancestry.com Stonemans Last Raid by Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, 2nd Printing, August 1966. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys by George C. Rogers, Jr., University of Oklahoma Press, 1969. Flight into Oblivion by A.J. Hannah, Johnson Publishing, 1938. Diary of Miles Arnold of Round-O, South Carolina, Civilian Cook for the Confederate Army. Personal experiences and numerous hunts, 2001. This 1820s reveals the four crossings the CSA Government could have used going to Abbeville, but they could only use the Pinckneyville Pontoon Bridge for heavy wagons such as treasure.
Excerpt from the member forum of a web site for treasure hunters:
If you live within 15 minutes of Pinckneyville you live in a very beautiful area of this country. My first trip there was during one of your ice storms——–the cedar and pines were drooped over in that lonely dirt road you spoke of. If you go to where the monument is——-stand in front of it looking towards the Broad River——if you steer towards your right hand about 30 degrees NE (May not be according to compass, I am referring to the front of the monument as facing NORTH) —-go through the power lines towards the knolls on the opposite side—–this is where my brother and I found the cemetery of the soldiers killed in the Battle of Pinckneyville. It wasn’t really intended to be a battle——-it just happened that the boys that robbed the gold wagons from Chennault Crossroads, Georgia were passing through Pinckneyville on their way home back to near Kingsport, Tennessee. They fell into an ambush set up for the Yankees that were trying to capture President Jefferson Davis. President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of the Treasury, George Alfred Trenholm crossed on the pontoon bridge three days before the ambush. I better leave some of the rest for you to read. Best of luck. If you go downstream about a mile and one-half you will find where large square sandstones were cut from the river bank. I believe they used the stones to manufacture a Fort Knox Vault at Pinckneyville. It may still be there. Incidentally there was a man by the name of Oregon Dave, he found over $1 million dollars in jewelry, gold and silver coins of which 3,600 were Mexican Silver Dollars. He met a friend in Greenville, SC that helped him count his findings. Oregon Dave sold the cache in Houston, Texas and flew back home. I never did learn Oregon Dave’s real name. His friend in Greenville, SC was Jerry Williams. Jerry Williams and friends found wagons from the Charlotte Mint in the woods not to far from that monument of the courthouse. [ Jerry Williams, by the way, is author of the book Undiscovered Treasures of the Southeast.]
NOTE: The Pinckneyville ruins are privately owned. Get permission before venturing out there.
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— Tim Bryant
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill