Ellison Capers was born in Charleston on October 14, 1837. His early education was in the Charleston schools, where he was not known for his studious habits; however, upon graduation from the South Carolina Military Academy (The Citadel) in 1857, he was offered by that institution a one-year post Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Belles Lettres. At the end of this contract, he accepted a position at Mt. Zion College in Winnsboro, S.C., as principal and teacher of mathematics.
In 1859 he married Charlotte Palmer at her home, “Cherry Grove Plantation.” She was the granddaughter of Francis Marion, who was the nephew and adopted son of the Revolutionary War hero, General Francis Marion.
Ellison Capers returned to the South Carolina Military Academy in 1860 as Professor of Mathematics and Belles Lettres. In this same year a regiment of rifles was formed in Charleston, and Mr. Capers was elected Major of the First Regiment of Rifles.
Major Capers was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1861. He was wounded again and promoted to Brigadier General. Because of the severity of his wounds, he was unable to accept this commission until 1865. He was commissioned Brigadier General at the age of 28.
As a soldier, Ellison Capers evidenced the courage and leadership that inspires men. One of his company captains wrote in a letter to his family in 1862, “We are expecting to go to General Lee’s assistance in a few days. Colonel Capers is in command. He is a splendid, gallant, dashing fellow…Let him go where he will, I will follow him.” Time after time General Capers was “published” in the general orders for distinguished service. In response to a friend who chastised him for taking personal risks and exposing himself to danger, the General replied, “Expose myself! That’s what an officer is for. We have a caused worth fighting for and we have to fight to win!”
The end of the war did not bring an end to hardship and suffering. General Capers was one of many who recognized that the old South was lost and that maintaining self – respect and rebuilding the state was the immediate task.
In 1865 Colonel B. F. Perry was appointed provisional governor of South Carolina. He called a convention in Columbia to frame a constitution and to put a temporary government in place until the regular meeting of the State Legislature. An election of State Officers was ordered. James L. Orr was elected Governor and General Capers was made Secretary of State.
During the war years General Capers had decided to enter the ministry of the Episcopal Church. While holding the position of Secretary of State, he was actively studying for the ministry by reading the Orders under the personal direction of the Bishop of South Carolina.
In 1866 he resigned his position of Secretary of State to accept a call to Christ Church in Greenville. He served this parish for five months as lay reader until he was ordained to the Diaconate. He was ordained Priest the same year. Mr. Capers spent a total of twenty years in Greenville. During that time he taught, at intervals, in colleges in Greenville. He taught in the Greenville Female Academy, the Greenville Military Academy, and during the absence of Professor Judson, he filled the Chair of Mathematics at Furman University.
In 1875 Mr. Capers was called to St. Paul’s in Selma, Alabama. After one year in Alabama he was called back to Christ Church, where he stayed until 1887 when he was called to Trinity Church in Columbia.
During his years in Greenville, Mr. Capers bought a few acres of land at Cedar Mountain, N.C. There was an humble cottage on the property. It was Mr. Capers’ hope that “roughing it” in this mountain cottage during his summer vacation would improve Mrs. Capers’ failing health. The cottage and the mode of life it necessitated suggested the name “Camp Cottage” for the mountain home. For twenty years Capm Cottage was the vacation and reunion spot for the Capers family. The original cottage was torn down and a more comfortable house built. Every Sunday when he was at Cedar Mountain, Mr. Capers preached to the mountain people in their churches. Their estimation of him was aptly summed up by one of them who said, “I reckon that Bishop Capers and Saint Paul were two of the greatest preachers and biggest men that ever lived.”
As Cedar Mountain became more popular as a summer resort, Mrs. Capers began to dream of an Episcopal chapel for the use of summer visitors. In 1894 this dream became a reality. Bishop Horner of North Carolina gave his consent, a lot was given, and Ellison Capers devoted a summer to building a chapel. Mrs. Capers named the little church “Faith Chapel.”
In 1893 Ellison Capers was elected Bishop Co-Adjutor of South Carolina. At the death of the ailing Bishop W. B. W. Howe, he became Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. He was successful in reuniting a diocese that had been torn apart by war and reconstruction.
In 1904 Bishop Capers was elected Chancellor of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. He held this position until his death in 1908.
In June of 1907, Bishop and Mrs. Capers were at Camp Cottage. Bishop Capers was preparing to leave for a Board of Trustees meeting at Sewanee when he suffered a severe stroke. He was taken back to Columbia where he died in April 1908. He was buried at Trinity Church.
In viewing the life of Ellison Capers, it is the fullness and completeness of life that is impressive. He was an educator, soldier, priest and bishop of the church and Chancellor of the University of the South. Few men have been given the opportunity to touch so many sides of a people’s life and to possess the qualities of mind and heart to be successful in all of them.