Lawyer, soldier. Gist was born September 3, 1831, at the family home, Wyoming, in Union District, the ninth of ten children born to Nathaniel Gist and Elizabeth McDaniel. His birth during the nullification crisis prompted his father to give him the unique name.
Schooled at Mount Zion Institute in Winnsboro, Gist was admitted to South Carolina College as a sophomore in 1847. On graduation in 1850 he returned home and began to read law. The following year he entered law school at Harvard University but left the school after one year. In 1853 he was admitted to the South Carolina Bar and established a law office in Unionville. That year Gist joined the state militia, as a captain commanding the Johnson Rifles. The following year, Governor James H. Adams appointed him his aide-de-camp with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1856, at age twenty-four, Gist was elected brigadier general, commanding the Ninth Brigade. His cousin, Governor William Henry Gist, appointed him his “Especial Aid-de-Camp” in 1858; in April 1860 General Gist resigned his commission with the Ninth Brigade.
In January 1861 Governor Francis W. Pickens appointed Gist the state’s Adjutant and Inspector General. After the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April, Gist went to Virginia and served as a volunteer aide on the staff of Brigadier General Bernard E. Bee. At the Battle of First Manassas, Bee was mortally wounded and Gist was given command of the remnants of the South Carolinian’s brigade.
He too was wounded in the battle but recovered and soon returned to the state to resume his duties as Adjutant and Inspector General. On March 20, 1862, Gist resigned and accepted a commission as brigadier general in the Confederate army. He was assigned to the Charleston area, and with the exception of a brief assignment in North Carolina, General Gist served in the defense of the city until May 1863. On May 3 Gist was given command of an infantry brigade and ordered to join a column assembling at Jackson, Mississippi, in response to federal operations against Vicksburg. Just before leaving, he married Jane M. Adams, daughter of former governor Adams, spent two days with his wife, and then headed west. The South Carolinian saw limited action in the Vicksburg campaign. Following the city’s surrender, he was ordered to reinforce the Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia.
At the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and throughout the Atlanta Campaign, Gist proved a reliable and respected commander. Following the evacuation of Atlanta, the Army of Tennessee advanced north and in November entered Tennessee. While leading his brigade in the November 30, 1864, Battle of Franklin, Gist was wounded twice, in the thigh and then in the chest. The second wound proved fatal, and about 8:30 p.m. he died, one of six Confederate generals killed or mortally wounded in the battle. He was buried in a local family cemetery, but in 1866 the remains of States Rights Gist were returned to South Carolina and interred in the Trinity Episcopal Church cemetery in Columbia.
Cisco, Walter Brian. States Rights Gist: A South Carolina General of the Civil War. Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane, 1991.