Soldier, legislator, businessman. Born on September 22, 1839, at his family’s summer retreat, the Cabins, near Abbeville, Haskell was one of eleven children born to Charles Thomson Haskell and Sophia Cheves. He studied under private tutors and later attended a private school in Charleston before matriculating to the University of South Carolina in 1856, graduating second in his class in 1860.
Haskell enlisted with South Carolina forces at the beginning of the Civil War and soon became a regimental adjutant. He served with the Army of Northern Virginia for most of the war. By March 1864 he had attained the rank of colonel and taken command of the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry. He was wounded four times. The fourth wound, in October 1864, resulted in the loss of his left eye, but he rejoined his regiment in time for Robert E. Lee’s last campaign and the surrender at Appomattox.
During Reconstruction, Haskell practiced several professions and played an important role in state politics. He taught school and practiced law in Abbeville from 1865 to 1867, while also serving in the state House of Representatives. He was elected a district court judge in 1867 but resigned his judgeship the same year to accept a law professorship at South Carolina College. In 1868 he resigned his professorship, as required, to serve as a presidential elector in the national election. He then opened a law office in Columbia.
In 1876 Haskell chaired the Democratic Party’s State Executive Committee and helped organize the aggressive Red Shirt campaign that brought a narrow victory for Wade Hampton in the race for governor. With the election results disputed, Haskell became the emissary to President Ulysses Grant to press the claims of the Hampton administration. He later became an associate justice on the state supreme court, where he served from 1877 to 1880.
By 1890 Ben Tillman and his supporters had taken control of the Democratic Party and secured for Tillman the Democratic nomination for governor. Haskell bolted the party and ran against Tillman as an Independent, or “straight-out” Democrat. He appealed to black voters, but promised them little. Even many conservatives reluctantly backed Tillman, the mainline Democrat, rather than risk dividing the party and jeopardizing white rule. Haskell lost decisively, 59,159 to 14,828. He later helped organize the State newspaper in Columbia, which consistently opposed Tillman and his allies.
Haskell was a prominent business leader in the state for several decades. In the 1870s and 1880s he served as president of the Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta Railroad. He became the first president of the Loan and Exchange Bank of Columbia in 1886 and was a leading banker in the state until his death. He married twice. On September 10, 1861, he wed Rebecca “Decca” Singleton, but she died in June 1862 just days after giving birth to a daughter. On November 23, 1870, Haskell married Alice V. Alexander, with whom he had ten children. Haskell died on April 13, 1910, in Columbia and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Daly, Louise Haskell. Alexander Cheves Haskell: The Portrait of a Man. 1934. Reprint, Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot, 1989.
Garlington, J. C. Men of the Time: Sketches of Living Notables. 1902. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1972.