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Miles, William Porcher

July 4, 1822–May 11, 1899

After secession, Miles was selected as a representative in the provisional and regular Confederate congress.

Educator, congressman. Miles was born in Walterboro on July 4, 1822, the second son of James Saunders Miles and Sarah B. Warley. He attended the Wellington School and was graduated from the College of Charleston in 1842. He returned to the college as a professor of mathematics in 1843.

In 1855 Miles left the College of Charleston to enter politics. That year he won the election for mayor of Charleston. In this position he reformed and modernized the police department, ending the corruption that had plagued the city. During this period Miles began to develop his idealism and strict interpretation of the Constitution. He had for some time been concerned about the rights of southern states and their freedom to govern themselves without interference. Although Miles did not own slaves, he considered it a right under the Constitution for others to own them. Determined to reach a wider audience, he entered the race for the U.S. House of Representatives and won a seat in 1857. However, Miles had a hard time reconciling his oath as a member of Congress with his views concerning the rights of the state of South Carolina. Following the adoption of the Ordinance of Secession in December 1860, Miles and the entire South Carolina delegation withdrew from Congress.

After secession, Miles was selected as a representative in the provisional and regular Confederate congress. He was also appointed chair of the Military Affairs Committee of the Confederate House of Representatives and served as an aide-de-camp to General P. G. T. Beauregard. In March 1861 Miles proposed a new flag for Confederate troops. His design was accepted, and the new Confederate battle flag was adopted that fall.

In the years following the war Miles did not retreat from his belief that secession was proper, but he never returned to politics. In 1863 he had married Bettie Beirne, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia planter. Following the war he retired to manage the family plantation, Oak Ridge, in Nelson County, Virginia.

After federal troops withdrew from South Carolina in 1877, and after extended debate and several false starts, South Carolina College reopened as South Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanics. In 1880 the college trustee Charles H. Simonton offered Miles the presidency of the newly reorganized institution. Miles accepted and began his duties in Columbia that fall. In 1882 his father-in-law suffered a stroke. Miles resigned his presidency and went to Louisiana to manage thirteen sugar plantations belonging to the Beirne family. He prospered there with his wife and son until his death on May 11, 1899. He was buried near the Beirne family in Union Cemetery, Union, West Virginia.

Channing, Steven A. Crisis of Fear: Secession in South Carolina. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.

Hollis, Daniel Walker. University of South Carolina. Vol. 2, College to University. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1956.

Paine, Sidney Bettis. “William Porcher Miles: The Congressional Years, 1857–1860.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1962.

Walther, Eric H. The Fire-Eaters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Miles, William Porcher
  • Coverage July 4, 1822–May 11, 1899
  • Author
  • Keywords Educator, congressman, won the election for mayor of Charleston, selected as a representative in the provisional and regular Confederate congress, designed Confederate battle flag,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 25, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 15, 2017
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