Anderson Raises the Stars and Stripes over Fort Sumter

150 years ago today, Charleston harbor found itself abuzz with activity. On April 14th 1865, four years to the day after Major Robert Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter to Confederate forces, a ceremony was held to celebrate the fort’s recapture and the coming end of the Civil War. Writing for the April 18th issue, a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune noted how the whole morning of the 14th saw many steamers traveling to the fort. Included among these steamers was the Planter, piloted by Robert Smalls, a former slave who had commandeered the ship and escaped to the Union blockade and to freedom in 1862. The correspondent wrote that the ships were “all crowded with passengers—the Planter being black with the colored population of Charleston.” At the fort, he writes that “detachments of marines and sailors from the different vessels under command of Lieut. Commander Williams, survivors of the assault on Sumter, together with the 127th New York and 35th Massachusetts were drawn up in line on either side, and presented a fine appearance. These men had all distinguished themselves in the naval and military operations against Sumter, and were consequently assigned to a position of honor in the programme of the day.” While most of the spectators were visitors from the North, there were several hundred of the citizens of Charleston, including the black citizens who came on the Planter. After songs and prayers, Major Anderson was presented with the flag that he had hauled down four years before. After a short address, Anderson hoisted the flag to the top of the flagpole amid loud cheers. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung, and followed by a salute from Fort Sumter’s guns and guns from the forts around the harbor. In these moments, the ceremony announced the end of the war at the same place in which it had begun four years earlier.

After the salute, the abolitionist Rev. Henry Ward Beecher stepped forward to give an oration. In his speech he proclaimed that “on this solemn and joyful day, we again lift to the breeze our fathers’ flag, now again the banner of the United States, with the fervent prayer that God would crown it with honor, protect it from treason, and send it down to our children, with all the blessings of civilization, liberty, and religion.” He spoke at length about secession, the horrors of war, and the system of slavery which in his mind caused both of them. Nonetheless, he concluded on a more conciliatory note by invoking peace on the North, the West, and the South, and by declaring that “in the name of God, we lift up our banner, and dedicate it to Peace, Union, and Liberty, now and forevermore.” In his oration, Beecher also offered his congratulations that God had sustained President Lincoln through the burdens and sufferings of those four years. Tragically, on the very same day as the flag-raising ceremony, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater. Thus he would not live to lead the nation in the arriving period of reunion and reconstruction.

CLAW Commemorates 150th Anniversary of the Capture of Charleston by the Union

Last week, the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program commemorated the 150th anniversary of the occupation of Charleston by Union forces with two events.

First, on February 18th, the day Charleston fell 150 years ago, a panel discussion was held in College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library. Participating in the panel were Dr. Amy McCandless, Dr. Bernard Powers, and Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney. Dr. McCandless is Dean of the Graduate School, University of Charleston, South Carolina at the College of Charleston and has undertaken research on the history of South Carolina’s women. Dr. Powers is a Professor of History at the College of Charleston whose work on African-Americans in the Lowcountry is well represented by his book Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1865. Dr. Dulaney is the chair of the Department of History at the University of Texas at Arlington, and he previously worked at the College of Charleston and spent a number of years as director of the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture. Dr. McCandless began the panel by exploring the experiences of women during the siege, focusing on the diary of well-to-do Charleston resident Miss Emma Holmes. Miss Holmes’s disgust and grief over the fall of Charleston contrasted greatly with the joy and celebration of free blacks and formerly enslaved people, which Powers and Dulaney explored in their presentations. Free blacks who had fled the city, such as preacher Daniel Payne, returned and the African-American population lost no time in establishing churches and civic organizations and taking advantage of their freedom. Following the panelists’ presentations, a number of great questions were asked, including one about the attitudes of white citizens in the days following occupation and one about enslaved attempts to use the siege to escape captivity. These questions and others allowed the discussion to dig deeper into the history of Charleston and the Civil War.

Then, on February 20th, College of Charleston English professor Joseph Kelly led a discussion of his book America’s Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March toward Civil War. While much of Dr. Kelly’s research has focused on the work of James Joyce, he has also become very interested in Charleston’s history and its place in the American Civil War. At the beginning of the discussion, Kelly overviewed the driving argument of his book. In America’s Longest Siege, he argues that the actions of several individuals, including Charleston clergyman Bishop England as well as John C. Calhoun, led to the survival of slavery and the emerging view of slavery as a positive good. Kelly examines this uncompromising view through the lens of Charleston’s history and finds that it led to the declaration of secession which doomed the city to its eventual fate. Following Kelly’s opening remarks, several questions were brought up, such as one asking about the view of the Founding Fathers toward slavery and about John Rutledge’s role in the slavery compromises of the Constitutional Convention. This and other questions further explored the ideas brought up in Kelly’s book and their importance for our understanding of the conflict that ended 150 years ago.        

Charleston Finally Falls!

150 years ago this morning, a Union officer and a small troop of soldiers arrived at the South Atlantic Wharf after noticing a commotion in the city of Charleston. The soldiers soon learned that the night of February 17th the city’s defenders and many of its inhabitants had evacuated the city. The officer, Colonel Bennett, soon received the city’s surrender from Mayor Macbeth, which read “The military authorities of the Confederate States have evacuated the city. I have remained to enforce law and preserve order until you take such steps as you may think best.” Thus in the morning of February 18th, 1865, the siege of Charleston by Union forces finally came to an end after roughly twenty months.

The city had been bombarded on and off throughout the long siege, with the result that the city had suffered heavy damage. Charles Coffin, a reporter for the Boston Daily Journal who wrote by the name “Carleton,” wrote in his war memoir about the damage to the city he witnessed when he arrived. “Churches, hotels, stores, dwellings, public buildings, and stables, all were shattered. There were great holes in the ground, where cart-loads of earth had been evacuated in a twinkling.” There is a great article in the Post and Courier about Charleston’s situation following the Confederate evacuation and the city’s capture:

“A City of Ashes: When the Confederacy Abandoned Charleston”

Yet the city’s surrender was a joyous moment for the formerly enslaved inhabitants of the city, who celebrated with such events as a mock funeral for the figure of “Slavery.” When the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments, along with other United States Colored Troops, marched through the city later in the day on the 18th, they were greeted by cheering crowds. Colonel Charles Fox of the 55th Massachusetts remembered the scene of “cheers, blessings, prayers, and songs…On through the streets of the rebel city passed the column, on through the chief seat of that slave power, tottering to fall. Its walls rung to the chorus of manly voices singing “John Brown” “Babylon is Falling” and the “Battle-Cry of freedom”…The glory and the triumph of this hour may be imagined, but it can never be described.”

So it was with scenes like this that Charleston, the city in which secession was inaugurated and a place that had played a major role in American slavery, passed into the hands of the Union. But the capture of Charleston was only the beginning for the arriving Union army and the remaining inhabitants. Now began the slow process and tough work of repairing and reconstructing the shattered city.