Charleston under Fire

As many Southern port cities had been closed off by the Union blockade, Charleston became an important center for blockade running. Repeated attempts by the Union Navy to take Charleston proved fruitless. The city resisted military occupation for the majority of the war’s four years.

With the development of newer, longer-range artillery, and as Union forces were able to place batteries even closer to the city. The bombardment that began in late 1863 continued on and off for 587 days.

This bombardment would destroy much of the city. The defenders were finally beaten back and the Union was able to capture the city, only a month and a half before the war ended.

Charleston under Fire

From the Columbia Carolinian:

We take the liberty of presenting to our readers the following extract of a private letter just received. Its genial description of the present aspect of the city and bay of Charleston will repay perusal. The brief sentences which allude to General Ripley assert nothing more of that bold, ardent and able soldier than we know he deserves. We hope, with all heart, that the hour of his long merited promotion has arrived at last:

Can you come and see us? The city is very safe and interesting now. A visit to the ‘district excites the most varied and strangest emotions. The dreariness of winter has passed away, and the vivifying touch of spring has brought out the green glories of our trees and crowded our gardens with flowers of all hues. They were never more beautiful. The silent air is rich with perfume. But the solitude seems in strange contrast with this lavish infusion of beauty. The rose especially seems to solicit the presence of the man, and crave a witness for its charms. Other flowers may properly grace the solitudes of the wilderness and decorate the pathless prairie, but the rose, the ‘rose, asks for human companionship, and when blooming unseen, suggests the idea of utter desolation and abandonment. Our gardens are sad in their solitude, and in the absence of those more graceful and beautiful flowers, their proper companions, which gave them life and cheerfulness, and all their value, their bloom and perfume is wasted. What is the rose, what the japonica, without the maidens to add to their beauty and sweetness, and to give and take beauty from the fellowship.

Part I of our Civil War collection, A Newspaper Perspective, contains articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.

Not withstanding the constant shelling, there are yet pauses in which the most timid can venture down town and enjoy the freshness of the sea air and the beauties of our harbor. The ladies occasionally venture so far down as the battery. Yesterday evening I saw a small group of them enjoying the music and the lovely scene. Our bay never wore an aspect more lovely; but it was the loveliness of nature in its solitude. – Scarcely a sail was seen on the unruffled bright expanse of the noble sheet of water. It looked – with the exception of the ruins of Fort Sumter – cheerful even in the warm sunlight – as it might have looked to those who first beheld it as strangers to the Old World.

Never since the canoes of the Indian cut its waters and gave it animation, has it been so entirely deserted of man. The shores of Sullivan Island, Mount Pleasant and James’ Island were too distant to disclose the impregnable fortresses of sand and the host of brave men who hold them secure against all invasion. Impregnable, indeed, are the chain of sand batteries that encircle our entire harbor. I was on SullivanIsland, recently, and was astonished to behold the miracles of successful labor that had been wrought there within the last year. It may well be said to be one fort.

The skill of our engineers, both regular and domestic, has been exhausted upon these works, and they are a monument of their science and energy. These on occasion could overwhelm with a hurricane of iron any fleet that should attempt to pass, and they are all under the command – to give them their greatest efficiency – of the skillful, well tried, devoted veteran, General Ripley, who at the commencement of the war dedicated himself to the cause, and signalized his patriotism, valor and skill by his gallant defence of Fort Moultrie. You will be glad to hear that there is reason to believe that his devoted services – tendered when the timid shrank and the calculating held back – are to be properly recognized, and a wider field and larger authority given him, for the proper exertion of his superior energy and military genius.

I need not tell you that the true history of our military affairs in the defence of this harbor would vindicate the highest promotion as only a just reward for his past services, and a fitting theatre for the exercise of his military knowledge, apprehension, resources, and capacity of conception and execution.

Our people rest secure behind their defences, satisfied that no force that the enemy can bring against us can break through the bars which have been raised to keep him out. It may be that there is even too great a sense of security; but such is the fact, and the mass of our people are as comfortable as if they were at the foot of the mountains, instead of being within sight of the iron clads and continually within hearing of their ceaseless shells.

Source: The Charleston Mercury – May 6, 1864

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