Home » Black History » Today In Charleston History: August 22

Today In Charleston History: August 22

1863 – Bombardment of Charleston. 1:30 a.m.

swamp angel

Swamp Angel, the Federal gun that fired upon Charleston.

A Federal shell burst just north of the City Market at the corner of Pinckney and Church Streets. It was a 200-pounder shot from the “Swamp Angel.” British war correspondent and illustrator, Frank Vizetelly, was staying at the Charleston Hotel on Meeting Street. Unable to sleep, he was in his room reading Les Miserables when he was:

startled by a noise that …resembled the whirr of a phantom brigade of cavalry galloping in mid-air. My first feeling was that of utter astonishment; but a crash, succeeded by a deafening explosion in the very Street on my apartment was situate, brought me with a bound to the centre of the room … At first I thought a meteor had fallen, but another rush and whirr right over the hotel, and another explosion, settled any doubts I might have had: the city was being shelled.

I will defy anyone who witnessed what I witnessed on leaving my room, not to have given way to mirth … terrified gentlemen rushing about in the scantiest of costumes …One perspiring individual of portly dimensions was trotting to and fro with one boot on and the other in his hand and this was nearly all the dress he could boast …


Frank Vizetelly’s illustration of the first shot

Capt. Charles C. Pinckney, an ordinance officer stationed in Charleston under General Roswell S. Ripley, wrote:

I rode down Smith Street about 2 o’clock A.M. The streets were entirely deserted, yet every house was lighted up. What does it mean?  Have the Yankees slipped in and taken the town while I was asleep? I urged the horse, & reached Headquarters. Without notice, a city full of sleeping women & children – a bombardment without military significance  … was clearly & purely spite!

bombardment, broad street 1864

Miss Pauline Heyward wrote in her diary:

Father went to Charleston on Sunday, and returned today, the Yankees are shelling the City … One shell went thro the roof of a house and straight thro the first floor … and thro the brick wall … into the yard that was paved, and there buried itself six feet into the earth.

Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard wrote Union Gen. Gillman, accusing the Union officer:

you now resort to the novel measure of turning your guns on the old men, the women and children, and the hospitals of a sleeping city, an act of inexcusable barbarity … if you fire again on this city … without granting a somewhat more reasonable time to remove non-combatants, I shall feel compelled to employ such stringent means of retaliation as my available …

 During the night a free “Negro” fire company extinguished the first fire from the bombardment.

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