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Today In Charleston History: January 6

1740 – Religion

George Whitefield

Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Charlestown for the second time, to visit his brother, the captain of ship. By this time, Whitefield was one of the most famous recognized public figures in colonial America, drawing massive, passionate crowds (10,000+) to his open air services and field services in New York and Philadelphia. His radial methods made traditional clergy uncomfortable.

He preached from the pulpit of Josiah smith’s Independent Meeting House and accused the people in attendance of “sin and worldliness” and being “polite and unaffected.” He called upon their sins of “affected finery, gaiety of dress … and balls and assemblies.” He promised them that “God intended to visit some in Charlestown with His salvation.”

1861

A workman at Ft. Sumter brought a Northern newspaper with the news that the Star of the West was en route to Charleston. Maj. Robert Anderson and Capt. Abner Doubleday, ranking officers at Sumter, not having received official confirmation, concluded the story was false, since Washington would send a warship, not a civilian steamer.  

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston  

Maj. Henry Bryan, Confederate assistant inspector-general, reported that the damage from Federal Bombardment included:

  • 145 houses
  • Five people killed
  • Eight wounded

Thomas Hale, Confederate military observer in the steeple of St. Michael’s, wrote that:

The enemy’s principal line of fire upon the city has been St. Michael’s church steeple, radiating north-eastward as far as St. Phillips church … their shells usually landing no further west than Archdale St.

Archdale Street - damage from 1861 fire and Federal bombardment. St. Johns Lutheran & Unitarian Churches.

Archdale Street – damage from 1861 fire and Federal bombardment. St. Johns Lutheran & Unitarian Churches.

1874

South Carolina representative Robert B. Elliott’s delivers a passionate speech in favor of Charles Sumner’s Civil Rights Act in the House of Representatives. The Act, which guaranteed equal treatment in all places of public accommodation to all people regardless of their “nativity, race, color, or persuasion, religious or political,” was passed on March 1, 1875. 

elliott_robert loc

Robert Elliott. Library of Congress

Elliott’s speech gained national attention as he rebuffed opponents of the bill, who argued that federal enforcement of civil rights was unconstitutional. Responding to former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia, who had been re–elected to the House, Elliott reaffirmed his belief in the right and duty of Congress to legislate against discrimination. He concluded by evoking the sacrifices made during the Civil War and asserting that its true purpose was to obtain civil rights for all Americans, including women, who experienced discrimination. 

Before a packed House, Elliott stated his universal support for civil rights,

“I regret, sir, that the dark hue of my skin may lend a color to the imputation that I am controlled by motives personal to myself in my advocacy of this great measure of national justice. The motive that impels me is restricted to no such boundary, but is as broad as your Constitution. I advocate it because it is right.”

Elliott’s youthful appearance and the “harmony of his delivery” contrasted sharply with those of the elderly Stephens, who, confined to a wheelchair, dryly read a prepared speech. The Chicago Tribune published a glowing review, noting that “fair–skinned men in Congress … might learn something from this black man.”

With a legislative style more flamboyant and aggressive than his predecessors’, and considerable oratorical skills, young, talented Robert Elliott regularly dazzled audiences. Possessing a strong, clear voice “suggestive of large experience in outdoor speaking,” Elliott fought passionately to pass a comprehensive civil rights bill in his two terms in Congress. However, his fealty to the South Carolina Republican Party led him to resign his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to serve the state government in Columbia. Elliott’s classical education, photographic memory, and obsession with politics impressed contemporary observers.

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