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Today In Charleston History: April 7

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

A group of 700 battle-tested veteran Virginia Continentals sent by Gen. George Washington arrived in Charlestown. They crossed the Wando River and landed at Christopher Gadsden’s wharf. They marched through town to the lines to the pealing of church bells. At the lines they were greeted with cheers and a firing of thirteen cannons, one for each of the independent states.

1805 – Francis Pickens Born
governor-Francis-pickens

Francis Pickens

Francis Wilkinson Pickens was born in Togadoo, St Paul’s Parish, Colleton County, South Carolina. His father was former Gov. Andrew Pickens and his grandfather was Gen. Andrew Pickens, an American Revolutionary soldier at the Battle of Cowpens and later U.S. Congressman.

A cousin of Senator John C. Calhoun, Pickens was born into the culture of States Rights, and became an ardent supporter of nullification (refusal to pay federal import tariffs) when he served in the South Carolina house of representatives, before being elected to Congress and then the state senate.

Pickens served in Congress  from South Carolina from 1834 until 1843 and was a member of the South Carolina state senate from 1844 until 1846.  Under President James Buchanan, Pickens was Minister to Russia from 1858–1860, where he and his wife were befriended by Czar Alexander II. He was Governor when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the U.S.A.

As state governor during the Fort Sumter crisis, he sanctioned the firing on the ship bringing supplies to the beleaguered Union garrison, and to the bombardment of the fort. After the war,  Pickens introduced the motion to repeal South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, a short speech that was received in silence, in notable contrast with the rejoicing that had first greeted the Ordinance.

 1863 – Battle of Charleston

The First Battle of Charleston Harbor began at noon. Shortly after 3 p.m., they came within range of Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter; and the battle began. Southern obstructions and a strong flood tide made the ironclads virtually unmanageable, while accurate fire from the forts played upon them at will. With the Union formation scrambled, Keokuk was compelled to run ahead of crippled USS Nahant to avoid her in the narrow channel after Nahant ’​s pilot was killed and helmsman wounded by a Confederate shot striking the pilothouse. This brought her less than 600 yards (550 m) from Fort Sumter, where she remained for half an hour receiving the undivided attention of the Confederate guns.

First_Charleston_Harbor

USS Keokuk

USS Keokuk

Robert Smalls, former slave, piloted ironclad USS Keokuk. The attack failed, and Keokuk was badly damaged, struck by about ninety projectiles, many of which hit at or below her waterline. Commander Rhind reported his ship as being hit by a combination of solid shot, bolts, and possibly hot shot. However, she was able to withdraw under her own power and anchor out of range, thanks in part to the skills of Robert Smalls, Her crew kept her afloat through the night, but when a breeze came up on the morning of 8 April 1863, Keokuk began taking on more water, filled rapidly, and sank off Morris Island. She had given one month of commissioned service. One of Keokuk’s sailors, Quartermaster Robert Anderson, was awarded the Medal of Honor in part for his actions during the battle. In all, 14 of Keokuk ’​s crew were injured in the battle, including Captain Rhind with a contusion to his leg. Acting Ensign Mackintosh, one of the gun captains, later died from his wounds.

Guns from the USS Keokuk

Guns from the USS Keokuk

Cannons from the Keokuk are now on display at White Point Garden along South Battery.

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston

In a letter to him mother, Gus Smythe wrote:

You must not feel anxious about me up here, & never fear my falling down the stairs, tho’ there are 170 of them. Oh my, there goes that bell & such a cracking and shaking as this old steeple does get up whenever they ring … the first time you experience it you feel certain that it is going to fall immediately. It seems God’s providence was specially directed toward this vernerable – but shaky – old spire.

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