Today In Charleston History: April 20

1780The Siege of Charlestown

Gen. Lincoln convened the council of war in Charlestown. He informed his officers that the Continental garrison had ten days of provisions left and discussed offering terms of capitulation to British general, Sir Henry Clinton – surrendering the city. His terms were:

  • The American army withdrawing from Charlestown within thirty-six hours, keeping their arms, artillery and all stores they were able to transport.
  • Sir Clinton was to allow the Americans ten days “to march wherever Gen. Lincoln may think proper … without any movement being made by the British troops.”
  • Security to the persons and property of the citizens

Clinton rejected the terms, considering the offer “insolence.” At 10:30 pm the British resumed their bombardment, firing more than 800 rounds into the city.

1789 – Charleston First.
Ramsay's petition to Congress. National Archives

Ramsay’s petition to Congress. National Archives

Dr. David Ramsay filed a petition with the House of Representatives asking Congress to pass a law to grant him the exclusive right of “vending and disposing” of his books within the United States. The Congressional committee approved his petition on April 20, 1789 – the first private citizen granted a copyright.


Angelina Grimke wrote in her diary:

Today is the last time I expect to visit the Presbyterian Church – the last time I expect to teach my interesting class in Sabbath School. I saw Mr. McDowell day before yesterday … and told me that he pitied me sincerely for that I certainly was under the delusions of the arch adversary…

She began to attend the Quaker Meeting House which had two members – two elderly men who never talked to each other. Angelina discovered that one of the men was a slaveholder and had cheated the other man out of a sum of money. When she tried to facilitate a reconciliation by telling them “Christians ought to be gentle and courteous to all men,” they called her  “busybody in other men’s business.” 

1864-Bombardment of Charleston. 

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. P.G.T.Beauregard was relieved from the Charleston command and replaced by Major General Samuel Jones, Beauregard’s former major of artillery at Manassas.  Jones was not considered a good officer. He had not impressed Gen. Robert e. Lee, who had him transferred to Charleston. Beauregard wrote, “I hope he will do, but from what I hear I fear not.” Beauregard had longed complained about the quality officers assigned to Charleston, calling it the “Department of Refuge.”

1903 – Washington Race Course  

The city of Charleston donated the four gateposts of the Washington Race Course to August Belmont of New York, who was planning to build the largest horse-racing facility in the country – Belmont Park. The posts were made of brick and weighed ten tons each. During their removal one of the columns slipped from a wire and William Mosimann had “the life mashed out of him.”

The “gift” to a Yankee millionaire was not universally popular among the people of Charleston. A letter to the editor in the News and Courier complained:

It seems to me that we have relics to burn … too much history and too many landmarks. We should be glad that Mr. Belmont has accepted the brick pillars and we might give away the old City Wall, the old Postoffice [sic], the Powder Magazine and a score of other relics that hamper our progress.  

 Other editorials described the pillars as “valued souvenirs of past peculiarities of a peculiar people” and “relics of a glorious past.”

Today the brick pillars are located at the automobile entrance of the Belmont Park clubhouse in New York. The bronze plaque on the left pillar reads: 

Pillars at Belmont Park

Pillars at Belmont Park

Presented to Belmont Park May 1903 by the Mayor and Park Commissioners of the City of Charleston SC.  At the suggestion of B. R. Kittredge Esq. and through the good offices of A. W. Marshall Esq. These piers stood at the entrance to the grounds of the Washington Course of the South Carolina Jockey Club Charleston SC. Which course was opened Feb. 15th 1792 under presidency of J. E. McPherson Esq. and was last used for racing in December 1882. Theo. G. Barker Esq. being then president.

Today In Charleston History: April 19

1672 – Politics
Sir John Yeamans

Sir John Yeamans

Sir John Yeamans was proclaimed Governor at Charles Town. In the commission letter the Proprietors praised Joseph West’s service, but noted

the nature of our government … required that a Landgrove (titled landowner) should be preferred to any Commoner.

1672 – Move to Oyster Point

Ashley Cooper also gave notice that the settlement should permanently move from Albemarle Point to Oyster Point. The Albermarle settlement did not adhere to the “Grand Modell” specified by the Proprietors. The peninsula, formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, also created natural harbor, perfect for a commercial port. Lord Ashley ordered that the new town be:

layd out into regular streets … six score squares of 300 feet each … the great street should not be less than 100 or six score feet broad; the lesser streets none less than sixty; alleys eight or ten feet.

Each owner of a lot was required to “build a house of two stories in height and at least 30 feet by 16 feet.” One could make the case that this plan of wide, regular streets, laid out in “broad and straight lines” was influenced by Sir Christopher Wren’s checkerboard plan for rebuilding London after the 1666 fire.

1732 – First Concert

The first advertised concert in Charlestown appeared in the Gazette as a “consort [concert] of Musick at the Council Chamber, for the Benefit of Mr. Salter.

1770 – Slavery

An advertisement appeared in the South Carolina Gazette for this runaway slave:

CAESAR: Absented himself from my Plantation . . . plays well on the French horn. 

Today In Charleston History: April 18

1780-The Siege of Charlestown

Gen. Clinton ordered 2300 British troops to Mt. Pleasant, in order to control the eastern side of the Cooper River. He named Lt. General Cornwallis commander of that force.

Dr. David Ramsay

Dr. David Ramsay

Dr. David Ramsay was appointed by the court to examine William Linnen, a tailor known for serial litigation and nuisance suits against lawyers, judges and juries.  After Linnen had attempted to murder his attorney Ramsay examined Linnen and reported to the court that he was “deranged and that it would be dangerous to let him go at large.”After apparently regaining his sanity, Linnen was released and threatened Ramsay. The doctor did not take the threat seriously.


The first professional baseball game in Charleston took place on the new baseball field at Hampton Park.


The City of Charleston paid $75,000 for the forty-three acre West Point Rice Mill site.  The property became the heart of a series of projects to be funded by the federal government. Each of these schemes proposed reuse of the main mill building, and it was preserved from demolition.


West Point Mill

Today In Charleston History: April 17

1763 – Marriage

Lord William Campbell, a captain on the HMS Nightingale stationed in Charlestown, married a South Carolina heiress, Sarah Izard. Campbell would later serve a short term as South Carolina’s last Royal governor before being unceremoniously run out of town in 1775.


The “Secret Committee of Five,” organized by the First Provincial Congress, headed by William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton, seized the mail arrived from England on the Swallow. The official British dispatches made it clear that British authorities would not hesitate to use force to keep and restore order in the colonies.

1806 – Births

William Gilmore Simms

William Gilmore Simms was born in Charleston. His mother died soon afterward and his father joined Coffee’s Indian Fighters so Simms was raised by his grandmother, Jane Miller Singleton Gates, who told him stories of Indians, pirates, the colonial era, and the American Revolution, thereby stimulating his imagination and furnishing him with a vast fund of material on which he would draw for his later writing.

His writings achieved great prominence during the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe declared Simms to be “The best novelist which this country has, on the whole, produced” and “immeasurably the greatest writer of fiction in America”.  His short story collection, The Wigwam and the Cabin, was singled out by Poe as “decidedly the most American of American books.”  He is also remembered for his strong support of slavery and for his opposition to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in response to which he wrote reviews and a pro-slavery novel, The Sword and the Distaff.

At first, Southern readers, especially those in his home town of Charleston, did not support Simms’s work because he lacked an aristocratic background. Eventually, however, he was referred to as the Southern version of James Fenimore Cooper, and Charleston residents then invited him into their prestigious St. Cecilia Society.

1937 – Eleanor Roosevelt in Charleston

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a series of newspaper columns. Here is the column of her day in Charleston.

eleanor roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

CHARLESTON, S.C., Friday—We had tea yesterday afternoon with my friend Mrs. Huntington. The only other guests were the Mayor and Mrs. Maybank, Miss Pinckney, Mrs. Camman, and Dr. Canby. It was a nice, leisurely tea, served in an exquisite old china tea set, and everyone went at intervals to look at the changing light in the garden. Charleston is a leisurely place, and it was seriously suggested that I remain over a few days in order to see the vine at the back of the house in full bloom. It would be a lovely sight, but I receive the Children of the Revolution next Monday in Washington.

It was cloudy in the evening and rained hard during the night, but this morning brilliant sunshine greeted us again. Mrs. Huntington came for us, and we have visited houses and gardens to our heart’s content all morning. I have never seen a greater wealth of carved woodwork and panelling and more beautiful mantelpieces. The houses which have been restored seem on the whole to have been done with extraordinary taste and feeling, and the gardens, with their high walls and careful planting, give one a sense of complete privacy. One gentleman pointed out some interesting facts. As we looked back from one corner of his garden, we seemed to get a vista of an endless number of tree tops going on into a far distance, and he remarked: “That has been done so cleverly in Charleston. You get a sense of infinite space, even in small gardens.”

We ended up our morning by a look at Catfish Row, which, they tell me, was originally called “Cabbage Row,” and a rather hurried visit to the Heywood House. Now we are off in a few minutes to lunch with an old friend, Mrs. Victor Meyrowitz, and this afternoon we will visit St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s churches and the City Hall, where they have a museum and some historic portraits after which we are to have tea with the Mayor and Mrs. Maybank. There seem to be an endless number of trips, so that we are sorry we have to leave early tomorrow morning. It will be a long run tomorrow, for we have to be in Washington by noon on Sunday.

I am taking back with me a most interesting looking book called A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties. It contains some lovely reproductions of water colors by Alice R. Huger Smith and the tale at the end of life as it was lived in the old plantation days, given in combination apparently by Herbert Ravenel Sass and D. E. Huger Smith.

People have been endlessly kind and have invited us to do so many things that I wish we could forget that there is such a thing as work, even when one is on a vacation. We have, however, devoted our evenings to doing the mail and such other pieces of work as we had brought with us. I am not going back with a clean slate, but I have done a few things.

Sometime this Summer I must spend several days in the kitchen, for I’ve been given Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, a superlative cook book, and the call to try some of these delicious sounding dishes is going to be more than I can withstand.

Today In Charleston History: April 16


Christopher Gadsden wrote to William Samuel Johnson, a Connecticut lawyer, about his concerns over the large black population and the constant threat of a revolt.  Gadsden said he hoped that “in the case of South Carolina, the enslavement of blacks would not cause the enslavement of whites.”

Irish architect James Hoban arrived in Charleston from Philadelphia. He was contracted to rebuild the a court house on the ruins of the old State House. President George Washington admired Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour, where he met the young architect in Charleston in May 1791. Washington summoned the architect to Philadelphia, in June 1792, where he was chosen to design and build the White House. 
Both the Charleston County Courthouse and the White House were modeled on Leinster House, the current Irish Parliament Building.
1780-The Siege of Charlestown
pitt statue

LEFT TOP: Map with Pitt statue location. LEFT BOTTOM: Pitt statue in Washington Park. RIGHT: Pitt statue at its present location – Charleston County Courthouse.

A British cannon, fired from the James Island battery, shot off the arm of the statue of William Pitt in the intersection of Broad and Meeting Streets. After the war, the statue was later moved to the Grimke house at 321 East Bay Street. In 1808 it was moved to the Charleston Orphan House and in 1881 moved again to Washington Park. Presently it stands inside the entrance of the new Charleston County Court House.

At this time, the Americans had 4200 men in Charlestown fit for duty while the British counted 8300.

1919 – First Air Show

The first air show was performed in Charleston. It was a promotional tour by the Victory Liberty Loan program that featured eleven planes that were shipped to Hampton Park in pieces. The wings were assembled to the plane’s fuselage in the park.  Most of the pilots were former World War I and thousands of people show up to watch the “thrilling stunts and turns … turning loops … and a daring nose spin.” It was called an “impressive demonstration of the battling power of the airplane.” The local newspapers also reported that:

Interest in the part of the spectators was by no means confined to the machines, the aviators coming in for their share of curiosity, especially by members of the fair sex.

air show

Today In Charleston History: April 15

1715 – Yemassee War

At this point, many of the Lowcountry Indian tribes were deeply indebted to the English. Unscrupulous traders in London and Charles Town overextended credit to the Indians, hoping to force them to pay in land concessions.  The Yemassee were also unhappy with the town of Beaufort being settled in the middle of their territory. As the pressure to collect the debt increased, the Indian agents often resorted to cruel practices – cheating, beatings, and the raping of their women.

On April 14 a Charles Town delegation was arrived to negotiate with the Yemassee tribe. After the first day’s negotiations the delegation retired for the night. Before dawn the next morning the Yemassee attacked the sleeping colonists who were then ritually tortured and murdered. The Indians then divided themselves into two war parties. One attacked Beaufort. About 300 whites were able to take refuge on a ship in the Port Royal River while the Yemassee burned most of the town. 

Yemassee War

Yemassee War

The other Yemassee party marched through St. Bartholomew’s Parish, burning houses on the way, killing 100 people.

Governor Craven declared martial law, laid an embargo on all vessels, impressed men and property into service for defense and appointed Robert Daniel deputy governor to administer the colony while Craven was at the front.

Terrified of being attacked, the Assembly took an unprecedented action – they armed 400 black slaves to join a force of 500 white men. The site of armed Negros marching through Charles Town frightened them as much as the possibility of Indian attack.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston
Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe discussed the looting in the abandoned houses in Charleston, south of Broad Street:

Our own soldiers are doing us more damage than the shells. I should much prefer a shell to go thro’ the house than to let them do so. They just roam at will now through the whole lower portion of the city. Our house and Mr. Middleton’s [1 Meeting Street] below Broad are the only two in Meeting Street below Broad which have not been entered. Our stores on the wharf have not been seriously injured, but soldiers have been in there also. They have done three times the damage to the city that the shells have done.

Today In Charleston History: April 14


John Wesley arrived from Savannah for a second visit to Charlestown. He noted in his diary:

I had the pleasure of meeting with the clergy of South Carolina among whom in the afternoon there was such a conversation for several hours on ‘Christ our Righteousness’ as I had not heard at any visitation in England or hardly any other occasion.

During Wesley’s visit he arranged with Lewis Timothy to publish the Collection of Psalms and Hymns, the first Anglican hymnbook published in the American colonies.

Lewis Timothy print shop

Lewis Timothy print shop marker on King Street, Charleston

1780-American Revolution 

Lt. Colonel Tarleton and his British dragoons took an American cavalry encampment commanded by General Issac Huger, at Middleton’s Plantation in Goose Creek. In a surprise attack Tarleton’s troops killed fifteen and captured eighteen. Tarleton noted that “Lt. Colonel Washington was Prisoner but afterward thro’ the Darkness of the Morn escaped on foot.”

This action effectively cut off Gen. Lincoln’s escape route from Charlestown. The Continental Army was now stuck in the city.

 1861 – Civil War

The Federal garrison at Sumter saluted the American flag with a fifty-gun salute.  The harbor was filled with thousands of Charlestonians, on every type of boat imaginable, to watch the surrender. Major Robert Anderson takes the Stars and Stripes with him when they evacuate the fort. 

The New York Times correspondent described the scene:

The bells have been chiming all day, guns firing, ladies waving handkerchiefs, people cheering and citizens making themselves generally demonstrative. It is regarded as the greatest day in the history of South Carolina.

1865 – Civil War

Maj. Gen. Robert Anderson, who surrendered Fort Sumter to the Confederates, came out of retirement to re-raise the same Stars and Stripes over Fort Sumter that he had lowered in surrender four years earlier. This flag is now on exhibit at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center.

Robert Smalls, the slave who had stolen his master’s boat, the Planter, and fled to freedom, returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor for the ceremonial raising of the American flag upon Ft. Sumter.

ft sumter flag raising

Flag Raising ceremony at Fort Sumter. Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: April 13


The London Frigate, a slave ship, arrived in Charleston from Guinea with small pox on board. It spread so extensively that there were not enough healthy people to take care of the ill.

1780-The Siege of Charlestown

The British had managed to mount seventeen 24-pound cannons, two 12-pounders, three 8-inch howitzers and nine mortars.  At 10:00 am the batteries in the neck, north of the American lines opened steady fire until midnight.

      Major William Croghan wrote:

The balls flew thro’ the streets & spent their fury on the houses; & those who were walking or visiting in the town, as was usual during the former quiet, now flew to their cellars, & others to their works, as the places of greatest safety.

The first day’s bombardment killed two soldiers, several women and children, two cannons were destroyed and two houses burned to the ground. 

During the day, Governor John Rutledge and a few members of privy council, including Charles Pinckney left the city, heading for the backcountry. Gen. Lincoln persuaded Rutledge to “Preserve the Executive Authority … give confidence to the people and throw in the necessary succours and supplies to garrison.” That left Lt. Governor Christopher Gadsden the leading civil authority in the city.

The governor’s entourage included a number of invalids, including Lt. Colonel Francis Marion and his broken ankle. At noon they crossed the Cooper River leaving behind the constant booming of artillery and a city covered with smoke and fire.


At a Thomas Jefferson birthday celebration in Washington, DC, Pres. Andrew Jackson toasted: “Our Federal union – It must be preserved.” V-P John Calhoun replied, “The union – Next to our liberties the most dear.”

1861 – Civil War

By 8:00 a.m.the upper story of the officer’s quarters at Sumter were burning. The most immediate danger was the 300 barrels of gunpowder stored in a magazine. At one o’clock the flagstaff at Fort Sumter was struck by a Confederate shell and crashed to the ground. The soldiers rushed to rehoist the flag before the Confederates assumed they had surrendered.

About this time, former Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas visited Fort Sumter.During the midst of the bombardment, Wigfall had himself rowed out by slaves. Soldiers at Sumter were perplexed by a man waving a white handkerchief from a sword. The Federals raised a flag of truce and Wigfall, although he had no authority to do so, told the first Federal officers he met, “Let us stop this firing. You are on fire, and your flag is down. Let us quit.”

Anderson arrived a moment later and Wigfall told him:

You have defended your flag nobly sir. You have done all that it is possible to do, and General Beauregard wants to stop this fight. On what terms, Major Anderson, will you evacuate this fort?

ft sumter - interior

Inside Fort Sumter during the bombardment. Courtesy Library of Congress

Anderson felt some relief. His soldiers were half-way starved, exhausted and down to their last three shots. The American flag was taken down and Wigfall’s white handkerchief was raised in its place. The firing from all batteries ceased – the battle over.

Church bells rang across the city. Men on horseback galloped across the city, shouting the news. Spectators on the Battery sea wall cheered hysterically, the sound carrying across the Charleston harbor to the exhausted soldiers into Fort Sumter.

Hermann Klatte, a partner in a local liquor outlet called “Lilienthal & Klatte” on East Bay Street, wrote: 

 Yesterday morning at 4:30 they began fighting at Fort Sumpter…the United States flag was not raised again….Somewhat after 2:00 Sumpter surrendered unconditionally to the southern Confederacy, and soldiers from the same government will take over soon, and the bells are playing…victory.


Henry Ward Beecher, a Northern Congregationalist minister and staunch abolitionist, arrived in Charleston to preach at Ft. Sumter. Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe had written the wildly popular (and universally hated in the South) Uncle Tom’s Cabin. President Lincoln had personally selected him, stating, “We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise.”

Henry Ward Beecher, Army Chaplain

Henry Ward Beecher, Army Chaplain

Today In Charleston History: April 13 – Charleston First

1832 – Passenger Train Wreck – Charleston First

The first passenger train wreck in the United States occurred on the C&HRR. Pulled by the West Point, the axle of the lead car snapped and was destroyed, tossing passengers out of the open car into a “low swampy place filled with mud and water.” Five of the passengers were seriously injured, but recovered.

west point

Today In Charleston History: April 12 – Charleston First, Fort Sumter

 1861 – Civil War – Firing on Fort Sumter – Charleston First

After contacting his superiors in Montgomery, Beauregard wrote another dispatch and about midnight, his aides rowed out to Fort Sumter again flying a white flag. His response to Anderson was:

MAJOR: In consequence of the verbal observation made by you to my aides, Messrs. Chesnut and Lee, in relation to the condition of your supplies, and that you would in a few days be starved out if our guns did not batter you to pieces, or words to that effect, and desiring no useless effusion of blood, I communicated both the verbal observations and your written answer to my communications to my Government.

If you will state the time at which you will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree that in the mean time you will not use your guns against us unless ours shall be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain from opening fire upon you. Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee are authorized by me to enter into such an agreement with you. You are, therefore, requested to communicate to them an open answer.

I remain, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

About 1:30 a.m. Anderson assembled his officers and read the Confederacy’s latest offer. For the next ninety minutes they discussed their response. They all considered the condition that they would not fire unless Sumter was shot at to be unacceptable. If the Federal supply ship arrived no doubt Confederate batteries would open fire upon it. The Federal officers were determined not repeat their lack of response during the Star of the West episode. But they were unsure of when (or even if) the supply ship would arrive. The officers agreed they could hold out four more days. Anderson composed his next reply to Beauregard:

GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt by Colonel Chesnut of your second communication of the 11th instant, and to state in reply that, cordially uniting with you in the desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, I will, if provided with the proper and necessary means of transportation, evacuate Fort Sumter by noon on the 15th instant, and that I will not in the mean time open my fires upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government by the forces under your command, or by some portion of them, or by the perpetration of some act showing a hostile intention on your part against this fort or the flag it bears, should I not receive prior to that time controlling instructions from my Government or additional supplies.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT ANDERSON, Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

The Confederate aides, Chesnut, Chisholm and Lee, read the reply immediately. Chesnut, following Beauregard’s orders, composed the following note:

SIR: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.

We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servants.

JAMES CHESNUT, JR., Aide-de-Camp.
STEPHEN D. LEE, Captain, C. S. Army, Aide-de-Camp.

Chesnut delivered the message to Anderson. After reading it, Anderson pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time – it was 3:20 a.m. He asked Chesnut, “I understand you, sir, then, that your batteries will open in an hour from this time?”

Chesnut replied, “Yes, sir. In one hour.”

Anderson walked the Confederate officers to their boat. It was beginning to rain. He shook hands with each of them. “Gentlemen, if we do not meet again in this world, I hope we may meet in a better one,” he told them.  

Inside Fort Sumter Anderson ordered his men to prepare to receive an attack within the hour. He urged them to sleep if possible, that they would be returning fire at dawn.

The Confederate officers made the one-mile journey from Fort Sumter to Fort Johnson within half an hour. Col. Chesnut told Captain George James, battery commander at Johnson, they had given Anderson a deadline, and it was to be met. He as to fire a signal shot at 4:30 a.m.  

Chestnut, James and Chisholm, anxious to return to Beauregard as soon as possible, then got back in their boat and began to row across the harbor to Charleston. Out in the middle of the water, in the drizzling rain, not a single star was visible against the dark forbidding sky.  At exactly 4:30, Lt. Henry S. Farley pulled a lanyard on one of the cannons at the beach battery on James Island. A mortal shell arced high across the water, heading for Ft. Sumter, its glowing fuse leaving a glowing contrail, illuminating the sky. It exploded just above the fort like Fourth of July fireworks, spreading an orange-red glow across the horizon.

firing on sumter

 Confederate batteries at Fort Johnson fire on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861. Courtesy Library of Congress

Within a minute of the signal shot, another shell screamed across the harbor and exploded within Fort Sumter. Beauregard had given precise orders on the firing rhythm. The forty-three guns that faced Sumter were each to fire in turn, in a counterclockwise circle, with two minutes between each shot, in order to save shot and powder.

In Charleston, Chesnut’s wife, Mary, was having a restless night. As she wrote in her diary:

I do not pretend to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael’s bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate  prayed as I have never prayed before … I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. The women were wild out there on the housetop. 


Watching the bombardment from Charleston rooftops. Courtesy Library of Congress

In Charleston, the bombardment was a spectacle. As dawn broke, the streets were filled with people rushing in the rain to find a vantage point to watch the battle. The sea wall along the Battery was quickly crammed with ladies and gentlemen in their finest clothes. Boys scampered around, climbing on anything in an attempt to have a better view of the harbor.

There was not a single person who believed the Yankees would win.

14. battery party

TOP: Watching the bombardment from the Battery. Courtesy Library of Congress

 Anna Brackett, a school teacher, described the scene in Charleston:

Women of all ages and ranks of life look eagerly out with spyglasses and opera glasses. Children talk and laugh and walk back and forth in the small moving place as if they were at a public show.

As dawn broke just after six, the Federal garrison at Sumter mustered for roll call and breakfast, which consisted mainly of salt pork. Private Joe Thompson wrote, “Our supply of foodstuffs are fast giving out. Yesterday our allowance was one biscuit.”

At 6:30 Capt. Doubleday ordered the first Federal shot in reply aimed at the Iron Battery at Cummings Point. It landed beyond the battery and into the marsh.  

James Petigru, while sitting in his office at 8 St. Michael’s Alley wrote:

All the world is gone to witness the bombardment of Fort Sumter by the collective forces of South Carolina. Our politicians have succeeded in evoking the spirit of hostility on both sides.

By full light the rain had stopped and for the next two days, Fort Sumter was hammered from three sides by Confederate batteries, with more than 2,500 shots fired the first day. Overnight the bombardment slackened but resumed in full force the next morning.

Charleston (and America) would never be the same again.