Today In Charleston History: July 18


John Rutledge died from “the wearing out of an exhausted frame rather than … positive illness.” He was buried in St. Michael’s graveyard. He died without ever recovering from the crippling financial debt accrued during the Revolution. 

John Rutledge

John Rutledge

One of Charleston’s “founding fathers” Rutledge, a lawyer, served as provincial attorney general (1764), and was voted to the Stamp Act Congress (1765). He served in the 1st Continental Congress (1774) and 2nd Continental Congress (1775). In 1776, he helped South Carolina write a new state constitution, and was elected president of the new state government.

During the Constitutional Convention, he maintained a moderate nationalist stance and chaired the Committee of Detail, he attended all the sessions, spoke often and effectively, and served on five committees. Like his fellow South Carolina delegates, he vigorously advocated southern interests. In 1787 he was one of the signer of the Constituion of the United States. 

President George Washington appointed Rutledge as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1791 he became chief justice of the South Carolina supreme court. Four years later, Washington again appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time as Chief Justice to replace John Jay. But Rutledge’s outspoken opposition to Jay’s Treaty (1794), and the intermittent mental illness he had suffered from since the death of his wife in 1792, caused the Federalist-dominated Senate to reject his appointment and end his public career. Meantime, however, he had presided over one term of the Court.


John Rutledge’s grave, St. Michael’s Church


1863-Civil War. Assault on Battery Wagner

Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and 272 of his troops were killed in an assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina. Shaw was commander of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, perhaps the most famous regiment of African-American troops during the war.


Images of Battery Wagner, Harper’s Weekly

Fort Wagner stood on Morris Island, guarding the approach to Charleston harbor. It was a massive earthwork, 600 feet wide and made from sand piled 30 feet high. The only approach to the fort was across a narrow stretch of beach bounded by the Atlantic on one side and a swampy marshland on the other. Union General Quincy Gillmore headed an operation in July 1863 to take the island and seal the approach to Charleston.


Col. Robert Shaw

Col. Robert Shaw

Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts were chosen to lead the attack of July 18. Shaw was the scion of an abolitionist family and a veteran of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley and Antietam campaigns. The regiment included two sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the grandson of author and poet Sojourner Truth.

Confederate General Samuel Jones wrote:

The First Brigade was formed in column by regiments, except the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts … it was a negro regiment, recruited in Massachusetts, and was regarded as an admirable and reliable body of men. Half the ground to be traversed before reaching Wagner was undulating with sand hills, which afforded some shelter, but not so much as prevent free and easy movement; the other half smooth and unobstructed up to the ditch. Within easy range of Wagner the march encroached so much on the firm sand of the island as leave a narrow way between it and the water.

Union artillery battered Fort Wagner all day on July 18, but the barrage did little damage to the fort and its garrison. At 7:45 p.m., the attack commenced. Yankee troops had to march 1,200 yards down the beach to the stronghold, facing a hail of bullets from the Confederates. Shaw’s troops and other Union regiments penetrated the walls at two points but did not have sufficient numbers to take the fort. Over 1,500 Union troops fell or were captured to the Confederates’ 222.

The Storming of Ft. Wagner, lithograph by Kurz and Allison,1890

The Storming of Ft. Wagner, lithograph by Kurz and Allison,1890

Despite the failure, the battle proved that African-American forces could not only hold their own but also excel in battle. The experience of Shaw and his regiment was memorialized in the critically acclaimed 1990 movie Glory, starring Mathew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. Washington won an Academy Award for his role in the film.

To read more about the assault on Fort Wagner, read here

1864-Civil War
George Trenholm

George Trenholm

George Trenholm replaced Christopher G. Memminger as Secretary of the Treasury in President Jefferson Davis’s Cabinet. As skilled as he was with money, Trenholm couldn’t rescue the Confederate economy. After the fall of Richmond, he took flight southward with the rest of the Cabinet, but in ill health, was unable to continue running.

Today In Charleston History: April 27


Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

At Mepkin Plantation, Charles Pinckney married eighteen-year old Mary Eleanor (Polly) Laurens, with the blessing of her father, Henry. Pinckney’s friend, John Sanford Dart sarcastically wrote that he had “entered Hymen’s shackles with Miss Laurens.”


At 9:00 p.m., Friday evening, a fire started in shed behind Mrs. Babson’s house near the corner of King Street and Beresford Alley. It spread eastward, destroying about 560 houses and 598 other structures, or as the Daily Courier  reported: “at least one-fourth of the centre of our beautiful and flourishing city”

By 10:00 PM, it had crossed to the east side of King Street, and structures were being demolished to create firebreaks. At midnight, blazes raged down the south side of Market Street toward Meeting Street, and at 2:30 Saturday morning

“the Public Markets as far as Church Street were gone…, all the buildings on the south side of Market, the new Stores on the Burnt Lands, the splendid new hotel, …both sides of Meeting as far as Hasell Street – all, all are in ruins.”

Beth Elohim, 1818. Destoryed by the 1838 fire.

Beth Elohim, 1818. Destoryed by the 1838 fire.

The fire roared down Hasell, Society, and Wentworth streets, all the way to the Cooper River wharves. Most of Ansonborough was consumed, including Beth Elohim Synogogue. Moses C. Levy, however, rushed into the building to save the sacred scrolls.

The Citadel, Orphan House, Medical College, St. Andrew’s Society, Hebrew Orphan House and the German Friendly Society opened their buildings for housing of the displaced people.

1864-Civil War
George Trenholm

George Trenholm

After the fall of Richmond, Confederate Treasurer George Trenholm took flight southward with the rest of the Cabinet, but due to his ill health, was unable to continue running.  He resigned with the approval of President Jefferson Davis but was captured by Union troops and imprisoned at Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, Georgia.


Mayor William Ashmead Courtney agreed to take a leave of absence due to his health. He planned to take a European vacation and return home in the fall. Courtney asked to be released from serving the rest of his term, citing exhaustion. City council advised for him to take a leave of absence “for as long as necessary to regain his health.

Historic Charleston Image #2 : Three views of 1 Broad Street

1 meeting st

1 Broad Street, Harper’s Weekly. East Bay Street to the left, Broad Street to the right.

An handsome 1853 structure designed and built by Edward C. Jones and Francis Lee, prominent Charleston architects in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. It is faced with Connecticut brownstone at a cost of $100,000 for the State Bank of South Carolina.

During the War Between the States, the building sustained damage by Federal shelling and was purchased and rehabilitated by George A. Trenholm, infamous Charleston blockade runner and former Treasurer of the Confederacy. Trenholm was sued by the Federal government after the War for the import duties on his illegal blockade goods and was forced to liquidate the building.   

1 broad street, state_bank

An engraving showing the Bank of the State of South Carolina building in Charleston from a bank stock certificate.

In 1875 the building was purchased by another former blockade runner, George W. Williams, who founded the Carolina Savings Bank in the structure. By 1897 the bank was on the first floor while the second floor housed the offices for Southern Bell, the new established phone company. The third floor housed the local office of the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Throughout the 20th century, the building housed a series of banks. It is currently vacant.

1 Broad Street

1 Broad Street, looking down East Bay, circa 1910. The row of buildings stretching down East Bay is the now-famous Rainbow Row