Author Archives: Craig Swain

“He’s back, and better than ever!” Ed Bearss on the Civil War Seminars Tours

Yesterday, Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours tweeted this picture:

If you were not aware, a few weeks back Ed Bearss had a fall-out while leading a tour.  All reports are Ed suffered only a temporary setback and was soon right back to his normal self.

The photo shows him leading a tour as part of the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours “Terror on the Border” program which kicked off on Wednesday.  I think there is still time to sign up for the Friday and Saturday programs.  But if you can’t, you can follow along with the Civil War Seminar’s Twitter feed.

I’ll be in attendance on Friday and Saturday, doing my usual tweets from the programs and working in posts on my Facebook page.  These are excellent programs, with proceeds going to battlefield preservation.  If you can’t make it this year, get a taste by way of social media, and start planning to attend future events!

Send ice to South Carolina? In the summer of 1864?

The sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.   He was referring to ice harvested from Walden Pond by the “Ice King” Frederick Tudor.  Considering the average temperature in Charleston during July is 86°, there is a natural market for ice – be that today or 150 years ago.  In fact, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren made a special request to the Navy Department for ice on July 17, 1864:

Owing to the extreme heat of the weather and the approach of the sickly season in this latitude, I would respectfully ask that a supply of ice be sent for the use of this squadron.

The ice furnished by the supply vessels is barely sufficient to preserve the fresh provisions obtained from them for the consumption of the officers and men, while the sick are chiefly dependent upon the army sanitary commission.

In view of these facts will the Department send a vessel laden with ice to Charleston and another to [Port Royal].

The recent cases of smallpox and other cognate diseases which have occurred in the New Hampshire, and their possible recurrence are additional reasons for this request.

So the requested ice was not simply a garnish for social gatherings.  There was a direct, practical medical requirement.  (And looking over at Jim Schmidt’s Civil War Medicine blog, I see he has a piece in regard to ice and treatment of Yellow Fever.  Maybe this is a queue for a wider discussion of medicinal applications of ice in the war?)

It’s the logistics that interest me, however.  One does not simply haul a ship load of ice to South Carolina in the middle of the summer without deliberate packing – lest it become a ship load of water!  And these were the days before refrigerated warehouses.  While some artificial ice production means existed by 1864, the bulk of the ice consumed was from natural sources.  Frederic Tudor, mentioned above, practically created a global ice market – and a personal fortune along the way – prior to the 1850s.  Although he died in February 1864, the practices he introduced served well into the next century.

The photo above is that of a boat being loaded with Norwegian ice (try Googling for “ice boats” and see what YOU get!).  But the premise was the same.  Ice could survive a while inside the cargo hold of a ship or boat, provided it was cut and packed properly.  Some melting occurred, of course, but insulating materials (as you might expect) could delay that until the ice arrived at the intended market… or in Dahlgren’s case, naval station.  Often ships carried ice as ballast on outbound trips from New England states.  But ships dedicated for ice cargoes were not uncommon.  Tudor used sawdust, which was conveniently available in large quantities in New England as result of the logging industry there,  as an insulator.

Commercial practices were to land the ice and store in a dedicated warehouse… er… ice house.  I don’t know of any ice houses built on Morris or Folly Islands during the war.  Perhaps some small ice houses existed from before the war around the Port Royal area.  But I’d venture to guess that most of the ice sent to South Carolina for military use was issued for consumption quickly on arrival due to the large demand.  So storage on the ship would be a practical course of action.

Not quite the ice cubes to cool that glass of tea, but 150 years ago there were shipments of ice supporting the operations outside Charleston.  I, for one, am glad someone invented air conditioning….

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 15, page 573.)


“The garrison appears in good spirits.”: Huguenin takes command of Fort Sumter

With the death of Captain John Mitchel on July 20, 1864, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin arrived to assume command of Fort Sumter.  The moment was critical for the garrison, and to no small degree the defenses of Charleston.  Fort Sumter was the absolute front edge of the Confederate defenses and most exposed to Federal attention.  The Third Great Bombardment was at that time entering a third week with heavy, sustained fire.  The most important job for the men in Fort Sumter was upkeep of the rubble pile which the fine brick walls had become. So long as the walls presented a barrier to Federal landings, the fort could be defended.  There was the Confederate focus.

The following day, July 21, Huguenin provided a detailed report of the fort’s status:

I reported my arrival yesterday evening by telegraph. I regret to say that on my arrival I found Capt. J. C. Mitchel, First South Carolina Artillery, was dead from the wound he had received during the day. Captain Phillips, Thirty-second Georgia, the temporary commander, turned over the fort to me, and, after as careful inspection as could be made at night, I found the fort not seriously damaged by the present bombardment. Capt. John Johnson, engineer in charge, is endeavoring to repair during the night whatever damage may be made during the day; every effort will be made to effect this purpose. The fire from rifle guns has lately been directed upon the southwest angle with considerable effect, cutting away the exterior crest, and thus making a more easy ascent with the debris which falls. The loss of material at this point has required the abandonment of the most southerly casemate on the second tier of the western face, and if it continues will require a similar abandonment of the corresponding casemate in the lowest tier; these casemates are being filled up, and the only real loss will be the loss of quarters.

So as for the garrison’s primary mission of just “being” and remaining a point contesting the Federals, the fort retained its wall.  The Federals blast down parts during the day.  Johnson rebuilds at night.  Though some portions of the fort were by that time so badly damaged as to become useless to the garrison.

Huguenin went on to mention some fire shells, perhaps left over from trials the previous fall, were used against the fort:

The enemy are using some incendiary shell upon this point, and I have been compelled to remove the ammunition from the southwest magazine for fear that some incendiary matter may be communicated by the ventilator, which cannot be filled up at present.

Huguenin turned to the priority of work, specifically repairs:

The firing upon the gorge wall has been discontinued, and I hope that it will soon be repaired. The boom has been broken in two places near the southeast angle, and I would earnestly urge upon you the necessity of having it repaired at the earliest possible moment. Captain Johnson thinks it necessary that about a thousand bags of sand should be sent down every night whenever it can possibly be done, as if the present bombardment continues it will be required in large quantity. He desires it to be sent in bags, as it is easier handled. In the event of an attempt to assault the fort it will be important that the batteries on Sullivan’s and James Islands be apprised as soon as possible, and therefore I desire to keep a signal officer on the parapet all night, so that he may be able to communicate the intelligence of the enemy’s approach as soon as it is known to ourselves. I have only 2 signal men here at present on duty and I cannot carry out my wishes in the above respect unless the number is increased. I would therefore respectfully request that the signal force be increased to 4.

So add sandbags and signal officers to the list of requests, including the baskets and gabions Johnson requested earlier.  Closing he added, “The garrison appears to be in good spirits.

From June 21 to June 25, the Federals launched 1603 shots against the fort:

  • June 21 – 281 shots in the day, 38 at night, and 57 missed; Total 376.
  • June 22 – 214 during day, 35 at night, and 137 missed; Total 386.
  • June 23 – 155 during day, 32 at night, and 50 missed; Total 237.
  • June 24 – 94 during day, 32 at night, and 35 missed; Total 161.
  • June 25 – 298 during the day, 53 at night, and 92 missed; Total 443.

An average of over thirteen shots per hour.  Rather odd, however, is the high number of those which missed on June 22. On the Federal side, there is mention of new guns added to the batteries.  So some of the missed shots may be those expended registering new guns onto the targets.

Major-General John Foster was now determined, 150 years ago today, to level Fort Sumter.  And the garrison defending it was just as determined to rebuild the fort out of the ruble.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 227.)