Star Spangled 200th at Fort McHenry

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the events which inspired our national anthem.  I am taking a break from my Civil War focus to attend this War of 1812 anniversary.  Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine plays host to a weekend packed with events to commemorate this defining moment in American history.  My aide-de-camp has already nodded approvingly of the airshow and tall ships.

If you cannot be at Fort McHenry, you can follow along by way of social media.  The park’s Twitter and Facebook pages are frequently updated.  The hashtag is #StarSpangled200.  There’s also a set of web-cams up.

I’ll be out at the fort most of the day.  So check Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Confederates start work on Fort Trenholm, the last important addition to Charleston’s defenses

On September 13, 1864, Major-General Samuel Jones sent, by way of his Assistant Adjutant-General, an order to Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson, commanding the Second and Sixth Military Districts of South Carolina:

General: The engineers are just about commencing the erection of a work on John’s Island opposite Battery Pringle. The force on James Island has been very much reduced, and if the enemy attempt to drive away the working parties, as they probably will, they may succeed, unless assistance is given by you.

The major-general commanding, therefore, directs you to send to this point as large a cavalry force as you can to protect the working parties and keep up a picket-line as near Legareville as practicable to guard against any sudden advance of the enemy, and prevent the escape of the negroes employed. If you can do so, send also a section of artillery with orders to retire into the new works; if forced back the cavalry to retire by the river road on John’s Island.

The fortification mentioned in this order would eventually receive the name “Fort Trenholm.”  If you’ve been following my descriptions of the Charleston defenses, as they evolved 150 years ago, you are familiar maps such as this:

Fort Trenholm

You see Fort Trenholm on the far left and on the west side of the Stono River. In the past, I’ve displayed these maps with the caveat that the maps depicted the final state of works around Charleston.  Well, this was the last major fortification added to the Confederate lines defending Charleston.  Now I can say, the map depicts what was there 150 years ago as we’ve caught up!

As described in the order, Fort Trenholm complemented Battery Pringle.  During all the activity in July 1864, the Confederates realized just what Rear-Admiral Dahlgren observed – if the Federals had the forces to occupy John’s Island, they could make Battery Pringle untenable. So this addition to the far right of the Confederate line secured a vulnerable flank.  When completed, any Federal warships attempting to move up the Stono River would have a crossfire to contend with.  Not unlike that which caused the capture of the USS Isaac Smith in January 1863.

Robertson’s orders required him to secure John’s Island with a picket line down to Legareville during the construction of the works.  In part, that was to keep the Federals from interfering, but also to prevent the escape of laborers employed in the work.  But for the most part, the Federals, with limited resources, were not in a position to contest this addition to the line.

Being the last major fort built outside Charleston, Fort Trenholm never received a full complement of guns.  But despite being built so late in the war, the works survived and is still there today, just north of the Charleston Airport:

While protected within the boundaries of the airport, unfortunately its location makes close inspection rather difficult.  But it is there, as a mark of war.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 622-3.)

A shot into Charleston every 15 minutes: Foster’s orders to Morris Island, September 12, 1864

On September 12, 1864, Major-General John Foster issued a lengthy order to Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, commanding the Northern District (Morris and Folly Islands) of the Department of the South.  These orders began with a set of instructions about ongoing bombardments of Confederate positions, to include the city of Charleston:

I send you a recapitulation of the verbal orders you received when I was at Morris Island, with a few additions. You will cause a shot to be fired into the city of Charleston every fifteen minutes, each one carefully pointed so as not to endanger our prisoners, say at the middle steeple, and elevated and charged so as to range to the upper part of the city. An occasional shot will be fired at Sumter from our batteries on Cumming’s Point. The Swamp Angel will be fired at night in order to prevent the discharge of supply vessels or steamers at Sumter. The other batteries will regulate their fire by the enemy, generally answering all their shots, gun for gun…. The columbiads should be removed from Cole’s Island to Fort Delafield, and the 30-pounder Parrotts from Long Island to Morris or Folly Island. Light guns should be substituted for the columbiads on Cole’s Island and for those taken from Long Island.

Foster continued with detailed instructions to improve the works on Morris Island by repairing the palisading and stockades.  He also changed the steamers assigned to support the Northern District, replacing deep draft ships with those able to “go either outside or inside” the inland passages and shoals.

The second half of these orders focused on how to manage the 600 Confederate prisoners of war on Morris Island:

Your particular attention will be given to the care of the prisoners of war on Morris Island, and the utmost vigilance exercised on the part of the guards.

I desire that detailed orders may be given to every regiment and detachment in your command as to their rallying points and their duties, in case of an attack by a party of the enemy in boats with the design of liberating the rebel prisoners. These detailed orders should be concise and clear, and be thoroughly understood by every officer and man. Very little dependence must be placed upon the firing from Fort Strong on parties of men while on the island; all such must be attended to by infantry and light artillery. The rations of our officers, prisoners of war in Charleston, have been ascertained to be as follows: Fresh meat, three-quarters of a pound, or one,half pound of salt meat; rice, one-fifth pint; one-half pound hard-bread or one-half pint of meal: beans, one-fifth pint. I desire that in rationing the prisoners of war now in your hands you be governed accordingly, making sure that they receive no more than the above except what salt or vinegar may be necessary for them. You may, whenever it is deemed advisable, issue molasses to them in lieu of any of the articles mentioned. Our officers confined in Charleston are obliged to cook their own food, and I desire that the prisoners in our hands be made to do the same, unless you consider it more convenient or safe to do their cooking by soldiers detailed for the purpose. If you conclude to have the prisoners do their own cooking, details must be made from each detachment for the purpose, and the cooking must be done within the limits of the prison camp, and care must be taken to see that the cooking places are thoroughly cleansed after each meal. The printed orders issued by Colonel Gurney for the government of the camp must be modified accordingly.

Foster was determined to match, as closely as possible, the conditions of the Federals in Charleston, right down to the food preparation.  But at the same time, he was concerned for the sanitary conditions in the prison camp.

These orders set the tone and the focus for Foster’s command through the next weeks.  Bombardment of Charleston would continue, even if the bombardment of Fort Sumter and other points slackened.  The “prisoner issue” which started earlier in the summer, now reached a standoff. The “Immortal 600″ were in their prison at the front lines.  For the first time, both sides held “hostages” under the guns.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 284-5.)