Looking back 150 years at the opening of the Civil War, we know in hindsight the gravity and importance of the events. Certainly the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter on April 12-13, 1861 ranks up with the great events. And the people living through those events, participants and bystanders, also understood the importance. In the days after the Federal garrison’s departure several photographers from Charleston, South Carolina captured images of the fort and Confederate batteries – and at least two photography firms (and likely more) attempted to capitalize upon that interest.
F. K. Houston, from Charleston, first photographed images of the Confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter on April 14. Later James M. Osborn and F.E. Durbec, also a Charleston photography firm, captured images of the fort and other locations of note. Both vendors attempted to sell prints, but the course of the war limited their market. A few of these survive today providing a window back to what “was” in mid-April 1861. I’ve selected six of those photos to discuss here. The map below indicates where I think the photographer stood based on the known locations of guns and structures (and I would invite any comments on my educated guesses in that regard):
The first photo to note is a “panoramic” stereoview of the gorge wall (which some sources attribute to Osborn & Durbec). This view is actually a composite of several photos taken from the wharf outside the fort, noted as Star 1 above.
The image is actually three images pasted in order – perhaps the first “Photoshop” job in history! The fort sally-port appears in the center. (And for the modern visitor to Fort Sumter, note the “historical” sally-port stood on the south-facing gorge wall. Today visitors enter from the west-facing wall.) Pockmarks on the wall testify to the breeching abilities of the Confederate guns. I’ve cropped a view and highlighted some of those here:
On the right and left side of the frame are divots in the brick indicating hits while the rebel gunners attempted to dismount the garrison’s guns. Note also the 2nd or middle tier of windows. Again, that level remained unfinished and vulnerable during the bombardment. Further, consider the diagram of the fort’s armament (posted on Monday), with this view in mind. The Federals didn’t have many guns on the gorge face bearing on Morris Island.
The Second photo is a close-up of the sally-port, looking from Star 2 in the diagram.
The pockmarks appear more distinct in this closer view. Note the size and depth of those hits. Just inside the sally-port, in the shadows, is a form that may be one of the 8-inch seacoast howitzers.
Moving into the fort, Houston captured this image of Confederate troops and their new flag over Fort Sumter on April 14. The photographer likely stood at Star 3 on the diagram above. (Original digital copy located here.)
On the lower left are three 8-inch columbiads mounted as mortars. In the center is a “hot shot” furnace. Notice the original, shot up flag pole on the left in front of the barracks. The Confederate flag flies from a derrick used to lift cannons to the barbette tier. On the barbette tier are three guns, still mounted and aimed at Sullivan’s Island. Note the traverses around the parade ground, along with the wood or other building material stacked against the fort wall to the right.
Moving to Star 4 on the diagram, this view captured the 10-inch columbiad aimed towards Charleston (Original digital copy).
Some have identified Governor Francis Pickens and state Senator Wade Hampton (later General of course) among the “tall hats.” Note the sandbags on the parapet above. There are actually two columbiads in view here. Aside from the 10-inch which the gentlemen seemed impressed with, there is an 8-inch type in the top of the frame along with a gun, likely a 42-pdr.
Another view from the parade field, likely taken from Star 5 the diagram, captured the destruction of the interior behind the gorge wall, including the sally-port (Original stereo-view).
Somewhat faded, but on the left and right are muzzles of the 8-inch columbiads aimed towards Morris Island. Under the right most muzzle are a couple of unmounted 32-pdrs, as indicated on Captain Foster’s March 27, 1861 diagram. Bricks littered the ground, but these were piled to form traverses. But there is no denying the effect of shells on the interior structure of the fort, particularly the officer’s quarters.
The photographers in 1861 left a lot of symbolism in their work. Among the surviving photos is a view of the Fort Sumter flagstaff, looking from Star 6 on the diagram. (Original stereoview.)
The shot up flag pole shows the marks of war. Again the sally-port appears (lower left center), but a better view of the damage to the internal works. Keep in mind that Fort Sumter was far from complete in April 1861, so its structural integrity was compromised from the start. The collapsed walls beyond the flag pole are actually from interior buildings, in this case part of the ordnance rooms and hospital. Compounding the “desolate look” are traverses on the parade ground constructed by the garrison to stop any rolling shot and shell. The arches of the fort wall itself appeared intact. But the chimneys suffered greatly during the bombardment.
Just for reference, here’s a view of the interior of Fort Sumter today, showing what remains of… well… the remains.
Here’s another modern view, this time from the exterior looking at the gorge wall.
What the Confederates didn’t knock down in April 1861, the Federals did between 1863 and 1865. And of course that black concrete structure dates to a different war when the country faced an external threat.
Looking at that gorge wall, I can’t help but think of the many transformations of the United States between 1860 and 1960 (and today) – and how that wall stands today as a witness to those changes.