Looking at Fort Sumter: 150 years ago

Let’s take in this photo of Fort Sumter and examine a bit closer:

This is from the Library of Congress collection, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-04743. The mark on the lower left indicates this is also part of the Haas & Peale set which you are by now familiar with.  Earlier I mentioned my doubt the date given in in the metadata for this photo.  If this was taken on August 23, 1863, then a lot of things had to happen for the photographers to setup… not the least of which a flag of truce for the team to walk out on the battlefield.

Let me counteract the slant to the photo to show Fort Sumter without you having to adjust the monitor.


This is looking at the fort with the gorge wall on the left and the east facing of the fort to the right.  Here’s the orientation:


Notice the north seeking arrow to the right.  If you turn that arrow around, the camera is on the north end of Morris Island.

Before we get too far, lets look close at that flag on the left.


Reminds me of a Conrad Wise Chapman’s painting of the fort:


Maybe that is the Second National “Stainless Banner” over Fort Sumter?

Looking to the left side of the view, the parapet on the barbette tier is worse for the wear, missing its crown.


Looks as if someone is standing on the fort’s footings, perhaps a sentry or an engineer reviewing the damage.  Another figure on the parapet wearing a white shirt appears to be working.

Further right are the remains of the fort’s old wharf.  By the summer of 1863 that was no longer in use, as Federal artillery made it untenable.


On the top profile of the fort is what appears to be one of the fort’s remaining watch towers along with the silhouette of a gun in barbette.


Only after the first bombardment were guns replaced on the barbette tier facing the main entrance to Charleston.  So this is one hint which may help date the photo.

Further down on the fort, there are mountains of rubble.  Large blocks were visible even at the range of the photographer from the fort.  But I think the range was too great to see projectiles.


The interior brickwork was exposed at the juncture of the gorge and east face walls.  Look closely to the lower right.


See that blurry object?


I think that is a Confederate “revised pattern” columbiad, with the breech in the center of that crop, one of the trunnions to the left of center, and muzzle pointed back towards the fort’s rubble.  Several photos from 1865 show such guns in similar positions in the rubble.

Above that blurry object, the interior arches where the two walls meet are in open air.


Further right, more breaches in the wall expose parts of the casemates of the east wall.


Some of those breaches match with descriptions of damage done after August 23.  Again, a hint as to the possible date the photo was taken.

On the far right side of the fort is the corner where the east face and northeast face meet.


The background of these photos often reveal clues as to the photograph’s location and date.  Here we see houses on Sullivan’s Island.


And… what in the name of John Ericsson is that?


I think this is a structure on the wharfs of Sullivan’s Island, perhaps a shed, which fools the eye.  I cannot imagine a monitor working that far into the channel in wartime.  Furthermore, I doubt the deep draft of the monitors would allow docking at Sullivan’s Island.

Other locations on Sullivan’s Island look to be the bomb-proofs of Battery Bee.


There are hints and pointers that lead me to conclude this photo was taken sometime after September 7, 1863.  This is, I think, the most telling.


A bayonet stuck in the sand.  Behind it is nothing but water.  If this photo were taken anywhere but Cummings Point, we’d see marsh and beach behind.  And the only way a northern photographer was going to Cummings Point was after the Federals had occupied all of Morris Island.


5 thoughts on “Looking at Fort Sumter: 150 years ago

  1. Great analysis. Question, since Sumter was built to defend the harbor from attack from the sea, was the gorge the weakest side? Or were they all the same?

  2. […] The Federals had already cut out the front of the old gun positions, and were adding embrasures to the new facings.  There’s even a Confederate columbiad laying in the works (I’ll promise a good photo analysis post follow up).  Confederate palisades remain around the fortification.  A lot of details lead me to believe this photo was taken around the same time Haas & Peale took the photos of Fort Sumter’s damage. […]

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