The demolition of Fort Sumter in graphic detail

I could say I’ve studied this Fort Sumter photo for a good number of years.

My first encounter was in one of those large collection of Civil War photos, you know like that big book which is anchoring the lower shelf in your library. It was not until recently, with access to the Library of Congress’ digital collection that I was able to really appreciate the details. The photo pairs to a second, which is a bit darker.

And I think the contrast of the second photo does not lend well to picking out the details. But a second artifact to consider none-the-less.

As mentioned in the earlier post about the photo, I’d like to nail down the exact date the photo was taken. The details of the damage and some of the other features leave a few clues. Let me offer three drawings made during the summer and fall of 1863 to accompany Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore’s reports. Those, I think, help fix a window of dates in which the photo was taken. First a drawing of the fort as it looked on August 21, 1863:


Notice the lack of damage to the east face (right side in this view). The embrasures of the second tier were still intact for the most part. The focus of the Federal bombardment was up to that time on the gorge wall. The flagstaff was in the center of the fort’s length. The caption indicates this drawing was sketched by an observer on Craig’s Hill, a rise just behind the first parallel. Gillmore himself attested to the accuracy.

The second in the sequence, which I’ve used before, shows the damage as of August 23.


This drawing was sketched from an observer at the Beacon House. Notice the flagstaff moved to the left. Looking to the east face again, there is damage, but the interior arches are not visible. But recall the interior arches were visible in the details of the photo.

Last drawing in the sequence depicted the damage on November 10. The artist was also posted at the Beacon House when observing the fort.


Now the flagstaff is back to the right of view. And the east face is all but obliterated. Only a few vestiges of the fort’s old brick walls remained.

So if I had to pick a time that this photo was taken…


… let’s start with a window after August 23 and before November 10. And as mentioned in the earlier post, the photograph must have been taken from the north end of Morris Island. The Federals didn’t occupy that section of the island until September 7. The next couple of days were very active with a failed boat assault on the fort and a brisk fight involving a grounded ironclad. So rule out any date prior to September 9. After capturing Batteries Wagner and Gregg, Gillmore had those works rebuilt to serve as breaching batteries against Fort Sumter in a second round of bombardments. Those guns opened on October 26. At that time the photographers would have snapped a less placid view of the fort.

So those dates established, the window in which this photo narrows to about September 9 to October 25. That is if my reasoning is correct.

As with so many of the Charleston story lines, there is yet another “but wait, look at this” artifact to consider:

The angles at which Fort Sumter, Battery Gregg, and Vincent’s Creek are viewed here indicate the only place this could be taken from was Battery Wagner. Again, after the capture of the north end of Morris Island. Looking close at Fort Sumter:


The damage to Fort Sumter was similar, if not the same, as seen in the first photo above. What’s more, there were work details seen all over the north end of Morris Island. Those have to be Federal details redirecting the position to transform Battery Gregg into Fort Putnam. What would reason is the photographer took the long-range photo with Battery Gregg in view, then went forward to the area where work was being done to photograph Fort Sumter at closer range. Or maybe vice-versa. But the nature of the damage seen on Fort Sumter indicates the two photos were taken at about the same time.

So I think we have a sequence of photos and drawings here, and at least a window in which the photographs were taken.