150 years ago: Jefferson Davis visits Charleston

At around 1 p.m. this afternoon 150 years ago (November 2, 1863), President Jefferson Davis arrived by train at the Saint Andrews Parish depot across the Ashley River from Charleston.  Davis had visited with the Army of Tennessee in October and was returning to Richmond by way of Savannah, Charleston, and,  Wilmington.  According to newspaper accounts General P.G.T. Beauregard, Judge A.G. Magrath, and other dignitaries met Davis at the depot and escorted him into Charleston:

The procession, being formed, took up its line of march up Spring street to Rutledge, from Rutledge to Calhoun, up Calhoun to Meeting and down Meeting to City Hall.

The streets along the line of procession were thronged with people anxious to get a look at the President. The men cheered and the ladies waved their handkerchiefs in token of recognition.

One of the most pleasing incidents of the day, was the display which met the President and his cortege as the passed down Rutledge street.  At the corner of Bee and Rutledge streets, Maj. Trezevant, commanding the Confederate States Arsenal here, had arranged a pyramid of ten-inch shell manufactured at the Arsenal.  This was topped off with a beautiful “Harding” shell, called so after its inventor, Capt. Harding, also an accomplished officer connected with the arsenal.  In this was the staff of an elegant battle flag, and the whole surrounded with Yankee trophies of all sizes. On each side of this striking pyramid were the sturdy artisans of the arsenal, with their aprons on, their hats off, their tools in their hands just as they had left their shops but a few moments before….

Arriving at City Hall, Mayor Charles Macbeth offered a greeting the President.  Then Davis gave an address to the “large crowd present”:

He commenced by making  a graceful allusion to his former visit to Charleston, when he accompanied the remains of the lamented and illustrious statesman, John C. Calhoun, back to his beloved state.  If it be that the departed spirit can look down upon the events of life, with what interest can we not believe he views our present struggle, and in our trial watches over us with all a guardian angel’s care.  [Davis] came because his feelings drew him here in this trying time.  He desired also to confer with our commanding general, and by personal observation acquire some of that knowledge which would enable him to understand more clearly the reports which would be submitted to him….

Charleston was now singled out as a particular point of hatred to the Yankees, as the nest of the rebellion; but just in proportion to that hatred so is the love of every true son of the Confederacy gathered around us.  There is no where a generous spirit in the land that does not watch our progress with the most anxious solicitude….

While they had felt this anxiety, they had not been wanting in confidence.  They remembered how the Palmetto logs of Moultrie, in former times, resisted the then dreaded British fleet, and we can point to the defense now against the still more formidable attack on Sumter as but the renewal of the deeds of the past.  Though crumbling in her ruins, she yet stands, and every one looks with the anxious hope that the Yankee flag will never float over it.  Nobly has the little heroic garrison that now holds it responded to every expectation.  The commanding officer there is worthy to be the descendant of that heroic band that defended the pass of Thermopylae, and future records will record his name as glorious, for the defense of the approach to your harbor.  Whatever may be in the future, which is in the hands of the Supreme Being, we have written a proud page in our country’s history.

He hoped it would not be, as our enemies desire, that they should ever set foot upon the soil of Charleston.  But should it ever be otherwise, he trusted ours would be the glory he had desired for his native country-town, Vicksburg, and the whole be left one mass of rubbish…. It is only a question whether you will leave it a heap of ruins or a prey for Yankee spoils.  [Cries of “ruins, ruins.”] Such he believed to be the spirit of the land.

But he did not believe Charleston would ever be taken.  It was not his expectation.  Just in proportion as the enemy advanced upon us, they increase their difficulties – difficulties which they have not yet overcome.  They are yet brought under a concentrated fire, and as they approach the inner lines of circumvallation their difficulties will be still further increased as they progress….

When they attempt to attack us upon every side, and beleaguer us at different points, other arms will be released, and other arms will come to your assistance.  In any event, therefore, he looked forward to a glorious record of the close of the struggle for Charleston.  In any probability he looked forward for her honor to be preserved. On other fields South Carolinians have already added luster to the brilliant victories of the present day and to their glories of the past….

South Carolinians, like the plume of Henry the Fourth, have been a rallying point wherever their banners were borne.  We will have more glorious names to record and proud incidents for our descendants.  The new has overshadowed the old.  Every man has now an opportunity to carve out his own name and fame, and to be the author of his own history.  We all like to trace back to the fame of our fathers and to leave some glorious record for our descendants….

He who would now seek to drag down him who is struggling, if not a traitor, is first cousin to it.  For he is striking the most deadly blows that can be made in our limits.  He who would attempt to promote his own personal ends; he who is not willing to take a musket and fight in the ranks, is not worthy of the Confederate liberty for which we are fighting….

After his address, Davis thanked the people and retired to the council chamber where he greeted officers, civilian leaders, and some citizens. During the day, Federal batteries on Morris Island and ironclads in the channel continued the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  The big guns fired between 735 and 765 shots depending on which journal entry is referenced.  During daylight hours, the rate was at least one round every three to four minutes (likely higher).  So one might imagine Davis’ speech punctuated at points by the distant rumble of artillery out at the harbor’s mouth.

The following day, Beauregard showed Davis the defenses on Sullivan’s Island.  And then on November 4th, the President toured James Island’s defenses.  President Davis had seen the siege of Charleston, and now made his way to Wilmington.

(Newspaper account cited above is from the Memphis Appeal, at that time published in Atlanta, Georgia, for the day of November 4, 1863.  The Memphis Appeal cites the Charleston Courier as the original article source.)

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