Fort Johnson Photo Analysis, final installment: Landscape lost… and found?

Let me wrap up the “tour” of Fort Johnson by bringing you forward 150 years.  I closed yesterday’s post with a satellite view of the fort as it appears today:

Yes, nothing stands out in the overhead view that would indicate there was once a massive complex of earthworks around that point jutting into the harbor.   The 20th century improvements to the site have apparently swept away those of previous centuries.  But on the ground there are a couple of structures that indicate some of the 18th and 19th century activity at Fort Johnson.   Visible from the satellite view are a couple of round structures that used to be cisterns:

Charleston 4 May 10 283

While it would be nice to think one of these is the same seen in photo FJ8, I don’t believe that to be the case.  I believe these are post-war.  These cisterns are too far inside the fort’s interior.

On the other hand, there is one structure that was definitely part of the Confederate Fort Johnson still standing today:

Charleston 4 May 10 273

This is the old powder magazine.  According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination documents, this structure dates back to 1765.  Yes… 1765, not 1865… making this of Colonial, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War interest.

And, we have a “sestercentennial” anniversary of sorts to observe here.  The fort itself was named for Sir Nathaniel Johnson, one of the colonial governors of South Carolina.  In the same year attributed for the magazine’s construction, the British stored stamps brought from England in Fort Johnson, much to the ire of the colonists.  In 1775, South Carolinians took over the fort and, in an act to be repeated some decades later, raised the state flag (for the first time according to the nomination).  The fort remained in caretaker status through the early 19th century.  During the War of 1812, state militia placed two batteries at the fort.  But not until the 1820s did the US Army begin work at the fort, as part of the overall improvement of Charleston’s defenses.  And, of course, readers are well aware of the fort’s role in the secession crisis of 1860 and the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861.

Now the magazine itself is important to “fixing” the location of wartime (as in Civil War-time) Fort Johnson.  When the Confederates took over Fort Johnson, one of the improvements made was to incorporate the magazine into a bombproof.  The magazine remained buried until the 1960s.  At that time, the last major parts of the Confederate Fort Johnson was removed to reveal the Colonial-era magazine.

Knowing the history of that structure and using the magic of Google Earth, let me overlay one of the wartime surveys on the view today:


Let me stress, this is my “best guess.”  As such it is a work in progress to be improved and refined.  So please please take it as such… and a grain of salt.

The magazine’s location is not depicted with any annotation on the wartime survey.  But it should have been (logically) in the large bombproof on the interior of Fort Johnson.  The water battery stood on the north side of the Grice Marine Laboratory building.  The drive up to the point is roughly on line with the wartime road to Secessionville.  And from that I think the wharf’s location is at the circle at the end of the drive.

With that, let me be bold and throw in the diagram showing the photo perspectives:


Looking closer:


Again, take it with a grain of salt.

While Fort Johnson has faded, with the exception of the old magazine, with time, the placename and history remain.  We might stand there today and look across the harbor to replicate some of the wartime views.  But the earthworks and massive artillery pieces are not there today (though some of those guns sit across the harbor at other locations).  Though we can use the photos and surveys from the end of the Civil War to “paint” in our minds what Fort Johnson did look like in 1865.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!


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