“A fire, supposed to be occasioned by the enemy’s shells”: Curious reporting about the Christmas Day bombardment

In a report dated January 1, 1864, Colonel Alfred Rhett, 1st South Carolina Artillery and commander of the 5th Military District of South Carolina (basically, the city of Charleston itself, minus the harbor and coast defenses), reported:

On the morning of the 25th [of December], at 12.30 a.m., the enemy commenced to shell the city, firing briskly.  This shelling continued up to 1 p.m. of the same date, the enemy having fired 150 shells, 134 of which struck the city and 16 fell short.

Those details, as we have seen, were echoed in other official reports and the newspaper accounts of the day.  Though, for clear attribution, I believe Rhett is the primary source here, with others, be they military or civilian, simply relying on his observations.

Rhett continued:

About 1.10 a.m. a fire, supposed to be occasioned by the enemy’s shells, broke out in a building on the north side of Broad street, near Church street.  This house, together with the one adjoining, were consumed.  The sparks ignited the house at south corner of Church street and Saint Michael’s alley. This house, three adjoining, and the cotton press in Church street were consumed.  The sparks also ignited a house in Tradd street, which fire was soon suppressed.

For reference, please keep in mind the map of Charleston, with the stars indicating locations of fires:

ChristmasBombardment_Bryan_Assesment

Rhett continued with mention of the reaction to those fires:

The regular members of the fire department were rather tardy in their attendance, owing to some mistake in ringing the bell, but on their appearance rendered good service.  I immediately ordered out 200 men, First Regiment State Troops…. The fire still gaining ground, a detachment from Company A, Lucas’ battalion… were ordered out.  These men promptly appeared and rendered material aid in suppressing the fire.  The correct range was gained by one gun of the enemy, which threw several shells in proximity to the engines and the fire.

Rhett went on to praise the fire companies and military troops responding to the fire.  And he closed by listing two civilians, one fireman, and four soldiers who were wounded as result of the bombardment and fire.

At 2 p.m. that Christmas Day (about an hour after the end of the bombardment), General P.G.T. Beauregard informed General Samuel Cooper, in Richmond by telegram:

Enemy’s firing on city last night was severe.  Several houses were destroyed by fire near corner of Broad and Church streets; only 1 person wounded.

Then the next day sending an amended, corrected report:

Six houses burned by fire of yesterday and 7 persons wounded by it and enemy’s firing on city.  He threw 150 shells, of which 19 fell short.

Notice here that Rhett (on January 1) said the fires were “supposedly” caused by the Federals.  Beauregard, in his telegrams to Richmond, didn’t say specifically the fires were due to the shelling.  But given the context of that communication medium, we can read between the lines and make the assumption Beauregard was identifying the source of the fires.

In contrast to the military correspondence, the newspapers disconnected the bombardment from the fires.  On December 28 both the Charleston Mercury and the Charleston Courier ran accounts of the bombardment.  And at the same time both papers ran accounts of the fire as a separate story.

First the Mercury‘s account, appearing on a separate column, well spaced, from news about the bombardment:

Extensive fire: At an early hour on Friday morning a fire broke out in the three story brick building on Broad street, next to the store of Messrs. Klinck & Wickenberg, and owned by that firm.  The premises had been occupied by Mr. A. J. Burks as a printing office, excepting the second story, which was used as an office by J.B. Campbell, Esq.  The fire soon spread to the next house east, owned by Dr. Joseph S. Inglesby, and occupied by Mr. B. Ford, as a shoe store, and the upper story as the law office of Messrs. Brown & Porter. Both these buildings were completely destroyed.  Soon afterward a fire was discovered at the corner of Church street and St. Michael’s Alley, and the five adjacent buildings, including the Charleston Cotton Press, owned by Mr. W. H. Walker, were speedily consumed.  The German Turner’s Hall in the rear, between Church and Meeting Streets, and the kitchen and outbuildings of the old Bathing House were also burned.  The house No. 43 Tradd street, owned by Mrs. Ann M. Brown, was badly damaged in the roof by the fire.

The loss by this fire is roughly estimated at $150,000….

The Mercury went on to say that four members of the fire companies and four members of the First Regiment State Troops were injured.

The Courier ran this story on column 2 of the front page (apart from the main story of the bombardment on column 1):

Large fire: At an early hour Friday morning, fire broke out in the three story brick building North side of Broad street near Church owned by and adjoining the large grocery of Messrs Klinck & Wickenberg & Co.  The premises, with the exception of the second story, was formerly occupied by Mr. A.J. Burks as a Printing establishment.  The second story was used by J.B. Campbell and J. Nathan, Esq’s., as Law offices.  The fire communicated to the adjoining building on the East, the lower story formerly kept by B. Ford as a boot and shoe story, and the upper stories as Law offices by Messrs. Brown & Porter and others.  The premises were owned by Dr. Jos. S. Inblesby.  Those two buildings were entirely consumed.

During the progress of this fire another was discovered at the Southwest corner of Church street and St. Michael’s alley, which destroyed a range of four very old buildings, beside the Charleston Cotton Press, the kitchen and outbuildings attached to the old bathing establishment on Church street, also the building occupied by the German Turner’s Association as a Hall situated in the area between Church and Meeting Streets, belonging to Mr. J. J. McLean.

The house of Mrs. Ann M. Brown, No. 43 Tradd street, sustained some damage by the shingles igniting and burning the roof.

The residence of Mr. A.J. Burks, No. 39 Tradd street, also took fire several times, but was extinguished without material damage.

A house on the North side of Tradd street, near Meeting, was also on fire, but was extinguished with trifling damage.

Perhaps the Courier‘s reporters were more diligent in their work?  Still we see the main details from the two newspaper accounts match, for the most part, with that of Rhett.  Particularly in regard to places and the major fires.  The minor fires, reported by the Courier, were certainly something a military observer would dismiss as unimportant.

The firm of Klinck & Wickenberg seem to have suffered the most loss in the fire – that of a three story building.  And I would be remiss if not mentioning that firm provided supplies to the Confederate army throughout the war.  As evidenced by this receipt:

Fold3_Page_23

Brandy, whiskey, sherry, and port wine?  No wonder the place caught fire so easily!

And I’m sure those were “medical supplies”… right.

All kidding aside, Klinck, Wickenberg & Co. also provided supplies purchased specifically for production of torpedoes.  Thus, if all the cards were laid face up on the table, I’m certain Major-General Quincy Gilmore would call it a legitimate target of war.

The main point I’d make here is that neither paper stated, as a fact, the fires were the result of Federal shells.  Both simply indicated the fires broke out.  No preface of “while the Yankees were shelling” or the like.  And I find that interesting.

However, there is a situational context.  Consider that anything printed in Charleston would end up across the picket lines in a few days, as part of the normal exchanges between soldiers.  So the newspapers, and Confederate authorities, had to be aware these stories provided valuable intelligence to the enemy.  That said, might the disassociation of the fires from the shelling be the result of “operational security” measures? As the Federals were using special incendiary shells, should the fires be directly linked to the bombardment that would impart a measure of conformation to pondering minds on Morris Island.

Before we go too far with that, I’d mention that just days later the newspapers ran a full listing of all important offices in Charleston.  That listing included addresses of General P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters along with most of his staff.  And with that, we might well dismiss any worry on the part of Confederate authorities that valuable information was disclosed in the newspapers!

Still an interesting play here with the manner of reporting.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 684-5 and Serial 47, pages 580-1; Charleston Daily Courier, Monday, December 28, 1863, page 1 column 4; Charleston Mercury, Monday, December 28, 1863, page 2 column 2)

Advertisements

Getting back to blogging!

Rather hectic last couple of weeks on my end between work and other commitments.  So blog writing was lower priority.  But have no fear, I shall return to regular blogging.

First up in my queue are follow up posts in regard to the Charleston Christmas Bombardment.  There’s just a lot of aspects to the actions on that day which serve to illustrate the nature of the war on the Charleston front.  If I were writing for a magazine article, there’s just enough “there” there to make a short article. But examination of the finer details fits better in the blogging format.  Blogging allows for exhaustive exploration, if nothing else.  And I believe everything should be explored completely… at least once.

I’ll also resume the summary statements, picking up with the third quarter (September) of 1863.  I plan to keep with the format, particularly documenting the administrative details for each battery.  That provides us much context which is absent in the raw numbers.

There are a couple of cannon stories in the publishing queue.  Just have to clean them up a bit and make sure all the links are proper.

Fortification Friday will resume as a regular feature.  I left that line of posts with a small cliff hanger.  And that needs to be resolved!

Furthermore, several preservation topics have come to the fore this winter. One of which involves this sort of thing:

Averasboro 1A 112

That’s a solar power site within the American Battlefield Protection Program defined study area for Averasboro.  Is this a sign of things coming to other battlefields?

Stay tuned… more posts are on the way!

 

Roads to Gettysburg – Seminar and Tour, July 24-29

Let’s look beyond the cold days of winter and start planning for those long, warm summer days!  The Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours will host “Roads to Gettysburg,” July 24-29.  Six days of focused discussion and tours covering the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign.   From their website:

We will follow the Blue and Gray on their roads to Gettysburg. Tour the decisive battle ground of Brandy Station, where J.E.B. Stuart and his horsemen battled the Yankees in the largest cavalry action in North America. Also touring the newly restored Second Winchester battlefield where Confederates opened the gates of the great Valley for the invasion of Pennsylvania. Bonus tours will include Aldie, Upperville, Middleburg, and Mosby’s Confederacy. Conference based in Chambersburg, Pa. 

– –

Featuring Eric Wittenberg, J.D. Petruzzi, Jerry Holsworth, Steve French, Jeffrey Wert, & others.

And I’m proud to say yours truly is among those involved.  On Friday, July 27, part of the evening sessions, my talk is “The Army of the Potomac on the March to the Potomac” and will cover the Federal advance through Loudoun County to include the crossing at Edwards Ferry.

If you have not attended the Chambersburg tours, I give them the highest endorsements.  Dollar for dollar, these are the best, in my opinion.  Managed by retired NPS historian Ted Alexander, these are offered in a way to match good, well researched presentations with plenty completing field time on tours.

And if that pitch hasn’t sold you… consider that Chambersburg’s Civil War Seminars & Tours has raised over $200,000 for preservation causes.  So by attending you are learning, while at the same time paying it forward so future generations will have the same opportunity.   So please consider attending this worthy event!

“The whole result has so far been utterly inadequate” : Assessing the bombardment of Charleston

The timing and weight of the Christmas Day bombardment caught Confederate authorities in Charleston off guard.  The city had been “under the guns” since the previous summer.  Though after the Swamp Angel initiated the bombardment, the number of Federal shots aimed at Charleston were small in number and little more than an annoyance.  Timed with the end of the Second Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter, December saw an up-tick in the frequency, and weight, of Federal fires into the city.  As mentioned before, this shift of emphasis on Charleston had much to do with the failure to achieve the objective of completely reducing Fort Sumter.  To some degree, yes, to assuage the sting of failure.  But as the weeks progressed into the new year, the shells hurled at Charleston were demonstrations and distractions to mask Federal movements toward Florida.

All told, Confederate observers counted 283 Federal shots reaching the city in December, the most of which (134) were grotesque Christmas Day presents.  The weight and temp increased through January, with 990 reaching the city.  And sustained through February, when Confederates tailed 964 shots into Charleston.  This bombardment would continue through the remainder of winter and into spring.  Federals maintained such pressure on Charleston through the summer.  By the fall of 1864, one might have set a watch based on the timing of Federal fires.  So this was not a temporary problem for the Confederates.

How does the military handle a problem?  Well, the officers in charge order an assessment.  The “stuckee” for that assessment was Major Henry Bryan, Assistant Inspector-General on General P.G.T. Beauregard’s staff.  On January 6, 1864, Bryan completed his report, covering the bombardments of the city up to that date.  As cited in the earlier post, Bryan first drew attention the impact on civilians and destruction of private property.  In aggregate, the cumulative damage (again from August to December) was:

The general result has been the injury of a large number of dwellings and stores, and many banks, public halls, churches, &c., by the percussion and explosion of the shells thrown; the burning of six buildings and a cotton press December 25, 1863, by a fire originating from the explosion of a shell, and the destruction of some medical stores, August 21,1863, by a shell bursting in the medical purveyor’s office and setting fire to it. It has further caused considerable social distress by obliging thousands of persons in the lower part of the city, in order to avoid danger, to leave their homes and close their hotels, and seek refuge in the upper portion of the city or in the interior of the State. This will expose valuable property to theft, and to injury from the elements.

Further down in the report, Bryan provided details of this damage:

The immediate damage from the shells cannot be considered large in proportion to the area within the enemy’s range. From Saint Michael’s steeple, which commands a full view, there is but a small appearance of destruction visible. By a rough inspection of the city yesterday with an intelligent local editor, who had already been taking accounts of the effects of the shelling, I learned that 126 buildings (including kitchens) had been struck by shells, about 85 being much injured and 41 only slightly. I presume that three-fourths of the houses struck can be repaired without pulling down any main wall; but a portion have rafters, joists, or corners very badly shattered–the South Carolina Hall (near Saint Michael’s Church), for instance, having been struck three times through the roof.

Keep in mind the area in view as also savaged by fires in December 1861.  (There is a well prepared map of that area on Low Country Walking Tour’s website.  Also, a good account from the Post and Courier, for further reading.  Point being, we have to consider other events in context here, particularly when reviewing photos from 1865.)

But how much did this shelling impact military operations?

The effect upon military operations here has been comparatively unimportant, and has occasioned no loss of matériel, excepting the medical stores, worth about $1,500. As a matter of prudence, all military headquarters, offices, and hospitals have been moved out of range to the upper portions of the city, the signal corps remaining at its post, which is out of the line of fire. As equally good buildings have been found in the upper part of the city for these offices, hospitals, &c., their removal cannot be considered an injury to the army. The movements of harbor transportation have been much inconvenienced, but not practically impeded by this bombardment.

So in Bryan’s analysis, the impact was inconsequential.  And keep in mind the Federal justification for calling downtown Charleston a legitimate target was based on the activities, which in this case Bryan was saying were least impacted.

In terms of casualties, Bryan noted those were few, but almost always civilian:

Five deaths have resulted from the bombardment, viz, Mrs. Hawthorne, No. 70 Church street, wounded by shell in right side, and died six weeks after; Miss Plane, corner Meeting and Market, left foot crushed by shell, and died in six days; Mr. William Knighton, corner Meeting and Market, right leg taken off, and died in four days; Mr. John Doscher, of German Fire Company, wounded at fire of December 25, and since died; Rebecca, slave of Mr. Lindsay, No. 5 Beaufain street, killed instantly by shell. At the fire of December 25, there were 1 fireman, 1 policeman, and 4 soldiers slightly wounded.

To this I will add a couple of civilian causalities due to mishandling of unexploded ordinance…. a fine story deserving full treatment in a follow up post.

In terms of the number of shots fired, Bryan noted that from August 21, 1863 to January 5, 1864, a total of 472 shots were fired at the city.  Setting aside 27 from the Swamp Angel in August and a handful in October, Bryan considered, “The regular bombardment may be said to have begun on November 17.”  Of the 472 shots fired, 28 were observed as “falling short.”  Of the remaining 444, Bryan could only account for 225:

  • Shells striking houses: 145
  • Shells striking yards: 19
  • Shells striking streets or in burned district (from the 1861 fire): 61

Just in the raw numbers, 127 houses “somewhat confirmed” were hit by 145 “known” shells.  Though keep in mind that Bryan admitted to gaps in the analysis. “There were certainly a considerable number which had struck in the burned district, and probably in deserted yards, of which I could get no account.”  This is where Lieutenant George Walker’s map, referenced by Bryan, would be of great help reconstructing what was known at the time.

Of course shells have a nasty habit of not performing as designed or intended.  Bryan cited observers who claimed 39% of the shells did not explode.  Not an insignificant number.  In part, that factors into Confederate evaluations – less explosions mean less damage.  But this also meant a lot of potential damage lay sitting and waiting in the rubble.

Bryan described the area most frequently struck (again mentioning Walker’s map):

It is nearly bounded north by Market street from East Bay to Meeting, down Meeting to Horlbeck’s alley, and along Horlbeck’s alley to King street; west by King street from Horlbeck’s alley to Tradd street; south by Tradd street from corner of King to Church street; down Church street to Longitude lane, and along that lane to East Bay, and east by East Bay street. Mr. [T. S.] Hale, the observer at Saint Michael’s, reports that “the enemy’s principal line of fire upon the city has been Saint Michael’s Church steeple, radiating to the northeastward as far as Saint Philip’s Church,” and generally limited westwardly in its range to Archdale street. “Since January 1 the enemy appears to have made Saint Philip’s Church steeple their line of fire, hence the shells striking higher up in the city.”

Again, I don’t know that Walker’s map has survived.  In lieu of that, allow me to offer this substitute:

ChristmasBombardment_Bryan_Assesment

Adapted from the 1855 Coleton’s map of Charleston, I’ve shaded, approximately, the “Burnt District” in dark grey.  The area cited by Bryan as “Frequently Struck” is in red.  And the location of reported Christmas Day fires is marked by yellow stars.  Note the call out to Saint Michael’s Church, which Confederates figured was the “aiming point” for the Federal gunners.

We might, from Bryan’s statements and the location of those fires, conclude the Federal shells fell mostly in the blocks bound by King, Queen, East Bay, and Tradd Streets.  From a technical standpoint, that’s a rather close shot disbursement, given the practice and equipment of the time.   Within that “Frequently Struck” area, only the relatively new battery with the large Blakely Gun was at risk.

And speaking of equipment, Bryan noted the Federals had shifted to 100-pdr Parrotts for this duty by the time of the Christmas bombardments.  Later the Federals would employ lighter caliber Parrotts and even Wiard guns on occasion.

In Bryan’s overall assessment, he drew this conclusion,

The whole result has so far been utterly inadequate to the labors and the boasts of the besieging forces.  That they should attempt to intimidate the people of Charleston into a surrender of their city is not to be wondered at; but having plainly seen that the destruction of property did not shake their determination, it is difficult to imagine what usage of civilization would justify them in continuing it.

Such reminds me of statements made in regard to bombing offensives during World War II.  And that in mind, I also find Bryan’s closing remark rings with some familiarity along those lines:

People are occasionally found living in the lower part of the city apparently indifferent to the danger of the enemy’s fire.

Londoners of 1940 might sympathize:

24-aldwych-underground-station-london-during-the-blitz-oct-8-1940-01october-8-1940-01

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46. pages 682-4.)

Nineteenth Annual Appomattox CH / Longwood U. Civil War Seminar

Save the date.  The Nineteenth Annual Civil War Seminar, hosted by Appomattox Court House National Historic Park and Longwood University, is on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at Jarman Auditorium on the Longwood University campus, Farmville, Virginia.

Appomattox Court House NHP will post details on their event page, but from the flyer distributed by Longwood University:

  • 8:30 a.m.          Doors open
  • 9:00 a.m.          Introduction by Dr. David Coles
  • 9:10 a.m.          Gary W. Gallager –  Robert E. Lee Generalship: Politics, Public Morale, and Confederate Prospects for Victory

The quality of Robert E. Lee’s generalship has prompted considerable debate since the 1970s.  This lecture will assess critiques of Lee as a parochial Virginian who failed to see the larger strategic picture, waged too many costly battles, never came to terms with the impact of recent military technology, and might have shortened, rather than lengthened, the life of the Confederacy.

  • 10:15 a.m.        Ralph Peters – Leaders Known, Leaders Forgotten: Command and Character in the Civil War

Explores the various styles of leadership on the battlefield and in high command, with special attention to the interactions of character, personal background, generational issues and talent. What are the consistencies and contradictions of successful battlefield leadership?  How often did personal relationships determine outcomes? Are there lessons for today, or is leadership different now? Discussion will focus on commanders from Grant and Lee to Jackson, Hooker, Sheridan, Gordon, Stuart, O.O. Howard and Carl Schurz, with various “honorable mentions.”

  • 11:30 a.m.        Edwin C. Bearss – Recollections of Appomattox

Reflections that delve into not only some historical aspects of Appomattox, but also personal reflections on attending the 100th, 125th, and 150th Anniversary events.

  • 12:30                 Lunch
  • 1:45 p.m.          Judith Giesberg –  Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality

This talk will explore the Civil War origins of the anti-pornography legislation by taking a look at the impetus behind a February 1865 law.  Making use of the wartime letters and diaries of a number of Union soldiers, the lecture considers soldiers’ own experiences with period erotica. What did they have access to, read, circulate? And, what did these materials mean to them? The Civil War was a turning point for the influential rise of postwar anti-vice campaigns.  These also included laws against contraceptives and abortion, newly entrenched legal regulations of marriage, and ever broader social purity initiatives around sexuality.

  •  2:45 p.m.        John W. Montcastle – When War Came This Way: The Woman’s War

The Civil War in Virginia brought women untold challenges, crushing hardships, and great pain. But the conflict which often dashed their hopes for the future also spurred women to step into roles previously denied them. Then, they made significant contributions to their families, their communities, and their state.  When war came this way, women achieved a reputation for sacrifice, selfless service, and leadership that inspires us still.

No reservations necessary.  Signs will be posted on the Longwood University Campus.  For directions to the campus go to http://www.longwood.edu.  For more information contact Dr. David Coles at 434-395-2220 or Patrick Schroeder at 434-352-8987, Ext. 232.

This seminar is always a favorite of mine.  As welcome as a cup of coffee and a warm fireplace as it comes in mid-winter.  I plan to attend and hope to see you there.  But if you are unable to, I’ll be on Twitter providing some of the highlights.