Category Archives: American Civil War

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part X: Structure of the fort from the interior

Our next stop on this virtual walk around Fort Johnson, by way of photos taken at the end of the Civil War, is a point which looks across the interior of the fort at the walls on the east side of the fort.


The digital copy I am working from is a scan of a print and not one of the glass plate.  So you might see some distortions related to that type of media in the crops that follow.  For reference, this photo was taken with the camera standing at the point annotated as FJ8 on the diagram below:


The angle of the camera is centered across to the angle of the fort’s wall where the epaulement on the left of the water battery joined the wall facing Morris Island.  This was a very important section, as it was the structure which prevented the Federals from skipping shot and shell into the back of the gun positions.

As related in the earlier discussion, photo FJ7 was taken from a point next to the ruins inside Fort Johnson.  Somewhere on the extreme right of this crop, next to the chimney:


So imagine the camera tripod somewhere between the base of the chimney and the pile of bricks on the right:


That said, I’m more interested in the limber conveniently parked in our view.  We see all the fixtures associated with this important piece of equipment.  We can see the joins in the wheel.  As well the dove-tail joins in the chest atop the limber.

Looking to the left of the limber, and through the pavilion of sorts built around the ruins, there appear to be a pile of logs or other rubbish.


I find this interesting, as it brings to mind a “burn pit” or sorts.  Also note the mixed styles of vertical beams for the pavilion.  Some square beams.  Others are round poles. Sort of a “use what you have” structure. Oh, and notice the grass growing there.  Clearly this structure had been around a few years.

Looking at the roof of the pavilion, we see shingles.  And we also see bricks and wood laying on top:


Compare the pavilion roof to that of the shed directly behind.  (And yes that is the shed seen in FJ7, earlier in our “walk”).

Looking above the shed, there are a couple vents sticking out of the fort’s wall:


These vents tell us the wall wasn’t just a pile of earth, but was in fact built over a bombproof.  Panning back to the left, we see the entrance to the bombproof:


This is something the photos tell us that the survey diagrams do not accurately, or shall I say fully, depict. The wall is drawn, but the details of this bombproof were below the level of detail offered by the surveys.  The bombproof was just to the side of the sectional diagrams offered by the Coastal Survey team.  Without the photos, we might not know it existed.

However one structure seen on the survey diagrams is right in the middle of the photo.  The fort’s cistern:


Here’s a closer view of the platform that sits over the cistern:


You must keep the three-dimensional aspect in mind here.  The stacked logs behind the cistern are in fact the “crib” mentioned in FJ7.  So there is some distance between the cistern platform and those logs.  Notice the large stones on which the platform rests.  And… particular attention to the bucket:


There are shadows of the planks on the right. But directly under the bucket, the wood is discolored as if moist.  So we have a leaky bucket at Fort Johnson?  Or someone has been sloppy with the water?

Looking back for the moment, this view also provides a fine study of a sling cart:


This cart has just been used for some work, as the chains are still laying across the tree.

If we look close beyond the wheels, we see the tent mentioned in FJ7.


Notice the posts and rail on the left side of the tent. That rail is seen in photo FJ6.  See how this all pieces together nicely?

But what I like the most about this photo is that we have a couple of soldiers taking a break from their duties:


A couple of USCT resting on the stacked ordnance. The projectiles are 10-inch caliber for the columbiads.  Note crumbling pyramid on the left… we’ll see that one again.  Also note the stacked boxes:


We’ll see these from another perspective.  The markings are easier to read from that view. But for now just consider those faces and body language.  No martial pose.  Sort of an “Are you done with the photo?” attitude.  But as there is little blur, we might presume the photographer had requested they sit (or remain seated) at that point.  Perhaps a study in the fortunes of war… these USCT, former slaves, now tending a former Confederate fortification.

Also demonstrating that change in ownership is the United States flag over the ramparts:


As related in the earlier posts, the particulars of the angle from which the flag is seen in the photos, we can determine the flag staff was on the outside face of the fort.

We think of these works in terms of “offense” and “defense.”  We saw the offense in the form of four heavy guns.  Now we need to asses the defensive side, particularly how it protected the vulnerable areas in the fort’s interior.


As mentioned above, this portion of the wall was particularly important as it protected the gunners and some of the sensitive portions of the fort from the Federals on Morris Island.  But we don’t see Morris Island or anything beyond the fort’s walls.  That’s how high these were constructed to serve the defensive purpose.

One other particular we should note about these walls.  Look at the line across this view.  Or allow me to emphasize that with yellow lines:


See how level these are?  We have the main line (lower) that demonstrates the height of the main works.  Then there is a “crest” at the point of the works, which we’ve seen in other views, with erosion at the edges, which stood a few feet higher.  Again, these are details we can pull out from the surveys, but the photographs provide a three-dimensional verification.

Another component the photos bring to us is the reality of what the fort’s interior looked like…..


And maybe what it smelled like?

Next stop… we are going to look at that ammunition stacked on the left of this view.

This flag nonsense from my point of view

I’ve said this privately, but figure it is time to state so publicly.  I don’t like the Confederate battle flag.  It is something that I grew to dislike in my formative years.  Notice that I did not say that I hate it.  But just that I don’t like it.  I also don’t like broccoli.  Nor do I like smoked salmon.  That said, I do not allow my dislike for those food stuffs or the decor of someone’s car govern my choices in life.

Generally, I only get my back up over issues with respect to this flag:

I’ve carried that flag (either on a staff in my hands or on my shoulder as part of my uniform) into some difficult situations.  I know first hand of blood, sweat, and tears that go into that flag.  So I am, by nature, rather protective of that flag.  It is my flag.  And, if you are reading this from the United States (and not to slight those reading this blog from outside the country… but this is after all an American Civil War history-themed blog), it is your flag.  It is representative of us all.

But since the topic of the day and week is this flag:

Allow me to explain to you where I stand.  And yes… there it is… if it offends you then please read on so you might be properly informed when composing your response.  I don’t see much use for it as any expression of heritage.  It is history.  It is part of the history of the nation that I live in.  But it is not OUR … as in my nation’s … heritage in the modern sense.  I will say proudly that I was among the first to say… more years ago than I can count… that it belongs in a museum.  That’s my opinion.

Now that is not to say I am bias against the Confederacy or in some way trying to cleanse that aspect of our history.  It is just that over the years I’ve noticed that the majority of places the Confederate Battle Flag is displayed, the message is one that pushes more of the “heritage” and not so much of the “history.”  I’ll study the history of the Civil War, to include the Confederacy, with zeal.  I’ll honor my Confederate and Federal ancestors by telling their stories, and the story of their times, without trying to impose a “heritage” upon them.

The pivotal time in my approach to the CBF was in the early 1990s.  At the time I was an Army officer stationed in Georgia.  And at that time, there was much public debate over this particular version of the state flag:

With the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 around the corner, there were many calling for the emblem on the right side of the flag to be removed.  I generally stayed away from the public discussion of that subject.  I was only “sort of” a Georgia citizen at the time, being active duty military in the state.  And to that point, as a uniformed service member, I didn’t feel my place was telling the civilians how to run things.  Such would be frowned upon in professional circles.

But privately I was drawn into discussions.  Being an avid and active Civil War historian, I had plenty of friends, acquaintances, and contacts who wanted to discuss the flag matter.  So on a few occasions… more than a few actually… we discussed this flag.  And most often that was with a fellow researcher whom I’ll simply call “Tom.”  Tom lived in the Atlanta area and was very knowledgeable in the area’s Civil War history.  And much of that connection was personal, as Tom could claim several ancestors who fought in the war.  All Confederate of course (I used to tease him of finding his “long lost Federal ancestor” some day. To which he always countered, “I’d have to disown myself!”)

On one occasion, having heard Tom’s arguments for “heritage” and the underpinning need to retain some connection with the past by way of the state flag, I “aired out” my view.  And I’ll summarize here.   You see, that Georgia state flag seen above was adopted in 1956.  If you have even a moderate understanding of American history, you know that was a troubled time in Georgia and the south in general.  So the redesign of the flag incorporated some of that trouble.

Georgia’s flag has some ambiguous origins.  The online Georgia Encyclopedia has the “short version” of this.  As at the time Tom and I were well acquainted with what flags were carried around in 1860, my response to him started there.  And using today’s resources, I can make a visual argument here and save a lot of typing about various components of these flags.

There was no “official” state flag, per-say, in 1860.  In 1861, when the state was equipping regiments and sending them off to war, these units were issued, though not uniformly, flags that incorporated the state’s seal.  I’ll go again to Wikipedia for a basic, general example:

Not very flashy. But I personally think we should save the flashy flags for car dealerships running Sunday specials.

That design was unofficially sufficient for most needs until 1879.  In that year, legislation established this pattern for flags issued to the state militia:

Ok… still not flashy, but somewhat bland.  Nothing to get excited about if you are a Georgian, wouldn’t you say?  So over the years the state seal found its way into the blue field on the left, in several forms.  By mid-20th century, this was the layout:

My argument to Tom, at that point, was if the state’s pledge called for “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” then wasn’t the circa 1950 flag a bit more “moderate” far more “wise” and indeed more indicative of “justice” than the one adopted in 1956?

More to the point, if we were going to talk about “history” and how that should manifest as part of “heritage” then which is the better option – a basic design from 1879 or a redesign made in 1956?  I say, the “heritage” should follow the “history” in instances such as this.  There shouldn’t have been the Confederate symbology in the flag.

Tom conceded points, but countered that the flag should be “evolving” and allow for incorporation of more recent history.  My counter to that was the flag shouldn’t end up as a wall where “stickers” are posted.  My example at the time was a silly notion of adding Vidalia onions and Alan Jackson’s stetson… as both were popular in those days.  Years after the fact, I was somewhat vindicated by the reaction to the “compromise” flag of 2001:

That lasted but two years until the second compromise flag was approved:

Personally, I don’t like this compromise either.  In its elements, the current flag incorporated, by design, components of the First National Confederate flag.  I, being a purist in terms of history and heritage, would prefer the 1879 flag in its modified (with state seal) form.  But I don’t live in Georgia.  So my voice doesn’t matter much there.

But I’m getting ahead of my discussion with Tom as it stood in 1994.  At that time he and I agreed to disagree.  Us being good gentlemen,we respected that agreement.  That being (unlike some bloggers who I could name here) a convention in which we did not open the subject, even by proxy, so as neither would have to revisit the discussion.  We proceeded to collaborate for several more years.  Unfortunately, with my overseas service and moves since leaving the Army, we’ve fallen out of touch.  I do wish, today, that I could contact Tom and hear his opinions.

One thing that stands out from our discussion of the flags is Tom’s fear that “some day, people will be cleansing out all references to the Confederacy without regard to history.”  For many years, I would have responded that no Taliban-like movement was ever going to start tearing down monuments.  And please understand Tom’s word choice here and MY word choice here.  History and heritage are two separate things.  There is overlap, to be sure, but we should not merge the two arbitrarily in conversation.

Heritage can be misdirected … wrong… hateful….  But at the same time, if properly nurtured and cultivated, heritage can be a source of strength, pride, and fulfillment.  Heritage can point us to a place where that “Tolerance, Wisdom, and Justice,” spoken of in the state oath of allegiance, are achieved.

To nurture and cultivate heritage, we must turn to the history.  History is what was.  Good… bad … or other.  Regardless of good, bad, or other.  And history is far too complicated for us pretend can be summarized with a simple public-facing symbol as a flag.  If one finds history “offensive” then the problem is not with the history, but in the person’s understanding of the history.  And, in saying that… didn’t I say history is complicated?  One hundred and forty characters won’t do.  In most cases, a blog post of 1500 words won’t do.  Often, a scholarly work of 500 pages still won’t suffice.  Indeed, for our small capacity brains to really grasp the magnitude of the entirety of human experience… which we call history… we must not only “crowd source” the task with those around us, but also lean on the study left behind by past generations.  It’s called “have a discussion.”  Not the one-sided, shrill, suck-all-the-air-out type we are having these days.  A real, proper discussion.

We need to let history be complicated.  We need to devote the time to studying that history with, and for, its complications.  Only from there can we hold a heritage that is directed, correct, and inclusive of all.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part IX: Ruins, Tents, Sheds, Sandbags, and the Flag

Let’s step a little further into Fort Johnson for our next stop, as we virtually walk around the site.  The next photo, which I’ve labeled FJ7 for tracking purposes, is this view looking across the interior:


I’ve plotted the location from which this photo was taken on the diagram below, keyed to FJ7:


As mentioned in the earlier post, we can narrow down the perspective of this photo by referring to objects in view, and comparing those objects to the perspective of other photos.  For me the “pin” is the pyramid of bolts with the markings “A C” on the top three:


In fact, we can see both of the bolt pyramids, flanking the entrance to the Brooke Rifle’s position, seen in FJ6:


To the left of the pyramids, is a common-place tent.  One of thousands used during the Civil War.  Nothing in particular to make it particularly noteworthy.


But notice all the extra support for this tent.  The railing around the sides of the tent serve as a second anchor. There’s a platform under the tent to elevate off the sand and provide dwellers some sort of proper floor.   Sort of reminds me of the tents setup by the Federals on Morris Island, in particular those inside former Battery Wagner… yes these:


I’d say it is likely the tent in Fort Johnson was setup by the Federals.  Perhaps the same Federals – the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery – who maintained the tent seen over on Morris Island.  But under the rule of “form follows function” I’d submit the Confederates owning similar tents and with similar requirements, would have used the same arrangements… had there been such a need.

We will see this tent again in FJ9… we are not done with the minutia of tenting arrangements.

I doubt the photographer was worried about the tent when composing this photo.  What appears in the foreground seems to be the main subject:


That is the crumbling bricks of a chimney and some wood walls.  The bricks appear to be just plain old bricks.  Nothing of great interest….


But then again, this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and not “Bricks of the Civil War.”  So I encourage masonry experts from the internet to enlighten us as to any peculiarities worthy of study.  I would just point out that this chimney matches with the annotation “ruins of old fort” in the survey diagram.

The wood structures extending from the ruins are more interesting to me:


Because these appear in a couple of photos, specifically FJ8 which I’ll walk through next, we have somewhat a three-dimensional appreciation of these.  Because these are rough hewn, I don’t think these were parts of the buildings that stood at Fort Johnson before the war.  These have the appearance of storage points, defined by low walls.

In the distance beyond these ruins, we see what appears to be a crib.


There is a doorway defined on the left.  Logs were laid without any filler between.  I’d submit this was also some sort of defined storage space instead of quarters.  Otherwise we’d see some effort to seal off the walls and vestiges of overhead cover.

Behind the crib is the entrance to the 10-inch Columbiad Rifle’s position.

And to the right is another chimney.  These chimneys take me back to the 1861 observations from Fort Sumter:


18th century buildings invariably had chimneys.  And we see a lot of buildings in view.

To the right of the chimney is a clear view of the slope on the angle of Fort Johnson which faced Fort Sumter directly.


In contrast to the other sections of the fort, this slope is deteriorating.  I don’t think that is simply a couple months of neglect.  Looks more as a longer term issue left behind by the previous tenants… the Confederates.  So to me the “story” in that crop is the labor shortage long reported by the Confederate engineers.  That would be the lack of soldiers detailed to do the work, as well as the lack of impressed, requisitioned labor in the form of slaves and free blacks.  A shortage I documented in numerous posts during the sesquicentennial.

To the right of that is another group of chimneys with a building right in the middle:


I’m inclined to call this a shop or shed of some sort.  There’s a lot of “stuff” laying around the building.  None of which is in focus well enough to give much detail.  Sad, because there were probably some interesting items for discussion laying about there.  Instead, we just have the clapboard building with a tarp over the roof.

Look above the building and we see the United States flag proudly waiving in the breeze coming off the ocean:


This allows us to locate the flagstaff, or at least the flagstaff in use by the Federals in the spring of 1865, at Fort Johnson.  Given the perspective of FJ7 and FJ5 of the fort’s exterior


The lines match up to place the flagstaff on the forward wall of Fort Johnson facing Morris Island.  And the photographer was keen to include the United States flag over these recently captured Confederate works.

As is my habit, let me turn to the extreme foreground in closing this “stop” of the tour:


Not grass, but a lot of bricks and broken sandbags.  I cannot help but think of the thousands of sandbags used around Charleston, by both sides, during the four long years of conflict.