Back during the sesquicentennial period, the “home stretch” from January to April 2015 offered a formidable challenge as I blogged through anniversary events (and attended quite a few). There were simply too many things that I felt deserved attention. In that rush of postings, several events did not get full, detailed, and deserving treatment.
One of those was the flag raising at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865. Reflecting those busy sesqui days, I posted twice that 150th anniversary … while preparing to head into D.C. to attend events at Ford’s Theater that evening. So while I did get off a sesquicentennial post about Fort Sumter that day, it was somewhat short… and not to my satisfaction. I had stacked up material for several posts with the intent of “walking around” Fort Sumter using wartime photographs, much as was done earlier for Morris Island and later for Fort Johnston. But sesquicentennial buzz turned to post-sesquicentennial cool-down…. well … I shouldn’t make excuses… I just got a bit lazy!
So let’s go back and have another look at April 14, 1865:
This is one of a set of photos taken inside Fort Sumter of the flag raising ceremonies. Let me label this one “FSC1” for “Fort Sumter Ceremony #1.” Being more of a “fort and cannon” type, I’m not overly excited about naming names and identifying celebrities there. Other bloggers did some of that during the sesquicentennial, so I’ll just refer you over their way.
To me, these photos of the ceremony are the “gateway” into a look back in time. From these we can see what Fort Sumter looked like in that moment. And using that view, we can start pinpointing structures and features which do not exist today – that is the temporary structures erected just for the ceremony and remains left behind by the Confederates.
There are two important sets of paper documentation which should be used to unlock the information in these photos. The first is a survey of the fort made by Federal engineers shortly after its recapture. We have, on file with the Library of Congress, high resolution copies of the draft survey:
And the final product, included with Brigadier-General Quincy Gilmore’s report:
While I like using the latter, as it renders well, there is unfortunately a binding seam right down the middle. Please don’t let that distract. The former, the draft survey, is also useful as it calls out details not carried over to the final. And there are several other diagrams and scrap views that are included with the set. Overall, these provide us a very detailed examination of Fort Sumter, as it existed in February 1865. There were some alterations made by the Federals between that survey and April. But those were minimal. Those changes were generally of two types. Some of these were functional repairs, such as restoring the lighthouse (which was really just a light mark…) and placing the flagpole. Other changes were temporary, as part of the ceremony preparation. And those changes are readily apparent when comparing the survey with the photos.
As you probably noticed, we have two plans and several elevations to work with here. Mahan would be happy. It is the plan in the center that is most applicable to photo analysis, as it is the “as seen from above” view, as opposed to a cut-away layer:
Again, that pesky seam right down the side! Note the “star and line” running out from the center. That’s a north seeking arrow.
The second major set of documentation we need to consult is from the 20th century. In 1933 the National Park Service established the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) with the mission to “…document achievements in architecture, engineering, and landscape design in the United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types, engineering technologies, and landscapes….” And that collection of documents, photos, and other materials is also in the Library of Congress’ online resources. Among the buildings surveyed was Fort Sumter (and, to be proper, this was not just one survey… but an ongoing project which continues to gather information about the structure).
As anyone who has visited Fort Sumter is quick to point out, the fort changed significantly between 1865 and 1933. The most visible change occurred in the 1890s when the Army decided Fort Sumter was still an important post for the defense of Charleston. So Battery Huger went up in the middle of that historic fort. The HABS captured those changes in detail, allowing us easy comparison back to the 1865 survey. Furthermore, the HABS survey then allows us to pinpoint where something was at in relation to what the fort looks like today.
One of the HABS survey diagrams which is most useful, as it lines up with the 1865 survey well, is the “roof” plan:
Here we have a stylistic compass rose on the upper right, allowing orientation.
All well and good, you say, but with all those people in the way in the ceremony photos, we don’t get a nice, clean view of the fort’s structures. Well, here’s the key to unlock the door:
We mostly see this photo mentioned because of the presence of another photographer (yea… paparazzi of 1865!) on the other side of Fort Sumter. But this gives us a look across the parade ground of Fort Sumter without all the ceremony clutter. Let me call this one “Fort Sumter 1” or in short hand “FS1″The “keys” here are the berm or crest to the left of frame; a set of gabions on the parapet; the stairs to the right of that entrance; and the chimney-like structure in the foreground. Let’s circle those in red on FS1:
Using those, we can start matching to the 1865 survey:
Let’s zoom in on one of those red circles as it will give us a very precise idea as to the camera’s location. This is the chimney area on the survey:
What we see in the photo is a column of bricks. What we see on the survey is a small square. However, if we look to the middle of that snip, we see an elevation runs through that portion of the fort, along the line E-F. Here’s that elevation:
So… yes… those are chimneys. And we have a photo of that section of the fort taken in the spring of 1865:
A great photo with all sorts of things to talk about. But for now let’s just call it a supporting exhibit. We’ll walk through this photo later. If we can pinpoint which chimney is in the foreground of FS1, then we have a pretty good idea of where the camera was located. Given the spacing of the chimneys, and more importantly the “curve” of the gabion line to the side of the chimney in FS1, I think we are looking for the left-most in the photo above. If we go with that, here’s how the photo lines up with the 1865 survey:
In other words, the photographer was on the south-east wall, atop the bombproofs. The camera was oriented to the west. We can then account for the passageway to the Confederate docks, the crest on the west corner, and other features. And… if we take that over to the HABS diagram we can start talking about where to stand today:
Suffice to say, the view from that point today is obscured by Battery Huger. But the flagpoles are in view:
Now that we know where the camera was pointed, we can start picking out key features that will appear in other photos. So… follow this down to that big hunk of iron in the middle of the parade ground, circled in yellow:
On closer examination….
A Confederate Columbiad. The long trunnions, paired with the mushroom cascabel, gives this away. I count eight ratchets, leading to a tentative identification as a 10-inch Columbiad. There were certainly plenty of those around Charleston in 1865. And there are a few still there today. Might we be seeing a cataloged survivor? And we see that Columbiad in several other photos of the fort’s interior.
Sort of hard to move a 13,500 pound cannon, even for a ceremonial flag raising.
That cannon didn’t just have a “front row seat”… it WAS a front row seat. In some of the ceremony photos, we can see a break in the crowd where that columbiad sat. Certainly an appropriate trophy to display at a ceremony marking the victory at Fort Sumter.