Category Archives: Charleston SC

Fort Johnston 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!

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part XII: The Fort, the Wharf, and the harbor beyond

Our last stop on the virtual tour of Fort Johnson by way of wartime photos a view that promises the most interesting of all.


This view looks across the interior of the fort to the north with several features to the front of the water battery in view.  The perspective is depicted on the diagram below, designated as FJ10.


NOTE: Going back to review the diagram for this post, I realized points FJ7 and FJ8 were a bit out of alignment.  Those points have been corrected on my diagrams.

Unfortunately, for all that promise this photo’s preserved state lets us down.  I’ve never seen a digital copy of this photo from either a high resolution print or the original glass plate (if one exists… I’d love to see it!).  So what we are left with are grainy glimpses of what would be an incredible view of Charleston harbor.  But let’s work with what we have.

To the front left we see the chimneys and “pavilion”:


The points from which FJ7 an FJ9 were taken are in view, or at least close to the left side of this view.  We also see the pyramids of 10-inch projectiles and the stack of boxes containing 7-inch Brooke bolts.  Panning to the right of that stack of boxes, we see more of the familiar pyramids and also the cistern:


The bucket is on the opposite side of the cistern, as compared to the view from FJ8.  But we get a better perspective to see it’s layout.  A large circular stone structure with a square wooden platform on top.

Still further to the right, we see the tent featured in several of the other photos:


From this side, we see the rails used to anchor some of the lines.  We also see the tent has a wooden door, doorstep, and door frame.  In other words, further confirming this tent’s status as a deluxe model for its day.  Notice also to the extreme right the pyramid of bolts for the Brooke.

In all of those crops, we see the interior feature of the earthworks.  Several cuts seen in the works are the entrances to the gun galleries.  Looking to the first 10-inch Columbiad’s position, we see the “V” shaped cut.


Looking beyond the works, just beyond, we see a the large wheels of a sling cart.  That should be the same sling cart seen at the edges of FJ4.

Extending out to the upper right of frame in that crop is a jetty which intersects at the fort’s wharf.   So let us pan slightly to the left and out to consider the wharf… to look across the harbor:


The wharf itself is worthy of note.  A lot of history occurred at that wharf, when you consider the war from its first days right up to the end.  I cannot identify the steamer tied up there, given the resolution.  But it appears to be a typical light draft paddle wheel type.

What lies beyond is even more interesting.  Consider the perspective offered in relation to the harbor charts:


As this looks right across to the north, the camera gave us a view of Fort Ripley, an artificial structure built by the Confederates during the war.  Somewhere in the fuzzy distance is Castle Pinckney.  A historic anchorage to say the least.  I’d be interested, if a better digital copy emerges at some point, if this photograph captured a glimpse of the obstructions in the harbor.  Such would add a visual to go with Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren’s written observations.

Since we are looking beyond the fort for the moment, let me mention the other vistas offered in these Fort Johnson photos:


I’ve flipped FJ10 to yellow in this diagram.   FJ1, with angle of view in light blue, is representative of three photos looking across the front of Fort Johnson with Fort Sumter in the background.  And FJ4, with perspective indicated in green, looked back towards Charleston with a teasing glimpse of White Point.

This concludes the photos from this set.  Again let me emphasize the coverage offered by these photos:


Fort Johnson was “front line” from the start of the secession crisis, throughout the war, and right up to the end of hostilities… well a couple months shy.  These works were a cornerstone to the Confederate defenses of Charleston.  Likewise Fort Johnson was an important tactical objective for the Federals.  And these photos provide us a magnificent examination of the fort to include structure, armament, and fixtures.  Scarcely an inch of the fort escaped the camera lens.

And this is important.  You see, Fort Johnson is sort of a “lost landscape” from the Civil War perspective:

As I mentioned at the start of this series, the surveys and photos taken at the end of the war serve us well when studying this site.  They show us “what was.”  That said, I’ll conclude this series in my next post by looking at the past and present views of Fort Johnson.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part XI: All those projectiles stacked up in the fort… and a paper trail

On to our next stop in the virtual tour of Fort Johnson, by way of wartime photos, as we proceed through the interior.  Our next stop is this photograph:


This photo was taken from the location FJ9, as indicated on the diagram below:


We can pinpoint that location by referencing the tent, which is seen in several other photos:


As pointed out in earlier photo analysis posts, this tent has amenities to comfort those stationed at the fort.


The canvas sits snugly over the brick chimney.  And there is a platform to give the dwellers a proper floor above the sand.

And there is a railing to each side of the tent, providing an anchor point for the lines.  We’ve seen those railings on several other photos.  All providing us a three-dimensional appreciation for this tent.


And notice the stack of 7-inch Brooke bolts, which we examined from another perspective in FJ6.

Looking behind the tent, we see the crib and the bombproof entrance mentioned in FJ8.


Speaking of that previous post, I highlighted the line of the parapet of the fort.  Again we see that in play in FJ9:


Also notice here the “cuts” for the entrance to the galleries where the guns are mounted.  The number of entrances helps place this photo’s perspective for the diagram.  The photographer was standing directly behind the first 10-inch columbiad’s entrance, looking towards the second columbiad position and then to the Brooke Rifle’s beyond.

Speaking of the columbiads, we see several piles of ammunition for those big weapons, all at the ready.


Nothing extraordinary about these.  I’m pressed to say if these are shells or shot.  We don’t see holes for the fuse or other external features.  But then again, the shells, if empty, would have been stacked with the holes down to reduce moisture accumulation.  On the other hand, Fort Johnson’s big guns needed solid shot should the Federal monitors gain the harbor.

What we can see in these photos are fine surface details of these projectiles:


Notice the casting seam running the circumference of some.  Also the spotty or streaked exterior:


Colorize those in your mind. A mix of black paint and rust, perhaps?

One of the pyramids has fallen down.  It’s the one that lacks wood rails or braces, second from the camera:


We’ve seen this from another perspective in FJ8:


Not enough change in the stack to determine “before or after” in this case. But as you can tell, those projectiles made a handy seat.

Beyond the columbiad projectiles, there is a stack of ammunition crates:


The resolution of the digital scan allows us to zoom down and read what is on those crates.  So what are they?


Each apparently contains (or did contain) “1 42-pdr Rifle Bolt”.  The hand painted marking below that stencil is worth considering.  I think it indicates the weight of the projectile, packing material, and box.  It looks like a “Wt. 116lbs.”

The next box up in the stack also has marking to consider:


I cannot make anything worthwhile out of these markings, except for what appears to be “Bolt” and “Wt. 115lbs.”

And where did these come from?   Next crate up tells us that:


From Charleston Arsenal in 1864.

OK, want some more?  The crate on top tells us who was responsible for these bolts:


The stencil was applied over a seam in the wood…


But I read that as “Cpt. Ingraham.”

Captain H. Laurens Ingrahm was an ordnance officer assigned to the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  He spent most of the war in Charleston, at the depot.  And there are ample receipts indicting Ingraham handled projectiles of this caliber:


Or in some cases, annotated as 7-inch rifle shells or bolts:


Always nice to get a positive name match.

There’s a lot more to the story of Ingraham and his war-time service.  But I’ll save that for another day.

For the moment, let me bring this installment to a close, looking up at at the flag over the fort:


Tomorrow we will celebrate American Independence Day.  It will be the 239th anniversary of the event.  This photo takes us back 150 years to a time when Americans were looking forward to the first such Independence Day after four years of Civil War.  Those four years were in many ways the most destructive the United States has ever seen.  The flag, and thus the photo, speak to me today as a symbol of both the country’s independence but also wisdom in reconciliation following that war.