Category Archives: Charleston SC

April 21, 1865: “… making fair contracts in writing with the people to cultivate the land…” in South Carolina

On April 21, 1865, there were several matters competing for Major-General Quincy Gillmore’s attention. The day before Gillmore received word of Major-General William T. Sherman’s truce with General Joseph E. Johnston, which thus governed operations in the Department of the South.  Also arriving was news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  The former prompted adjustments to Gillmore’s active field operations.  The latter prompted General Orders No. 48 informing the command of Lincoln’s death.

Gillmore had many active field operations, the most important of which was Brigadier-General Edward Potter’s expedition.  Potter’s instructions were to march to Georgetown or Charleston, as best accommodated the situation.  Sherman’s latest correspondence put on hold a planned follow-on expedition to Augusta, Georgia.  Instead, Gillmore was content to detail Colonel Henry Chipman’s 102nd USCT to guard the railroad bridge over the Santee River, and serve as an advanced force protecting the area north of Charleston.

Gillmore updated instructions for interacting with the civilian population, given the arrival of news.  Colonel Stewart Woodford, Gillmore’s Chief of Staff, provided those in writing to General John Hatch on April 21 (and thus the third person “he” in the instructions):

[Gillmore] directs that our forces in this department cease all further destruction of public and private property. While you are to execute this order literally, still the major-general commanding directs that you suppress every manifestation of rebellious or disloyal feeling within your command. He has learned, unofficially, that there are some expressions of gratification in Charleston at the cruel murder of our late President, and that you summarily arrested the offending parties. He commends this action and desires you to compel a decent and quiet behavior on the part of all residing within your lines.

But that area north of Charleston – specifically that of Charleston County between the Cooper and Wando Rivers in St. Thomas’ Parish – was of keen interest to Gillmore and Hatch.  St. Thomas’, and in general the area north of Charleston, contained several large plantations and thus now had a large recently emancipated population.  Hatch wrote to Gillmore about this two days earlier asking for instructions to deal with the issues arising:

The immense number of negroes flocking into the city threaten us with a pestilence and them with starvation. No adequate steps are taken by General [Rufus] Saxton for their removal and establishment. He complains of want of transportation. Something should be done without delay. I propose to issue a letter to the planters on Cooper and Wando Rivers–in it to state that slavery being extinguished, all who desire to be loyal citizens and to reside on their plantations will be allowed to do so, making fair contracts in writing with the people to cultivate the lands in shares for this season. Those who do so will be encouraged and protected as far as military necessity will allow. I do not care about taking this step without the approval of the general, but I think if something is not done, and that immediately, we will have starvation among the freedmen.

Saxton was at that time charged with managing resettlement of emancipated slaves onto confiscated lands in accordance with Sherman’s Field Order No. 15, as issued in January of that year. But Saxton faced some serious logistical problems, given the limited amount of shipping and other transportation, moving the former slaves to the designated areas.  Furthermore, Saxton was running out of “40 acres” to provide for all those now free, given the spectacular success of Federal operations.

On April 21, Woodford forwarded Gillmore’s response to the crisis Hatch identified:

I am directed by the major-general commanding to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of April 19, 1865. He desires me to inform you that the steamer Canonicus, after having returned from Darien, Ga., will be at the disposal of Brevet Major-General Saxton, and sent to him with the least possible delay. I am furthermore directed to inform you that you are authorized to issue a letter to the planters on Cooper and Wando Rivers, north of Charleston City, for the purpose and according to the tenor mentioned in your communication of the 19th instant. You will be careful not to act upon the question of the settlement of the freedmen within the territorial limits prescribed in General Sherman’s Special Field Orders, No. 15, dated headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, in the Field, at Savannah, Ga., January 16, 1865, that matter within these limits having been by this order specially placed under General Saxton’s charge.

Thus, the military policy for the moment, given the lack of direction from Washington on the issue, allowed for two systems.  Saxton’s, operating under Sherman’s “40 acres and a mule” policy, continued for the selected confiscated lands, mostly on barrier islands.  And with Gillmore’s consent, Hatch would allow any planter, who took the oath of allegiance, to offer “fair contracts” to freedmen for their labor.  Woodford elaborated on that second system in a message to Saxton, just to make sure nobody’s toes were stepped on:

The major-general commanding directs me to inform you that he has received a letter from Brigadier-General Hatch, commanding the Northern District of the department, in which he states that he proposes to issue a letter to the planters on the Cooper and Wando Rivers, and to state therein that slavery being extinguished, all who desire to be loyal citizens and to reside on their plantations will be allowed to do so, making fair contracts in writing with the people to cultivate the land on shares this season, and that those who do so will be encouraged and protected so far as military necessity will allow.

Woodford added, for clear delineation, that the lands designated by Gillmore for Hatch’s preview were beyond those designated by Field Orders No. 15.

Certainly these two concurrent policies were not the “end state” that would apply to the question of freedmen and lands.  That would take us into a discussion of the post-war period and bring in the Freedmen’s Bureau.  My point in mentioning these orders issued on April 21, 1865 is to call out what would become a major issue during the Reconstruction period, as it was being evolved as part of a military operation.

Step back a bit further for a moment.  One of the considerations when assessing Reconstruction from the historian’s perspective is the nature of how the policies set forth by leaders – be they Lincoln, Johnson, or Grant – were implemented at the ground level.  We can all point to current events where that same factor holds play.  In the case of Reconstruction, much of that policy, at least for the initial phases, was implemented as part of a military operation.  A fascinating military operation, in context with American military operations since World War II, I would add.  Yet, I sense that in our rush to provide a simple description for the period, while rushing off to things like the Gilded Age, Robber Barons, and the run-up to World War I, that appreciation for the military aspects of Reconstruction is lost.

And with Reconstruction having a military component in play, there must be analysis of what could and could not be accomplished… operationally, in military terms.   You know, some of those “reach and grasp” discussions which often boil down to practical application of arithmetic and logistics.  Yes, there is a military history component… a very important military history component… to reconstruction.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 256, 273, 274.)

April 14, 1865: The war turns full circle as “the same dear flag” is raised over Fort Sumter

By all contemporary accounts, April 14, 1865 was a momentous day at Fort Sumter.  For weeks, Federal authorities planned a ceremony at the fort, timed to the fourth anniversary of the surrender which started the Civil War.  Dignitaries, reporters, sketch artists, and photographers gathered for the much anticipated moment.  And, thanks to the latter, we have a wealth of photographs dated to April 1865 from the Charleston area.

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As I draft this post, the Library of Congress’ website is throwing some odd errors with thumbnails.  Otherwise I’d fill this post with images taken on, or about, April 14, 1865 at Charleston.

One of those photographs, taken at Fort Strong, a.k.a. Battery Wagner, captured members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery going through inspection.

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On Morris Island, members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery prepared to play a role in the ceremonies.  Having served through the long siege of Fort Sumter and Charleston, the 3rd was aptly tasked to provide details of honor guards and, most prominently, manned the guns to fire ceremonial salutes.

The 3rd Rhode Island regimental history recorded the day’s events:

April 14. At the hour named the army, the navy, the national authorities of Washington, dignitaries of every civil and professional rank, and eminent strangers – a multitude of notables – by war-ships, transports, and boats, landed on the war-swept walls.  Full 3,000 persons, men and women, crowded on the ruin.  And now commenced the services: –

I. Prayer by Rev. Matthias Harris, Chaplain United States Army, who offered the prayer at the raising of the flag when Major Anderson removed his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860.

II. Reading the Scriptures by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D., and the audience alternately, from sheets prepared at The New South office, and distributed for use. The selected portions were [Palms 126, 47, 98, and part of 20]; closing with a doxology. A profound impression was made by this reading, following the Chaplain’s prayer, that recalled the past.

III. Reading of Major Anderson’s dispatch to the Government, dated Steamship Baltic, off Sandy Hook, April 18, 1861, announcing the fall of Fort Sumter. The reading was by Brevet Brig.-Gen. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, United States Army.

IV. At the full hour of noon – all things in readiness – the battlements thronged with excited beholders – Major Anderson again lifted to its lawful place on the walls and to the breath of heaven, the same dear flag that floated during the assault of 1861.  Who can describe the scene? Who can utter the deep feelings that choked the bravest men and wet the eyes of all the thousands present.

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1556

V. And now came the eloquence of artillery. Rhode Island opened the ponderous lips and spoke the thundering notes. Lieut. J.E. Burroughs and his men (Company B), pronounced the “one hundred” with the guns of Sumter. Capt. J.M. Barker and his command, Company D, answered with the national salute from Morris Island. Lieut. C.H. Williams and his men, Company B, responded from Sullivan’s Island.  And the air-reading chorus came in from the guns of Fort Johnston. Meanwhile, what cheers and tears, what joys and shouts, what waving of flags, hats, and handkerchiefs. Memorable hour!  Exultantly did our veterans emphasize it, and count it an honor to handle the captured heavy guns in avenging the flag of the free and the brave.

We need not ask how this music sounded to the Charlestonians. Where now was historic disgrace and shame?

VI. The band – the joyous band – struck and played as never before, while the host of army, navy, and citizens present, joined in singing The Star Spangled Banner.

“O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light” –

…. …. ….

Like a billow of inspiring sound rolled the chorus: –

“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Such a rapturous hour was worth fighting for. How the hearts of all soldiers, and of the loyal millions in our land, beat with a thankful unutterable joy that our flag’s humiliation was now canceled.

Aloft, behold their banner rose!

Fit the ensign for the land we prize;

A flag the breezes fond, caress,

The flag that freemen ever bless,

And stars of heaven delight to kiss;

Henceforth in spotless fame to wave,

The pledge of freedom to the slave,

The standard of the free and brave.

A history, Dear Flag, is thine,

Sung on the mountain and the sea;

Thy folds, like heaven’s pure stars, shall shine

Till earth is lit with Liberty.

VII. Now followed the eloquent, patriotic, inimitable address by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher; the vast multitude hanging on his lips, and well-nigh the fort itself, rocking to the greatness of his thoughts and the grandeur of the occasion.

VIII. The whole host, led by the band, in the grand tune of Old Hundred, then lifted up to the heaven the doxology: –

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

IX. The closing prayer of thanksgiving and the benediction were by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.

Poets have been moved to sing of sieges. We wonder if, in the bright years to come, a poet will not arise to celebrate in melodious phrase, the scenes of Sumter and the siege of Charleston.

At least to my knowledge, no poet has done so.  And the reason was not to any failing of the moment.

The ceremony was designed from the start to celebrate the grand victory over the rebellion and showcase the triumph of the Union.  This was, with all the bunting and bands, a “Mission Accomplished” moment. The scene was perfect.  And there were ample number of scribes, artists, and photographers to record the moment.  The ceremony was intended to serve notice for all – the rebellion was crushed.  This was to be the “big news” of the week.

But at 10:15 that evening, everything changed.  What happened at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865 was eclipsed to rate only passing comment.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 308-9.)

March 21, 1865: “Slavery is dead”, “Who owns him?”, “No one” – A “Grand Jubilee for Freedom” in Charleston

On March 20, 1865, and order went out to Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus G. Bennett, commanding the 21st USCT then garrisoning Charleston, South Carolina:

By direction of the colonel commanding the city, you will have your regiment formed in line at 2 p.m. to-morrow to join in the procession of freedom.  Your regiment will have the right, and application is made for 200 colored sailors to have the left of the line.  They will report to you at the green at about 1.30. You will reduce the guards in your district just as much as possible to-morrow, in order that you may turn out as many men as possibly can be spared.

To Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren went the request for “about 200 colored seamen in uniform, with their officers” to report to the Citadel, “for the purpose of joining the procession of freedmen of this city.”

This “procession” labeled a “Jubilee of Freedom” was announced the previous Sunday at the Zion Church, by Colonel Stewart Woodford, commanding the city of Charleston.  Woodford called for those participating to organize at the Citadel’s green, where there was plenty of space. From there the procession would parade downtown.  The procession got underway, despite heavy rains, at around 2 p.m. the afternoon of March 21st. (Ever the sesquicentennialist, I’m timing my post as close to 150 years to the moment at possible.) Leading the procession were several local leaders and military officials, including Major-General Rufus Saxton.

A brief description appeared in the Charleston Courier a few days later:

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The New York Times correspondent in Charleston described the parade:

At 2 o’clock, the number of people thus assembled reached four thousand, and shortly after that hour, the colored Marshals, who had previously performed the duty assigned them of arranging the school children into companies, and the trade and other organizations into divisions, took their position in the tine, and everything was ready for the start. First in the procession came two colored Marshals on horseback, each wearing badges, and rosettes of red, white and blue. They were followed by an organization of about fifty butchers, who carried their knives at their sides, and in front of them displayed a good-sized porker. Next in order came the Twenty-first Regiment United States Colored troops, Lieut.-Col. Bennett, commanding, preceded by a band. The regiment turned out in nearly full force, and presented a very fine appearance. The music discoursed by the band was very creditable, and added much to the general effect of the whole proceedings.

Following the USCT were groups of school children carrying banners reading “We know no masters but ourselves” and “We know no cast of color.”  Tradesmen followed, dressed in their work clothes and displaying the tools of their respective trades.  Firemen from ten companies – freedmen who’d manned fire companies through the long war years at Charleston – came “dressed in red shirts, with belts around their waists.”  Then the one part of the parade I find most remarkable:

These were followed by a cart drawn by a mule, and containing an auctioneer, who was standing over two women seated on a block, with their children standing about them. A boy was also in the cart, whose office was to ring a bell with all the energy he possessed. The cart bore the announcement: “A number of negroes for sale;” and as it moved along the auctioneer would appeal to the crowd for a bid, making use of the phrases which are usually heard in a negro auction-room. For instance, the bystanders were repeatedly informed that such a one was an excellent cook, or an expert seamstress, or a valuable field-hand, and that some one of the number had run the price up to an extravagant amount — in Confederate money, of course. Attached to the cart was a long rope, tied to which was a number of men and women. Next was a hearse, bearing a coffin, and having the inscriptions: “Slavery is dead;” “Who owns him?” “No one;” “Sumter dug his grave on the 13th of April, 1861.” The hearse was followed by mourners dressed in deep black.

Clearly the irony of place an circumstance were not lost on the freedmen of Charleston.  The correspondent observed, “Whenever the American flag was passed it was honored with shouts, and the waving of handkerchiefs and caps.”

Can you imagine the emotions pouring out that day?  A southern spring like none preceding.   Emancipation had come to Charleston.  The promise of full civil rights seemed to be hovering on the next breeze.

(Citations, other than those linked above, from OR, Series 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 929.)