Fort Sumter photos after the fire – Intro to a series

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:

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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:

FortSumterFeb18_65_draft

And the final product, included with Brigadier-General Quincy Gilmore’s report:

FortSumter65_2

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:

Feb18_65_SnipB

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:

HABS SC,10-CHAR.V,3

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:

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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:

02320aLocator1

Using those, we can start matching to the 1865 survey:

02320aLocator3

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:

02320aLocator3a

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:

Feb18_65_SnipElevationEF

So… yes… those are chimneys.  And we have a photo of that section of the fort taken in the spring of 1865:

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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:

FS1Locator

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:

FS1LocatorHABS So the camera was somewhere around about the top of the stairways on the east corner of the fort. Near abouts there: Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 267

Suffice to say, the view from that point today is obscured by Battery Huger. But the flagpoles are in view:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 268

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:

02320aLocator2

On closer examination….

FS1Snip1

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.

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And…

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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.

Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew: Forts survive storm surge; unearthed ordnance

Like many, I have monitored the news from the southeast as Hurricane Matthew over the last few days.  Friends and relatives living in and around the storm’s path all report they are fine and recovering.  The storm left behind a trail of damage and destruction, with over 300 reported deaths in Haiti alone and ten reported in the U.S.

But it could have been much worse.  The eye passed some 20 to 25 miles offshore of Tybee Island.  Later the center of the storm passed thirty miles eastward of Charleston before making landfall further up the coast near Cape Romain, not far from where Hurricane Hugo made landfall in 1989.  While Hugo was rated at category 4 when making landfall, Matthew was falling from category 2 down to 1 before reaching the coast.  Still the track covered a large section of coast from Florida to North Carolina.  As such, we see a lot of familiar place-names in news reports.

From Savannah, footage shows flooding at Fort Pulaski.  At first this appears dramatic… particularly from the view of the reporter (… who’s not yet visited the fort):

fortpulaskihurricanematthew

Yes, the fort is completely isolated, with a significant portion of Cockspur Island under water.  As of this writing, there are no on-site reports.  So we don’t have a full assessment.  But from this view, we can see the interior of the fort was not flooded.  A tree in the interior has fallen and the demilune is wet, but the casemates appear dry.  Relatively that is.  The video didn’t give a close view of the lighthouse further downriver.  Hopefully within a few days the water will drain off… and hopefully any damage is minor.  And this is largely due to the careful placement and construction of the fort. General Joseph Mansfield deserves much credit for the fort’s survival… 170 years after the fact!

Further up the coast, Forts Sumter and Moultrie were also within the storm’s path.  The forts closed and prepared to weather the storm:

No work as of this writing about the status of those forts.  So we are in “wait and see” mode. The storm surge crested to 9.29 feet at Fort Sumter at it’s peak.

However, Fort Sumter is in the news feeds due to a post-storm finding down the coast at Folly Island.  Erosion from the storm unearthed a pile of what appear to be shells:

civil-war-cannonballs

Later reports added, “Authorities announced Sunday night that a number of the cannonballs were detonated by the Air Force and a small amount of them would be transported to the Naval Base.”

I don’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” here.  As I’ve said in the past, handling explosive ordnance is something we must… MUST … allow the experts to manage.  Some will offer, from a safe distance, these were fully inert.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  “We” were not there, and don’t know all the details.  The individuals on the scene made a risk assessment and deemed action necessary.  We should accept their decision as the call to make.  All I would offer is that EOD teams, such as those called upon to respond at Folly Island, should have access to as much information on Civil War ordnance as possible to further aid their decisions.  Far better to incorporate what is known about the subject into their (EOD) policies and procedures than to openly criticize them for being cautious.  This hurricane killed at least ten here in the US.  And over 600,000 died in the Civil War.  We should not rush to add more to either grim tallies.

The value of this find was not with the actual shells themselves, but rather the context of the location. This site appears to be on the northern end of Folly Beach. Several Federal batteries stood in that area, guarding Lighthouse Inlet (and in July 1863, were used to support landings on Morris Island).  Archaeological surveys of the area have documented well some of the battery locations (as the gentleman in the video notes, the location was known by locals as a place where fortifications stood).  Hopefully this find will add to that knowledge.  Given the location, on eroded beach, it appears sufficient effort was made to document that context.  Perhaps this will spur further archaeological examinations in the area.

153 years ago today – First shots in a 3500 ton bombardment, 78 week siege of Fort Sumter began

One of the oft overlooked, yet very significant, artifacts in Fort Sumter is a projectile lodged in the interior wall:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1575

I believe this is a Parrott bolt.  (Though I hope if it is a shell, the projectile was properly disarmed!)  Very likely one of thousands (tens of thousands…) that were fired by Federal batteries on Morris Island, or perhaps the ironclads on station nearby, at Fort Sumter during the long siege of Fort Sumter.

At dawn on August 17, 1863, 153 years ago today,  an 8-inch Parrott rifle on Morris Island fired a shot at dawn on August 17, 1863, 153 years ago today a massive bombardment of Fort Sumter.   Major-General Quincy Gillmore reported over 145 tons of shot, bolt, and shell followed that shot during the next ten days.  The bombardment continued, unrelenting, until September 2.

The objective of the bombardment was to reduce Fort Sumter.  “Reduce” being a military term to indicate the fort’s firepower was reduced, and thus Fort Sumter would not be able to defend itself or interfere with Federal operations.  There are many ways to soft-chew that objective.  At the start of the bombardment, Fort Sumter had 38 large caliber cannon and two mortars.  By September 2, Fort Sumter had but one 32-pdr gun operational, in the northwest casemate covering the harbor side.  So there was some “reduction” accomplished in the conventional military sense of things. But several factors outside the military rule book came into play.  And Fort Sumter remained, even reduced to an “infantry outpost”, a barrier to Federal operations.  Thus the first major bombardment of Fort Sumter resulted in a stalemate.

 

But… this was only the first round.  The bombardment of Fort Sumter resumed in late September with a minor bombardment, with freshly captured batteries on the north end of Morris Island.  And with those new batteries registered, on October 26 the Federals began forty-one days of constant bombardment – day and night.  Throughout 1864, this pattern continued.  Six minor bombardments took place in the winter and spring months of 1864.  One more “major” bombardment blasted the fort from July 7 through September 4, 1864.  And finally, one more minor bombardment, the eighth such, over September 6-18, 1864, represented the last sustained effort to reduce the fort.  And that does not include what Confederate observers called “desultory firing” aimed at Fort Sumter almost every day.

In short, what started on this day in 1863 was for all intents the longest continual battle in the Civil War.   Historian Warren Ripley estimated the combined weight of these bombardments to be in excess of 3,500 tons.  All that in roughly a year and a half of siege operations against a fort of about 2.5 acres in size.*  The effort was at times part of a major push by the Federals to capture Charleston.  Then at others little more than a demonstration to distract from other fronts.  But this siege drug on from August 17, 1863 right up to the fort’s capture on February 18, 1865.

And that storm started on this day in 1863.

Note: By way of comparison, starting on the morning of November 20, 1943 the U.S. Navy fired about 3000 tons of projectiles on the island of Betio, roughly 290 acres, as part of the Battle of Tarawa.  In the span of eighty years, technology increased the size and lethality of artillery.  And at the same time, technology increased the need for such weighty bombardments.

Fortification Friday: Gabion revetments for field fortification

No April Fools today… we have some serious stuff to discuss as Fortification Friday resumes.  Revetments is our subject, and thus far we’ve looked at those of sod, and those using pisa, fascine, and hurdle constructions.  The next type to consider used gabions.  Some time back, I discussed gabions as relating to the Civil War and modern applications, but that need be revisited with Mahan’s take in relation to field fortifications.

Gabion revetment.  The gabion is a round basket of cylindrical form, open at each end, its height is usually two feet nine inches, and diameter two-feet.

Mahan referenced Figure 25 to illustrate the gabion:

 

PlateIIIFig25A

The lower section shows the gabion in vertical profile.  The upper portion looks on from above.  You see the basket form with the “two feet, nine inch” stakes.  From above we see concentric circles, or hoops, of a form that is made when constructing the gabion:

To form a gabion, a directing circle is made of two hoops, the difference between their radii being such, that, when placed concentrically, there shall be about one-and-three-quarter inches between them. They are kept in this position by placing small blocks of wood between them, to which they are tied with packthread.  The directing circle is laid on the ground, and seven or nine pickets, about one inch in diameter and three feet long, are driven into the ground between the hoops, at equal distances apart; the directing circle is then slipped up midway from the bottom, and confined in that position.  Twigs half an inch in diameter, and as long as they can be procured, are wattled between the pickets, like ordinary basket work; when finished within about one-and-a-half inches of the top, the gabion is placed with the other end up, the directing circle is taken off, and the gabion is completed within the same distance from the other extremities of the pickets. The wicker work at the two ends is secured by several withes, and the ends of the pickets being brought to a point, the gabion is ready for use.

And that is how you build a gabion.  Implied as a prerequisite is the time needed to gather all those half-inch diameter twigs.

With the gabion prepared for use, where do we put it on the works?  Figure 26 demonstrates a gabion in the profile:

PlateIIIFig26

The right end of this diagram is used to discuss obstacles later in Mahan’s text (back in the 19th century, woodcut diagrams were expensive to reproduce, don’t you know).  So we need to focus on the left:

PlateIIIFig26A

Mahan wrote:

The gabion revetment is seldom used except for the trenches in the attack of permanent works, where it is desirable to place the troops speedily under cover from the enemy’s case shot and musketry.  When used for field works, a fascine is first laid partly imbedded blow the tread of the banquette; the gabion, which is placed on end, rests on this, so as to give it the requisite slope; it is filled with earth, and the parapet is raised behind it, and another fascine is laid on top, and in some cases two.

I’ve added annotations for the fascine anchors required within this arrangement.

We see a gabions often in wartime photos.  Those from Fort Sumter catch my attention most (as one might presume).  By the later half of the war, Fort Sumter was for all practical purposes a permanent seacoast fortification turned into a field fortification.  And we see gabions in use all across the interior.

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Notice those gabions that appear to be partially constructed …  deconstructed, or at least empty… in the foreground.  We don’t see fascines on top of the gabions, when seen in profile:

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Part of this is explained by the specific application.  In the case of the photo above, there is a planking on which the gabions in the foreground are stacked.  That planking is the top of the entrance to a gallery.  If the top fascine is used, we might assume it to be buried well.  But I see no evidence of such.

Moving past gabions, we still have several sorts of revetments to discuss – next up are plank and sandbag revetments…. oh the excitement builds….

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 39-40.)

Flags over Fort Sumter… in their new locations

My spring break vacation was great.  How was yours?

We managed to mix in several stops at historical sites in addition to some “sporty” venues.  Our ultimate destination was Florida. The logical driving break was Charleston, South Carolina, and we allocated time there.  The aide-de-Camp, like me, has a special affinity for Fort Sumter.  We cannot get enough of the old fort.  So a boat ride out was part of the schedule.  This would be the aide’s third such visit to the fort, but the first since 2011.

Since our last visit, the fort’s staff had updated some interpretive markers.  Nothing major.  Just mostly updated graphics.  But there was one important change to the public display.  Something I’d mentioned last summer. The fort’s flag displays changed from this:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1670

To this:

IMG_6020

Just the one, lone flagpole with the current United States flag visible as one approaches the fort.

But once in the fort, there are four historical flags on display:

2016-03-19 Charleston 535

The stands for these flags are a temporary arrangement, I’m told, pending a permanent configuration.

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There is an interpretive marker between the flags providing context to the display:

2016-03-19 Charleston 556

As I said back in the summer, it is my opinion this is a good move.

I would point out that the display includes the four flags known to have flown over Sumter during the war – 33-Star United States Flag, the Confederate “First National” flag, the Confederate “Second National” flag, and finally the 35-Star United States Flag.  Each of those flags is an object speaking to specific periods of the fort’s history during those four troubled years.  And each serves as a point of departure for us to explore that rich history.

Indeed, beyond just simply having a historical flag display at Fort Sumter, I was struck by the reaction among those in the audience.  From the questions and conversation, there were a number who simply did not know about the historical flags.  Most recognized the convention of stars on the blue field of the United States flag.  But few realized that the 35-Star flag used at the end of the Civil War was missing Nevada, which had not been added as a state until October 1864 and thus didn’t get its star until July 4, 1865.  Some “flag trivia” if you please.

But, as one might expect, the Confederate flags were the subject of more questions and comments.  There are still a lot of misconceptions and assumptions about those flags.  Such has not dissipated with the experience of the last twelve months. In fact, I think it has actually gotten worse.  As I’ve said before, I don’t “like” the Confederate flag (like as in I also don’t like sushi, Downtown Abby, or the Beatles.. and that is not hate or rejection, but rather a preference, that others may or may not share).  But just as I don’t like some elements of history or connected historical objects, I don’t ignore the facts.  Fact is that Confederate flags flew over Fort Sumter.  And having that display at Fort Sumter allowed the staff to provide a connection to the fort’s past.

Context… you see, not condemnation. Maybe if all Americans knew the difference between the First National, Second National, and the Battle Flags of the Confederacy then that period of our nation’s history would be easier to come to terms with.  Call me an idealist here, but I find complex subjects are often conquered by study in detail.

Since we were the last tour of the day, the Rangers provided a short program discussing the four flags, prior to bringing them down for the night.  Then we all got to participate in a retiring of the colors for the day.  That became a wonderful “hands on” experience. So… file that away if you are visiting Fort Sumter, and plan on either taking the first or last boat of the day.  A chance to join the list of those having raised or retired the colors at Fort Sumter.

As we made our way back to port, we passed another of Charleston’s old defenses:

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Castle Pinckney sports the Irish flag of late (.  Harry has the rest of the story, should you be interested to know why.

As I sat on the stern of our boat, listening to the rhythms of the engine and waves, my mind wondered to thought of flags, symbols, and how we use them.  I’m sure there’s someone out there who takes offense to the Irish flag.  After all, the Irish flag was born of conflict and rebellion.  It was carried into war and blood has been shed in its defense and in opposition.  Maybe a minority.  Maybe even a spot of a minority.  But it wouldn’t be hard to conceive a person who feels ill over the sight of that flag.

Not that we need to take down the Irish flag, flying to express some cultural solidarity, over a brick edifice placed on a sandbar in front of the cradle of secession.  Not that at all.

Rather, that I think that symbols are symbols.  As a historian I seek the stories which they relate to.  From that I find it easier to break down the ideas and causes for which these banners fronted.  It’s the ideas and causes, you see, that tend to need the most care when handled.

 

Fort Sumter flag display update … Flags staying, moving to new section of fort

Yesterday Fort Sumter National Monument posted this update to their Facebook page:

I haven’t found the corresponding “official” press release on their website.  Probably because Facebook is easier to update than the website (darn you “company who outbid the company I used to work for” and your clunky user interface!!!!).  But let me pull the text for the Facebook update here:

Press Release Regarding Fort Sumter National Monument’s Historical Flag Display:

Fort Sumter National Monument Moves Historical Flag Display to Original Parade Ground

Charleston, SC – Fort Sumter National Monument officials announced today that the historical flag interpretive display flying over Fort Sumter will be moved to the fort’s original parade ground. The new display will include every national flag that flew over the fort during the Civil War. It will be located on the same ground and near the same location where the original flags flew 150 years ago.

“As a focal point of Charleston Harbor, it is important that the only flag seen flying atop Fort Sumter National Monument is the current United States flag,” said Superintendent Tim Stone. “The historical flag display will be in the fort so visitors can learn about the fort’s history and the history of the flags that flew here.”

The new display will feature the 33-star United States flag, the First National Flag of the Confederacy, the Second National Flag of the Confederacy, and the 35-star United States flag. These flags represent the national flags that flew over the fort during the Civil War between 1861 and 1865.

Since the tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston only the current 50-star United States flag has flown above Fort Sumter. The National Park Service is looking closely at how interpretive displays featuring flags of the Confederacy help visitors understand the Civil War. As part of this process, Fort Sumter National Monument reviewed its historical flag interpretive display. The park determined that the display would be modified and moved and only national flags flown at the fort during the Civil War will be part of the new display.

The park uses interpretive displays, museum exhibits, signs, brochures, a website and social media platforms to tell the story of Fort Sumter. Many of these feature flags or reproductions of flags used during the Civil War. These displays change from time to time as new tools become available and more information is learned about the war and the fort. Only the historical flag interpretive display at Fort Sumter is being changed at this time.

Short version – the flag display pictured here….

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1547

… which were taken down earlier this summer (the photo below is from a bad weather day in 2010, and a trick on my part)….

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 268

… minus the large flagpole where the current 50-star US flag is flown, will relocate onto the Endicott Era Battery Huger…

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 316

…  onto the area near the railings to the far left of the photo above.  Basically, cut and paste the smaller flag poles on the right to a place on the left.

That is, in my opinion, good placement.  That will require no small expenditure, which some might call into question.  But the outcome is to retain the interpretive display, which I think is for the best.

I would point out that during the Federal bombardments of Fort Sumter, the Confederates placed their flag at the left corners of the fort.  This was captured in Conrad Wise Chapman’s paintings:

ChapmanFortSumter2

And in wartime photos from Morris Island:

FortSumterAug28A1

And as indicated on the NPS diagram from Facebook, the fort’s original flagpole stood on the parade ground.  Neither of those historical locations would work within the fort’s layout today.  I applaud the decision to retain the display, and think the placement is actually better for interpretive needs.

My opinion: Fort Sumter’s Confederate flags should stay

Fort Sumter is, for better or worse, in the news again this season.  And the news centers around this flag display:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1670A

In response to recent events, the National Park Service announced it was taking down flags in that display which were related to the Confederacy.  The Post-Courier covered this last week (I posted this to my Facebook page, but held off discussing here until full details came public):

Tim Stone, superintendent of the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie National Monument, said Fort Sumter’s four flags were lowered the day after the shooting.

“The tragedy has made all of us re-evaluate our role in the community and in the nation,” he said.

On Thursday, the National Park Service, which runs the fort, issued a directive to remove Confederate flag items such as banners, belt buckles and other souvenirs from its gift shops, though books, DVDs and other materials showing the flag in a historical context may remain for sale.

On the same day, the Park Service also instructed its parks and related sites to not fly flags other than the U.S. flag and respective state flags outside their historic context….

Stone said the fort’s wayside markers explaining the history behind the fort’s various flags will remain, “but we probably won’t be re-raising them per the director’s policy.”

The removed flags include the first and second national flags of the Confederate States of America as well as two earlier versions of the U.S. flag. Stone said the four banners had historical ties to the fort, which was surrendered by Union forces in 1861 as the war began but retaken by them as the war wound to an end.

The series of flags were first raised in 1972, and Stone said they brought few complaints. “There was on occasion some comment of why we were flying the Confederate flags,” he said. “We explained the historical context of that.”

The marker he mentioned is this one:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 287

Please consult the HMDB entry for the transcribed text.   The article continued with some explanation of the move by the park:

But Stone said he grew more sympathetic to concerns about the flags when he noted some boaters entering Charleston Harbor would pass by them without any interpretation explaining why they were there.

“I think that concern has some legitimacy, and we need to be sensitive to the community and the American people,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it in that perspective.”

Stone said it is unclear what will become of the four flagpoles that were improved as recently as 2007 in preparation for the Civil War’s sesquicentennial but now no longer serve a purpose.

“A lot of this is happening very quickly,” he said.

Indeed, all happened very quickly.  Perhaps too quickly.  Yesterday the Post-Courier ran a story indicating the park is re-examining the decision and contemplating changes:

Linda Friar, a National Park Service spokesperson, said on Wednesday that the park has received a lot of calls about the decision to remove the flag, but they have not yet reached a decision on if the flags will be raised again….

“The National Park Service has many historic sites, and some of our history has a lot of different emotions attached to it by whoever’s looking at it,” Friar said. “Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are about a particular part of our history and a lot of folks still have opposing views.”

First off, if you interpreted my post from last week to mean I wanted to purge all traces of the Confederacy, then you may have read something into the writing that was not there.  There are proper venues and reasons to display the Confederate flags.  And I contend that Fort Sumter is one of them.  I find the explanation for the flag removals lacking.   The action was in response to a blanket, knee-jerk reaction by government officials.  To categorize this as a problem for boaters passing the fort is to bend the limits of credibility here.  Should we also be worried that boaters might sense some danger with all the cannons pointed at them from Fort Moultrie and Sumter?  Please, we are adults here….

This is a great example of how complicated our history is.  As such, it is a perfect location for the public to be introduced to the story that is our history, for all of its complications, in order to gain a full, rich, and, dare I say, proper, understanding.  If we are to steer the public away from “emotional” displays, then our National Park system is going to be a very bland, joyless, and lonely place.  If we are going to go out of our way to address every “sensitivity” then our National Park system is going to resemble the intellectual equivalent to a kindergarten play room.

Are there “dangers” associated with the display of Confederate flags at a location, such as Fort Sumter, where historical context actually fits?  Yes.  Several dangers in fact…. two that come directly to mind are – that those pushing their version of heritage might actually have to confront the realities of history… and that some historians will have to admit the history trumps their political agendas.   We would do better at dispelling the former if the latter stop treating the audience as some naive lot.

Again, we are adults here. “Emotional” displays should not deter us from the history.  I’m pretty sure we can confront the “scary” side of the Confederate flag.

POSTSCRIPT: I meant to include mention of the sesquicentennial display done at Fort Pulaski over the last five years.  If you missed note of that, Fort Pulaski flew, at times to coincide with the sesquicentennial events associated with the fort, different historical flags.  Those included Confederate flags.  The display was very powerful, mature, meaningful… and positive.