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:


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.


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:


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 Johnson 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.

June 29, 1864: “three out of five shots smote the castle” – bombarding Castle Pinckney

Well, not really a “castle” castle in the strict sense of the word.  Rather this castle:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1688

Castle Pinckney. The moniker “castle” applied to a few Second System era fortifications, more harbor defense than seacoast defense.  Castle Clinton in New York has a similar distinction.  Although the fort figured prominently in the events of 1861, being one of the first installations captured by the secessionists, Castle Pinckney did not see much combat action.  It was tucked away deep in the throat of Charleston Harbor, on the Cooper River side, out of position to effectively fire on the Federal ironclads or batteries.

By the summer of 1864, its main value was as a part of the last line of defenses – the circle of fire, as laid out by General P.G.T. Beauregard the previous year – in the event the Federal ironclads stormed into the harbor.  And even then, Beauregard considered it “nearly worthless” as a defense.  But regardless, the Confederates maintained a battery there.   Armament consisted of two 10-inch columbiads and one 42-pdr rifled and banded gun.

Although the fort’s armament could not range out to the Federal batteries on Morris Island, the same was not true with respect to the Federal guns.


For the most part, because Castle Pinckney was low on the priority list, the gunners on Morris Island paid it little attention.  But on June 29, 1864, they did take time to send over a “calling card,” as related in the regimental history from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery:

June 29. Lieutenant [John E.] Burroughs trained a 200-pounder Parrott upon Castle Pinckney, distant about three and a fifth miles, and Sergeant [Samuel] Spooner with three out of five shots smote the castle. We dropped our shells into Charleston whenever we pleased; but the size of the castle made it the smallest armed target that we had selected; and its occupants, feeling that they were exempt from our regards, and safe, were sitting and strolling about on the work.  Our magnificent shots produced among them an indescribable excitement.  From that hour the work began to undergo a change, and soon, by sand-bags and timbers, it became transformed into quite a solid earthwork.  Yet it was never regarded as a point of vital military importance.

Thus with five 200-pdr shells, Lieutenant Burroughs compelled the Confederates to use valuable resources and labor to fortify a position that probably didn’t require fortification in the grand scheme of things.  All prompted after a “smote” of the castle.

As a follow up to a post I made some time back, efforts to preserve Castle Pinckney are moving forward. The Castle Pinckney Historical Preservation Society has plans to open the site for limited public access by 2018.  Their website offers many documents pertaining to Castle Pinckney’s history and current efforts to preserve the site.

(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, pages 252.)

Guns covering the harbor: Charleston’s inner ring of defenses

Earlier posts have focused on the outer harbor defenses on Morris and Sullivan’s Islands and the approach defenses on James Island.  Those were the outer defenses of Charleston, South Carolina and the most actively engaged.  Behind that, the Confederates built defenses, and in some cases reoriented older fortifications, as a backup.  In March 1863 those defenses lined the throat of Charleston’s harbor.  The main feature in this inner defense was the cross fire formed between various batteries and forts across the South Channel.  Beyond that, several positions covered specific features around the city.

In a September 1862 report, General P.G.T. Beauregard explained why these works were of value to Charleston’s defenders :

… The plan of naval attack apparently best for the enemy would be to dash with as many iron-clads as he can command, say fifteen or twenty, past the batteries and forts, without halting to engage or reduce them. Commodore Ingraham thinks they will make an attack in that way by daylight….

After forcing the passage of the forts and barriers and reaching  the inner harbor gunboats may lay within 600 yards of city face of Fort Sumter exposed to fire of about fifteen guns. The magazines would be unsafe as now situated, or until counter-fort shall have been extended sufficiently along city face….

The threat was that seen since the time men first armed boats – put a warship in the relative calm of a harbor and its guns dominate the shore.  In that report, Beauregard speculated that the defenses, as they existed that September, were not sufficient:

… If iron-clads pass the forts and batteries at the gorge, or throat, of harbor then the guns at Forts Ripley and Johnson and Castle Pinckney would be of no avail to check them. In consequence of the exposed condition of the foundations of Fort Ripley and the general weakness of Castle Pinckney it would not be advisable to diminish the armament of the exterior works to arm them, and this necessarily decides that Fort Johnson cannot be armed at the expense of the works covering throat of harbor. Fort Johnson must be held, however, to prevent the possibility of being carried by the enemy by land attack and the establishment there of breaching batteries against Fort Sumter. The batteries at White Point Garden, Half Moon, and Lawton’s and McLeod’s Batteries for the same reasons cannot be prudently armed at present with heavy guns.

So in addition to all the other work needed at Charleston, and all the other forts wanting for heavy guns, the inner works needed attention.  By March 1863, the established works presented an improvement, at least on the map:


The harbor facing guns from Fort Sumter and Sullivan’s Island offered limited coverage.  But the main works covering the South Channel were Fort Johnson, Battery Glover, Battery Ripley, and Castle Pinckney, with the famous (or infamous) floating battery thrown into the mix.

I discussed Fort Johnson and Battery Glover in context of the James Island defenses.   The armament of Fort Johnson included two 10-inch columbiads, a rifled 32-pdr gun, two 32-pdr smoothbores, and a 10-inch mortar.  Battery Glover contained an 8-inch shell gun, a rifled 32-pdr and three smoothbore 32-pdrs.  One issue with Fort Johnson was the orientation of the guns.  To support the outer line, the guns needed to point east.  But to cover the inner harbor, the guns needed to point north and west.  In March 1863, the heavy guns pointed towards the inner harbor.  Later improvements would add outer works oriented to the east.

Guns of Fort Johnson

By March 1863, Battery Ripley, built on wooden cribs placed upon a shoal in the harbor, mounted a 10-inch columbiad in addition to some smaller weapons.  To further support the battery, Beauregard had debris dropped around the shoal to protect the cribs.  The Confederates also sank pilings across side channels near the battery.

Battery Ripley, in the distant left, seen from Fort Johnson’s wharf

Regarding Castle Pinckney, Beauregard “considered it nearly worthless, capable of exerting but little influence on the defenses of Charleston.”  Prior to upgrades, the old fort contained nine 24-pdr smoothbore guns and one rifled 24-pdr.  Later the fort received 10-inch columbiads.

Interior of Castle Pinckney

I mention the floating battery here, but that defense is somewhat an enigma in relation to the situation in March-April 1863.  Some accounts have it armed with four 8-inch naval guns and have it posted between Fort Johnson and Battery Ripley.  But it may have been destroyed by a storm during the summer of 1863.  Regardless, by the spring of 1863 the battery fell into disfavor and did not factor into plans for defense of Charleston.

The Floating Battery

The works mentioned above lacked the punch of Charleston’s outer defenses.  With most of the heavy guns going to the outer defenses, for good reason, the inner forts could do little against Federal ironclads.  The nightmare scenario that Beauregard feared – the monitors just pushing their way into Charleston harbor – continued to haunt his plans.  So it is little wonder the board assembled that March addressed the deficiency. But as we’ve seen, the Confederates simply lacked the resources – guns, labor, and troops – to do much else.

I’ll continue the walk through Charleston’s defenses with a look at the batteries and fortifications which defended the city itself in the next installment.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 622-3.)

Prioritization of work at Charleston: Third and forth points from Beauregard’s Board

Picking up from the previous posts, having determined the department had not received the proper amount of guns, the board turned to its third point of consideration:

What additional ordnance, if any, and description may be necessary to complete the armament of works constructed, under construction, or ordered to defend the approaches to Charleston, and including Sullivan’s and Morris Islands, as well as Saint Andrew’s and Christ Church Parishes.

This line of inquiry was a corollary to the previous two. Earlier the board identified the need for sixty-one 10-inch columbiads, or equivalent. And to this requirement, the department received twenty-one since June 1862. With respect to the third point on the agenda, the board was to consider, should those guns arrive, which of the fortifications had priority of delivery. The board’s consideration began with a particularly obvious draw:

Such defenses of the water approaches to Charleston as have been ordered and constructed could, in the opinion of the beard, be sufficiently armed by the guns required for could they be obtained; and as those completed are not yet fully furnished, and are in position to command every water approach, the board would not deem it advisable to call for more artillery of very heavy caliber until the requisitions made can be filled.

Or in other words, they had plenty of empty positions. They needed to fill those first. But among the various fortifications, the board offered suggestions for improvements:

Certain points it would appear, however, would be benefited by additions, but these could be drawn from those guns already required for. Battery Bee is deficient by four 10-inch columbiads, Fort Moultrie might well have two or more; Castle Pinckney should also be strengthened by the addition of two 10-inch guns or one 10-inch and one Brooke gun.

As more guns arrived, the priority remained for the forts and batteries on Sullivan’s Island and then to the inner harbor. The board continued on to suggest additional long range, but movable guns for Battery Marshall at the north end of Sullivan’s Island. The suggested armament was two rifled 24-pdrs or 30-pdr Parrott rifles.


And the board also wanted to place similar long range guns at the south end of Morris Island to cover Light-House Inlet and Folly Island’s beach. Furthermore, the board wanted two rifled 42-pdrs or 10-inch columbiads added to Battery Wagner (which at this time had one 32-pdr rifle, one 24-pdr rifle, and two 32-pdr smoothbores), in order to strengthen the coverage of the ship channel.


The board also considered the outer, land-facing defenses of Charleston. Instead of increasing the fixed armament of the fortifications in Christ Church and Saint Andrew’s Parishes, the board wanted to increase the mobile siege train:

This, at present consisting of eight 8-inch siege howitzers and four rifled 12-pounders, should be increased as much as possible with guns of similar caliber. How far it would be necessary to increase it would of course depend on the nature of the attack, but the beard are of the opinion that it would not be too much to double the number of the howitzers and to add eight rifled guns, say four 12-pounder rifles and four 30-pounder Parrotts, with full equipments.

The prioritization of gun emplacement set, the board then turned to the forth point of discussion:

What works, if any, are essential for the defense of Charleston, in addition to those already constructed, under construction, or ordered.

First the board wanted to improve the works around Fort Johnson and improve Castle Pinckney’s armament. To further improve the defenses of the inner harbor, the board wanted more works built at White Point. (And I am due to post a “walk through” of the inner harbor defenses… working on it for later this week.)

But looking beyond the inner harbor, the board turned to a point made by Brigadier-General S.R. Gist in his earlier report:

That the enemy be, if possible, expelled from Stono River, and that strong works, armed with guns drawn from Fort Pemberton, be reerected on Cole’s Island. Should this be impracticable the board believe that as soon as labor, either of troops or negroes or both, can be procured a strong work should be erected at Grimball’s, on James Island, and a short line of defense from Secessionville to Grimball’s be taken up with an outpost at Legaré’s Landing.

This made good military sense. Far easier to defend James Island and the southern approaches to Charleston from the barrier islands. The line of defense would be shorter and require fewer troops. But without the resources to push the Federals off Folly Island, the Confederates had to settle for strengthening James Island.


One additional point made at that time addressed Fort Pemberton:

The board are unanimously of opinion that the present location of Fort Pemberton is a mistake, and that it gives an enemy, if he chooses, an opportunity of landing and commencing his regular approaches toward the interior defenses of James Island at his leisure and with comparative security.

This remark bears against the concept of defense adopted in early 1862, and in some ways exposes the flaws of that that arrangement. The plan which Generals Robert E. Lee and John Pemberton felt sufficient was now not in favor for 1863.

Overall the board’s priorities might be summed up as – more guns for the harbor entrance and more forts for the inner harbor and James Island. In the next installment on this thread, I’ll look to the fifth point – how many troops were needed at Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 829-833.)

Castle Pinckney Sold for $10!

You read that right!  Ten dollars!

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney as it Appeared in the Civil War

The current owner, the South Carolina State Ports Authority, agreed to sell the fort and grounds to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Camp 1269 for what you must agree is a very, very fair price.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney Today

The Ports Authority acquired Shutes’ Folly  back in the 1950s when the site fell off the list of sites under consideration for national monument status.  Facing budget concerns, the Ports Authority agreed to transfer the property to the SCV camp.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Wartime Photo Showing Troops in Formation at Castle Pinckney

I’ve visited Shute’s Folly many years back.  Certainly the remotest site of the Charleston, South Carolina forts.  Although the brickwork has crumbled and deteriorated, I was able to learn a great deal about the architectural aspects of the fort despite the overgrowth.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Exterior of Castle Pinckney Today

At one time the Ports Authority used the island as a dredging spoil site, but I don’t think any of the historical structures were affected.  Over the years I’ve heard a number of attempts by the Ports Authority to introduce preservation efforts.  But none seemed to take root.  Hopefully this time the SCV’s efforts will bear fruit.

Speaking to the Charleston Post and Courier the SCV Camp’s commander Philip Middleton stated, “We didn’t want to see something out there like a sports bar, with neon lights.”

Another camp member, Bill Snow, added, “Our ultimate aim is to preserve this facility in a respectful and dignified way, to provide a visible link to the past for future generations in the Charleston area.  The fort is a part of our Lowcountry heritage and will be honored as such by the Fort Sumter Camp of the SCV.”

The fort was the first such installation occupied by South Carolina troops, and a significant event in the road to war.  And at the end of the war, it was among the installations in Charleston manned by US Colored Troops.  Those are a couple of reasons I’ve always considered the photo below among the most telling from the war period:

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
African-American outside Castle Pinckney

I do hope the SCV is able to stabilize the site.  However I think restoration of the fort is out of the question for now.  But even in the current condition, the location might make an interesting “extended stop” for those on Fort Sumter tours.  Heck, I’d pay an extra $5 on the normal boat tour price for that stop.  Get one more of you to join with me, and the SCV camp breaks even!

(Photos and illustrations courtesy of Henry de Saussure Copeland, linked from a Flickr collection.)