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:

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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:

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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:

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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 Johnson Photo Analysis, Part X: Structure of the fort from the interior

Our next stop on this virtual walk around Fort Johnson, by way of photos taken at the end of the Civil War, is a point which looks across the interior of the fort at the walls on the east side of the fort.

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The digital copy I am working from is a scan of a print and not one of the glass plate.  So you might see some distortions related to that type of media in the crops that follow.  For reference, this photo was taken with the camera standing at the point annotated as FJ8 on the diagram below:

FortJohnsonPhotoLocation2

The angle of the camera is centered across to the angle of the fort’s wall where the epaulement on the left of the water battery joined the wall facing Morris Island.  This was a very important section, as it was the structure which prevented the Federals from skipping shot and shell into the back of the gun positions.

As related in the earlier discussion, photo FJ7 was taken from a point next to the ruins inside Fort Johnson.  Somewhere on the extreme right of this crop, next to the chimney:

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So imagine the camera tripod somewhere between the base of the chimney and the pile of bricks on the right:

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That said, I’m more interested in the limber conveniently parked in our view.  We see all the fixtures associated with this important piece of equipment.  We can see the joins in the wheel.  As well the dove-tail joins in the chest atop the limber.

Looking to the left of the limber, and through the pavilion of sorts built around the ruins, there appear to be a pile of logs or other rubbish.

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I find this interesting, as it brings to mind a “burn pit” or sorts.  Also note the mixed styles of vertical beams for the pavilion.  Some square beams.  Others are round poles. Sort of a “use what you have” structure. Oh, and notice the grass growing there.  Clearly this structure had been around a few years.

Looking at the roof of the pavilion, we see shingles.  And we also see bricks and wood laying on top:

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Compare the pavilion roof to that of the shed directly behind.  (And yes that is the shed seen in FJ7, earlier in our “walk”).

Looking above the shed, there are a couple vents sticking out of the fort’s wall:

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These vents tell us the wall wasn’t just a pile of earth, but was in fact built over a bombproof.  Panning back to the left, we see the entrance to the bombproof:

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This is something the photos tell us that the survey diagrams do not accurately, or shall I say fully, depict. The wall is drawn, but the details of this bombproof were below the level of detail offered by the surveys.  The bombproof was just to the side of the sectional diagrams offered by the Coastal Survey team.  Without the photos, we might not know it existed.

However one structure seen on the survey diagrams is right in the middle of the photo.  The fort’s cistern:

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Here’s a closer view of the platform that sits over the cistern:

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You must keep the three-dimensional aspect in mind here.  The stacked logs behind the cistern are in fact the “crib” mentioned in FJ7.  So there is some distance between the cistern platform and those logs.  Notice the large stones on which the platform rests.  And… particular attention to the bucket:

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There are shadows of the planks on the right. But directly under the bucket, the wood is discolored as if moist.  So we have a leaky bucket at Fort Johnson?  Or someone has been sloppy with the water?

Looking back for the moment, this view also provides a fine study of a sling cart:

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This cart has just been used for some work, as the chains are still laying across the tree.

If we look close beyond the wheels, we see the tent mentioned in FJ7.

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Notice the posts and rail on the left side of the tent. That rail is seen in photo FJ6.  See how this all pieces together nicely?

But what I like the most about this photo is that we have a couple of soldiers taking a break from their duties:

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A couple of USCT resting on the stacked ordnance. The projectiles are 10-inch caliber for the columbiads.  Note crumbling pyramid on the left… we’ll see that one again.  Also note the stacked boxes:

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We’ll see these from another perspective.  The markings are easier to read from that view. But for now just consider those faces and body language.  No martial pose.  Sort of an “Are you done with the photo?” attitude.  But as there is little blur, we might presume the photographer had requested they sit (or remain seated) at that point.  Perhaps a study in the fortunes of war… these USCT, former slaves, now tending a former Confederate fortification.

Also demonstrating that change in ownership is the United States flag over the ramparts:

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As related in the earlier posts, the particulars of the angle from which the flag is seen in the photos, we can determine the flag staff was on the outside face of the fort.

We think of these works in terms of “offense” and “defense.”  We saw the offense in the form of four heavy guns.  Now we need to asses the defensive side, particularly how it protected the vulnerable areas in the fort’s interior.

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As mentioned above, this portion of the wall was particularly important as it protected the gunners and some of the sensitive portions of the fort from the Federals on Morris Island.  But we don’t see Morris Island or anything beyond the fort’s walls.  That’s how high these were constructed to serve the defensive purpose.

One other particular we should note about these walls.  Look at the line across this view.  Or allow me to emphasize that with yellow lines:

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See how level these are?  We have the main line (lower) that demonstrates the height of the main works.  Then there is a “crest” at the point of the works, which we’ve seen in other views, with erosion at the edges, which stood a few feet higher.  Again, these are details we can pull out from the surveys, but the photographs provide a three-dimensional verification.

Another component the photos bring to us is the reality of what the fort’s interior looked like…..

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And maybe what it smelled like?

Next stop… we are going to look at that ammunition stacked on the left of this view.

Fort Johnson Photo Analysis, Part VII: The interior through the camera lens, preserved on glass plate

Thus far, we’ve looked at photos taken of the exterior of Fort Johnson, specifically the water battery.  But those were not the only places the photographer, George Barnard, visited in the spring of 1865.  In fact, Barnard spent considerable time inside Fort Johnson.  From that, we can “virtually” tour the fort, 150 years later, by way of those photographs.

Summarizing what we’ve seen thus far, here is the diagram depicting the location of the camera and perspective of the first five photos in this study… er … tour:

FortJohnsonPhotoLocation1

At the end of our examination of FJ5, I called attention to the Brooke Rifle and the barrel out in front of the gun.

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The rifle and the barrel are key reference points as we step into the interior.  Both appear in the photo that I’ll label, for our purposes, FJ6:

Up close:

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I’ll examine the other details of this photo in a dedicated post, but the Brooke establishes that we are looking down the back of the second gallery from the right on Fort Johnson.  Notice the pyramid of bolts to the right of the crop above.  Note the letters “A.C” on the top three. You see them again in another photo of the fort’s interior:

I’ll call this one FJ7.  And aiding the effort to establish the camera’s perspective is that pyramid of bolts, in the distant center:

FJ7_1

See the letters?

The centerpiece of FJ7 are the debris and ruins inside the fort. Those appear on the surveys.  And that further establishes the perspective of the camera.  The ruins also appear in another photo of the interior, but from a different angle:

I’ll call this one FJ8.  Up close, here’s the ruins… which don’t see too badly ruined… if all you want is a pavilion.

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Panning to the left, looking beyond the sling cart, we see the tent, with chimney:

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That tent appeared in FJ7.  To the right of the tent is a platform with a bucket on top. That coincides with the location of the fort’s cistern on surveys.  Beyond (above) the platform is a log crib.  The crib and tent also appear from another perspective of Fort Johnson:

This photo, FJ9 for my labeling, looks across the interior wall of the fort.  Stacked pyramids of shot and shell stand along that wall.  Some of those were seen in FJ8.  As are the tent and crib:

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Those sequences are fine, but only show the “small” particulars of the fort.  What we would like is a wide angle view of the fort’s interior.  Well we have one:

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Unfortunately I cannot find this photo, which I’ll call FJ10, from a digitized glass plate.  Only a scan from a printed copy.  But in this view we see, from left to right, the ruins, pyramids of shot and shell, the cistern, and the tent.  There are other points of reference to mention here (notably the sling cart beyond the fort, which was seen in the exterior photographs).

That is sufficient to start plotting the camera locations of the five photos against the fort surveys:

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The green lines demonstrate the angle of the camera view.

Considering the first five “stops” made in front of Fort Johnson:

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You can see, hardly an inch of the Confederate water battery escaped the camera lens.  How many places of note from the Civil War can we say that about?