History and Hops: February

As mentioned earlier, I will be speaking at Dragon Hops Brewing on February 21 as part of the series “History and Hops.” As promised, here are the details:

What could be better? Enjoying a beer as we discuss the Civil War…. the Civil War in Charleston on top of that! Readers well know, this is a favorite focus of my research. We tend to bypass this story, treating Fort Sumter as just the place where the war started. In reality, Fort Sumter was the subject of an ongoing campaign as the Federals attempted to wrestle control of Charleston harbor. This focus on Fort Sumter was, in terms of days, weeks, and months, the longest battle of the war. Oh, and did I say there would be beer?

If you plan to attend, please stop by the event page on Facebook and make your mark. That way the staff knows how many folks to expect. This is an open event, with no tickets or such. Just have to be 21 or older, as there are alcoholic beverages served. Did I mention there would be beer?

So if you are in the area, save the date and make plans to stop by. We’ll warm up the winter with a talk about the warm(er) waters of the South Carolina Low Country. And did I mention the beer?

Christmas Eve, 1863, and Charleston was quiet… relatively

On the day before Christmas, 1863, the Charleston Daily Courier lead with their customary account of fighting around the city:

Siege of Charleston

One-hundred and sixty-eight day.

There was no firing from the enemy during Tuesday night or Wednesday.  The quiet of Fort Sumter remained undisturbed.  The enemy were hard at work making some changes on Battery Gregg, the nature of which has not transpired.  Fort Moultrie directed a brisk fire at the working parties which was renewed at intervals through the day.

The firing heard so plainly in the city Wednesday morning and which some believed to be the enemy shelling the city, was from one of our gunboats practicing up Cooper river.  The fleet remained in its usual position, not firing a gun.

So nothing was stirring, not even an ironclad?  As frame of reference, this was posted in the December 24 paper, reaching the streets on a Thursday morning.  All through the day the newspaper men at the Courier and their rival, the Charleston Mercury, prepared a Christimas edition, that would go out Friday morning.  Both papers posted notices they would be closed on Friday, thus making it a long weekend.  So subscribers would not expect to see newspapers until Monday morning, December 28.

The Christmas Day edition of the Courier, arriving that Friday morning, featured an opinion piece on the importance of the holiday:

Christmas.

The Christian world celebrates to-day, the anniversary of the advent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of Man.  It is the oldest as well as the most important of all the Church festivals.  …

Well into the piece, a somber warning which might be served even in our own times:

There are many children of larger growth, woe, lost to the higher significance of this ancient feast, pervert it to fleshly delights, and derive their happiness in its avent from social reunions, good cheer, and the manful ports and games that have come down from the far distant past.  Too large a number of those who keep the day by generous fare and noisy mirth desecrate it by excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures, and forgetting the nature of the occasion and the obligations it enjoins, burden their stomachs with food, and drink deep of the Wassail Bowl.  How often is the injurious gluttony and indiscreet revelry of the half barbarous days of the Boar’s Head practice at the board in the present day, when through the blessing of Heaven is implored upon the meat and drink, the Giver is altogether forgotten and lost to all sense of gratitude, propriety and dignity, blasphemy, obscenity and drunkenness mark the wild carousal.

There you have it… a War on Christmas… in 1863.

But the piece turned from there to a frank assessment of the situation and the real war occurring right outside the city:

The Christmas of 1863 brings no gifts for the boys and girls. The sounds of battle have frightened away from our bleeding Southern land the bearer of painted toys, and candies and plums, and their parents and elders will have to be content with the wholesome food of simple quality, seeing that hams and turkeys, mince pies and plum puddings are things the contest we are engaged in compels them to do without. Many will dine on the scanty fare of every day.  Many will celebrate it afar from their homes, and the memory of the manner in which they have passed this day for a long series of years will aggravate their present ills and add grief to their sorrow.  Of those not a few have been driven from their homes by the ruthless enemy, who has burned their homesteads, took their slaves, and desolated their plantations [Emphasis mine]– How many mourn the untimely death of noble sons and husbands, and brothers, at the hands of the cruel invader, and how many thousands will hardly be aware that it is Christmas, for they will have to endure the same privations and hardships, and neither the food they eat nor the weapons they carry will remind them that the day they used to look forward to with such impatient desire, has once more dawned upon our earth.  The golden light of this morning will stream through the windows of many a home, but those generous rays will not dispel the darkness that enshrouds the hearts of the inmates. The light of those homes has been extinguished.  The beloved of their hearts, their joy and pride, lie sleeping in their gory garments on the field of carnage, where they fell with their faces to the foe. …

But, as with any stern sermon, the writer closed by encouraging the reader to be emboldened by faith:

Let us all keep this day in a penitent, thankful, truthful, reverent spirit, not forgetting the claims of the poor, and especially meeting the obligations we are under to our soldiers and their families, and praying with all fervor and faith that God would vouchsafe His blessing on our cause, and grant us speedy and honorable and enduring peace.

Below this, the Courier ran a notice that the Wayside Home would offer Christmas Dinner to all soldiers, “with or without furloughs or passes” from noon to three that afternoon, free of charge.  With the same notice, the Mercury urged donations to the Wayside Home as to replace items recently lost when a blockade runner came to grief.

On other columns that day, the Mercury lauded a seasonal serenade by the Eutaw Band, formerly the Charleston Brass Band, and now part of the 25th South Carolina Infantry.   The state of Georgia, as reported by the Mercury, was only $15 million in debt despite war situation, but had $9 million in public property to back that. Besides, it was reported the taxable property amounted to almost $800 million.  So the bills, from the war, could be met… at least those measured in dollar figures. However, the Mercury gave a less favorable estimate for the Federals that Christmas:

Expensive undertakings. – The New York Daily News, of the 16th instant, in an editorial says that powder, ball and shell alone, which have been used in the attempt to take Charleston, cost the United States Government seven millions of dollars, and the whole cost of the various expeditions fitted out against the city has amounted to upward of thirty millions of dollars.  The cost will probably be doubled, adds the News, and the undertaking will be abandoned.

It further adds, that enough has been expended in attempts to take Richmond to build half a dozen cities of the size, and almost as many lives lost as would populate the whole of them.

Thus, for those Charlestonians making the best of Christmas, there was a ray of hope, sought for in the Courier‘s message.  While Southern states might scrape up the financial reserves to see through the war, the Yankees were about to cave in…. at least that’s how it looked from the hopeful writers in Charleston.

As for the news around Charleston on Christmas Day, the Courier would lead with more reports indicating firing on Federal work parties.  Sumarizing, “… no particular movements of the enemy on Morris Island….” and “The fleet maintained the usual position.”  The number of Federal blockaders inside the Charleston bar was twenty-eight (including four monitors and the USS New Ironsides), supported by an equal number in Lighthouse Inlet and four blockaders outside the bar.

But one additional sentence, seemingly a late inclusion, placed an ominous pale on Christmas Day:

The enemy opened on the city between twelve and one o’clock.  Our batteries replied as usual, with spirit.

Confederate officers place the start of this bombardment at 12:30 AM Christmas morning.  And that shelling continued through the day until 1 PM.  All told, 134 shots reached the city that day, with another sixteen falling short.  Occurring the same morning, a large fire broke out in Charleston resulting in the loss of $150,000 in property and several injuries to firefighters.

And while Charleston was receiving the bombardment and fighting a fire, over on the Stono River Confederates staged an ambush of the USS Marblehead.  Thus neither side was interested in Christmas Day truces.  On Monday, December 28, the Mercury would begin their report of these activities, “The Christmas of 1863 will long be remembered by those who passed the day in the City of Charleston….”

[While I’ve detailed the ambush of the Marblehead in earlier posts, I’ve only given the bombardment and fire passing mention.  I shall resolve that shortcoming in a post to follow.]

(Citation from Charleston Daily Courier, Thursday, December 24, 1863, page 1, column 1 and Friday, December 25, 1863, page 1 columns 1-3; Charleston Mercury, Friday, December 25, 1863, page 2, column 1, and December 28, 1863, page 2 column 1.)

Charleston’s ship channels – then and now

During our visit to Charleston last week, the Aide-de-Camp and I walked the Sullivan’s Island beach near sunset.  During our walk, our study of the harbor was interrupted as this big white thing passed:

IMG_5883

That’s the Carnival Ecstasy outbound on a cruise to some tropical ports of call.  One escort boat paces to the stern.  There was a larger pilot boat on the other side.  We kept tabs on the liner’s progress as she worked out the channel to the sea.

2016-03-19 Charleston 090

The cruise liner is 150 years removed from the days of coal-fired steamships that attempted to run out of Charleston during the Civil War.  Sailors of those blockade runners might not recognize the modern diesel engines powering the liner.  For that matter, maybe the concept of luxury cruises might seem odd to the Civil War sailors….

But one thing that would look familiar are those boats tending to the big ship.  I wrote about the problems getting ocean going ships over the bar at Charleston on several occasions, in particular how that limited options during the crisis days at Fort Sumter.  During the war, the US Navy kept numerous armed tugs in the blockading force off Charleston.  These light-draft and maneuverable vessels were invaluable for working in the shallows and also for assisting the larger ships through the narrow confines of the channels.  Recall that during the Civil War the approaches to Charleston harbor offered four channels:

CharlestonApproachesWartimeColor

Of all the wartime maps of Charleston, I like this one best.. and not just because of the colors.  The US Coast Survey produced this map in 1865 by direction of Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren.  Annotations on the map supported Dahlgren’s reports filed at the end of the war.  So we see notes about the locations of significant wrecks, torpedoes, harbor obstructions, and batteries.

But look at the channels.  Charleston had four:

  • Main Ship Channel – coming up from the south in front of Morris Island.  The Federal ironclads used this channel to attack Fort Sumter on April 7, 1863. And later the Federals maintained a presence in the channel, first as they worked against Battery Wagner then later for operations against Fort Sumter.
  • Swash Channel – Somewhat a secondary route directly over the bar.  Federals often posted tugs or light draft gunboats in the Swash Channel overnight on blockade duty.
  • North Channel – Also a secondary route.  Used often by the blockade runners in the first half of the war (as evidenced by the wreck of the Georgiana.
  • Beach Channel, better known as Maffitt’s Channel – Running along Sullivan’s Island, this became the preferred channel for blockade runners.

Now let’s consider how the entrance to Charleston looks… from under the water… today:

CharlestonApproachesModern1a

I’ve called out some key points in red on this navigational chart.  Note the locations of Forts Sumter and Moultrie, still watching the passage of vessels at the harbor entrance.  But other than that, a lot of changes – above and below the water.

We see Morris Island Lighthouse on the lower left.  That’s not the location of the wartime light, but rather a postwar light built in 1876.  It servers to depict how much Morris Island has retreated. Keep in mind that the coastal survey teams documented rather alarming changes to Morris Island between the pre-war and 1863. So don’t get the idea that barrier island’s erosion is all a 20th century thing.  Barrier islands shift and move… that’s what they do.

Looking under the water, notice that Charleston now has just one channel.  Two jetties reach out from shore to help stabilize that channel.  For ships entering harbor, the first leg of the passage is the “Fort Sumter Range,” on which the vessel’s bearing is directly at Fort Sumter.  The Corps of Engineers maintains that channel to a depth of 49 feet mean low lower water (MLLW) but has plans to deepen that to 52 feet.  MLLW?  Yes, the “The average of the lower low water height of each tidal day observed over the National Tidal Datum Epoch.”  It’s a low tide thing.  Wonder what Dahglren would say about a 52 foot deep channel into Charleston for his ironclads?

Note the locations of the wartime channels, marked in red, on the modern chart.  Only a remnant of the Main Ship Channel remains in front of Fort Sumter.  Maffitt’s Channel is but a memory.  The modern channel splits the Swash and North Channels (and my annotation of those two channels there is somewhat a ballpark estimate… both channels wandered around a bit even during the war).  Some of these changes were prompted by all the activity off the coast in the 1860s.  Certainly the number of wrecks, to include the stone fleet, had some impact.  But the biggest issue was four years in which no channel maintenance was conducted.  After the war, Charleston needed a deeper channel.  Jetties built in the 1870s widened out the Swash Channel.  Now in the 21st century ships are getting bigger and thus the project to make it 52 feet deep, at low water.

Oh… and by the way, for that project to deepen the channel, the Corps of Engineers has conducted a “cultural resources assessment.”  On page 23 of Appendix O of the report, the Army has determined at least one anomaly within the channel deserves attention.  As a precaution, the Army will have “an archaeologist onboard the dredge when operating in the vicinity of the anomaly.”  Furthermore, “Remote sensing surveys will be conducted in all areas proposed for widening to ensure that incidental damage to any such resources will be avoided. It is anticipated that no cultural or historic resources would be affected by the project.”

Some other points of reference, since we are out looking at those waters.  Notice Rattlesnake Shoals remains a hazard to navigation out on the northeast approaches.  Walk down to the lower left of that shoal and you see a box outlined on the chart:

CharlestonApproachesModern2

The chart indicates, in Note A, that we should refer to Chapter 2, US Coastal Plot 4, specifically part 165.714.  There we find the coordinates for a trapezoid and the following warning:

In accordance with the general regulations in §165.23 of this part, all vessels and persons are prohibited from anchoring, diving, laying cable or conducting salvage operations in this zone except as authorized by the Captain of the Port.

And what prompted such regulation?  Just off from lighted buoy #16 is where the H.L. Hunley was found.

One more bit of history comes by way of the notes on this chart.  Track to  “Danger Area (see note B)” just below the Hunley‘s box.  Note B states:

Area is open to unrestricted surface navigation but all vessels are cautioned neither to anchor, dredge, trawl, lay cables, bottom, nor conduct any similar type of operation because of residual danger from mines on the bottom. Anchorage in the designated area is at your own risk.

Minefields in that area (and others marked on the chart) date to the World Wars. So more than just Civil War history to consider.

And that history has me reflecting on changes… changes to the harbor entrance that we can document.  Often our thoughts about changing battlefields remains above the surface as we look at topology.  Things like new roads and development tend to obliterate what was heavily contested ground in the 1860s (as Phil recently wrote about).  But for some battlefields, there is another dimension to consider.  The waves on the surface of the ocean off Charleston still rise and fall just in 1863…

IMG_5892

But what is beneath those waves has changed drastically.