Tag Archives: Fort Sumter

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:


And in wartime photos from Morris Island:


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.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part IV: A wartime photo of a surviving cannon, a rare 10-inch Columbiad

The next stop on this virtual tour of wartime Fort Johnson, outside Charleston, South Carolina, is the photo designated FJ3:


The location of this photo is plotted with that designation on the diagram below:


I love this photo.  Mostly because of that scene-stealing cannon right up front:


I’ve blogged a bit about this particular weapon and shared its history at length.  One thing I would add to that, since we are pointing out the connection of this rifled 10-inch Columbiad to Fort Johnson, is another photo from the collection of the Charleston Museum.  This large columbiad remained at Fort Johnson well after the war before being moved to Fort Sumter for display.

When I first read Warren Ripley’s Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, the story of this weapon captured my fancy.  It was a piece of history that I could see in a wartime photo and then, after a ferry ride over to Fort Sumter, actually touch.  So from there started a lasting appreciation for the story of Charleston’s long Civil War siege.

This being a digitized copy of the negative, once again we see the fine-grained details:


Again we see the result of Confederate details, who chopped at the carriage.  We can see individual hack marks and chips hanging loose.  Notice the bolts, square nuts, washers, and plates.  This was a pre-war pattern carriage, built by the Confederates – likely in Charleston – during the war.

Another effort to render the weapon ineffective for at least the near term was the removal of the truck wheels.


Another detail that stands out in this photo are the blemishes and dents on the gun’s reinforcing band:


If you look at the same spot today, some of those, particularly the circular mark, stand out to the sharp eye:


However, with all the scuffs, blemishes, and scratches from the last 150 years, the band is far from the relatively “clean” look it had in 1865.  The photo above was taken in 2011.  The columbiad received some maintenance and treatment recently, so I’m interested to see it again… maybe those scratches have more stories to tell.

Looking to the muzzle, we see a tall blade sight on the lip:


This was due to the need to provide a fixture above the line of sight over the large breech bands.

Turning from the big gun, we see an 8-inch Model 1841 Siege Howitzer looking out towards Morris Island.


This is a crisp study of the weapon and carriage.  Looking closely at the breech:


There’s an interesting marking to the left of the knob. That appears to be a range table of sorts.  We also see the number “7” at the top.  The January 1865 report listed no weapons of this caliber assigned to Fort Johnson.  I suspect this howitzer was from the South Carolina Siege Train.  But it could easily have been one assigned to the other batteries on James Island.  I’ve tried in vain to link the number on the breech to wartime documents.

Behind the howitzer appears to be an ammunition chest.  In front of it, or at least next to the right wheel, is a tampion.  And to the other side of the wheel is a canister round:


More canister are stacked on the foot of the works:


Looking past the howitzer, we see the posts in the harbor:


Again, I have speculations as to the reason for these posts.  And my leading speculation is in regard to the telegraph line to Fort Sumter.

Speaking of Fort Sumter, there it is again:


In this image, we can see more details of the dock and second three gun battery.

Further to the left of frame is the shoreline of Sullivan’s Island:


Before leaving this photo, let us look at the foreground… and I do mean ground:


Remember this was taken in the spring of 1865.  I can make out grass and weeds growing here.  Again, let’s consider the natural colors which should replace the grey-scale.

Even more of the growth on the berm behind the columbiad:


Fort Johnson needed some Roundup!

But there is something to say about those weeds.  Those are “growth” and coming at the end of a long war.  No longer “frowning” works that bristled against the threat of attack.  Instead, we see nature taking over the works of man and beginning to transform them from the wartime appearance.

Next, we will go a few steps beyond the columbiad and look back along the gun line from the other side.