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.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part III: Brooke 7-inch Rifle in the third gun pit

Continue along with me in this “virtual” walk… back in time… to Fort Johnson as it appeared in the spring of 1865.  We move now to the second photo of the set:


I’ve given this photo the label of “FJ2” on the diagram below, so that we know the perspective from which we are looking:


Please note the photo we are using here is not a scan from the original glass plate.  Rather it is a scan from a mounted print. Still that affords detail worthy of discussion.

The “star” of this photo is a 7-inch Brooke Rifle.


Throughout my sesquicentennial narrative covering Charleston’s siege, I’ve written about the 7-inch Brookes.  These featured prominently in the Confederate defense of Charleston, particularly against the Federal ironclads.  Brookes of this caliber did substantial damage to the ill-fated, ill-designed USS Keokuk.  This particular example in place at Fort Johnson at the end of the war was a double-banded, as opposed to the single-band seen early in the production run or the triple-band version used on Sullivan’s Island.  The 7-inch Brooke at Fort Johnson was one of six at Charleston through the winter of 1865.

Looking at the gun and carriage in detail, we see, like the 10-inch columbiads, the Confederates used axes to damage the carriage:


While this could be repaired, the damage at least ensured the Federals could not make immediate use of the big rifle.  We can’t see any details of the vent.  But I’d assume that was jammed.  I’ve often wondered why the Confederates did not do more to disable the weapons.  But we an be thankful they did not blow up the guns, magazines, and forts. Not only did that save lives at the time, but left a lot of artifacts behind for our viewing.

The relatively intact carriage allows us to peruse other details.  Notice the trunnions and trunnion plate:


This was a standard 10-inch columbiad carriage, but used an adapter with the trunnion plate for the smaller trunnion of the Brooke.  Notice no cap square on the seacoast carriage.  Notice also the square nuts for the ties.  Those on the trunnion plate do not have washers.  But the transverse tie (below the trunnion, facing us) has a washer-like fitting.

Shifting back to the breech, we see a good profile of the Brooke with bands and blade cascabel:


At the top of the breech is the rear sight base with brackets and fittings:


The Brooke casabel was pierced for an elevating screw.  Such was standard outfit for naval mountings.  On land, the seacoast carriage was not easily adapted for use of the elevating screw.  So we see in the photo an anachronistic throwback:


Yes, a quoin wedged in there under the breech.

As for the forward sights, the sight base over the trunnions is bare:


There is another sight base on the muzzle:


Also note the tampion in the muzzle.  Again, I’m amazed that the Confederates would leave the weapon’s accouterments in place.

Beyond the Brooke is the last gun position in Fort Johnson and an 8-inch siege howitzer.  Even with the lower resolution of this scan, we can see one of the posts in the line between Battery Simkins and Fort Sumter.


Also within range of this resolution are the details of the turf making up the fort’s walls:


Bricks or cut sod?

The crown of this portion of the wall is already showing harm from neglect and wear:


And beyond Fort Johnson, we have another glimpse of Fort Sumter:


The resolution does not provide many details.  Perhaps the masted vessel seen to the right of the fort in FJ1 had moved on by the time the photographer snapped FJ2.

Before leaving this photo, let me mention the “star” of this photo as a possible survivor.  The Charleston Museum’s archives include a photo of what may be the same Brooke Rifle (or at least a similar one) being excavated at the fort.  That photo is undated, but likely from the first quarter of the 20th century.  The gun in the photo was later placed in “The Battery” at White Point:

Charleston 4 May 10 035

I’d give it about 90% odds that the Brooke in the wartime photo is the same pictured being excavated and thus is the same on display today.  As if you didn’t have enough reasons to visit Charleston’s Battery, there’s a chance to connect with a wartime artifact with a story to tell.

Next up, we’ll “walk” a bit further down the line to the last gun position at Fort Johnson.

Four big guns protecting Charleston Harbor: Fort Johnston, Photo Analysis, Part I

Shortly after the fall of Charleston, Federal engineers and survey teams arrived in the city.  One of those teams, under US Coast Survey Assistant Charles Otis Boutelle, focused on the waterways, channels, and shorelines. But the US Coast Survey also provided some excellent surveys of the fortifications.  On the other hand, the Army’s teams focused mostly on the fortifications.  We, 150 years later, are very fortunate to have the products from these surveys as references.  Most of the wartime defenses of Charleston have long since disappeared.  So these surveys give some fine details to back up written reports and observations.

And while the survey teams were busy measuring and drafting, several photographers descended upon Charleston to ply their trade.  Many arrived to “capture the moment” during the flag raising ceremony at Fort Sumter.  But those photographers did not narrowly focus their lens on that celebration.  They brought back a visual catalog of places and sites around Charleston.  Those images coupled with the very fine survey work – and both activities occurring at the same time frame, mind you – offer some unique windows into the Civil War landscape of Charleston, as it existed in the spring of 1865.

Let me offer Fort Johnson as an example of how these resources allow us to “see” what was, as it was.  The fort’s armament varied throughout the war.  But in January 1865, Colonel Ambrosio José Gonzales reported Fort Johnson as armed with two 10-inch columbiads, one rifled 10-inch columbiad, one rifled 8-inch columbiad, one 7-inch Brooke Rifle, and two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.

But that does not provide Fort Johnson’s layout, dimensions, or arrangement.  So let us turn to the US Coast Survey’s work on James Island:


North is to the top on this survey.  So place the city of Charleston to the upper left, off the sheet.  Likewise, Fort Sumter is to the right and off the sheet.  Zooming down a bit, let us look at Fort Johnson in more detail:


Immediately, you should notice a puzzle here.  What Boutelle called Fort Johnson has too many gun positions for the armament Gonzales listed.  Part of this puzzle falls into place with the fortifications on the left (directly under the scale key).  That is Battery Harleston.  Still we should see five big-gun positions… not counting the two howitzers which were used as flank defense.  But there are only four positions indicated along the line designated “Section 1” from the survey.  There is another gun position at the lower right of the map, detailed with “Section 4.”  Here are those profile sections for review:


Sections 1 and 2 look across the Water Battery of the fort, facing east toward the harbor.  Section 3 cuts across the rear of the main part of the fort.  And Section 4 is a profile of that bastion on the southwest side face of the fort.

See what’s interesting about this puzzle when you mention the cardinal directions?  Yes, four guns faced the harbor while only one gun faced the Federal positions on Morris Island.  While the guns at the Water Battery could train towards Fort Sumter, that was not their primary facing.  Only one gun from Fort Johnson confronted the Federal positions.  The task of countering Federal activity on Morris Island fell mostly to Battery Simkins (also on the survey map, but outside of the snip I provide above).   So part of this puzzle is now what gun did the Confederates assign to firing on Federal batteries?  And what guns were detailed to counter any Federal naval force breaking into the inner harbor?

The US Coast Survey didn’t detail the guns by caliber (they did with Sullivan’s Island, but that doesn’t help us here).  The Army’s survey of Fort Johnson is more detailed in some respects… but also fails to provide any annotation of the guns. The original digital copy is on the LOC website.  Here is a snip for our purposes here:


Again we see four gun positions facing north toward the harbor and one position facing towards Morris Island.  Still doesn’t help sort out the guns.

But we do have a photograph looking across the front of the Water Battery of Fort Johnson (original digital at LOC):


Let’s call this photo “FJ1” (for Fort Johnson #1).  Notice Fort Sumter in the distance (left of center).  That confirms this as a photo of Fort Johnson.  A great “this is where the war began” shot.  George Barnard receives credit for this photo, taken after the Federals occupied Charleston.  The damaged carriage is ample proof of that (and I’ll go into more of the many details seen in this photo at a later point).

Now if you follow this blog on a regular basis, you should be able to identify these guns with ease!  Closest to the camera is a 10-inch Confederate columbiad.  A second is in the next position.  Third from the camera is a 7-inch Brooke Rifle (calling this photo FJ2):


Double-banded 7-inch Brooke to be exact.  Again, we know this to be after the fall of Charleston due to the axe work done on the carriage.

Next in line is a 10-inch rifled columbiad (FJ3):


How do I know this to be a rifled 10-inch columbiad?  Because that weapon is still in Charleston today… in fact sitting on a brand new carriage in Fort Sumter. We also see here a fifth weapon – an 8-inch Siege Howitzer, Model 1841.  That weapon was not listed in Gonzales’ report. But it is on a siege carriage and thus was probably at another point (or more likely part of the reserve), and relocated by the Federals.

The photographer even turned around and took a photo looking back across the Water Battery (FJ4):


Again, there is some good “stuff” in this photo that I will discuss at a later point.  Not the least of which is that smokestack at the wharf to the far right.    And we also see three mortars laying beyond the battery, apparently waiting transport elsewhere.  One of those appears in another photograph looking back at Fort Johnson (FJ5):


These five photos provide sound visual documentation.  All were taken on the same day.  And, given the damaged carriages, the big guns had not moved since the Confederates departed.  The details of the photos allow plotting against the fort surveys.  I’ve plotted the position of the camera here:


The blue octagons are labeled FJ1 to FJ5, as referenced above.  The green lines from those octagons depicts the rough angle of view seen in the photo.  So every inch of the Water Battery’s face is covered.  And better still, the details in the photograph match up well with the survey.  If we visit the site today, we don’t see those earthworks, which were replaced by a hospital and quarantine post.  Today the grounds are used by the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department.  So those wartime photos are a glimpse back to something that does not exist today.

Going back to the question about the guns, what these photos tell us, conclusively, is that four of the guns were placed in the Water Battery to face the harbor – one 10-inch rifled columbiad, one 7-inch Brooke Rifle, and two 10-inch columbiads.  That leaves the 8-inch rifled columbiad to face Morris Island.  What this further details is the primary mission for Fort Johnson’s garrison – to defend Charleston’s inner harbor in the event the Federal ironclads had broken through.  Such is important to consider when analyzing the overall defensive arrangements made by the Confederates, as it tips us to how the commanders hoped to defeat the monitors.

As the post title indicates, this is the first in a set that will look through the photos of Fort Johnson.  More photos and more details ….

April 14, 1865: The war turns full circle as “the same dear flag” is raised over Fort Sumter

By all contemporary accounts, April 14, 1865 was a momentous day at Fort Sumter.  For weeks, Federal authorities planned a ceremony at the fort, timed to the fourth anniversary of the surrender which started the Civil War.  Dignitaries, reporters, sketch artists, and photographers gathered for the much anticipated moment.  And, thanks to the latter, we have a wealth of photographs dated to April 1865 from the Charleston area.


As I draft this post, the Library of Congress’ website is throwing some odd errors with thumbnails.  Otherwise I’d fill this post with images taken on, or about, April 14, 1865 at Charleston.

One of those photographs, taken at Fort Strong, a.k.a. Battery Wagner, captured members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery going through inspection.


On Morris Island, members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery prepared to play a role in the ceremonies.  Having served through the long siege of Fort Sumter and Charleston, the 3rd was aptly tasked to provide details of honor guards and, most prominently, manned the guns to fire ceremonial salutes.

The 3rd Rhode Island regimental history recorded the day’s events:

April 14. At the hour named the army, the navy, the national authorities of Washington, dignitaries of every civil and professional rank, and eminent strangers – a multitude of notables – by war-ships, transports, and boats, landed on the war-swept walls.  Full 3,000 persons, men and women, crowded on the ruin.  And now commenced the services: –

I. Prayer by Rev. Matthias Harris, Chaplain United States Army, who offered the prayer at the raising of the flag when Major Anderson removed his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860.

II. Reading the Scriptures by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D., and the audience alternately, from sheets prepared at The New South office, and distributed for use. The selected portions were [Palms 126, 47, 98, and part of 20]; closing with a doxology. A profound impression was made by this reading, following the Chaplain’s prayer, that recalled the past.

III. Reading of Major Anderson’s dispatch to the Government, dated Steamship Baltic, off Sandy Hook, April 18, 1861, announcing the fall of Fort Sumter. The reading was by Brevet Brig.-Gen. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, United States Army.

IV. At the full hour of noon – all things in readiness – the battlements thronged with excited beholders – Major Anderson again lifted to its lawful place on the walls and to the breath of heaven, the same dear flag that floated during the assault of 1861.  Who can describe the scene? Who can utter the deep feelings that choked the bravest men and wet the eyes of all the thousands present.

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1556

V. And now came the eloquence of artillery. Rhode Island opened the ponderous lips and spoke the thundering notes. Lieut. J.E. Burroughs and his men (Company B), pronounced the “one hundred” with the guns of Sumter. Capt. J.M. Barker and his command, Company D, answered with the national salute from Morris Island. Lieut. C.H. Williams and his men, Company B, responded from Sullivan’s Island.  And the air-reading chorus came in from the guns of Fort Johnston. Meanwhile, what cheers and tears, what joys and shouts, what waving of flags, hats, and handkerchiefs. Memorable hour!  Exultantly did our veterans emphasize it, and count it an honor to handle the captured heavy guns in avenging the flag of the free and the brave.

We need not ask how this music sounded to the Charlestonians. Where now was historic disgrace and shame?

VI. The band – the joyous band – struck and played as never before, while the host of army, navy, and citizens present, joined in singing The Star Spangled Banner.

“O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light” –

…. …. ….

Like a billow of inspiring sound rolled the chorus: –

“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Such a rapturous hour was worth fighting for. How the hearts of all soldiers, and of the loyal millions in our land, beat with a thankful unutterable joy that our flag’s humiliation was now canceled.

Aloft, behold their banner rose!

Fit the ensign for the land we prize;

A flag the breezes fond, caress,

The flag that freemen ever bless,

And stars of heaven delight to kiss;

Henceforth in spotless fame to wave,

The pledge of freedom to the slave,

The standard of the free and brave.

A history, Dear Flag, is thine,

Sung on the mountain and the sea;

Thy folds, like heaven’s pure stars, shall shine

Till earth is lit with Liberty.

VII. Now followed the eloquent, patriotic, inimitable address by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher; the vast multitude hanging on his lips, and well-nigh the fort itself, rocking to the greatness of his thoughts and the grandeur of the occasion.

VIII. The whole host, led by the band, in the grand tune of Old Hundred, then lifted up to the heaven the doxology: –

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

IX. The closing prayer of thanksgiving and the benediction were by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.

Poets have been moved to sing of sieges. We wonder if, in the bright years to come, a poet will not arise to celebrate in melodious phrase, the scenes of Sumter and the siege of Charleston.

At least to my knowledge, no poet has done so.  And the reason was not to any failing of the moment.

The ceremony was designed from the start to celebrate the grand victory over the rebellion and showcase the triumph of the Union.  This was, with all the bunting and bands, a “Mission Accomplished” moment. The scene was perfect.  And there were ample number of scribes, artists, and photographers to record the moment.  The ceremony was intended to serve notice for all – the rebellion was crushed.  This was to be the “big news” of the week.

But at 10:15 that evening, everything changed.  What happened at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865 was eclipsed to rate only passing comment.

(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, page 308-9.)

March 25, 1865: General Robert Anderson heading back to Fort Sumter to raise the flag

On March 25, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was visiting the lines at Petersburg and the Confederates were making quite a show around Fort Stedman.  But, in spite of the push made by the Army of Northern Virginia, dispatches on the Federal side seemed routine.  Among the routine traffic passed from Washington to City Point that day was this message from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:

I have invited Henry Ward Beecher to deliver an address on raising the flag upon Fort Sumter, and will give direction to General Gillmore to make all suitable military arrangements for the occasion and fire a salute of 500 guns. The flag will be raised by General Anderson. Please let me know if these arrangements have your approval.  What does General Grant say about Yeatman?  I congratulate you and General Grant on the operations of t0-day.

As I’ve pulled this note out of context, let me walk it backwards into context.  The last line references the successful defense against the Confederate attack launched earlier in the day.  But standing in stark contrast to the desperate fighting on the lines, Stanton was planning a grand ceremony for Fort Sumter.

James Yeatman was a St. Louis businessman, president of the Western Sanitary Commission, and very much active politically.  Yeatman was under consideration to head the commission organizing the ceremony.  But more back-and-forth over that selection would follow.

Though weeks away, Stanton already selected particular details to serve a symbolic purpose – Beecher to speak, Major-General Robert Anderson to raise the US flag, and a 500 gun salute.  Not specifically mentioned in the message to Lincoln, but the plan called for the ceremony to occur on April 14, 1865 – on the anniversary of the fort’s surrender in 1861.  Further details went into General Orders No. 50, issued on March 27 from the War Department:

First. That at the hour of noon on the 14th day of April, 1865, Brevet Major-General Anderson will raise and plant upon the ruins of Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, the same U.S. flag which floated over the battlements of that fort during the rebel assault, and which was lowered and saluted by him and the small force of his command when the works were evacuated on the 14th day of April, 1861.

Second. That the flag, when raised, be saluted by 100 guns from Fort Sumter, and by a national salute from every fort and rebel battery that fired on Fort Sumter.

Third. That suitable ceremonies be held upon the occasion, under the direction of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, whose military operations compelled the rebels to evacuate Charleston, or, in his absence, under the charge of Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, commanding the department.  Among the ceremonies will be the delivery of a public address by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.

Forth. That the naval forces at Charleston, and their commander on that station, be invited to participate in the ceremonies of the occasion.

Recall that before evacuating the fort in 1861, Anderson received permission to fire a 100 gun salute from the fort’s batteries.  That 1861 salute ended with fifty shots when an accidental explosion mortally wounded two privates.  Embrace the intended symbolism at many different levels in regard to that salute.

The ceremony at Fort Sumter was intended to cement in the public mind the victory – complete or pending – over the Confederacy.  Reporters, sketch artists, and photographers were invited to cover the event.  April 14 was the date that, regardless of what was going on at the front lines, the people of America would be told the Federal Union has won this Civil War… even as the messy details were being worked out.  To tread upon a modern analogy at my own peril, this was intended to be a “Mission Accomplished” banner:

However, fate often plays tricks with the plans laid by man.  Events on April 15 would leave this ceremony somewhat a footnote to history.

Closing note here.  Fort Sumter National Monument has a number of events scheduled through April to observe the end of the war in Charleston.  If you are, like me, trying to catch every last minute of the sesquicentennial’s last hours, these are worth adding to the calendar.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 18 and 34.)