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.

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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.

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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.

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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 30, 1865: “There is a profound feeling about Charleston…” Henry Ward Beecher excited about raising the flag at Fort Sumter

On March 30, 1865, abolitionist leader Henry War Beecher and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton exchanged telegrams.  Beecher, as mentioned earlier, was selected as the guest of honor at the ceremony to raise the surrender flag at Fort Sumter, scheduled for April 14.

Beecher sent a pair of telegrams starting around mid-day:

There is a profound feeling about Charleston celebration.  It grows daily. It is a grand national event. Many eminent men desire to see this great occurrence of their lives. Could not a passenger steamer under direction of Collector Draper be allowed to go?

Then later Beecher, having not heard from Stanton, pressed the matter again:

Have received no word.  I am at a loss to know what arrangements to make and for what date. Can I take some of my family? A.A. Low, president of New York Chamber of Commerce, wishes to go with his wife.  He is one of our first citizens, and early and late energetic for Union, with hand, heart, and purse.

Stanton, with a full slate of business in his office, did not respond until well into the evening:

In conference with General Anderson final arrangements for the celebration of Fort Sumter were concluded yesterday.

First. The Steamer Arago will sail with General Anderson and yourself from New York on Friday, the 7th of April.

Second. Your family can accompany you.

Third. Tickets for you and for them will be forwarded by mail to-day.

Fourth. Mr. Low and his wife can accompany you, and tickets for them will be sent with yours.

Fifth. I expect to join you at Fortress Monroe if it be possible to leave here.

Sixth. The arrangements and ceremonies will be directed by General Gillmore.

I will write you more at length.

Interesting the exchange.  Not so much for the details, but the effort evident by the relating of those details.  These two men were living minute by hour by day at a time which you and I read about in the books.  Certainly they expected great things to occur over the weeks following this exchange.  Their focus was on a celebration … a very proper and visible celebration … of victory and achievement.   Had Stanton or Beecher been asked to predict what we’d be anticipating for our sesquicentennial observances between April 7th or April 14th, 2015, they likely would have mentioned the Fort Sumter flag raising.

Between April 7 and 14, 1865, several events would turn, making that week one of the most important in American history.  Events that would overshadow the “grand national event” planned at Fort Sumter.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 59.)