Last week, the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program commemorated the 150th anniversary of the occupation of Charleston by Union forces with two events.
First, on February 18th, the day Charleston fell 150 years ago, a panel discussion was held in College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library. Participating in the panel were Dr. Amy McCandless, Dr. Bernard Powers, and Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney. Dr. McCandless is Dean of the Graduate School, University of Charleston, South Carolina at the College of Charleston and has undertaken research on the history of South Carolina’s women. Dr. Powers is a Professor of History at the College of Charleston whose work on African-Americans in the Lowcountry is well represented by his book Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1865. Dr. Dulaney is the chair of the Department of History at the University of Texas at Arlington, and he previously worked at the College of Charleston and spent a number of years as director of the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture. Dr. McCandless began the panel by exploring the experiences of women during the siege, focusing on the diary of well-to-do Charleston resident Miss Emma Holmes. Miss Holmes’s disgust and grief over the fall of Charleston contrasted greatly with the joy and celebration of free blacks and formerly enslaved people, which Powers and Dulaney explored in their presentations. Free blacks who had fled the city, such as preacher Daniel Payne, returned and the African-American population lost no time in establishing churches and civic organizations and taking advantage of their freedom. Following the panelists’ presentations, a number of great questions were asked, including one about the attitudes of white citizens in the days following occupation and one about enslaved attempts to use the siege to escape captivity. These questions and others allowed the discussion to dig deeper into the history of Charleston and the Civil War.
Then, on February 20th, College of Charleston English professor Joseph Kelly led a discussion of his book America’s Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March toward Civil War. While much of Dr. Kelly’s research has focused on the work of James Joyce, he has also become very interested in Charleston’s history and its place in the American Civil War. At the beginning of the discussion, Kelly overviewed the driving argument of his book. In America’s Longest Siege, he argues that the actions of several individuals, including Charleston clergyman Bishop England as well as John C. Calhoun, led to the survival of slavery and the emerging view of slavery as a positive good. Kelly examines this uncompromising view through the lens of Charleston’s history and finds that it led to the declaration of secession which doomed the city to its eventual fate. Following Kelly’s opening remarks, several questions were brought up, such as one asking about the view of the Founding Fathers toward slavery and about John Rutledge’s role in the slavery compromises of the Constitutional Convention. This and other questions further explored the ideas brought up in Kelly’s book and their importance for our understanding of the conflict that ended 150 years ago.