CLAW Commemorates 150th Anniversary of the Capture of Charleston by the Union

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.        

Charleston Finally Falls!

150 years ago this morning, a Union officer and a small troop of soldiers arrived at the South Atlantic Wharf after noticing a commotion in the city of Charleston. The soldiers soon learned that the night of February 17th the city’s defenders and many of its inhabitants had evacuated the city. The officer, Colonel Bennett, soon received the city’s surrender from Mayor Macbeth, which read “The military authorities of the Confederate States have evacuated the city. I have remained to enforce law and preserve order until you take such steps as you may think best.” Thus in the morning of February 18th, 1865, the siege of Charleston by Union forces finally came to an end after roughly twenty months.

The city had been bombarded on and off throughout the long siege, with the result that the city had suffered heavy damage. Charles Coffin, a reporter for the Boston Daily Journal who wrote by the name “Carleton,” wrote in his war memoir about the damage to the city he witnessed when he arrived. “Churches, hotels, stores, dwellings, public buildings, and stables, all were shattered. There were great holes in the ground, where cart-loads of earth had been evacuated in a twinkling.” There is a great article in the Post and Courier about Charleston’s situation following the Confederate evacuation and the city’s capture:

“A City of Ashes: When the Confederacy Abandoned Charleston”

Yet the city’s surrender was a joyous moment for the formerly enslaved inhabitants of the city, who celebrated with such events as a mock funeral for the figure of “Slavery.” When the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments, along with other United States Colored Troops, marched through the city later in the day on the 18th, they were greeted by cheering crowds. Colonel Charles Fox of the 55th Massachusetts remembered the scene of “cheers, blessings, prayers, and songs…On through the streets of the rebel city passed the column, on through the chief seat of that slave power, tottering to fall. Its walls rung to the chorus of manly voices singing “John Brown” “Babylon is Falling” and the “Battle-Cry of freedom”…The glory and the triumph of this hour may be imagined, but it can never be described.”

So it was with scenes like this that Charleston, the city in which secession was inaugurated and a place that had played a major role in American slavery, passed into the hands of the Union. But the capture of Charleston was only the beginning for the arriving Union army and the remaining inhabitants. Now began the slow process and tough work of repairing and reconstructing the shattered city.

Columbia Captured!

“I ran upstairs to my bedroom windows just in time to see the U.S. flag run up over the State house. O what a horrid sight! what a degradation! After four long bitter years of bloodshed and hatred, now to float there at last! …The troops now in town is a brigade commanded by Col. Stone. Everything is quiet and orderly. Guards have been placed to protect houses, and Sherman has promised not to disturb private property. How relieved and thankful we feel after all our anxiety and distress!”

So wrote Emma Florence LeConte in her journal’s entry for February 17th, 1865. Unfortunately, her relief would turn to grief as roughly one-third of the city was left a smoking ruin by the following morning. Today marks 150 years since Sherman’s army captured the capital of South Carolina, and tonight will mark the 150th anniversary of the massive fires that burned much of the city. Debate continues to swirl regarding the exact details of the fires and who was responsible for them. An interesting article from the February 7th issue of The State newspaper consults a panel of historians and authors on the subject of the Burning of Columbia:

“Who was really responsible for the burning of Columbia in 1865?”


Yet despite the destruction and violence of that night 150 years ago, there were moments of compassion that occurred amid the chaos, as this article from The State remembers:

“Acts of compassion also marked burning of Columbia”


Interestingly, the same evening that the South Carolina capital was facing its trials, a city rivaling Columbia in importance was being evacuated. Charleston’s Confederate defenders and many of its inhabitants pulled out of the city the night of the 17th, allowing the Union to finally capture the city after many months of siege. Thus in just a couple of days in 1865 the two most prominent cities in the birthplace of secession were finally in Union hands.

Southern Intellectual History Circle Annual Meeting!

The 2015 Annual Meeting of the Southern Intellectual History Circle is being coordinated by O. Vernon Burton, executive director of the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World program.

The Edgefield County Historical Society is pleased to announce that the Annual Meeting of the Southern Intellectual History Circle (“SIHC”) will be held in Edgefield on February 19-21, 2015.  This interdisciplinary group of scholars, mostly historians and students of literature and other humanities fields, includes some of the foremost authorities on Southern thought and culture from universities and colleges around the United States and abroad. It is expected that approximately fifty scholars will attend the three-day event.  The group gathers annually to hear and discuss presentations based on fresh research by its members on a broad range of topics related to the intellectual life of the South over the four centuries of its history.

One of the most active organizations of its kind in the state, the Edgefield County Historical Society hosted the SIHC’s meeting in 1999, and the SIHC accepted the Society’s invitation to return to Edgefield for its 2015 meeting.  This year the South Carolina Historical Society, the University of South Carolina’s Caroliniana Society, the Pearce Center for Professional Communication at Clemson University, Clemson University College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities will be co-sponsors of the event.  At the 1999 meeting, participants included C. Vann Woodward, one of the most renowned Southern historians of all time, Sheldon Hackney, then President of the University of Pennsylvania and Drew Gilpin Faust, now President of Harvard University.  The 1999 meeting was a resounding success, with many participants saying that their experience in Edgefield was the best that they had known in all of the years of the organization’s history.

The Society will provide session and meal venues unique to Edgefield, including historic churches, homes, and the Court House. Presentations will be open to area residents without charge. An unusual feature of the SIHC meetings is the separate blocks of time reserved for discussion of the presentations, led by other qualified scholars.  The conference will open on Thursday evening with a keynote address by Susan Donaldson, National Endowment of the Humanities Professor of English at the College of William and Mary.  At the Friday morning session, scholars who have read the keynote address in advance will comment upon it.  Other Friday sessions will be of varying lengths in which up to four scholars present their research formally with one or more respondents, having read the papers in advance, commenting upon them. At the Saturday sessions, all participants are invited to join in discussing the papers presented earlier.

The Edgefield County Historical Society believes that this event can have an enormously favorable impact on Edgefield County.  The dozens of eminent scholars who will be here for this event will be writing many papers and books in the coming years.  Their positive experience while they are here will hopefully result in more favorable treatment to our community.

Southern Intellectual History Circle

2015 Annual Meeting

February 19-21, 2015

Edgefield, South Carolina

Program Schedule

Thursday, February 19th

3 to 5:00 p.m.       Check-in at the Edgefield Inn

5:00 p.m.               Welcoming Reception – Oakley Park

6:30 p.m.               Dinner at the Old Edgefield Grill

8:00 p.m.               Session Begins – Edgefield County Courthouse

Introduction: Jim Farmer, University of South Carolina, Aiken

Keynote Address, Susan Donaldson, College of William and Mary

“Why We’re Still Talking about Southern Stories and Storytellers

in the Age of Obama, Tea Party Politics, and The Help”

10:00 p.m.             Adjourn to the Edgefield Inn for reception and mingling

Friday, February 20th

9:00 a.m.               Session – Trinity Episcopal Church

Responses to Keynote Address:

Chair, Vernon Burton, Clemson University

Eric Gary Anderson, George Mason University

  1. Fitzhugh Brundage, University of North Carolina

Natalie Ring, University of Texas, Dallas

Jay Watson, University of Mississippi

11:00-11:15           Coffee Break

11:15                     Session I – Edgefield First Baptist Church

Print Culture in the Nineteenth Century South

Chair: Margaret Abruzzo, University of Alabama

Beth Schweiger, University of Arkansas

Michael Winship, University of Texas, Austin

Responses: Jonathan Wells, University of Michigan

Sarah Gardner, Mercer University

1:15-2:30               Lunch – Willowbrook Cemetery (weather permitting)

Friday, February 20th (continued)

2:30-4:30               Session II – St. Mary’s Catholic Church

Revisiting and Revising the Lost Cause:

Chair, Doug Thompson, Mercer University

Art Remillard, Saint Francis University

Keith Harper, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Edward Crowther, Adams State University


Chad Seales, University of Texas (Austin)

Charles Reagan Wilson, University of Mississippi

6:00 p.m.               Leave on the bus for Redcliff Plantation via Graniteville

7:00 p.m.               Dinner at Redcliff

9:00 p.m.               Get on Bus to return to Edgefield Inn

9:30 p.m.               Social at the Edgefield Inn

Saturday, Feb 21

9:30-11:30             Session – Macedonia Church

Circle Discussion of Session I Margaret Abruzzo, Moderator

11:30-1:00             Lunch – Magnolia Dale house museum

1:00-3:00               Session – Edgefield United Methodist Church

Circle Discussion of Session II: Doug Thompson, Moderator

For those who are not leaving immediately after the last session, tours will be available in the afternoon and an evening dinner party given.

February 5th: News from H-Atlantic section of H-Net

Lewis B. H. Eliot, a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina, is working to form a panel at the American Historical Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. He is looking for papers that explore the wider Atlantic World’s attitudes toward the American Civil War.

Eliot can also be reached at

Columbia University and the London School of Economics are seeking applicants for the Fall 2015 entry into their MA/MSc program in International and World History. By working with historians at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, students in the two-year program explore the transnational forces that have influenced and continue to influence our world. The program offers summer research fellowships and financial aid opportunities.

American Quarterly is launching a Call for Papers for its 2016 special issue. Tentatively titled “Tours of Duty and Tours of Leisure,” the special issue will focus on the convergences of militarism and tourism as crucial manifestations of United States imperial strategy. Submissions are due by August 1st, 2015.

Michael J. Jarvis, Associate Professor of History at the University of Rochester, is holding an archaeology field school on Smiths Island, Bermuda from May 23 and June 28, 2015. The field school will investigate a range of 17th and 18th century sites on Smiths Island, including one of Bermuda’s first home sites. Students will participate in fieldwork as well as learn about Bermuda’s history and the early modern Atlantic World. Deadline to apply is March 1st.

The application can be downloaded at Jarvis’s department website:

Link to the project’s flyer: