Carolina Day and The Battle of Fort Sullivan

In Charleston, June means that it’s time to celebrate Carolina Day, the way Charlestonians commemorate the 1st Patriot victory in the South during the American Revolution. Every June 28th since 1777, the church bells of St. Michaels ring out with the song of “3 Blind Mice” just as they did on the day that General Moultrie and his men triumphed over the British. Charles Town (as it was called until after the American Revolution) was the 4th largest city in the colonies but was the 2nd wealthiest. All that wealth came from “Carolina Gold” which was rice. The Mother Land did not want to let such a wealth city slip away from her and Britain was determined to crush the revolt that was occurring in the South and to make Charles Town the example. The British sent a fleet of 50 ships and 3000 soldiers to handle the matter. On the Patriot side, we had General William Moultrie and 435 men and a fort that was made out of Palmetto trees and sand located on the tip of Sullivan’s Island and called Fort Sullivan. The British Attack Begins: The British began the attack on June 28, 1776. They situated 11 ships in Charleston Harbor and began firing their 270 guns on the Little Fort. (Which at that time was not complete). To the amazement of the British, the Fort would not fall. For those of you that don’t know anything about a Palmetto Tree, it’s very porous and each time the British would fire a cannon, the ball would get stuck in the Fort and not explode; if it...

150 Years Ago – The Hunley

By 1863, Lincoln’s Anaconda Plan was in full effect. Most of the harbors of the South had been closed and those that were open were blocked by Union ships patrolling to ensure any blockade runners were stopped from entering the ports with their goods and supplies.   General Beauregard, who was in charge of the Charleston defenses realized that the situation in Charleston was deteriorating daily. Just like the prey of the Anaconda snake, the port of Charleston was being strangled.  The solution to the problem might be in Alabama.  An innovative diving machine that could be used to break up the blockade was being tested.  Letters of success were immediately sent to Charleston and shortly after, 2 gentleman arrived with diagrams, drawing and stories of the underwater tests of a submarine.   Once Beauregard saw the plans and listen to the wild scheme, he thought “Why not?” this might be our chance to break the blockade.  On August 12, 1863 the submarine, which is called the Hunley arrived in Charleston from Mobile on 2 flatbed train cars.  The boat was given the nickname “the fish boat” because the body looked like the body of a fish. And so began the training. Unfortunately, the Hunley ran into a string of misfortune. 2 crews lost their lives during training exercises. Both accidents were caused by human error. General Beauregard was ready to boycott the mission “more dangerous to those that use it than to the enemy” but he was convinced by Lieutenant George Dixon to let him have one more chance. Dixon was described as “very handsome, fair, nearly 6 feet tall,...

Arrr, Pirates off the Port Side

September 19th was “Talk Like a Pirate Day” and that got me thinking about this month’s blog. The threat of a pirate attack was very real for the new colony of Carolina. This was one of the reasons why the colonists built a wall around their town when they moved to the peninsula area in 1670. Famous pirates such as Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and Charles Vane have sailed along our shores but have you ever heard of Anne Bonney and Mary Read? Anne was born in Cork, Ireland sometime between 1697-1705. Her father was a successful lawyer who was caught having an affair with her mother, the maid. No longer able to live in Ireland the threesome left and headed for Charles Town. Around the age of 13, Anne lost her mother. Her father was not very good at being a parent and he had a hard time managing high-spirited Anne. One of Anne’s favorite things to do was to dress and act as a boy. She was also very good at shooting, hunting and riding and had ‘the mouth of a sailor”. By the time she was 19; her father had enough of her antics and arranged a marriage for her. Anne had no interest in this and eloped with a young sailor and off she went to explore the world. Anne quickly became bored with her new husband and started to despise him because he became a pirate informant for the royal government. About that time, a pirate named Calico Jack was in the town of New Providence, Bahamas and saw Anne. The two fell in love....

Presidents

It’s hard to believe that it is the middle of February already. While thinking about the 3 day weekend for President’s Day, I had a great idea for this month’s blog: let’s talk about the Presidents that have visited Charleston. The first President to visit our fair city was the very first President of our country, George Washington. After he became President, Washington decided he should visit the Southern States to learn more about this region’s political sentiments and their economy. His time spent in the South was called the “Southern Tour”. Washington arrived in Charleston in 1791 to great fanfare. His barge, which departed from Mount Pleasant, was manned by 12 local ships captains. The barge was accompanied by “a flotilla of boats of all sizes filled with ladies and gentlemen” including 2 boats that carried bands that were to play as the President crossed the harbor. During his weeklong stay, President Washington was wined and dined in traditional Charleston fashion. One of the many parties that the President attended was a formal ball that was held in the Old Exchange building. This was such a monumental occasion that the Ladies of Charleston wore pictures of George Washington with the wording ‘Long Live the President” in their hair. The President remarked that the women of Charleston were among the most elegant to be found anywhere. During his stay, he resided at the home of Thomas Heyward (Signer of the Declaration of Independence for South Carolina) which is located on Church St. The President had so many offers from prominent citizens of Charleston to stay with them, in an...

The Flag

As I sit and watch the Democratic and Republican conventions and think what a folly they have become. Neither side can agree with each other even on minuscule ideas. I wonder how they got like this and then I start to laugh. This is nothing new. This has been happening in our government for a lengthy period of time. I think one of the funniest instances took place here in Charleston. It’s December 1860 and South Carolina has just seceded from the Union. We are our own country right now. No other states have left the Union so there is no Confederacy yet. So here we sit an independent nation without a flag to represent us. The legislature, who was housed in Columbia, chose to leave the city when the Secession Convention decided to come to Charleston for the all important vote. (Of course, the reason given was that there was an outbreak of smallpox in Columbia (only 1 case) and the delegation must leave to be safe.) It was well known that the delegates wanted to be in Charleston for the big moment since it was her vocal citizens that had been pushing for secession since 1832. Both houses reconvene to Hibernian Hall on Meeting St. in Charleston and one of the first orders of business is a resolution that calls for a joint committee to conceive a “National Flag or Ensign of South Carolina.” Both houses submit representatives to the committee and so that they are not left out, the Secession Convention decides it will appoint a committee too. (Their group never met but at least could...

Another Charleston First – Memorial Day

Wow, it’s hard to believe that this weekend is the official start of summer. Not only is it that but more importantly is a time to honor all those that have died serving our Country. The tradition of remembering those who lost their lives while defending their country and its beliefs began here in Charleston. It is estimated that 752,000 men perished in the Civil War. During the war, women would bury the dead and decorate their graves but it was not until May 1, 1865 when a group of freed slaves got together to honor a large group of Union Soldiers. The Hampton Race Track had been used as a Confederate Prison Camp and a mass grave was dug on-site for the Union Soldiers that died within the camp. After the war was over, freed slaves exhumed the bodies and reinterred them in individual graves. A crowd of up to ten thousand (mainly blacks) came together to honor those soldiers. A day of sermons, singing and picnicking ensued. This day was given the name of “Decoration Day”. Officially in 1966 Waterloo, a town in New York was given credit for the start of this holiday because on May 5, 1866 all businesses closed for the day and the community held a city-wide event in which residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. (I personally think the federal government needs to revisit this decree.) In 1868, General John Logan officially proclaimed that Decoration Day should be observed nationwide. The day was carefully chosen to be May 30, a date that was not an anniversary of any...