150 Years Ago This Week: The rockets’ red glare in Charleston 

August 1863

Now in its sixth day of sustained Federal bombardment on Saturday, Aug. 22, Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C., was feeling the impact. When five U.S. Navy monitor ironclad vessels made a night attack that evening, only two of Fort Sumter’s guns returned fire. There was still no indication that the fort would surrender.

The bombed-out remains of Fort Sumpter.
The bombed-out remains of Fort Sumpter.

From the harbor, other Union guns shelled the city of Charleston. During the day’s bombardment, the Federals suffered a tremendous blow when their huge cannon The Swamp Angel exploded while firing its thirty-sixth round. The next day, the fort was a mass of rubble and wreckage, with only one gun firing. Federal reports indicated that 5,009 rounds had been fired during the six days of bombardment. The Confederate flag still flew proud and defiant over what was left of Sumter’s ramparts.

In Virginia, at the mouth of the Rappahannock River, Lt. Taylor Wood and 60 Confederate soldiers with 30 sharpshooters in four small boats captured two Union gunboats; it was a galling experience for the North.

Also in Virginia for the remainder of August, 1863, Maj. John Mosby and his Confederate raiders ranged far and wide throughout the northern area above the line of the Federal Army of the Potomac. Again at the mouth of the Rappahannock River on Aug. 25, a Confederate naval vessel captured three Union schooners. Out in the western theatre of the war, in Kansas and Missouri, guerrilla warfare had reached a climax with the sacking and destruction of Lawrence, Kan. on Aug. 21.

On Aug. 25, Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, commanding at Kansas City, issued General Orders No. 11, forcing all persons in Jackson, Cass and Bates Counties, Mo., and Vernon County, Kan., to leave their homes. Those who proved their loyalty to the Union were permitted to stay at military posts; all others had to vacate the area. An estimated 20,000 people lost their homes around Kansas City, and barns, houses and crops were burned. This anti-guerrilla action had little effect on the raiders and caused deep, years-long animosities.

On Aug. 26, former U.S. Secretary of War and later Confederate general John B. Floyd died at his home in Abingdon, Va. In Richmond, President Jefferson Davis confirmed by telegram Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s decision not to surrender Fort Sumter.

In Washington, President Lincoln sent a letter to “Unconditional Union Men” in Springfield, Ill., saying, “I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible. Peace does not appear so distant as it did.”

The bombardment of Fort Sumter was suspended on Aug. 27, prompting President Davis to wire Gen. Beauregard about his military strength and possible reinforcements. The Confederate leader was also concerned about the situation at Chattanooga and in eastern Tennessee. There were a substantial number of engagements between opposing forces on this day in Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee and Kentucky.

As the end of August approached, Union offensives intensified against the Navajo Indians in the Arizona Territory as the Indians continued their raids and attacks against settlers there. In Charleston Harbor, while the Federal land bombardment was suspended, Union naval vessels continued their missions against Southern fortifications. On Aug. 29, the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley operated in the harbor on a test cruise and sank, drowning the five sailors aboard. The sub was later raised from the harbor floor and restored to Confederate service in Charleston.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.