South Carolina Civil War History

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South Carolina in the American Civil War
South Carolina and American Civil  War History

South Carolina Civil War History
South Carolina in the American Civil War


South Carolina, one of the Thirteen Colonies, was the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation, and became the eighth U.S. state by ratifying the US Constitution on May 23, 1788. South Carolina later became the first state to vote to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860. It was subsequently readmitted to the United States on June 25, 1868.

South Carolina is a state in the Southeastern United States. It is bordered to the north by North Carolina; to the south and west by Georgia, located across the Savannah River; and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was the first of the Thirteen Colonies that declared independence from the British Crown during the American Revolution. The colony was originally named by King Charles II of England in honor of his father Charles I (Carolus being Latin for Charles).

By the time of the first European exploration, twenty-nine tribes or nations of Native Americans, divided by major languages, lived within the boundaries of what became South Carolina. European exploration began in 1540, but the explorers brought European diseases that decimated the local Indian population. The colony was founded in 1663. The English colony of the Province of Carolina was started in Charleston in 1670, with wealthy planters and their slaves, coming from the British Caribbean colony of Barbados. Along with North Carolina, South Carolina was originally known as Province of Carolina. The northern and southern parts of the original Province separated in 1729, making the provinces of South Carolina and North Carolina crown colonies. South Carolina joined the other colonies to oppose British taxation in the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765, and played a major role in resisting Britain during the American Revolution.

The cotton gin made the rich soil of the lowlands very profitable for plantations operated by black slaves. The hilly upland areas, with few slaves, were much poorer and a regional conflict underlay the political system. With outspoken leaders such as John C. Calhoun, the state vied with Virginia as the dominant political and social force in the South. It fought Federal tariffs in the 1830s and demanded that its rights to practice slavery be recognized in the territories. With the 1860 election of Republicans under Abraham Lincoln, who vowed to prevent slavery's expansion, the voters demanded secession. In December 1860, the state seceded from the Union and in February 1861 it joined the new Confederate States of America. In April 1861 the American Civil War (1861-1865) began when Confederate forces attacked the United States at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The Civil War proved devastating to South Carolina, but it restored the Union and freed the blacks from slavery.

From 1865 to 1877, South Carolina underwent Reconstruction. Congress shut down the civilian government in 1867, placing the US Army in charge, and supported Freedmen (freed slaves) and prevented ex-Confederates from holding office. A Republican legislature supported by Freedmen, northern Carpetbaggers and white Southern Scalawags created and funded a public school system, and created social welfare institutions. The State constitution they passed was kept nearly unaltered for 27 years, and most legislation passed during the Reconstruction years lasted for decades. By 1877 the white conservatives, called "Redeemers" had regained political power. By the 1880s, African Americans suffered under the Jim Crow laws.

South Carolina Civil War History
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Province of Carolina Map

Map of South Carolina Civil War Battles
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High Resolution Map of South Carolina Civil War Battlefields


A pan-Indian alliance rose up against the English settlers during the Yamasee War (1715–1717) and nearly destroyed the South Carolina Colony. But the Yemasee were defeated and, with exposure to European infectious diseases, the backcountry's Yemasee population was greatly reduced. After the Yamasee War, the planters turned exclusively to importing African slaves for labor. They used their labor to create rice and indigo plantations as commodity crops. Building dams, irrigation ditches and related infrastructure, enslaved Africans created the equivalent of huge earthworks to regulate water for the rice culture.

Most of the slaves originated in West Africa, and in the lowlands and on the Sea Islands, where large populations of Africans lived together, they developed a creolized culture and language known as Gullah/Geechee (the latter a term used in Georgia). They interacted with and adopted some elements of the English language and colonial culture and language. The Gullah adapted to multiple factors in American society during the slavery years. Since the nineteenth century, they have marketed or otherwise used their distinctive lifeways, products, and language to perpetuate their unique ethnic and racial identity.

After the Revolutionary War, numerous slaves were freed. Sometimes combined with gradual emancipation, most Northern states abolished slavery. In the Upper South, inspired by the revolutionary ideals and activist preachers, state legislatures passed laws making it easier for slaveholders to manumit their slaves both during their lifetimes and by wills. Quakers, Methodists and Baptists urged slaveholders to free their slaves. In the period from 1790-1810, the proportion and number of free blacks rose dramatically in the Upper South and overall, from less than 1 percent to more than 10 percent. Slave owners had more control over the state government of South Carolina than of any other state. Elite planters played the role of English aristocrats more than did the planters of other state, whereas newer Southern states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, allowed more political equality among whites. Although all white male residents were allowed to vote, property requirements for office holders were higher in South Carolina than in any other state. It was the only state legislature where slave owners held the majority of seats. The legislature elected the governor, all judges and state electors for Federal elections, as well as the US senators, so had considerable control. The state's chief executive was a figurehead who had no authority to veto legislative law. With its society disrupted by slave losses during the Revolution, South Carolina did not embrace manumission as readily as states of the Upper South. Unlike in the Upper South, most of its small number free blacks were of mixed race, often the children of major planters and slave mothers. If freed, they often benefited by their fathers passing on social capital, in the form of education, apprenticeship, and other preparation for adulthood. Some planters sent their mixed-race slave children to schools and colleges in the North for education.

In the nineteenth century, the state legislature passed laws making manumission more difficult. The manumission laws of 1800 and 1820 made it difficult for freedmen to free others of their families. So, while some slaves were freed during this period and might earn enough to purchase relatives, they could not readily free them. The first law required that five citizens attest to the ability of the person proposed to be freed to earn a living; this prevented slaveholders from freeing their own children before they became adults. In 1820, the legislature ended personal manumissions, requiring all slaveholders to gain individual permission from the legislature before manumitting even family members.

The majority of the population in South Carolina was black, with concentrations in the plantation areas of the Low Country: by 1860 the population of the state was 703,708, with 57 percent or slightly more than 402,000 classified as enslaved African Americans. Free blacks numbered slightly less than 10,000. Unlike Virginia, where most of the larger plantations and slaves were concentrated in the eastern part of the state, in South Carolina plantations and slaves became common throughout much of the state. After 1794, Eli Whitney's cotton gin allowed cotton plantations for short-staple cotton to be widely developed. By 1830, 85 percent of inhabitants of rice plantations along the coast were slaves. When rice planters left the malarial low country for cities such as Charleston during the social season, up to 98 percent of the low country residents were slaves. By 1830, two-thirds of South Carolina's counties had populations with 40 percent or more enslaved; in the two counties with the lowest rates of slavery, 23 percent of the population were slaves.

In 1822, a black freedman named Denmark Vesey and compatriots around Charleston organized a plan for thousands of slaves to participate in an armed uprising to gain freedom. Vesey's plan, inspired by the 1791 Haitian Revolution, called for thousands of armed black men to kill their slaveholders, seize the city of Charleston, and escape from the United States by sailing to Haiti. The plot was discovered when two slaves opposed to the plan leaked word of it to white authorities. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with participating in the conspiracy. In total, the state convicted 67 men and killed 35 of them by hanging, including Denmark Vesey. White fear of slave insurrections after the Vesey conspiracy led to a 9:15 pm curfew for slaves in Charleston, and the establishment of a municipal guard of 150 white men in Charleston, with half the men stationed in an arsenal called the Citadel.

Plantations in older Southern states such as South Carolina wore out the soil to such an extent that 42 percent of state residents left the state for the lower South, to develop plantations with newer soil. The remaining South Carolina plantations were especially hard hit when worldwide cotton markets turned down in 1826-32 and again in 1837-49. Economic hardships caused many South Carolinians to believe that a Forty Bale theory explained their problems.

South Carolina, Slavery, and Secession
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United States, South Carolina, Slave States, and Free States Map


South Carolina felt more threatened than in other parts of the South, and reacted more to the economic Panic of 1819, the Missouri Controversy of 1820, and attempts at emancipation in the form of the Ohio Resolutions of 1824 and the American Colonization Petition of 1827. South Carolina's first attempt at nullification occurred in 1822, when South Carolina adopted a policy of jailing foreign black sailors at South Carolina ports. This policy violated a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States, but South Carolina defied a complaint from Britain through American Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and a United States Supreme Court justice's Federal circuit decision condemning the jailings. Foreign blacks from Santo Domingo previously communicated with Vesey's conspirators, and the South Carolina state Senate declared that the need to prevent insurrections was more important than laws, treaties or constitutions.

South Carolinian George McDuffie popularized the Forty Bale theory to explain South Carolina's economic woes. According to this theory, tariffs that became progressively higher in 1816, 1824 and 1828 had the same effect as if a thief stole forty bales out of a hundred from every barn. The tariffs applied to imports of things like iron, wool and finished cotton products. The Forty Bale theory was based on faulty math in that Britain could sell finished cotton goods made from Southern raw cotton around the world, not just to the United States. Still, the theory was a popular explanation for economic problems that were caused in large part by overproduction of cotton in the lower South, and less cotton production from South Carolina's depleted soil. South Carolinians, rightly or wrongly, blamed the tariff for the fact that cotton prices fell from 18 cents a pound to 9 cents a pound over the 1820s. While the effects of the tariff were exaggerated, manufactured imports from Europe were cheaper than American-made products without the tariff, and the tariff did reduce British imports of cotton to some extent. These were largely short-term problems that existed before United States factories and textile makers could compete with Europe. Also, the tariff replaced a tax system where slave states previously had to pay more in taxes for the increased representation they got in the U.S. House of Representatives under the three-fifths clause.

The Tariff of 1828, which South Carolina agitators called the Tariff of Abominations, set the tariff rate at 50 percent. Although John C. Calhoun previously supported tariffs, he anonymously wrote the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, which was a states' rights argument for nullifying the tariff. Calhoun's theory was that the threat of secession would lead to a "concurrent majority" that would possess the "white minorities’ consent," as opposed to a "tyrannical majority" of Northerners controlling the South. Both Calhoun and Robert Barnwell Rhett foresaw that the same arguments could be used to defend slavery when necessary.

Nullification Crisis

The Nullification Crisis was a sectional crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson created by South Carolina's 1832 Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared by the power of the State that the Federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of South Carolina. The controversial and highly protective Tariff of 1828 (known to its detractors as the "Tariff of Abominations") was enacted into law during the presidency of John Quincy Adams. The tariff was opposed in the South and parts of New England. Its opponents expected that the election of Jackson as President would result in the tariff being significantly reduced.

The nation had suffered an economic downturn throughout the 1820s, and South Carolina was particularly affected. Many South Carolina politicians blamed the change in fortunes on the national tariff policy that developed after the War of 1812 to promote American manufacturing over its British competition. By 1828 South Carolina state politics increasingly organized around the tariff issue. When the Jackson administration failed to take any actions to address their concerns, the most radical faction in the state began to advocate that the state itself declare the tariff null and void within South Carolina. In Washington, an open split on the issue occurred between Jackson and John C. Calhoun, the most effective proponent of the constitutional theory of state nullification.

On July 14, 1832, after Calhoun had resigned his office in order to run for the Senate where he could more effectively defend nullification, Jackson signed into law the Tariff of 1832. This compromise tariff received the support of most northerners and half of the southerners in Congress. The reductions were too little for South Carolina, and in November 1832 a state convention declared that the tariffs of both 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina after February 1, 1833. Military preparations to resist anticipated Federal enforcement were initiated by the state. In late February both a Force Bill, authorizing the President to use military forces against South Carolina, and a new negotiated tariff satisfactory to South Carolina were passed by Congress. The South Carolina convention reconvened and repealed its Nullification Ordinance on March 11, 1833. The crisis was over, and both sides could find reasons to claim victory. The tariff rates were reduced and stayed low to the satisfaction of the South, and the states’ rights doctrine of nullification remained controversial, asserted again by opponents of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.


Lincoln argued that “the United States were one nation, indivisible," and denied the Southern states' right to secede. The United States Supreme Court, however, was reserved the right to interpret the Constitution and determine whether or not secession was legal. Although Lincoln voiced his opinion, the Supreme Court remained the nation’s final arbiter. Lincoln, not the Congress nor the Supreme Court, had stated his position clearly.

Years before the first shots of the American Civil War in 1861, voices cried for secession. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to declare its secession and later formed the Confederacy. The first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston by its Citadel cadets upon a civilian merchant ship Star of the West bringing supplies to the beleaguered Federal garrison at Fort Sumter on January 9, 1861. The April 1861 Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter ignited what became a four-year struggle that divided the nation.

Antebellum South Carolina did more to advance nullification and secession than any other Southern state. Their first attempt at nullification was in 1822 following a slave rebellion led by Denmark Vesey. The state responded by passing a Negro Seamen Act, later declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court Justice William Johnson. His ruling was not enforced. In 1832, a South Carolina state convention passed the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring the Federal tariff laws of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional, null and not to be enforced in the state of South Carolina after February 1, 1833. This led to the Nullification Crisis, in which U.S. President Andrew Jackson received congressional authorization, through the Force Bill, to use whatever military force necessary to enforce Federal law in the state. This was the first U.S. legislation denying individual states the right to secede. As a result of Jackson's threat of force, the South Carolina state convention was re-convened and repealed the Ordinance of Nullification in March. See also President Lincoln and States' Rights and Southern States Secede: Secession of the South.

US, Southern Secession, and Civil War Map
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South Carolina Secession Map

Anti-abolitionist feelings ran strong in South Carolina. In 1856, South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks entered the United States Senate chamber and, with a metal-tipped cane, beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. He drew blood and injured Sumner badly enough that the latter was unable to serve for several months. Brooks was retaliating for a speech Sumner had just given in which he attacked slavery and insulted South Carolinians. Brooks resigned his seat but received a hero's welcome on returning home.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. South Carolina adopted the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union on December 20, 1860. President Buchanan protested but made no military response aside from a failed attempt to resupply Fort Sumter via the ship Star of the West, which was fired upon by South Carolina forces and turned back before it reached the fort. Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Monroe in Virginia, and Fort Pickens and the partially built Fort Taylor in Florida were the remaining Union-held forts in the Confederacy (or what would become the Confederacy after Virginia joined), and Lincoln was determined to hold Fort Sumter. Under orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, troops controlled by the Confederate government under P. G. T. Beauregard bombarded the fort with artillery on April 12, forcing the fort's capitulation and beginning the American Civil War. The Union controlled forts Monroe, Pickens and Taylor throughout the war, but secessionists were more determined in Charleston than elsewhere.

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, South Carolina had a free population of 301,302 and an additional slave population of 402,406.

During the American Civil War, South Carolina furnished approximately 60,000 men to the Confederate Army, and suffered at least 18,666 in killed and thousands more in wounded. A compilation made from the official rosters of the Confederate Armies as they stood at various battles, and at various dates covering the entire period of the war, shows that South Carolina kept the following number of organizations in almost continuous service in the field: 33 regiments, and 2 battalions of infantry; 7 regiments and 1 battalion of cavalry; 1 regiment, and 1 battalion of heavy artillery; and 28 batteries of light artillery.

South Carolina Civil War Battlefields
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South Carolina Civil War Battles

During the war, South Carolina troops participated in numerous major battles and campaigns, including Gettysburg. The state, mainly greater Charleston, was host to numerous battles. (See also Civil War Charleston and Coastal Defenses.) Despite South Carolina's important role, and the Union's unsuccessful attempt to take Charleston from 1863 onward, few military engagements occurred within the state's borders until 1865. Having completed his March to the Sea at Savannah, Sherman marched his Army to Columbia, then north into North Carolina. There was little resistance to his advance. South Carolina suffered the worst devastation during the March, as many of Sherman’s troops were particularly angry at the state and its citizens, who they blamed for starting the war. Sherman's 1865 march through the Carolinas resulted in the burning of Columbia and numerous other towns.

South Carolina troops suffered at least 18,666 deaths, which was nearly one-third of the white male population of fighting age. Thousands of wounded and maimed soldiers, furthermore, returned to South Carolina, only to find it in ruins. South Carolina was a source of troops for the Confederate army, and as the war progressed, also for the Union as thousands of ex-slaves flocked to join the Union forces. The state also provided uniforms, textiles, food, and war material, as well as trained soldiers and leaders from The Citadel and other military schools. In contrast to most other Confederate states, South Carolina had a well-developed rail network linking all of its major cities without a break of gauge. Relatively free from Union occupation until the very end of the war, South Carolina hosted a number of prisoner-of-war camps.

Among the leading generals from the Palmetto State were Wade Hampton III, one of the Confederacy's leading cavalrymen, and Joseph B. Kershaw, whose South Carolina infantry brigade saw some of the hardest fighting of the Army of Northern Virginia, and James Longstreet who served with distinction in the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee and in the Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg.

On December 20, 1860, when it became clear that Abraham Lincoln would be the next president, South Carolina became the first state to declare its secession from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and the American Civil War began. The Union Navy effectively blockaded Charleston and seized the Sea Islands. Planters had taken their families (and sometimes slaves) to points inland for refuge.

On December 26, 1860, Major Robert Anderson, commander of the U.S. troops in Charleston, withdrew his men to the island fortress of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. South Carolina militia swarmed over the abandoned mainland batteries and trained their guns on the island. Sumter was the key position for preventing a naval attack upon Charleston, so secessionists were determined not to allow Federal forces to remain there indefinitely. More importantly, South Carolina's claim of independence would look empty if U.S. forces controlled its largest harbor. On January 9, 1861, the U.S. ship Star of the West approached to resupply the fort; South Carolinians viewed the move as a provocation to war. Cadets from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, fired upon the Star of the West, striking the ship three times and causing it to retreat and return to New York.

Mississippi declared its secession several weeks after South Carolina, and five other states of the lower South soon followed. President-elect Lincoln, however, denied that any state had a right to secede. On February 4, a congress of the seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama, and approved a new constitution for the Confederate States of America. South Carolina entered the Confederacy on February 8, 1861, fewer than six weeks after declaring itself the independent State of South Carolina. Upper Southern states such as Virginia and North Carolina, which had voted against secession, convened a peace conference, but to little effect.  

On April 10, the Mercury reprinted stories from New York papers that told of a naval expedition that had been sent southward toward Charleston. Lincoln advised the governor of South Carolina that the ships were sent to resupply the fort, not to reinforce it. The Carolinians could no longer wait if they hoped to take the fort before the U.S. Navy arrived. Approximately 6,000 men were stationed around the rim of the harbor, ready to take Fort Sumter. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, after two days of intense negotiations, and with Union ships approaching the harbor, the firing began. Students from The Citadel were among those firing the first shots of the war, though Edmund Ruffin is usually credited with firing the first shot. Thirty-four hours later, Anderson's men raised the white flag and were allowed to leave the fort with colors flying and drums beating, saluting the U.S. flag with a 50-gun salute before taking it down. During this salute, one of the guns exploded, killing a young U.S. soldier—the only casualty of the bombardment and the first casualty of the war.

In November 1861, Union forces captured Port Royal and Beaufort. In June 1862, Union forces commanded by General David Hunter attempted to capture Charleston by attacking Fort Lamar at the Battle of Secessionville. Confederate forces held off Union assaults despite suffering heavy losses. The most famous battle in South Carolina throughout the war was the attack at Battery Wagner. During the evening of July 18, 1863, Union forces unsuccessfully attacked the Confederate battery on Morris Island. The attack was unique as it was led by the 54th Massachusetts, a regiment of black soldiers. The regiment suffered heavy casualties in the attack and their commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was killed. Although unsuccessful, the attacks by the regiment showed many in the North that African Americans could make good soldiers. Two years later, the Union forces captured and burned the state’s capital, Columbia, during General William Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” in February 1865. As Sherman’s troops marched into North Carolina, the fighting in South Carolina came to an end.

Fort Sumter, South Carolina
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Civil War and Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina


Charleston was a hotbed of secession at the start of the Civil War and an important Atlantic Ocean port city for the fledgling Confederacy. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at a Federal ship entering Charleston Harbor. Later, the bombardment of Fort Sumter triggered a massive call for Federal troops to put down the rebellion. Although the city and its surrounding fortifications were repeatedly targeted by the Union Army and Navy, Charleston did not fall to Federal forces until the last months of the war.

Charleston ranked as the 22nd largest city in the United States according to the 1860 US census, with a population of 40,522. Long feared as a target for foreign invasion, the Charleston harbor was ringed with a series of forts, bastions, and floating batteries to protect it from an enemy fleet. The South was at a disadvantage in number, weaponry, and maritime skills—few southerners were sailors. Federal ships sailed south and blocked off one port after another. Early in the war, Union troops occupied the Sea Islands in the Beaufort area, establishing an important base for the men and ships who would obstruct the ports at Charleston and Savannah.

Much of the war in South Carolina concentrated on capturing Charleston, due both to its role as a port for blockade runners and to its symbolic role as the starting place of the war. One of the earliest battles of the war was fought at Port Royal Sound, south of Charleston. The Union navy selected this location as a coaling station for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In attempting to capture Charleston, the Union military tried two approaches, by land over James or Morris Islands or through the harbor. However, the Confederates were able to drive back each Union attack. One of the most famous of the land attacks was the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, in which the 54th Massachusetts Infantry took part. The Federals suffered a serious defeat in this battle, losing 1,500 men while the Confederates lost only 175. During the night of February 23, 1864, the CSS Hunley made the first successful sinking of an enemy warship by a submarine, although the Hunley was also sunk shortly afterwards. The Confederates used other crafts such as the David but these were not as successful.

Throughout much of the war, cadets from the Citadel, South Carolina's military institute, continued to aid the Confederate army by helping drill recruits, manufacture ammunition, protect arms depots, and guard Union prisoners.  

In June 1862, a small but important battle at Secessionville, in modern-day James Island, resulted in Union forces being repulsed by a much smaller Confederate force. The victory provided the city with a propaganda coup and saved it from the threat of land invasion. Not until the latter stage of the war would the city be confronted with such threat. As many Southern port cities had been closed off by the Union blockade, Charleston became an important center for blockade running. Repeated attempts by the U.S. Navy to take Charleston and/or batter its defenses into the ground proved fruitless, including the Stone Fleet. The city resisted occupation for the majority of the war.

In 1863, the Union began an offensive campaign against the defenses of Charleston Harbor, beginning with a combined sea-land engagement. The naval bombardment accomplished little however, and the land forces were never put ashore. By summer of 1863, the Union turned its attention to Battery Wagner on Morris Island, which guarded the harbor entrance from the southwest. In the First and Second battles of Fort Wagner, Union forces suffered heavy losses in a failed attempt to capture the fort. A siege however resulted in Confederate abandonment of the fort by September of that year. A Union attempt to recapture Fort Sumter by a naval raiding party also failed badly, but the fort was successively reduced to rubble by bombardment from shore batteries after the capture of Morris Island. With the development of newer, longer range artillery, and as Union forces were able to place batteries ever closer to the city, a bombardment began in late 1863 that continued off and on for more than a year. The accumulated effects of this bombardment would destroy much of Charleston. The Union launched a coordinated series of attacks on the city in early July 1864, including an amphibious assault on Ft. Johnson and an invasion of Johns Island. These attacks all failed, but continued to wear down the city's defenders.

Charleston Harbor was also the site of the first successful submarine attack in history on February 17, 1864, when the H.L. Hunley made a daring night attack on the USS Housatonic. Although the Hunley survived the attack, she foundered and sank while returning from her mission, thus ending the threat to the Union blockade. As Gen. Sherman marched through South Carolina, the situation for Charleston became ever more precarious. On February 15, 1865, Gen. Beauregard ordered the evacuation of remaining Confederate forces, and on February 18, the mayor surrendered the city to Union general Alexander Schimmelfennig. Next, Union troops moved into the city, taking control of many sites, such as the United States Arsenal, which the Confederate army had seized at the outbreak of the conflict. On February 21, 1865, with the Confederate forces finally evacuated from Charleston, the 55th Massachusetts Regiment (Colored), led by Thomas Baker, Albert Adams, David Adams, Nelson R. Anderson, William H. Alexander, Beverly Harris, Joseph Anderson, Robert Abram, Elijah Brown, Wiley Abbott, marched through the city. At a ceremony at which the U.S. flag was once again raised over Fort Sumter, former fort commander Robert Anderson was joined on the platform by two men: African-American Union hero Robert Smalls and the son of Denmark Vesey. After the eventual and long-toiled defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city's reconstruction. See also Charleston Goes To War.

Burning of Columbia, South Carolina, Civil War
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The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 1865

The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina (1865) by William Waud for Harper's Weekly


In the last months of the Civil War, much of Columbia, the state capital, was destroyed by fire while being occupied by Union troops under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. 

On February 17, 1865, Columbia surrendered to Sherman, and Wade Hampton's Confederate cavalry retreated from the city. Union forces were overwhelmed by throngs of liberated Federal prisoners and emancipated African Americans. Many soldiers took advantage of ample supplies of liquor in the city and began to drink. Fires began in the city, and high winds spread the flames across a wide area. Most of the central city was destroyed, and municipal fire companies found it difficult to operate in conjunction with the invading army, many of whom were also fighting the fire. The burning of Columbia has engendered controversy ever since, with some claiming the fires were accidental, a deliberate act of vengeance, or perhaps set by retreating Confederate soldiers who lit cotton bales while leaving town. On that same day, the Confederates evacuated Charleston. On February 18, Sherman's forces destroyed virtually anything of military value in Columbia, including railroad depots, warehouses, arsenals, and machine shops.

Prisoner-of-War Camps

Camp Sorghum

Camp Sorghum was a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp located in Columbia, South Carolina during the war. Established in 1862 as a makeshift prison for approximately 1,400 Union officers, Camp Sorghum consisted of a 5-acre tract of open field, without walls, fences, buildings, or any other facilities. A "deadline" (boundary line) was established by laying wood planks 10 feet inside the camp's boundaries. Rations consisted of cornmeal and sorghum syrup as the main staples in the diet, thus the camp became known as "Camp Sorghum". Due to the lack of any security features, escapes were common. Conditions were terrible, with little food, clothing or medicine, and disease claimed a number of lives among both the prisoners and their guards.

Castle Pinckney

Castle Pinckney was a small masonry fortification constructed by the U.S. government in 1810 and it was located in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. It was used briefly as a prisoner-of-war camp (six weeks) and artillery position during the Civil War. One hundred and fifty-four Union Army prisoners-of-war (120 enlisted, 34 officers) captured during the First Battle of Manassas and previously incarcerated at Ligon's Prison arrived at Charleston on September 10, 1861, and were kept at the Charleston City Jail until the lower casements of Castle Pinckney were converted into cells. According to the Charleston Mercury, Richmond officials had selected "..chiefly from among those who have evidenced the most insolent and insubordinate disposition". On September 18, prisoners from the 11th NY Fire Zouaves, 69th NY ("Irish") Regiment, 79th NY Regiment, and 8th Michigan Infantry were transferred to Castle Pinckney. They were allowed to wander during the day and were confined to cells only at night. After only six weeks, the Castle proved to be too small and inadequate however for permanent confinement and the prisoners were transferred back to the Charleston City Jail on October 31, 1861.

Fort Sumter in Ruins
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Fort Sumter in 1865

Florence Stockade

The Florence Stockade, also known as The Stockade or the Confederate States Military Prison at Florence, was a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp located on the outskirts of Florence, South Carolina, during the Civil War. It operated from September 1864 through February 1865, and, during this time, as many as 18,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned and approximately 2,800 died.

The Stockade was built and became operational in September 1864, and was in operation during the final fall and winter of the war. The Florence Stockade covered 23.5 acres of land with a trench dug around the outside to prevent prisoners from tunneling. During its operation, it detained from 15,000 to 18,000 captives. The need for additional prisons became imperative after General Sherman captured Atlanta on September 1, 1864. Andersonville prison in Georgia was thought to be in the path of Sherman and the Confederate prison authorities determined to relocate the approximately 30,000 Union prisoners from Andersonville to other Confederate prisons. Because Florence had three railroads, and was thought to be secure, it was chosen as a site for a newly constructed prison. To maintain discipline, the Union soldiers were told that they were to be paroled. Many of those who were unable to walk or not stable enough to travel were left behind in Andersonville. Most of the prisoners who initially arrived at Florence were first transported to Charleston before making their way 90 miles inland to Florence. The Florence Stockade was still under construction when the first several thousand prisoners arrived.

After one month in operation, there were approximately 12,000 prisoners and a death rate of 20 to 30 per day. Supplies were scarce for both the prisoners and the guards. Men were sleeping almost naked and with no blankets. In mid-October, the United States Sanitary Commission delivered supplies. Of the total number of prisoners that passed through the Florence Stockade, 2,802 Union soldiers died and most were buried in unmarked trenches in what would later be named the Florence National Cemetery.


Seeking to alleviate economic hardship during Reconstruction, South Carolina offered incentives to railroads and other corporations to build in the state.

As the first state to secede and instigate much of the pre-war tension, its citizens suffered terribly through the four hard years of war. Much of the state’s total wealth disappeared, property was destroyed, the land was scarred, and a large percentage of the white male population was killed. The social structure that the state had fought to preserve had also crumbled. Thousands of former slaves were freed by Union armies along the coast. These freedmen were among the first African Americans recruited to fight for the Union and help free slaves still held in bondage. Poverty would mark the state for generations to come. There was an agricultural depression, and changes in the labor market disrupted agriculture. Also, proportionally South Carolina lost more of its young men of fighting age than did any other Southern state. Recorded deaths were 18,666 but fatalities may have totaled 21,146. (Depending on the source, fatality estimates range from 18,666 to 23,000.) This was 31-35% of the total of men of ages 18–45 recorded in the 1860 census for South Carolina. Those African Americans who remained on the Sea Islands became the first "freedmen" of the war. The Sea Islands became a laboratory for education, with Northern missionary teachers finding former enslaved adults as well as children eager for learning, and subsistence farming by African Americans, as they took over land for their own use.

Map of SC Battles and Battlefields
High Resolution Map of South Carolina Battles.jpg
High Resolution Map of South Carolina Battlefields

The Civil War ruined the economy, making it one of the poorest states for the next century. Educational levels were low as public schools were underfunded, especially for African Americans. Most people lived on small farms and grew cotton. The more affluent were landowners, who subdivided the land into farms operated by tenant farmers or sharecroppers, along with land operated by the owner using hired labor. Gradually more industry moved into the Piedmont area, with textile factories that turned the state's raw cotton into yarn and cloth for sale on the international market.

After the war, South Carolina was restored to the United States during Reconstruction. Under presidential Reconstruction (1865–66), freedmen (former slaves) were given limited rights. Blacks had long comprised the majority of the state's population. They began to play a prominent role in the South Carolina government for the first time during Reconstruction. Despite the anti-Northern fury of prewar and wartime politics, most South Carolinians, including prominent Wade Hampton III, believed that white citizens would do well to accept President Johnson's terms for full reentry to the Union. However, the state legislature, in 1865, passed "Black Codes", angering Northerners, who accused the state of imposing semi-slavery on the Freedmen.

Under Radical reconstruction (1867–1877), a Republican coalition of freedmen, carpetbaggers and scalawags was in control, supported by Union Army forces. The withdrawal of Union soldiers as part of the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction. White Democrats used paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts to intimidate and terrorize black voters. They regained political control of the state under conservative white "Redeemers" and pro-business Bourbon Democrats. Until the 1868 presidential election, South Carolina's legislature, not the voters, chose the state's electors for the presidential election. South Carolina was the last state to choose its electors in this manner. On October 19, 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant suspended habeas corpus in nine South Carolina counties under the authority of the Ku Klux Klan Act. Led by Grant's Attorney General Amos T. Akerman, hundreds of Klansmen were arrested while 2000 Klansmen fled the state. This was done in order to suppress Klan violence against African American and white voters in the South.

See also

Sources: National Park Service; Library of Congress; National Archives; US Census Bureau; The Union Army; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Brant, Irving: The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison Bobbs Merrill, 1970; Buel, Richard Jr. America on the Brink: How the Political Struggle Over the War of 1812 Almost Destroyed the Young Republic. (2005) ISBN 1-4039-6238-3; Burton, Orville Vernon. In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina. (1985); Cauthen, Charles Edward. South Carolina Goes to War. (1950) ISBN 1-57003-560-1; Chaitin, Peter M. The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1984. ISBN 0-8094-4732-0; Channing, Steven. Crisis of Fear: Secession in South Carolina (1970); Clarke, Erskine. Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990 (1996); Coit, Margaret L. John C. Calhoun: American Portrait (1950); Coclanis, Peter A., “Global Perspectives on the Early Economic History of South Carolina,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 106 (April–July 2005); Cooper, William J. Jr. The South and the Politics of Slavery 1828-1856 (1978) ISBN 0-8071-0385-3; Crane, Verner W. The Southern Frontier, 1670-1732 (1956); Craven, Avery. The Coming of the Civil War (1942) ISBN 0-226-11894-0; Edgar, Walter. South Carolina: A History, (1998); Ellis, Richard E. The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States' Rights, and the Nullification Crisis (1987); Ford Jr., Lacy K. Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860 (1991); Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (1991), Vol. 1;  Freehling, William W. Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Crisis in South Carolina 1816-1836. (1965) ISBN 0-19-507681-8; Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. (2007) ISBN 978-0-19-507894-7; Johnson Jr., George Lloyd. The Frontier in the Colonial South: South Carolina Backcountry, 1736-1800 (1997); Kennedy, Frances H. (editor) The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6; McDonald, Forrest. States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio 1776-1876 (2000) ISBN 0-7006-1040-5; Niven, John. John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union (1988) ISBN 0-8071-1451-0; Peterson, Merrill D. The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. (1987) ISBN 0-19-503877-0; Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832,v2 (1981) ISBN 0-06-014844-6; Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845, v3 (1984) ISBN 0-06-015279-6; Remini, Robert V. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (1991) ISBN 0-393-31088-4;  Rogers, George C. Evolution of a Federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston (1758-1812) (1962); Rogers Jr. George C. and C. James Taylor. A South Carolina Chronology, 1497-1992 2nd Ed. (1994); Roper, L. H. Conceiving Carolina: Proprietors, Planters, and Plots, 1662-1729 Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 1-4039-6479-3; Salley, Alexander S. ed. Narratives of Early Carolina, 1650–1708 (1911) ISBN 0-7812-6298-4; Schultz, Harold S. Nationalism and Sectionalism in South Carolina, 1852-1860 (1950); Sinha, Manisha. The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina (2000); Smith, Warren B. White Servitude in Colonial South Carolina (1961); Symonds, Craig L. A Battlefield Atlas of the Civil War. Annapolis, MD.: Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1983. ISBN 0-933852-40-1; Tuten, James H. Lowcountry Time and Tide: The Fall of the South Carolina Rice Kingdom (University of South Carolina Press, 2010) 178 pp. ISBN 978-1-57003-926-3; Tuttle, Charles A. (Court Reporter) California Digest: A Digest of the Reports of the Supreme Court of California, Volume 26 (1906); Wallace, David Duncan. South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948 (1951); Walther, Eric C. The Fire-Eaters (1992) ISBN 0-8071-1731-5; Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. (2005) ISBN 0-393-05820-4; Wood, Peter H. Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion (1996); Woodmason, Charles. The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution Edited by Richard J. Hooker.  (1953), ISBN 0-8078-4035-1; Woods, Thomas E. Jr. Nullification (2010) ISBN 978-1-59698-149-2; Wright, Louis B. South Carolina: A Bicentennial History' (1976).


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