Friday, June 14, 2013

June 14, 1863: Arthur J. Fremantle visits Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston Harbor during the Civil War.

On this day 150 years ago, British Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. Fremantle continued his tour across the Confederacy by sightseeing in Charleston, South Carolina and dining with General P.G.T. Beauregard.
14th June (Sunday).—I went to church at St Michael's, which is one of the oldest churches in America, and is supposed to have been built a hundred and fifty years ago. The Charlestonians are very proud of it, and I saw several monuments of the time of the British dominion.

This morning I made the acquaintance of a Mr Sennec, an officer in the Confederate States navy, who, with his wife and daughter, were about to face the terrors and dangers of running the blockade, Mr Sennec having got an appointment in Europe. The ladies told me they had already made one start, but after reaching the bar, the night was not considered propitious, so they had returned. Mr Sennec is thinking of going to Wilmington, and running from thence, as it is more secure than Charleston.

I dined at Mr Robertson's this evening, and met a very agreeable party there—viz., two young ladies, who were extremely pretty, General Beauregard, Captain Tucker of the Chicora, and Major Norris, the chief of the secret intelligence bureau at Richmond.

I had a long conversation with General Beauregard, who said he considered the question of ironclads versus forts as settled, especially when the fire from the latter is plunging. If the other Monitors had approached as close as the Keokuk, they would probably have shared her fate. He thought that both flat-headed rifled 7-inch bolts and solid 10-inch balls penetrated the ironclads when within 1200 yards. He agreed with General Ripley that the 15-inch gun is rather a failure; it is so unwieldy that it can only be fired very slowly, and the velocity of the ball is so small that it is very difficult to strike a moving object. He told me that Fort Sumter was to be covered by degrees with the long green moss which in this country hangs down from the trees: he thinks that when this is pressed it will deaden the effect of the shot without being inflammable; and he also said that, even if the walls of Fort Sumter were battered down, the barbette battery would still remain, supported on the piers.

The Federal frigate Ironsides took up her position, during the attack, over 3000 lb. of powder, which was prevented from exploding owing to some misfortune connected with the communicating wire. General Beauregard and Captain Tucker both seemed to expect great things from a newly-invented and extra-diabolical torpedo-ram.

After dinner, Major Norris showed us a copy of a New York illustrated newspaper of the same character as our 'Punch.' In it the President Davis and General Beauregard were depicted shoeless and in rags, contemplating a pair of boots, which the latter suggested had better be eaten. This caricature excited considerable amusement, especially when its merits were discussed after Mr Robertson's excellent dinner.

General Beauregard told me he had been educated in the North, and used to have many friends there, but that now he would sooner submit to the Emperor of China than return to the Union.

Mr Walter Blake arrived soon after dinner; he had come up from his plantation on the Combahee river on purpose to see me. He described the results of the late Yankee raid up that river: forty armed negroes and a few whites in a miserable steamer were able to destroy and burn an incalculable amount of property, and carry off hundreds of negroes. Mr Blake got off very cheap, having only lost twenty-four this time, but he only saved the remainder by his own personal exertions and determination. He had now sent all his young males two hundred miles into the interior for greater safety. He seemed to have a very rough time of it, living all alone in that pestilential climate. A neighbouring planter, Mr Lowndes, had lost 290 negroes, and a Mr Kirkland was totally ruined.

At 7 p.m. Mr Blake and I called at the office of General Ripley, to whom Mr Blake, notwithstanding that he is an Englishman of nearly sixty years of age, had served as aide-de-camp during some of the former operations against Charleston. General Ripley told us that shelling was still going on vigorously between Morris and Folly Islands, the Yankees being assisted every now and then by one or more of their gunboats. The General explained to us that these light-draft armed vessels—river-gropers, as he called them—were indefatigable at pushing up the numerous creeks, burning and devastating everything. He said that when he became acquainted with the habits of one of these "critturs," he arranged an ambuscade for her, and with the assistance of "his fancy Irishman" (Captain Mitchell), he captured her. This was the case with the steamer Stono, a short time since, which, having been caught in this manner by the army, was lost by the navy shortly afterwards off Sullivan's Island.

News has just been received that Commodore Foote is to succeed Dupont in the command of the blockading squadron. Most of these officers appeared to rejoice in this change, as they say Foote is younger, and likely to show more sport than the venerable Dupont.

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