The Destruction of Charleston in the Civil War
Visitors to the South Carolina city can still see signs of the pre-Civil War structures that were devastated by Union bombardment and a blazing fire devastated
- By Ray Gordon and Molly Roberts
- Smithsonian.com, March 23, 2011
(Library of Congress / Molly Roberts)
April 2011 inaugurates a nation-wide commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. From South Carolina's secession in 1860 to the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C., was home to many of the critical moments of the early stages of the war. If you find yourself in this Palmetto State city, be sure to note these sites where the city rebuilt itself after four years of destruction.
On April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery bombarded the Union-occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, no one could have predicted that the Civil War would last almost five years and cause nationwide disruption, destruction and chaos. Union forces never conquered Charleston, a cosmopolitan city and the birthplace of the Confederate secessionist movement. Nevertheless, it was nearly destroyed by fire and bombardment, and was a ghost town by war’s end.
Confederate forces abandoned Charleston on February 15, 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman threatened to raze the city during his “March to the Sea.” In May 1865, Sherman toured the city, proclaiming that “Any one who is not satisfied with war should go to Charleston and he will pray louder and deeper than ever that, the country, in its long future be spared any more war.”
What follows are a series of photographs depicting the wreckage Sherman witnessed and the resurrected Charleston as it exists today.