South Carolina in the American Civil War

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State of South Carolina
Flag of South Carolina State seal of South Carolina
Flag of South Carolina Seal of South Carolina
Nickname(s):
Map of the United States with South Carolina highlighted
Capital Columbia
Largest city Charleston, South Carolina
Admission to Confederacy  February 8, 1861 (1st)
Population 703,708 Total
* 301,302 free
* 402,406 slave
Forces supplied 23% of white population Total
* soldiers
* sailors
* marines
Casualties  12,992 dead
Major garrisons/armories  Fort Sumter Charleston Harbor
Governor Francis Pickens (1860-1862)
Milledge Bonham
Andrew Magrath
Lieutenant Governor
Senators Robert Woodward Barnwell
James Lawrence Orr
Representatives List
Returned to Union control July 19, 1868

South Carolina was a site of major political and military importance for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The white population of the state strongly supported the institution of slavery long before the war. Political leaders such as John C. Calhoun and Preston Brooks had inflamed regional (and national) passions, and for years before the eventual start of the 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 January 9, 1861. The April 1861 Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter ignited what became a four-year struggle that divided the nation.

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. South Carolina also was the only Southern state not to harbor pockets of anti-secessionist fervor strong enough to send large amounts of men to fight for the Union, as every other state in the Confederacy did.

Among the leading generals from the Palmetto State were Wade Hampton III, one of the Confederacy's leading cavalrymen, 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.

American Civil War[edit]

Fort Sumter[edit]

Fort Sumter, 1861, flying the Confederate Flag.

Six days after secession, on the day after Christmas, 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. federal forces controlled its largest harbor. On January 9, 1861, the U.S. ship Star of the West approached to resupply the fort. 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 back to New York.

Mississippi declared its secession several weeks after South Carolina, and five other states of the lower South soon followed. Both the outgoing Buchanan administration and President-elect Lincoln 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, called a peace conference, to little effect. Meanwhile, Virginian orator Roger Pryor barreled into Charleston and proclaimed that the only way to get his state to join the Confederacy was for South Carolina to instigate war with the United States. The obvious place to start was right in the midst of Charleston Harbor.

In December 1861, South Carolina received $100,000 from Georgia after a disastrous fire in Charleston.

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. About 6,000 men were stationed around the rim of the harbor, ready to take on the 60 men in 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 soldier—the only casualty of the bombardment and the first casualty of the war.

The war ends[edit]

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. As early as November, 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. When the plantation owners, many of which had already gone off with the Confederate Army elsewhere, fled the area, the Sea Island slaves became the first "freedmen" of the war, and the Sea Islands became the laboratory for Northern plans to educate the African Americans for their eventual role as full American citizens.

Despite South Carolina's important role in the start of the war, and a long unsuccessful attempt to take Charleston from 1863 onward, few military engagements occurred within the state's borders until 1865, when Sherman's Army, having already completed its March to the Sea in Savannah, marched to Columbia and leveled most of the town, as well as a number of towns along the way and afterward. South Carolina lost 12,922 men to the war, 23% of its male white population of fighting age, and the highest percentage of any state in the nation. Sherman's 1865 march through the Carolinas resulted in the burning of Columbia and numerous other towns. The destruction his troops wrought upon South Carolina was even worse than in Georgia, because many of his men bore a particular grudge against the state and its citizens, who they blamed for starting the war. One of Sherman's men declared, "This is where secession began, and by God, here is where it will end."[who?] Poverty would mark the state for generations to come.

On February 21, 1865, with the Confederate forces finally evacuated from Charleston, the black 54th Massachusetts Regiment 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.

Notable Civil War leaders from South Carolina[edit]

Battles in South Carolina[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]