August: This Month In South Carolina History – “Swamp Angel Takes Aim At Charleston

Upon surrendering Fort Sumter on April 15, 1861, the United States military developed a methodical campaign designed to regain control of Charleston harbor. In 1863 an attack by Union ironclad ships failed to retake Ft. Sumter, so Union General Quincy Gillmore approved a plan to reduce Charleston with artillery fire. For that purpose, he ordered the construction of a battery in the marsh between Morris and James Islands.

Swamp Angel

Swamp Angel

Swamp Angel

Swamp Angel

During the summer pilings were driven into the marsh to create a parapet, a grillege (crisscrossed logs) laid on top and covered with 13,000 sandbags weighing more than 800 tons. A platform was built on top of the sand bags to support a 16,500-pound gun – an 8-inch Parrot nicknamed the “Swamp Angel.” The Angel was capable of firing 200 pound incendiary shells (authorized by President Lincoln) four to five miles into the city. The shells were filled with “Greek fire,” a mixture used first in 450 BC which included sulphur, petroleum, quicklime, phosphorus, and saltpeter. It was hoped that the “greek fire” would ignite upon explosion and turn Charleston into a “raging inferno.”  The gun was mounted on August 17.

On the evening of August 21-22, 1863, Captain Nathaniel Edwards took compass readings on St Michael’s church steeple in Charleston for nighttime firing.  For the people of the North, Charleston was a legitimate military target, as well as an emotional target. Charleston was the symbol of the Southern rebellion, where secession and the first military action of the War took place. Charleston’s destruction was considered fair retribution.

 On August 21, 1863, Union General Quincy Gillmore wrote a letter to Confederate Gen. P.G.T Beauregard:

“The United States government demands the immediate evacuation of Morris Island and Fort Sumter within four hours of this delivery or I shall open fire upon the city of Charleston.” The note reached Beauregard’s headquarters at 10:45 P.M. Beauregard was not at the headquarters, and since the message was unsigned, it was returned to Gillmore for verification.

At 1:30 A.M the first shot from the Swamp Angel was fired into the city, its shell landed near the present day intersection of Church and Pinckney streets. British war correspondent and illustrator Frank Vizetelly was staying at the Charleston Hotel on Meeting Street. He described the first shot “like the whirr of a phantom brigade of cavalry galloping in mid-air over the hotel and then a deafening explosion in the street. At first I thought a meteor had fallen, but a moment later … there was another whirr and another explosion. The city was being shelled. There were terrified citizens rushing about in the scantiest of costumes.”

The explosion caused panic and pandemonium among the hotel’s guests, whom Vizetelly described as “shady speculators attracted to the auctions of goods recently run through the blockade by unscrupulous characters from whom the Confederacy expects nothing.”

Over the next hour, sixteen shots landed in the city. One of the guests wrote that “We could hear the whiz of shells before they passed over our heads, and I bet the Englishman [Vizetelly] a thousand to one that the next shell would not hit us.”  The resulting flames of the bombardment could be seen by the Union soldiers and the fire alarm bells rang throughout the night.

The next morning Gillmore’s note, now signed, was re-delivered to Beauregard’s headquarters. Beauregard immediately sent back an enraged reply in which he demanded time to evacuate the city’s civilian population. Gillmore gave Beauregard twenty-four hours. 

On August 23 the Swamp Angel resumed firing, shooting dozens of rounds into the city. On the thirty-sixth shot, the Swamp Angel exploded and fell silent forever, but history had been made. The firing of the Swamp Angel was the first documented firing of an artillery piece using a compass reading, and the distance covered by the shells launched into the city was farther than any previous military bombardment. Even without the Angel, the Federal bombardment of Charleston nevertheless continued until February 1865 when Union troops occupied the city. The siege lasted 587 days, the longest suffered by any American city. Charleston was under Federal occupation for the next twelve years.


After the War, the remains of the Swamp Angel were transported to Trenton, New Jersey, where they were used as part of a Civil War Monument. The gun was restored in 1994 where it remains on display in Cadwalader Park. 

Today In Charleston History: July 19

1863-Civil War. Battery Wagner

The morning after the assault of 54th Massachusetts, Gen. Beauregard instructed General Ripley to hold “Morris Island at all costs for the present.” General Gillmore (U.S. Army) resumed bombardment of Fort Wagner.


Fort Wagner, the day after the assault by the 54th Massachusetts

Map of Morris Island

Map of Morris Island

Today In Charleston History: June 27


The Assembly passed an act “for the more effectual Preventing the Spreading of Contagious Distempers” and appointed Gilbert Guttery the first health commissioner. He was empowered to board any ship coming into the harbor and order anyone quarantined in the “pest house” on Sullivan’s Island, under penalty of fine or whipping for leaving.

1723 – Politics. 

     By the order of the Lords Justices the “Act for the Good Government of Charles Town” was repealed. Some folks say “good government” never returned.  

1767 – Revolutionary War.

The sloop Active was seized by Capt. James Hawker of HMS Sardoine. This was the initial incident that sparked a major contest between British authorities and the Carolina merchants – all because of the Townshend Acts and the sugar tax levied against the colonies.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

Monday Gell was arrested at his harness shop.

1864- Bombardment of Charleston

Gus Smythe wrote:

The Yankees are shelling as usual but nearly all their shells have fallen short. Yesterday, only two or three came in & they burst on the Bay.  There was also considerable firing at Sumter … the Yankee prisoners are in Mr. O’Conner’s house at the corner of Broad & Rutledge Sts. It is a splendid house & a delightful situation. They have a large yard & empty lot to walk in & the other day the Govt. sent round & had gas fixtures put up so that they might have light all at the expense of the Confederacy. Have plenty of money which they spend for coffee & sugar etc. It seems a shame to treat them so well.


O'Conner House, Broad Street

O’Conner House, Broad Street


Today In Charleston History: June 22

1663-Founding of Carolina

Capt. Robert Sandford, exploring the Carolina coast for Sir John Yeamans, sailed five miles up a “fair river” and came across “a canoe with two Indians.” They informed Sandford that this was the country of “Edistoh.”


The city of Charlestown was incorporated by Governor Nicholson.


In the Gazette, Christopher Gadsden wrote:

It seems amazing, and altogether unaccountable, that our mother country should take almost every means in her power, to drive her colonies to some desperate act; for what else could be the motive (besides oppressing them) of treating them with that contempt she upon all occasions affects to do?

1781-American Revolution

The American prisoners in the British ships in Charlestown harbor were exchanged, and sent to Philadelphia.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Frederick Wesner and Capt. William Dove arrested Denmark Vesey at the “house of one of his wives,” most likely his former wife Beck.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston
Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Sam Jones (CSA) angrily replied to Gen. Schimmelfenneg’s assertions that the bombardment was aimed at military targets:

The fire has been so singularly wild and inaccurate that no one who has ever witnessed it would suspect its object … the shells have been thrown at random, at any and all hours, day and night …



Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thornton Jenkins (Jenks) composition for grand organ and orchestra, Prelude Religieuse, was performed at the Queen’s Hall at the Royal Academy.  In a mere two years, Jenks had progressed to the point where his compositions were being performed at one of London’s leading concert halls. As the war raged across Europe, Jenks had something more important on his mind – his musical future.

Listen to one of Jenkins’ compositions, “Charlestonia: A Folk Rhapsody.” 

Today In Charleston History: June 14


Charlestown was divided into two Anglican parishes: St. Michael’s, south of Broad Street and St. Philip’s, north of Broad.

1774-American Revolution

Christopher Gadsden wrote to Sam Adams in Boston, assuring him that South Carolina would stand firm with Massachusetts, reminding him that South Carolina was the last to desert the non-importation agreement in 1770. He wrote:

For my part I would rather see my own family reduced to the utmost Extremity and half cut to pieces than to submit to their damned Machinations. 

(L) - Sam Adams. (R) - Christopher Gadsden

(L) – Sam Adams. (R) – Christopher Gadsden

1775-American Revolution – Continental Congress 

Edward Rutledge was appointed to a three-member committee to draft George Washington’s commission and instructions as commander of the Continental Army.  

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

George Wilson informed his master, Major John Wilson of 106 Broad Street, about the plot to kill whites, related to him by Rolla Bennett.

8:00 p.m.

Major Wilson informed Intendent (mayor) Hamilton that the governor’s slaves were involved in an insurrection planned for two nights hence – Sunday June 16. The story Wilson told was so similar to that of William Paul and Peter Prioleau that Hamilton and Governor Bennett had no choice but to believe it.

Just before midnight, Gov. Bennett ordered the arrest of ten slaves including Peter Poyas, Mingo Harth, and his own personal slaves, Rolla and Ned Bennett.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston  

Captured Union officers purposely placed in range of Federal guns at 180 Broad Street in an attempt to stop the bombardment of Charleston. The Charleston Mercury announced:

 For some time it has been known that a batch of Yankee prisoners, comprising the highest in rank now in our hands, were soon to be brought hither to share in the pleasures of the bombardment. These prisoners we understand will be furnished with comfortable quarters in that portion of the city most exposed to enemy fire. The commanding officer on Morris Island will be duly notified of the fact of their presence in the shelled district and if his batteries still continue at their wanton and barbarous work, it will be at the peril of the captive officers.’ 

The Charleston Daily Courier wrote:

We do not confine these prisoners in a fortress or a walled town or city, or thrust them forward in our battle as the Yankees do with the unfortunate negro … We place them in our city of Charleston, among and near our own wives and children …

Two views of the O'Conner House, 180 Broad Street, where Union officers were imprisoned within range of Federal guns.

Two views of the O’Conner House, 180 Broad Street, where Union officers were imprisoned within range of Federal guns.

Today In Charleston History: June 13

1713-Yemassee War.

The Cherokee war party returned north. That left the remaining Catawba force to face a rapidly-assembled militia under the command of George Chicken from Goose Creek.  In the Battle of the Ponds, the Chicken militia routed the Catawba, who returned to their villages and decided on peace.

1777-American Revolution

The Marquis de Lafayette and the Baron de Kalb arrived in America on North Island in Winyah Bay. They proceeded to Benjamin Huger’s house in Georgetown to join the American military cause. 


A fire broke out in Lodge Alley. Winds blew it westward, toward the center of the city where it burned “a vast Number of Houses and … left many Citizens without the Means of being otherwise accommodated.” St. Philip’s Church was also in the path of the fire, but was saved by the heroic actions of a slave called Boney. The fire:

would have destroyed that venerable building but for the heroic intrepidity of a negro, who, at the risk of his life, climbed to the very summit of the belfry, and tore off the burning shingles.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Ned Bennett turned himself in to the authorities at the Work House. He told the wardens that he learned his name had been mentioned in association with a planned rebellion and he wished to clear his name. He was questioned for several hours, cleared and released.

He then walked the five blocks from the Work House to Denmark Vesey’s house on Bull Street to attend a meeting to finalize plans for the rebellion.       


The steamship Pulaski exploded and sank just off the Charleston harbor. It was owned by the Savannah and Charleston Steam Packet Company to safely and speedily carry freight and passengers between Savannah to Baltimore with stops in Charleston.

The sinking of the Pulaski

The sinking of the Pulaski

That night, after taking on about sixty-five passengers in Charleston the Pulaski steamed to about thirty miles off the North Carolina coast through a dark night and moderate weather. Around ten o’clock the Pulaski’s starboard boiler suddenly exploded and swept some passengers into the sea and scalded others to death. Panicked passengers, most of them wearing their night clothes, sought refuge on the promenade deck. The bow of the Pulaski rose out of the water and eventually she ripped apart.

Passengers clung to furniture and pieces of wreckage. As the Pulaski sank, the crew lowered four life boats but two of them capsizing while the other two filled with frantic passengers.

Three days later the Henry Camerdon, schooner bound for Wilmington, North Carolina, rescued the 30 survivors. There were more than 100 deaths. Passengers rescued were:
MRS. P. M. NIGHTINGALE, servant and child.
MRS. W. FREHER and child, St. Simons, Geo.
J. H. COOPER, Glynn, Georgia.
F. W. POOLER, Savannah, Georgia.
Capt. POOLER, son.
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, Savannah, Georgia.
SOLOMON ________
S. HIBBERD, 1st mate Pulaski.
W. C. N. SWIFT, New Bedford.
GIDEON WEST, New Bedford, boatswain.
B. BRAGG, Norfolk, steward.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston 
Gen. Samuel Jones
Gen. Samuel Jones

Confederate Gen. Samuel Jones, in an effort to stop or reduce the bombardment of the city, notified Union Gen. John G. Foster that

five Union generals and forty-five field officers had arrived in the city for safe keeping … in commodious quarters in a part of the city occupied by non-combatants, the majority of whom are women and children. It is proper, however, that I should inform you it is a part of the city which has been for many months exposed day and night to the fire of your guns.

Gen. John Foster

Gen. John Foster

      Union Gen. Schimmelfenneg, before forwarding the letter to Gen. Foster added a note:

Charleston must be considered a place “of arms.” It contains a large arsenal, military foundries … and has already furnished three iron-clads to the enemy. It is our duty to destroy these resources. In reference to the women and children of the bombarded city, I therefore can only say the same situation occurs wherever a weak and strong party are at war … In my opinion the endeavor of the enemy to force us to give up the bombardment should be the reason for its continuation … as a means to force him to give up his barbarous practices.

Today In Charleston History: June 9


“A Exact Prospect of Charlestown” an engraving based on a watercolor by Bishop Roberts, was printed in London and published in London Magazine.

An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, by Bishop Roberts

An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, by Bishop Roberts

1776-Battle of Ft. Sullivan-American Revolution

Learning of the construction of Ft. Sullivan, and the fact that the back (land) side of the fort was not completed, Sir Henry Clinton and 500 British soldiers landed on Long Island (present-day Isle of Palms) just north of Sullivan’s Island. Over the following days, Clinton increased his force on Long Island. His plan was to cross The Breach, an inlet between Long Island and Sullivan’s and attack the fort from its unfinished rear while Sir Peter Parker’s ships assaulted it from the sea.

battle of sullivan's island

 1818 – Religion-Slavery

Rev. Richard Allen, black minister from Philadelphia, conducted a service on Wednesday evening at the AME Church. The city guard was called out to break up the service. One hundred and forty black congregants were arrested – including Denmark Vesey, Peter Poyas, Monday Gell and Gullah Jack – and spent the night in jail. The next morning a judge lectured them on the particulars of the 1800 law that prohibited black religious meetings after dark with a black majority.

 1864-Bombardment of Charleston  

Gus Smythe, serving in the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his mother:

Well the Yankees have succeeded at last in hitting St. Michael’s Church. NOT the steeple, just the base of it. The shell entered the South roof of the church on Tuesday, but did not burst nor do much damage … I do not consider the charm as broken now even until the Steeple itself receives a scratch

Today In Charleston History: June 7


Lt. Gov.William Bull reported that 3000 wagons came to Charlestown in one year from the backcountry carrying produce.


Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr, in the early 1800s

Former vice-president Aaron Burr left America on a British mail packet Clarissa Ann from New York under the alias Mr. G. H. Edwards. Although his trial for treason had ended in his acquittal, and he was never charged with murder for the illegal duel with Alexander Hamilton, he was unable to pursue any political or business ventures, so he headed to Europe.

He would never see his beloved daughter Theodosia Burr Alston again. He spent his last night with her working out an elaborate system of codes they would use to correspond. He was being watched constantly and there was a long line of creditors seeking him out.

1818-Slavery. Religion.

Rev. Richard Allen

Rev. Richard Allen

Rev. Richard Allen and a delegation from Philadelphia arrived in Charleston at the invitation of Rev. Morris Brown to support the local A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

In 1794 Allen had founded the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, the first independent black denomination in the United States.  In 1816 he was elected the first bishop of the AME Church.

1862-Bombardment of Charleston

 The vestry of St. Michael’s met and passed a resolution for “the removal of the bells to a place of Safety.” They was real concern that the city may be taken by Federal troops, and burned. The bells were placed in the care of Mr. J.K. Sass, president of the Bank of Charleston in Columbia. Advertisements were placed in local papers for bids to remove the bells from the church.

Today In Charleston History: June 6

1713-Port Statistics

The leading exports of the year were:

  • 73,790 deerskins
  • 75 Indian slaves
  • 12,677 barrels of rice
  • 6617 barrels of pitch and tar
  • 661 barrels of turpentine
  • 1965 sides of leather
  • 1963 barrels of beef
1770 – Hurricane

A hurricane made landfall south of Charleston. According to the South Carolina Gazette: 

On Wednesday night last we had a most violent gale of wind … with heavy rains, which has done more damage to the shipping and wharfs (sic) of any that has happened here in the memory of oldest man living. (The hurricane in 1752 only excepted.) Mr. Lamboll’s bridge is destroyed, and the bathing house also; all the fortifications from thence to Craven’s is one continuous scene of ruins.  


Rev. John Tunnel was appointed by Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury to the Charleston Circuit. He continued to lead services in the Baptist Meeting House until one Sunday when they found the church boarded up and the benches tossed into the street.


The South Carolina Jockey Club purchased the sixty-three acres of the Washington Race Course for $5000.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston.  

Gus Smythe, on duty in St. Michael’s steeple for the Confederate Signal Corps, wrote to his sister Sue:

Yesterday they aimed at the Steeple & the shells flew round here thick & fast. Thirteen fell between Queen St. & St. Michael’s Alley yesterday after 12 … Two of these struck Hibernian Hall, one the Mills House, one the Court House, two fell here at the corner of Broad, two in the City Hall Square, & one in the Sunday School Union … It is miraculous that this Steeple has not yet been hit.

Hibernian Hall, cannon damage

Hibernian Hall, cannon damage

Court house and City Hall, across the street from St. Michael's Church

Court house and City Hall, across the street from St. Michael’s Church

Today In Charleston History: April 15

1715 – Yemassee War

At this point, many of the Lowcountry Indian tribes were deeply indebted to the English. Unscrupulous traders in London and Charles Town overextended credit to the Indians, hoping to force them to pay in land concessions.  The Yemassee were also unhappy with the town of Beaufort being settled in the middle of their territory. As the pressure to collect the debt increased, the Indian agents often resorted to cruel practices – cheating, beatings, and the raping of their women.

On April 14 a Charles Town delegation was arrived to negotiate with the Yemassee tribe. After the first day’s negotiations the delegation retired for the night. Before dawn the next morning the Yemassee attacked the sleeping colonists who were then ritually tortured and murdered. The Indians then divided themselves into two war parties. One attacked Beaufort. About 300 whites were able to take refuge on a ship in the Port Royal River while the Yemassee burned most of the town. 

Yemassee War

Yemassee War

The other Yemassee party marched through St. Bartholomew’s Parish, burning houses on the way, killing 100 people.

Governor Craven declared martial law, laid an embargo on all vessels, impressed men and property into service for defense and appointed Robert Daniel deputy governor to administer the colony while Craven was at the front.

Terrified of being attacked, the Assembly took an unprecedented action – they armed 400 black slaves to join a force of 500 white men. The site of armed Negros marching through Charles Town frightened them as much as the possibility of Indian attack.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe discussed the looting in the abandoned houses in Charleston, south of Broad Street:

Our own soldiers are doing us more damage than the shells. I should much prefer a shell to go thro’ the house than to let them do so. They just roam at will now through the whole lower portion of the city. Our house and Mr. Middleton’s [1 Meeting Street] below Broad are the only two in Meeting Street below Broad which have not been entered. Our stores on the wharf have not been seriously injured, but soldiers have been in there also. They have done three times the damage to the city that the shells have done.