Second installment: S.C. suffers, benefits from its role in war’s first shots

02/18/2011 12:52 PM

02/18/2011 1:00 PM

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At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired, aimed at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor by Confederate troops. It’s in the history books. Every school child learns it. But like most seemingly cut-and-dried historical events, Fort Sumter’s role in history also has nuance. Was its bombardment, for example, the first act of war in the Civil War? A look at the competing events that could claim to be the first hostile action after the Dec. 20, 1860, signing of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession.

Was it the first act of war? | Fort Sumter myth, lore and facts

S.C. suffers, benefits from its role in war’s first shots

A shell roared out of a 10-inch mortar at Fort Johnson at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, forever changing South Carolina and the United States of America.

Decades of bellicose debate about slavery and federal authority over states, and months of prickly negotiations about the Union troops holed up on a man-made island in the mouth of the Charleston harbor, had come to this -- a shell exploding over the 33-star U.S. flag. The explosion was a signal to the 43 Confederate cannons around the harbor to begin firing on Fort Sumter.

It also ignited the Civil War.

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SC missing out on chance to capitalize on Civil War tourism.


Call a truce, for the world to come and see.

On the Web

Dept.of Archives and History

National Parks Service

Lowcountry Civil War Commemoration



Some of the events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in Charleston in April 1861

Feb. 3-5: “Storm Clouds on the Horizon,” conference presented by Blue & Gray Education Society, Mills House Hotel, 115 Meeting St., Charleston

April 8-July 10: “A Soldier’s View of Charleston,” exhibition of 33 paintings by Conrad Wise Chapman depicting Charleston Harbor during the Civil War, Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St., Charleston

April 8-July 10: “Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad,” photographs and digital montages explore the history of freedom seekers, Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St., Charleston

April 8: Lectures by USC professor Walter Edgar, College of Charleston professor Bernard E. Powers Jr. and Middlebury College professor Barbara Bellows, Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting St., Charleston, 7 p.m., free

April 9: Episode 1 of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” will be shown at the Old North Charleston Picture House, 4920 Jenkins Ave., North Charleston, 7 p.m., free

April 9: Episode 1 of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” will be shown at Marion Square, Charleston, 7 p.m., free

April 9: Lecture by Columbia University professor Barbara Jeanne Fields and Stanford University professor Gavin Wright, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 67 Anson St., Charleston, 10 a.m., free

April 9: Lecture by Queens University Belfast professor Catherine Clinton and University of Georgia professor Stephen Berry, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 67 Anson St., Charleston, 2 p.m. free

April 10: Episode 1 of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” will be shown at Marine Resources Research Institute Auditorium, 205 Fort Johnson Road, James Island, 4 p.m., free

April 11: Concert at White Point Garden, Charleston Symphony, Mt. Zion AME Spiritual Ensemble and the Jay Ungar and Molly Mason Family Band performing portions of the score from Ken Burns’ “The Civil War,” Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” and other music relevant to the war, 7:30 p.m., free

April 12: Candlelight Sunrise Concert, Charleston Symphony Orchestra Brass Ensemble, commemorating first shots fired from Fort Johnson on Fort Sumter, White Point Garden, The Battery, Charleston, 5 a.m., free

April 12: Lecture by Princeton University professor James M. McPherson, Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St., Charleston, 7 p.m.

April 14: Lecture by J. Roderick Heller III, author and founding chairman of the Civil War Trust, Charleston Library Society, 164 King St., Charleston, 7 p.m.

The Series


South Carolina’s December 1860 secession from the Union and its lasting legacies.


Just months after Sumter, the Union seizes a foothold on the S.C. coast. Today, that area hosts two of the huge military bases that help support the state’s economy. Other Lowcountry legacies include freedom for blacks, an integrated military and, even, national cemeteries.


A 567-day siege leaves Charleston the most bombarded city in the history of the U.S. mainland. The siege also produces weapons and heroes never seen before. When it falls, much of Charleston is in ruins, as is the city’s historic role as the center of S.C. power.


South Carolina entered the Civil War one of the wealthiest states in the Union. At war’s end, as its capital smolders, that wealth is lost. In its place, the war leaves legacies of destruction, death and grinding poverty.


The end of shooting does not end civil war. Instead, for a dozen years, South Carolina is occupied as racial violence spirals and the state is governed by a political coalition — of African-Americans and Republicans — unlike any seen before. The era also sees colleges open to educate African-Americans and, for the first time, the popular election of the governor.


Who won the Civil War? Twelve years after its end, white conservatives — led by Confederate veterans — reclaim power. However, unified white power splinters with the rise of Ben Tillman’s Upstate, powered by manufacturing and a new state college. Also, after a new state constitution strips African-Americans of their rights, hundreds of thousands leave in a decades-long mass exodus that ends 200 years of black majority.


The civil rights era begins as federal institutions intervene to end all-white S.C. primaries and school segregation, and open voting and public accommodations to all. The first African-Americans since the 1890s are elected to the S.C. Legislature and Congress.


Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential run marks the beginning of the end of the Democratic “Solid South.” Today, South Carolinians — including leaders of a more diverse GOP — again are among the leaders in a national debate questioning whether the federal government has overstepped its legitimate role.


The Civil War undeniably changed South Carolina. Pre-war coastal rice plantations are today part of a new tourism-and-retirement “plantation” society. But some legacies remain unresolved, including sometimes troubled race relations, lingering poverty, intrastate regional rivalries, and the proper roles of education and government.

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