Tuesday, July 21, 2009

South Carolina: Jeff King, Day 2

Charleston, First Day

Because of the limited schedule of the CSS HL Hunley exhibit, this was a key day on the trip.

My first stop in one of the truly spectacular cities for any Civil War traveler was the Visitor’s Center and boat to Fort Sumter. The Liberty Square Visitor Center at the end of Calhoun Street is informative and spacious. Be sure and see the displays out front of the building. This is the chief point of departure for the boat to Fort Sumter.

It seems like a minor complaint now, but I really felt rushed while I was at Fort Sumter. After you listen to the ranger presentation, you have less than 45 minutes to cover this facility. That wasn’t enough for me. I probably should have waited for the next boat and not rushed through what seemed like a superb museum.

Keep in mind there are areas of the fort that are similar to the 1860 appearance, but most of the walls have been leveled and there is a huge World War I battery in the middle of the island. Still, most historians feel this is where it all began. (I look at John Brown’s attack on Harpers Ferry as the first organized and well-funded attempt by multiple northern states to capture southern property.) Also understand, Fort Sumter is a major tourist stop, and you will be there with people who aren’t all that knowledgeable about Mr. Lincoln’s War.

I got huge goosebumps standing at a high point near the flagpoles at the back of the facility and looking out upon Fort Moultrie, Castle Pickney, Morris Island and the other points where the shelling began that morning of 12 April 1861.

My next stop was at the exhibit of the epic history-making boat that changed the world forever, the CSS HL Hunley. The work being done at the warehousing complex at 1250 Supply St. in North Charleston for the restoration of the Hunley is very similar to the work on the Monitor, but South Carolinians are fiercely proud of the submarine and put up quite a fight for keeping it here rather than letting it go to the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum in Virginia or to the Naval Base near Washington DC.

The museum here is quite complete. Thank goodness, because there was a long wait to see the submarine. The detail and relics for the Hunley are remarkable. A nice tribute is paid with a full scale model to the first Confederate submarine, the Pioneer built in New Orleans before the Union occupation. There was a great deal of information about the 1999 TNT movie about the Hunley starring Donald Sutherland as P.G.T. Beaugard (which I still haven't seen).

The model of the ship is quite informative. You can get inside (if you are small enough!) and shuffle around. Keep in mind the actual Hunley was even smaller than this very tight model. The display of the forensic science for rebuilding the actual faces of the Hunley’s crew is absolutely amazing. The display of the CSA Medals of Honor for the Hunley crew is tastefully done. The tank that contains the Hunley is almost exactly like the Monitor’s storage with the painfully slow removal of sea water through light electrical charge. It is a thrill to walk near the ship. Keep in mind there are limited weekend hours here at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center to see this vessel.

The Citadel Museum is a small but well presented history of the institution. I love how they put forward their cadets firing on the Star of the West as the “actual” first shots of the Civil War. Pictures of the cadets involved in the Star of the West incident add a human touch, and the diorama of the firing is very well done. There is detail about the 14 cadet casualties suffered serving under Wade Hampton at Trevilian Station in Virginia. Citadel cadets participated in 15 Civil War engagements including Bentonville NC. Citadel graduates included CSA Brigadier Gens. Johnson Hagood, Micah Jenkins, E.M. Law, and Ellison Capers. The first and second national CSA flags in the staircase are in tremendously good condition. On an outside note, the cadets' Revolutionary War Battle Flag is pretty cool.

Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island was involved in every American War up to Korea. It is very easy to see why US Gen. Anderson made the decision to abandon this location — houses crowd right up to the walls of the fort. The view of Fort Sumter is picturesque. You get a reminder from a historical marker that tens of thousands of African Americans landed here in bondage. You also find out that this was the launching point of the CSS Hunley. The museum here is quite complete, and the Rodman shell circa 1885 is impressive. The picture of post-war desolation is revealing. A diorama of the attack on Battery Wagner is well done. The Powder Bunker/Magazine complete with kegs really puts that building’s function into clear view like nowhere else I’ve visited. The WWII lookout tower is interesting. More important for Civil War travelers is the artillery display, which may be the most complete anywhere short of Trophy Point at West Point NY on the USMA campus. It includes Columbiads, mortars, Parrots, Rodmans, and Brookes.

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