Fort Moultrie's rear facade

The Antebellum Fort

in Old Photos & Prints (1855-1860)

By the mid-Nineteenth Century, Moultrie was already decades old and a long-standing South Carolinian fixture, plainly visible to every ship which entered or departed Charleston Harbor. It therefore came to be featured on a variety of contemporary prints and photographs, such as the earliest of the nine depictions listed here below, an engraving extolling its presence on Sullivan’s Island in 1855 (itself an increasingly popular seaside resort for wealthy summertime residents and visitors).

And as secessionist sentiment mushroomed throughout the State five years later, the entire nation’s attention also came to be focused upon the small fort and its uneasy U.S. Army garrison. New views were consequently commissioned to be printed in major publications such as Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper out of New York, as Moultrie became the object of an intensifying national debate. Seen together, the nine representations reproduced here below afford modern scholars and students a glimpse of the fort’s pre-war appearance, although largely confined to its seaward face.

1855 Lithograph by Evans and Cogswell

The Charlestonian printers Benjamin F. Evans and Harvey Cogswell prepared this beautiful engraving of Fort Moultrie, to adorn a series of commercial notes issued by the Bank of the State of South Carolina. The first such bills appeared during the spring of 1855, in a four-dollar denomination over the signatures of that institution’s cashier D. L. DeSaussure, and president C. J. Shannon.

1855 Lithograph by Evans and Cogswell

In common with other contemporaneous banknotes, it offered an idealized vision of the prosperity to be enjoyed in the State. Well-to-do citizens are depicted strolling contentedly along the sandy shoreline beneath the fort’s Southeast Angle, gazing at the merchant ships plying in and out of Charleston Harbor. Moultrie itself is realistically represented with its flagstaff, Officers’ Quarters, and barracks protruding above the ramparts, as well as other buildings looming beyond its walls. Even the wooden pent-covers normally placed over most of the fort’s idle guns during peacetime, have been included.

These bills would continue to be issued by the bank throughout the antebellum era, and well into the Civil War years.

1858 U.S. Coast Survey Drawing

Charleston Harbor was minutely surveyed during the 1850s under the direction of such naval officers as Lt. John N. Maffitt and Charles O. Boutelle, as part of the United States Coast Survey. Exact positioning of its beacons and1858 U.S. Coast Survey Drawing other prominent landmarks had been faithfully recorded and triangulated, so as to provide more accurate charts for ocean-going vessels approaching its difficult access-channels. And as a further aid to navigation, drawings of its shoreline as seen from masthead-height while out at sea were also included, so as to help illustrate how certain geographic features — when properly aligned — could establish a vessel’s true position out on the open waters, before attempting to steer into its narrow channels.

One such panoramic drawing of the shoreline included a segment identifying Fort Moultrie and the large Moultrie House hotel on Sullivan’s Island, as seen amid a cluster of lesser buildings, from the southeast. This large supplementary illustration was formally published in 1858, as an accompaniment to a series of nautical charts and maps being produced on Charleston Harbor.

Summer 1860 Photograph by Osborn and Durbec

In October 1860, the Charleston Mercury newspaper reported how “for the past four months” the photographers James M. Osborn and Frederick E. Durbec had “been steadily engaged in obtaining the most accurate stereoscopic views of places in and around Charleston,” including scenes on Sullivan’s Island. The latter must have included this fine view, looking across Fort Moultrie’s inner compound atSummer 1860 Photograph by Osborn and Durbec a flag-ceremony — apparently staged for the photographers’ benefit, as the shadow-lines would seem to suggest that it was taken around two o’clock in the afternoon, rather than at sunrise or sunset, as was customary.

Two soldiers in forage caps can be seen standing on either side at attention, the one at left grasping the tail of an extended and gently flapping post-flag, while an officer — believed to be Capt. Abner Doubleday, later to become a Union General and erroneously reputed as the “inventor” of baseball — and a sergeant-major, both in Hardee hats and drawing at the flag’s lines. A civilian in top-hat can furthermore be seen behind them, posing atop one of the 32-pounder barbette-carriages.

As the secessionist movement grew strength toward the end of this same year, a second version of this picture would be printed by Osborn and Durbec, including an enlarged insert which more clearly indicated the position of distant Fort Sumter.

September 1860 Diagram by Samuel Crawford

September 1860 Diagram by Samuel Crawford

On September 7, 1860, Dr. Samuel W. Crawford arrived at Moultrie as its new U.S. Army medical officer, to replace a deceased colleague. Crawford would prove an observant and diligent participant throughout the ensuing build-up of the fort’s peacetime defenses, until its beleaguered Federal garrison was finally withdrawn across to Fort Sumter on the evening of December 26, 1860. And after weathering the subsequent bombardment of that stronghold by Confederate batteries on April 12-13, 1861, Crawford was among the Federal troops evacuated to New York City, and fought as a Union infantry General for the remaining four years of the Civil War.

After retiring from active duty as a Brigadier in 1873, Crawford would spend the next decade-and-a-half compiling a history of the events surrounding the siege of Fort Moultrie and bombardment of Sumter, which was published in 1887 by New York’s Charles L. Webster & Company as The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-1861. On Page 63 of that work, Crawford included this “Sectional view of Fort Moultrie,”a diagram which despite its apparent simplicity, revealed intricate details on the hedge-lined Parade Ground and brick pathways of the long-abandoned fort.

Autumn 1860 Engraving by Harper’s Weekly

As fears of an armed confrontation involving Moultrie deepened after the Presidential election, the November 17, 1860 edition of Harper’s Weekly (Volume IV, Number 203, Page 724) Autumn 1860 Engraving by Harper’s Weekly featured a wood engraving of the peacetime fort to enlighten its readership, apparently based upon an earlier sketch or photograph taken from atop the nearby Front Range harbor-beacon —which since it stood fifty feet high, afforded at least a partial glimpse down into the fort’s interior.

Moultrie’s southern ramparts and barracks are shown dark in shadow, as the sun has already dipped into mid-afternoon. A few fashionable civilians can still be seen strolling from the sandy shoreline up to its ramparts, via a small wooden foot-bridge conveniently placed so as to connect the scarp-wall to an adjacent dune, so that they might enjoy the view and refreshing sea-breezes atop the battlements.

Autumn 1860 Engraving by Leslie’s Illustrated

Not to be outdone by its New York City rival, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper also published its own wood engraving of antebellum Fort Moultrie, atop Page 104 of its January 5, 1861 issue (Vol. XI, Number 267). Seen from the identical angle and taken from a picture by the photographer Luce, this view likewise included civilian visitors, such as the gentleman strolling its rampart under a parasol, while two women accompanied by an officer gaze out to sea Autumn 1860 Engraving by Leslie’s Illustrated — one of the ladies perched comfortably atop a cannon-barrel. All the fort’s artillery have their tompions inserted, and only a half-dozen are not further encased in wooden pent-covers as well, as protection against the elements.

Only the large sand-dune so prominently featured in Harper’s engraving, is not shown here. Instead, two fishermen can be seen on the beach at left, returning from the Grillage — the rocky shore-side breakwater erected twenty years previously by the U.S. military engineer, Captain Alexander H. Bowman, a spot still well-known today as abounding in flounder, sheephead, and feeding porpoises.

Autumn 1860 Close-Up by Leslie’s

A second wood engraving based upon a photograph by Luce, was also included across the bottom of Page 104 of the January 5, 1861 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (Vol. XI, Number 267). It depicts a couple of Moultrie’s senior officers, one in his dress U.S. Artillery uniform complete with plumed Hardee hat and sword, seated comfortably atop a 32-pounder gun-muzzle of the fort’s Main-Channel Battery, near to its Southeast Angle. The officers are accompanied by a pair Autumn 1860 Close-Up by Leslie’sof sergeants, attentively standing by, plus a pair of civilian visitors behind them.

Private residences and buildings can be seen beyond the ramparts, extending eastward across Sullivan’s Island toward the open ocean, interspersed with palmetto trees. Between the pairs of seated officers and standing sergeants, can be glimpsed the distinctive cupola topping of the Moultrie House Hotel in the distance, while the 50-foot Front-Range Harbor Beacon rears closer by, at far right. Note the pent-covers enclosing all of Moultrie’s guns, as well as their inserted tompions, as the small peacetime garrison could only man a fraction of the fort’s heavy ordnance.

Autumn 1860 Rear View by Harper’s

As part of its ongoing “series of Views at Charleston”, published to keep its readership fully engaged and informed about the mounting tensions surrounding the predicament of Moultrie’s Osceola’s grave, Fort Moultrie’s Northwest demi-bastion, and Colonel Gardner’s home in Moultrieville, all peacefully overgrown during the antebellum period prior to the Civil War. (Harper’s Weekly) Federal garrison — isolated within their fort by South Carolina’s angry reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln — the December 1, 1860 edition of Harper’s Weekly included this small engraving in the upper right-hand corner of its title-page (Vol. IV, No. 205, Page 753). The scene reproduced is clearly based upon an earlier peacetime depiction or photograph, as evinced by the overgrown vegetation creeping down from the unguarded parapet, and civilian-style picket fence at right enclosing the approaches to its main gates and Guardhouse.

It is interesting to observe certain pre-war details about the site, such as the gravestone marking the final resting-place of “Oceola” (as the Seminole chieftain’s name was often spelled throughout the 19th Century), and the original configuration of Moultrie’s Northwest Bastion, prior to the addition of a bastionet at its tip under the supervision of U.S. engineer Capt. John G. Foster — a defensive enhancement which still remains in place today. The large dwelling sketched in the far distance beyond the palmettos represents the leased, off-base civilian home of the fort’s commandant, Col. John L. Gardner.

November 1860 Sketch by Hugo Bosse

A few days after Maj. Robert Anderson had assumed command over Moultrie’s beleaguered Federal garrison in late November 1860, this panoramic bird’s-eye view was sketched by Hugo Bosse, to appear one month later as a double-spread engraving on Pages 120-121 of the December 29, 1860 edition of the weekly New York Illustrated News. Intended to show readers the “Position of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island,” this print affords a unique perspective: looking out of the east across the rooftops of the summer homes, directly at the low silhouette of the fort itself at center, with the City of Charleston hazily visible several miles beyond.

November 1860 Sketch by Hugo Bosse

However, closer examination reveals that this admittedly hasty sketch was not entirely accurate in its details. The Front-Range Harbor Beacon, for example, has been entirely omitted from its position to the left of Moultrie’s Southeast Angle; the cluster of palmettos at center known as the “Five Indians” have been indifferently inserted in mid-street; unfinished Fort Sumter at the far left is shown flying a large U.S. garrison-flag, which would not actually be hoisted atop its battlements until Anderson had transferred his companies across after Christmas; etc.

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Flight through a CG Recreation at Sundown

Thanks to innovative applications of modern satellite-imagery, computer-graphic technology, and in-depth historical research, an exact replica of pre-war Moultrie has been painstakingly recreated by Battlefields in Motion, allowing for detailed examination at any distance and from every possible angle. This video offers a brief yet dramatic tour of the fort, very late during the day, as the sun’s rays have almost vanished over the horizon.

Emerging from its Eastern Postern tunnel, we peer at eye-level through the gap between the Officers’ Quarters and kitchens, before continuing behind the North Barracks to glimpse the inner Parade Ground, and the Traverse in front of the Magazine, from the shadow of the towering Guardhouse. Exiting via its main gates, we then soar up over the Northeast Bastion and circle above the entire compound, bathed in the sunset’s glow, before swooping down onto the Main Channel Battery to walk beside its 32-pounder guns and Columbiads. One final flight carries us back out over the eastern ramparts, to swoop down into the darkened entrance of the Eastern Postern tunnel once more.

Modern Diagram of the Peacetime Fort

In addition to the nine preceding historical views and modern video, a three-dimensional reconstruction of Moultrie has also been crafted by Battlefields in Motion, reproducing the pre-war layout of this aging Federal stronghold, ca. May 1860. Although the inner compound of the real fort was almost totally obliterated (except for its Magazine) by prolonged Federal bombardments during the Civil War years, Moultrie’s original structure and appearance have nonetheless been resurrected.


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This image can be purchased as a Print, by clicking on the desired size: Small [24" x 16"] - Medium [36" x 24"] - Large [48" x 32"] - Extra-Large [60" x 40"] or download an order-form

Major 19th-Century buildings such as its Officers’ Quarters, West and North Barracks, and Guardhouse have all been virtually restored to their former positions, along with every lesser structure, artillery piece, and even such fine details as the live-oak trees planted to provide some shade against the scorching heat of South Carolina’s summer sunshine, plus hedge-lined flagstone pathways.

This view of antebellum Moultrie, taken from directly overhead, reveals how its heaviest ordnance had become concentrated over years of peaceful service along its southern front, so as to better command Charleston’s sea-approaches, while its three landward faces not only held fewer guns, but these were furthermore older weapons of lesser caliber. The legend of this map fleshes out its visual information with descriptive texts, accompanied by identifying-keys and other pertinent facts.

To acquire a copy of this print, an order-form can be downloaded, or our Zazzle.com store can be visited directly by clicking on the following select sizes: Small [24" x 16"] - Medium [36" x 24"] - Large [48" x 32"] - Extra-Large [60" x 40"]

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