Fort Moultrie's rear facade

Fort Moultrie 1812-1862

Written Descriptions & Observations

In addition to contemporary prints and photographs of the antebellum fort which have survived, several written accounts have also been passed down in books and letters, describing everyday life and the conditions prevailing within Moultrie, as experienced by the individuals who served or resided within its walls prior to the Civil War. The following excerpts constitute a brief sampling of such records.

Dr. John H. Sackett’s Personal Account (1812)

 U.S. Army uniforms for 1813-1821, as depicted decades afterward by Henry A. Ogden. An Artillery officer and subaltern can be seen at left, with a coastal fortress behind them in the background, while two Infantry privates share a beachside fire with a gray-clad Rifleman at center. (Uniform of the Army of the United States)  U.S. Army uniforms for 1813-1821, depicted decades afterward by Henry A. Ogden.

As part of the national mobilization for war against Great Britain, 23-year-old Dr. John Halstead Sackett of New York reached Charleston by mail-coach on October 28, 1812, having been commissioned as a “Surgeon’s Mate” (i.e., Assistant Surgeon) in the 11th U.S. Infantry Regiment, with orders to report to Fort Moultrie. In a series of letters home to his father, the young physician would enthuse about “the frankness, politeness, and hospitality of the Southern people,” whose manners “form a striking contrast to those of the Yankees.” He went on to describe Charleston in this fashion:

The city and harbor have many resemblances to New York, only there are extensive marshes in its vicinity. The buildings are good and many of them elegant. It surpasses all other cities except New York for the splendor of its churches. It supports a vast trade. The streets are wide and cleanly and the walks well paved. The harbor commands a most extensive view abreast of the town.

And two weeks later, after having reported for duty at three-year-old Fort Moultrie, Sackett would continue his interrupted communication to his parent:

Fort Moultrie, Nov. 11, 1812. - This fort is on Sullivan's Island, six miles below the town, and directly open to the sea, commanding the entrance to the harbor. The island is a mere bank of sand about two and a half miles in length and three-fourths of a mile in breadth. It is the resort of citizens during the autumnal months, and contains about 200 houses. The air is fine, but the water is bad, as we have none except what we collect in cisterns when it rains.
Our garrison consists of about 400 men and a dozen officers. The first affords me constant employment, being the only surgeon on the island, and the latter excellent society. The officers are very correct in their manners. They are all natives of this state. Our quarters are excellent and pleasant. Each officer has one room and one servant. We are divided into three messes. My mess consists of Capt. Ion and Lieutenants Hamilton and Brown. We are all bachelors.
Copy of a diagram and cutaway view of the recently-reconstructed Fort Moultrie, as completed by Maj. Alexander Macomb of the Engineers in December 1809. (U.S. National Archives)  Copy of a diagram and cutaway view of the recently-reconstructed Fort Moultrie in December 1809.
This military district, composing the two Carolinas and Georgia, is under Major General Pinkney [sic: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, then 66 years of age], who resides at Charleston. He is a venerable looking man and was conspicuous during the Revolution. On the 7th [November 7, 1812], I was honored with an invitation to dine with him. He is not only accessible but familiar and extremely friendly. Colonel Drayton commands this harbor and the harbor of Georgetown in this state. He is also much of a gentleman. As to my immediate commanding officer, Capt. Ion, he appears to be all that I could wish.
We frequently see British vessels off the bar, which is about five miles below this. The other day we had the mortification of seeing them picking up one of our coasters. Every vessel entering the harbor is brought to on approaching this fort. Owing to the great fatigue and exposure incident to a march through the low countries, which is literally the region of death, many of our troops who have lately arrived here have been attacked with fever. This low country, or region of rice and disease, has, in common with Charleston, been very sickly this summer.
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William Tecumseh Sherman’s Recollections (1842-1846)

Reconstructed Fort Moultrie in 1842, as Sherman would have known it; diagram by Captain Bowman, U.S. Corps of Engineers Reconstructed Fort Moultrie in 1842,
as Sherman would have known it

On Friday, June 24, 1842, Sherman arrived at the refurbished fort, already a veteran 22-year-old First Lieutenant. A junior officer in Company G of the 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment, until recently engaged in Florida’s Second Seminole War, he was part of a contingent which had been rotated out of decrepit Fort Morgan on the sun-baked outer fringes of Mobile Bay, so as to be sent to scenic Charleston Harbor and reoccupy Moultrie under Lt.-Col. William Gates. The fort on Sullivan’s Island had lain vacant and undergone three years of extensive repairs and reconstruction under Capt. Alexander H. Bowman of the Corps of Engineers, but was now fit to receive its full peacetime complement once again.

After eleven months of duty in this new base, Sherman would write a letter to his younger brother John in Ohio on May 23, 1843, describing his daily routine:

I'll try and give you an idea of how our days pass in a garrison like this. Here at Fort Moultrie we have about 250 soldiers, divided into four companies. These are quartered some inside the wall, some outside. All the unmarried officers, eight of us, live inside; all the married, five, outside. This being the headquarters of the regiment, we have the Colonel and his band of about fifteen instruments.
Every morning at daylight all get up at reveille, attend a drill, either as infantry or artillery, at sunrise; breakfast at seven, have a dress parade at eight, and half-an-hour after the new guard takes the place of the old one, a new officer relieving the old one. After that, each one kills time to suit himself, till reveille of next morning commences the new routine. Thus it is every fair day except Sunday, when we have an extra quantity of music, parade, and inspection in honor of the day, and to keep our men in superfine order at church.
Thus, you see that every day at nine o'clock and after, we [the off-duty officers] have nothing to do but amuse ourselves. Some read, some write, some loaf, and some go to the city [Charleston]. For the latter class, a barge is in attendance, going and coming. Although six miles from a city, we have all its advantages, whilst separated from its annoying noises, taxes, and expenses ...

Almost three years afterward, with two of its artillery companies having already departed Moultrie to be deployed in Texas against an anticipated war with Mexico, Sherman would furthermore opine in another letter written on January 6, 1846:

There would be no difficulty in taking Charleston; our fort is weak and has only about 100 men; it is not ditched or strengthened in such a way as to defy an assault. A new fort is being built in the channel [Sumter] which when done, will be very strong, but its walls are as yet barely out of water.

Over the next couple of decades, the youthful Sherman would fight for the Union and soar high in the ranks of the U.S. Army, becoming a full Major-General in command of a vast force which had sown a path of destruction across the Deep South, when two of his staff officers — Col. Samuel M. Bowman (Sherman’s former lawyer in California) and Lt.-Col. Richard B. Irwin — compiled a history of their commander’s life, and published it in New York City in 1865 under the title of Sherman and His Campaigns: A Military Biography. On Page 16 of that work, the two authors included the following recollection from their chieftain, about his antebellum posting:

Moultrieville, on Sullivan’s Island quite near the fort, was at that time a place of fashionable resort during the summer season for the wealthy families of Charleston and South Carolina generally, many of whom had temporary residences there, to which they removed on the approach of hot weather to escape from the malarious influences of the city and lower country, and enjoy the cool breezes and the sea-bathing. Officers of the army were at that time sought after and hospitably entertained by nearly all of the better classes of society in the South, and Lieutenant Sherman was thus, upon his arrival at Fort Moultrie, ushered into a life entirely new to him. During the summer [of 1842] he made many agreeable and some valuable acquaintances, which were cemented and extended during the following winter when he, in common with the other officers, was almost overwhelmed with invitations to accept the hospitalities of the citizens of Charleston to whom they had been attentive at the fort.
Hunting was always a favorite amusement with him, and while stationed at Fort Moultrie, he enjoyed frequent opportunities of indulging this taste. Thus, with boating and drum-fishing, were passed his leisure hours during the first year of his stay. In the fall of 1843, he availed himself of a four-months’ leave of absence to visit his home at Lancaster [Ohio], and while there became engaged to Miss Ellen Ewing, the accomplished daughter of his guardian, and the friend and companion of his school-days.
Sherman as a Major-General in 1865; stereoscopic animation of a pair of Mathew Brady photographs Sherman as a Major-General in 1865; stereoscopic animation of a pair of Mathew Brady photographs

And twenty years after Bowman and Irwin’s biography had appeared, Sherman published his own two volumes of personal Memoirs, which included this description of Charleston Harbor and of Fort Moultrie during the mid-1840s, in his own words:

Farther down the bay, a point of the mainland reached the bay, where there was a group of houses called Mount Pleasant; and at the extremity of the bay, distant six miles, was Sullivan’s Island, presenting a smooth sand-beach to the sea, with the line of sand-hills or dunes thrown up by the waves and winds, and the usual backing of marsh and crooked salt-water channels.
At the shoulder of this island was Fort Moultrie, an irregular fort without ditch or counterscarp, with a brick scarp wall about twelve feet high, which could be scaled anywhere, and this was surmounted by an earth parapet capable of mounting about forty twenty-four and thirty-two pounder smoothbore iron guns. [Moultrie’s ten 8-inch Columbiads were not installed until 1859.] Inside the fort were three two-story brick barracks, sufficient to quarter the officers and men of two companies of artillery.
At sea was the usual “bar,” changing slightly from year to year, but generally the main ship-channel came from the south, parallel to Morris Island till it was well up to Fort Moultrie, where it curved, passing close to Fort Sumter and up to the wharves of the city,  which were built mostly along the Cooper River front.
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De Bow’s Glowing Account (1851)

Palmetto trees standing amid the summer homes on Sullivan’s Island, ca. July 1860; a pre-war photograph by Osborn and Durbec Palmetto trees standing amid the summer homes on Sullivan’s Island, ca. July 1860

Volume X of the New Series of Prof. James D. B. De Bow’s Review of the Southern and Western States, included on its Pages 81-82 a testimonial by “Dr. Irving of Charleston” of the improved ferry-service being offered around Charleston Harbor, which in turn was making the summer resorts on Sullivan’s Island ever more accessible and promising to transform that lonely seaside community into “the Rockaway of the South.” Dr. Irving’s description of the various steam-ferries which were now available, went on to state:

In this connection, we may mention a still further accommodation that these steamers are now affording from time to time, to another class of our fellow-citizens, whom we little dreamt would avail themselves of an opportunity in this way, pleasantly to beguile an hour. We allude to our city belles and beaux, who having upon occasions made up parties for an afternoon or moonlight ride upon the beach at Sullivan’s Island, ship their horses in Charleston, and after reaching the Cove, disembark them; then take a delightful canter for a couple of hours, reaching in that time the extremity of the island, and retracing their steps, get back to the city at the hour they would return from a ride on the Battery or on the Charleston Neck — having escaped the dust and crowd incidental to, and inseparable from the purlieus of a city, besides having breathed a purer air and benefited by a more invigorating exercise.
No scene can be more entrancing to persons in a particular mood of mind, than the one viewed by moon-light from the beach of Sullivan’s Island. The long and sullen swell of the Atlantic, breaking upon the sands beneath our feet, and “the yellow beam” dancing merrily upon the luminous waters. On the land side as we ride on, Fort Moultrie with its gateway and its narrow postern, and its ramparts well provided with wall pieces, call up the usual associations of the patriotic past. Across the moonlit bay, Fort Sumter throws a dim shadow — still further on, Fort Johnson is faintly discernible, and further and fainter still, the outline of the city may be traced in the dusky distance. Seaward, the Beacons are seen on Morris Island, like glow-worms “too pale their ineffectual fires” in the sweet moonlight; and the Light-house beyond, peeps occasionally with a transitory glance over the glittering ocean, like some weary sentinel, as it were, dozing at his post, tired with overwatching.
In addition to many other local improvements on Sullivan’s Island which have recently been made, a very commodious and convenient hotel has just been built, and was opened for the reception of company on the 8th day of July last [1850].
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Gen. John Schofield’s Remembrance (1853)

30-year-old U.S. Artillery Capt. John M. Schofield, photographed as a newly-promoted Brigadier General of Volunteers in Mathew Brady’s Washington studio, late 1861 Capt. John M. Schofield, photographed as a newly-promoted Brigadier General of Volunteers in 1861

After graduating seventh in his class of 52 West Point cadets and enjoying the traditional three months’ leave at his family home in Freeport, Illinois, John McAllister Schofield — the 21-year-old son of a Baptist missionary — set off that same autumn for his first posting in the U.S. Army. He would eventually rise to become a Union General fighting in the western theater during the Civil War, as well as a subordinate of Sherman, a post-war Superintendent of West Point, and a Lieutenant-General in command of the entire U.S. Army, before finally retiring in 1895.

Two years after his retirement from active duty, Schofield published his memoirs under the title of Forty-Six Years in the Army in New York City, which included the following excerpt about his initial few months of military service:

My first orders assigned me to duty at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, as brevet Second Lieutenant in the 2d Artillery. The steamer landed me at Charleston [on] September 29, 1853, the day I became twenty-two years of age. The next morning I found myself without money enough to pay my hotel bill and take me over to Sullivan’s Island, but pay was due me for September. Upon inquiry, I found that the paymaster was not in the city, but that he kept his public funds in the Bank of South Carolina. Being unacquainted with any of the good people of Charleston, the well-known rules of banks about identification seemed a serious obstacle. I presented my pay account at the bank, informing the cashier with a confident air that I was well aware of the fact that the Major’s money was there, but that the Major himself was out of town. The accomplished cashier, after scrutinizing me for a time, handed me the money. My older brother-officers at the fort had a good laugh at what they were pleased to call my “brass”; but I consoled myself with the reflection that I had found out that my face was good for something.
… I found only one officer on duty with my battery at Fort Moultrie, and he was awaiting my arrival so that he might go on leave. He turned over the command with a manifestation of confidence which surprised me at the time, but which was fully explained the next day. In the morning the First Sergeant reported to me, with the quarterly and monthly returns prepared for my signature, and made out more beautifully than anything in writing I had ever before seen, and explained to me in detail all the business affairs of the battery, as if he were reporting to an old Captain who had just returned from a long leave of absence. Next to General [Winfield] Scott and Colonel [Robert E.] Lee, with whom I had the honor of some acquaintance, I was quite sure there stood before me the finest-looking and most accomplished soldier in the United States Army. What a hard time young officers of the Army would sometimes have, but for the old sergeants!
… In September [sic: October 1853?] we had the usual artillery target practice, which was afterward recalled to my mind many times by the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861, by the same guns I had used in practice, and at the same range. Then came the change of stations of troops, which took the Moultrie garrison to Florida, and some of the 1st Artillery to their place. For a time the fort was left without garrison [from November 18 to December 11, 1853], except a few officers who were awaiting the arrival of their regiment. I also was ordered to remain until I “got off my brevet” and was appointed “full Second” in the 1st Artillery. It had been a yellow-fever summer, and the cottages on Sullivan’s Island were even more fully occupied than usual, mostly by families of planters from the rice plantations of South Carolina. Hospitality was unbounded, and of the most charming character. Nothing I have experienced at home or in the great capitals of Europe has surpassed or dimmed the memory of that first introduction to Southern society.
In December, 1853, the order came announcing my appointment as Second Lieutenant, 1st Artillery, and directing me to join Battery D at Fort Capron, Indian River, Florida. A steamer took me to Palatka …
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Mary Chesnut’s Anecdote (Summer 1857)

Picture of 33-year-old Mary Boykin Chesnut, as painted in 1856 by the portraitist Samuel Stillman Osgood — the year prior to her visit to Sullivan’s Island, as described in the accompanying entry. (National Portrait Gallery)  Mary Boykin Chesnut, as painted in 1856 by the portraitist Samuel Stillman Osgood

A glimpse of tedious garrison-life at antebellum Fort Moultrie, would be recalled during the first year of the Civil War by Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of the ex-U.S. Senator from South Carolina, James Chesnut, Jr., who was also serving as a wartime aide-de-camp to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. While residing with her husband in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, Mary Chesnut made a call in the cool of the evening of August 6, 1861, to the nearby home of Adjutant-Gen. Samuel Cooper, during which she renewed her pre-war acquaintance with his young son and namesake, Lt. Samuel M. Cooper.

Next day (a torrid Wednesday, August 7, 1861: “No ice — & the temperature at 96”), Mary Chesnut would summarize an anecdote which both of them had shared during their friendly conversation, by scrawling this rather cryptic notation into her personal journal:

Lieut. Cooper was on the Island with Mary Withers and me — remembered Silvey’s ravings — & old Vogdes — & the stir Mary’s beauty raised — & the embarkation. Says he was the man who tied that wretch to a tree, that howled so. [Woodward and Muhlenfeld, The Private Mary Chesnut: The Unpublished Civil War Diaries, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, pp.117-118.]

It would not be until Mary Chesnut began transcribing and editing her informal jottings into more legible text for publication, many years after the Civil War had concluded, that she would expand and clarify this abbreviated recollection during the early 1880s, for its eventual appearance on Page 133 of the 1981 edition of Mary Chesnut’s Civil War

Such a nice Lieutenant [Samuel Mason] Cooper, son of the Adjutant-General, nephew of Mr. Mason. He was on Sullivan’s Island with us a few years ago. Reminded him of that Silvey affair — how we arrived so silently at the scene of embarkation, that we saw Lieutenant [William] Silvey knock a man head-foremost into deep water, where he had to be fished out, and tie another to the main mast, where he howled like a wild Indian. Lieutenant Silvey, who had been so soft and silvery with us — as if butter could not melt in his mouth.
Lieutenant Cooper had vivid recollections of Mary [Withers]’s beauty and the ravings of [Moultrie’s commander, Capt. Israel] Vogdes & Co., when that lovely apparition suddenly arose on that lonely island and its lonelier garrison.

Since Mary Chesnut had specifically named these two U.S. Artillery officers in both of her accounts, it is possible to date this “Silvey affair” to the summer or early autumn of 1857 — for First Lt. William Silvey, Adjutant of the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment, had not arrived to join Moultrie’s 128-man garrison until July 1, 1857, while the fort’s commander Capt. Israel Vogdes would be rotated out at the end of that very same year, for reassignment to the Artillery School of Practice at Fortress Monroe, Virginia.

Portrait of Capt. Israel Vogdes, presumably taken three-and-a-half years after meeting with Mary Chesnut’s riding-party, as oak-leaf clusters are visible upon his epaulettes and his tunic bears fourteen brass-buttons, indicative of his promotion to Major in the U.S. Army as of May 14, 1861. (National Archives and Records Administration)  Capt. Israel Vogdes ,promoted to Major as of May 14, 1861

Therefore, although not directly stated by the diarist herself, it appears likely that sometime during the summer of 1857 — the only interval when both of these officers would have been serving together at Fort Moultrie — 34-year-old Mary Chesnut had organized an excursion across Charleston Harbor to Sullivan’s Island, accompanied by her pretty 19-year-old cousin Mary Miller Withers, and escorted by then 21-year-old Second Lt. Samuel M. Cooper (who had himself received his commission in the 1st U.S. Artillery as of February 21, 1857). Such outings were a popular getaway for wealthy city residents, who would oftentimes board the Moultrieville ferry with their horses to enjoy a cool ride along the breezy shores of Sullivan’s Island, pausing for some local refreshment before re-boarding the ferry to return home within a few hours.

Seemingly, Mary Chesnut and her youthful companions must have called at Fort Moultrie during one such excursion, where they were well-received by its 51-year-old commander “old Vogdes” and his officers, captivated by Mary Withers’s beauty. One admirer must have been 32-year-old Lieutenant Silvey, a polished West Point graduate and staff officer, who had proven refined and gentlemanly in his attentions. The party then continued their outing, but upon approaching the Moultrieville dock to re-embark for Charleston, the ladies were secretly delighted and bemused to observe the mild-mannered Silvey now vigorously employed in dealing with a pair of drunken and belligerent soldiers — by single-handedly punching one overboard, and tying the other to the mast as a restraint. The contrast to this powerful young officer’s previous genteel behavior toward Mary Chesnut and her fair cousin, could not have been any greater.

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Abner Doubleday’s Assessment (Summer 1860)

Captain Doubleday arrived at Charleston with his Company E of the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment aboard the steamer Gordon on June 16, 1858, to jointly constitute Moultrie’s new garrison along with Capt. Truman Seymour’s already-installed Company H, both serving under Lt.-Col. John L. Gardner. Doubleday took up residence as second-in-command in the Officers’ Quarters with his wife Mary, the only woman who would live within the confines of the peacetime fort. Gardner chose to live outside, in a fine big house directly opposite the Western Postern-Gate with his own family. All would remain on this posting until the secession crisis forced their evacuation in late 1860.

Animated stereoscopic photos by Brady, of Doubleday as a Brigadier General, 1862 Animated stereoscopic photos by Brady, of Doubleday as a Brigadier General, 1862

As tensions escalated throughout South Carolina, Doubleday and his wife became widely known as outspoken advocates of abolitionism and Republican resolve, and the doughty Captain would subsequently be lionized throughout the North for his role in the defense of doomed Fort Sumter in mid-April 1861. Writing his Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61, a decade after the Civil War had concluded, Doubleday related his impressions of Moultrie’s poor material condition during that long-ago summer, laying special stress on the frailty of its defenses. The fort’s walls, he wrote:

… were but twelve feet high. They were old, weak, and so full of cracks that it was quite common to see soldiers climb to the top by means of the support these crevices afforded to their hands and feet. The constant action of the sea-breeze had drifted one immense heap of sand against the shore-front of the work, and another in the immediate vicinity. These sand-hills dominated the parapet, and made the fort untenable. Indeed, it was originally built by the engineers as a mere sea-battery, with just sufficient strength to prevent it from being taken by a coup de main. As an overpowering force of militia could always be summoned for its defense, it was supposed that no foreign army would ever attempt to besiege it. The contingency that the people of Charleston themselves might attack a fort intended for their own protection had never been anticipated.
Our force was pitifully small, even for a time of peace and for mere police purposes. It consisted of sixty-one enlisted men and seven officers, together with thirteen musicians of the regimental baud; whereas the work called for a war garrison of three hundred men.

In another post-war article entitled “From Moultrie to Sumter” (published in Volume 1 of Johnson and Buel’s 1887 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War), Doubleday recalled the fort’s feeble condition with these words:

Moultrie had no strength; it was merely a sea battery. No one ever imagined it would be attacked by our own people; and if assailed by foreigners, it was supposed that an army of citizen-soldiery would be there to defend it. It was very low, the walls having about the height of an ordinary room. It was little more, in fact, that the old fort of Revolutionary time of which the father of Major Robert Anderson had been a defender. The sand had drifted from the sea against the wall, so that cows should actually scale the ramparts.
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Sergeant Chester’s Memories (Summer 1860)

Among the soldiers of Doubleday’s Company E of the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment, a sergeant named James Chester would also write down his remembrances of his service at pre-war Moultrie, almost a quarter-century after being garrisoned at the fort. He began his composition in the early 1880’s by declaring that he had deliberately decided not to “read up and prepare a presentable story,” but rather to rely solely upon his memory, so as to recount his impressions all the more spontaneously. The following paragraphs constitute part of what he then recorded, complete with some imprecise details:

It was my fortune to be present at the opening scenes of the grand drama of the American Civil War. There were but few of us on the Union side on that occasion, seventy-odd I believe, but to save my life I could not now tell exactly how many  ...  Fort Moultrie, where I was stationed, was a historic work. Its importance rested rather upon what it had been, than upon what it was. It was an enclosed work, bastioned on the land side. Its water battery consisted of eight or ten 8-inch Bomford Columbiads, mounted en barbette on wooden carriages. Its scarp was of brick masonry, and perhaps ten or twelve feet high. The land-front mounted 24-pounder guns and 8-inch howitzers. It was provided inside with barracks and quarters for two companies of artillery. The commandant’s quarters, hospital, commissary and quartermaster’s stores, and laundresses’ quarters were outside.
It was one of the regular defenses of Charleston harbor, and for that purpose was fairly effective; but as against a domestic enemy it was worthless. The sand had drifted against its scarp wall to such an extent that cows, tempted by the grass which grew on its slopes, had no difficulty in jumping in, and soldiers of convivial and owlish habits had no difficulty, even when too far gone to jump, in rolling over the rampart in time for reveille. The rebel leaders no doubt felt that they could walk into Fort Moultrie whenever they wanted to, in spite of the seventy-odd men which constituted its garrison.
The garrison consisted of two companies of the First Artillery and the regimental band. The companies were small, perhaps purposely kept so, numbering — if I remember rightly — about thirty men each. According to the organization, their strength should have been fifty-four [in each company], but yellow fever had played sad havoc among the men in 1858, and requisitions for recruits had remained unheeded. Hence the numerical weakness of the garrison.

A more ample excerpt from Sergeant Chester’s account can be found under “A Soldier’s Recollection.

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Dr. Wylie Crawford’s First Impressions (September 1860)

Doctor Crawford`s diagram of peacetime Fort Moultrie in September 1860, published sixteen years afterward in his Genesis of the Civil War Doctor Crawford`s diagram of peacetime Fort Moultrie in September 1860

On Friday, September 7, 1860, Capt. Samuel W. Crawford — a 32-year-old Assistant Surgeon in the peacetime U.S. Army, who had just been recalled back East from Fort Laramie, Wyoming, for routine “examination and promotion” by the Medical Department — was breakfasting with friends while enjoying some home-leave in Newport, Rhode Island, when he received an urgent telegraph from Washington directing him to proceed immediately to Fort Moultrie so as to replace its deceased medical officer, Dr. Bernard M. Byrne. Travelling all day by train, Crawford reached Charleston that same night, and reported to the post commandant on Sullivan’s Island by Saturday morning, September 8, 1860. The young doctor would later record his first impressions of his new base, where he remained on duty for less than three months:

… on the sandy beach of Sullivan’s Island and near the sea, stood Fort Moultrie, a low water battery built of brick, sixteen feet high, with one tier of guns en barbette, some bearing directly upon the channel that ran within short range of its walls. It enclosed an area of one and one-half acres. On its cramped parade were piles of balls and shells, and an old furnace for heating shot. [The furnace was actually quite new, having been rebuilt in February 1856.] In its rear or gorge, two stories high, were its sally-port, its guard-house, and its offices. On the left, of double stories, were the quarters for officers, and opposite were the barracks for the men.
Its name and its association were dear to every Carolinian. It stood near the site of the old palmetto fort where the troops of the State had repulsed the British fleet under Admiral Sir Peter Parker on the 28th of June, 1776. Bearing the name of one of her most distinguished sons, every child in South Carolina had spelled the story, and had grown up in the belief that that fort and its history were peculiarly his own inheritance.
Modern computer-graphic recreation of Moultrie rising out of Dr. S. Wylie Crawford’s diagram of the fort, showing its antebellum layout in September 1860 Modern computer-graphic recreation of Moultrie rising out of Dr. S. Wylie Crawford’s diagram of the fort
Two companies of the First Regiment of Artillery, under the command of the Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment, John L. Gardiner [sic: Gardner], with the regimental band, garrisoned the fort, which had been continuously occupied for many years. Its armament consisted of fifty-five guns of all calibers, including ten 8-inch Columbiads, eleven howitzers, thirty 24- and 32-pound guns, with four brass field-pieces. Its fire commanded all approaches except the rear, and a number of its guns concentrated upon a single point in the channel, by which every vessel was compelled to pass to enter the inner harbor.
Unprepared for an attack, it had in long years of disuse, fallen into a condition similar to Castle Pinckney. The winds had piled up the sands on [Moultrie’s] sea front to a level with and against its parapet, and communication was easy from all sides. Without a ditch, without defensive arrangements of any kind, it was an easy prey to any force that should choose to attack it. Some of its officers and men lived habitually outside of the work, and its hospital had long been established a short distance beyond the walls.
The sea winds had piled up long rows and hillocks of sand on all sides of it, and to the northward especially, and commanding the approach from the main part of the island. At a distance of 180 or 200 yards from the fort, a range of sand-hills had been formed, covered with a sparse, stunted vegetation, which completely commanded the parapet upon that side of the work, and which if occupied by riflemen, would greatly embarrass, if not effectually prevent, any service of its guns on that side.
To its defenseless condition, the attention of the Government had been earnestly called. As long before as the 18th of June, 1860, the acting Assistant Quartermaster of the post had called the attention of the General commanding the Department to the condition of the work, and had made a request that the sum of $500 might be sent to him for the purpose of removing the sand from the walls of the fort. He urged that if it was the intention “that the walls should fulfill at all the conditions for which they were built,” it was necessary to remove the sand.
“A child,” said he, “ten years old can easily come into the fort over the sand-banks, and the wall offers little or no obstacle.” He declared that the ease with which the walls could be gotten over, rendered the place more of a trap in which the garrison might be shot down from the parapet, than a means of defense. “It looked strange,” said he, “not to say ridiculous, that the only garrisoned fort in the harbor should be so much banked in with sand that the walls were in some places not a foot above the banks.”
Unfit for attack, incapable of resistance, Fort Moultrie presented an appearance anything but formidable, in the summer of 1860 …
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Official Status (Autumn 1860)

A few years after the conclusion of the Civil War, Henry B. Dawson — editor of the Historical Magazine of Morrisania or South Bronx, New York — set about tracking down the most precise and objective reports available from that conflict, so as to record them against a rising tide of personal reminiscences, interpretative works, or otherwise popularized accounts. One of his earliest efforts was to be the “Story of Fort Sumter,” a measured compilation and retelling of the Federal garrison’s evacuation of Fort Moultrie for more impregnable Sumter, which he published in the Third Series, Volume 1, Number 1 (January 1872), Pages 34-53 and Number 3 (March 1872), Pages 139-192 of his Historical Magazine.

Depiction of antebellum Fort Moultrie during the summer of 1860; a woodcut engraving based upon a photograph, taken from atop its nearby harbor-beacon. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly)  Depiction of antebellum Fort Moultrie during the summer of 1860 from atop its nearby harbor-beacon

Basing himself on official documents such as the “Annual Reports of the Engineer Department” dated November 8, 1859 and November 14, 1860, as well as “General Gillmore’s Report” in Professional Papers, Corps of Engineers, U.S.A., No. 16, Page 9, Dawson was able to summarize Fort Moultrie’s material condition as follows during the closing months of 1860:

Its armament in the autumn of 1860, consisted of sixteen twenty-four-pounders, fourteen thirty-two-pounders, ten eight-inch Columbiads, five eight-inch seacoast howitzers, and seven field-pieces; and as the seat of a permanent garrison, it seems to have been completely finished, and in fair condition. It was occupied as the headquarters of that post, by Companies E and H, First Artillery, numbering in the aggregate sixty-six men, and the regimental band of nine musicians, the whole under the immediate command of Brevet-Colonel John L. Gardner, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Regiment, who was the commander of that post; and having been carefully strengthened during the summer and autumn under the direction of Captain J. G. Foster of the Corps of Engineers, but very little was required at the time of which we write — November 1860 — to make it tolerably secure against any merely irregular force which might attack it.

And on Page 40 of this same issue, Dawson was able to add — based upon Supplement I of the “Manuscript Inspection Report” of November 11, 1860 — that when Maj. Robert Anderson arrived to assume command at Moultrie on November 21, 1860:

… he found in the Quartermaster’s hands of flour, bacon, and small stores, less than two months’ supply for his little command, and these were stored outside the walls of the fort in wooden buildings, and without a sentry to protect them from those in the immediate vicinity who might be disposed to pilfer or destroy them. For beef, the garrison was wholly dependent on the nearby village butcher; Charleston, as usual, afforded an uncertain market for the purchase of any article or provision, and the only funds which the Quartermaster possessed for the purchase of any necessary article, were deposited with the Assistant Treasurer of the United States, whose office was in the city.
The field-battery, which formed a portion of the reported armament of the fort, was parked at a distance from it, outside its walls and entirely uncared for — not even the watchful eye of a sentinel was detailed to afford an apology for its exposure — while a very important portion of the cartridges for small-arms were for a larger caliber than that of the muskets they were designed to serve; and the friction-tubes, which were as necessary whenever the armament of the fort was employed for any purpose, as percussion-caps were in the use of small-arms, were reported as absolutely worthless.

Crawford, by way of contrast, would recount the beleaguered stronghold’s defenses more succinctly, yet inaccurately in his own book, published decades afterward:

Its armament was complete. Its heavy battery numbered forty-five guns, including sixteen 24-pounders, nineteen [sic: fourteen] 32-pounders, and ten 8-inch Columbiads. In addition to these, there were one l0-inch seacoast mortar, four brass field-guns, and three howitzers of 12 and 24 pounds for flanking defense. There was a large supply of ammunition both for artillery and infantry, and with some exception, a complete service for the guns.
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Report in the "Charleston Mercury" (December 13, 1860)

As South Carolina’s movement toward secession began to gain momentum after the Presidential election of November 1860, interest in expropriating all Federal installations in and around Charleston Harbor also heightened, much of this attention being directed against the main U.S. Army contingent garrisoning Fort Moultrie. A week before state-wide delegates were to reconvene in the city and renew their deliberations on seceding from the Union, a reporter from the Charleston Mercury visited the beleaguered Federal outpost, and published the following account in his newspaper’s Thursday edition on December 13, 1860:

A video demonstrating a day's sunlight passing over a CG architectural model of Fort Moultrie A video demonstrating a day's sunlight passing over a CG architectural model of antebellum Fort Moultrie
… Until late in the past summer, the defenses of Fort Moultrie have remained in an unfinished condition; the sand of its beach, piled up by the wind against its south walls, had rendered them easily accessible almost by a single leap, and the empty guns were suffered to gaze out in harmless majesty upon the noble bay. A fortnight has worked a marvelous change.
Fort Moultrie is an enclosed water battery, having a front on its south or water side of about 300 feet, and a depth of about 240 feet. It is built with salient and reentering angles on all sides, and is admirably adapted for defense, either from the attack of a storming party or by regular approaches. The outer and inner walls are of brick, capped with stone and filled in with earth, making a solid wall 15 or 18 feet in thickness. The work now in progress consists in cleaning the sand from the walls of the fort; ditching it around the entire circumference and erecting a glacis; closing up the postern gates in the east and west walls, and instead cutting sally-ports which lead into strong out-works on the southeast and southwest angles, in which 12-pounder howitzer guns will be placed, enabling the garrison to sweep the ditch on three sides with grape and canister. The northwest angle of the fort has also been strengthened by a bastionette, to sustain the weight of a heavy gun which will command the main street of the island. The main entrance has also been better secured and a trap-door, two feet square, cut in the door for ingress and egress.
At this time, the height of the wall, from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the parapet, is 20 feet. The ditch is from 12 to 15 feet wide at the base, and 15 feet deep. The nature of the soil would not seem to admit of this depth being increased, quick-sand having been reached in many places. The work on the south side is nearly finished. The counterscarp is substantially built of plank, and spread with turf. The glacis is also finished. It is composed of sand, and covered with layers of loam and turf, all of which is kept firmly in place by the addition of sections of plank nailed to uprights sunk in the sand, and crossing each other at light angles — making squares of about 10 feet each. The purpose of the glacis, which is an inclined plane, is to expose an attacking party to the fire of the guns — which are so placed as to sweep it from the crest of the counterscarp to the edge of the beach.
On the north side, all the wooden gun-cases [i.e., pent-covers] have been placed close together on the ramparts, apparently for the purpose of securing it against an escalade, but possibly as a screen for a battery of heavy guns. A good many men are engaged in clearing the ramparts of turf and earth, for the purpose of putting down a very ugly-looking arrangement, which consists of strips of plank 4 inches wide, 1 1/2 inches thick, and 6 or 8 feet long, sharpened at the point and nailed down so as to project about 3 feet horizontally from the top of the walls.
A noticeable fact in the bastionettes to which we have above alluded is the haste in which one of them has been built. The one completed is formed of solid masonry. In constructing the other, however, a framework of plank has been substituted. Against the inside of this wooden outwork, loose bricks have been placed. Both bastionettes are armed with a small carronade, and a howitzer pointed laterally so as to command the whole intervening moat by a crossfire.
In the hurried execution of these extensive improvements, a large force — about 170 men — are constantly engaged. Additions are daily made to this number, and the work of putting the post in the best possible condition for defense, is carried on with almost incredible vigor.
Multi-panel “Sketches of Fort Moultrie by an officer of Major Anderson’s command,” showing some of the enhancements made to its defenses in late 1860. (Harper’s Weekly)  “Sketches of Fort Moultrie by an officer of Major Anderson’s command,” in late 1860.
A few days ago, Colonel Gardiner [sic: Gardner], who for years had held the post of Commandant, and whose courtesy and bearing had won the friendship of all who knew him, was relieved in the command by Maj. Robert Anderson of Kentucky … The [garrison] consists of two Companies of Artillery. The companies, however, are not full, the two comprising, as we are informed, only about seventy men, including the Band. A short time ago, two additional companies were expected, but they have not come; and it is now positively stated that there will be, for the present at least, no reinforcement of the garrison.
While the working men are doing wonders on the outside, the soldiers within are by no means idle. Field pieces have been placed in position upon the green within the fort, and none of the expedients of military engineering have been neglected to make the position as strong as possible. It is said that the greatest vigilance is observed in every regulation at this time, and that the guns are regularly shotted every night. It is very certain that ingress is no longer an easy matter for an outsider, and the visitor who hopes to get in, must make up his mind to approach with all the caution, ceremony, and circumlocution with which the allies are advancing upon the Capital of the Celestial Empire.

Readers of the Mercury were reassured “that the Executive of the State is fully cognizant of all that is going on in relation to these forts, and that their honor and defense” were safe in Gov. Francis Pickens’ keeping. Four days later, this Mercury account was republished in the New York Times, and a large excerpt also appeared in the March 2, 1861 edition of The Illustrated London News (Volume 38, Number 1077, Page 194).

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Report in the Richmond Times Dispatch (January 2, 1861)

This Virginian newspaper reported how the Charleston Courier edition of that past Saturday, December 29, 1860, had recorded how:

Our reporter visited the Island yesterday [December 28, 1860], and found matters at Fort Moultrie progressing quietly and satisfactorily. The rubbish left by the Federal troops is being cleaned away, and the fortress assuming a defensible aspect. Many apprehended difficulties, of a nature we need not name, have been removed, and the volunteer companies constituting the garrison are making merry over the hardships of the soldier. Some of the guns are, it is supposed, badly injured by the burning of the carriages. Activity prevails at the garrison, and its vigilant officers are determined on the course that guides their action.
Fort Sumter, as viewed at a distance, presents an appearance of lively activity. Schooners and barges were plying between the fort and the channel during the day. Everything seems to indicate active preparation.
Castle Pinckney was reinforced in the afternoon by a detachment of the Marion Artillery from Fort Moultrie, under the command of Captain King. A detachment of the Washington Light Infantry was transferred from the former to the latter place in the forenoon, thus retaining at Fort Moultrie the same force as first occupied it.
The garrison at Castle Pinckney consists of about two hundred men. Ten twenty-four pound cannon are mounted on the ramparts, besides some fifteen pieces — a few of which are casemated — in the lower tier. The work is well provided with munitions of all kinds, and under the command of its field officers, Col. Pettigrew and Maj. Ellison Capers, will make itself felt, if need be, when the time comes. It is far from being the insignificant position of which it has the reputation. Although a defective construction has impaired the power of the lower batteries to a considerable extent, it has an effective tier of rampart guns, which, from its eligible position, are capable of much service. It is beyond the reach of the largest guns of Fort Sumter, and commands the entire line of wharves and shipping along Cooper River, and in the hands of an enemy would be capable of doing vast injury to the city.
The schooner W. A. Ellis, which arrived here from New York on Wednesday last, had on board 500 barrels cement consigned to Fort Moultrie. We learn that its delivery to the United States officers has been prevented for the present, and that it will be placed in store. Two lighters were alongside taking the cement on board when the order for its non-delivery was received.
We are informed that a large block of granite for Fort Sumter, probably intended for a casemate, now lies on Boyce & Co.’s North Wharf. J. G. Foster, Captain United States Engineers, has been for weeks past a constant consignee by Northern vessels, which have brought all kinds of supplies, from cannon to cement.
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John De Forest’s Observations (January 1861)

On the morning of Saturday, January 19, 1861, a civilian named John William De Forest returned to Charleston after an extended absence, as a passenger aboard the inbound steamer Columbia out of New York City. Familiar with the harbor’s sea-approaches from previous visits, he noted how military preparations had altered the appearance of peacetime Moultrie, as his vessel slowly steamed past the fort and he studied it from a distance on this occasion:

Doctor Crawford`s diagram of peacetime Fort Moultrie in September 1860, published sixteen years afterward in his Genesis of the Civil War Sketch of the Columbia aground on Sullivan’s Island
To the north was the long, low, gray Sullivan's Island, a repetition of [Morris Island], with the distinctions of higher sand-rolls, a village, a regular fort, and palmettos. We passed the huge brown Moultrie House, in summer a gay resort, at present a barrack; passed the hundred scattered cottages of the island, mostly untenanted now, and looking among the sand-drifts as if they had been washed ashore at random; passed the low walls of Fort Moultrie, once visibly yellow, but now almost hidden by the new glacis, and surmounted by piles of barrels and bags of sand, with here and there palmetto stockades as a casing for the improvised embrasures; passed its black guns, its solidly built, but rusty barracks, and its weather-worn palmetto flag waving from a temporary flag-staff.

Six days later, as De Forest departed Charleston once more aboard Columbia, the steamer steered too close inshore while attempting to exit via the narrow Maffitt’s Channel, and drifted aground on Sullivan’s Island. After failing to break free at high tide, its passengers were disembarked next day, January 26, 1861, to trudge overland so as to take the cross-harbor ferry back into the city from Moultrieville, affording De Forest the opportunity of making a personal tour through Fort Moultrie, fully manned by South Carolinian militia. Approaching the young militiaman guarding its sally-port, De Forest and a handful of his fellow-passengers were obligingly allowed to visit the fort by the Lieutenant on duty, so that he recorded:

We passed in, and wandered unwatched for half an hour about the irregular, many-angled fortress. One-third of the interior is occupied by two brick barracks, covered with rusty stucco, and by other brick buildings, as yet incomplete, which I took to be of the nature of magazines. On the walls, gaping landward as well as seaward, are thirty or thirty-five iron cannon, all en barbette, but protected toward the harbor by heavy piles of sand-bags, fenced up either with barrels of sand or palmetto-logs driven firmly into the rampart.
Four eight-inch Columbiads, carrying sixty-four pound balls, pointed at Fort Sumter. Six other heavy pieces, Paixhans, I believe, faced the neck of the harbor. The remaining armament is of lighter calibre, running, I should judge, from forty-twos down to eighteens. Only one gun lay on the ground, destitute of a carriage. The place will stand a great deal of battering; for the walls are nearly hidden by the sand-covered glacis, which would catch and smother four point-blank shots out of five, if discharged from a distance. Against shells, however, it has no resource; and one mortar would make it a most unwholesome residence.
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Federal Military Assessment (February 1862)

John G. Barnard, presumably photographed shortly after his promotion to Major in the peacetime U.S. Corps of Engineers on December 13, 1858. (U.S. National Archives) John G. Barnard, presumably photographed shortly after his promotion to Major in 1858.

As the Civil War moved into its first winter, Union strategists began considering new offensives for the coming year of 1862, including a possible seaborne descent on the outer shores of Charleston Harbor. In order to anticipate any defensive strong-points or potential pockets of Confederate resistance which might be encountered once a disembarkation force pushed inland, Lt.-Col. Daniel P. Woodbury of the U.S. Army’s Topographical Engineers was ordered to prepare a study of all known military and geographic obstacles around this South Carolinian port, which he duly submitted on February 18, 1862 to Brig. Gen. of Volunteers John G. Barnard, chief engineer for the Army of the Potomac.

Based upon peacetime reports and maps that were archived in Washington, D.C., Woodbury’s report included the following description of Fort Moultrie, detailing how it had been configured and armed during its final antebellum days, just prior to the outbreak of hostilities:

This is an irregular open barbette work, covering about 2 ½ acres of ground. It has three land fronts, and three water fronts. The steamboat landing at the point of the island and the road therefrom to the fort, are seen and commanded by a half-bastion front 213 feet long with nine guns, of which two are on the flank. The next land-front facing the cove north of the fort is a regular bastion 405 feet long, with one gun on each face and two on each flank, and room for more. The next front, directly opposed to our approaches, is a bastion front 244 feet long, with two guns on each flank, one on one face, two on the curtain, and room for three more.
Next, a water-front 121 feet long, with five guns.
Next, a water-front 251 feet long, with twelve guns.
Next, a water-front 173 feet long, with nine guns.
The guns are stated in accordance with the intended armament of the fort. The guns actually furnished by the United States before the fort was seized by the Confederates, were as follows: four 24-pounder howitzers; ten 8-inch Columbiads; five 8-inch seacoast howitzers; fourteen 32-pounders; sixteen 24-pounders.

Note how a total of 48 gun-positions are described as being available around its circuit, although only 40 heavy artillery-pieces had been allotted toward comprising Moultrie’s main armament.

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Edmund Ruffin’s Observations (Late October 1863)

After visiting Sullivan’s Island on Saturday, October 31, 1863, Ruffin had to wait until 8:00 p.m. before a Confederate government steamer finally departed the wharf at Mount Pleasant, depositing him back in Charleston a half-hour later. Repairing to his lodgings, he immediately began writing down some of his observations, and next morning continued with the following general account on Pages 3034-3035 of his diary. He first commented:

The two-gun battery at Mount Pleasant is unusually trim & good-looking. The earthworks are very regular in shape, & well covered with sods, & quite green. From Battery Bee, at the upper end of Sullivan’s Island, the fortifications are connected entirely to Fort Moultrie, & I believe to Fort Beauregard. The small intervals between any two works are filled by a continued rampart. A new mortar battery, not finished, but the mortars mounted, fills the previous space between Marion & Moultrie.

After complaining that the gangs of African-American slaves employed on these works were not being fully and properly utilized by Confederate officers, Ruffin goes on to add on Page 3036 that the only fortification which he had actually entered on Sullivan’s Island was Fort Moultrie:

This is entirely changed, & greatly improved, from its condition when I saw it last before, early in 1861, & before the first siege & capture of Fort Sumter. The cannonading from Fort Sumter, at that time, went far to demolish the buildings in the area. In repairing & reconstructing the fort, all these buildings were removed, & none permitted to be therein, except the bomb-proof apartments. All the old brick walls of the fort have been so deeply covered with earth, that scarcely any masonry is exposed to view in the internal surfaces, & none in the outer defences. The “traverses” of earth, & of filled sand-bags, here & elsewhere, and all other defences of Moultrie, appear to be very strong.
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