Chapter 1: separation and reunion
In vain is the strife — Holmes
Ruins of Charleston, 1865 from the circular church|
Separation and reunion: brother Jonathan's lament for sister Caroline
Both a record and a prophecy are contained in these lines by the New England
poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes
A state convention meeting in Charleston
had on December 20, 1860, unanimously passed an ordinance of secession, and during January and February six other States had followed.
Early in February the Confederate Government had been organized at Montgomery, Alabama
, with Jefferson Davis
dated this poem March 25, 1861. four days later the New President
of the United States
, Abraham Lincoln
, ordered relief to be sent to Fort Sumter
in Charleston Harbor
On April 12th the attack on Sumter
was made, and the war begun.
How fully the sentiment of brotherhood here expressed by Holmes
has been realized among the American
people it has been the purpose of the Introduction to this volume and of the following selections to show.
She has gone,—she has left us in passion and pride,—
Our stormy-browed sister, so long at our side!
She has torn her own star from our firmament's glow,
And turned on her brother the face of a foe!
O Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun,
We can never forget that our hearts have been one,—
Our foreheads both sprinkled in Liberty's name,
From the fountain of blood with the finger of flame!
You were always too ready to fire at a touch;
But we said: ‘She is hasty,—she does not mean much.’
We have scowled when you uttered some turbulent threat;
But Friendship still whispered: ‘Forgive and forget!’
Has our love all died out?
Have its altars grown cold?
Has the curse come at last which the fathers foretold?
Then Nature must teach us the strength of the chain
That her petulant children would sever in vain.
The ruins of secession Hall, Charleston—1865
Three months before Holmes' poem, South Carolinians had cast the die of separation in Secession Hall.
It appears to the right of the Circular Church, across the narrow graveyard, its walls blasted by the fire of December, 1861.
Here the vote was taken on December 20, 1860, declaring that ‘the union now subsisting between South Carolina and the other States under the name of the “United States of America” is hereby dissolved.’ The secession convention was composed of the most experienced men in the State—men who had represented it in the national Congress, judges in the highest courts, eminent divines, and wealthy planters.
On the fourth day of its session, at twelve o'clock, the ordinance quoted from above was read with flashing eyes by the venerable judge of chancery, Chancellor Inglis.
At a quarter past one it was passed unanimously.
The doorkeeper passed the word to the policeman without; he called to another, and so on until the sentinel at the massive iron gate proclaimed it to the impatient populace.
The bells in every rocking steeple mingled their notes with the shouts of the excited throngs that filled the streets.
There was no dissent in the secession sentiments here.|
‘Though darkened with Sulphur’: the Charleston railroad depot, destroyed by explosion in 1865
These ruins form an impressive fulfilment of the prophecy in Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem.
But it was not till near the end that the scene here preserved could meet the eye. It resulted from the evacuation of the city by the Confederate forces on February 17, 1865.
This step had been taken with great reluctance.
The movement of secession had begun at Charleston.
The city was dear to every Southern heart.
Yet military policy clearly dictated that the scattered troops in the Carolinas be concentrated against Sherman.
Indeed, it would have been better policy to evacuate earlier.
But sentiment is always powerful.
Even Jefferson Davis said, ‘Such full preparation had been made that I had hoped for other and better results, and the disappointment to me is extremely bitter.’ When the Union troops from Morris Island arrived in Charleston the next morning, they found that the commissary depot had been blown up with the loss of two hundred lives, mostly of women and children.
An officer reported ‘Public buildings, stores, warehouses, private dwellings, shipping, etc., were burning and being burned by armed Confederates.’ All the Negroes in the city were impressed by the Union officers to work the fire apparatus until all the fires were extinguished.
But some of the fairest sections of Charleston were already in ruins.|
‘In vain is the strife’
The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar, destroyed by the fire of December, 1861—most of the able bodied citizens were serving as soldiers, and the flames raged unchecked.|
They may fight till the buzzards are gorged with their spoil,—
Till the harvest grows black as it rots in the soil,
Till the wolves and the catamounts troop from their caves,
And the shark tracks the pirate, the lord of the waves:
In vain is the strife!
When its fury is past,
Their fortunes must flow in one channel at last,
As the torrents that rush from the mountains of snow
Roll mingled in peace through the valleys below.
Our Union is river, lake, ocean, and sky;
Man breaks not the medal when God cuts the die!
Though darkened with sulphur, though cloven with steel,
The blue arch will brighten, the waters will heal!
O Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun,
There are battles with Fate that can never be won!
The star-flowering banner must never be furled,
For its blossoms of light are the hope of the world!
Go, then, our rash sister!
afar and aloof,—
Run wild in the sunshine away from our roof;
But when your heart aches and your feet have grown sore,
Remember the pathway that leads to our door!
Probably the most ardent of Southern poets, Henry Timrod
, here writes in lofty calm of his native city awaiting the attack of Admiral Samuel F. Dupont
on April 7, 1863.
the poem forms an interesting contrast with the preceding, written two years previously.
Calm as that second summer which precedes
The first fall of the snow,
In the broad sunlight of heroic deeds,
The city bides the foe.
As yet, behind their ramparts, stern and proud,
Her bolted thunders sleep,—
Dark Sumter, like a battlemented cloud,
Looms o'er the solemn deep.
No Calpe frowns from lofty cliff or scaur
To guard the holy strand;
But Moultrie holds in leash her dogs of war
Above the level sand.
And down the dunes a thousand guns lie couched,
Unseen, beside the flood,—
Like tigers in some Orient jungle crouched,
That wait and watch for blood.
Meanwhile, through streets still echoing with trade,
Walk grave and thoughtful men,
Whose hands may one day wield the patriot's blade
As lightly as the pen.
And maidens, with such eyes as would grow dim
Over a bleeding hound,
Seem each one to have caught the strength of him
Whose sword she sadly bound.
Thus girt without and garrisoned at home,
Day patient following day,
Old Charleston looks from roof and spire and dome,
Across her tranquil bay.
Ships, through a hundred foes, from Saxon lands
And spicy Indian ports,
Bring Saxon steel and iron to her hands,
And summer to her courts.
But still, along yon dim Atlantic line,
The only hostile smoke
Creeps like a harmless mist above the brine,
From some frail floating oak.
‘She waits the triumph or the tomb’: the bombarded graveyard of the central church at Charleston
The event awaited by Timrod with faith and resignation is here directly illustrated.
A sacred spot in the beautiful city of Charleston has been visited by Federal bombs.
The tombs of its honored ancestors lie shattered where the ruins of fair mansions look down upon the scene.
The cannonading that wrought this havoc was conducted by the Federal army under General Q. A. Gillmore after the failure of Admiral S. F. Du Pont's attack of April 7, 1863.
The bombardment of the city was begun on August 21, 1863, by the famous gun, the ‘Swamp Angel,’ to enforce the evacuation of Fort Sumter.
But Sumter, though reduced to a shapeless mass of ruins, did not surrender.
On September 7, 1863, however, Gillmore succeeded in capturing Battery Wagner and Battery Gregg, on the northern part of Morris Island. One 30-pounder Parrott gun sent 4,523 shells toward the city, many of them landing within it destructively.|
Shall the spring dawn, and she, still clad in smiles,
And with an unscathed brow,
Rest in the strong arms of her palm-crowned isles,
As fair and free as now?
We know not; in the temple of the Fates
God has inscribed her doom:
And, all untroubled in her faith, she waits
The triumph or the tomb.
To the South
O subtle, musky, slumbrous clime!
O swart, hot land of pine and palm,
Of fig, peach, guava, orange, lime,
And terebinth and tropic balm!
Land where our Washington was born,
When truth in hearts of gold was worn;
Mother of Marion, Moultrie, Lee,
Widow of fallen chivalry!
No longer sadly look behind,
But turn and face the morning wind,
And feel sweet comfort in the thought:
“With each fierce battle's sacrifice
I sold the wrong at awful price,
And bought the good; but knew it not.”
Breathe in new life
Brood not on unsuccessful strife
Against the current of the age;
The Highest is thy heritage!
Leave off this death's-head scowl at Fate,
And into thy true heart sink this:
‘God loves to walk where Freedom is!’
There is no sweet in dregs and lees;
There is no fruit on girdled trees.
Plant new vineyards, sow new fields,
For bread and wine the Future yields;
Out of free soil fresh spathes shall start;
Now is the budding-time of Art!
‘O subtle, Musky, slumberous clime’
Down the lofty nave of this forest cathedral, gleams under the open sky the tomb of some long-honored forefather of Savannah.
The gigantic live-oaks of the stately plantation, festooned with the long Spanish moss, shadow the fragrant shrubbery growing at their feet.
The whole scene breathes the ‘subtle, musky, slumberous’ atmosphere sung by the poet Thompson.
Savannah, situated inland on the Savannah River, was through four years of the war unvisited by hostile armies.
But in December, 1864, it fell into the hands of Sherman's troops.
Many another lovely spot in the Southland passed through the conflict with its beauties undisturbed, as if to remind its brave people of the unbounded lavishness of nature amid the wreckage of war. Bravely have they answered the mute appeal of such surroundings.
To-day the South can point, not only to the charms of its almost tropical clime, but to the material achievements which link it inseparably with the rapidly developing North and West.
Its people have even come to feel a thankfulness for the outcome of the war. Typical are the whole-hearted vigorous lines of Maurice Thompson printed opposite.|
My senses reel!
Some grand presentiment I feel!
A voice of love, bouquet of truth,
The quick sound of the feet of youth!
Lo! from the war-cloud, dull and dense,
Loyal and chaste and brave and strong,
Comes forth the South with frankincense,
And vital freshness in her song.
The weight is fallen from her wings;
To find a purer air she springs
Out of the Night into the Morn,
Fair as cotton, sound as corn.
Hold! Shall a Northman, fierce and grim,
With hoary beard and boreal vim,
Thus fling, from some bleak waste of ice,
Frost-crystals of unsought advice
To those who dwell by Coosa's stream,
Or on dark hummocks plant the cane
Beside the lovely Pontchartrain,
Or in gay sail-boats drift and dream
Where Caribbean breezes stray
On Pensacola's drowsy bay?
I am a Southerner;
I love the South; I dared for her
To fight from Lookout to the sea,
With her proud banner over me:
But from my lips thanksgiving broke,
As God in battle thunder spoke,
And that Black Idol, breeding drouth
And dearth of human sympathy
Throughout the sweet and sensuous South,
Was, with its chains and human yoke,
Blown hellward from the cannon's mouth,
While Freedom cheered behind the smoke!