Columbia Captured!

“I ran upstairs to my bedroom windows just in time to see the U.S. flag run up over the State house. O what a horrid sight! what a degradation! After four long bitter years of bloodshed and hatred, now to float there at last! …The troops now in town is a brigade commanded by Col. Stone. Everything is quiet and orderly. Guards have been placed to protect houses, and Sherman has promised not to disturb private property. How relieved and thankful we feel after all our anxiety and distress!”

So wrote Emma Florence LeConte in her journal’s entry for February 17th, 1865. Unfortunately, her relief would turn to grief as roughly one-third of the city was left a smoking ruin by the following morning. Today marks 150 years since Sherman’s army captured the capital of South Carolina, and tonight will mark the 150th anniversary of the massive fires that burned much of the city. Debate continues to swirl regarding the exact details of the fires and who was responsible for them. An interesting article from the February 7th issue of The State newspaper consults a panel of historians and authors on the subject of the Burning of Columbia:

“Who was really responsible for the burning of Columbia in 1865?”


Yet despite the destruction and violence of that night 150 years ago, there were moments of compassion that occurred amid the chaos, as this article from The State remembers:

“Acts of compassion also marked burning of Columbia”


Interestingly, the same evening that the South Carolina capital was facing its trials, a city rivaling Columbia in importance was being evacuated. Charleston’s Confederate defenders and many of its inhabitants pulled out of the city the night of the 17th, allowing the Union to finally capture the city after many months of siege. Thus in just a couple of days in 1865 the two most prominent cities in the birthplace of secession were finally in Union hands.

The 13th Amendment Passes in the U.S. House!

150 years ago this weekend, slavery in the United States was dealt a deadly blow. On January 31st, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in the House of Representatives (it had passed in the Senate in April of the previous year) by a vote of 119 to 56. The amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States, could then be put before the states for ratification. While the Emancipation Proclamation had only freed the slaves in the Confederacy, the 13th Amendment made the abolition of slavery a national policy. The amendment reads simply:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

With just these few words, upon its ratification in December 1865 the amendment promulgated the death of slavery in the United States. The February 1st edition of The New York Tribune described the scene in Congress upon the amendment’s passage, saying “the tumult of joy that broke out was vast, thundering, and uncontrollable.  Representatives and Auditors on the floor, soldiers and spectators in the gallery, Senators and Supreme Court Judges, women and pages, gave way to the excitement of the most august and important event in American Legislation and American History since the Declaration of Independence. God Bless the XXXVIIIth Congress!”

Yet it was clear to some that more would be needed to secure true freedom for the former slaves. Arguing against the disbandment of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Frederick Douglass stated that “even if every State in the Union had ratified that Amendment, while the black man is confronted in the legislation of the South by the word ‘white,’ our work as abolitionists, as I conceive it, is not done.” Douglass had the foresight to realize that despite the major victory that was the 13th Amendment’s passage, there was still much work to be done before blacks in the newly-reunited States would be truly free.

The American Civil War = Internationally Important!

As the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War draws near, the CLAW program would like to draw attention to a couple of works which demonstrate that the conflict had meanings and effects that were felt beyond the borders of the nation at war.

One such book is part of the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Series published by the University of South Carolina Press. In The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War, editors David Gleeson and Simon Lewis present a collection of essays that explore the conflict as more than just a War Between the States, a war with transnational concerns. The essays in this collection examine the Civil War’s place in a global context as well as its impact on the world beyond North America. 

-Nimrod Tal’s review from The Civil War Monitor:

-William Coleman’s review from Reviews in History:

Another work worth noting is Don H. Doyle’s The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. In his book Doyle places the war in a global context and explores how much the conflict affected and was affected by international interests. He finds that the Civil War was seen abroad as part of a much broader struggle for democracy, and that the conflict indeed was a critical moment in the global struggle over democracy and democratic ideals.

-Scott Porch’s review from The Chicago Tribune:

The Economist’s review:

Mapping the Freedman’s Bureau: An Interactive Research Guide

New Website Helps Researchers Locate Reconstruction-Era Records for African American Genealogy and History

For Immediate Release

Angela Walton-Raji (
Toni Carrier (

Did you know that the majority of Freedmen’s Bureau records are now digitized and available online for free? Did you know that there are also digitized images of the records of other institutions that served newly-freed African Americans during Reconstruction, such as the Freedman’s Savings and Trust?

Angela Walton-Raji and Toni Carrier have built a new website called “Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau – An Interactive Research Guide” ( to assist researchers in locating and accessing records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Freedmen’s hospitals, contraband camps and Freedman’s Bank branches.

Researchers can use the website’s interactive map to learn which of these services were located near their area of research interest. If the records are online, the map provides a link to the records that tell the stories of newly-freed former slaves in the United States. The site also maps the locations where African Americans who served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) fought in battle.

The goal of this mapping project is to provide researchers, from the professional to the novice, a useful tool to more effectively tell the family story, the local history and the greater story of the nation during Reconstruction.

“Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau – An Interactive Guide” is available at

On This Day in 1864…

On this day 150 years ago, General William T. Sherman ended his “March to the Sea” by capturing Savannah, Georgia. In its 285-mile march from Atlanta to Savannah, Sherman’s army laid waste to Georgia’s economic resources in a path of destruction that was roughly fifty miles wide. By December 20th, Sherman had placed men and batteries around the city, demanding that the Confederate garrison surrender or face assault. By the next morning it was discovered that the Confederate army commanded by General Hardee had evacuated the city, so Sherman immediately moved in to occupy it. The army had thus reached Savannah in time for Christmas, and Sherman was therefore able to “present” the city, along with 150 cannons and an enormous amount of cotton, to Lincoln. The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph expressed excitement about Savannah’s capture in its December 28th, 1864 issue, saying that the Confederacy was nothing but a “shell” and that now “Charleston and Wilmington must soon fall.”  Southern newspapers were less than enthusiastic, and in South Carolina worries were already growing, as seen in the Edgefield Advertiser of December 28th, which noted that “the day of Carolina’s trial is certainly near at hand.”

Republicans Retain the White House!*

The election of 1864 is over, the results are in, and Abraham Lincoln has won a second term as President of the United States. Lincoln is therefore the first president since Andrew Jackson to win a second term.  The New York Tribune commends the process of this election, reporting that despite it being a wartime election “it has been conducted peaceably and according to all the forms of law.”1  Lincoln managed to stave off the challenge of Democratic candidate George B. McClellan, who carried only New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky, gaining twenty-one electoral votes compared to Lincoln’s 212 electoral votes.  Lincoln also swept the popular vote, gaining fifty-five percent of the vote.  News of Lincoln’s re-election has begun to spread to the Union troops, and a New York Times reporter with the Union Army in Virginia writes that “people can have but little conception of the rejoicing here among Union men over the success of Mr. Lincoln.”2  Yet not everyone is thrilled with Lincoln’s re-election, as made evident by an article in the pro-Confederate Richmond Daily Dispatch, which described the election as a time when people assembled at the voting places “on the purpose of making a formal surrender of their liberties…to a vulgar tyrant.”3  Interestingly, the London Times also criticized Lincoln’s re-election, describing it as “an avowed step towards the foundation of a military despotism.”4 Like it or not, Lincoln has now joined the small number of presidents, including Washington and Jefferson, who have had the chance to serve for two terms.

















*This blog post is meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s re-election in 1864.

1The New York Daily Tribune, 16 November 1864.

2The New York Times, 16 November 1864.

3The Richmond Daily Dispatch, 9 November 1864.

4London Times, 22 November 1864.

Introductory Remarks from March 21st Ceremony at Brittlebank Ceremony to Honor the Middle Passage and struggles of African descendants

For those who were not able to able to attend, please see the following introductory comments presented by Drs. Simon Lewis and Anthonia Kalu at the opening of the Commemorative Ceremony held at Brittlebank Park in Charleston, SC on March 20, 2013, to honor the victims of the Middle Passage and the struggles of African descendants throughout the world.

Introduction at Brittlebank Ceremony,

ALA Charleston –March 21, 2013

Thank you, Helen and Ann for those moving introductions to today’s ceremony honoring the dead of the Middle Passage and the under-acknowledged contributions of generations of Africans and African-descended peoples in the Americas. On behalf of the ALA, the Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services at the College of Charleston, and the Jubilee Project, thank you all for joining us on this historic occasion, and,  “Welcome all of you!” on this beautiful and peaceful evening in this beautiful place. This visit to Charleston’s Brittlebank Park resonates with a similar visit the ALA made when our annual conference took place in Dakar, Senegal in March 1989. On that occasion we made a pilgrimage to Goree, the most westerly point of the continent infamous for being the site of the “Door of No Return” from which untold thousands were crowded onto European slave-trading vessels and transported to the New World. That profoundly moving pilgrimage prompted one of our members, the poet Niyi Osundare to write the poem, “Goree” that will be the first of our readings this evening.  Our presence in this space twenty-four years later draws attention to the fact that for all its current beauty, this too is a place of memory, and a site of trauma.

Historians estimate that 40% of all Africans kidnapped and landed as slaves in continental North America, landed in this very city of Charleston, and just a mile or so upriver from here at Ashley Ferry River was one of the many sites around the city where men, women and children were sold directly from the boat. Although historic sites in this area and around the nation have expanded and enhanced their presentation of previously invisible histories of the African-American experience, there is still a considerable “acknowledgment gap” in the general public understanding that fails to give due consideration to African contributions to the physical and economic landscape of the new worlds they helped to build.  This acknowledgment gap, which as we shall hear later was so poetically and powerfully described more than a century ago by W.E.B. Du Bois, shows itself ironically in absences: of public memorials, of statuary, of street- and place-names honoring Africans or African Americans; in the absence even, as Toni Morrison has remarked, of such a humble thing as a bench by the road. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation of 150 years ago and the desegregation of public education here in SC that the Jubilee Project is commemorating, the consequences of two centuries of slavery followed by another hundred years of officially-sanctioned segregation are still with us. We believe that humanities scholars have a vital role in laying this history to rest. We believe that humanities scholars should lay this history to rest, not because it should be forgotten, but in order to relate to it in a fuller knowledge both of its historical facts and its contemporary implications. It goes without saying that such a commemoration is extremely uncomfortable and fraught with potential for misunderstanding and pain. That is one of the reasons why the Jubilee Project and this conference are seizing on the anniversaries of emancipation and desegregation as a catalyst for a critical commemorative process: these anniversaries enable us to confront squarely the history of slavery, resistance and abolition as part of the literature of liberation and the law in the story of America and the world. The commemoration of the expansion of freedom is the keynote of that narrative, and of the foundational place of Africans and African-descended people in that narrative.

Peter Wood uses the image of the hour-glass to describe Charleston’s role in the African Diaspora.  In thinking of Charleston as the birthplace of African America, one may think of the narrow harbor entrance in terms of another, more graphic, more somatic image — as the birth canal of African America.  In tonight’s commemorative ceremony, we remember not only the acute pain of that birth but we also salute African America’s contributions to local, regional, national, and international history, and the courage of all our ancestors who, in the words of Kwame Dawes’s poem, “straightened their backs” and “shouldered their burden” in the long, uneven, and often dangerous struggle for freedom.

Anthonia Kalu and Simon Lewis

African Literature Association- Charleston

March 2013

The Art of History: A two-day Celebration at the College of Charleston in Honor of Peter H. Wood

Peter H. Wood has inspired a generation of historians to investigate the role played by people of African descent in the construction of American society.  His first book, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (1974), is both an essential history of South Carolina’s turbulent beginnings and a classic portrait of how a human community shapes its environment and is shaped by land and water in turn.  His subsequent work reflects his lifelong interests in exploration, natural history, and the arts.  Wood’s two recent books on paintings by Winslow Homer—Weathering the Storm:  Inside Winslow Homer’s Gulf Stream (2004) and Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War (2010)—break new ground in the interpretation of an American master.

On October 20–21, the College of Charleston’s Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World program, Addlestone Library, and Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture will present “The Art of History,” a two-day event honoring Peter Wood.  Activities will begin on Thursday evening at 6:00 in Addlestone Library, room 227, with a screening of Carvalho’s Journey, a work-in-progress by acclaimed filmmaker Steve Rivo.  Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1815, Solomon Nunes Carvalho was an observant Jew who became a mainstream artist and the official photographer for John C. Fremont’s 1853 expedition across North America, a journey that nearly cost him his life.

On Friday, Wood, professor emeritus at Duke University, will offer a lecture on Near Andersonville, recounting the detective-like work at the intersection of art and history that led him to uncover the mysteries of this once neglected painting.  Winslow Homer may be best known for his paintings of ships and sailors, hunters and fishermen, rural vignettes and coastal scenes, but he also created some of the first serious black figures in American art.  Wood’s provocative study gives us a fresh view on Homer’s early career, the struggle to end slavery, and the dramatic closing engagements of the Civil War.

The lecture, to be held on October 21st at 6:00 PM at the Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street, is co-sponsored by Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia) Bank and is a part of the CLAW program’s commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial.

This Day In History – The First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861


Handwritten obituary for Nathaniel Heyward, killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run, August 29, 1862, perhaps written for publication.

Heyward and Ferguson Family Papers, 1806-1923

Visit the Lowcountry Digital Library for more information and more digital resources!