July 23, 2013 - Attorney and local author Robert Rosen spoke to the Rotary Club about an important initiative of the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie Trust, of which he is currently serving as President. This year, the Trust will be working to provide trips to Fort Sumter for local children, many of whom “have never laid eyes on this important National Historic site”. He went on to say that Fort Sumter, as a Civil War site is second only to perhaps Gettysburg in importance. “Many of the members of this Historic Rotary Club can trace their ancestors to the Civil War” he remarked to a chuckle by the audience. Club members were then treated to a lively and entertaining discussion of some of the historical aspects of Charleston’s role in the War. Mr. Rosen not only attended the University of Virginia and University of South Carolina School of Law, he received a Master of Arts in History from Harvard University.
First, was a discussion of the state of the City when shelling began by Union Troops. With tongue -in-cheek he noted that Mayor Riley was the Mayor at that time, and then Mr. Rosen explained that Charlestonians truly did not believe that the North would fight following Succession. In addition, Robert E. Lee had designed the coastal defense strategy for the area and it included many, many (more than 100) fortifications which made Charleston very hard to attack. However, soon many Charlestonians left the City, or moved above Calhoun Street where the shelling could not reach them. He noted that many Victorian homes that you see today were most likely replacements for homes that were damaged during the bombardment. This bombardment, he explained, at the time, was the largest ever seen in history. He also noted that other than establishing the defenses, the two most important things that Lee did in Charleston were “grow his beard and buy his horse”.
While Charleston did not have a significant strategic military value in the war, the psychological value was large. Northerners “hated” Charleston for inciting the war, and they wanted to “make her pay”. One Northern politician was quoted as saying “She deserves it all”. Charlestonians, with the bombardment raging on, did find time for many lively parties. It was noted in a letter from a Middleton girl that the girls of Charleston were enjoying the parties and “round dancing”. Emma Holmes in a letter remarked “once considered modest and refined – she had met fast girls, but none more so than those in Charleston”.
At the end of the war, it was clear that it had taken its toll upon the City. Sidney Andrews was quoted as describing it as “a City of ruins” with “miles of grass grown streets”. Mr. Rosen ended his discussion with the assertion that the Confederacy really did come close to winning the war, much more so than regularly believed. He explained that the enlistment of over 200,000 African American men in the Union Army late in the war definitely had an impact when the South at that time was losing men. He noted the recent dedication of a monument to the Massachusetts 54th by the City of Charleston, to honor their service and sacrifice should it not be forgotten.
Mr. Rosen is the author of several books on Charleston history, including: A Short History of Charleston, Confederate Charleston, The Jewish Confederates, Charleston a Crossroad to History
Submitted by Christine Wilkinson, Keyway Committee