Charleston, South Carolina, Where America’s Civil War Began

By John D. Thompson

Throughout the early 1800s the American states had been riven by the issue of slavery, with Northerners opposed and Southerners defending the right to hold slaves. In 1860, opinion among Charleston’s residents was divided on the issue, but that December South Carolina’s legislature voted The Ordinance of Secession and seceded from the United States. The North was quick to react, and shortly after President Lincoln’s inauguration the Fort Sumter garrison was ordered to defend, and not evacuate, the fort which commanded the entrance to Charleston Harbor.

However, on April 12, 1861, Confederate troops issued the first shots of the Civil War when they fired upon Fort Sumter, whose heavily outnumbered and outgunned garrison was forced to surrender.

A year later, Federal troops landed on James Island just southeast of the city in their first attempt to capture Charleston. Over 6,000 Union troops attacked a peninsula where 500 Confederate soldiers with cannons waited. The Yankees suffered 700 casualties, and the Confederates about 200, but Union forces remained determined to seize Charleston. Throughout 1863 and ’64 Yankee bombardments of the city continued, causing damage and fires to homes and churches, including St. Philip's Church which as hit repeatedly and suffered extensive damaged. Then in early 1865, General William Sherman crossed the Savannah River, but aimed at Columbia not Charleston because he believed the port city had lost its influence and was already, "a mere desolated wreck. . . . hardly worth the time to starve it out."

After the Civil War, Charlestonians were too poor to remodel so the city simply adapted her old buildings. Then, in 1886 a major earthquake rocked Charleston damaging more than 2,000 buildings, and causing 110 deaths and the destruction of over 100 buildings. As a result of the earthquake, iron rods were run through the interiors of buildings and fastened to the exterior walls to protect them from future quakes. Today, these round star-shaped bolts can still be seen on many homes and commercial buildings.

By the early 1900s, Charleston was once again a cultural center. In 1901, the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition was brought to Charleston. In the 1920s, the Charleston Renaissance was formed with authors Josephine Pinckney, Dubose Heyward and John Bennett expressing their adoration for Charleston. Preservation efforts were firmly in place by the 1940s, allowing Charleston to adapt her old buildings to retain their charm, distinction, and tradition.

Then, on September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo with its 135- mph winds headed directly for Charleston. Near midnight, a 12-to-17 foot wall of water swept over Fort Sumter in the harbor and the storm surge came ashore. A week after the storm, preservationists surveyed the city and found that just 25 of the 3,500 historically important buildings had been severely damaged. Now more than 15 years later, Charleston has restored all its original charm and character.

With a rich 300 year history, Charleston today is America's most beautifully preserved architectural and historical treasure. The city's past is a testament to the spirit and tenacity of its citizens. Its appeal has been described as a "living museum." As Charleston native Elizabeth O'Neill Verner once said, "It is impossible for me to enter Charleston from any side, whether by land or by sea, and not feel that here the land is precious; here is a place worth keeping..."

Dialect

Charleston's unique but vanishing dialect has long been noted in the South and elsewhere, for the singular attributes it possesses. Alone among the various regional Southern dialects, Charlestonian speakers inglide long mid vowels, such as the raising for /ay/ and /aw/. Some attribute these unique features of Charleston's speech to its early settlement by the French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews, both of which played influential parts in Charleston's development and history. However, given Charleston's high concentration of African-Americans that spoke the Gullah language, the speech patterns more than likely were majorly influenced by the dialect of the Gullah African-American community.

Today, the Gullah language and dialect is still spoken among African-American locals. However rapid development, especially on the surrounding sea islands, is slowly diminishing its prominence.

Religion

The city has long been noted for its numerous churches and denominations. It is the seat of both the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. One of the of the only remaining Huguenot congregations in America is located in the city. The city is home to many well known churches, and the church tower spotted skyline is one of the reasons for Charleston’s nickname, “The Holy City.”

Annual cultural events and fairs

Charleston Farmers Market

The Charleston Farmers Market will operate every Saturday from 8:00 am until 2:00 pm, from April to December in beautiful Marion Square, between King and Meeting Streets at the edge of Calhoun Street. Nestled beneath beautiful trees with plenty of room for families to gather and children to play, the Farmers Market offers an abundance of the freshest local produce, plants, herbs and cut flowers. While strolling the Charleston Farmers Market, a delicious breakfast, brunch or lunches are available while listening to a variety of live entertainment. . For more information, call 843-724-7305.

Charleston's Food Flair

If you want to sample Charleston's rich history and culture, the best place to start might just be at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Lowcountry specialties such as she-crab soup, Huguenot torte, benne wafers, fried green tomatoes and sweet potato pone derived from recipes passed down from generation to generation, capture the true flavor of Charleston.

This emergence of Charleston as a premier purveyor of fine cuisine actually began about 25 years ago. The re-introduction of Lowcountry cuisine into local restaurant menus sparked a food revolution that frequently puts Charleston in the national spotlight. But what exactly is Lowcountry cuisine? The English, French, Spanish, Irish, Italians, Africans, and Caribbean Islanders who settled across the South beginning over three centuries ago brought with them the tastes from their native lands. The "melting pot" phenomenon created the luscious obsession locals call "Lowcountry cuisine."

About mid-morning each day, the seductive aroma of this rich cuisine begins wafting into the streets of the historic peninsular city, as dozens of chefs—many of international fame—begin preparing their restaurants' own special delicacies. Lowcountry cuisine is always defined by its fresh ingredients. Shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish caught just offshore, each prepared using an interesting blend of seasonings, top many of Charleston's fine dining menus. Because nearby Johns Island serves as the backyard garden for local chefs, restaurants receive fresh-picked produce daily.

Food Fact: Vampires Begone.
It is undisputed that Charleston is the most haunted city in the country. While our ghost population has grown through the centuries, vampires tend to steer clear of the region. No one is quite sure why, but one theory purports that garlic use in the area keeps these night prowlers at bay. A main ingredient in much of traditional Lowcountry cuisine, garlic is actually one of the oldest cultivated foods.



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