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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 04.13.11
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

Fort Sumter Re-fired

On April 12, 1861, 150 years ago, the men of honor standing on their principles, fired the shots and started the bloodiest war in American history. These were the gentlemen of South Carolina who seemed to have a penchant for secession. They had gone in that direction in 1832 during the nullification crisis but were out maneuvered by Andrew Jackson.

Earlier, in 1719 the colonists of the area succeeded from the Carolina Colony to create South Carolina. Apparently something about the lowlands seems to have bred a bunch of hot heads, at least among the aristocracy.

And the war started and the issue was slavery. At the time, the population of South Carolina was about 704,000 of whom 403,000 were slaves. A scary thought for the Middletons who raised rice on four plantations, which they managed from Middleton Place. Kathy and I visited Middleton Place in March with friends and the gardens were beautiful with spring well ahead of the Washington area.

The main house had been destroyed during the Civil War -- those dirty Yankees -- leaving one of the two flankers and the out buildings. (There is a very nice restaurant and we enjoyed a great lunch.) While the original 7000 acres have been cut to 110, there are still rice fields, dams, and control structures to flood and drain the fields. The rice growing technology was brought to the area with slaves from the rice growing areas of Africa.

The Middletons also maintained a house in Charleston, but I think it no longer exists. We stayed in the historic part of Charleston on East Bay Street and toured several of the historic houses. They give the impression of a very gentile way of life and we forget about the number of servants that they required and other nitty gritty.

Charleston is a great walking city and we walked along the waterfront park of the Cooper River, which is now a park. To the southeast we could see the remains of Fort Sumter -- it is only half its original height due to several bombardments. At the confluence of the Ashley River is the battery park (White Point Gardens) dedicated to those brave men who deterred the invasion in 1861, which will probably see plenty of action during the coming celebrations.

From the Associated Press

    CHARLESTON, SC | Cannons will boom in the wee hours around Charleston Harbor, recreating the bombardment of Fort Sumter that plunged the nation into the Civil War on April 12, 1861. The South Carolina ceremony Tuesday begins the four-year national commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the nation's bloodiest war. Around 4 a.m. Tuesday, a single beam of light was aimed skyward from Fort Sumter. Then about half-hour later - around the time of the first shots of the war -- the beam split into two beams, signifying a nation torn in two. The war resulted in more than 600,000 deaths, although during the bombardment of Sumter only a Confederate officer's horse was killed. Union troops in the fort surrendered after absorbing 36 hours of Confederate shells.
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