Cornhill Magazine,  10 (1864), 99–110.

Charleston Under Fire

[Frank Vizetelly]


Essay, Reportage


Military Technology, War, Steamships, Race, Imagination, Theory

    Gives an eye-witness account of the attack on Charleston by a Federal 'iron-clad fleet, armed with ordinance of prodigious force and calibre' in April 1863 (99). This 'armour-clad armada' inflicted enormous damage on both the Confederate defensive positions along the coast as well as on the heavily-populated town of Charleston itself (108), occasioning observations on the frantic reactions of the town's black population, with their 'easily excited [...] imaginations', to an 'undefined terror that literally blanched many a dusky visage' (100). Comments that the 'gallant commander' of the latest Federal ironside uss Keokuk, 'relying on the reputation she had achieved theoretically, places her within seven hundred yards of the forts', but soon has to withdraw, 'evidently seriously crippled' (103–04). On inspecting the fortifications prior to the attack with the Southern General Roswell S Ripley, the author observes that 'in tow of an old steamer, goes an old hull, with some huge kind of cylinder pendent from its bows. The steamer stays her progress; the old hull swings round with the tide; a rattle of chain clangs over the harbour, followed by a dull plunge, and the cylinder has disappeared. It is a monster torpedo, containing two thousand pounds of powder, and is worked by a submarine battery. This terrible engine of destruction was one of the general's pet ideas, and as he followed my glance from the open window, he chuckled slyly' (100).

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