The Man Behind the Mission

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On September 15, 1862, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard arrived in Charleston with the new command of the Departments of South Carolina, Georgia, and later, Florida. His abilities as a field commander were in question after the high casualties and retreat from the Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862, but his expertise as an engineer was unequaled. Dubbed "Beauregard Felix" after his successes with the firing on Ft. Sumter and First Manassas in 1861, he was extremely popular in Charleston society and was joyfully received. 

His first task upon arrival was to evaluate the defenses surrounding Charleston Harbor with the goal of strengthening and extending them. The harbor was not only one of the biggest loopholes in the Union blockade on the Atlantic Coast, it was also viewed by the North as the Southern seat of rebellion. Union forces at the time were well-positioned between Charleston and Savannah at Port Roayl, SC, making Charleston an important Union target and extremely vulnerable to sea attack. 

Beauregard's inspection of the defenses showed Forts Moultrie and Sumter to be in good shape. Sullivan's Island and Morris Island were incomplete and poorly arranged, and the Confederate line on James Island too long. A failed land attack by the Union earlier in 1862 convinced Beauregard that the next US strategy would be to approach Charleston Harbor with ironclads by sea. He placed booms and torpedoes in the harbor, and stretched an intricate rope obstruction between Moultrie and Sumter to foul the screw propellers of enemy ships. But the biggest Confederate defense would come through troop build-up and concentrated firepower coming from the strategically positioned land batteries. 

Beauregard repeatedly sent requests to Richmond for more troops and weapons. At the same time, his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Thomas Jordan commissioned the young artists Conrad Wise Chapman to make sketches of the harbor. The illustrations were to be submitted to Josiah Gorgas of the Ordnance Bureau in Richmond as supporting evidence of Beauregard's plans. Thus began Chapman's extraordinary documentation of what he witnessed at Charleston and its defenses, often under heavy shell fire. 

Beauregard's careful measures paid off when a Union squadron of nine ironclads under the command of Commandant Samuel F. Du Pont made its move on April 7, 1863. Coming into the harbor at 3 p.m. that afternoon, they faced a combination of 30,000 Confederate troops and 77 guns placed at Fort Sumter, Sullivan's Island and Morris Island. Two hours later, Du Pont was forced to order his badly crippled squadron to withdraw. Charleston and her defenses remained under heavy attack for the next 22 months, and with the impending arrival of Union Gen. William T. Sherman, Gen. Beauregard was forced to order an evacuation of the city on February 15, 1865.

About the Museum

The mission of The American Civil War Museum is to be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.

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