Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era

By John David Smith | Go to book overview
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13
A DISTURBANCE
IN THE CITY
Black and White Soldiers
in Postwar Charleston

Robert J. Zalimas,Jr.

On February 18, 1865, fatigued Confederate troops reluctantly abandoned war-torn Charleston, South Carolina. Since the beginning of the war, Rebel soldiers had zealously defended the “cradle of secession” against a suffocating siege compounded by an intense barrage of Union artillery Although Yankee shells nearly leveled the city, Southern troops held the port for most of the war, repelling several Union amphibious assaults. Recognized by its protectors as the “best-defended” city on the Atlantic coast, the port finally capitulated to Northern infantrymen.1

To be sure, the Yankee invaders expected some resistance, but they entered the port unopposed. Union soldiers from different regiments raced through Charleston Harbor in a desperate attempt to land on the shore first and hoist their own regimental flag on top of The Citadel. Off in the distance, naval escorts plodded through the mined harbor transporting occupation troops and provost guards to the coastal city. As the boats moved closer to the shore, those white Southerners who remained in Charleston soon recognized that the transports carried a fate that seemed worse than Union general William Tecumseh Sherman's depredations: the occupation of the city by black soldiers. Shocked white residents looked on in disgust as former slaves and sons of former slaves, armed with rifles and bayonets, marched through what long had been the symbol of Confederate resistance. For many white civilians, the sight was almost unbearable. “Night of horrors!” exclaimed botanist Henry Ravenel from his plantation outside

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