Diary of a Yankee Engineer: The Civil War Story of John H. Westervelt, Engineer, 1st New York Volunteer Engineer Corps

By John H. Westervelt; Anita Palladino | Go to book overview

Journal of an expedition against
Charleston

No. 19

Oct. 24th In my last I was telling you that the efforts to dam the water out had met with only partial success. Today the bank gave way again completely flooding the depot and lumber yard. We will have to submit to a force we cannot control untill such time as we can move. The tides are getting so high that the waves break over the sea bank making it useless to dam the inlet. 8 P.M. While writing I am startled by everything in our little camp being made as visible as by the light of the noonday sun, although it is a dark overcast night. The mystery is soon solved. Professor Grant is testing his reflecting light and he has selected our camp for the purpose.1 Everything is as plainly visible as by sun but still does not look like day. It has more of the supernatural about it. I don’t know if you have ever seen the casmoramas in the American Museum, but they are the [nearest] of anything I can compare it to. The calcium lights in the central park are quite similar but far less powerful and do not light so much space nor reach so great a distance. Today we had one of those tremendous showers accompanied by vivid lightning which sometimes visit us here but occur much oftener on the main land and present such gorgeous scenes when seen from these islands. It had been smiles and tears all the morning but at 12 M natures heart seemed to have broken and overflowed with a perfect deluge of tears. I scarcely know how to describe the quantities of water that falls on such occasions, the flood gates of heaven seem to be all opened at the same time and the waters visit

1. Professor Grant used the areas around Morris Island and Charleston harbor for his trials of calcium lights. A test at Cummings Point reportedly illuminated 300 yards. John Johnson, Defense of Charleston Harbor, Including Fort Sumpter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863–1865 (Germantown, Tenn.: Guild Bindery Press, 1994; originally published 1889), pp. 150, 175–76. Other early attempts to create searchlights, mainly at harbor locations, included phosphorus fires, used with reflectors to direct light.

-50-

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