Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

13
The Challenge of an Almost New Order "Hold Your Ground, Sir!"

WHEN PEACE CAME in 1865 the low country was a defeated and devastated and. Only eighty-two years earlier, an invading army and a bloody civil war between Whigs and Tories had left the region wasted. Now, in 1865, smoke from the fires of war once again hung over the land. Only this time the invading army was victorious and what followed the fighting was not a new prosperity for the low country but a grinding poverty. A region that had been famous for its wealth now became marked by its poverty.1

Much of Charleston was in ruins. In addition to the bombardment of the city by Federal forces, the city's defenders had done their own damage: great mounds of earthwork defenses and deep holes for artillery spread poxlike along White Point Garden and up adjacent streets, while fires and exploding ammunition, ignited by hastily retreating Confederates, had burned large areas of the upper peninsula. More devastating than these wounds of war, however, had been the great fire of December 1861. Beginning in a kitchen on Hasell Street, the flames had spread westward over the peninsula. Roaring uncontrolled, they destroyed a third of the city before finally dying on the banks of the Cooper. Among the many public buildings burned was the Circular Congregational Church. With its interior gutted, its domed ceiling collapsed, its massive steeple tottering, and the columns of its once elegant portico standing unattached, it seemed in 1865 a symbol of "A city of ruins, of desolation, of vacant houses, of widowed women, of rotting wharves, of deserted warehouses, of weed-wild gardens, of miles of grass-grown streets, of acres of pitiful and voiceful barrenness." A New York Times correspondent wrote that the city "is an indescribable scene of desolation and ruin . . . silent to all sounds of business, and voiceless only to the woe-begone, poverty-stricken, haggard people, who wander up and down amid the ruins, looking to a jubilant past, a disappointed present, and a hopeless future."2

The destruction in the countryside matched, or perhaps even surpassed, that in the city. Most of the sea islands, easy prey for Federal naval forces, had fallen early in the war. Raiding parties had made their way up the Edisto, the

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