"How are ye, Bub ? I like that blanket, I do."
In spite of this noble stranger's good-will and prowess, we still found Fort Sumter a knotty question. In a country which for eighty years has not seen a shot fired in earnest, it is not wonderful that a good deal of ignorance should exist concerning military matters, and that second-class plans should be hatched for taking a first-class fortification. While I was in Charleston, the most popular proposition was to bombard continuously for two whole days and nights, thereby demoralizing the garrison by depriving it of sleep and causing it to surrender at the first attempt to escalade. Another plan, not in general favor, was to smoke Anderson out by means of a raft covered with burning mixtures of a chemical and bad-smelling nature. Still another, with perhaps yet fewer adherents, was to advance on all sides in such a vast number of rowboats that the fort could not sink them all, whereupon the survivors should land on the wharf and proceed to take such further measures as might be deemed expedient. The volunteers from the country always arrived full of faith and defiance. "We want to get a squint at that Fort Sumter," they would say to their city friends. “We are going to take it. If we don't plant the palmetto on it, it 's because there 's no such tree as the palmetto." Down the harbor they would go in the ferry-boats to Morris or Sullivan's Island. The spy-glass would be brought out, and one after another would peer through it at the object of their enmity. Some could not sight it at all, confounded the instrument, and fell back on their natural vision. Others, more lucky, or better versed in telescopic observations, got a view of the fortress, and perhaps burst out swearing at the evident massiveness of the walls and the size of the columbiads.
"Good Lord, what a gun!" exclaimed one man. “D' ye see that gun ? What an almighty thing ! I'll be ———, if I ever put my head in front of it!"
The difficulties of assault were admitted to be very great, considering the bad footing, the height of the ramparts, and the abundant store of muskets and grenades in the garrison. As to breaches, nobody seemed to know whether they could be made or not. The besieging batteries were neither heavy nor near, nor could they be advanced as is usual in regular sieges, nor had they any advantage over the defence except in the number of gunners, while in regard to position and calibre they were inferior. To knock down a wall nearly forty feet high and fourteen feet thick at a distance of more than half a mile seemed a tough undertaking, even when unresisted. It was discovered also that the side of the fortification towards Fort Johnstone, its only weak point, had been strengthened so as to make it bomb-proof by means of interior masonry constructed from the stones of the landing-place. Then nobody wanted to knock Fort Sumter down, inasmuch as that involved either the labor of building it up again, or the necessity of going without it as a harbor-defence. Finally, suppose it should be attacked and not taken? Really, we unlearned people in the art of war were vastly puzzled as we thought this whole matter over, and we sometimes doubted whether our superiors were not almost equally bothered with ourselves.
This fighting was a sober, sad subject; and yet at times it took a turn toward the ludicrous. A gentleman told me that he was present when the steamer Marion was seized with the intention of using her in pursuing the Star of the West. A vehement dispute arose as to the fitness of the vessel for military service.
“Fill her with men, and put two or three eighteen-pounders in her," said the advocates of the measure.
"Where will you put your eighteen-pounders?" demanded the opposition. “On the promenade-deck, to be sure." "Yes, and the moment you fire one, you'll see it go through the bottom of the ship, and then you'll have to go after it." During the two days previous to my second and successful attempt to quit Charleston, the city was in full expectation that the fort would shortly be attacked. News had arrived that Federal troops were on their way with reinforcements. An armed steamer had been seen off the harbor, both by night and day, making signals to Anderson. The Governor went clown to Sullivan's Island to inspect the troops and Fort Moultrie. The volunteers, aided by negroes and even negro women, worked all night on the batteries. Notwithstanding we were close upon race-week, when the city is usually crowded, the streets had a deserted air, and nearly every acquaintance I met told me he had been down to the islands to see the preparations. Yet the whole excitement, like others which had preceded, ended even short of smoke. News came that reinforcements had not been sent to Anderson; and the destruction of that most inconvenient person was once more postponed. People fell back on the old hope that the Government would be brought to listen to reason,—that it would give up to South Carolina what it could not keep from her with justice, — that it would grant, in short, the incontrovertible right of peaceable secession. For, in the midst of all these labors and terrors, this expense and annoyance, no one talked of returning into the Union, and all agreed in deprecating compromise.
Once more, this time in the James Adger, I set sail from Charleston. The boat lost one tide, and consequently one day, because at the last moment the captain found himself obliged to take out a South Carolina clearance. As I passed down the harbor, I counted fourteen square-rigged vessels at the wharves, and one lying at anchor, while three others had just passed the bar, outward-bound, and two were approaching from the open sea. Deterred from the Ship Channel by the sunken schooners, and from Maffitt's Channel by the fate of the Columbia, we tried the Middle Channel, and glided over the bar without accident.
"Sailing to Charleston is very much like going foreign," I said to a middle-aged sea-captain whom we numbered among our passengers. "What with heaving the lead, and doing without beacons, and lying off the coast o' nights, it makes one think of trading to new countries."
I had, it seems, unintentionally pulled the string which jerked him. Springing up, he paced about excitedly for a few moments, and then broke out with his story.
"Yes, —I know it,—I know as much about it as anybody, I reckon. I lay off there nine days in a nor'easter and lost my anchors; and here I am going on to New York to buy some more; and all for those cursed Black Republicans!"
In South Carolina they see but one side of the shield, — which is quite which is quite different, as we know, from the custom of the rest of mankind.