One of the more colorful and historically specific releases of their Images of America series, Arcadia Publishing’s latest Charleston-based book The First Shot is an impressive, military-themed history lesson and collection of images. Written and arranged as part of the Lowcountry’s observation of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, authors Robert N. Rosen and Richard W. Hatcher III concentrate on the events leading up to the secession of South Carolina in late 1860 and the fiery battle of the Union-held Fort Sumter in 1861.
Mostly a pictorial history, The First Shot documents what became known as the first shot of the Civil War, the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12-13, 1861. Rosen is a native Charlestonian and prominent lawyer who’s penned several books on Carolina history. Hatcher is a veteran historian at the Fort Sumter National Monument. Their collaboration resulted in an accurate and engaging story about unusual leaders with colorful personalities, forts with wild histories, and the artillery bombardment itself.
The First Shot begins with a fairly dry but authoritative 12-page introduction that starts at the Democratic Party’s national convention held in Charleston a full year before the battle, and follows through the increasingly intensive (and ugly) series of political and military events that led to war.
The authors quote from letters, broadsides, diaries, handbills, news reports, and editorials from the original Charleston Mercury newspaper and other periodicals, cleverly connecting each step and misstep along the way. The opening chapter reveals more anguish, human drama, and personal conflict than most Charlestonians picked up in the short chapters of their school books. Details about the forts, weapons, ammunition, and casualties go deeper than most classroom lectures, too.
The book is packed with full-color illustrations from the Fort Sumter National Monument Collections, the Library of Congress, the S.C. Historical Society Collections, Rosen’s own personal archives, and other sources.
Some of the paintings and drawings are crude renditions that ran in local papers, while others are more handsomely arranged. There are lots of dramatic artistic renditions and images of broken brick and rubble as well.
Some of the most striking images are actual photographs of the Charleston-area forts, streets, and landmarks, such as the Hibernian Hall, the old S.C. Institute Hall, and the old Charleston Hotel.
The sparse waterfront scene of the Battery, circa 1860, looks like a totally different city (White Point Garden earned the nickname “the Battery” for the cannons placed there during the War of 1812). Not all of the images seem so antiquated, though. One photograph taken in 1865 from the roof of an orphan asylum looking eastward toward the harbor almost looks like a modern print, which says much about some of the current skyline of the city.
The captions that accompany the photos and illustrations reveal even more interesting details about the culture and politics of Charleston at the time. —T. Ballard Lesemann
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