On February 18, 1865, Charleston, South Carolina surrendered. It had been just two months shy of four years since the war officially began with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor and the city had experience war, losses, and destruction first hand.
Union General William T. Sherman had described the harbor city as already wrecked by war, and it was not a major objective on his campaign list. In his memoirs, he reported the news of the capture briefly: Charleston was, in fact, evacuated by General Hardee on the 18th of February, and was taken possession of by a brigade of General Fosters troops, commanded by General Schimmelpfennig, the same day.
The event had a much greater significance on the Confederate mind, especially since South Carolina had been the starting place of the war—a fact that the newly arrived Union troops recognized.
Confederate civilian Mary Chesnut got news of Charleston on February 23, 1865, and wrote with much emotion:
“Charleston and Wilmington—surrendered. I have no further use for a newspaper. I never want to see another one as long as I live. . . . Shame, disgrace, beggary—all at once. Hard to bear.
Rain—rain outside—inside naught but drowning floods of tears.”
A few photographs of Charleston from 1865 illustrate the war’s destruction on the city and some of the coming challenges during Reconstruction: