- Historic Sites
Escape From Charleston
Trapped by the outbreak of the Civil War, a young schoolteacher fled the rebel city—and ran into hair-raising adventures
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
I found, too, ere long that 220 King Street was beginning to be regarded with suspicion because its proprietor was at the North. Expressions of distrust became more loud and frequent, especially at my boarding place where were also a number about my own age who had espoused the cause of South Carolina with all the fire and vehemence of youth. An incident of a dinner table conversation will serve as an example of the state of feeling. An aged lady, most gentle and refined, a devout Christian, as well, offered to one of those young men, her nephew, a fine horse for immediate service, with the injunction that, before his return, he should “win for it a necklace of Yankee scalps.” At length I concluded to endure this kind of daily outrage no longer and so occupied one of the rooms over the store, taking my meals at a restaurant.
The responsibility with regard to the business also weighed heavily upon me. It soon became apparent that there would be no purchasing of goods by father and so rapidly did affairs politically progress, he was unable to return South. Thus I was left to dispose of the property as quietly and quickly as possible. As I said before, trade was dull and sales slow, yet before August I was able to remit to father two bills of exchange on Liverpool, besides paying all outstanding bills in Charleston. All these things wore upon me physically and early in July I resigned my position in the schools.
In the meantime battles had been waged in Virginia and Missouri. Many households were in mourning throughout the land, and Charleston, too, had her dead. The body of Gen. Bee, who was killed at Bull Run, was brought back to his native place and laid to rest with many tears.
Though the papers counted everything thus far as a grand success and were sure the end was near, there was, nevertheless, need of more men, and Gov. Pickens called for four thousand volunteers. Charleston’s law relating to military duty was peculiar. All male white citizens between certain ages must belong to one of the uniformed militia companies or to one of the fire companies, a volunteer not paid department at that time. If any refused to serve in one or other of these, he was assigned to what were called the “Beats,” who though not uniformed were drilled once a week by commissioned officers. Teachers, in common with most of the professions, had been exempt, but in the new exigencies, all, without regard to employment, between sixteen and sixty, were ordered to be registered in one of these divisions. So finding I must serve in some capacity, by the help of a friend I entered the Hope Engine Company as the least objectionable of the three. Though it was understood that the fire companies were to be armed soon, they would only have patrol duty in the city, while all others were to be ordered to the Islands for guard duty. All stores were closed at 2 P.M. except Saturdays that the militia might drill every afternoon.
As our store was closed thus early I began selling at wholesale to other dealers, the goods being delivered, to avoid any unnecessary attraction of passers-by, at the back door which opened upon a short alley leading to Market Street. In this way I reduced the stock to about $7,000. Thus matters stood August 6th when I sent my last letter to father containing a third bill of exchange. Martial law was then proclaimed and all letters under whatever pretext were strictly forbidden. From this time I was completely isolated. Oh, the utter loneliness of heart when there was not one to whom I dared speak unreservedly! I lived a hermit in the midst of a populous city. True, the friends of my boyhood, though heart and soul for the Confederacy, still greeted me cordially and no doubt shielded me from much suspicion by boldly assuming that I was one of them. How much they themselves surmised of my real feelings I never knew. God bless them for their kindness in those dark days.
As I had expected, the fire companies, the Hope with the rest, were furnished arms and drill commenced. To evade this as long as possible and also to get a brief respite from the perplexities surrounding me, I availed myself of an opportunity to make the round trip to Fernandina, Florida, by the inland passage, the only water communication then open between the two points. By this route a small steamer could pass through these inlets, many of them narrow and shallow, and usually be out of sight of the blockading fleet and at least out of reach of it. It would have been a delightful journey under pleasanter circumstances, and even as it was I found much to interest me. …
This expedition, of nearly two weeks, did much for me physically and no doubt prepared me to sustain the excessive fatigue and anxiety of the next few weeks. But during my absence had been issued the proclamation of Jefferson Davis relating to the Alien Act, passed by the Confederate Congress at its recent secret session. This warned all aliens to leave the country within forty days, of which ten days had already gone when I reached Charleston.