Charleston Autumn 1861
For Southerners, the fall of 1861 was a season of great expectations. Eleven Southern states had formed a new nation -- the Confederate States of America -- and the fledgling country had successfully defended itself in the field. The large-scale battles that would produce America's bloodiest war had yet to occur. Southerners were still rushing to arms, fielding new troops, parading through city streets and drilling on courthouse squares.
Nowhere did the flame of Southern patriotism burn brighter than in Charleston, South Carolina. Like most Americans on both sides, Charlestonians believed the War Between the States would be brief and bloodless. The Federal naval blockade had not yet applied its deadly squeeze. Federal artillery had yet to bombard the handsome city structures into battered buildings. The pain and suffering of war had not yet reached most Southern homes.
Instead, an atmosphere of hope and celebration still affected the South -- and Charleston. Companies like the Jackson Guards -- named for Southern martyr James T. Jackson -- paraded through Charleston's streets before admiring onlookers. Southern women made uniforms and raised funds for the boys in the field. Southern dignitaries were honored with receptions and balls.
In mid-November of 1861, General Robert E. Lee was welcomed to Charleston by the port city's leading citizens. As special military advisor to President Jefferson Davis, Lee had come to Charleston to oversee development of South Carolina's coastal defenses. He was a guest at the Mills House, Charleston's most prestigious hotel, and was treated as an honored visitor. Rank and position -- not fame -- afforded him Charleston's genteel courtesies. He was not yet the South's most beloved figure; that glory awaited him on countless bloody fields of the future. Such acclaim -- and the wartime horrors to come -- could hardly be imagined amid sea breezes on a warm autumn night in Charleston.
Mort Kunstler's Comments:
I fell in love with Charleston on my first visit. I have returned there many times, and in April of 1997, I took my wife Deborah there to unveil The Charge at Trevillian Station at the Citadel. Debbi also fell in love with the picturesque city, and encouraged me to base more of my paintings in historic Charleston.
One of the finest hotels in the city during the war was the Mills House, which today has been rebuilt and restored to its original splendor. When I learned of Robert E. Lee's visit to Charleston in 1861, I immediately knew what I wanted to paint. Research revealed when Lee was in the city, that he stayed at the Mills House and what Confederate troops were in the city that day.
In this painting, I have portrayed the Mills House and several other buildings which were there then and still exist today. Hibernian Hall (the Greek Revival building up the streets from the Mills House) and the wonderfully restored St. Michael's Church (on the opposite side of Meeting Street) are visible in this painting.
On this evening, beautiful, begowned women of Charleston and handsomely uniformed soldiers arrive for a reception to honor General Lee. A company of South Carolina troops march by beneath their distinctive battle flag. They attract the attention of General Lee, as well as boys and older men - who wish they were the right age to serve the South in uniform. This was before the bloody fighting of 1862, when the real horrors of war began. Instead, in November of 1861, patriotism dominated the day. Pageantry and parades were common, and the future of the South looked bright and promising
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