Today in History

Today in History: February 18

Charleston Surrenders

St. Michael's Church
St. Michael's Church, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs

A City of ruins, —silent, mournful, in deepest humiliation…The band was playing 'Hail, Columbia,' and the strains floated through the desolate city, awakening wild enthusiasm in the hearts of the colored people…

A Northern reporter's description of Charleston, South Carolina, on February 18, 1865. Cited in E. B. Long with Barbara Long, Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 640.

The mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, surrendered control of the city to Union Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 18, 1865. With commanding General William T. Sherman's arrival imminent, evacuation of the city began on February 17 and continued through the early morning hours of February 18. The city had been under siege since July 10, 1863.

From the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33, to passage of the First Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860, South Carolina played a leading role in events leading up to the Civil War. Personified by John C. Calhoun, South Carolina's long-time senator, the state traditionally defended slavery and states rights. When Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April 1861, few could have been surprised that events in South Carolina would push the nation into civil war.

Ruined Buildings
View of Ruined Buildings through Porch of the Circular Church, Charleston, South Carolina, April 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs

Click on the photograph for a better view of three small African-American children clustered at the column's base.

American Memory collections are rich in materials on the Civil War.