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Days of Destruction
Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston

Edited by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes

One soldier’s eloquent, descriptive letters to his family offering a personal view of the devastating assault

In Days of Destruction, editors W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes chronicle the events of the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, through a collection of letters written by Augustine Thomas Smythe, a well-educated young man from a prominent Charleston family. The vivid, eloquent letters he wrote to his family depict all that he saw and experienced during the long, destructive assault on the Holy City and describe in detail the damage done to Charleston’s houses, churches, and other buildings in the desolated shell district, as well as the toll on human life.

Smythe’s role in the Civil War was different from that of his many companions serving in Virginia and undoubtedly different from anything he could have imagined when the war began. After a baptism in blood at the Battle of Secessionville, South Carolina, Smythe was assigned to the Confederate Signal Corps. He served on the ironclad CSS Palmetto State and then occupied a post high above Charleston in the steeple of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. From behind a telescope in his lofty perch, he observed the fierce attacks on Fort Sumter, the effects of the unrelenting shelling of the city by enemy guns at Morris Island, and the naval battles and operations in the harbor, including the actions of the Confederate torpedo boats and the H. L. Hunley submarine.

The Confederate Signal Corps played a vital role in the defense of Charleston and its environs, and Smythe’s letters, perhaps more than any other first-person account, detail the daily life and service experiences of signalmen in and around the city during the war. For more than eighteen months, Smythe’s neighborhood south of Broad Street, one of the city’s oldest and wealthiest communities, was abandoned by the great majority of its residents. His letters provide the reader with an almost postapocalyptic perspective of the oftentimes quiet, and frequently lawless, street where he lived before and during the siege of Charleston.

W. Eric Emerson is the director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in Columbia and the state historic preservation officer. He is the author of Sons of Privilege: The Charleston Light Dragoons in the Civil War, coeditor of Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose and A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden, and editor of Palmetto Profiles: The South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to the South Carolina Hall of Fame.

Karen Stokes is an archivist with the South Carolina Historical Society. She is the author of historical fiction and nonfiction that relates to South Carolina in the Confederacy and, along with W. Eric Emerson, has coedited two collections of wartime correspondence published by the University of South Carolina Press: Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose and A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden.

“The editors of Days of Destruction have scored a touchdown! I have read a ton of published collections of Civil War letters and this is one of the best ever. I am amazed that it is just now being brought to attention. Augustine T. Smythe was present during most of the 567-day bombardment and siege of Charleston, a major episode in world military history. As a signalman he moved frequently all over the area, on land and water, and experienced and witnessed more than any soldier and most officers. More importantly, he was a literate man who held nothing back, but wrote his folks vividly and fully about what was going on during this great event.”—Clyde N. Wilson, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History, University of South Carolin

 
 

 


 

SOUTH CAROLINA / SOUTHERN HISTORY / CIVIL WAR
(2017) June
6 x 9
208 pages, 21 b&w illus.
ISBN 978-1-61117-770-1
Hardcover, $29.99s
ISBN 978-1-61117-771-8
Ebook, $29.99t


 
 

 
 
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