Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: An Irish Traveler to Charleston on Slave Disaffection after Sumter, 1861

It was near nightfall before we set foot on the quay of Charleston. The city was indicated by the blaze of lights, and by the continual roll of drums, and the noisy music, and the yelling cheers which rose above its streets. As I walked towards the hotel, the evening drove of negroes, male and female, shuffling through the streets in all haste, in order to escape the patrol and the last peal of the curfew bell, swept by me; and as I passed the guard-house of the police, one of my friends pointed out the armed sentries pacing up and down before the porch, and the gleam of arms in the room inside. Further on, a squad of mounted horsemen, heavily armed, turned up a by street, and with jingling spurs and sabres disappeared in the dust and darkness. That is the horse patrol. They scour the country around the city, and meet at certain places during the night to see if the niggers are all quiet. Ah, Fuscus! these are signs of trouble….

But Fuscus is going to his club; a kindly, pleasant, chatty, card-playing, cocktail-consuming place. He nods proudly to an old white-woolled negro steward or head-waiter a slave as a proof which I cannot accept, with the curfew tolling in my ears, of the excellencies of the domestic institution. (110)

On my way home again, I saw the sentries on their march, the mounted patrols starting on their ride, and other evidences that though the slaves are “the happiest and most contented race in the world” they require to be taken care of like less favored mortals. The city watch-house is filled every night with slaves, who are confined there till reclaimed by their owners, whenever they are found out after nine o clock, P. M., without special passes or permits. (118)

W. H. Russell, My Diary North and South (Boston, 1863)

A Political Discussion
“A Political Discussion”:  Illustrated street scene from post-Civil War Charleston


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