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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Early Mushroom Cloud . . . or Palmetto Cloud

The Charleston Courier of the morning of the 20th—its last (Confederate) issue—thus describes the horrors of the evacuation of the city:
The terrible scenes through which this; immunity has passed since our last issue can only be conceived by those who witnessed the dreadful reality.—The saddest part of all is the loss of life which occurred between eight and nine o'clock Saturday morning from an accidental explosion of powder and the blowing up of the Northeastern rail road depot. About one hundred and fifty persons —including men, women and children —were either instantly killed or perished in the flames, and about two hundred wounded, of the immense destruction of property no estimate can be formed, but it will amount several millions.
Early Saturday morning, before the retirement of General Hardee's troops, every building, warehouse or shed, stored with cotton, was fired by a guard detailed for the purpose. The engines were brought out; but with the small force at the disposal of the Fire Department very little else could be done than to keep the surrounding buildings from igniting. On the western side of the city the conflagration raged with great fury. On the wharf of the Savannah railroad depot several hundred bales of cotton were awaiting shipment on the blockade-runners; also, several thousand bushels of rough rice. On Lucas street, leading to the depot, was a shed containing twelve hundred bales of cotton, which, together with several other sheds and buildings filled with cotton, belonging to private parties, fell a prey to the flames. Lucas's mill, containing some thirty thousand bushels of rice, and Mr. It. T. Walker's warehouse, at the foot of Broad street, tilled with commissary stores, were also destroyed.
Shortly after eight o'clock occurred the terrible explosion at the Northeastern railroad. The explosion tremendous, and shook the whole city. It appears, from all accounts, that this dreadful catastrophe was caused from the careless handling of powder by some boys, taking handfulls and throwing it into the cotton fire at the depot. In doing this they unwittingly laid a train to theI aliment in which it was stored. The spectacle which followed was horrible. —an instant the whole building was enveloped in smoke and flames. The cries the wounded, the inability of the spectators to render assistance to those selling and perishing in the fire, an incredible a scene of indescribable terror. The flames spread with great rapid communicating to the adjoining buildings, including the fine large residence of Dr. Seaman Deas, on the northeast corner of Chapel and Alexander streets, all of which were destroyed. The buildings on the opposite side of the street were soon enveloped in flames, and the fire now became unmanageable. All the buildings embraced in the area of four squares on Chapel, Alexander, Washington and Charlotte streets to Calhoun street, with few exceptions, were destroyed. About 10 o'clock, fire broke out in the large four-story brick building of Madame bultee, at the northeast corner of East Ray and Laurens street. This, with the adjoining building on the northeast corner of Minority street, were all burned. Another fire broke out about 11 o'clock in a range of buildings on the west side of Meeting street, next to the courthouse. Five buildings were burned ; the walls only were left standing.—The alarm of fire Saturday night, In Ward four, was caused by the burning of the inside of a millinery establishment on King street.
In addition to the above fires, the new bridge from the city to James island was set on fire, and was still burning on Sun day night
The burning and blowing up of the ironclads Palmetto State, Chicora and Charleston was a magnificent spectacle. The Palmetto State was the first to explode, and was followed by the Chicora about 9 o'clock, and the Charleston about 11 A. M. The latter, it is stated, had twenty tons of gunpowder on board. —Pieces of the iron plates, red hot, fell on the wharves and set them on fire. By the active exertions of Superintendent Thomas Turner, the gas works were saved. The explosions were terrific—Tremendous clouds of smoke went up, forming beautiful wreaths. A full Palmetto tree, with its leaves and stems, was noticed by many observers. As the last wreath of smoke disappeared, the full form of the rattlesnake in the centre was remarked by many as it gradually flew away.

-The Daily Dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) March 03, 1865

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