Children on the Battery
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Charleston, East Battery
Charleston, SC, c.1865. This view of East Battery, also known as High Battery, was taken by a photographer just after the city surrendered to Union troops in February 1865. It was taken from a vantage point near what was known as the Misroon House located at the northern end of the sea wall, where the city's port and wharfs extended out into the harbor from East Bay Street.
This view is of war damaged homes looking southward. The Drayton House is seen as it was after being gutted by artillery shell fire and abandoned. The ruined walls later collapsed and the house was eventually replaced by the same Drayton family with an Eastlake Victorian one. The replacement was very likely built on the footprint of the original home. The replacement displayed a more fashionable style which was not typical for Charleston after the city's fall from political and economic grace. The filigree detailing associated with Eastlake caused some locally to say the replacement house resembled a Chinese birdcage. The replacement was built about 1890 with profits derived from the Drayton's investments in phosphate mining in the area. It was short lived but their modest return brought a much appreciated, though brief, revival to the fortunes of some plantation owners like the Draytons. The late 19th century replacement for the Drayton's original house and most of the others seen in this photo were still standing in 2008.
Aside from the gutted Drayton house, most buildings seen here remain, but a few were further damaged and later altered as a result of the earthquake of 1886. Most particularly, this included the Ravenel House which lost its Greek Revival Corinthian portico which was never replaced. The portico, now gone, can be seen in the house that is fourth from the end of the row.
Collectively, the great homes on Charleston's High Battery were part of a long architectural wall that greeted all arrivals by sea to the city. To these might be added a long line of Colonial and early Federal era three and four story row houses lining the city's waterfront. These were clustered with almost unbroken connecting facades similar to the waterfront at Bordeaux. The line of Charleston's formal architectural wall lay just south and north of the city's architectural center piece, the Exchange Building and Customs House. Further to the north the architectural wall continued to include the Pinckney Mansion. This was also known as the Governors Palace because it was often rented out by the Pinckney's for use by several Royal Governors as their official residence. Finally the city's formal wall ended with a row of mansions, urban villas and even industrial buildings shaped like palaces. These grand houses and civic landmarks one the city's northern flank balanced those seen here along High Battery that made up the southern flank.
This was a deliberate attempt to issue to all comers a formal statement of Charleston's collective wealth and taste. Given the city's level of international trade at the time this image was understandably directed toward anyone who arrived by sea. If first impressions were designed to overwhealm, Charleston's architectural face to the east nearly completed by 1860, managed to accomplish this objective quite well.
Bordeaux was chief among the cities that may have influenced the Charleston style and showed the city how to use this technique to intimidate and influence foreign merchants and visitors alike. Even today, with its waterfront architectural wall still intact, Bordeaux probably takes the prize for doing this better than any other city frequented by 18th and 19th century Charlestonians. Imitation, even when mixed with a little deception, is still the highest form of flattery among great cities.
Bordeaux's uniquely ordered waterfront, largely completed in the mid to late 18th century, still defines nearly 4 miles of Garonne riverfront. By 1861, when the Civil War began in its harbor, Charleston's architectural wall stretched for over 2 miles. It began at the southern end of the Cooper riverfront where the de Saussure House at 1 East Battery overlooks White Point Garden. Charleston's wall of buildings at its northern end, fades just beyond the Palladian villa known as the Ward-Faber mansion, now identified as part of the 500 block of East Bay and near the approaches to the 21st century engineering marvel, the suspension brigde named for yet another Ravenel.
It takes some imagination and knowledge of old photographs to reassemble this image of Charleston's seaward approaches. Charleston's formal face to the sea, unlike that of Bordeaux, was eventually broken. First by the Great Fire of December 1861 and then by nearly three years of Union artillery bombardment as it lay siege to the city during the Civil War. To this was added extensive damage to its buildings from the earthquake of 1886. It ultimately submitted entire city blocks to the wrecking ball by the mid 20th century. Evidence of Charleston's formal Cooper riverfront wall can still be seen in spite of the gaps. Historic photos help to fill in the missing buildings, at least in our imaginations. Of course, modern day Bordeaux still has the original model that inspired Charleston's once highly acclaimed and generally successful attempt at imitation.