Gun Guts

One of the more recent plaques erected in Charleston on East Bay Street offers the story of the famous escape by black slave Robert Smalls and his family aboard the supply ship Planter, which Smalls piloted during the Civil War, and which he turned over to the Union blockading fleet and offered his services against the Confederate defenders of the city. The bravery of Smalls is well-documented and well-deserved, but the plaque omits another side of his story in which the brave souls fought for the other side, and a side whose people and stories has largely been ignored in recent years. Smalls was given charge of the Federal ironclad Keokuk, a double-turreted ship armed with two enormous XI-inch Dahlgren cannon, which was part of the Union squadron that tried to run past the Confederate defenses on April 7, 1863. The Union ships were badly mauled by Confederate guns, and the Keokuk sank in shallow water after being hit 90 times in 60 minutes, allow Smalls and the crew escaped. But in early may, Charleston engineers Adolphus and John Lacoste led two separate night-time forays by open boat under the noses of the Federal felt to cut open the Keokuk turrets “with sledge and chisel, wrench and crowbar” and hoist the two 16,000-pound guns on to barges and mount them on Sullivan’s Island to help defend the city. Today, the only remaining of the two stands at White Point Garden. We should be careful to include all historical perspectives and that should be on the plaque as well.<img.src=”Charleston Civl War History” alt=”The Keokuk Gun”

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