Charles J. Clark, free colored servant of Maj. Robert Anderson

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
Chas Clark.png

Charles J.Clark in 1895
Charles J. Clark was born, a free black man, in Charleston, S.C. in 1839. In June 1857, at the age of 18, he was engaged as a personal waiter by newly appointed commander of all Federal troops around Charleston, Major Robert Anderson of the 1st U.S. Artillery. Clark moved into quarters at Fort Moultrie, and would go to Fort Sumter on the evacuation of that post on the night of December 25-6, 1860, remaining there until it's surrender the following April. He would later serve a year in the U.S. Navy, and two as a member of the 26th New York Regiment (Colored). By 1875, he was a member of George H. Ward Post No. 10, G.A.R., in Worcester, Mass.

Clark’s memoir appeared on pages 166-78 of the 1896 volume, Brinley Hall Album and Post 10 Sketch Book,a collection of photographs, sketches, and recollections of post members.

It provides an intimate glimpse at the atmosphere and events in and around Charleston during the tense winter and early spring of 1860-61. He also pays high tribute to Major Anderson, who remained true to his duty and to his flag, despite his strong southern sympathies. The officer was a favorite with Charleston's upper classes, and "there was no first-class society event in the city that he was not a prominent guest at. He was frequently away from the fort for two or three days and nights at a time, on such occasions, and we frequently saw him riding about with the swell element of the city." Anderson "stood on his superior rank and kept by himself." Almost as aloof from his officers as from the privates, "he would unbend just about as much to one as to the other."

Maj. Robert Anderson
The other officers at Sumter were second-in-command Captain Abner Doubleday and Capt. John G. Foster, as well as Lieutenants Jefferson C. Davis, Truman Seymour, and Jonathan Tarbell, and Surgeon Crawford. All of whom became prominent Union officers during the war. Unlike Anderson, they were all northerners, who "were treated civilly by the swell people of Charleston, but they were not invited to any of the swell social events in the city." Throughout the growing crisis, "the major maintained his usual polite reserve, ... [but] I knew that Capts. Doubleday and Foster were just boiling, but they could say nothing openly, for they got no chance to talk with the major"

Clark speaks of the election of Lincoln, of the rising fury of the people of Charleston, and of the Christmas night evacualtion of Ft. Moultrie, and of the composition ofthe garrison ("mostly Irish, with a few Germans". He recounts the January 9th firing on the Star of the West, remarking, "I shall never forget how boiling mad Capt. Doubleday was. He broke out emphatically to the major and begged him to let him open fire on the city at once, but the major simply forbade any action, and coolly walked off to his quarters ... if that incident had occurred in the major's absence, the captain would surely have bombarded the city."

"It was a queer situation. We knew what was coming and what the result was to be. We knew that we were to be bombarded, and that we could make no sort of resistance and must quickly surrender. We knew that they did not want to harm the major, but simply to get him out of the fort so they could seize it. We knew we should be bombarded as soon as the government attempted to reinforce us."​

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"The attack commenced at 4:30 on that dismal Friday morning, April 12. The first shots were wild, but very soon all the batteries began to get a wonderfully accurate range on us. Our fort made no response till about 7 o'clock. The men drew their morning rations, as usual, and were then told off in reliefs under Capt. Doubleday, and commenced the response to the attack. But the whole thing was a very harmless affair on the part of Sumter. It was impossible to do more than make a very feeble attempt to respond. The major, of course, was in supreme command and gave general orders, but Capt. Doubleday really had command of all the details. The major remained in his quarters most of the time, while the fort went through the motions of keeping up the fight till 3 o'clock Saturday afternoon. Of course, we thought at the time that it was a big fight, but compared to what most of us experienced later, it was a very tame affair. Our flag was shot away and raised again.​
"About 3 o'clock Saturday, Wigfall, who had just resigned his seat as a United States senator from Texas, came down in a boat and appeared at one of the embrasures and asked for the commandant. Capt. Foster was the first to meet him, and Wigfall said, 'We've had enough of this; let's stop it. Here's this white flag. Put it up.' Capt. Foster replied, 'That's for you to do.' Wigfall put up the white flag and the firing ceased. The major came, and Wigfall asked him if he would surrender. The major replied: 'Yes, on my own conditions, but on no others.' The conditions were that he should be allowed to salute his flag with fifty guns and march out, the officers and men taking all their company and personal baggage. Beauregard accepted the conditions, and the thing was settled. Our rations were very low indeed. We had nothing but hard biscuits and coffee for supper. We had rolled overboard 200 barrels of powder from the magazine, to prevent an explosion. After the rebels got our range, they directed most of their fire to the section where our magazine was, and the magazine was struck several times, but fortunately there was no explosion, though the wall on the sea side was badly shattered.​
"We remained at the fort till 3 o'clock Sunday afternoon, when we saluted the flag with fifty guns. The band played 'Yankee Doodle' and 'Hail to the Chief;' we gave the flag three cheers and marched out; but there was not much march about it, for every man picked up whatever belonged to him and walked out on his own hook and went aboard the steamer Isabel, which took us out over the bar and transferred us to the steamer Baltic, which brought us to New York."​
The memoir of Charles J. Clark provides us with a rare personal glimpse at what one young free black man saw and heard during those tumultuous times.

Charles J.Clark's memoir may be read in full at: