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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

hurricanes

There's a Reason They Call It South Carolina's Low Country

Hurricane Matthew Update 10.9.16 0030:

Here's the most informative posting I've come across. It was issued from  SC House of Representative Shannon Erickson


(Shannon's Summary - having a non-functioning hospital and a high number of population without power is defining Beaufort County's ability to allow citizens back in to their homes & businesses. )

Here are the high points of her report:

According to the NWS Charleston, the northern eyewall of Matthew brushed over the barrier islands of Beaufort County.

The county remains without power. There are approximately 92,000 customers without power. The main transmission lines in the county were taken down, along with many of the feeder lines that handle the individual neighborhoods.

There are no functioning hospitals in the County.
Beaufort Memorial was damaged. Hilton Head Hospital was isolated by downed trees. They are working to get to the hospital. Once there they have to inspect for damage.  Again, there is no power to anywhere in the county, which includes Hilton Head Island.

With no power, there are no functioning traffic control devices anywhere in the county.
The causeways on Central Drive (Ladys Island), Pleasant Point (Ladys Island), Cat Island were all over topped by surge and washed out. They cannot be safely driven on.

The causeway connecting the Harbor River Bridge was undermined and a sinkhole developed. It cannot support any weight beyond human. Two deputies managed to get ATV’s over there to try to get to Hunting and Fripp. They were stopped just beyond the entrance to the campground on Hunting Island. US 21 is completely blocked by interlocking downed trees.

There are numerous trees on houses. There are numerous areas that are flooded. Many of these flooded areas are by rainfall runoff. This water will be a while in going away Nearly every street and yard on Fripp had standing water. The same was observed in Sea Pines. Large tracts of property were inundated with standing water, mostly rainfall. We had over 10 inches in less than 24 hours.

The traditional scene of beachfront devastation was not observed. We were very fortunate in that respect. Hunting Island State Park suffered the worst beach front damage that we observed. The old Cabin Road was breached in a couple of places and the ocean entered the lagoon. The parking lots were flooded with surge waters.

We were spared the common devastation scene, however we have taken a pretty solid whipping.


Literary Scenes in Danger from Matthew , Part 2

As Hurricane Matthew moves up the coast of South Carolina, more of my favorite locations become targets. Just across the bridge from Beaufort lies Lady’s Island. In “The Road to Frogmore,” It was the real-life home of Frederick Eustis, a Harvard-educated abolitionist, who had inherited the huge Eustis Plantation from his step-mother. In “Yankee Reconstructed,” the fictional young horse-enthusiasts, Eli Moreau and Mary Sue Grenville, purchase the plantation from him to turn it into a stable dedicated to raising the local wild marsh ponies.
 
The next bridge leads to St. Helena island, scene of most of the action in “The Road to Frogmore.” Today it is the home of the Penn Center, dedicated to preserving the Gullah culture of the Low Country. Among its landmarks dating to the Civil War are the ruins of the White Chapel, where the early abolitionists held patriotic celebrations to teach the former slaves about citizenship, The Brick Church (shown above), where Miss Laura Towne started her first school for slave children, the general store at the crossroads, and Frogmore Plantation, which became Miss Towne’s home for 40 years.
 
A few miles north of Beaufort lie the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church, featured on the cover of “Yankee Reconstructed” and used in that book as a symbol of the Old South. With luck, the Old Sheldon Church will escape the direct wrath of the hurricane, but it will still be vulnerable to winds and torrential rain.
 
The hurricane’s path will take it over Edisto Island, where ex-slaves once built an island community all their own and where Jonathan and Susan Grenville’s old plantation house once stood. Then it will pass over James island, site of the Battle of Secessionville, where the Confederate forces soundly defeated the Union invaders, and where my Uncle James was killed in the battle and buried in a mass grave in front of the fort at Secessionville.
 
Then, of course, there’s Charleston, center of most of my books. In “A Scratch with the Rebels, it is the real-life home of Gus Smythe, Confederate soldier, and his family's house still stands on Meeting street just a block or so from Charleston Harbor. And Charleston is the family home of the fictional Grenville family of the “Yankee Trilogy.” Landmarks that appear in my books stand on nearly every street—the hotels, the churches, the meeting halls of life in the 19-century city. As i write this, the floodwaters are rising in those streets.
 
I’m hoping to make a trip to this storm-ravaged region before the end of the year to do some research for my next book. The new story requires some familiarity with the dock and warehouse area of Charleston, the section of the old city now called “The French Quarter,” and the safe harbors of northern South Carolina and the southern coast of North Carolina. I’m hoping they will be accessible by then.

Literary Scenes in Danger from Matthew

I don’t think I’m going to get much done today, except for listening to weather reports and watching the hurricane coverage on the Weather Channel. Matthew is reported to be moving onto Hilton Head Island as I write, and my heart breaks as I think about what lies directly in its path. Of course I think of the people in danger and the losses they are bound to suffer, but when i close my eyes, what I see are scenes from my books --- places where I’ve walked and said, “Oh, what a perfect setting for my next chapter.” I’ve always been grateful that so many of the old buildings from before the Civil War have survived. I hope they will survive again. But let me remind you of some of them.
 
On Hilton Head,  you have to get beyond the gates of exclusive housing communities and expensive resorts to find traces of the Civil War, but they are there. Port Royal Sound is where the fleet of the Great Atlantic Expeditionary Force swooped down on two tiny Confederate forts and blasted them into the sand. My great-uncle James McCaskey was a part of that force. He camped on that beach and wrote about digging a trench and building a wall around their new military base.  His words appear in “A Scratch with the Rebels,” and in the woods all over HHI, you can see that dirt “wall” – an unnatural hump that runs through the trees.
 
That beach and battle also appears in “Damned Yankee” as the place where Charlotte Grenville’s newlywed husband was killed. Another spot I love on HHI lies off Union Cemetery Road, where the first Union soldiers to die of disease were buried.  Today they lie in the middle of an old ex-slave burial ground, amid roughly-scratched markers and conch-shell burials.
 
Move a few miles up the coast to the “top” of Port Royal Sound, and you find the towns of Port Royal, where ex-slaves were trained to become Union soldiers, and Beaufort, once a resort town for wealthy plantation owners. Beaufort is full of reminders of my research. The National Cemetery holds the bodies of black soldiers from the 54 Massachusetts Regiment, which you may remember from the movie, “Glory, ” and from an incident in "The Road to Frogmore."
 
From there, if you drive in toward town, you come to the Point, a neighborhood of beautiful antebellum mansions barely above the high tide mark. Movie-goers may recognize the sets of “Forrest Gump” and “The Big Chill.” I look at those same houses and remember that they once housed the Gideonite missionaries who came to Beaufort in 1862. Their detailed stories appear in my “Left by the Side of the Road.” This picture shows several of the ladies standing in front of the Hamilton House.
 
In town, head down Bay Street and you come to the Tabby Manse, once the home of Rev. Thomas Fuller but commandeered by the Union Army to serve as a military hospital. Nelly Chase and Rev. Robert Browne from “Beyond All Price” were often there carrying out their duties as nurse and chaplain. And even more important, the Leverett House next door served as the military headquarters of the 100 Pennsylvania “Roundhead” Regiment – the centerpiece setting  of both” A Scratch with the Rebels” and “Beyond All Price.” The people who own it now allowed me to explore the inside, where there were still nail holes in the floor from the winter carpets used to keep the parlor warm. This picture shows some of the officers who lived in the house in 1862, along with the butler and Nelly Chase.
 
The Beaufort harbor that can be seen from the Leverett front porch was also the site of Harriett Tubman’s victorious arrival after rescuing some 700 slaves from the plantations along the Santee River. That story appears in “Left by the Side of the Road.”
 
 The Leverett House also reminds me that the Leverett family was the original inspiration for what eventually became the Grenville family of my “Yankee” series.  Just a couple of blocks away, you can also find the house where the first decision was made to secede from the union—a house that later became the home of General Rufus Saxton, who plays a major role in both “The Road to Frogmore” and “Yankee Reconstructed.”
 
All of these literary landmarks lie in harm’s way this morning. They’ve survived other hurricanes and earthquakes, too, but each assault on them weakens them and brings their loss closer. So I’m watching and holding my breath.   Later today, I’ll do a second round of locations further up the coast that also play important roles in my books.

 

The Hurricane of 1861

I've been hesitant to post about this during the worst days of Hurricane Sandy, but the historian in me has been struck by a coincidence of time and event.  In late October, 1861, the Union mounted a huge expedition designed to capture a safe harbor along the southern coast and use it as the base of operations to enforce the blockade against the Confederacy.  The expedition itself included  some 12,000 soldiers and 80 ships, led by then-Commodore Samuel DuPont.

The records show that October 30 was a beautiful warm day at sea, but the weather shifted, and on November 1 the fleet ran full tilt into a late-season hurricane. Several ships were lost, 31 men washed up on a North Carolina coast and were taken prisoner, and the army lost their landing boats, which meant they would be unable to take part in the upcoming Battle of Port Royal.

I first wrote about this incident in my historical monograph, "A Scratch with the Rebels," Then I expanded the story to include it in my historical novel of the same period, "Beyond All Price," Readers will remember Nellie warning that the encroaching clouds and dropping pressure reminded her of the nor'easters of her Maine childhood. There was a dramatic moment in which a huge wave nearly swept Nellie overboard and dealt her a blow to the head before she was rescued by her gallant regimental commander.

The storm was real, although obviously not as intense as the one we just witnessed. Yet when I hear people making the leap from October Hurricane to impending doom caused by climate change, I can't help but want to remind them that vicious storms at this time of year are not quite as unusual as they seem from our short-sighted point of view.  More than that, climate change is nothing new, but rather seems to be a recurring pattern over broad eras and hundreds of years.

I in no way want to belittle the suffering of so many people affected by Sandy, but I will continue to point out that there is much to be said for keeping things in historical perspective.