[SUPERB AUTOGRAPH LETTER, SIGNED, FROM SURGEON EDWARD ALDRICH TO HIS SISTER-IN-LAW, GIVING A FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT OF THE BOMBARDMENT OF FORT SUMTER AS VIEWED FROM A PASSENGER SHIP IN CHARLESTON HARBOR]
by Aldrich, Edward S.
Charleston Harbor, 1861. pp. Significant tanning, expertly de-acidified. Very good. A fascinating letter from Dr. Aldrich to his widow's sister, relating the events of the critical opening battle of the Civil War. Edward Sherman Aldrich was born in 1811 in Providence, Rhode Island. He married Corrine Brown and served as a surgeon attached to the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole War in Florida, where they lived for a time. He traveled to California during the Gold Rush era and belonged to the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. His wife died in 1857, but he continued to look after her widowed sister, Ellen Brown Anderson, to whom this letter was written. He was on his way to Charleston to volunteer as a physician for the Confederate cause when the ship was forced to stop in Charleston Harbor to await the outcome of the battle. This letter humorously describes a lady on the ship who was having a problem adapting to her first sea voyage; the balance of the letter describes the action during and after the bombardment of the fort, including an encounter with the U.S.R.C. Harriet Lane. Dr. Aldrich writes: "We discovered at day light yesterday that the fight had commenced - The scare & the excitement it creates with all of us on board is indescribable." He continues with interesting eyewitness observations on the fort itself: "Nine o'clock today the fort is on fire from the shells of the batteries. Eleven o'clock the old once honored stars & stripes have disappeared by fire never again to wave over the ramparts of Fort Sumpter. The fort has been one dense smoke for hours still the lower tier of cannon flash away and the batteries pour in to her in rapid succession - At twelve the firing has ceased, and we can discern with the glass the Confederate flag gaily floating from all the ships in the Harbor. Soon the same flag will wave over Sumter....Today Sunday, we have arrived. Fort Sumter is deeply indented with hundreds of bullet holes. No less than three hundred shells exploded in & upon the Fort when the flag of the Fort came down & white flag of truce went up." Dr. Aldrich describes the encounter with the Harriet Lane, evincing his support for the Confederates in the process: "Yesterday the Harriet Lane headed for us & fired a cannon across our bow for the ship to lay too. The Captain obeyed the summons. The Lane steamed around us with all the men beat to quarters, with port holes open & bristling cannon, looking quite warlike & dangerous. This maneuver on the part of the officers evinced great coolness & courage to sail around an unarmed vessel instead of going to the assistance of their brethren. But it certainly shew much discretion - she did go near enough over to get a shot from one of the batteries which made her steam away like a quarter horse without taking time to return the compliment though armed to the teeth, and commanded by half a dozen nice brave officers all in their new clothes & nice swords belted on - how very brave. They hailed us, what ship, where from, & where to - All which the nice gentlemen knew before - I wish I had been commander with only one thirty two pounder armed ship. I would have blown Miss Lane out of the water. The ships of war belonging to the perjured government lay off the harbor manned by brave officers & fierce soldiers, with abundance of all the munitions of war - with small rifle cannon & barges for taking men on shore for attacking the rebels reinforcing Fort Sumpter." Aldrich writes near the end: "Tomorrow I shall call on the Surgeon General & soon learn my destination. My health is perfect - And I am ready for duty...." A rare firsthand account of the Battle of Fort Sumter, from a Confederate doctor ready to begin his service for the Southern cause. (Inventory #: WRCAM50622)
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