Book Review: Days of Destruction: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston

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by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes, editors

Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 190. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 1611177707

Eyewitness to Charleston Under Siege

Augustine Thomas Smythe (1842-1914), the well-educated scion of a wealthy Charleston family, did a hitch in the infantry, seeing combat in the Battle of Secessionville (June 16, 1862), and then went into the Signal Corps, a Branch of the Confederate Army that has been rather neglected in the literature. For the rest of the war he served as a signalman. Smythe’s duties found him various assigned for a time in the ironclad Palmetto State and later as an observer perched on the steeple of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the tallest structure in the city.

During the war Smythe penned an impressive number of well-written letters to various family members, many of which are included in this volume, to which the editors have added some useful annotations and references. These letters give us a wealth of detail on the city as it endured nearly two years under fire.

Smythe talks about being targeted while in his steeple, seeing familiar homes and other buildings hit, the difficulties created by shortages of goods, and even his desire for promotion – a desire apparently tempered by a concern that he might have to take the field. His letters often reveal something of his privileged niche in society, with some almost amusing comments, such as a complaint about the shortage of domestic help.

Days of Destruction is a valuable read for anyone interested operations around Charleston and life on the Confederate Home Front, and its brief look at the very neglected Confederate Signal Corps will prove useful to some scholars.

 

Note: Days of Destruction is also available in several e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

 

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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