Accounts state generally that around 150 civilians were killed from the blast and the fire, and another 100 were badly wounded. Elizabeth Skipper Suder, 25, died in the blast. She was the daughter of Hugh and Mary Norwood Skipper, and of Native American descent. She married William Henry Suder in 1859, and gave birth to two sons, William Hugh and John Henry Suder, in 1860 and 1862. The Suders continued to live in the city of Charleston throughout the war even though most residents left for safer ground.
The fire spread immediately to surrounding buildings, and destroyed the residence of Dr. Seaman Deas on the northwest corner of Chapel and Alexander Streets. Before 6:00 Saturday morning, the fire spread to the buildings on the other side of Chapel, and became unmanageable. “All the buildings embraced in the area of four squares on Chapel, Alexander, Washington, and Charlotte Streets, to Calhoun Street, with few exceptions, were destroyed,” reported the Charleston Courier.
Newspapers throughout the South and North reported the event as best as rumors and other newspaper accounts could tell. Both sides seemed relieved its soldiers were not directly involved in the horrific tragedy at the Wilmington Depot. At least that was the story everyone was telling, and nobody seemed to doubt it. The Charleston Courier first reported the details two days later, but some important facts of the report (such as chronology) are not correct, based on all other original source.
“It appears from all accounts that this dreadful catastrophe was caused from the careless handling of powder by boys taking handfuls and throwing it into the cotton fire at the depot,” reported the Courier [nobody at the time seemed concerned that a depot filled with 200 kegs of gunpowder was on fire]. “In doing this, they unwittingly laid a train [of powder] to the apartment in which it was stored.” Every Southern and Northern paper reported the events, including Harpers’ Weekly and the New York Times, and every time the story was retold it was augmented by new rumors and reports.
In the early morning hours, Union troops under General Schimelfening crossed the Ashley River west of the city and entered Charleston. They secured the United States Arsenal before it could be destroyed. At 6:00 Saturday morning, just hours after the depot exploded, the mayor of Charleston surrendered the city to General Schimelfening, who offered the aid of his soldiers to assist in managing the fires. At 9:00 that morning, the United States flag was raised once again over Fort Sumter, and later in the day Rear Admiral John Dahlgren took official possession of the burning, ruined city.
General Hardee reported to Beauregard on Sunday, Feb 19, from Kingstree that “Charleston was successfully evacuated Friday night and Saturday morning.” Over the next few days, many Confederate deserters were found hiding throughout the city. None of them wished to continue fighting, and all were taken as prisoners. One officer told the Navy they starting evacuating three weeks earlier, but the Navy did not believe him.
The troops Hardee evacuated from Savannah and Charleston, including the 5th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, were transported north and went on to fight in North Carolina at Averysboro and Bentonville, where he led the last charge made by the Confederacy. He survived, but his only son died. At 16 his son was one of the last soldiers killed in the war. Hardee and his men were surrendered to Sherman on April 26, 1865.
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