The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

III. Poets of the Civil War II

§ 25. The Attack on Charleston

In 1863 Charleston was attacked by the Northern fleet and her group of devoted poets gathered about her in suspense. Timrod described the dawn of the eventful day as the city in the broad sunlight of heroic deeds waited for the foe. The hostile smoke of the enemy’s fleet “creeps like a harmless mist above the brine.” He knows not what will happen—the triumph or the tomb. With his Carmen Triumphale he sings the rapturous joy of the victory. Paul Hamilton Hayne sang a nobler song of victory, giving the details of the battle, ending in the triumphant victory of Sumter’s volleyed lightning, and closing with an apostrophe to his native city:

  • O glorious Empress of the main, from out thy storied spires
  • Thou well mayst peal thy bells of joy and light thy festal fires,—
  • Since Heaven this day hath striven for thee, hath nerved thy dauntless sons,
  • And thou in clear-eyed faith hast seen God’s angels near the guns.
  • This victory was short-lived, however, for on 27 August, by a land attack, Fort Sumter was reduced to a shapeless mass of ruin, though the city itself stood unshaken. As the fate of the city became more and more uncertain, William Gilmore Simms, now in his old age, did all in his power to rouse the Spirit of the inhabitants. In a series of poems, Do Ye Quail? The Angel of the Church, and Our City by the Sea, he presents in passionate words the claims of the historic city upon its inhabitants. Especially vivid is his plea for St. Michael’s church, whose spire for full a hundred years had been a people’s point of light, and the sweet, clear music of whose bells, made liquid-soft in Southern air, had been a benediction in the life of the city.