I arrived at Charleston at 5 A.M., and drove at once in an omnibus to the Charleston hotel. At nine o'clock I called at General Beauregard's office, but, to my disappointment, I found that he was absent on a tour of inspection in Florida. He is, however, expected to return in two or three days.
I then called on General Ripley, who commands the garrison and forts of Charleston. He is a jovial character, very fond of the good things of this life; but it is said that he never allows this propensity to interfere with his military duties, in the performance of which he displays both zeal and talent. He has the reputation of being an excellent artillery officer, and although by birth a Northerner, he is a red-hot and indefatigable rebel. I believe he wrote a book about the Mexican war, and after leaving the old army, he was a good deal in England, connected with the small-arms factory at Enfield, and other enterprises of the same sort. Nearly all the credit of the efficiency of the Charleston fortifications is due to him. And notwithstanding his Northern birth and occasional rollicking habits, he is generally popular.
I then called on Mr Robertson, a merchant, for whom I had brought a letter of introduction from England. This old gentleman took me a drive in his buggy at 6 P.M. It appears that at this time of year the country outside the city is quite pestilential, for when we reached the open, Mr Robertson pointed to a detached house and said, “Now, I am as fond of money as any Jew, yet I wouldn't sleep in that house for one night if you gave it to me for doing so.”
I had intended to have visited Mr Blake, an English gentleman for whom I had a letter, on his Combahee plantation, but Mr Robertson implored me to abandon this idea. Mr Robertson was full of the disasters which had resulted from a recent Yankee raid of the Combahee river. It appears that a vast amount of property had been destroyed and slaves carried off. This morning I saw a poor old planter in Mr Robertson's office, who had been suddenly and totally ruined by this raid. The raiders consisted principally of Northern armed negroes, and as they met with no Southern whites to resist them, they were able to effect their depredations with total impunity. It seems that a good deal of the land about Charleston belongs either to Blakes or Heywards. Mr Blake lost thirty negroes in the last raid, but he has lost since the beginning of the war about 150.
Mr Robertson afterwards took me to see Mrs –––, who is Mr Walter Blake's daughter. To me, who had roughed it for ten weeks to such an extent, Charleston appeared most comfortable and luxurious. But its inhabitants must, to say the least, be suffering great inconvenience. The lighting and paving of the city had gone to the bad completely. Most of the shops were shut up. Those that were open contained but very few goods, and those were at famine prices. I tried to buy a black scarf, but I couldn't find such an article in all Charleston.
An immense amount of speculation in blockade-running was going on, and a great deal of business is evidently done in buying and selling negroes, for the papers are full of advertisements of slave auctions. That portion of the city destroyed by the great fire presents the appearance of a vast wilderness in the very centre of the town, no attempt having been made towards rebuilding it; this desert space looks like the Pompeian ruins, and extends, Mr Robertson says, for a mile in length by half a mile in width. Nearly all the distance between the Mills House hotel and Charleston hotel is in this desolate state. The fire began quite by accident, but the violent wind which suddenly arose rendered all attempts to stop the flames abortive. The deserted state of the wharves is melancholy — the huge placards announcing lines of steamers to New York, New Orleans, and to different parts of the world, still remain, and give one an idea of what a busy scene they used to be. The people, however, all seem happy, contented, and determined. Both the great hotels are crowded; and well dressed, handsome ladies are plentiful; the fare is good, and the charge at the Charleston hotel is eight dollars a day.
SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 179-82