Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s a “redan”?
    • A redan, also called a “salient angle,”  is a large, v-shaped fortification that projects outward from a defensive line toward the field of battle. Its purpose is to provide defenders inside the redan with additional angles to fire their cannon and muskets at an attacking enemy. In colonial Charleston, the town’s eastern side was protected by a long brick wall or “curtain line” that ran nearly 2700 feet from Granville Bastion at the southern end of town to Craven’s Bastion at the northern end of town. From this defensive line, three redans projected out into the Cooper River. One redan was located at the eastern end of Tradd Street (now part of South Adger’s Wharf), another stood near the east end of Unity Alley, and the third stood near the east end of Lodge Alley. After the American revolution, in late 1784 or early 1785, all of the standing brickwork of these three redans was demolished to make way for commercial buildings on the east side of East Bay Street. Below those buildings, however, the substantial foundations of these redans can still be found.


  • When was Charleston a “walled city”?
    • Charleston was a heavily fortified city during its entire first century, from the 1680s until the mid-1780s, after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Between 1704 and about 1730, sixty-two acres of the town were enclosed within a network of walls and bastions and surrounded by a moat. The three inland walls were leveled around 1732 (an exact date has not yet been found) to accommodate civic expansion, but over the next half century the colony’s Commissioners of the Fortifications built further defensive works to protect the town’s south, west, and north sides. Please see the Time Line for more details.


  • Where can I see part of Charleston’s colonial walls?
    • Charleston’s defensive fortifications were dismantled in the mid- to late 1780s, after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, but there are three visible remnants above ground. First, a portion of the Half-Moon Battery, built at the east end of Broad Street ca. 1699–1702, is clearly visible in the cellar of Charleston’s Exchange Building. This structure, which was erected between 1768 and 1771 on top of the old Half-Moon Battery, is open to the public for tours (with an admission fee). Second, there is a large tabby remnant of the the late-colonial Horn Work battery standing at the west end of Marion Square, near the intersection of Calhoun and King Streets. The tabby fragment, measuring approximately eight feet long by six feet tall by two feet wide, represents a very small portion of the revetment of the northern curtain of the large Horn Work battery that once straddled King Street. Third, remnants of a large redan are displayed and interpreted at the intersection of East Bay Street and South Adger’s Wharf, where archaeological excavations were performed in 2008 and 2009. A small wayside exhibit at this site includes maps, photos, and text to help visitors understand the appearance and function of the old fortifications.


  • How how high were Charleston’s walls?
    • That’s a complicated question to answer because of the variety of types of walls around colonial Charleston and the limited amount of evidence that has been gathered so far. In general however, our walls were fairly low and wide, following the conventions of late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century European military architecture. The brick curtain line built along the east side of East Bay Street stood approximately six feet above street level at that time, while the earthwork walls built on the south, west, and north parts of the peninsula stood approximately eight feet above the surface of the earth.


  • What materials were used to build Charleston’s walls?
    • Brick and earth were used to built the colonial fortifications along East Bay Street, while the works built on the south, west, and north parts of the peninsula were built primarily of earth. Those earthwork structures probably included a demi-revetment (a low retaining wall enclosing a taller earthen berm) made of cedar piles, however, while the Horn Work and other structures built along the town’s northern line between 1759 and 1780 employed a demi-revetment of tabby (a concrete made of lime, sand, and oyster shells). Between 1776 and 1777 the citizens and soldiers of Charleston erected a breastwork of palmetto logs backed with sand around a significant portion of the peninsula. This type of breastwork, measuring approximately sixteen feet high and sixteen feet deep, was also used to build the first Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island.


  • Were the bricks used in Charleston’s fortifications made locally or imported from somewhere else?
    • While there is documentary evidence of some bricks being imported into colonial Charleston from both England and New England, it appears that the bulk of the bricks used for the town’s fortifications were made in the South Carolina lowcountry. There were a number of brick-making plantations around Charleston during the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially along the Cooper and Wando Rivers. The surviving remnants of Granville’s Bastion, the Half-Moon Battery, and the recently-excavated redan, all use a bright pinkish-red brick that may be the signature color of the local brick kilns.


  • Why didn’t Charleston build a stone fortress like the Spanish did at the Castillo de San Marco in St. Augustine?

    • One of the fundamental tenants of military architecture in the late-seventeen and eighteenth centuries was to make the best possible use of the materials available at or near the site rather than wasting money and time importing materials from elsewhere. At St. Augustine, the Spanish used coquina stone, a naturally-occurring sedimentary stone, because they found it in abundance along the east coast of Florida. There is almost no stone of any kind to be found along the South Carolina coast, however, so the builders of Charleston’s fortifications had to make the best of the resources that were readily available—earth, wood, bricks, and oyster shells.


  • Who designed the fortifications around colonial Charleston?
    • That’s a good question, with a rather long and convoluted answer. Charleston’s fortifications were designed by many different men over multiple generations from the 1680s to the 1780s.  Based on what we presently know, some of these designers were gentlemen amateur engineers with a bit of military experience, while a few  were trained professionals. All of them appear to have been born abroad. This question might make a good topic for an upcoming program!


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