What happened in the days leading up to the surrender of Charleston, and the death of Lizzie Skipper

When the capital of South Carolina fell to Sherman, southern fears were realized

William Henry Suder was transporting soldiers to safety when his engine exploded days before the end of the Civil War

When Willie and John were left without parents in the devastated southern city at the end of the war, they became inmates of the famous institution

Charleston was photographed by the Union Navy in April 1865, creating an awesome record of a city in ruins.

The Inmates of Charleston’s Orphan House

William Hugh Suder was the last of his immediate family to live in Charleston in 1870. He had lived half of his life in a city under siege, empty and desperate, and the other half as an inmate. His mother died in a tragic explosion, his father was killed moving soldiers to safety, he had been given away by relatives, and his only brother was taken from him.

He was ten years old.

On June 4, 1866, a year after the deaths of William Henry and Lizzie Suder, Jim Meyers passed through the gates of Charleston’s Orphan House and approached the imposing building with the Suders’ two small boys. The administrator of the Orphan House contacted the Meyers after a year, telling them it was time; now there was room for William Hugh and John Henry Suder. William was six and John four.

James Doughty Meyers, a store clerk at 33, was the husband of Catherine Ann Skipper Meyers, Lizzie’s sister who agreed to take the boys temporarily until William Henry returned from war. He didn’t. Jim and Catherine couldn’t raise the boys; not on Jim’s salary, and not with two of their own and a third on the way.

After the war, the Charleston Orphan House was overflowing with refugee children - inmates they were called. Orphans with no family came first so it took time to get the boys accepted, and the money left by the parents, Catherine’s sister, ran out quickly. But in June of 1866 the time came to admit William and John.

The applications are sparse: Admitted June 14, 1866, by J. D. Meyers, uncle; Parents, no names, died in the war; Born in Charleston; Lives at 38/39 Hanover Street. It was more than was known about many orphans. The Orphan House was home to around 450 boys and girls of all ages. The house was divided into two wings: one for girls and the other for boys. William and John were assigned to Dormitory Four.

“The large building and grounds occupied fully three-quarters of an entire city block, being surrounded by a wall six or seven feet high, with a beautiful garden of flowers in the front and a vegetable garden in the rear,” according to William Hugh Suder. “There were right and left wings, a beautiful front entrance and a long extension at the rear which housed all the necessary adjuncts required for a building of its size.”

William Suder always recalled the Orphan House with fondness and respect; a place where he experienced the best times of his childhood.  “We were well-educated, well-clothed and well-fed,” remembered Suder. “It was an ideal home with an efficient corps of teachers and elderly matrons, all under the supervision of a very well-advised lady selected by a special committee of citizens.”

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The photo of a young William Hugh Suder is undated. Behind it is the entrance to the Charleston Orphan House in April 1865. The inmates were still housed in Columbia, but it is still occupied by the military and the mayor.


Click To Enlarge

The Federal Navy took this photo in April 1865 from the bell tower of the Orphan House, looking northeast toward Cooper River. In the lower right corner is the edge of the Orphan House roof. Below it are the various out-houses where services like laundry were handled (noticed the fluttering clothes hanging out to dry). Also shown are the vegetable gardens.

In the upper half of the photo is the Citadel, one story shorter than it is today. In the distance beyond the Citadel is the steeple of the Second Presbyterian Church where William Hugh’s grandfather is buried, and would be joined later by his grandmother, Elvira, who was still alive at the time of the photo.

Behind the Citadel is the long roof of the South Carolina Rail Road’s freight depot, where William started his search for his brother. Unseen in the distance beyond the steeple are the remains of the Wilmington Depot.



© 2014, Bill Draper. All Rights Reserved.