Confederate soldiers defeated Union forces in the historic 1863 battle at Morris Island, but during last year's Fourth of July weekend, the island faced another onslaught: trash left behind by beachgoers.
Starting this Memorial Day weekend, law enforcement officials say they do not intend to lose a battle to beer cans and litter again. Along with an increase in manpower, education about the significance of the island could prove the greatest weapon against beach litterbugs. "I think we have to continue to get the positive message of Morris Island out there," said Matt Compton, Charleston's deputy director of parks.
The island is the site of the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the black infantry regiment that was the subject of the movie "Glory."
According to Compton, the city hopes to get interpretative signs on the island in the future to explain its historical significance, but until that time, the best way to spread knowledge is through conversation.
"Morris Island really is a historical jewel. Its history is very rich in regards to the Civil War, so it really does disturb me to see that they can leave such trash behind," said police Sgt. Chad Womack, supervisor of the maritime division of the Charleston Police Department.
Womack was working last July when Independence Day weekend visitors to the island left behind trash scattered over the dunes and floating in the marshes.
This summer, he said he will have the help of four boats, one personal watercraft and a few constables on loan from the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. This is an increase in manpower from last summer. Womack said that people can make responsible decisions, obey the law and still have a good time. "What we want is for people to police it themselves," he said. "... We don't want to have to tell people to pick up their trash, or put it in their boat. We want them to do it themselves."
According to Blake Hallman, a city councilman and founder of the Morris Island Coalition, the best way for people to understand the impact of their litter is by learning about the island. "When you realize that it was an island where Southerners fought to defend our homeland, and black men fought to prove they were just as good as white men, it makes you understand the role it played in making the United States what it is today," Hallman said. "It makes people proud to recognize that this island is a part of our history, so everyone realizes how important it is to keep it clean."
In the meantime, Womack said he hopes that the increase in manpower and greater emphasis on the history of the island will result in less trash on the beach. "When that doesn't work, unfortunately, we'll be there, and we might have to get the message across in another way," Womack said.
Reach Caitlin Byrd at email@example.com.