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The army before Charleston in 1863.

by Quincy A. Gillmore, Brevet Major-General, U. S. A.
Charleston Harbor somewhat resembles the harbor of New York in general outline, and is about half its size. The city itself, occupying the lower end of a narrow peninsula between two navigable rivers, is distant about seven miles from a bar which obstructs the entrance from the sea, stretching bow-shaped from Sullivan's Island on the north side to Morris Island on the south side of this approach. These islands and others adjacent to them are separated from the main-land by soft alluvial marshes that range in width from one to three miles, and in depth from about fifteen to eighteen feet, and are cut up by numerous creeks and deep bayous, and are submerged by all tides higher than an ordinary flood. The width of the throat of the harbor between Sullivan's and Morris islands is 2700 yards, which is practically narrowed to about one mile by a shoal that makes out from the south side, on the northern edge of which stands Fort Sumter.

The position in its general features seemed to invite an assault by water, and to present a peculiarly attractive field for naval heroism and prowess; while its approaches by land from the sea islands which we occupied were practically closed by impassable swamps to any but a greatly superior force. The defenses which had been constructed by the United States for the harbor and city of Charleston were designed to resist a naval attack only. They comprised: (1) Fort Sumter, a strong brick work, as strength was reckoned in those days, mounting two tiers of guns in casemates and one tier en barbette. It stands on the southern edge of the channel, distant three and one-third miles from the nearest point of the city. It was planned for 135 guns, but never received its full armament. The embrasures or ports of the second tier, not having been finished when the war began, were bricked up by [53] Major Anderson's command early in 1861, and were left in that condition until destroyed by our fire from Morris Island. When this fort fell into the enemy's hands, April 14th, 1861, it contained seventy-eight pieces of serviceable ordnance, all smooth-bores, ranging from 24-pounders to 10-inch Columbiads. (2) Fort Moultrie, a brick work located on Sullivan's Island about one mile from Fort Sumter, mounting one tier of guns en barbette. Before the outbreak of the war its armament consisted of fifty-two pieces, of which the heaviest were 10 and 8 inch Columbiads and the lightest a battery of field-guns. (3) Castle Pinckney, an old brick fort one mile east of the city on Shutes Folly Island. Its armament at the beginning of the war comprised twenty-eight pieces of rather small calibers.

At the outbreak of the war the Confederates began to add largely to the strength of the existing defenses by constructing strong and well-armed earth-works at the upper and lower ends, as well as at intermediate points, of both Sullivan's and Morris islands; by reenforcing the walls of Fort Sumter adjacent to the magazine; by increasing the armament of that work and of Fort Moultrie with heavier calibers, including large rifles; by rebuilding and rearming old Fort Johnson, on James Island, on the south side of the inner harbor west of Fort Sumter; by constructing several batteries on the shell beach south-east of Fort Johnson; by mounting some heavy rifles, including 13-inch Blakely guns, upon the lower water-front of the city; by building a new battery at Mount Pleasant, and by the construction of ironclad rams.

Ample preparations against a land attack were also made. On James Island strong works were built to close the approach from Stono River. Stono inlet and harbor were occupied by an inclosed fort on Cole's Island, which held under control all the anchorage ground and landing-place inside the Stono bar. This advanced position was abandoned by the enemy prior to the naval attack on Fort Sumter, giving us the possession of Folly Island and the lower Stono and inlet. The upper Stono was held by a heavily armed earth-work called Fort Pemberton, and the water approach to Charleston by Wappoo Cut, west of James Island Creek, was defended by powerful earth-works, while strong batteries on the eastern shore of James Island swept all the practicable water routes from Morris and Folly islands. North-east of the city a line of intrenchments reaching from Copahee Sound to Wandoo River guarded the land approaches from Bull's Bay. Suitable works were also built on the peninsula in the rear of the city, covering the roads from the interior. Indeed, no avenue of attack, by land or water, was left without ample means of protection. General R. S. Ripley, who had immediate command of the defense, recently stated that he had under his control 385 pieces of artillery of all calibers, including field-batteries, and an ample force of skilled men to serve them. When the position was evacuated by the Confederates, February 18th, 1865, 246 guns were left behind in the several works.

The James Island defenses were especially strong. They had repulsed a bold and spirited assault upon them from the Stono River side, made by [54] forces under General H. W. Benham, on the 16th of June, 1862, and had been greatly strengthened since that time.

A gallant and well-directed attack upon Fort Sumter on April 7th, 1863, by a squadron composed of nine iron-clad vessels, under command of Rear-Admiral Du Pont, had signally failed, after a sharp engagement lasting about one hour. [See p. 32.] The squadron carried 15-inch and 1-inch shell guns and 150-pounder Parrott rifles. Five of the iron-clads were reported by their respective commanders to be wholly or partly disabled in their power of inflicting injury by their guns. They had been under the concentrated fire of some of the most destructive guns of that period for nearly one hour, although they did not advance far enough to draw the fire of some of the heaviest pieces in Fort Sumter. The thin-armored Keokuk was so seriously injured that she sank the following morning off Morris Island, and her armament fell into the hands of the enemy. The fleet received the fire from the Sullivan's Island, the Morris Island, and the Mount Pleasant batteries, as well as from Fort Sumter, and during the attack divided its own fire between Fort Wagner, Fort Sumter, and Fort Moultrie. After this repulse Admiral Du Pont expressed the opinion that Charleston could not be taken by a purely naval attack, and some of his subordinate commanders held similar views. At Washington it was deemed of so much importance to present an actively aggressive front in this quarter in aid of projected operations elsewhere that orders were issued by the President himself to hold the position inside of Charleston bar, and to prevent the erection of new batteries and new defenses on Morris Island, and if such batteries had been begun by the enemy to “drive him out.” A keen sense of disappointment pervaded the Navy Department at the repulse of April 7th, finding expression, among the higher officials, in a determination to retrieve the fortunes of that day, and reinstate the ironclads in the confidence of the country at the earliest possible moment. The gallantry of the attack, the skill with which the fleet had been handled, the terrific fire to which it had been exposed, and the prudence that prompted its recall before a simple repulse could be converted into overwhelming disaster were measurably lost sight of in the chagrin of defeat. The disheartening fact was that the iron-clads had conspicuously failed in the very work for which they had been supposed to be peculiarly fit, and the country had nothing whatever to take their place.

Late in May I was called to Washington,1 and was informed at the consultations which followed that it was the intention to make another attack with the iron-clads, provided Fort Sumter, which was regarded as the most formidable obstacle and the key of the position, could be eliminated from the conflict, so that the fleet could pass up on the south side of the channel, leaving Fort Moultrie and the other Sullivan's Island works nearly a mile to the right. The army was therefore asked if it could cooperate to the extent of destroying the offensive power of Fort Sumter. I expressed the opinion that Fort Sumter could be reduced and its offensive power entirely destroyed with [55] rifle guns, planted on Morris Island, and that beyond the capture of that island and the demolition of the fort, the available land forces, numbering scarcely eleven thousand men of all arms, could not take the initiative in any operation against Charleston that would involve their leaving the sea islands, upon which the enemy derived no advantage from his superior strength or from the railroad facilities under his control for concentrating troops and bringing reinforcements from the interior on short notice. It was finally decided that the army should undertake the capture of Morris Island and the reduction of Fort Sumter, unless it should become necessary, before preparations for the attack were completed, to detach some of the troops for the purpose of reenforcing General Grant or General Banks, then operating on the Mississippi; and it was announced with emphasis that no additional troops would be sent to South Carolina. The capture of the city by a land attack was not, in any sense, the object of these operations. No project of that nature was discussed or even mentioned at the conference.

The following general plan of campaign was agreed upon, comprising four distinct steps, and the army was to take the lead in executing the first, second, and third. First, to make a descent upon and obtain possession of the south end of Morris Island, then held by the enemy with infantry and artillery; second, to lay siege to and reduce Battery Wagner, a strong and well-armed earth-work, located near the north end of Morris Island, about 2600 yards from Fort Sumter; with Battery Wagner the works at Cumming's Point, the extreme north end of the island, would also fall; third, from the position thus secured on Morris Island to destroy Fort Sumter with breaching batteries of rifle guns, and afterward by a heavy artillery fire cooperate with the fleet when it should be ready to move in; fourth, the fleet to enter, remove the channel obstructions if any should be encountered, run by the batteries on James and Sullivan's islands, and reach the city. For the special purpose of this contemplated attack Rear-Admiral Andrew H. Foote, an officer of tried bravery and cool and mature judgment, was assigned to the command of the South Atlantic blockading squadron, comprising the naval forces available for operations against Charleston; but he was not permitted to enter upon this new field of labor, his sudden and untimely death leaving the command with Rear-Admiral John A. Dahlgren. [See p. 46.]

Charleston was located in the Military Department of the South, comprising the narrow strip of sea-coast held by the Union forces in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Upon relieving General David Hunter and assuming command of this department in June, I found our troops actually occupying eleven positions on this stretch of coast, while a small blockading squadron held a variable and more or less imperfect control of the principal inlets. In the neighborhood of Charleston we held all the coast line south of Morris Island, while all the other islands around the harbor, and to the northward, were either controlled or occupied by the enemy. It was found, after abolishing some of these detached posts and reducing the force at others, that the aggregate means for carrying on the contemplated operations against Charleston comprised only about 10,000 effective volunteer infantry, 600 engineer [56]

The night assault on Battery Wagner, July 18, 1863.

troops, and 350 artillerists. The ordnance on hand, deemed more or less suitable for our purpose, consisted of 200-pounder, 100-pounder, and 30-pounder Parrott rifles, and some 13-inch, 10-inch, and 8-inch mortars. The projectiles for the 200-pounders, however, weighed only 150 pounds, and those for the 100-pounders only 80 pounds. With this feeble array of guns-feeble because largely wanting in the strength required for throwing, with a breaching velocity, even the light projectiles provided for them — the great work of the siege was begun. During the operations fifty-one of these Parrott rifles were expended by bursting, most of them prematurely.

Meanwhile between the middle of June and the 6th of July preparations for the descent upon Morris Island went quietly forward. It was deemed necessary that this attack should be a surprise in order to insure success. [57] On the extreme northern end of Folly Island forty-seven field and siege guns and mortars were quietly placed in position, screened by thick under-growth from the view of the enemy on the opposite side of Light-House inlet. They were intended to operate against his batteries there, protect the column of boats in its advance across the stream, or cover its retreat in case of repulse. The entrance to Stono inlet was lighted up at night, and all transports bringing troops were ordered to enter after dark and leave before morning. All appearance of preparations for offensive operations was carefully suppressed, while upon General Israel Vogdes's defensive works on the south end of Folly Island a semblance of activity was conspicuously displayed. Brigadier-General A. H. Terry's division, about 4000 effective, and Brigadier-General George C. Strong's brigade, numbering about 2500, were quietly added to the Folly Island command under cover of darkness.

The project for securing a lodgment on Morris Island comprised, as one of its features, a demonstration in force on James Island by way of Stono River, over the same ground where Brigadier-General Benham had met with repulse the year before. The object in the present case was to prevent the sending of reenforcements to the enemy on Morris Island from that quarter, and possibly to draw a portion of the Morris Island garrison in that direction. Everything being in readiness, the character of the assault about to be ordered, the risk involved therein, and the magnitude of the interests at stake became for the moment subjects of grave consideration. For if this assault failed, the promise to demolish Fort Sumter failed also, carrying in its train the failure of the naval project to capture Charleston and inflict punishment in the place where the rebellion had its birth, and the further failure to destroy this great blockade-running thoroughfare, and to restore confidence in the efficiency of the iron-lads, upon which special stress had been laid. The storming of a position strongly held by both artillery and infantry, is always an operation attended with imminent peril in its execution, and great uncertainty as to results. The best troops can seldom be made to advance under the fire of even a few well-served pieces of artillery supported by the fire of small-arms. No lesson of our great civil war was learned at greater cost than this. But the hazard of such an undertaking, great as it is under ordinary circumstances where the aggressive force operates on firm ground, becomes greatly and painfully intensified when the assaulting column has to approach in small boats from a distant point, exposed to full view and constant fire, to disembark and form upon an open beach in the presence of an enemy covered by parapets, and finally to advance to the attack against the combined fire of artillery and small-arms. Yet this was the work we had set out to do, and it was believed we had the men to do it.

The demonstration up the Stono River was begun in the afternoon of July 8th, by Brigadier-General Terry, who landed on James Island with about 3800 men. The effect as subsequently ascertained was to draw a portion of the enemy's forces from our front on Morris Island.2

On the evening of July 9th a small brigade was silently embarked in rowboats [58] in Folly River behind Folly Island. It was commanded by Brigadier-General George C. Strong, who had received orders to carry the south end of Morris Island by storm. By break of day the leading boats had reached Light-house inlet, where the column was halted under cover of marsh grass to await orders. The point where the landing was to be made was still nearly a mile distant, and this stretch of river had to be passed in full view under fire. All our Folly Island batteries opened before sunrise, and soon after this four iron-clad monitors, led by Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, steamed up abreast of Morris Island and took part in the action. After the cannonade had lasted nearly two hours General Strong was signaled to push forward and make the attack. This was promptly and gallantly done under a hot fire. The men did not hesitate or waver for a moment. All the enemy's batteries on the south end of the island, containing eleven pieces of artillery, were captured in succession, and by 9 o'clock we occupied three-fourths of the island, with our skirmishers within musket-range of Battery Wagner. Thus was the first

Colonel Robert G. Shaw, 54th Massachusetts (colored) Volunteers-killed in the assault on Battery Wagner. From a photograph.

step in the plan of joint operation successfully taken. The intense heat, which prostrated many of the men, forced a suspension of operations for the day.

Two unsuccessful attempts were made to carry Battery Wagner by assault. In the first, which took place at daybreak on the morning of July 11th, the parapet of the work was reached, but the supports recoiled under the heavy fire of grape and canister that met them, and the advantage gained could not be held. This repulse demonstrated the remarkable strength of the work and the necessity of establishing counter-batteries against it, which, with the cooperation of the fleet, might dismount the principal guns and either drive the enemy from it or open the way to a successful assault. After the first assault Battery Wagner was inclosed [see p. 23]; it reached entirely across the island from water to water; it mounted some heavy guns for channel defense, and several siege-guns that swept the narrow beach over which we would have to approach from the south; and a large bomb-proof shelter afforded the garrison absolute protection when the fire became so hot that they could not stand to their guns or man the parapet.3 To us the place presented the appearance of a succession of low, irregular sand-hills like the rest of the island. Battery Gregg, on the north end of the island at Cumming's Point, was known to be armed with guns bearing on the channel. Of one important [59] topographical change we were entirely ignorant. We did not know that the island at its narrowest point between us and Battery Wagner, and quite near to the latter, had been worn away by the encroachments of the sea to about one-third the width shown on our latest charts, and so much reduced in height that during spring-tides or heavy weather the waves swept entirely over it to — the marsh in rear. Against us the fort presented an armed front about 800 feet in length reaching entirely across the island, while our advance must be made over a strip of low shifting sand only about 80 feet wide, and two feet above the range of ordinary tides.

Between the 16th and 18th of July, as preliminary to a second attempt to get possession of Battery Wagner by assault, 41 pieces of artillery, comprising light rifles and siege-mortars, were put in position on an oblique line across the island at distances from the fort ranging from 1300 to 1900 yards. The rifles were intended principally to dismount the enemy's guns. Early in the afternoon of the 18th all these batteries opened fire, and the navy closed in on the fort and took an active and efficient part in the engagement. In a short time the work became absolutely silent on the faces looking toward us, and practically so on the sea front, from which at the beginning of the action a severe fire had been delivered against the fleet. The work was silenced for the time at least, but whether this was due to the injury inflicted on its armament, or to the inability of the men to stand to their pieces, or to these two causes combined, we had no means of knowing.

An assault was ordered. The time of evening twilight was selected for the storming party to advance, in order that it might not be distinctly seen from the James Island batteries on our extreme left, and from Fort Sumter and Sullivan's Island in our distant front. Brigadier-General Truman Seymour organized and commanded the assaulting column, composed of Brigadier-General G. C. Strong's brigade supported by the brigade of Colonel Haldimand S. Putnam. As the column left the line of our batteries and began its advance along the narrow strip of beach, a rapid fire was opened upon it from Fort Sumter and from the works on James Island and on Sullivan's Island. When it reached a point so near to Battery Wagner that the fire from our own guns and those of the navy had to be suspended from fear of destroying our own men, a compact and deadly sheet of musketry fire was instantly poured upon the advancing column by the garrison, which had suddenly issued forth from the security of the bomb-proof shelter. Although the troops went gallantly forward and gained the south-east bastion of the work and held it for more than two hours, the advantages which local knowledge and the deepening darkness gave the enemy forced a withdrawal. The repulse was complete, and our loss severe, especially in officers of rank. The gallant Strong, who had been the first man to land on Morris Island a few days before, actually leading his entire command in that descent and in the daring assault that followed, was fatally wounded. As he was being conveyed to the rear I stopped the ambulance for a moment to ask if he was badly hurt. He recognized my voice, and replied, “No, General, I think not; only a severe flesh-wound in the hip.” He was taken to Beaufort that night and placed in [60] hospital under excellent attendance. But he was seized with a yearning desire to go home, and, without my knowledge, took the first steamer for the North. Being the senior officer on board, the excitement of the trip, aggravated by the chase and capture of a blockade-runner, brought on lock-jaw, of which he died shortly after reaching New York. Colonel John S. Chatfield was mortally wounded; Colonel Haldimand S. Putnam and Colonel Robert G. Shaw were killed; and Brigadier-General Truman Seymour and several regimental commanders were wounded.

It may be said that in making this assault the traditions and maxims of the engineer and his reverence for the spade and shovel as weapons of war were placed in abeyance. Although no dissenting voice was raised among the subordinate commanders called into council, it may be doubted by some whether a step so grave in character and so uncertain in results was the unquestionable outcome of existing military necessity. Perhaps only an engineer would doubt this. At all events its full justification was assumed to rest on the presumption that Fort Sumter must be destroyed by guns placed as near to it as to the site of Battery Wagner, and that every hour's delay in capturing that work permitted the enemy to strengthen his interior defenses, and thus render the entrance of our fleet more difficult.

To meet the contingency brought on by the failure it was determined to change slightly the prearranged order of operations by attempting the demolition of Fort Sumter with our heavy rifles, at a distance of two miles and upward, by firing over Battery Wagner and its garrison from ground already in our possession. It was urged adversely to this plan that there existed no precedent for it. This was true, the nearest approach to it being the reduction of Fort Pulaski4 the year before by breaching at the distance of one mile and more. [See Vol. II., p. 9.] But the fact that we could throw heavier metal and do heavier work now than we could then, promised success, and the placing of guns in position against Fort Sumter was promptly begun. For this purpose 16 Parrott rifles and two Whitworth rifles were placed in batteries at distances from Fort Sumter ranging from 3428 to 4290 yards. The slow, tedious, and hazardous labor of moving into position and mounting these heavy guns and their carriages could be performed during the night-time only, under a constant and galling fire from the front and one flank. There was great danger that guns and carriages, as well as the appliances for putting them in position, would be destroyed. As contemporary with these operations, arrangements had been perfected for pressing the siege of Battery Wagner, and the work was fairly under way. And here the limitations of the books had to be irreverently set aside. Instead of our being able to envelop any portion of the work, we were practically enveloped by it. It presented to us an armed front of four times the average width of the low beach over which we had to force our way, and as we neared the work this ratio reached as high as ten to one. It was now known, from the latest information, [61] to contain a rather heavy armament, of which at least a dozen pieces could be trained upon our narrow, shifting line of approach — in many places scarcely half a company front in width, subject to frequent overflow by the waves and tides, and swept not only by the guns of Wagner itself, but also by those of Cumming's Point and Fort Sumter and several batteries on James Island. Indeed, the ground over which our men had to force their way, under such meager cover as could be made by sinking trenches to the water-level, and gaining the requisite height with sand and other material brought by hand from the rear, was seen by the enemy's batteries in front, flank, and reverse. Having its communications open with Charleston and the interior, the armament and garrison of Fort Sumter could always be maintained at the maximum state of efficiency. The first parallel was established, July 19th, on the line occupied the day before by our batteries against Battery Wagner, and the second parallel on the night of the 23d by the flying sap, about six hundred yards in advance of the first. Eleven of the breaching guns against Fort Sumter were located in these two parallels, and the other seven to the left and rear of the first parallel. Those in the second parallel were perilously near to Battery Wagner, the most advanced piece being only 820 yards distant from the guns of that work. One of the batteries was efficiently commanded by Commander Foxhall A. Parker, U. S. N. On the night of August 9th the position selected for the third parallel was reached by the flying sap, 330 yards in advance of the right of the second parallel. It was deemed inexpedient to push the approaches beyond this point until after the breaching batteries should open on Fort Sumter.

From this time forward the fire from the enemy's guns in our front and on our extreme left was severe and. almost uninterrupted. So incessant had it become that many officers and men, especially those who did not carry their sense of responsibility very lightly, could not sleep at night if from any cause the cannonade was suspended. For a while the advance of our trenches was entirely stopped by it, and it became a question of the gravest doubt in some quarters whether any farther progress was possible, and, what was of infinitely greater importance, whether we could complete the erection of any of the breaching batteries, or serve them when erected. It is a pleasure to be able to state without qualification that the officers and men were fully equal to the extraordinary demands made upon them. Not a murmur of discontent was heard on the island. Finally some of the breaching batteries opened fire on the 17th of August, and by the 19th all. were in successful operation. The result was soon clearly foreshadowed. Nothing, indeed, but the destruction of our guns, either by the enemy's shot or through their own inherent weakness, would long delay it. About 450 projectiles struck the fort daily, every one of which inflicted an incurable wound. Large masses of the brick walls and parapets were rapidly loosened and thrown down. The bulk of our fire was directed against the gorge and south-east face, which presented themselves diagonally to us. They were soon pierced through and through, and cut down on top to the casemate arches. The shot that went over them took the north and north-west faces in reverse. [62]

The condition of the work, as it appeared to us after six days bombardment, is thus described by General J. W. Turner, chief of artillery:

The fire upon the gorge had by the morning of the 23d succeeded in destroying every gun upon its parapet, and as far as could be observed had disabled or dismounted all the guns upon the parapet of the two faces looking toward the city which it had taken in reverse. The parapet and rampart of the gorge were for nearly the entire length of the face completely demolished, and in places everything was swept off down to the arches, the debris forming an accessible ramp to the top of the ruins.

The demolition of the fort at the close of this day's firing (August 23d) was complete so far as its offensive powers were considered. Every gun upon the parapet was either dismounted or seriously damaged. The parapet could be seen in many places both on the sea and channel faces completely torn away from the terre-plein. The place, in fine, was a ruin, and effectually disabled for any immediate defense of the harbor of Charleston. Having accomplished the end proposed, orders were accordingly issued on the evening of the 23d for the firing to cease, having been continuously sustained for seven days. There had been thrown 5009 projectiles, of which about one-half had struck the fort.

Colonel Alfred Rhett, C. S. A., commanding Fort Sumter, reports, August 24th, “One 11-inch Dahlgren, east face, the only gun serviceable” ; and on September 1st, “We have not a gun en barbette that can be fired; only one gun and casemate.”

General Stephen Elliott, C. S. A., writes as follows:

When I assumed command of Fort Sumter on the 4th of September, 1863, there were no guns in position except one 32-pounder in one of the north-west casemates. This gun was merely used for firing at sunset, and was not intended for any other purpose. Early in October I mounted in the north-east casemates two 10-inch Columbiads and one 7-inch rifle. In January one 8-inch and two 7-inch rifles were mounted in the north-west casemates.

The seven days service of the breaching batteries, ending August 23d, left Fort Sutter in the condition of a mere infantry outpost, without the power to fire a gun heavier than a musket, alike incapable of annoying our approaches to Battery Wagner, or of inflicting injury upon the fleet. In this condition it remained for about six weeks. A desultory fire was kept up to prevent repairs, and on the 30th of August another severe cannonade was opened and continued for two days at the request of the admiral commanding, who contemplated entering the inner harbor on the 31st. Some time before this the enemy began to remove the armament of Fort Sumter by night, and many of its guns were soon mounted in other parts of the harbor.

During the progress of the operations thus briefly outlined, the navy had most cordially cooperated whenever and wherever their aid could best be rendered. The service of the monitors was notably efficient in subduing the fire of Battery Wagner, which at times not only seriously retarded the labors of the sappers, but threatened the destruction of some of the most advanced of the breaching guns. While the breaching of Fort Sumter was still in progress, active work was resumed on the approaches to Battery Wagner by pushing the full sap from the left of the third parallel. Meanwhile the spring-tides had come with easterly winds, flooding the trenches to the depth of two feet and washing down the parapets. The progress of the sap was hotly contested with both artillery and sharp-shooters. The latter had taken possession of a [63] ridge about 240 yards in advance of the main work, where they had placed themselves under such cover that they could not be dislodged by our fire or the flank fire of the fleet, while that from their own guns in rear passed harmlessly over their heads. An attempt to capture this ridge having failed, a fourth parallel was established on the night of August 21st, about five hundred yards in advance of the third. From this point the ridge was carried [by the 24th Massachusetts] at the point of the bayonet on the 26th, under the direction of Brigadier-General Terry, and the fifth parallel was established thereon. The resistance to our advance now assumed a most obstinate and determined character, being evidently under skillful and intelligent direction, while the firing from the James Island batteries became more steady and accurate.

Over the narrow strip of shallow shifting beach between us and the fort, the flying sap was pushed forward from the right of the fifth parallel. An ingenious system of subsurface torpedo mines, to be exploded by the tread of persons walking over them, was soon encountered, and we learned from prisoners that they were planted thickly over all the ground in our front. But the mines were a defense to us as well as to the besieged garrison, as they brought a sense of security from sorties which the enemy's broader development and converging fire would otherwise have enabled him to make with nearly every condition in his favor. The sappers soon reached a point only one hundred yards from the ditch of the work. Beyond this our progress became exceedingly slow and uncertain. Our daily losses were on the increase. The concentric fire from Battery Wagner alone almost enveloped the head of our sap, while the flank fire from the James Island batteries increased in power and accuracy every hour. To push the work forward by day was found to be impossible, while a brilliant harvest-moon, which seemed to shine with more splendor than ever before, rendered an advance at night almost equally hazardous. Matters seemed to be at a stand-still. A sense of gloom and despondency began to pervade the command, under the impression that all the expedients of the engineer had been exhausted.

In this emergency it was determined, as well to hasten the final result as to revive the flagging spirits of the men, to carry on simultaneously against Battery Wagner two distinct kinds of attack: First, to silence the work by an overpowering bombardment with siege and Coehorn mortars, so that our sappers would have only the James Island batteries to annoy them; and, second, to breach the bomb-proof shelter with our heavy rifles, and thus force a surrender. During the day-time the New Ironsides, Captain S. C. Rowan, was to cooperate with her eight-gun broadsides. These operations were actively begun at break of day on the 5th of September.

Seventeen siege and Coehorn mortars dropped their shells unceasingly into the work over the heads of our sappers; ten light siege-rifles covered and swept the approach to the work from the rear; fourteen heavy Parrotts thundered away at the great bomb-proof shelter; while, during the daylight, the New Ironsides, with the most admirable regularity and precision, kept an almost continuous stream of 11-inch shells rolling over the water against the sloping parapet of Battery Wagner, whence, deflected upward with a low [64] remaining velocity, they dropped vertically, exploding in and over the work, mercilessly searching every part of it except the subterranean shelters. The calcium lights turned night into day, throwing our own works into obscurity and bringing the minute details of the fort into sharp relief.5 For forty-two consecutive hours this work went on, presenting a spectacle of remarkable magnificence and splendor. As a pyrotechnic achievement alone, the exhibition at night was brilliant and attractive, while the dazzling light thrown from our advanced trenches, the deafening roar of our guns, and the answering peals from James Island added sublimity and grandeur to the scene. The imagination was beguiled and taken captive, and all the cruel realities of war were for a time forgotten in the unwonted excitement of this novel spectacle.

The garrison soon sought safety in the bomb-proof shelter, and the fort showed but little sign of life. Occasional shots were delivered at the New Ironsides, and a few sharp-shooters from time to time opened a harmless fire upon the head of the trenches. But the engineers rapidly pushed forward their work. They suffered principally from the James Island batteries, which night and day maintained a most annoying fire upon our mortar-batteries and the head of the sap, following the latter in its progress toward the fort until it reached a point so near that friends and foes were alike exposed to the perils of the cannonade. It then ceased entirely, and our men pushed forward the trenches with entire immunity from serious danger. Their sense of security was so sudden and complete, and their position so novel and exciting, with the entire garrison, once so defiant, now helplessly at bay only a few feet distant, that the reliefs of sappers off duty mounted the parapet of the trenches, or wandered forward into the ditch of the work to take a survey of the surroundings. A formidable line of frise work, consisting of pointed stakes alternating with boarding-pikes or lances, was removed from the ditch of the sea front. Early on the night of September 6th our sap was pushed forward entirely beyond the south front of the work, and between the sea front and the water, crowning the crest of the counterscarp at the north or farthest end of that front, and completely masking all the guns of the work. An order was issued to carry the place the next morning by assault on the north front at the time of low tide when the width of beach would be the greatest, and the troops could promptly pass beyond the work to the point of attack. On the north side the work was closed by an ordinary infantry parapet. During the night the fort was evacuated with such celerity that only two boat-loads of men were captured. The north end of the island was at once occupied by our forces. Eighteen pieces of ordnance were found in Battery Wagner, and seven in Battery Gregg on Cumming's Point, most of them being comparatively large, as calibers were estimated in those days.

Battery Wagner was found to be a work of greater defensive strength than the most exaggerated statements of prisoners and deserters had led us to expect. Its bomb-proof shelter, affording a safe retreat to its entire garrison, remained practically intact after perhaps the severest cannonade to which any earth-work had ever been subject. Its covering, composed of sea-shore sand, [65] had been struck by sixty-one net tons of metal, thrown with a breaching charge at comparatively short ranges, and yet the injury inflicted could easily have been repaired in eight or ten hours.

These operations left the whole of Morris Island in our possession, and Fort Sumter in ruins and destitute of guns. A powerful armament was mounted on the north end of the island, to cooperate with the monitors when they should move in, and to prevent the remounting of guns on Fort Sumter. Early on the morning following the capture of Battery Wagner, the admiral, under a flag of truce, demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter. It was refused. On the night of the 8th a naval assault was made on the work about midnight, and repulsed with considerable loss.

A prominent historian of the war states, on the alleged authority of the naval commander, that army cooperation was expected in this assault in compliance with previous arrangement. As this statement is entirely destitute of truth, the admiral could not have made it, and must have been misunderstood in what he did say. Although I had ordered an assault for the same evening by two small regiments, before the admiral's intentions were known to me, he was told, in response to a request for information on that point, that the boats with the storming party could not leave their rendezvous in the small creek behind Morris Island until midnight, on account of low tide; and yet at 10 P. M. the naval column left the fleet, advanced quickly to the attack, and by midnight had been repulsed.6 No assistance from the land forces was expected or desired. In point of fact, it was declined. Each party was organized without any expectation of aid from the other, and no reference to any expected cooperation from the army was made by the admiral, or by any of his subordinate commanders in their official reports of the assault.7

General Elliott [Confederate] reports in his journal, November 20th, that “at 3 o'clock a detachment of the enemy's barges, variously estimated at from four to nine in number, approached within three hundred yards of the fort and opened fire with musketry. Most of the troops got into position very rapidly, but in spite of all instructions commenced a random fire into the air on the part of many, at the distant boats on the part of others.” And the General adds afterward that “no rockets were sent up because positive attacks were not made.” From this Colonel Alfred Roman, in his “Military operations of General Beauregard,” makes the statement that “another boat attack was made by General Gillmore's forces against Fort Sumter resulting in utter failure, as had been the case with the former attempt” ; and another writer, going still further, asserts that the admiral ordered his pickets to cover the assaulting party — in sharp contrast with the behavior of the commanding general at the time of the naval repulse on September 9th. This may enliven what would otherwise have been dull reading, perhaps, but nevertheless it is pure fiction. No such attack was ordered, attempted, or even contemplated by [66]

The marsh Battery after the explosion of the “swamp Angel.” from a photograph.

the land forces after the naval repulse in September. General Elliott's statement that “positive attacks were not made” is strictly true, of course, because no semblance of an attack was made. The boat party seen was doubtless the regular patrol, larger probably than usual, according to the duty required of them that particular night. There existed no military reason at that time for risking an assault. The fort was destitute of cannon, could take no part in a defense against a fleet, and as an infantry outpost could be of no value to us if captured. It was heroically held by the enemy in a spirit of commendable pride and audacity, and had been made very strong against capture by assault. An attacking column, even if it should gain possession of the parade of the work, could not reach the garrison in their subterranean galleries, protected by heavy loop-holed doors, and, moreover, would be at the mercy of the enemy's guns on Sullivan's Island and those on the east front of James Island. The controlling conditions differed essentially, now, from those which obtained when the surrender of the place was demanded by the admiral early in September. At that time the capture of the parade carried with it that of the work.

While Fort Sumter was rapidly crumbling under our first cannonade the evacuation of that work and of Morris Island was demanded, the condition of refusal being that fire would be opened on the city of Charleston. Existing circumstances furnished a full justification for this step. Charleston had been besieged for seven weeks, was occupied by the enemy's troops and batteries, gun-boats had been built and were then building along its water front, and the avenue of escape for non-combatants was open and undisputed. The demand being refused [see p. 17], the marsh battery, containing one 8-inch Parrott rifle, previously referred to as the “Swamp Angel,” opened fire on the night of August 21st. The gun burst on the second night at the thirty-sixth round. Some of the projectiles reached a distance of about five and three-quarter miles. Firing on the city was subsequently resumed from Cumming's Point.

Fort Sumter was subjected to another severe cannonade of some days' duration,8 [67] beginning October 26th, directed mainly against the south-east face, on a report from deserters, afterward found to be untrue, that the garrison was remounting guns thereon. In a short time that face was more completely a ruin than the gorge wall. Throughout the length of both those faces the debris formed a practicable ramp from the water to the summit of the breach.

This ended all aggressive operations against the defenses of Charleston,9 although a desultory fire was maintained against Fort Sumter during the months of November and December to prevent the remounting of guns, pending the completion of the naval preparations for passing into the inner harbor. It was not entirely suspended until the idea of removing the channel obstructions and running the James and Sullivan's islands batteries appeared to be indefinitely postponed. No official notification of this abandonment of plan was made by the naval authorities. On October 20th I was verbally informed by the admiral that he would probably await the arrival of more monitors, which were expected in a few days; and as early as September 29th a couple of weeks was thought to be needed to complete the repairs to the monitors before operating against the channel obstructions.

In point of fact there were no formidable obstructions in Charleston harbor. The popular ideas with regard to them which pervaded the public mind, and even influenced and directed official action in some quarters, were erroneous in a most notable degree. The belief entertained at the time by many practical men, whose official relations required them to form opinions on the subject, that they were either flimsy counterfeits or in large degree mythical, has been fully confirmed. Brigadier-General Ripley, C. S. A., and other officers of the Confederate service, whose positions enabled them to speak from positive knowledge, have furnished some interesting information on this subject. From their statements, some of which are written, it appears to have been the constant and studied practice of the Confederate commanders to spread exaggerated and incorrect reports concerning this special means of defense. To such extent and with such skill was this ruse made use of that, with few exceptions, neither the inhabitants of the city nor the troops defending it possessed any knowledge of the channel obstructions. Such a semblance of necessary and systematic labor in their construction, management, and repair was kept; up, and such an affectation of secrecy concerning their character and of confidence in their efficiency was assumed in order to keep all knowledge of the huge fiction from us, that the blockade-runners themselves, although making frequent and regular trips, were kept in the profoundest ignorance of the harmless character of the dangers they were told to avoid. The credulous commander of a foreign man-of-war who in 1863 was permitted to go up to the city in a small boat, returned to his ship outside the bar filled with the most extravagant admiration for the extensive scheme which he believed to be in constant readiness for conducting a defense by submarine mines; and, although he had really seen nothing except a few harmless barrels floating on [68] the water, reported the entire channel to be literally filled with fixed and floating obstructions and subaqueous mines and torpedoes. When the harbor and its defenses came into our possession on the 18th of February, 1865, and the novel spectacle was presented of a large fleet, comprising gun-boats, army and navy transports, a coast-survey steamer, dispatch boats, tugs, sutlers' and traders' vessels, passing up to the city and dispersing themselves at pleasure over the harbor without encountering any of those hidden objects of terror whose existence in formidable shape no one, except civilians on shore, had ever shown any disposition to doubt, the question naturally arose whether at any previous time during the war the various channel obstructions, mines, and torpedoes had in reality been in a more efficient condition than we found them at that time. Among the troops, down to the lowest private, the belief was expressed with a freedom which the Union soldier claimed to be his inalienable right that the practice of running the blockade at night, which was constantly and most successfully carried on at Charleston throughout the years 1863-64, proved the existence of a wide and practicable channel up to the city; and steamers bearing flags of truce had not unfrequently come down to the outer harbor and returned to the city during the day-time, and the route they took was well known. Efforts made soon after the close of the war to obtain full and exact information concerning the obstructions, from officers of the Confederate service who put them down and had them in charge, met with a cheerful response. From the concurrent testimony, written and oral, thus procured, it appears that there were no channel obstructions or torpedoes in 1863 and 1864 that would be expected to prevent or even seriously retard the passage of a fleet up to Charleston city and above it, or likely to afford any effective protection in the event of an actual attack; that the main channel next Fort Sumter was never obstructed by torpedoes or otherwise until the winter of 1864-65, a few months before the close of the war, and that at no time was the condition of this auxiliary means of channel defense any better, or its efficiency any more to be relied on to stop or delay the entrance of a hostile fleet, than at the time the city and its defenses were evacuated in February, 1865.

General Beauregard, in correcting what he calls errors in the preliminary official dispatch sent from the field, takes exception to the statement therein made that Battery Wagner was a most formidable kind of work, and claims that it was “an ordinary field-work, with thick parapet and ditches of little depth.” To this it may be said that within certain limits, embracing all works of the Battery Wagner type and many others, the elements of defensive strength are determined more by the environment and approaches than by the dimensions, trace, and relief of the work itself. No one should concede the soundness of this principle more freely than an engineer of General Beauregard's attainments and varied experience. Measured by this, the only appropriate standard, Battery Wagner was beyond question a work of the most formidable kind, while if it had stood upon a site practically approachable on all sides, or on two sides, it would not be classed as such. In point of fact, it presented a case of the defense of a narrow causeway swept by both an [69] enfilading and a cross-fire of artillery and small-arms. All things considered, it should be regarded as a very formidable work.

With regard to the character of the Confederate defense, Colonel Alfred Roman [ “The Military operations of General Beauregard” ] aptly says: “It is a matter of history to-day that the defense of Fort Sumter and that of Battery Wagner are looked upon as two of the most desperate and glorious achievements of the war. They stand unsurpassed in ancient or modern times.” Without altogether adopting the superlative tone of this statement, it may be conceded that the defense of Fort Sumter in 1863, when the garrison burrowed in the ruins of the work as it rapidly crumbled over their heads, was a notable one. The claim has been made, by those who like to indulge in comparisons, that this defense stands in sharp contrast to the apparently feeble effort to provision and hold the place in 1861.

Many of the popular fallacies of the day with regard to harbor defenses are based upon just such operations as those developed in the conflict before Charleston; and formerly in the “Battle of the earth-works” on the Crimea. The defensive strength of Battery Wagner throughout the siege, and the alleged strength of Fort Sumter after it had been battered into a shapeless mass of ruins, are mistakenly cited as evidence that earth-works are better than forts of brick or stone, and are quite sufficient to meet any expected naval attack. Of torpedoes it has been claimed that if a very imperfect system, existing largely in the imagination only, succeeded in keeping a powerful fleet at bay for half a year, it would be entirely safe to depend on a well-equipped torpedo defense for the protection of our important harbors; and many professional men, mostly of naval tendencies, drawing a comparison between the thin-plated and weakly armed iron-clads of 1863 and the powerful men-of-war of more recent type, look upon an armored navy as the only safe means of sea-coast protection.

These points will bear a brief discussion. It will doubtless not be denied that the requirements of a good defense are determined by the character and magnitude of the attack. If an enemy brings heavy guns against us, we must of course protect our own. guns from heavy shot, or they will be destroyed. If his vessels are incased in thick armor, we must use heavy projectiles against it, or our defense is worthless; for where a crushing blow from a large gun is needed, no possible accumulation of smaller guns will suffice. Cumulative force implies unity of mass and impact. A thousand pounds of grape-shot, even if fired at short range in one volley, can be stopped by a 1-inch steel plate; but the same weight, sent as a single ball, will shatter the best 12-inch armor. We must, therefore, have heavy guns, and they must be so mounted as to be measurably safe from the enemy's fire. If to these conditions we add one more, that the guns shall have time to do their work,--that is, that the hostile fleet cannot run past them at full speed, but will be arrested by torpedoes,--we have the whole theory and practice of harbor defense by fortifications and their auxiliary submarine mines.

It is an error to suppose that a defense by torpedoes, however perfect in itself, can stand alone. To be of any practical use, the torpedoes must be protected from removal by the enemy, the only efficient protection yet devised [70] being shore-batteries of heavy guns. Otherwise they are a harmless and therefore a worthless obstruction. Fortifications and channel torpedoes mutually supplement and support each other. If the torpedoes be omitted, an armored fleet can run by the forts without stopping, and probably with-out suffering serious injury. If the forts be omitted, the enemy would stop and remove the torpedoes at his leisure, and then pass on. Our own great civil war, and other wars of more recent date, bear ample testimony to the fact that torpedoes exposed to unmolested hostile approach afford no defense to a channel, and cause but a trifling delay to the passage of the fleet.

It is unquestionably true that casemated forts built of stone or brick after the old types do not fulfill the requirements of a good defense against an armor-plated navy. The walls which should protect both guns and gunners are too thin to sustain the shock of heavy projectiles, and in most cases would be pierced through and through by a single shot from a heavy rifle. The obvious and commonly adopted remedy for this weakness is to strengthen the walls with metal shields or armor plating, rather than discard all protection by resorting to open batteries or earth-works, in which both guns and gunners are in full view of the enemy. It might be impossible to serve guns so exposed, even for a brief period, against armored or iron-clad ships showering grape and canister from large calibers, and leaden bullets from machine-guns

Brevet Brigadier-General E. W. Serrell (see P. 72) from a photograph.

and sharp-shooters. The protection of the men at their guns is beyond question a consideration of the highest moment; it is indeed an essential consideration. Even in our casemated works special precautions are taken to prevent the entrance of missiles. In those last built the embrasures were supplied with iron shutters to stop grape, canister, and rifle bullets, so that the men might not be driven from their guns. The lessons of all modern wars, so far from justifying a dependence on open batteries for channel defense, all point the other way. At Port Royal our fleet of wooden vessels drove the enemy precipitately from their guns on both sides of the harbor; and in the operations before Charleston it was no uncommon exploit for the New Ironsides alone to silence the fire of Battery Wagner. From the very beginning of the war, “running a battery” became almost an every-day affair, the most important question being whether the channel itself was free from obstructions. A proper defense, therefore, requires that the shore-batteries should be armed with heavy guns, that the guns should be protected from the enemy's fire, and that the auxiliary defense by torpedoes should be of such magnitude that no fleet could attempt to run the gauntlet through them without imminent [71] risk of destruction. A defense of this potential character is calculated quite as much to prevent an attack as to defeat it. It is a most powerful conservator of international quiet and good-will. Indeed, the chief office of permanent fortifications is to avert war. They are the guardians, rather than the champions, of the public good and of the prosperity of the people.

A confusion of ideas seems to prevail with regard to the appropriate work of a navy in a scheme of national defense, frequently taking form in the assertion that an iron-clad navy alone — a navy of cruisers as distinguished from non-seagoing batteries, rams, and the like — will furnish a sure defense. This sentiment, although both attractive and popular, finds no practical existence among naval powers. A home fleet, if as powerful as the enemy's, would be expected to make, and no doubt would make, a good defense. But in that case, at the very best our chances of victory would be only equal to those of the enemy, while the risks taken and the consequences to ensue from failure would be largely unequal. Where interests of great magnitude are at stake, ordinary prudence would suggest that as little as possible be left to the caprice. of chance. A trustworthy defense of this character, therefore, implies a harbor fleet a little more powerful than the enemy's. It implies, further, that such a fleet must be provided for each locality to be protected. Not knowing where the enemy will strike, we must be prepared for him with a fleet at all important points. But no antagonist, especially if he be on the defensive, can wisely place his main reliance upon a weapon which can be as readily procured and as skillfully used by his adversary as by himself. Destructive energy of the same denomination is neutralized when placed in opposing hands. Fleet arrayed against fleet leaves too much to risk and accident, with our stake on the issue immeasurably greater than the enemy's. These maxims unmistakably point to the necessity of depending mainly upon those agencies, exclusively our own, which cannot be neutralized or duplicated by our antagonist, and will therefore always keep him at disadvantage, to wit: permanent shore-batteries and their accessory channel torpedoes. Auxiliary rams, torpedoboats, submarine guns, and other forms of naval power may in great measure be counterbalanced by others of like character from beyond the seas. Indeed, all naval power possessing sea-going qualities may be neutralized entirely. Our main reliance, after all, must be upon shore-batteries and channel torpedoes, and the combined strength of these must be as great as if no floating auxiliary aid were employed. Otherwise, when these auxiliaries fail, no adequate defense would remain, and the position would be lost.

The marsh Battery armed with mortars, after the explosion of the “swamp Angel.”


The “swamp Angel” in position. From a sketch made at the time.

1 General Gillmore was on leave of absence at this time. From September 18th, 1862, to April, 1863, he had held important commands in Kentucky and West Virginia.--editors.

2 It is understood that General Beauregard denies this.-Q. A. . But see p. 14.--editors.

3 Major John Johnson writes to the editors that the “heavy guns for channel defense” consisted of two 10-inch Columbiads; also, that absolute protection was afforded to about 600 men, little more than half the garrison.

4 At that siege the engineer and his devices had full sway. So perfect, indeed, were the arrangements for the safety of the troops, that only one of our men was struck during the eight weeks of preparation and the two days engagement, and he lost his life through disregard of instructions.-Q. A. G.

5 The calcium light was so strong that the garrison was prevented from making repairs.--editors.

6 The attack seems to have been made soon after midnight. The Confederates place it between 1 and 2 A. M.--editors.

7 See papers accompanying report of Secretary of the Navy, 1863; and also official correspondence in “Engineer and Artillery Operations against the Defenses of Charleston Harbor in 1863.”--Q. A. G.

8 The bombardment continued forty days and nights without intermission.--editors.

9 The author doubtless refers to operations conducted by himself, for the third great bombardment of Fort Sumter took place after his assignment to another field in the spring of 1864.--editors.

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