forts soon proved beyond human endurance.
The smaller gunboats at length took positions whence their fire was most annoying, yet could not be effectively returned; while the Bienville
, on her second promenade, steamed close in to the main Rebel fort, and fired her great guns with such effect as almost to silence the enemy.
, on her third round, came within six hundred yards of the fort, firing as calmly and heavily as at the outset.
The battle had thus raged nearly five hours, with fearful carnage and devastation on the part of the Rebels
and very little loss on ours, when the overmatched Confederates, finding themselves slaughtered to no purpose, suddenly and unanimously took to flight; their commander, Gen. T. F. Drayton
making as good time as the best of them.2
The Rebel forts were fully manned by 1,700 South Carolinians, with a field battery of 500 more stationed not far distant.
The negroes, save those who had been driven off by their masters, or shot while attempting to evade them, had stubbornly remained on the isles; and there was genuine pathos in the prompt appearance of scores of them, rushing down to the water-side, with their scanty stock of valuables tied up in a handkerchief, and begging to be taken on board our ships.
The idea that our occupation might be permanent seems not to have occurred to them; they only thought of escaping at all hazards from their life-long, bitter bondage.
Had this blow been followed up as it might have been, Charleston
, or Savannah
, or both, could have been easily and promptly captured.
The Confederate defeat was so unexpected, so crushing, and the terror inspired by our gunboats so general and profound, that nothing could have withstood the progress of our arms.
But Gen. Sherman
had not been instructed to press his advantages, nor had he been provided with the light-draft steamers, row-boats, and other facilities, really needed for the improvement of his signal victory.
He did not even occupy Beaufort
until December 6th, nor Tybee Island
, commanding the approach to Savannah
, until December 20th; on which day, a number of old hulks of vessels were sunk in the main ship channel leading up to Charleston
and Sullivan's islands
— as others were, a few days afterward, in the passage known as Maffit
's channel — with intent to impede the midnight flitting of blockade-runners.
These obstructions were denounced in Europe
as barbarous, but proved simply inefficient.
Meantime, the slaveholders of all the remaining Sea Islands stripped them of slaves and domestic animals, burned their cotton, and other crops which they were unable to remove, and fled to Charleston
and the interior.
Not a slaveholder on all that