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An incident of Fort Sumter.

By Major John A. Hamilton.
I think it was in the month of February, 1861, that a company (the Moultrie Guard) of the first regiment of rifles, was sent to garrison Fort Johnson, or rather to occupy the summer houses of James' Island, fronting on Charleston harbor. A small earthwork held by a detachment of the German artillery stood near the wharf, and a mortar battery on the beach opposite Sumter at the time was being put in readiness for the fight. The defiant attitude of the Federal Government had rendered it necessary to have little communication with Major Anderson's garrison. To this end an order had been issued, permitting a boat from Sumter to come in a direct line to the wharf at Fort Johnson, take on such supplies of vegetables, fresh meats and mail, which arrived daily by steamer from Charleston, (and which considerate clemency kept the enemy in health and comfortable condition, pending the last unsuccessful negotiations for a peaceful settlement) the boat then to return in a direct course to the fort. This system of daily trips to and from the wharf was made by a crew of four, under an officer whose rank was not defined, wearing as he did always an undress suit. A member (still living) of the Moultrie Guard, had studied the position, and that night suggested the following to two of his mess: “To-morrow I'll have the supplies for Sumter put at the off-side of the wharf. You,” addressing the writer, “stand in view of the boat and give a signal if the officer gets to be restless; you,” to the other, “sit at the head of the landing and chat with the officer; I will be by the pile of staves, and sound the man who is to lug them to the boat,and see if we can't get up a wholesale desertion of the fort by the garrison.” It was thought best to confer first with the commander of the State troops (now dead.) The feasability of the scheme secured his consent, and the originator of it returned in time to put it in effect. On the next day the supplies from the steamer were placed on the opposite side of the wharf from where the boat landed. One of the militia trio sat at the head of the steps at the landing place, another stood ready to give a signal if the officer became suspicious, and the third was near the pile of supplies. The boat came, and the bow rower was sent up to get the meat, &c. A conversation was begun, and the bait took. Several thousands of dollars were offered by the militiaman to each deserter who reported to him, and the soldier from Sumter was pledged to report on the next trip. “We don't care to fight, and will leave if we can; but,” he [266] added, “we are so closely watched.” “Hurry up with that stuff on the wharf.” The soldier gathered an armful and returned to the boat, obedient to the officer's order. On the next trip, the soldier who had been baited to desert, occupied the stroke seat, another man was in the bow. The officer had suspected something. For a moment he gave his. eye to the militiaman, and nodded with a finger laid on his lips. But the slip, “there's many oa them.” It rained hard the next day, and the fort boat was hauled under the wharf out of the rain while waiting for the steamer. The officer (now dead) in command of Fort Johnson was on the wharf, and seeing the dripping crew incautiously asked the Federal officer to go to his quarters out of the rain. Of course he accepted. They passed the battery in charge of the artillery squad; a lot of shell and a few mortars lay in their way, all of which the Federal noted, and while it rained, the courteous but thoughtless Confederate and his guest chatted at Headquarters (and of the houses on the beach). Finally the rain held up, and the Federal departed, loaded up his boat and left for Sumpter. What induced the commander at Fort Johnson to move quarters that very afternoon, is easily guessed; we, the non-commissioned mess aspiring to transport our beds and truck in the very house the Captain had vacated so soon as he left. Instead of a pile of official papers which dignified the table in the middle of the floor during the morning, and which caught the Federal's eye before he left, we left a score of “old sogers” and a pile of pipe ashes, and went to bed. One of our mess had a cold and could not sleep well; about midnight he called out, “Who is there?” then followed the jar of a door forced open, a quick dash of a man through the two rooms. next to the one we occupied, a clatter of feet down the steps, followed by the discharge of the sentry's gun at Headquarters next door. We sprang up, took our weapons and followed after. The sentinel reported a man having come out of our house, and running by passed on to the beach. We followed, found the track of a peculiar boot, well run down on the left heel. We followed it step by step until we reached the creek that divided us from Morris island. There the boot-print was lost in the water. While waiting, speculating and grumbling generally, the flashes and reports from Morris island pickets were heard. The guard were firing at a boat heading for Sumter. We returned and found that the back door of our house, which had been fastened inside by a combination lock, was forced open by the inserting of a bayonet, the triangular mark being plainly visible. This was the noise our messmate heard. Before the nocturnal visitor could reach the room he had been discovered and fled. He would have [267] found only the “old sogers;” the red taped bundles had gone next door. On the day following we were called on by a “big Injun” from Charleston; our commander was interviewed, and we were relieved, to learn elsewhere how to do garrison duty. So ended an abortive attempt by an abolitionist militiaman to capture Fort Sumter by bribery. The night visit of the Yankee was to learn when and how Sumter was to be attacked, or the incidentals thereto.

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John A. Hamilton (1)
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