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Letters from Fort Sumter in 1862 and 1863.

By Lieut. Iredell Jones, First Regiment S. C. Regulars.

No. 2.

Fort Sumter, July 20, 1863.
My Dear Father, —Since my last to mother much of interest has transpired, and all before my eyes. I have seen a desperate battle fought, preceded, as it was, by one of the most furious bombardments of the war. About 9 o'clock on Saturday morning, the five monitors, the Ironsides, and five gunboats moved up in front of Wagner and immediately opened a most terrific shelling, and they had not fired long before the enemy's batteries (two in number) joined in, and all together poured forth their missiles of death for ten long hours on our little fort, containing only one gun with which we were able to reply. The rest of the guns in the fort are of light calibre and useful only against an assaulting party. Our men took refuge in their bomb-proofs, and, having sustained only a few casualties, [138] quietly awaited the time when they would be afforded an opportunity for taking revenge. That time came much sooner than they anticipated. About dusk the dark and dense columns were seen moving slowly down the beach. When they had reached the commencement of the open plain in front of and entirely commanded by the Battery, the first brigade, under Gen. Strong, being formed in two columns, made a dashing charge for our works. They reached the Battery, but were repulsed and driven back in confusion. Immediately the second brigade, under Col. Putnam, moved to the assault, and reached and took possession of the main portion of our works, but the ditch in front, filled with dead and dying, and the scattered dead and wounded across the whole plain, told how dearly they had paid for it.

The enemy kept possession of the portion they had taken for three-quarters of an hour, were there in force even after all the rest of their comrades had retreated, and but for a gallant charge of a handful of men from the Charleston Battalion, led by General Taliaferro in person, they would well nigh have taken our works. Our little band charged them at the point of the bayonet, and either killed, wounded, or took possession of the whole party. If the enemy had been supported, I believe the Battery would have fallen.

Thus ended one of the most desperate little battles of this war. It was really fought by about 500 of our men against twelve regiments of the enemy, numbering about 8, 000 in all, in two brigades. I visited the Battery yesterday, and went all over the battle-field. The dead and wounded were piled up in a ditch together, sometimes fifty in a heap, and they were strewn all over the plain for a distance of three-quarters of a mile. They had two negro regiments, and they were slaughtered in every direction. One pile of negroes numbered thirty. Numbers of both whites and blacks were killed on top our breastworks, as well as inside. The negroes fought gallantly, and were headed by as brave a Colonel as ever lived. He mounted the breastworks, waving his sword, and at the head of his regiment, and he and a negro orderly sergeant fell dead over the inner crest of the works. The negroes were as fine looking set as I ever saw—large, strong, muscular fellows. They were splendidly uniformed; but they do not know what they are fighting for. They say they were forced into it. I learned from prisoners that they are held in contempt by the white soldiers, and not only so, but that the white officers who command them are despised also. They are made to do all the drudgery of the army. [139]

The enemy's loss was, according to the best estimates, 600 killed and about the same number wounded and prisoners together, while our loss, all told, was not more than 150.

The Colonel of one of the negro regiments has been recognized as a very wealthy gentleman from Boston.

The enemy sent a flag of truce over yesterday morning, asking to be allowed to bury their dead, but General Hagood, who has relieved General Taliaferro for the present, replied that we would attend to that. There was a kind of mutual agreement, however, that all operations should be suspended for the day, and while I was on the field about fifty Yankees came over, and were circulating freely among our working parties, cracking jokes and ‘cutting’ at each other. I did not speak to them myself, but in company with a Lieutenant from the Battery, went up nearly to the enemy's rifle pits, and was in about fifty yards of three or four hundred of them. I went up to try to see the strength of their stockade work, and depth of the ditch in front of us, together with the number of guns, &c., in their batteries, but was unable to make any discoveries.

During the fight we assisted with such a fire as old Sumter was able to give, and all the time during the day while the enemy were firing so furiously on the Battery, we kept up a slow fire at their batteries, and now and then gave their monitors a turn. We were at the Battery from 9 o'clock Saturday till 3 o'clock Sunday morning, without scarcely leaving it. Wagner is uninjured. All it needs is heavier guns to keep off the fleet, and our Generals won't send these to them, for fear of the Battery's being taken and the guns being lost. If they be not sent I believe the Battery will fall, for it is now almost encircled with gunboats and batteries. The garrison holds out bravely, and if assisted, as it deserves to be, Wagner cannot be taken.

It is now 3 O'clock P. M. The bombardment was recommenced to-day, and still continues. The enemy's batteries have just opened on Sumter, and for the first time. Several shells have fallen inside the fort. A drummer-boy was wounded by a fragment a few moments ago.

Your affectionate son,

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A. G. Taliaferro (2)
Iredell Jones (2)
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