Doc. 36. battle of Port Royal, S. C. Fought November 7, 1861.
War Department order.
Letter of the Secretary of war.
The following is Capt. Gilmore
's report of the first reconnaissance of Hilton Head
Official Document.--First Reconnoissance of Hilton Head Island, S. C., made on Friday, Nov. 7, 1861, by Capt. Q. A. Gilmore, Chief Engineer E. C., escorted by the Seventh Connecticut Regiment, Col. Terry.
After landing and taking possession of the forts, General Sherman
issued the following proclamation:
Accounts by officers engaged in the battle.
The following is a portion of a private letter from Flag-officer Dupont
to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy
The following letter was received by the Secretary
of the Union Defence Committee in the city of New York
The subjoined private letter was addressed to his father in Washington
, by a non-commissioned officer on board the United States
,” commanded by the gallant Captain Drayton
, in the action:
Letter from the “Unadilla.”
The following is an extract from a private letter of an officer of the gunboat Unadilla
Charleston Mercury's account.
The battle of Port Royal
will be remembered as one of the best fought and best conducted battles which have signalized the war in which we are engaged.
If Gen. Ripley
had been appointed a general in command two months sooner, every thing would have been in a better state of preparation.
But these two previous months were wasted in doing nothing for our defence.
Within the time left to him, Gen. Ripley
did all that untiring energy and skill could accomplish, to put our coast in a state of preparation.
The two islands of Hilton Head
and Bay Point
, with their extreme limits, constitute the two points which guard the entrance to Port Royal Sound
, about three miles in width.
On these two points two forts were erected--Fort Walker
on Hilton Head
, and Fort Beauregard
on Bay Point
The time we possessed enabled us to make them only earthworks, without any protection from shells or bombs.
The island of Hilton Head
was commanded by Gen. Drayton
The officers immediately superintending the artillery and conducting the fire of Fort Walker
, were Col. Wagoner
, Major Arthur Huger
, and Capt. Yates
, of the regular service, especially detailed by Gen. Ripley
to aid in directing the artillery.
commanded at Fort Beauregard
, but he generously allowed Capt. Elliott
, of the Beaufort artillery, to direct and conduct the batteries of the fort.
The day was beautiful — calm and clear, with scarcely a cloud in the heavens — just such a day as our invaders would have ordained, if they could, to carry on their operations.
In such a sketch of the battle as, amid the excitement and the thousands of baseless rumors, we are enabled to present to our readers, a brief review of the earlier events of this memorable week will not be uninteresting.
The great fleet of the enemy passed our bar on Sunday, the 3d inst., and on the following day was anchored off Port Royal
About four o'clock on Monday afternoon, Commodore Tatnall
, with his “musketo fleet,” ran out from the harbor and made the first hostile demonstration.
The immense armada of the invaders, numbering at that time, thirty-six
vessels, was drawn up in line of battle; and as our little flotilla steamed up to within a mile of them and opened its fire, the scene was an inspiriting one, but almost ludicrous in the disparity of the size of the opposing fleets.
The enemy replied to our fire almost immediately.
After an exchange of some twenty shots, Commodore Tatnall
retired, and was not pursued.
About seven o'clock on Tuesday morning several of the largest Yankee war steamers having come within range, the batteries of Forts Walker
were opened, and the steamers threw a number of shells in over our works, inflicting no damage on Fort Walker
, and but slightly wounding two of the garrison of Fort Beauregard
This engagement lasted, with short intervals, for nearly two hours, when the enemy drew off. The steamers made a similar but shorter reconnoissance on Wednesday evening, but without any important results.
On the next day the weather was rough, and the fleet lay at anchor five or six miles from shore.
During the day several straggling transports came up, swelling the number of vessels to forty-one.
All Tuesday night, and all day Wednesday and Wednesday night, our men stood at their guns, momentarily expecting an attack, and obtaining only such scanty rest and refreshment as chance afforded.
Thursday dawned gloriously upon our wearied, but undaunted gunners, and all felt that the day of trial had at last arrived.
Scarcely had breakfast been despatched, when the hostile fleet was observed in commotion.
The great war steamers formed rapidly in single file, and within supporting distance of each other, the frigate Wabash
, the flag-ship of Com. Dupont
, in the van. As the long line of formidable-looking vessels, thirteen in number, most of them powerful propellers, with a few sailing men-of-war in tow, swept rapidly and majestically in, with ports open and bristling with guns of the heaviest calibre, the sight was grand and imposing.
This was at half-past 8 o'clock. Until the Minnesota
came within the range of, and directly opposite our batteries on Hilton Head
, all was still.
Suddenly the fifteen heavy guns of Fort Walker
, which had been aimed directly at the huge frigate, belched forth their simultaneous fire, and the action was begun.
Almost immediately afterward, the batteries of Fort Beauregard
, on the other side of the entrance, also opened their fire.
The enemy at first did not reply.
But as the second steamer came opposite to Fort Walker
, the hulls of the first three were suddenly wrapped in smoke, and the shot and shell of three tremendous broadsides, making, in all, seventy-five guns, came crashing against our works
From this moment the bombardment was incessant and terrific; one by one the propellers bore down upon our forts, delivered their fire as they passed, until nine had gained the interior of the harbor, beyond the range of our guns.
, still followed by the others, then turned round and steamed slowly out, giving a broadside to Fort Beauregard
as she repassed.
Then the battle was continued, the enemy's vessels sailing in an elliptical course, pouring one broadside into Bay Point
, and then sweeping around to deliver the other against Hilton Head
This furious fire from four hundred guns, many of them the eleven-inch Dahlgren
pattern, and some even thirteen-inch bore, (for a sabot of that diameter was found in Fort Beauregard
,) was maintained incessantly, and the roar of the cannonade seemed continuous.
Meanwhile our garrisons were making a gallant defence.
They kept up a vigorous and well-directed fire against their assailants, and, notwithstanding that their best gun was dismounted at the beginning of the action, they succeeded in setting fire to several of the ships.
Whenever this happened, however, the enemy would haul off and soon extinguish the flames.
The effect of our guns was, in many instances, plainly visible from the forts.
Although the sides of the Minnesota
are of massive strength, several of her ports were knocked into one.
Nor was she the only vessel upon which this evidence of the power of our fire could be seen.
Many of the other steamers were likewise badly hulled.
After some time spent in sailing round and delivering their broadsides in rotation, in the manner we have described, the enemy's steamers adopted another and more successful attack.
One of them took a position inside the harbor so as to enfilade the batteries of Fort Walker
, while several opened a simultaneous enfilading fire from the outside.
Besides this terrific cross-fire, two of the largest steamers maintained the fire in front of the fort.
Thus three furious converging streams of shot and shell were rained amongst the brave little garrison for hours.
The vessels came up within a half mile of the shore, but nearly all our guns had, by this time, become dismounted, and were no longer able to reply with serious effect.
Soon after eleven o'clock, the batteries of Bay Point
The fire of Fort Walker
, as far as the guns that remained were concerned, was not a whit slackened until one o'clock. By that time the dreadful condition of the fort became too apparent to be disregarded longer.
The guns lay in every direction, dismantled and useless; the defences were terribly shattered; the dead and dying were to be seen on every side, and still the iron hail poured pitilessly in.
In this strait it was determined to abandon the fort.
A long waste, about a mile in extent, and commanded by the enemy's guns, intervened between the garrison and the woods.
Across this they were ordered to run for their lives, each man for himself, the object being to scatter them as much as possible, so as not to afford a target for the rifled guns of the fleet.
The preparations for running this perilous gauntlet were soon made.
Knapsacks were abandoned, but the men retained their muskets.
Each of the wounded was placed in a blanket
and carried off by four men. The safety of the living precluded the idea of removing the dead.
And thus the gallant little band quitted the scene of their glory, and scampered off, each one as best he could, toward the woods.
The retreat was covered by a small detachment who remained in the fort for an hour after their comrades left.
Among those who remained were Capt. Harms
, with six men; Lieut. Milchers
, with four men; and Lieut. Bischoff
, with four men. These worked three guns until about two o'clock, when they also quitted the post.
The abandonment of Fort Beauregard
was equally a necessity.
The garrison were exhausted, and in momentary danger of being cut off. When Colonel Dunovant
ordered a retreat, tears of mortification and indignation filled the eyes of Capt. Elliott
at the sad necessity.
The retreat was admirably conducted, and rendered entirely successful by the prudent energy of Capt. Hanckel
, one of Gen. Ripley
's aids, who had got together some twelve flats at Station Creek
, by which the troops passed safely over to St. Helena Island
From there they passed to Beaufort Island
, and reached the train at Pocotaligo
without the loss or injury of a man. In this fort none were killed, and but five were wounded, and two of these were wounded by negligence in loading a cannon, by which hot shot was driven on the powder without the wet wad preceding it.
The rest of the story is briefly told.
Late on Thursday night the garrison of Fort Walker
had collected at the landing, in the hope of being able to reach Bluffton
Luckily, several small Confederate steamers were within hail.
But here a ludicrous mistake occurred.
The retreating troops imagined the little steamers to be Yankee gunboats; while the crews of the steamers were convinced that the troops were a body of disembarked Yankees.
Acting upon this double delusion, a deal of mutual reconnoitring was made, and it was only after a vast variety of strategic approaches that they reached the conclusion that it was “all right.”
A quick trip to Bluffton
Thence the regiment marched to Hardeeville
, seventeen miles distant. The road along which they dragged their exhausted frames was filled with a heterogeneous throng of fugitives of all conditions, carriages, carts, and conveyances of every description that could, by any possibility, be pressed into service.
The spectacle was a sad one.
Thus ended the defence of Port Royal
The mortification of the disaster is lessened by the consciousness that our troops deserved success.
What injury we did to the enemy we do not know.
Our firing was, of course, less efficient than theirs.
Our troops were volunteers — theirs were picked artillerists; yet, it is very remarkable how few were killed or wounded among our troops.
This battle, in this respect, was very much like the battle of Fort Sumter
How so many cannon could have been dismounted and rendered useless, and yet so few of those who worked them injured, seems very marvellous.
Our troops did their duty faithfully and bravely, and fought until to fight longer would have been sheer folly.
Though encountering immense odds, no signs of cowardice marked their conduct.
Officers and soldiers exemplified the ancient character of the State
, and deserve our profound gratitude and admiration.