All suspense regarding the employment of the Fifty-fourth ended July 8, with the receipt, about noon, of orders to move at an hour's notice, taking only blankets and rations.
Three hours after, the regiment began to embark, headquarters with seven companies finding transportation on the steamer Chasseur,
the remaining ones on the steamer Cossack,
with Colonel Montgomery
, with a guard of one hundred men, was detailed to remain at St. Helena in charge of the camp.
also remained with the sick.
and Lieutenant Walton
were unable to go on account of illness.
A start was made late in the afternoon in a thunder-storm, the ‘Cossack
’ stopping at Hilton Head
to take on Captain Emilio
and a detail of ninety men there.
The following night was made miserable by wet clothes, a scarcity of water, and the crowded condition of the small steamers.
About 1 A. M. on the 9th, the transports arrived off Stono Inlet
; the bar was crossed at noon; and anchors were cast off Folly Island
The inlet was full of transports, loaded with troops, gunboats, and supply vessels, betokening an important movement made openly.
's plans should be briefly stated.
He desired to gain possession of Morris Island
, then in the
enemy's hands, and fortified.
He had at disposal ten thousand infantry, three hundred and fifty artillerists, and six hundred engineers; thirty-six pieces of field artillery, thirty Parrott
guns, twenty-seven siege and three Cohorn mortars, besides ample tools and material.
was to co-operate.
On Folly Island
, in our possession, batteries were constructed near Lighthouse Inlet
, opposite Morris Island
, concealed by the sand hillocks and undergrowth.
's real attack was to be made from this point by a coup de main
, the infantry crossing the inlet in boats covered by a bombardment from land and sea. Brig.-Gen. Alfred H. Terry
, with four thousand men, was to make a demonstration on James Island
. Col. T. W. Higginson
, with part of his First South Carolina Colored and a section of artillery, was to ascend the South Edisto River
, and cut the railroad at Jacksonboro
This latter force, however, was repulsed with the loss of two guns and the steamer ‘Governor Milton
Late in the afternoon of the 9th Terry
's division moved.
The monitor Nantucket,
and ‘Commodore McDonough
,’ and mortar schooner C. P. Williams
passed up the river, firing on James Island
to the right and John's Island
to the left, followed by thirteen transports carrying troops.
Col. W. W. H. Davis
, with portions of his regiment—the One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania—and the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, landed on Battery Island, advancing to a bridge leading to James Island
Heavy cannonading was heard in the direction of Morris Island
, at 5 A. M. on the 10th.
Before night word came that all the ground south of Fort Wagner
on Morris Island
was captured with many guns and prisoners.
This news was received with rousing cheers by Terry
's men and the sailors.
At dawn Colonel Davis
's men crossed to James Island
, his skirmishers driving a few cavalry.
At an old house the main force halted with pickets advanced.
While this movement was taking place, a portion of the other troops landed.
That day a mail brought news of Vicksburg
's capture and Lee
's defeat at Gettysburg
Lieut. Edward B. Emerson
joined the Fifty-fourth from the North
About noon of the 11th, the regiment landed, marched about a mile, and camped in open ground on the furrows.
of an old field.
The woods near by furnished material for brush shelters as a protection against the July sun. By that night all troops were ashore.
's division consisted of three brigades,—Davis's, of the Fifty-second and One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania and Fifty-sixth New York; Brig.-Gen. Thomas G. Stevenson
's, of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, Tenth Connecticut, and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania; and Montgomery
's, of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts and Second South Carolina.
is separated from the mainland by Wappoo Creek
From the landing a road led onward, which soon separated into two: one running to the right through timber, across low sandy ground to Secessionville
; the other to the left, over open fields across the low ground, past Dr. Thomas Grimball
's house on to the Wappoo.
The low ground crossed by both these roads over causeways formed the front of Terry
's lines, and was commanded by our naval vessels.
, on the Stono
, constituted the enemy's right.
Thence the line was retired partially behind James Island Creek
of detached light works for field-guns and infantry.
Their left was the fortified camp of Secessionville, where, before Battery Lamar
, General Benham
was repulsed in the spring of 1862.
, the Confederate Department
commander, considered an attack on Charleston
by way of James Island
as the most dangerous to its safety.
He posted his forces accordingly, and on July 10 had 2,926 effectives there, with 927 on Morris Island
, 1,158 on Sullivan's Island
, and 850 in the city.
Few troops from other points were spared when Morris Island
was attacked on the 10th; therefore Terry
's diversion had been effective.
's weakness been known, Terry
's demonstration in superior force might have been converted into a real attack, and James Island
fallen before it, when Charleston
must have surrendered or been destroyed.
, on the 11th, with Company B, was sent to John's Island
to prevent a repetition of firing upon our vessels by artillery such as had occurred that morning.
In the afternoon the Tenth Connecticut and Ninetyseventh Pennsylvania
, covered by the ‘Pawnee
's’ fire, advanced the picket line.
Word was received of an unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner
, with considerable loss to us. Abraham F. Brown
of Company E accidentally shot himself to death with a small pistol he was cleaning.
Late that afternoon Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell
, with Companies D, F, I, and K, went out on picket in front of our right, remaining throughout a dark and stormy night.
During the night of the 13th, Captain Emilio
, with Company E, picketed about Legareville
's First Connecticut Battery arrived from Beaufort
on the 14th.
Between the 10th and 16th there had arrived for the enemy from Georgia
and North Carolina
two four-gun batteries and six regiments of infantry.
also reduced his force on Morris Island
and concentrated on James, under command of Brig.-Gen. Johnson Hagood
still kept Terry
there, inviting attack, although the purpose of the diversion had been accomplished.
On the 15th the enemy demonstrated in front of the Tenth Connecticut pickets.
It was rumored that two scouts had been seen about our lines.
Some thought had been given to securing a line of retreat; for the engineers were reconstructing the broken bridge leading from James Island
, and repairing causeways, dikes, and foot-bridges across the marshes along the old road to Cole's Island
, formerly used by the Confederates
Companies B, H, and K, of the Fifty-fourth, under command of Captain Willard
, were detailed for picket on the 15th, and about 6 P. M. relieved men of Davis
and Lieutenant Howard
, with Company H, held the right from near a creek, over rolling ground and rather open country covered with high grass and thistles.
and Lieut. R. H. L. Jewett
held the left of the Fifty-fourth line with Company K and a portion of Company B.
It was over lower ground, running obliquely through a growth of small timber and brush.
There was a broken bridge in the front.
A reserve, consisting of the remainder of Company B, under Lieut. Thomas L. Appleton
, was held at a stone house.
's force was five officers and about two
hundred men. From Simpkins
's left to the Stono
the picket line was continued by men of the Tenth Connecticut, holding a dangerous position, as it had a swamp in rear.
Frequent showers of rain fell that evening.
All night following, the enemy was uneasy.
Lurking men were seen, and occasional shots rang out. Captain Willard
, mounting the roof of the house, could see great activity among the signal corps of the enemy.
He sent word to his officers to be vigilant, and prepared for attack in the morning.
About midnight the men were placed in skirmishing order, and so remained.
of Company B relates that George Brown
of his company, a ‘dare-devil fellow,’ crawled out on his hands and knees and fired at the enemy's pickets.
An attack was indeed impending, arranged on the following plan: Brig.-Gen. A. H. Colquitt
, with the Twentyfifth South Carolina
, Sixth and Nineteenth Georgia, and four companies Thirty-second Georgia, about fourteen hundred men, supported by the Marion Artillery, was to cross the marsh at the causeway nearest Secessionville
, ‘drive the enemy as far as the lower causeway [nearest Stono
] rapidly recross the marsh at that point by a flank movement, and cut off and capture the force encamped at Grimball
Col. C. H. Way
, Fifty-fourth Georgia, with eight hundred men, was to follow and co-operate.
A reserve of one company of cavalry, one of infantry, and a section of artillery, was at Rivers's house. Two Napoleon
guns each, of the Chatham Artillery, and Blake
's Battery, and four twelve-pounders of the Siege Train
, supported by four hundred infantry, were to attack the gunboats Pawnee
’ in the Stono River
In the gray of early dawn of July 16, the troops in bivouac on James Island
were awakened by dropping shots, and then heavy firing on the picket line to the right.
Clambering to the top of a pile of cracker-boxes, an officer of the Fifty-fourth, looking in the direction of the firing, saw the flashes of musketry along the outposts.
In a few moments came the sharp metallic explosions from field-guns to the left by the river-bank.
, the adjutant, rode in post-haste along the line, with cheery voice but unusually excited manner, ordering company commanders to form.
resounded on all sides, while drums of the several regiments were beating the long-roll.
But a few moments sufficed for the Fifty-fourth to form, when Colonel Shaw
marched it to the right and some little distance to the rear, where it halted, faced to the front, and stood in line of battle at right angles to the Secessionville
Rapid work was going on at the outposts.
Before dawn the pickets of the Fifty-fourth had heard hoarse commands and the sound of marching men coming from the bank of darkness before them.
Soon a line of men in open order came sweeping toward them from the gloom into the nearer and clearer light.
, with six companies of the Eutaw Regiment
(Twenty-fifth South Carolina), skirmishing before his column, crossing Rivers
's causeway, was rapidly advancing on the black pickets.
's right was the first point of contact; and the men, thus suddenly attacked by a heavy force, discharged their pieces, and sullenly contested the way, firing as they went, over rough and difficult ground, which obstructed the enemy's advance as well as their own retirement.
Soon the enemy gained the road at a point in rear of Russel
Some of the men there, hardly aware of their extremity, were still holding their positions against those of the enemy who appeared in the immediate front.
It seemed to Sergt. Peter Vogelsang
of Company H, who had his post at a palmetto-tree, that in a moment one hundred Rebels were swarming about him. He led his comrades to join men on his left, where they advanced, firing.
With effect too, for they came to the body of a dead Rebel, from whom Vogelsang
took a musket.
's right posts, thus cut off, were followed by a company of the Nineteenth Georgia, and after the desultory fighting were driven, to escape capture, into the creek on the right of the line, where some were drowned.
Those most courageous refused to fall back, and were killed or taken as prisoners.
Sergt. James D. Wilson
of Company H was one of the former.
He was an expert in the use of the musket, having been employed with the famous Ellsworth Zouaves of Chicago
Many times he had declared to his comrades that he would never retreat or surrender to the enemy.
On that morning, when attacked, he called to his men to stand fast.
Assailed by five men, he is said to have disabled three of them.
Some cavalrymen coming up, he charged them with a shout as they circled about him, keeping them all at bay for a time with the bayonet of his discharged musket, until the brave fellow sank in death with three mortal besides other wounds.
, finding that the enemy had turned his flank before he could face back, had to retire with such men as were not cut off, at double-quick, finding the foe about the reserve house when he reached it. A mounted
officer charged up to Russel
, and cut twice at his head with his sword.
of Company H caught the second sweep upon his bayonet and shot the Confederate
through the neck, thus saving his captain's life.
From the reserve house Russel
and his men retired, fighting as they could.
's right, as has been told, first bore the force of the attack.
By strenuous efforts and great personal exposure that cool and gallant officer collected some men in line.
With them he contested the way back step by step, halting now and then to face about and fire, thus gaining time, the loss of which thwarted the enemy's plan.
Of his men, Corp. Henry A. Field
of Company K especially distinguished himself.
at the reserve house at once sent back word, by a mounted orderly, of the situation.
To the support of his right he sent Lieutenant Appleton
with some men, and to the left First Sergeant Simmons
of Company B with a small force, and then looked for aid from our main body.
He endeavored to form a line of skirmishers, when the men began coming back from the front, but with little success.
The men could not be kept in view because of the underbrush nearly as high as a man. As the expected succor did not come, the officers and the remaining men made their way back to the division.
It will be remembered that with the first musket-shots came the sound of field-guns from the Stono
The enemy's four Napoleons had galloped into battery within four hundred yards of the gunboats, and fired some ten rounds before they were replied to; their shots crashed through the ‘Pawnee
’ again and again, with some loss.
It was impossible
for the gunboats to turn in the narrow stream, and their guns did not bear properly.
To drop down was dangerous, but it was done; when out of close range, the ‘Marblehead
,’ and ‘Huron
’ soon drove their tormentors away from the river-bank.
To capture the Tenth Connecticut, the enemy, after dealing with the Fifty-fourth, sent a portion of his force; but the resistance made by Captain Simpkins
had allowed time for the Tenth Connecticut to abandon its dangerous position at the double-quick.
None too soon, however, for five minutes delay would have been fatal.
A correspondent of ‘The Reflector,’ writing from Morris Island
a few days later, said:—
‘The boys of the Tenth Connecticut could not help loving the men who saved them from destruction.
I have been deeply affected at hearing this feeling expressed by officers and men of the Connecticut regiment; and probably a thousand homes from Windham to Fairfield have in letters been told the story how the dark-skinned heroes fought the good fight and covered with their own brave hearts the retreat of brothers, sons, and fathers of Connecticut.’
The valuable time gained by the resistance of the Fifty-fourth pickets had also permitted the formation of Terry
's division in line of battle.
Hardly had the Fifty-fourth taken its position before men from the front came straggling in, all bearing evidence of struggles with bush and brier, some of the wounded limping along unassisted, others helped by comrades.
One poor fellow, with his right arm shattered, still carried his musket in his left hand.
appeared in sight, assisting a sergeant,
Bringing up the rear came Captains Willard
, the latter with his trousers and rubber coat pierced with bullets.
As the pickets and their officers reached the regiment, they took their places in line.
A few minutes after these events, the enemy, having advanced to a position within about six hundred yards of the Federal
line, opened fire with guns of the Marion Artillery, making good line shots, but fortunately too high.
It was a supreme moment for the Fifty-fourth, then under fire as a regiment for the first time.
The sight of wounded comrades had been a trial; and the screaming shot and shell flying overhead, cutting the branches of trees to the right, had a deadly sound.
But the dark line stood stanch, holding the front at the most vital point.
Not a man was out of place, as the officers could see while they stood in rear of the lines, observing their men.
In reply to the enemy's guns the Connecticut
battery fired percussion-shells, and for some time this artillery duel continued.
To those who were anticipating an attack by infantry, and looking for the support of the gunboats, their silence was ominous.
Every ear was strained to catch the welcome sound, and at last it came in great booms from Parrott guns.
Very opportunely, too, on the night before, the armed transports John Adams
and ‘Mayflower’ had run up the creek on our right flank, and their guns were fired twelve or fifteen times with good effect before the enemy retired.
The expected attack on Terry
's line by infantry did not take place, for after about an hour the enemy retired in some confusion.
By General Terry
's order, the
Fifty-fourth was at once directed to reoccupy the old picket line.
with two companies advanced, skirmishing; and the main body followed, encountering arms and equipments of the enemy strewn over a broad trail.
At the reserve house the regiment halted in support of a strong picket line thrown out. Parties were sent to scour the ground, finding several wounded men lying in the brush or in the marsh across the creek.
They also brought in the body of a Confederate, almost a child, with soft skin and long fair hair, red with his own blood.
This youthful victim of the fight was tenderly buried soon after.
Some of our dead at first appeared to be mutilated; but closer inspection revealed the fact that the fiddler-crabs, and not the enemy, did the work.
It was told by some of those who lay concealed, that where Confederate officers were, the colored soldiers had been protected; but that in other cases short shrift was given, and three men had been shot and others bayonetted.
had despatched Adjutant James
to report that the old line was re-established.
He returned with the following message from General Terry
: ‘Tell your colonel that I am exceedingly pleased with the conduct of your regiment.
They have done all they could do.’
During the afternoon a mail was received.
After reading their letters Colonel Shaw
and Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell
The colonel asked the major if he believed in presentiments, and added that he felt he would be killed in the first action.
Asked to try to shake off the feeling, he quietly said, ‘I will try.’
reported his loss as three killed,
twelve wounded, and three missing, which is believed to be an under-estimate.
We found two dead Confederates, and captured six prisoners representing four regiments.
gives the Fifty-fourth loss as fourteen killed, eighteen wounded, and thirteen missing. Outside our regiment the casualties were very light.
in his official report says:—
‘I desire to express my obligations to Captain Balch, United States Navy, commanding the naval forces in the river, for the very great assistance rendered to me, and to report to the commanding general the good services of Captain Rockwell and his battery, and the steadiness and soldierly conduct of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment who were on duty at the outposts on the right and met the brunt of attack.’
was ordered to evacuate James Island
At about five o'clock P. M., the Fifty-fourth was relieved by the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, and returned to the bivouac.
While awaiting the marching orders, several officers and men of the Tenth Connecticut came to express their appreciation of the service rendered by the Fifty-fourth companies attacked in the morning, by which they were enabled to effect a safe retreat.
Afterward, upon Morris Island
the colonel of that regiment made similar expressions.
Col. W. W. H. Davis
, with his own and Montgomery
's brigades, and the Tenth Connecticut, was to retire by the land route.
's Twenty-fourth Massachusetts and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania were ordered to take transports from James Island
By Colonel Davis
's order the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts
was given the advance, moving at 9.30 o'clock that night, followed by the other regiments, the route being pointed out by guides from the engineers, who accompanied the head of column.
All stores, ammunition, and horses of the Fifty-fourth were put on board the steamer Boston
by Quartermaster Ritchie
, who, with his men, worked all night in the mud and rain.
Surgeon Lincoln R. Stone
of the Fifty-fourth and Surgeon Samuel A. Green
of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts saw that all the wounded were properly cared for, and also embarked.
It was a stormy night, with frequent flashes of lightning, and pouring rain.
, at the proper time, saw to the withdrawal of the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, which held the front lines.
So silently was the operation accomplished that the enemy did not discover our evacuation until daylight.
When the Fifty-sixth New York, the rear-guard, had crossed the bridge leading from James Island
, at 1 A. M., on the 17th, it was effectually destroyed, thus rendering pursuit difficult.
That night's march was a memorable one, for the difficulties of the way were exceptional, and only to be encountered upon the Sea
After passing the bridge, the road led along narrow causeways and paths only wide enough for two men to pass abreast; over swamps, and streams bridged for long distances by structures of frail piling, supporting one or two planks with no hand-rail.
A driving rain poured down nearly the whole time, and the darkness was intense.
Blinding flashes of lightning momentarily illumined the way, then fading but to render the blackness deeper.
Throughout most of the march the men were obliged to
move in single file, groping their way and grasping their leader as they progressed, that they might not separate or go astray.
Along the foot-bridges the planks became slippery with mire from muddy feet, rendering the footing insecure, and occasioning frequent falls, which delayed progress.
Through the woods, wet branches overhanging the path, displaced by the leaders, swept back with bitter force into the faces of those following.
Great clods of clay gathered on the feet of the men.
Two hours were consumed in passing over the dikes and foot-bridges alone.
In distance the route was but a few miles, yet it was daybreak when the leading companies reached firmer ground.
Then the men flung themselves on the wet ground, and in a moment were in deep sleep, while the column closed up. Reunited solidly again, the march was resumed, and Cole's Island
The regiments following the Fifty-fourth had the benefit of daylight most of the way.
Footsore, weary, hungry, and thirsty, the regiment was halted near the beach opposite Folly Island
about 5 A. M., on the 17th.
Sleep was had until the burning sun awakened the greater number.
Regiments had been arriving and departing all the morning.
Rations were not procurable, and they were fortunate who could find a few crumbs or morsels of meat in their haversacks.
Even water was hard to obtain, for crowds of soldiers collected about the few sources of supply.
By noon the heat and glare from the white sand were almost intolerable.
In the evening a moist cool breeze came; and at eight o'clock the regiment moved up the shore to a creek in readiness to embark on the ‘General Hunter
,’ lying in the stream.
It was found that the only means of boarding
the steamer was by a leaky long-boat which would hold about thirty men. Definite orders came to report the regiment to General Strong
at Morris Island
without delay, and at 10 P. M. the embarkation began.
By the light of a single lantern the men were stowed in the boat.
Rain was pouring down in torrents, for a thunderstorm was raging.
Throughout that interminable night the long-boat was kept plying from shore to vessel and back, while those on land stood or crouched about in dripping clothes, awaiting their turn for ferriage to the steamer, whose dim light showed feebly in the gloom.
The boat journey was made with difficulty, for the current was strong, and the crowded soldiers obstructed the rowers in their task.
It was an all night's work.
saw personally to the embarkation; and as daylight was breaking he stepped in with the last boat-load, and himself guided the craft to the ‘Hunter
Thus with rare self-sacrifice and fine example, he shared the exposure of every man, when the comfortable cabin of the steamer was at his disposal from the evening before.