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Chapter 13:

The attempt of Admiral Du Pont and Major-General Hunter to reduce and capture the outer defenses of Charleston on April 7, 1863, having been signally repulsed, and the ironclad squadron badly crippled, both of those officers were relieved, and the energies and resources of the Federal government concentrated upon the capture of Morris island. Brig.--Gen. Q. A. Gillmore took command in place of General Hunter, and Rear-Admiral J. A. Dahlgren supplanted Du Pont. General Gillmore had confidently expressed his ability to reduce Fort Sumter from Morris island, and was an officer of recognized energy and skill. After the defeat of April 7th, it was well known in Washington that Admiral Du Pont had lost faith in the fighting qualities of his iron fleet, and General Hunter, in communicating with the government at Washington, had several times complained of ‘the inactivity of the admiral.’ The failure of the general himself to do more than organize raiding parties, which pillaged plantations, burned planters' residences, mills and barns, and were invariably driven back to the ubiquitous gunboat protection, must have impressed his superiors unfavorably. General Hunter complained of his removal from command as a reflection upon his military conduct, but Mr. Lincoln assured him that he was held in high esteem, that no reflection upon him was [224] meant, and that other and controlling reasons had determined the appointment of Gillmore.

On quitting the Stono, after the repulse of the ironclads on April 7th, General Hunter had left a brigade, under Brigadier-General Vogdes, on Folly island, with light artillery and some cavalry. This brigade had orders to conceal its encampments among the sand-hills, and in the dense woods and behind the growth of the island, and so effectually carried out the directions, that the force on Folly island baffled the attempts made to locate it or determine its strength. The island was unassailable by the Confederate forces on James island, and there were no troops in the department to spare for an attack from Morris island, across Lighthouse inlet. General Vogdes was known to be on Folly island with some force, but what he was doing, or what he was there to do, was a matter of frequent discussion, and was certainly never determined until Gillmore developed his force on Stono inlet, when Morris island, Battery Wagner and Fort Sumter were seen to be his objectives.

The department commanded by General Beauregard had been stripped almost bare to reinforce other points. Against this depletion of his infantry, General Beauregard, the governor of the State, the mayor of Charleston, and numerous prominent citizens had remonstrated, but the reply of the secretary of war was both inevitable and unanswerable: ‘It cannot be helped, however much it is deplored.’

Gillmore's force of all arms amounted to 10,950, supplied with field batteries and siege guns of the highest capacity, supported in the Stono and on its left flank by a flotilla of gunboats, and on the right by the admiral's armored fleet. For the immediate defense of the city, General Beauregard had in position, on the islands and in the forts and batteries, a total of 5,841 men: On Morris island 927, on James island 2,906, on Sullivan's island 1,158, and in the city 850. [225]

Morris island, the selected point of real attack, lies along the main ship channel, about 3 1/2 miles in length, north and south, its north end, Cummings point, being three-quarters of a mile south by east from Fort Sumter. At Cummings point, Battery Gregg, named in honor of Brig.--Gen. Maxcy Gregg, mounted guns of the heaviest caliber which the department could command. This battery was an important outpost of Fort Sumter, and one of the strong defenses of the harbor. Three-quarters of a mile south of Battery Gregg stood, square across a narrow neck of the island, Battery Wagner, named in honor of Lieut.-Col. Thomas M. Wagner. Wagner touched the beach on its sea flank, and Vincent's creek on its west flank, covering the whole island width of about 280 yards. It is noteworthy that the Star of the West battery, which fired the first gun of the war, was located, in January, 1851, just in advance of the ground on which Wagner stood.

At the time of which we write (July, 1863), Battery Wagner mounted two heavy guns on the sea face, and some twelve or more, of lighter caliber, on the south and west faces. It was a strong earthwork, constructed of compact sand, upon which the heaviest projectiles produced little effect, with well-built traverses protecting the guns from the sea fire, high merlons, thoroughly protected magazine and bomb-proof, with a strong parapet on the north or gorge face, for the protection of the opening. The salients on the east and west were flanked by infantry and howitzer fire. The barbette guns of Sumter, distant a mile and a half from Wagner, commanded its immediate approaches from the south, while from the parapet of Sumter, with a good glass, Morris island for its entire length was in plain view for observation.

Late in May, General Ripley, commanding the defenses of Charleston, became dissatisfied with the progress of constructing batteries on the extreme south end of [226] Morris island, designed to prevent an attack by boats from Folly island. The enemy's strength on the latter island was unknown, boats and barges were at Vogdes' command, and if two or three thousand troops were to make a determined attack, Ripley felt unprepared to meet it. These representations were made by him to General Beauregard on the 24th of May, and the work on the south end was pushed slowly forward by an inadequate force. Meanwhile General Gillmore had come into command, and by the middle of June was preparing his plans for attack at the south end of Morris island.

When the attack came, on the early morning of July 10th, it was a surprise and overwhelming. Gillmore had put forty-seven guns and mortars in battery, facing the nine separate 1-gun batteries of the Confederates, within three-eighths of a mile of the rifle-pits, and without their knowledge. Observant officers and men were satisfied that batteries were being constructed on Folly island, but so well was the work screened, that not until the brushwood was cut away, the embrasures opened out, and the fire opened, did the little force on the south end of Morris island, or the general commanding the district, or General Beauregard, realize the true character of the attack that had been so secretly prepared.

With lookout stations on the ruins of the old lighthouse on Morris island; on the mast-head of a wrecked blockaderunner, off Lighthouse inlet, and at Secessionville on James island, there was yet no discovery of these Federal works. So far from it, that General Ripley (district commander) reports, that ‘up to the 8th or 9th of July the enemy, so far as ascertained, had constructed no works on Folly island, except to shelter his pickets from our shells.’

Johnson's Defense of Charleston.

On this subject Major Gilchrist says, in his pamphlet on the defense of Morris island, himself a participant in that defense: [227]
It has always been a vexed question on whom should rest the blame for the neglect of this strategic point. There were mutual recriminations and much bad blood between those who were thought to be responsible for the success of the Federals on July 10th, which involved the destruction of Fort Sumter and the long and bloody siege of Wagner. But the truth is, General Beauregard did not believe an attack would be made by this route, and was firmly persuaded that the enemy would again essay an advance by way of James island. He therefore withdrew the negro laborers from Morris island to strengthen the fortifications elsewhere, leaving the Gist Guard and Mathewes' artillery to finish half-completed Fort Wagner. And when General Ripley, on his own responsibility, and by his own engineer, commenced to fortify the neighborhood of Lighthouse inlet, he commanded the work to stop. Later, when it was discovered that General Vogdes was doing some work—its extent unknown—on Folly island, General Ripley again, with the tardy consent of General Beauregard, sent two companies of the First South Carolina artillery, Capt. John C. Mitchel commanding, who, with the assistance of the Twenty-first South Carolina, Col. R. F. Graham, built among the sand-hills of the south end of Morris island nine independent 1-gun batteries, which were eventually to meet the concentrated fire of forty-seven guns in the masked batteries on Folly island, and 8, 11 and 15-inch guns in — the monitors.

The writer of the pamphlet quoted cannot have been aware of the fact, that as early as March 10th General Beauregard had ordered the south end of Morris island fortified, that the work was promptly begun, and that when General Ripley complained, May 24th, of its slow progress, Capt. Langdon Cheves, of the engineers, was prosecuting it with an inadequate force, and no wood material furnished, necessary for magazine and bombproof. As a precautionary measure the works were ordered by General Beauregard, and more appreciated as being necessary by General Ripley, but neither of these generals expected them to be attacked except by boat howitzers and rifle guns of light batteries covering an [228] attack by infantry landing from small boats. In such an attack the batteries on the south end, supported by 1,000 men, could have successfully repelled the enemy. If an attack at that point should come, it was looked for only in that shape.

On July 4th, from his headquarters at Hilton Head, General Gillmore issued his order for the disposition of two divisions designed to attack Morris island. The First was commanded by Brigadier-General Terry, its brigades by Brigadier-General Stevenson and Colonel Davis; the Second by Brigadier-General Seymour, its brigades by Brigadier-Generals Vogdes and Strong. The brigade of Vogdes was already on Folly island, and had been since April 7th; Strong landed on the 6th of July, and Stevenson subsequently.

On the 9th, General Beauregard telegraphed Mr. Davis of the presence in Stono and off the bar of thirty-eight vessels and five monitors, and at noon of the same day to Governor Bonham, and to Richmond, that ‘an attack on Sumter along Folly and Morris islands is evidently imminent.’ General Mercer, at Savannah, and General Whiting, at Wilmington, were asked for support, and Generals Hagood and Walker were ordered to hold all available troops in the Second and Third districts in readiness, to march or take the cars for Charleston at a moment's warning.

The batteries on Folly island were then under cover and still unknown. The only certain indication of the impending attack was reported by Capt. C. T. Haskell early on the morning of the 9th. That gallant and energetic officer had made a reconnoissance to the west of Folly island, by boat, and had plainly discovered the flotilla of barges and small boats in Folly Island creek, ‘moored and ready for crossing.’ This reconnoissance by Captain Haskell, and the landing of Strong's brigade on Folly island, persuaded General Beauregard to look for the attack on the south end of Morris island. How [229] was he prepared to meet it? Eleven guns were in position, in unconnected, detached batteries, three 8-inch navy shell guns, two 8-inch howitzers, one 24 and one 30 pounder rifled Parrott, one 12-pounder Whitworth, and three 10-inch mortars. Rifle-pits were dug in front, covering Oyster point. The guns were manned by 200 artillerists from the First regulars, under Capts. John C. Mitchel and J. R. Macbeth, and Lieut. H. W. Frost. The infantry supports were 400 men of the Twenty-first, under Maj. G. W. McIver, and one company of the First South Carolina infantry, commanded by Capt. Charles T. Haskell. The whole force amounted to 650 men!

Against this defense General Gillmore was to make his attack with forty-seven guns from his masked batteries, the guns of four of the monitors, and a brigade of infantry 3,000 strong, composed of four regiments and two battalions of four companies each. Just at daylight on the morning of the 10th, the guns on Folly island were unmasked and opened their fire on the Confederate detached batteries. The surprise was complete. The gallant men and officers on duty were expecting an attack, but such a volume and weight of metal was overwhelming. But Mitchel and Macbeth ordered their guns opened in reply, and McIver and Haskell manned the rifle-pits.

After the unequal combat of artillery had lasted about two hours, General Strong advanced from the northwest end of the island against McIver and Haskell. The few guns left mounted were turned upon the flotilla of boats, sinking a barge and killing and wounding many in the boats, but the advance was unchecked, and the brigade landed, stormed and carried the pits, and drove off the little force remaining unhurt by the assault. The gallant Haskell fell, cheering his men, sword in hand; Macbeth, badly wounded, was taken prisoner; Lieut. John S. Bee had fallen at his gun, and Lieut. T. H. Dalrymple on the infantry line. Fighting yet the last guns, the contest [230] was ended by the charge of the Sixth Connecticut on the rear and sea flank, met by the advance of General Strong from the west side. The Connecticut regiment had passed by the entire front and landed under cover of the sand-hills, and took the batteries in reverse. It was an unequal contest, but continued for hours. Seeing its hopelessness, Colonel Graham ordered retreat upon Wagner, covered by Nelson's South Carolina battalion, under Maj. James H. Rion, which arrived just as the retreat was ordered. Four monitors followed along, pelting the retreating and almost exhausted Confederates with their 15-inch shell and showers of grape. Colonel Graham reported a total loss in killed, wounded and missing, of 295; 183 in the Twenty-first, 12 in Captain Haskell's company, and 100 in the artillery.

The south end of Morris island was lost, and General Gillmore immediately reinforced Strong, and General Seymour took command of the division on Morris island, now in a position to assault Battery Wagner. On the 9th, General Terry, with about 4,000 men, had sailed up the Stono, supported by gunboats, and made such a demonstration of landing on James island as to keep all the troops there, under Colonel Simonton, under arms, and to turn others, arriving from Charleston, in that direction. Reports from James island, coming to the commanding general on the morning of the 9th, made it doubtful, for a time, where the most formidable attack was to be made, but the concentration of force on Morris island, and the action of the squadron, soon settled all doubts as to General Gillmore's designs.

Wagner was reinforced as soon as the troops could be sent over, and during the night of the 10th the garrison was increased to 1,000 infantry and 200 artillerists. A gallant band of Georgians, under Col. C. H. Olmstead, came to stand on the ramparts by the side of their Carolina brethren. There were thus assembled, for the defense of the fort, the following commands: [231]

Infantry: Twenty-first South Carolina, Major McIver; Seventh South Carolina battalion, Maj. J H. Rion; Company D, First South Carolina regular infantry, Lieut. J. M. Horlbeck; four companies First Georgia, Col. C. H. Olmstead; four companies Twelfth Georgia battalion, Lieut.-Col. H. D. Capers; three companies Eighteenth Georgia battalion, Maj. W. L. Basinger. Artillery: Detachments of Companies E, I and H, First South Carolina regular artillery, Capt. John C. Mitchel; Gist Guard, Capt. C. E. Chichester, and the Mathewes artillery, Capt. J. R. Mathewes. Lieut.-Col. Joseph Yates commanded the batteries, and Colonel Graham the fort. Colonel Graham kept his force in the fort under arms and on watch, all night, while Major Rion covered the front with 150 skirmishers. The infantry was stationed, in support of the guns, from right to left, in the following order: Seventh South Carolina battalion, Twelfth Georgia battalion, Twenty-first South Carolina, First South Carolina infantry, Eighteenth Georgia battalion, First Georgia volunteers.

At dawn on the 11th the assault came and the pickets were driven in. The attacking column was led by four companies of the Seventh Connecticut, LieutenantCol-onel Rodman, followed by the Seventy-sixth Pennsylvania and the Ninth Maine. The Third and Seventh New Hampshire formed the reserve. The Connecticut detachment charged gallantly and followed Rion's pickets so closely that they were nearly at the left salient of the fort before the fire opened, the light being so imperfect that it was difficult to distinguish an object 100 yards in advance. The Georgians on the left opened the fire of the infantry, and then in rolling succession every gun was fired. The ranks of the Seventh Connecticut were broken and swept away, and the Seventy-sixth Pennsylvania was so stunned by the fire as to halt and lie down. Recovering, they arose and made for the center of the fort, while the Ninth Maine charged gallantly at the right salient. [232] It was all in vain. The withering fire of canister and musketry broke up the ranks, and the whole column retreated in wild confusion. General Strong blamed the Seventy-sixth for his failure to carry the fort, because they halted and fell on the ground under ‘the sudden, tremendous and simultaneous fire’ which they met. But that same fire would have had an identical effect upon them if they had not lain down, as it had when they rose and rushed to the charge. No regiment can preserve its line of assault under the fire of canister from a dozen guns and the continued discharge of 1,000 rifles. If the two New Hampshire regiments had followed this first assault, and they, in turn, had been followed by still a third column of attack, they might have carried the fort; but to attempt its assault with two regiments and a battalion of four companies was to presume upon the character of its defenders and the strength of its defense.

General Strong reported his loss at 8 officers and 322 non-commissioned officers and soldiers. Colonel Graham lost 1 officer and 5 soldiers killed, and 1 officer and 5 soldiers wounded. Capt. C. Werner, of the First Georgia, was the officer killed, and all the casualties in the fort were among the Georgia troops.

Four monitors, lying a mile off, bombarded Wagner on the 10th, and on the morning of that day, Capt. Langdon Cheves, the engineer of Fort Wagner, just after receiving the intelligence of the death of his gallant kinsman, was killed in the fort by a fragment of shell, fired from one of the monitors, the first shot fired at the fort that day. Captain Cheves was an accomplished engineer, a devoted patriot and a gallant soldier. Battery Wagner was built under his direction, and his name, with those of others hereafter to be mentioned, who gave their lives in its defense, will be forever commemorated in its history.

Gillmore's third demonstration, on July 10th, the attempt to cut the railroad at Jacksonboro, was a failure. It was made by Col. T. W. Higginson, commanding a [233] regiment of recently enlisted negroes. With three armed steamers he ascended the South Edisto under the cover of a dense fog, until arrested at Willtown bluff by the obstructions in the river. Landing at that point a force of 100 or more Confederates, a section of artillery, without infantry supports, was surprised in camp and driven off, 2 men being taken prisoners. Removing the obstructions, Colonel Higginson steamed up the river with the purpose of burning the railroad bridge at Jacksonboro. At Dr. Glover's plantation, about 3 miles from the bridge, he encountered a section of Capt. George Walter's battery, under Lieut. S. G. Horsey, and after an action of an hour's duration the boats were beaten and turned down stream. Col. H. K. Aiken, commanding the Second military district, sent a section of the Marion artillery, Lieut. Robert Murdoch, to the plantation of Mr. Gibbes, below; and being joined at this point by Lieutenant White, with the section which had been surprised at Willtown bluff, the two sections caught the boats on their retreat, and badly crippled them. One of the vessels was set on fire and burned to the water's edge, and two of them made their escape out of the Edisto.

Colonel Higginson reported that the vessel destroyed grounded on the obstructions, was abandoned and fired by her commander, while Colonel Aiken reported her set on fire by shells from the section at Gibbes'. Two brass rifled guns were taken from the wreck and added to Aiken's artillery on the river. Higginson carried off over 100 negroes, several bales of cotton, burned the barns of Colonel Morris, and pillaged the residences in the neighborhood of Willtown bluff. Colonel Aiken had 2 men wounded and 2 captured. Colonel Higginson reported 3 killed and several wounded, himself among the latter. This expedition and the demonstration of General Terry on James island, were made at the same time as the attack on the south end of Morris island, and were intended to mask that important movement. [234]

General Terry was still on James island on the 16th, with his forces at Battery island and Grimball's on the Stono, and at Legares on the Folly river side of the island. They were attacked at Grimball's and Legare‘s on the 16th by General Hagood, and driven down on Battery island. They embarked at that point and evacuated the island on the following night. In this affair General Hagood commanded portions of Clingman's North Carolina and Colquitt's Georgia brigades, and the Twenty-fifth South Carolina under Lieut.-Col. J. G. Pressley, Colonel Simonton riding with General Colquitt to give that general the benefit of his accurate knowledge of the island. Perkins' (Marion) battery followed and engaged with Colquitt's column at Legare‘s, and the North Carolinians, under Col. J. D. Radcliffe, with artillery under Colonel Kemper, attacked the gunboats Marblehead and Pawnee in the Stono above Grimball's. Colquitt's attack at Legare‘s, led by the Twenty-fifth South Carolina, was followed by the quick retreat of the force before him, and that at Grimball's retired on Battery island before Colonel Radcliffe had defeated the gunboats above the point. General Hagood reports that his troops were under the fire of the gunboats mainly; that the troops of the enemy were mostly negroes and behaved poorly; that his loss was 3 killed, 12 wounded and 3 missing, and that of the enemy, as far as ascertained, 30 killed on the field and 14 taken prisoners. [235]

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