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Chapter 52: bombardment of Charleston.

On August 21, 1863, a letter without signature was sent from Major-General Gilmore's headquarters, in front of Charleston, to General Beauregard, informing him that unless certain extraordinary conditions were complied with, or if no reply thereto was received within “four hours” after the delivery of the letter at Battery Wagner for transmission to Charleston, fire would be opened on the city from batteries already established. General Beauregard received that letter about eleven o'clock at night, and two hours later, when the city was in profound repose, Major-General Gilmore opened fire on it, and threw a number of the most destructive projectiles ever before used against the sleeping and unarmed population. If Major-General Gilmore only desired to go through the barren form of giving notice of his intentions without allowing the non-combatants time to withdraw, he would have accomplished that useless end, if, in his haste and eagerness to begin his work, [505] he had not forgotten to sign so important a letter.

The time allowed was four hours from the delivery of the letter at Battery Wagner for transmission to General Beauregard's headquarters, five miles distant. Major-General Gilmore knew very well that in the ordinary course of transmission, all the time allowed would elapse before he could receive a reply to his demand, and he knew quite as well that it was impossible, in the brief space of time allowed, to remove the non-combatants of a large and populous city. It is clear, therefore, that due time was not allowed, and that the object of the notification was not that non-combatants mzght be removed.

The object of the foe, according to Major- General Gilmore, was to enforce the surrender of an important fort which he could not reduce, for after withstanding for nearly a year the most formidable bombardment from land and naval batteries ever before directed on one fort, the Confederate flag was still flying on Fort Sumter. Failing in that, his next object was to destroy the city to its very heart, or to make it uninhabitable by non-combatants.

Independently of the declaration of Major-General Gilmore that his purpose was to reach “the heart of the city,” the manner in which the fire had been directed from the [506] commencement, showed beyond doubt that its object was the destruction of the city itself, and every part of it, and not, as assumed, to destroy certain military and naval works in and immediately around it.

Having failed to frighten the Confederate commander into compliance with his unreasonable demand, Major-General Gilmore threw a few more shells (twenty-seven in all) into the city, for no conceivable object than to frighten away and kill a few non-combatants, to show how far he could throw his projectiles, to gratify a spirit of malice, and then ceased. From August 21st to October 27th, not a shot or shell was thrown into the city.

He doubtless supposed that by that time the non-combatants, whom he supposed had been frightened away, had returned to the city; for he knew well that the mass of noncombatant population of a large city situated as Charleston, would not, and could not, abandon their houses permanently and become homeless wanderers. He knew that the climate of the country immediately around Charleston was considered deadly at that season of the year to white persons, and that if any poor people, unable to secure residences in the sparsely settled interior, had fled, on the beginning of the fire, to the immediately surrounding country to escape his shells, [507] they would naturally, after so long an intermission of fire, return to the city to escape the malaria, more deadly than his projectiles.

On October 27th, after an interval of more than two months, without a word of warning, he again opened fire and threw shells into the city, just enough to frighten, irritate, and kill a few non-combatants, but not enough to produce any military result, and then ceased firing for three weeks.

On November 17th, he again opened and continued a very slow fire. It was apparent that the fire was directed against churches during the hours of public worship, Christmas-day, 1863.

The Confederate prisoners in the hands of the enemy were held confined, under the fire of our batteries, to hinder our resistance.

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