previous next

Chapter 6: siege of Wagner.

Early on the morning of July 19, the men of the Fifty-fourth were aroused, and the regiment marched down the beach, making camp near the southern front of the island at a point where the higher hills give way to a low stretch of sand bordering the inlet. On this spot the regiment remained during its first term of service, at Morris Island.

That day was the saddest in the history of the Fifty-fourth, for the depleted ranks bore silent witness to the severe losses of the previous day. Men who had wandered to other points during the night continued to join their comrades until some four hundred men were present. A number were without arms, which had either been destroyed or damaged in their hands by shot and shell, or were thrown away in the effort to save life. The officers present for duty were Captain Emilio, commanding, Surgeon Stone, Quartermaster Ritchie, and Lieutenants T. W. Appleton, Grace, Dexter, Jewett, Emerson, Reid, Tucker, Johnston, Howard, and Higginson.

Some fifty men, slightly wounded, were being treated in camp. The severely wounded, including seven officers, were taken on the 19th to hospitals at Beaufort, where every care was given them by the medical men, General Saxton, his officers, civilians, and the colored people. [106]

By order of General Terry, commanding Morris Island, the regiment on the 19th was attached to the Third Brigade with the Tenth Connecticut, Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, Seventh New Hampshire, One Hundredth New York, and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania, under General Stevenson. Upon the 20th the labors of the siege work began, for in the morning the first detail was furnished. Late in the afternoon the commanding officer received orders to take the Fifty-fourth to the front for grand-guard duty. He reported with all the men in camp—some three hundred— and was placed at the Beacon house, supporting the Third New Hampshire and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania. There was no firing of consequence that night. In the morning the Fifty-fourth was moved forward into the trenches.

Capt. D. A. Partridge, left sick in Massachusetts, joined July 21, and, as senior officer, assumed command.

Preparations were made for a bombardment of Sumter as well as for the siege of Wagner. Work began on the artillery line of July 18, that night, for the first parallel, 1,350 yards from Wagner. When completed, it mounted eight siege and field guns, ten mortars, and three Requa rifle batteries. July 23, the second parallel was established some four hundred yards in front of the first. Vincent's Creek on its left was obstructed with floating booms. On its right was the ‘Surf Battery,’ armed with field-pieces. This parallel was made strong for defence for the purpose of constructing in its rear the ‘Left Batteries’ against Sumter. It mounted twenty-one light pieces for defence and three thirty-pounder Parrotts and one Wiard rifle. The two parallels were connected by zigzag approaches to protect passing troops. In the construction of these works and the transportation of siege material, ordnance, and [107] quartermaster's stores, the Fifty-fourth was engaged, in common with all the troops on the island, furnishing large details. So many men were called for that but a small camp guard could be maintained, and at times noncommis-sioned officers volunteered to stand on post.

Col. M. S. Littlefield, Fourth South Carolina Colored, on July 24, was temporarily assigned to command the Fifty-fourth. The colonel's own regiment numbered but a few score of men, and this appointment seemed as if given to secure him command commensurate with the rank he held. It gave rise to much criticism in Massachusetts as well as in the regiment, for it was made contrary to custom and without the knowledge of Governor Andrew. Though silently dissatisfied, the officers rendered him cheerful service.

Anticipating a bombardment of Sumter, the enemy were busy strengthening the gorge or south wall with both cotton-bales and sand-bags. A partial disarmament of the fort was being effected. Wagner was kept in repair by constant labor at night. To strengthen their circle of batteries the enemy were busy upon new works on James Island. About 10 A. M., on the 24th, the Confederate steamer Alice ran down and was met by the ‘Cosmopolitan,’ when thirty-eight Confederates were given up, and we received one hundred and five wounded, including three officers. There was complaint by our men that the Confederates had neglected their wounds, of the unskilful surgical treatment received, and that unnecessary amputations were suffered. From Col. Edward C. Anderson it was ascertained that the Fifty-fourth's prisoners would not be given up, and Colonel Shaw's death was confirmed. [108]

Battery Simkins on James Island opened against our trenches for the first time on the 25th. For the first time also sharpshooters of the enemy fired on our working parties with long-range rifles. Orders came on the 26th that, owing to the few officers and lack of arms, the Fifty-fourth should only furnish fatigue details.

Quartermaster Ritchie, who was sent to Hilton Head, returned on the 29th with the officers, men, and camp equipage from St. Helena, and tents were put up the succeeding day. Some six hundred men were then present with the colors, including the sick. The number of sick in camp was very large, owing to the severe work and terrible heat. About nineteen hundred were reported on August 1 in the whole command. The sight of so many pale, enfeebled men about the hospitals and company streets was dispiriting. As an offset, some of those who had recovered from wounds returned, and Brig.-Gen. Edward A. Wild's brigade of the First North Carolina and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, both colored, arrived and camped on Folly Island.

Mr. De Mortie, the regimental sutler, about this time brought a supply of goods. After August 2 the details were somewhat smaller, as the colored brigade on Folly Island began to send over working parties. But calls were filled from the regiment daily for work about the landing and the front. Two men from each company reported as sharpshooters in conjunction with those from other regiments.

The famous battery known as the ‘Swamp Angel’ was begun August 4, and built under direction of Col. E. W. Serrell, First New York Engineers, and was situated in the marsh between Morris and James islands. It was constructed upon a foundation of timber, with sand-bags [109] filled upon Morris Island and taken out in boats. A twohundred-pounder Parrott gun was lightered out to the work at night with great difficulty. Its fire reached Charleston, a distance of 8,800 yards. This gun burst after the first few discharges. Later, two mortars were mounted in the work in place of the gun. Capt. Lewis S. Payne, One Hundredth New York, the most daring scout of our forces, at night, August 3, while at Payne's dock, was captured with a few men.

August 5 the men were informed that the Government was ready to pay them $10 per month, less $3 deducted for clothing. The offer was refused, although many had suffering families. About this time a number of men were detached, or detailed, as clerks, butchers, and as hands on the steamers Escort and ‘Planter.’ Work was begun on the third parallel within four hundred yards of Wagner on the night of the 9th. When completed, it was one hundred yards in length, as the island narrowed. Water was struck at a slight depth. The weather was excessively hot, and flies and sand-fleas tormenting. Only sea-bathing and cooler nights made living endurable. The Fifty-fourth was excused from turning out at reveille in consequence of excessive work, for we were daily furnishing parties reporting to Lieut. P. S. Michie, United States Engineers, at the Left Batteries, and to Colonel Serrell at the ‘Lookout.’

Fancied security of the Fifty-fourth camp so far from the front was rudely dispelled at dark on August 13 by a shell from James Island bursting near Surgeon Stone's tent. These unpleasant visits were not frequent, seemingly being efforts of the enemy to try the extreme range of their guns. Reinforcements, consisting of Gen. George H. Gordon's [110] division from the Eleventh Corps, arrived on the 13th and landed on the 15th upon Folly Island. No rain fell from July 18 until August 13, which was favorable for the siege work, as the sand handled was dry and light. This dryness, however, rendered it easily displaced by the wind, requiring constant labor in re-covering magazines, bombproofs, and the slopes. The air too was full of the gritty particles, blinding the men and covering everything in camp.

By this date twelve batteries were nearly ready for action, mounting in all twenty-eight heavy rifles, from thirty to three hundred pounders, besides twelve ten-inch mortars. Those for breaching Sumter were at an average distance of 3,900 yards. Detachments from the First United States Artillery, Third Rhode Island Artillery, One Hundredth New York, Seventh Connecticut, Eleventh Maine, and the fleet, served the guns. These works had been completed under fire from Sumter, Gregg, Wagner, and the James Island batteries, as well as the missiles of sharpshooters. Most of the work had been done at night. Day and night heavy guard details lay in the trenches to repel attack. The labor of transporting the heavy guns to the front was very great, as the sinking of the sling-carts deep into the sand made progress slow. Tons of powder, shot, and shell had been brought up, and stored in the service-magazines. It was hoped by General Gillmore that the demolition of Sumter would necessitate the abandonment of Morris Island, for that accomplished, the enemy could be prevented from further relief of the Morris Island garrison. Sumter was then commanded by Col. Alfred Rhett, First South Carolina Artillery; and the garrison was of his regiment. In all this work preparatory to breaching Sumter the [111] Fifty-fourth had borne more than its share of labor, for it was exclusively employed on fatigue duty, which was not the case with the white troops. There had been no time for drill or discipline. Every moment in camp was needed to rest the exhausted men and officers. The faces and forms of all showed plainly at what cost this labor was done. Clothes were in rags, shoes worn out, and haversacks full of holes. On the 16th the medical staff was increased by the arrival of Asst.-Surg. G. M. Pease. Lieut. Charles Silva, Fourth South Carolina (colored), was detached to the Fifty-fourth on the 21st, doing duty until November 6.

Shortly after daybreak, August 17, the first bombardment of Sumter began from the land batteries, the navy soon joining in action. The fire of certain guns was directed against Wagner and Gregg. Capt. J. M. Wampler, the engineer officer at Wagner, and Capt. George W. Rodgers and Paymaster Woodbury of the monitor Catskill were killed. Sumter was pierced time and again until the walls looked like a honeycomb. All the guns on the northwest face were disabled, besides seven others. A heavy gale came on the 18th, causing a sand-storm on the island and seriously interfering with gun practice. Wagner and Gregg replied slowly. Lieut. Henry Holbrook, Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, was mortally wounded by a shell.

By premature explosion of one of our shells, Lieut. A. F. Webb, Fortieth Massachusetts, was killed and several men wounded at night on the 19th. The water stood in some of the trenches a foot and a half deep. Our sap was run from the left of the third parallel that morning. The One Hundredth New York, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania, and [112] Third New Hampshire were detailed as the guard of the advance trenches. An event of the 20th was the firing for the first time of the great three-hundred-pounder Parrott. It broke down three sling-carts, and required a total of 2,500 days labor before it was mounted. While in transit it was only moved at night, and covered with a tarpaulin and grass during the daytime. The enemy fired one hundred and sixteen shots at the Swamp Angel from James Island, but only one struck. Sumter's flag was shot away twice on the 20th. All the guns on the south face were disabled. Heavy fire from land and sea continued on the 21st, and Sumter suffered terribly.

A letter from Gillmore to Beauregard was sent on the 21st, demanding the surrender of Morris Island and Sumter, under penalty, if not complied with, of the city being shelled. The latter replied, threatening retaliation. Our fourth parallel was opened that night 350 yards from Wagner, and the One Hundredth New York unsuccessfully attempted to drive the enemy's pickets from a small ridge two hundred yards in front of Wagner. The Swamp Angel opened on Charleston at 1.30 A. M. on the 22d. By one shell a small fire was started there. Many non-combatants left the city. Wagner now daily gave a sharp fire on our advanced works to delay progress. The ‘New Ironsides’ as often engaged that work with great effect. Late on the 22d a truce boat came from Charleston, causing firing to be temporarily suspended.

Although almost daily the Fifty-fourth had more or less men at the front, it had suffered no casualties. The men were employed at this period in throwing up parapets, enlarging the trenches, covering the slopes, turfing the batteries, filling sand-bags, and other labors incident to the [113] operations. In the daytime two men were stationed on higher points to watch the enemy's batteries. Whenever a puff of smoke was seen these ‘lookouts’ called loudly, ‘Cover!’ adding the name by which that particular battery was known. Instantly the workers dropped shovels and tools, jumped into the trench, and, close-covered, waited the coming of the shot or shell, which having exploded, passed, or struck, the work was again resumed. Some of the newer batteries of the enemy were known by peculiar or characteristic names, as ‘Bull in the Woods,’ ‘Mud Digger,’ and ‘Peanut Battery.’ At night the men worked better, for the shells could be seen by reason of the burning fuses, and their direction taken; unless coming in the direction of the toilers, the work went on. Becoming accustomed to their exposure, in a short time this ‘dodging shells’ was reduced almost to a scientific calculation by the men. Most of all they dreaded mortar-shells, which, describing a curved course in the sky, poised for a moment apparently, then, bursting, dropped their fragments from directly overhead. Bomb or splinter proofs alone protected the men from such missiles, but most of the work was in open trenches. Occasionally solid shot were thrown, which at times could be distinctly seen bounding over the sandhills, or burying themselves in the parapets.

Our batteries and the navy were still beating down the walls of Sumter on the 23d, their shots sweeping through it. That day Colonel Rhett, the commander, and four other officers were there wounded. With Sumter in ruins, the breaching fire ceased that evening, and General Gillmore reported that he ‘considered the fort no longer a fit work from which to use artillery.’ He then deemed his part of the work against Charleston accomplished, and expected [114] that the navy would run past the batteries into the harbor. Admiral Dahlgren and the Navy Department thought otherwise, declining to risk the vessels in the attempt.

Captain Partridge about August 23 applied for sick leave and shortly went north. In consequence Captain Emilio again became the senior officer and was at times in charge of the regiment until the middle of October. On the 23d the brigade was reviewed on the beach by General Gillmore, accompanied by General Terry. The latter complimented the Fifty-fourth on its appearance. That evening Captain Emilio and Lieutenant Higginson took one hundred and fifty men for grand guard, reporting to Col. Jos. R. Hawley, Seventh Connecticut, field-officer of the trenches. This was the first detail other than fatigue since July 21. The detachment relieved troops in the second parallel. During the night it was very stormy, the rain standing in pools in the trenches. But few shots were fired. Charleston's bells could be heard when all was still. At midnight the Swamp Angel again opened on the city. About 10 A. M., on the 24th, Wagner and Johnson both opened on us, the former with grape and canister sweeping the advanced works. In the camp, by reason of rain and high tides, the water was several inches deep in the tents on lowest ground. A new brigade—the Fourth—was formed on the 24th, composed of the Second South Carolina, Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, and Third United States Colored Troops (the latter a new regiment from the north), under Colonel Montgomery.

About dark on the 25th a force was again advanced against the enemy's picket, but was repulsed. It was found that a determined effort must be made to carry the sand ridge crowned by the enemy's rifle-pits. Just before dark [115] the next day, therefore, a concentrated fire was maintained against this position for some time. Col. F. A. Osborn, Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, with his regiment, supported by the Third New Hampshire, Capt. Jas. F. Randlett, then advanced and gallantly took the line in an instant, the enemy only having time to deliver one volley. They captured sixty-seven men of the Sixty-first North Carolina. Cover was soon made, a task in which the prisoners assisted to insure their own safety. The Twenty-fourth lost Lieut. Jas. A. Perkins and two enlisted men killed, and five wounded. Upon this ridge, two hundred yards from Wagner, the fifth parallel was immediately opened. Beyond it the works, when constructed, were a succession of short zigzags because of the narrow breadth of the island and the flanking and near fire of the Confederates. Our fire was being more directed at Wagner, which forced its garrison to close their embrasures in the daytime. It had also become more difficult to send their customary relieving force every third day to Morris Island. Fire upon us from the James Island batteries on the left became very troublesome, occasioning numerous casualties. Our own mortar-shells, on the 27th, in the evening killed seven men, and wounded two of the Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania.

That night there was a severe thunder-storm drenching everything in camp and leaving pools of water in the tents. A warm drying sun came out on the 28th. In the evening there was some disturbance, soon suppressed, in consequence of ill feeling toward the regimental sutler. In the approaches work was slow by reason of the high tides and rain. Moonlight nights interfered also, disclosing our working parties to the enemy. Colonel Montgomery, commanding the brigade, on the 29th established his headquarters [116] near the right of our camp. It was learned that a list of prisoners recently received from the enemy contained no names of Fifty-fourth men. On the 30th Lieut.-Col. Henry A. Purviance, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania, was killed by the premature explosion of one of our own shells. The enemy's steamer Sumter, returning from Morris Island early on the 31st with six hundred officers and men, was fired into by Fort Moultrie, and four men were killed or drowned.

With our capture of the ridge on the 26th the last natural cover was attained. Beyond for two hundred yards stretched a strip of sand over which the besiegers must advance. It seemed impossible to progress far, as each attempt to do so resulted in severe losses. Every detail at the front maintained its position only at the cost of life. So numerous were the dead at this period of the siege that at almost any hour throughout the day the sound of funeral music could be heard in the camps. Such was the depressing effect upon the men that finally orders were issued to dispense with music at burials. The troops were dispirited by such losses without adequate results. That the strain was great was manifested by an enormous sick list. It was the opinion of experienced officers that the losses by casualties and sickness were greater than might be expected from another assault.

Success or defeat seemed to hang in the balance. Under no greater difficulties and losses many a siege had been raised. General Gillmore, however, was equal to the emergency. He ordered the fifth parallel enlarged and strengthened, the cover increased, and a line of rifle trench run in front of it. New positions were constructed for the sharpshooters. All his light mortars were moved to the [117] front, and his guns trained on Wagner. A powerful calcium light was arranged to illumine the enemy's work, that our fire might be continuous and effective. Changes were also made in the regiments furnishing permanent details in the trenches and advanced works, and an important part, requiring courage and constancy, was now assigned to our regiment. It is indicated in the following order:—

Special orders no. 131.

headquarters U. S. Forces, Morris Island, S. C., Aug. 31, 1863.
II. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. M. S. Littlefield, Fourth South Carolina Volunteers, commanding, are hereby detailed for special duty in the trenches under the direction of Maj. T. B. Brooks, A. D. C. and Assistant Engineer. The whole of the available force of the regiment will be divided into four equal reliefs, which will relieve each other at intervals of eight hours each. The first relief will report to Major Brooks at the second parallel at 8 A. M. this day. No other details will be made from the regiment until further orders.

By order of

Brig.-Gen. A. H. Terry.

Adrian Terry, Captain, and Assistant Adjutant-General.

Major Brooks, in his journal of the siege under date of August 31, thus writes,—

‘The Third United States Colored Troops, who have been on fatigue duty in the advance trenches since the 20th inst., were relieved to-day by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers (colored), it being desirable to have older troops for the important and hazardous duty required at this period.’

Throughout the whole siege the First New York Engineers held the post of honor. Their sapping brigades took [118] the lead in the advance trench opening the ground, followed by fatigue details which widened the cut and threw up the enlarged cover. These workers were without arms, but were supported by the guard of the trenches. Upon this fatigue work with the engineers, the Fifty-fourth at once engaged. During the night of the 31st work went on rapidly, as the enemy fired but little. Out of a detail of forty men from the One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania, one was killed and six were wounded. One of the guard was killed by a torpedo. A man of Company K, of our regiment, was mortally wounded that night.

Early on September 1 our land batteries opened on Sumter, and the monitors on Wagner. Four arches in the north face of Sumter with platforms and guns were carried away. Lieut. P. S. Michie, United States Engineers, was temporarily in charge of the advance works on the right. Much work was done in strengthening the parapets and revetting the slopes. Our Fifty-fourth detail went out under Lieutenant Higginson that morning, and had one man wounded. Rev. Samuel Harrison, of Pittsfield, Mass., commissioned chaplain of the regiment, arrived that day.

September 2 the land batteries were throwing some few shots at Sumter and more at Wagner. Capt. Jos. Walker, First New York Engineers, started the sap at 7 P. M. in a new direction under heavy fire. Considering that the trench was but eighty yards from Wagner, good progress was made. The sap-roller could not be used, because of torpedoes planted thereabout. Our fire was concentrated upon Wagner on the 3d, to protect sapping. But little success resulted, for the enemy's sharpshooters on the left enfiladed our trench at from one hundred to three hundred yards. At this time the narrowest development in the [119] whole approach was encountered,—but twenty-five yards; and the least depth of sand,—but two feet. Everywhere torpedoes were found planted, arranged with delicate explosive mechanism. Arrangements were made to use a calcium light at night. From August 19 to this date, when the three regiments serving as guards of the trenches were relieved by fresher troops, their loss aggregated ten per cent of their whole force, mainly from artillery fire.

On the night of the 3d, Wagner fired steadily, and the James Island batteries now and then. Our detail at the front had George Vanderpool killed and Alexander Hunter of the same company—H—wounded. Throughout the 4th we fired at Wagner, and in the afternoon received its last shot in daylight. Captain Walker ran the sap twenty-five feet in the morning before he was compelled to cease.

When the south end of Morris Island was captured, Maj. O. S. Sanford, Seventh Connecticut, was placed in charge of two hundred men to act as ‘boat infantry.’ From their camp on the creek, near the Left Batteries, details from this force were sent out in boats carrying six oarsmen and six armed men each. They scoured and patrolled the waters about Morris Island. Throughout the whole siege of Charleston this boat infantry was kept up, under various commanders. It was thought that could Gregg be first taken, Wagner's garrison might be captured entire; and an attempt to do so was arranged for the night of September 4. Details for the enterprise, which was to be a surprise, were made from four regiments under command of Major Sanford. The admiral was to send boats with howitzers as support. When all was ready, the boats started toward Gregg. Nearing that work, several musketshots were heard. A navy-boat had fired into and captured [120] a barge of the enemy with Maj. F. F. Warley, a surgeon, and ten men. This firing aroused Gregg's garrison; our boats were discovered and fired upon. Thus the surprise was a failure, and the attack given up. Wagner was now in extremis, and the garrison enduring indescribable misery. A pen picture of the state of things there is given by a Southerner as follows:—

‘Each day, often from early dawn, the ‘New Ironsides’ or the monitors, sometimes all together, steamed up and delivered their terrific fire, shaking the fort to its centre. The noiseless Cohorn shells, falling vertically, searched out the secret recesses, almost invariably claiming victims. The burning sun of a Southern summer, its heat intensified by the reflection of the white sand, scorched and blistered the unprotected garrison, or the more welcome rain and storm wet them to the skin. An intolerable stench from the unearthed dead of the previous conflict, the carcasses of cavalry horses lying where they fell in the rear, and barrels of putrid meat thrown out on the beach sickened the defenders. A large and brilliantly colored fly, attracted by the feast and unseen before, inflicted wounds more painful though less dangerous than the shot of the enemy. Water was scarcer than whiskey. The food, however good when it started for its destination, by exposure, first, on the wharf in Charleston, then on the beach at Cumming's Point, being often forty-eight hours in transitu, was unfit to eat. The unventilated bombproofs, filled with smoke of lamps and smell of blood, were intolerable, so that one endured the risk of shot and shell rather than seek their shelter. The incessant din of its own artillery, as well as the bursting shell of the foe, prevented sleep. . . .’

General Beauregard on September 4 ordered Sumter's garrison reduced to one company of artillery and two of infantry under Maj. Stephen Elliott. Early on the 5th [121] the land batteries, ‘Ironsides,’ and two monitors opened a terrific bombardment on Wagner which lasted forty-two hours. Under its protection our sap progressed in safety. Wagner dared not show a man, while the approaches were so close that the more distant batteries of the enemy feared to injure their own men. Our working parties moved about freely. Captain Walker ran some one hundred and fifty yards of sap; and by noon the flag, planted at the head of the trench to apprise the naval vessels of our position, was within one hundred yards of the fort. The Fifty-fourth detail at work there on this day had Corp. Aaron Spencer of Company A mortally wounded by one of our own shells, and Private Chas. Van Allen of the same company killed. Gregg's capture was again attempted that night by Major Sanford's command. When the boats approached near, some musket-shots were exchanged; and as the defenders were alert, we again retired with slight loss.

Daylight dawned upon the last day of Wagner's memorable siege on September 6. The work was swept by our searching fire from land and water, before which its traverses were hurled down in avalanches covering the entrances to magazines and bombproofs. Gregg was also heavily bombarded. As on the previous day our sappers worked rapidly and exposed themselves with impunity. The greatest danger was from our own shells, by which one man was wounded. Lieutenant McGuire, U. S. A., was in charge a part of the day. He caused the trenches to be prepared for holding a large number of troops, with means for easy egress to the front. Late that evening General Gillmore issued orders for an assault at nine o'clock the next morning, the hour of low tide, by three storming columns under General [122] Terry, with proper reserves. Artillery fire was to be kept up until the stormers mounted the parapet. At night the gallant Captain Walker, who was assisted by Captain Pratt, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, observed that the enemy's sharpshooters fired but scatteringly, and that but one mortar-shell was thrown from Wagner. About 10 P. M. he passed into the ditch and examined it thoroughly. He found a fraise of spears and stakes, of which he pulled up some two hundred. Returning, a flying sap was run along the crest of the glacis, throwing the earth level, to enable assailants to pass over readily.

From early morning Col. L. M. Keitt, the Confederate commander of Morris Island, had been signalling that his force was terribly reduced, the enemy about to assault, and that to save the garrison there should be transportation ready by nightfall of the 6th. He reported his casualties on the 5th as one hundred out of nine hundred; that a repetition of that day's bombardment would leave the work a ruin. He had but four hundred effectives, exclusive of artillerymen. His negro laborers could not be made to work; and thirty or forty soldiers had been wounded that day in attempting to repair damages. General Beauregard, who had been, since the 4th at least, jeopardizing the safety of the brave garrison, then gave the necessary order for evacuation.

A picket detail of one hundred men went out from the Fifty-fourth camp at 5 P. M. on the 6th. Our usual detail was at work in the front under the engineers. It was not until two o'clock on the morning of September 7 that the officers and men of the regiment remaining in camp were aroused, fell into line, and with the colored brigade marched up over the beach line to a point just south of the Beacon [123] house, where these regiments rested, constituting the reserve of infantry in the anticipated assault. Many of the regiments were arriving or in position, and the advance trenches were full of troops. Soon came the gray of early morning, and with it rumors that Wagner was evacuated. By and by the rumors were confirmed, and the glad tidings spread from regiment to regiment. Up and down through the trenches and the parallels rolled repeated cheers and shouts of victory. It was a joyous time; our men threw up their hats, dancing in their gladness. Officers shook hands enthusiastically. Wagner was ours at last.

In accordance with instructions, at dark on the 6th the Confederate ironclads took position near Sumter. Some transport vessels were run close in, and forty barges under Lieutenant Ward, C. S. N., were at Cumming's Point. A courier reported to Colonel Keitt that everything was prepared, whereupon his troops were gradually withdrawn, and embarked after suffering a few casualties in the movement. By midnight Wagner was deserted by all but Capt. T. A. Huguenin, a few officers, and thirty-five men. The guns were partially spiked, and fuses prepared to explode the powder-magazine and burst the guns. At Gregg the heavy guns and three howitzers were spiked, and the magazine was to be blown up. The evacuation was complete at 1.30 A. M. on the 7th. At a signal the fuses were lighted in both forts; but the expected explosion did not occur in either work, probably on account of defective matches.

Just after midnight one of the enemy, a young Irishman, deserted from Wagner and gained our lines. Taken before Lieut.-Col. O. L. Mann, Thirty-ninth Illinois, general officer of the trenches, he reported the work abandoned and the enemy retired to Gregg. Half an hour later all the guns [124] were turned upon Wagner for twenty minutes, after which Sergeant Vermillion, a corporal, and four privates of the Thirty-ninth Illinois, all volunteers, went out. In a short time they returned, reporting no one in Wagner and only a few men in a boat rowing toward Gregg. On the receipt of this news the flag of the sappers and the regimental color of the Thirty-ninth Illinois were both planted on the earthwork. A hasty examination was made of Wagner, in the course of which a line of fuse connecting with two magazines was cut. Every precaution was taken, and guards posted at all dangerous points.

A few moments after our troops first entered Wagner two companies of the Third New Hampshire under Captain Randlett were pushed toward Gregg. Capt. C. R. Brayton, Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, and some Fifty-fourth men started for the same point. Amid the sand-hills the Third New Hampshire men stopped to take charge of some prisoners, while Captain Brayton kept on, and was the first to enter Gregg, closely followed by the Fifty-fourth men. In Wagner eighteen pieces of ordnance were found, and in Gregg, seven pieces. All about the former work muskets, boarding-pikes, spears, and boards filled with spikes were found arranged to repel assaults. Inside and all around, the stench was nauseating from the buried and unburied bodies of men and animals. The bombproof was indescribably filthy. One terribly wounded man was found who lived to tell of his sufferings, but died on the way to hospital. Everywhere were evidences of the terrific bombardment beyond the power of pen to describe.

About half a dozen stragglers from the retiring enemy were taken on the island. Our boats captured two of the enemy's barges containing a surgeon and fifty-five men, [125] and a boat of the ram Chicora with an officer and seven sailors.

Wagner's siege lasted fifty-eight days. During that period 8,395 soldiers' day's work of six hours each had been done on the approaches; eighteen bomb or splinter proof service-magazines made, as well as eighty-nine emplacements for guns,—a total of 23,500 days work. In addition, forty-six thousand sand-bags had been filled, hundreds of gabions and fascines made, and wharves and landings constructed. Of the nineteen thousand days work performed by infantry, the colored troops had done one half, though numerically they were to white troops as one to ten. Three quarters of all the work was at night, and nine tenths under artillery and sharpshooters' fire or both combined.

Regarding colored troops, Major Brooks, Assistant Engineer, in his report, says,—

‘It is probable that in no military operations of the war have negro troops done so large a proportion, and so important and hazardous fatigue duty, as in the siege operations on the island.’

The colored regiments participating were the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, First North Carolina, Second South Carolina, and Third United States Colored Troops. Officers serving in charge of the approaches, when called upon by Major Brooks to report specifically upon the comparative value of white and colored details under their charge for fatigue duty during the period under consideration, gave testimony that for perseverance, docility, steadiness, endurance, and amount of work performed, the blacks more than equalled their white brothers. Their average of sick was but 13.97, while that of the whites was 20.10. [126] The percentage of duty performed by the blacks as compared with the whites was as fifty-six to forty-one.

Major Brooks further says,—

‘Of the numerous infantry regiments which furnished fatigue parties, the Fourth New Hampshire did the most and best work, next follow the blacks,—the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts and Third United States Colored Troops.’

General Beauregard reports his loss during the siege as a total of 296, exclusive of his captured. But the official ‘War Records’ show that from July 18 to September 7 the Confederate loss was a total of 690. The Federal loss during the same period by the same authority was but 358.

Despite the exposure of the Fifty-fourth details day and night with more or less officers and men at the front, the casualties in the regiment during the siege as given by the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts were but four killed and four wounded.

Shortly after the fall of Wagner the following order was issued to the troops.

Department of the South, Morris Island, S. C., Sept. 15, 1863.
It is with no ordinary feelings of gratification and pride that the brigadier-general commanding is enabled to congratulate this army upon the signal success which has crowned the enterprise in which it has been engaged. Fort Sumter is destroyed. The scene where our country's flag suffered its first dishonor you have made the theatre of one of its proudest triumphs.

The fort has been in the possession of the enemy for more than two years, has been his pride and boast, has been strengthened by every appliance known to military science, and has defied the assaults of the most powerful fleet the world ever saw. [127] But it has yielded to your courage and patient labor. Its walls are now crumbled to ruins, its formidable batteries are silenced, and though a hostile flag still floats over it, the fort is a harmless and helpless wreck.

Forts Wagner and Gregg, works rendered memorable by their protracted resistance and the sacrifice of life they have cost, have also been wrested from the enemy by your persevering courage and skill, and the graves of your fallen comrades rescued from desecration and contumely.

You now hold in undisputed possession the whole of Morris Island; and the city and harbor of Charleston lie at the mercy of your artillery from the very spot where the first shot was fired at your country's flag and the Rebellion itself was inaugurated.

To you, the officers and soldiers of this command, and to the gallant navy which has co-operated with you are due the thanks of your commander and your country. You were called upon to encounter untold privations and dangers, to undergo unremitting and exhausting labors, to sustain severe and disheartening reverses. How nobly your patriotism and zeal have responded to the call the results of the campaign will show and your commanding general gratefully bears witness.

Q. A. Gillmore, Brigadier-General Commanding.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Thomas M. Wagner (18)
William Gregg (6)
Q. A. Gillmore (6)
T. B. Brooks (5)
Joseph Walker (4)
G. T. Beauregard (4)
O. S. Sanford (3)
T. W. Higginson (3)
Luis F. Emilio (3)
Adrian Terry (2)
A. H. Terry (2)
Lincoln R. Stone (2)
E. W. Serrell (2)
John Ritchie (2)
Alfred Rhett (2)
James F. Randlett (2)
Lewis S. Payne (2)
James Montgomery (2)
P. S. Michie (2)
M. S. Littlefield (2)
L. M. Keitt (2)
C. R. Brayton (2)
J. G. Woodbury (1)
Edward A. Wild (1)
A. F. Webb (1)
F. F. Warley (1)
Samuel G. Ward (1)
J. M. Wampler (1)
Vermillion (1)
George Vanderpool (1)
Charles E. Tucker (1)
Alfred H. Terry (1)
Thomas G. Stevenson (1)
Aaron Spencer (1)
Charles Silva (1)
Francis George Shaw (1)
Rufus Saxton (1)
George W. Rodgers (1)
David Reid (1)
Henry A. Purviance (1)
James A. Pratt (1)
James A. Perkins (1)
Giles M. Pease (1)
David A. Partridge (1)
D. A. Partridge (1)
Parrott (1)
Francis A. Osborn (1)
De Mortie (1)
P. McGuire (1)
O. L. Mann (1)
Alexander Johnston (1)
Robert Johnson (1)
R. H. L. Jewett (1)
Alexander Hunter (1)
T. A. Huguenin (1)
Willard Howard (1)
Henry Holbrook (1)
Joseph R. Hawley (1)
Samuel Harrison (1)
James W. Grace (1)
George H. Gordon (1)
Quincy A. Gillmore (1)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1)
Stephen Elliott (1)
Benjamin F. Dexter (1)
John A. Dahlgren (1)
Bull (1)
Thomas B. Brooks (1)
T. W. Appleton (1)
Swamp Angel (1)
John A. Andrew (1)
Edward C. Anderson (1)
Charles Allen (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 18th (3)
24th (3)
21st (3)
September 7th (2)
September 4th (2)
August 13th (2)
July 21st (2)
23rd (2)
20th (2)
3rd (2)
September 15th, 1863 AD (1)
August 31st, 1863 AD (1)
12 AD (1)
November 6th (1)
October (1)
September 6th (1)
September 2nd (1)
September 1st (1)
August 31st (1)
August 23rd (1)
August 19th (1)
August 17th (1)
August 5th (1)
August 4th (1)
August 3rd (1)
August 2nd (1)
August 1st (1)
July 24th (1)
July 23rd (1)
July 19th (1)
30th (1)
28th (1)
27th (1)
25th (1)
22nd (1)
19th (1)
18th (1)
16th (1)
7th (1)
6th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: