Charleston: The Second Assault on Battery Wagner

July 18, 1863 – Federal forces suffered a severe repulse in a second attack on Morris Island south of Charleston, despite a heroic effort by the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry.

About 1,200 Confederates defended Battery Wagner, an open embrasure on the northern section of Morris Island. They had repulsed a Federal assault a week earlier, but this time, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, planned a much stronger attack. Unlike the first attempt, Gillmore would employ artillery support from both land and water.

The assault had been postponed a day due to rain, and the artillery bombardment that was supposed to begin at 9 a.m. on the 18th was delayed due to damp powder. The naval bombardment began after noon, when the tides allowed the Federal warships to get within range. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s ironclad flotilla (the U.S.S. Catskill, Montauk, Nantucket, New Ironsides, Patapsco, and Weehawken) heavily shelled Battery Wagner, producing what Dahlgren wrote called, “Such a crashing of shells and thunder of cannon and flying of sand and earth into the air.”

The ships moved to within 300 yards as the tides rose, with the New Ironsides staying back and firing over the rest of the flotilla. Dahlgren wrote, “The gunnery was very fine, the shells of the ‘Ironsides’ going right over the ‘Montauk,’ so we had it all our own way.” The Federal guns scored hits at a rate of one every two seconds. They silenced the Confederate cannon after seven hours, which signaled the Federal infantry to begin its advance.

Gillmore watched the bombardment and believed Battery Wagner had been reduced to rubble. The Federals had done extensive damage, piling shells in passageways and exposing the magazine, which put the Confederates at risk of being “blown in the marsh.” But Gillmore was unaware that the sandy walls had absorbed most of the shells, and the defenders remained hidden within their strong bombproofs.

Gillmore ordered Brigadier General Truman Seymour to launch a night attack. Seymour’s force consisted of 6,000 Federals in two brigades gathered on the southern end of Morris Island. Seymour planned to send three attack waves against Battery Wagner to the north, with Brigadier General George C. Strong commanding the first wave.

The 54th Massachusetts, a black regiment, would lead the first wave. Colonel Robert G. Shaw, the son of Boston abolitionists who commanded the 54th, had lobbied Strong for a chance to prove what his men could do in combat. This would be one of the first times in which a black regiment led Federal troops into battle, and their performance would influence future decisions on how best to deploy black troops.

Despite the politics behind the decision to place the 54th in the lead, Seymour later explained that “the 54th was in every respect as efficient as any body of men; it was the strongest (with 650 troops) and best officered, there seemed no good reason why it should not be selected for this advance.”

As the Federals began advancing at 7:45 p.m., it instantly became clear that the bombardment had not subdued the Confederates, who had quietly withstood the barrage from the safety of their bombproofs. They suddenly came out to the parapets and opened heavy fire on the attackers moving along the narrow 200-yard beach. The Federal ships offshore stopped their shelling because, as Dahlgren wrote, “There could be no more help from us, for it was dark and we might kill friend as well as foe.”

54th Massachusetts charging Battery Wagner | Image Credit: Bing Public Domain

The black troops valiantly fought their way to a small angle of the fort’s wall and began scaling the parapet. As Shaw reached the top ahead of his troops, he shouted, “Onward, Fifty-fourth!” He was shot in the chest and killed, but his men held the parapets for nearly an hour as they waited for reinforcements that never came. Strong was wounded in the leg; he later developed tetanus and died.

As the 54th fell back in disarray, the Confederates repelled the rest of the first wave. Colonel Haldimand S. Putnam, commanding the second wave, held his men back, ostensibly under orders from Gillmore not to advance because he had been certain only one wave would be needed to take the works. Putnam finally put his men in motion after being ordered twice by Seymour to attack.

The lag between the first and second waves resulted in two separate, piecemeal attacks that the Confederates easily thwarted. Seymour then ordered his reserve brigade, under Brigadier General Thomas G. Stevenson, to advance, but Gillmore overrode Seymour and directed Stevenson to wait until Putnam’s men made headway. Some Federals got into the fort on the sea-facing side, but the Confederates counterattacked and drove them out, killing Putnam in the process.

Distraught over the heavy losses, Gillmore refused to commit the third wave under Stevenson. The Federals sustained 1,515 casualties (246 killed, 880 wounded, and 389 missing), including five regimental commanders. The 54th lost 272 of its men, or 41 percent. Sergeant William H. Carney brought the U.S. flag back to Federal lines despite suffering four wounds; he later became the first black man awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Confederates lost just 174 men (36 killed, 133 wounded, and five missing). A witness described the scene when the Confederates came out of their works to tend to the dead and wounded the next day:

“Blood, must, water, brains and human hair matted together; men lying in every possible attitude, with every conceivable expression on their countenances; their limbs bent into unnatural shapes by the fall of 20 or more feet, the fingers rigid and outstretched as if they had clutched at the earth to save themselves; pale, beseeching faces looking out from among the ghastly corpses, with moans and cries for help and water and dying gasps and death struggles.”

The Confederates treated the black and white casualties the same, sending the wounded off together and burying the dead together in mass graves. But General Johnson Hagood, commanding the burial detail, refused to send Colonel Shaw’s body back to his family in accordance with the traditional treatment of officers. Instead, he directed Shaw to be buried with his troops in the ditch. Shaw’s father later said that burying his son with his men was the highest honor the Confederates could have bestowed upon him.

Gillmore lost a third of his men in 10 days of operations on Morris Island, with Battery Wagner still in Confederate hands. He realized that Morris Island and Charleston could not be taken by a joint army-navy force without first besieging Wagner. Despite the setback, this effort earned fame for the 54th and legitimized the role of blacks as Federal combat soldiers.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120, 124-28; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 310-11; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 696-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 332-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 364-65, 382-83, 387-88; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 480; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 686; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 174; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 248; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 672-73

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The Second Fall of Jackson

July 16, 1863 – General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates abandoned Jackson and central Mississippi as superior Federal numbers closed in on them.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Major General William T. Sherman’s 40,000 Federals had chased Johnston east to the Mississippi capital of Jackson after the fall of Vicksburg. Sherman partially encircled the city and prepared to put Johnston’s 32,000 Confederates under siege. The Federals began a bombardment on the 12th, with heavy guns shelling the Confederate defenses from multiple directions.

Johnston did not want to lose his army the way that Generals John C. Pemberton and Franklin Gardner lost theirs at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Johnston was willing to sacrifice the town if it saved his men. He wrote President Jefferson Davis, “If the enemy will not attack, we must, or at the last moment withdraw. We cannot attack seriously without risking the army.”

Brigadier General Jacob G. Lauman’s Federal division of XIII Corps reconnoitered the woods between the railroad and the Pearl River, on Johnston’s extreme left. During this mission, one of Lauman’s brigades exceeded orders and charged Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederate earthworks. The attack failed miserably, as the Federals lost 465 of 880 men and three regimental colors. Major General E.O.C. Ord, commanding XIII Corps, relieved Lauman from command for this fiasco.

Federal commanders did not request a truce to collect the dead from the field, instead leaving them to rot for two days in the sweltering heat. Johnston sent Sherman a message offering a ceasefire so the Federals could collect the bodies, and Sherman agreed. This temporarily halted the almost constant exchange of artillery that had taken place since the siege began.

Over the next few days, the Federals inched closer to surrounding the defenses. Johnston dispatched his cavalry division under Brigadier General William H. Jackson to capture a large wagon train coming from Vicksburg to supply Sherman’s Federals. However, Jackson could not intercept the wagon before it reached its destination, thus ensuring that the siege would last indefinitely.

Sherman notified Major General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, “I think we are doing well out here, but won’t brag till Johnston clears out and stops shooting his big rifle guns at us. If he moves across Pearl River and makes good speed, I will let him go.” Johnston hoped to lure Sherman into a frontal assault, but Sherman would not take the bait. Johnston informed Davis on the 15th:

“The enemy is evidently making a siege which we cannot resist. It would be madness to attack him. In the beginning it might have been done, but I thought then that want of water would compel him to attack us. The remainder of the army under Grant at Vicksburg is beyond doubt on its way to this place.”

Grant was not on his way, but he could have easily reinforced Sherman if needed. Johnston had no reinforcements to draw from, and a protracted siege would only result in losing his entire army. Worse, Johnston learned on the 16th that his cavalry expedition to capture Sherman’s supply train had failed, resulting in the Federals having enough ammunition to train 200 guns on the Confederates.

Johnston wrote Davis, “The enemy being strongly reinforced, and able when he pleases to cut us off, I shall abandon this place, which is impossible for us to hold.” He sent his sick and wounded out of town to the east before evacuating the main army that night. The Confederates fell back across the Pearl River to Brandon. They left behind a large amount of weapons and supplies because they did not repair the railroad bridge needed to transport them.

Noting a lack of enemy activity on the morning of the 17th, Sherman sent his troops forward to confirm the defenses had been abandoned. He dispatched a division to pursue the Confederates, but Johnston moved farther east to Morton. The distance and the blistering heat halted the Federal pursuit. Sherman later wrote, “General Johnston had carried his army safely off, and pursuit in that hot weather would have been fatal to my command.”

Sherman lost 1,112 Federals in the partial siege of Jackson, while Johnston lost 604. The Federals began a second occupation of the city and set about looting and pillaging what was left, despite Sherman assigning a division to prevent such destruction. The Federals that reached Brandon burned that town as well before Sherman led his force back to Vicksburg on the 25th. Johnston saved his army, but he gave up central Mississippi in the process.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18759; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308, 310; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 619-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328, 330-31, 335; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 386-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 637

The New York Draft Riots

July 15, 1863 – Rioting over Federal conscription entered its third day, leaving New York City in the hands of a violent, angry mob.

The first enforced Federal military draft began in accordance with the Enrollment Act passed in March. In major northern cities, the names of men eligible for the draft were placed in wheels and randomly drawn until quotas were met. The notion of being forced into the military added to growing northern resentment of both the war and the Lincoln administration.

That resentment was especially strong in New York, one of the few northern states dominated by anti-administration politicians. Governor Horatio Seymour loudly denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional attacks on civil liberties, and New York City, the largest in the North, was led by an anti-administration mayor. Of the city’s major newspapers, the World and the Journal of Commerce were openly hostile to Lincoln, and the Herald was often critical as well. Only the Times and the Tribune tended to favor Lincoln’s handling of the war.

The governor and the mayor did nothing to allay fears among the city’s massive immigrant population that blacks freed by the Emancipation Proclamation could come north and take their jobs while they were being drafted to fight a war they did not support. Especially repulsive to potential draftees was the provision allowing men to hire substitutes or pay $300 to avoid military service.

For two days, Federal officials drew names in New York’s Ninth District Provost Marshal’s office at Third Avenue and 46th Street. Resentment built as those names appeared in city newspapers. Resentment boiled over on the third day, when a predominantly Irish mob attacked the draft office with stones, bricks, clubs, and bats. Officials were beaten, the lottery wheel was destroyed, and the building was burned. Police tried to stop the violence, but they were quickly overwhelmed.

Rioting in New York | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A rampage through the city ensued, resulting in the burning of businesses, hotels, police stations, and the mayor’s home. Over 1,000 rifles were looted from the Second Avenue armory. Rioters burned the ground floor of the Tribune office; employees of the Times used three Gatling guns to keep the mob from destroying their building.

Protestors targeted wealthy-looking men, screaming, “Down with the rich!” and attacking anyone suspected of being “a $300 man.” The mob also attacked businesses where workers had been replaced by automation, such as grain-loading elevators and street sweepers.

Blacks were beaten, tortured, and killed, with rioters “chasing isolated Negroes as hounds would chase a fox.” Several blacks were hanged on lampposts, including a crippled coachman who was also burned as the mob chanted, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned, but police saved most of the orphans. Businesses employing blacks were also burned. A heavy rain helped extinguish the fires, but the riot continued for two more days.

Lincoln received reports of the violence from Tribune managing editor Sydney H. Gay, and they added to the anxiety he already had from the Confederate army escaping to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg. Troops were pulled from the Army of the Potomac and directed to help restore order in New York, even though Seymour did not request Federal intervention.

The unrest increased on the 14th as rioters stopped streetcars, cut telegraph wires, and wrecked railroad tracks. They seized blacks from restaurants and other places of employment, including foreign blacks aboard a British ship at port. Some rioters attacked the New York Tribune offices again, shouting, “We’ll hang (managing editor) Horace Greeley to a sour apple tree!”

By the 15th, rioters controlled New York City. A witness stated that “three objects–the badge of a defender of the law, the uniform of the Union army, the skin of a helpless and outraged race–acted upon these madmen as water acts upon a rabid dog.”

The War Department hurried several regiments to help police, along with cadets from West Point and men from the forts in New York Harbor under Major General John E. Wool. All Federal naval vessels in the area were called to provide aid as well; Commander Hiram Paulding soon had a gunboat squadron in the harbor, ready to shell the city if necessary.

Workers joined the rioters in attacking the homes of prominent Republicans, as Seymour unsuccessfully tried to stop the violence. An announcement suspending the draft in New York and Brooklyn eased the riot somewhat, but it did not completely end until Federal troops arrived. Many rioters were killed at Gramercy Park as the Federals used artillery and bayonets to stop their advance.

Civilian resistance against authority ended soon after, and peace was finally restored by the 17th. City merchants quickly organized a relief effort for black victims of the rioting and their families. The Democrat-controlled New York City Council approved a measure authorizing the use of tax revenue to pay commutation fees for those who could not afford to buy their way out of the draft.

This was the worst draft and race riot in American history. An estimated 50,000 people participated in the lawlessness, with 105 killed and at least 2,000 injured. Property damage was assessed at $1.5 million, with 50 buildings destroyed. However, one scholar determined that the death toll was not nearly as high as the sensational newspaper accounts claimed (the New York Tribune claimed that 350 had died); most people had not “died anywhere but in the columns of partisan newspapers.”

Smaller riots occurred in Boston; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Rutland, Vermont; Wooster, Ohio; and Troy, New York. Lincoln rejected calls to create a commission to investigate the cause of the rioting because the findings would “have simply touched a match to a barrel of gunpowder… One rebellion at a time is about as much as we can conveniently handle.”

Some urged an indefinite draft suspension, while Democrats sought to have it declared unconstitutional. However, Lincoln insisted that the draft continue.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 133-34; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 62; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308-09; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9506; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 636; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328-29, 333; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 536-37; Klein, Maury, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 225-26; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 384-87, 389; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 609-10; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 244; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Falling Waters

July 14, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia tried escaping to Virginia, while Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac finally advanced.

By dawn on the 14th, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate corps was safely across the Potomac River and on Virginia soil. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps had begun crossing the river at Falling Waters, leaving Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps in the center of the Confederate line alone to fend off a potential Federal attack.

Federal cavalry reported movement within the Confederate defenses at 3 a.m., but Meade ordered no general attack. He ordered a cavalry reconnaissance in force to start at 7 a.m. instead. Two cavalry divisions led by Brigadier Generals John Buford and H. Judson Kilpatrick rode to Williamsport and found the earthworks empty, with trenches guarded by “Quaker guns.”

Meanwhile, Longstreet’s men crossed the Potomac at Falling Waters, and Hill’s troops followed. Two divisions bringing up the rear were still about a mile from the bridge when the Federals slowly approached through the thick mud around 11 a.m.

Brig Gen John Buford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Buford’s troopers charged from the north while Kilpatrick dispatched just two squadrons to take on Major General Henry Heth’s division from the east. Heth’s men fended off this limited attack using rifles, axes, fence rails, and anything else they could find. Kilpatrick then sent more men into the fray, and they combined with Buford’s advance to overwhelm the Confederates.

The Federals took 719 prisoners, along with two heavy guns and three battle flags. They also mortally wounded the popular Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew, who lingered with a stomach wound until succumbing on the 17th. Lee lamented that “the Army has lost a brave soldier and the Confederacy an accomplished officer.”

The Federals sustained 125 casualties (40 killed and 85 wounded). They tended to exaggerate their success in this engagement, possibly to downplay the fact that they failed to prevent the rest of Lee’s army from escaping back to Virginia. The Confederates removed the bridge around 1 p.m. to delay a Federal pursuit.

Meade finally ordered his army to advance, with four corps approaching Williamsport and two corps closing on Falling Waters. But the Federals found only empty trenches and earthworks, with the enemy rear guard crossing the river into Virginia. When Meade reported that the Confederates had escaped, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Great God! What does it mean?… There is bad faith somewhere… Our Army held the war in the hollow of their hand & they would not close it.”

Lincoln vented his frustration to his secretary, John Hay, “We had them within our grasp. We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the army move.” Later that day, the president abruptly ended a cabinet meeting, saying he could no longer concentrate on the topics being discussed.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck notified Meade, “I need hardly say to you that the escape of Lee’s army without another battle had created great dissatisfaction in the mind of the President, and it will require an active and energetic pursuit on your part to remove the impression that it has not been sufficiently active heretofore.” Meade quickly responded:

“Having performed my duty conscientiously and to the best of my ability, the censure of the President conveyed in your dispatch of 1 p.m. this day, is, in my judgment, so undeserved that I feel compelled most respectfully to ask to be immediately relieved from the command of this army.”

Halleck assured Meade that Lincoln did not want to relieve him of command, and the original message “was not intended as a censure, but as a stimulus to an active pursuit.” That night, Lincoln wrote a long letter to Meade:

“I have just seen your dispatch to Gen. Halleck, asking to be relieved of your command, because of a supposed censure of mine. I am very–very–grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country at Gettysburg; and I am sorry now to be the author of the slightest pain to you. But I was in such deep distress myself that I could not restrain some expression of it…

“You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated; and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least 20,000 veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him…

“Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.

“I beg you will not consider this a prosecution, or persecution of yourself. As you had learned that I was dissatisfied, I have thought it best to kindly tell you why.”

Lincoln eventually realized that Meade had done his best. He had taken command of the army just four days before it fought its greatest battle, and there had been many losses and much suffering among the ranks since then. Moreover, had Meade attacked at Williamsport before the evacuation, he most likely would have suffered a terrible repulse like that at Fredericksburg last December. As such, Lincoln never signed or mailed this letter.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 69-75; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 309; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9476-87; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 626; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 329-30; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 535-36; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 384-85; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 666-67; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253, 307-08, 579

Morgan’s Raid: The Northern Penetration

July 13, 1863 – Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan embarked on another Kentucky raid, but this time he crossed the Ohio River and invaded the North.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Morgan planned to relieve Federal pressure in Tennessee by disrupting the enemy’s supply lines in Kentucky. He originally proposed invading Indiana and riding east through Ohio and Pennsylvania before joining with General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, then still at Gettysburg. But Morgan’s superior, General Braxton Bragg, would only authorize a Kentucky raid and prohibited him from crossing the Ohio River.

On July 2, Morgan set out with 2,460 men in 11 cavalry regiments and a section of rifled guns. They struggled to cross the swollen Cumberland River and entered Kentucky near Burkeville. Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Tullahoma, Tennessee, had notified Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio at Cincinnati, that Morgan was heading his way.

Burnside dispatched Federal cavalry forces under General Henry Judah, but they did not react quickly enough to stop Morgan’s advance. Elements of the two forces clashed as Morgan tried crossing the Green River on the 3rd. Morgan sustained heavy losses before riding off to find another place to cross.

The next morning, Morgan demanded the surrender of a garrison on the north bank of the Green. The Federal commander replied, “It is a bad day for surrender, and I would rather not.” Morgan attacked but was repulsed, losing 80 killed or wounded out of less than 600 men. The Federals sustained less than 30 casualties, with most only wounded. Morgan withdrew to find a different crossing, moving through Campbellsville and camping near Lebanon for the night.

Morgan’s raiders attacked the Federal garrison at Lebanon after it also refused to surrender. Brutal fighting took place from house to house within the town, and the Federals finally gave in after being pushed back to the railroad station. The Confederates took over 400 prisoners and valuable medical supplies. Morgan’s youngest brother Tom was killed in the fight, with 79 others either killed or wounded. Morgan burned the town in retribution for his brother and then moved on.

The Confederates cleared out Bardstown and captured a train on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. They feinted north and east while the main force rode west through Garnettsville and Brandenburg. The troopers seized the steamers John T. McCombs and Alice Dean at Brandenburg, which they used to cross the Ohio River on the 8th.

The troops that Burnside dispatched to oppose Morgan did not arrive in time to stop him from entering Indiana. Morgan’s crossing blatantly violated Bragg’s orders not to go any farther north than Kentucky, but Morgan believed he could not fully divert Federal attention without invading the North. Panic spread among the nearby residents, as many feared that anti-war Copperheads would join Morgan’s raid.

Morgan’s forces reached the former Indiana capital of Corydon on the 9th, having covered an unprecedented 90 miles in 35 hours. The Confederates dispersed a large militia force, losing nearly 400 men in the process, and looted the town. Their practice of destroying everything in their path and robbing local treasuries ensured that they would get no Copperhead support.

During the pillage, Morgan ate at a local hotel and received news that Lee had been driven out of Pennsylvania. This thwarted Morgan’s plan to link with him. He resolved to continue moving east through Indiana and on into Ohio nonetheless. However, straggling and civilian opposition hindered the Confederate advance. Colonel Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s top commanders, later recalled:

“The country was full, the towns were full, and the ranks of the militia were full. I am satisfied that we saw often as many as 10,000 militia in one day, posted at different points. They would frequently fight, if attacked in strong position, but could be dispersed by maneuvering.”

Part of the reason for such an intense pursuit was, as Duke recalled, “The (Confederate) Provost guard had great difficulty in restraining the men from pillaging, and was unsuccessful in some instances.” It soon became “impossible to stop a practice which neither company nor regimental officers were able to aid him in suppressing. This disposition for wholesale plunder exceeded any thing that any of us had ever seen before. The men seemed actuated by a desire to ‘pay off; in the ‘enemy’s country’ all scores that the Federal army had chalked up in the South…”

On July 10, Morgan moved through Palmyra to Salem, less than 40 miles from the state capital of Indianapolis. Alarmed citizens gathered at the Bates House to hear Governor Oliver P. Morton read the latest dispatches, and over 60,000 men heeded Morton’s call for volunteers. Fearing that Indianapolis would be heavily defended, Morgan veered east at Salem and moved through Vienna before stopping at Lexington, where he spent the night at a luxurious hotel.

By Sunday the 12th, many of Morgan’s men had straggled and fallen out due to exhausted horses, and some were captured by pursuing civilians and militia. Nevertheless, the bulk of the force reached Sunman, 15 miles from the Ohio-Indiana border. The raiders crossed into Ohio the next day and entered Harrison, just 20 miles from Cincinnati. Federal officials declared martial law and blocked the river crossings.

Now that the armies of both Lee and Bragg were retreating, Morgan’s objective changed from destroying communications and supplies to preventing Burnside’s Federals from moving on Knoxville. However, the raid was losing its momentum as tens of thousands of volunteers joined militias to stop Morgan’s invasion.

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References

Brooksher, William R./Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 511; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 300, 303, 305-06, 308-09; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 677-80; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 322-29; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 186-87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 375-76, 381-83, 385

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Fight or Flight

July 12, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade prepared his Federal Army of the Potomac to attack, but General Robert E. Lee prepared his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw.

Federal Maj Gen G.G. Meade and Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee’s Confederates continued trying to cross the Potomac River and return to Virginia, while Meade’s Federals cautiously pursued them. By the 12th, Meade had finally placed his army in attack positions on the ridges opposite Lee near Williamsport. Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps held the right at Funkstown, while Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps held the left a few miles south. The Federal signal corps relayed information throughout the day on the strength of the enemy defenses.

Meade prepared to issue orders to attack, but a heavy thunderstorm postponed his plans. He telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck late that afternoon, “It is my intention to attack them tomorrow, unless something intervenes to prevent it.” When President Abraham Lincoln saw the message, he remarked, “They will be ready to fight a magnificent battle when there is no enemy there to fight.”

That night, Meade held a council of war with his seven corps commanders, where he announced that he intended to attack the next day. He held a vote on the matter, but just two of the seven supported his plan. The other five favored attack, but only after taking more time to regroup their units and assess the strength of Lee’s defenses. Meade became even more wary when a Confederate pretending to be a deserter came into the Federal lines and claimed that Lee was ready for a Federal assault.

Lee’s men dug in behind their earthworks and trenches a few miles east of Williamsport, where they had waited five days for either a Federal attack or a lowering of the Potomac. Their defenses on the ridges near the river were very strong; Colonel E. Porter Alexander, top Confederate artillerist, wrote:

“Oh! how we all did wish that the enemy would come out in the open and attack us, as we had done them at Gettysburg. But they had had their lesson, in that sort of game, at Fredericksburg and did not care for another.”

Lee notified President Jefferson Davis that the army would cross the next day if the river was low enough. Before the 12th, the rains had stopped and the river had fallen 18 inches. Engineers led by Major J.A. Harman continued building makeshift pontoon bridges out of nearby warehouses and barns at Williamsport and farther downriver at Falling Waters. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, overseeing the work being done at Falling Waters, recalled, “The rain fell in showers, sometimes in blinding sheets, during the entire night.” The falling Potomac threatened to rise again.

The bridges were finally laid, and the Confederate wagons and artillery began crossing through the night and into the 13th. A place was found near Williamsport where the infantry could ford the river, and Lee issued orders for Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, holding the army’s left, to cross there with Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry covering while Longstreet on the right and Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps in the center crossed at Falling Waters.

Meade studied the Confederate dispositions throughout the 13th, sending his cavalry on various reconnaissance missions. At 5 p.m., he notified Halleck of the war council’s results and stated, “I shall continue these reconnaissances with the expectation of finding some weak point upon which, if I succeed, I shall hazard an attack.” Halleck quickly replied:

“You are strong enough to attack and defeat the enemy before he can effect a crossing. Act upon your own judgment and make your generals execute their orders. Call no council of war. It is proverbial that councils of war never fight. Reinforcements are pushed on as rapidly as possible. Do not let the enemy escape.”

Heavy rain continued throughout the day, but the Confederate troops began skillfully evacuating their defenses nonetheless, with each division leaving behind one regiment to serve as a rear guard. Campfires remained lit all along the line to hide the movement from the Federals. The Confederates also put “Quaker guns,” or logs painted black to resemble cannon, on the line facing the enemy.

Ewell’s men had to wade across the Potomac. One of his division commanders, Major General Robert Rodes, recalled:

“The water was cold, deep and rising, the light on either side of the river were dim, just affording enough light to mark the places of entrance and exit; the cartridge-boxes of the men had to be placed around their necks; some small men had to be carried over on the shoulders of their comrades; the water was up to the armpits of the full-sized men.”

Alexander later wrote:

“But, oh, it was another awful night. I was now back with my battalion, and we were marching all night in the awful roads, in mud and dark, and hard rain, and though we had only three miles to go, we were still some distance from the bridge at sunrise… The whole night had been spent groping and pulling through the mud, a few feet at a time, and then waiting for the vehicle in front of you to move again. And men would go to sleep on their horses, or leaning in the fence corners, or standing in the mud… But the mule (Meade) had not yet caught up with the bear (Lee).”

Troops under Longstreet and Hill crossed on the bridges, but they still had to trudge through deep mud. Lee followed the men across at Falling Waters, and by dawn on the 14th, only a portion of Hill’s corps remained in the trenches to oppose the Federals.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 591, 626; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328-29; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6292-303; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 383-85; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 666; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

Charleston: Federals Target Battery Wagner

July 11, 1863 – Federal forces unsuccessfully attacked Battery Wagner near Charleston Harbor, and then prepared to try again.

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, had directed the landing of Federal troops on Morris Island, south of Charleston Harbor, on the 10th. The troops had advanced northward up the island before stopping at Battery Wagner, an open Confederate embrasure that Federals called “Fort Wagner” because it appeared closed to them. Brigadier General George C. Strong, commanding the Federal attack force, rested his men and prepared to attack the work the next day.

Battery Wagner | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Strong’s Federals advanced toward Wagner at dawn on the 11th. They had orders to fire one round and then charge the fortifications with bayonets. Strong instructed the men, “Aim low and put your trust in God.” Neither Strong nor Gillmore knew that waiting a day to attack had given the Confederates time to gather reinforcements. They now had 1,200 men defending the battery. Conversely, Gillmore did not bring up any artillery to support the attack, nor did he request naval support.

The advancing Federals consisted of just three infantry regiments. To reach the fort, they had to charge along a narrow path on the beach that the Confederates covered with heavy guns. The Federals were quickly met by murderous grapeshot and musket fire. Elevated fire from Fort Gregg, 1,300 yards past Wagner at Cummings Point, also did damage.

Some Federals of the leading 7th Connecticut reached the fort’s parapets, but when their commander, Colonel Daniel Rodman, saw the other two regiments breaking behind him, he hollered, “Retreat! Every man for himself!” Rodman was wounded near the parapets. The Federals were repelled within an hour.

Strong’s men sustained 339 casualties (49 killed, 123 wounded, and 167 captured or missing). The 7th Connecticut lost 112 of its 200 men. The Confederates lost just 12 (six killed and six wounded). Unwilling to accept defeat, Gillmore prepared to bring up 40 rifled and mortar guns to bombard Battery Wagner, supported by Federal naval guns offshore.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate defenses in the Charleston vicinity, issued orders for women and children to evacuate the city. He also sent more reinforcements to Wagner, led by General William Taliaferro. When they arrived on the 12th, Taliaferro resolved to hold the fortifications while Beauregard bolstered the harbor defenses at James and Sullivan’s islands, as well as Fort Sumter in the harbor.

The Federals bombarded Battery Wagner almost continuously from the 12th through the 17th. The Confederates took shelter in their bombproofs, which they called “rat holes,” and sustained just 28 casualties (eight killed and 20 wounded) during the artillery barrage.

Meanwhile, General Alfred H. Terry’s Federals fought off a strong Confederate effort to take back James Island. Confederate heavy guns at Grimball’s Landing on the nearby Stono River repeatedly struck the U.S.S. Pawnee and Marblehead during the assault until Federals answered with heavy artillery fire of their own. The 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry suffered 46 casualties while helping drive the Confederates off.

By the 16th, the Confederates knew another Federal attack on Battery Wagner was imminent. Beauregard wrote his superiors at Richmond, “Enemy is massing his troops on Morris Island, evidently for another attack on Battery Wagner this night or tomorrow. Their monitors, gunboats, and mortar-boats kept up an almost constant fire all day on that work, with little damage to it and few casualties.” An article in the Charleston Courier stated, “A forest of masts present themselves to our view just outside the bar, mortar boats, gunboats, and monitors, lie within range of our guns on Morris Island.”

Gillmore truly was massing troops for another attack. But, as he reported, “up to this period, our actual knowledge of the strength of the enemy’s defenses on the north end of Morris Island was quite meager.” Based on the limited information he had, he resolved to launch a combined infantry-artillery-naval gun attack on Battery Wagner to “either drive the enemy from it or open the way to a successful assault.”

Gillmore met with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren to discuss the details of the upcoming assault. The Federal guns on land and water would continue pounding Battery Wagner, weakening the defenders enough to enable the infantry to charge through and seize the works in late afternoon on the 17th. After the meeting, Dahlgren noted, “I thought the General much too sanguine.” Rain postponed the attack until the 18th.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 696-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328, 331; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 383; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 672-73