Federal forces remained on the southern part of Morris Island after sustaining another defeat at Battery Wagner on July 18. With his force reduced to 6,000 men due to combat and illness, Major-General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Department of the South, wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck requesting reinforcements. Gillmore asked for 8,000 veterans that he assumed would be freed up after the victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma.
While waiting for Halleck’s response, Gillmore worked with Rear-Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, on a new plan of attack. The two commanders agreed that reinforcements were needed before any offensive operations could be resumed, but Dahlgren had none to offer.
Dahlgren contacted Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and suggested that 20,000 reinforcements could take Morris Island and put the Federals in position to attack Charleston. When Welles received Dahlgren’s message, he sent Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox to discuss the matter with Halleck. Halleck claimed that he had received no request for reinforcements from Gillmore; that message would not reach him until the 28th. When Halleck read it, he immediately replied:
“You were distinctly informed that you could not have any additional troops, and it was only on the understanding that none would be required that I consented to your undertaking operations on Morris Island. Had it been supposed that you would require more troops, the operations would not have been attempted with my consent or that of the Secretary of War.”
Halleck explained that “every man that we could possibly rake and scrape together is in the field in face of the enemy… And now, at this critical junction, comes your urgent but unexpected application for 8,000 additional troops for Morris Island. It is, to say the least, seriously embarrassing.” Halleck ultimately dispatched 2,000 black troops from North Carolina, but they were untested and too few for Gillmore to proceed.
Lincoln and Welles then met with Halleck and agreed that since Major-General George G. Meade would not be launching another offensive in northern Virginia any time soon, troops could be pulled from the Army of the Potomac to reinforce Gillmore. Lincoln directed the War Department to send 5,000 additional troops from the Eleventh Corps to Morris Island.
By month’s end, Gillmore had begun preparing to besiege Batteries Wagner and Gregg on Morris Island, as well as Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.
- United States Navy Department, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1 – Vol. 14. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1906.
- United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1 – Vol. 28, Part 2. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880-1902.
- Welles, Gideon, Diary of Gideon Welles Volumes I & II. Kindle Edition. Abridged, Annotated.
- Wise, Stephen R., Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863. University of South Carolina Press, 1994.