Category Archives: Navy

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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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

The Fall of Port Hudson

July 9, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf captured the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, opening the waterway to Federal commerce and cutting the Confederacy in two.

The Confederates at Port Hudson, Louisiana, had been under siege for six weeks, enduring an almost constant bombardment from both land and water. On the 1st, the Federal mortar flotilla commander on the U.S.S. Essex reported to Rear Admiral David G. Farragut: “From the 23 of May to the 26 of June… we have fired from this vessel 738 shells and from the mortar vessels an aggregate of 2800 XIII-inch shells.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks stayed focused on strangling Port Hudson into submission despite more panicked messages from Brigadier General William Emory, commanding the Federal occupation forces at New Orleans. Emory feared that Major General Richard Taylor would attack him with 13,000 Confederates, and he wrote Banks on the 4th, “It is a choice between Port Hudson and New Orleans. You can only save this city by sending me reinforcements immediately and at any cost.”

By that time, Taylor’s forces were at Thibodaux and Bayou des Allemands, and Taylor had no immediate plans to attack New Orleans. But he hoped to cause enough disorder in western Louisiana to force Banks to leave Port Hudson and confront him. Banks would not take the bait.

During the siege, Banks directed Federal sappers to dig tunnels under the Confederate defenses. Banks planned to detonate heavy mines in the tunnels and then attack with 1,000 troops, but most Federals considered it foolish. In fact, many questioned Banks’s competence as a commander. He had pushed the Confederates to the brink of surrender, but he had also sacrificed many Federal lives in costly failed attacks. Disease had killed or incapacitated thousands of others. Only news of Vicksburg’s surrender, which arrived on the 7th, revived the sagging Federal morale.

Federal reinforcements began arriving from Vicksburg that day, and Major General Franklin Gardner, commanding the Confederates in Port Hudson, learned that night that the city had fallen. He had hoped General Joseph E. Johnston’s “Army of Relief” would rescue his garrison after breaking the siege of Vicksburg, but this news only added to Confederate demoralization already caused by the bombardment and dwindling rations.

Still, some Confederates believed that the Federals were just trying to dishearten them by falsely claiming that Vicksburg had fallen. On the 8th, Gardner sent a courier under a flag of truce to ask Banks to confirm the rumors. When Banks supplied sufficient evidence to prove the claim, Gardner requested surrender terms. His Confederates had withstood nearly seven weeks under siege, during which time they repelled three major assaults and were nearly starved to death. Gardner now saw that any further resistance was futile.

Federal and Confederate officers met between the lines at 9 a.m. Under the temporary ceasefire, soldiers on both sides came out of their trenches and socialized. Some Confederates, knowing they would be surrendered, took the opportunity to sneak through the Federal lines and desert. The surrender agreement was finalized by 2 p.m., with a formal ceremony taking place the next day.

The surrender was unconditional, but Banks agreed to parole the 5,935 soldiers if they pledged not to take up arms against the Federals until properly exchanged. The 405 officers were sent to New Orleans to be either exchanged or sent to a northern prisoner of war camp.

The Confederate troops stood at attention as the Federals marched into their fortifications at 7 a.m. on the 9th. A Federal band played “Yankee Doodle” as Gardner ordered his men to lay their arms on the ground. Banks designated Brigadier General George L. Andrews to accept Gardner’s surrender. Gardner handed Andrews his sword, but Andrews returned it to Gardner “in recognition of the heroic defense” of Port Hudson.

A band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as Federals raised the U.S. flag over the works. The tune was followed by “Dixie.” The Confederates marched out, leaving the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi to Federal occupation forces. The Federals toured the enemy works as the Confederates received their paroles on the 10th.

The Federals sustained nearly 4,363 battle casualties during the siege (708 killed, 3,336 wounded, and 319 missing), along with another 4,500 due to various diseases or sunstroke. The Confederates lost about 7,200, including the 6,340 officers and men surrendered. The Federals also seized 51 cannon and 7,500 stands of arms. Despite his questionable leadership, Banks stated, “The siege will be remembered not only for its important results, but also for the manner in which it has been conducted.”

Farragut notified Rear Admiral David D. Porter, who had led the naval forces against Vicksburg, that the Federal navy now controlled the entire length of the Mississippi, all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. Farragut planned to return to the Gulf Blockading Squadron. He wrote his wife about the campaign: “My last dash past Port Hudson (in March) was the best thing I ever did, except taking New Orleans. It assisted materially in the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”

On the 16th, the unarmed cargo steamer Imperial docked at New Orleans bearing the U.S. flag after leaving St. Louis eight days before. The Imperial was the first vessel to travel between these two port cities in over two years. However, the resumption of river commerce soon proved difficult because Confederate guerrillas continued attacking Federal shipping from various points along the riverbanks.

Banks soon shifted his attention to ridding western Louisiana of Major General Richard Taylor’s Confederates. President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston, desperately expressing hope that the Federals “may yet be crushed and the late disaster be repaired by a concentration of all forces.” This hope, like further Confederate resistance in the Western Theater, was becoming increasingly dim.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298, 304-06; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 599-600, 614-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 324, 326; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159, 168; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 206; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 381-82, 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; 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. 162; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 298; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 242

Charleston: Federals Invade Morris Island

July 6, 1863 – Federal army-navy forces stepped up efforts to capture the vital port of Charleston, South Carolina, by focusing on the Confederate batteries on the islands south of the harbor.

Adm S.F. Du Pont | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont, had been enforcing the Federal blockade of Charleston throughout most of the war. However, Du Pont had drawn the ire of the Lincoln administration for his failure to seize the forts guarding Charleston Harbor, and his lack of aggression ever since.

Du Pont resented taking the blame for the failed attack on the Charleston forts and wanted the administration to officially acknowledge that the ironclads used in the assault were too weak to capture such strong fortifications. Both President Abraham Lincoln and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles refused because it would reveal this naval weakness to the enemy. Du Pont finally asked to be removed from command, and the administration obliged, replacing him with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren.

Welles had initially chosen Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote to replace Du Pont, but Foote died before he could take command. Dahlgren was an ordnance expert and inventor of the bottle-shaped “Dahlgren” gun; he had formerly been the commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. He arrived outside Charleston on July 6, where he inherited about 70 warships of various types.

Rear Adm J.A.B. Dahlgren – Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Dahlgren was expected to use every resource at his disposal to force the surrender of Charleston. He immediately began working with Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore, the conqueror of Fort Pulaski and the new commander of the Department of the South, to launch a joint army-navy expedition against the “cradle of the Confederacy.”

The Confederates, led by General P.G.T. Beauregard, had batteries posted on both Morris and James islands, south of the Charleston Harbor inlet. Beauregard expected Federals to target James Island, which was closer to Charleston. As such, he left the two batteries on Morris Island lightly guarded. Battery Wagner was garrisoned by about 300 Confederates, while Battery Gregg, farther north at Cumming’s Point, was held by only 30.

The Federals needed to take both islands and both batteries if they had any hope of capturing Charleston. Gillmore planned to land two forces on Morris Island–one on the southern end and one on the northern end–to capture Batteries Wagner and Gregg. Meanwhile, Federal artillery would bombard Fort Sumter in the harbor. Gillmore also tried diverting Confederate attention with two separate operations:

  • A force would invade James Island, west of Morris Island
  • A force would destroy the railroad bridge on the South Edisto River, below Morris Island

Once the islands and batteries were seized, the Federals would remove the obstructions in the channel, enabling the ironclads to enter the harbor and take part in the assault on Charleston itself. The Federals had been secretly working on this plan since June, moving troops to their starting point at nearby Folly Island at night to avoid detection. Heavy rain delayed the Morris Island invasions, but on the 9th, the Federal diversion against James Island took place. The Federals overwhelmed a small Confederate force and seized the island as planned.

The next morning, Federals moved to carry out the second diversion, but they encountered heavy Confederate resistance as they moved up the Edisto. The three ships grounded multiple times, leading the Federals to finally burn one near Willstown Bluff and withdraw with the other two before they could destroy the railroad bridge.

Meanwhile, Gillmore delayed his attack on Morris Island until naval support could get into position. During that time, the Confederates observed the Federal buildup on Folly Island and reported that they believed the main attack would come against Morris. Gillmore, worried that the Confederates knew about his two-pronged advance, changed his plan to land all troops on the southern end of Morris Island instead.

On the 10th, 47 Federal guns and mortars on Folly Island opened a two-hour bombardment to cover the troop landing. The ironclad monitors U.S.S. Catskill (Dahlgren’s flagship), Montauk, Nahant, and Weehawken also provided covering fire with their 11 and 15-inch Dahlgren guns.

Transports conveying a 3,000-man Federal brigade under Brigadier General George C. Strong crossed Lighthouse Inlet and began landing the troops; Strong nearly drowned during the landing. The Confederates, having been pummeled from land and water, quickly abandoned their first two lines of defense and fell back toward Battery Wagner.

The Federals moved up Morris Island, staying close to the shore and their naval support. Many succumbed to heatstroke in the sweltering heat. They quickly gained control of the island’s lower three-fourths, but Confederate reinforcements began arriving from James Island, and they stopped the Federal advance around 9 a.m. The Confederates, led by Colonel Robert Graham, assembled in the strong defenses of Batteries Wagner and Gregg, ready to meet the next Federal attack.

The first obstacle for Strong’s Federals was Battery Wagner, a partially open fortification made of sand and palmetto logs that was much stronger than it looked. As the Federals approached Wagner, the Confederates opened a punishing fire on the troops and the ironclads. The Catskill took 60 hits, the Nahant took six, and the Montauk took two.

None of the ships sustained serious damage, but Dahlgren was nearly killed when a shot sent a bolt past his head in the pilothouse. According to the Catskill’s executive officer, “Our attack on Sumter before is nothing to this. Thank God we have all come out safely, except two or three wounded on this vessel & several used up from exertion & the heat.”

The advance and the sweltering heat exhausted the Federals on the island, compelling Gillmore to suspend the attack on Battery Wagner until the next day. He was unaware that the Confederates in the defenses had been demoralized by the sudden, overwhelming assault; one more quick, all-out attack might have overrun them. The ironclads continued bombarding Wagner throughout the day.

The Federals sustained 106 casualties (15 killed and 91 wounded) in the assault. The Confederates lost 294 men and 11 guns. Graham, stunned by the sudden Federal attack, tried rallying his Confederates within Battery Wagner. President Jefferson Davis asked Governor Milledge L. Bonham to send state militia to help the Confederate defenders. Gillmore’s decision not to follow up until morning enabled more reinforcements to join Graham through the night.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120-24; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 230; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 303, 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; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 325-27; Jones, Virgil Carrington, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131-32; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 380, 382-83; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727, 830; 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. 172-73; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 310-11; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 703; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202

Vicksburg: Grant Needs Another Crossing

April 29, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant needed to find another place to cross the Mississippi River after Confederate defenses at Grand Gulf proved too strong to overcome.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

By this time, two of Grant’s three Federal corps were below Vicksburg, waiting to be shuttled across the Mississippi River to threaten the city from the south. He planned to land the troops at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, but Confederates had hurried to build strong defenses there. Grant relied on Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron to break the defenses so the troops could cross.

Grant’s third corps, led by Major General William T. Sherman, was to create a diversion north of Vicksburg. Sherman’s Federals moved up the Yazoo River with a fleet of eight gunboats, three mortars, and 10 transports. Sherman directed the men to stand on the transport decks and “look as numerous as possible.” The Federals landed near Haynes’s Bluff, marched forward, then marched back onto the transports to draw enemy fire while firing back with artillery of their own.

The ploy worked. Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding the Vicksburg defenses, wrote Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, department commander, “The demonstration at Grand Gulf must be only a feint. Here is the real attack. The enemy are in front of me in force such as have never been seen before at Vicksburg. Send me reinforcements.”

Meanwhile, 33 miles southwest of Vicksburg, Porter positioned six gunboats on the Mississippi to bombard Grand Gulf: the U.S.S. Benton, Tuscumbia, Lafayette, Carondelet, Mound City, and Louisville. The Confederate defenses included two recently installed heavy batteries. As Grant watched from a nearby boat, Porter began the bombardment. Brigadier General John S. Bowen, commanding the Confederates at Grand Gulf, informed Pemberton that he was under heavy attack in preparation for an enemy troop landing.

The Federals fired 2,500 rounds, but they inflicted just 18 casualties while silencing one battery and disabling four guns. The Confederate response was more damaging, as Porter reported that his fleet was “pretty cut up.” His flagship Benton took 70 hits, the Lafayette took 45, and the Tuscumbia was put out of action for several days after taking 81 hits. The other three gunboats generally stayed out of range and suffered minimal damage.

At 12:30 p.m., five hours after the fight began, Porter signaled the fleet to fall back with the message “transports cannot pass.” The Federals sustained 75 casualties (18 killed and 57 wounded). According to Porter, “It was the most difficult portion of the river in which to manage an ironclad, strong currents (running six knots) and strong eddies turning them round and round, making them fair targets.”

When Pemberton learned of the Federal repulse, he wired Bowen, “In the name of the army, I desire to thank you and your troops for your gallant conduct today. Keep up the good work… Yesterday I warmly recommended you for a major-generalcy. I shall renew it.”

Grant and Porter agreed that the Grand Gulf defenses were too strong for the troop landing. That night, Federals seized a local slave who knew the area and had him show where another landing could be made. Grant initially planned to cross opposite Rodney, but the slave showed the Federals an unguarded crossing farther south, opposite Bruinsburg. A road extended from that town to Port Gibson and the rear of Grand Gulf.

That night, the Federal gunboats lashed transports to their sides facing away from Grand Gulf and passed the Confederate batteries to the new crossing point. The next day, Grant’s lead corps under Major General John A. McClernand began crossing on the transports and landing at Bruinsburg unopposed. By noon, 23,000 Federals had landed on Mississippi soil.

Grant later wrote that he felt:

“… a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. But I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy. All the campaigns, labors, hardships, and exposures, from the month of December previous to this time, that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishments of this one object.”

Grant directed the Federals to attack before their landing was discovered. They first needed to confront the 5,164 Confederates at Port Gibson, 12 miles east of Bruinsburg and six miles southwest of Grand Gulf. Bowen dispatched 5,000 more Confederates under Brigadier General Martin L. Smith out of Grand Gulf to intercept the Federals. They moved across Bayou Pierre and arrived about four miles west of Port Gibson that night, where they set up defenses.

McClernand’s Federals marched seven miles inland before camping for the night. Grant ordered Sherman to stop his demonstration and come down to join the main operation. Grant had the numbers, and now he had seized the initiative in a daring gamble, with help from Sherman’s feint and Grierson’s raid. The fight for Vicksburg would begin on the 1st of May.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 353-54; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18348-56; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 332, 342-43, 346-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 287-88; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 96-97, 100-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 343-44; 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. 628; 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. 165-66; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 595-96; 781-84

Vicksburg: Grant’s First Phase

April 27, 1863 – Federal troops arrived at Hard Times on the west bank of the Mississippi River. This signaled the successful completion of the first phase of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant’s Federal troops were marching down the west bank to get below Vicksburg on the opposite shore. The men would then cross the river and threaten the city from the south. Grant planned for the troops to cross and land at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, but the Confederates anticipated this and hurried to strengthen defenses there.

To counter, Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron supporting Grant, stationed gunboats on the Mississippi near the mouth of the Big Black River to isolate the Grand Gulf garrison. Porter told Grant that a “half Union man” claimed 12,000 Confederates and 12 guns were en route to Grand Gulf. Consequently, Porter would not attack without army support.

Grant received a conflicting report from Major General John A. McClernand, commanding the lead corps on the march down the west bank. McClernand stated, “I saw no great activity of any kind displayed by the enemy, nor did I see any formidable display of batteries or forts.” McClernand asserted that if the Federals were going to attack, “I cannot too strongly urge that it be done now. The enemy should be at once driven away from the crest and river slope of the bluffs, and I believe the gunboats can easily do it.”

Not sure whether to rely on Porter or McClernand, Grant left Milliken’s Bend to see for himself. He inspected the batteries at Grand Gulf and then wrote Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the diversionary corps north of Vicksburg, “I foresee great difficulties in our present position, but it will not do to let these retard any movements.” Grant planned to use the gunboats to take out the Confederate batteries and then land McClernand’s troops.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, had many things to worry about from his Jackson headquarters:

  • Grant threatened Grand Gulf below Vicksburg
  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf threatened Port Hudson farther down the Mississippi in Louisiana
  • Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson was raiding from the north as a diversion, along with other Federal cavalry units

Pemberton wrote Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg, on the 25th:

“It is indispensable that you keep in your lines only such force as is absolutely needed to hold them, and organize the remainder, if there are any of your troops as a movable force available for any point where it may be most required.”

By the 27th, McClernand’s four divisions were at Hard Times, ready to be transported five miles downriver to Grand Gulf, on the east bank. McClernand was joined by one division from Major General James B. McPherson’s corps, with the other two approaching. Sherman’s corps was at Young’s Point, ready to carry out its diversion north of Vicksburg. Grant wrote Sherman:

“The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good so far as the enemy are concerned, but I am loth to order it, because it would be hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I therefore leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration.”

Federal Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

If Sherman decided to do it, Grant advised him to “publish your order beforehand, stating that a reconnaissance in force was to be made for the purpose of calling off the enemy’s attention from our movements south of Vicksburg, and not with any expectation of attacking.”

Sherman, who thought nothing of politics or public opinion, replied:

“We will make as strong a demonstration as possible. The troops will all understand the purpose and not be hurt by the repulse. The people of the country must find out the truth as best they can; it is none of their business…”

Meanwhile, Porter issued orders to his captains on how to attack Grand Gulf:

“The Louisville, Carondelet, Mound City, and Pittsburg will proceed in advance, going down slowly, firing their bow guns at the guns in the first battery on the bluff, passing 100 yards from it, and 150 yards apart from each. As they pass the battery on the bluff they will fire grape, canister, and shrapnel, cut at one-half second, and percussion shell from rifled guns…”

Meanwhile, Pemberton directed Brigadier General John S. Bowen, commanding the Grand Gulf defenses, to scout for Federal cavalry if he had the resources, or try strengthening Port Gibson farther south. The Federal cavalry raids compelled Pemberton to spread out his infantry in defense. Bowen reported that a large Federal force was across the river from him and ordered his troops to link the defenses between Grand Gulf and Port Gibson.

The next day, Bowen reported that “transports and barges loaded down with troops are landing at Hard-Times on the west bank.” Pemberton replied, “Have you force enough to hold your position? If not, give me the smallest additional number with which you can.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 353; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340-48, 18402; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 278; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 330-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 285-86

Vicksburg: Transports Run the Batteries

April 22, 1863 – A fleet of transports and supply vessels tried to duplicate Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s feat of passing the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and joining the Federal forces downriver.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana from Jackson, initially thought that Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal army had given up trying to capture Vicksburg and was returning to Memphis. But by the 18th, Pemberton was convinced that Grant was not giving up, but instead planning to assail Vicksburg from the south. Pemberton was also convinced that he did not have the resources to stop Grant. He wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“There are so many points to be defended at this time–Vicksburg, Grand Gulf, Port Hudson, Snyder’s Mill, and Fort Pemberton–that I have only twenty-eight guns at Vicksburg. Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and if possible Grand Gulf, ought to be greatly strengthened in guns… A large supply of ammunition and projectiles should be constantly forwarded.”

Pemberton asked Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, for help since Grant’s army was in Louisiana, part of Smith’s jurisdiction. But Smith’s resources were tied up trying to stop Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf from capturing Port Hudson. So all Pemberton could do was to try strengthening the defenses at Grand Gulf.

When reports arrived that Federal cavalry was closing in from the north, Pemberton once again asked General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, to send him horsemen, particularly those under Major General Earl Van Dorn. Pemberton wrote, “Heavy raids are making from Tennessee deep into this state. Cavalry is indispensable to meet these expeditions. The little I have is… totally inadequate. Could you not make a demonstration with a cavalry force on their rear?” Johnston again replied that he could not spare the troopers.

Meanwhile, Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron supporting Grant, noted the confusion among the Confederates ever since his naval fleet passed the Vicksburg batteries. He wrote Grant from New Carthage:

“I think 10,000 good men landing in Vicksburg the other night would have taken it… This move has demoralized these fellows very much, don’t give them time to get over it. I wish twenty times a day that (Major General William) Sherman was here, or yourself, but I suppose we cannot have all we wish.”

Noting that Pemberton was scrambling to reinforce Grand Gulf, Porter wrote, “They will move heaven and earth to stop us if we don’t go ahead.” Porter offered to “go down and settle the batteries” without Grant’s support, but if the ships sustained heavy damage, Porter could not “cover the landing when it takes place.”

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Porter reconnoitered the Grand Gulf batteries on the 21st aboard the U.S.S. Lafayette. He reported seeing a “strong fort” under construction, with the Lafayette’s guns driving the workers off. The Federals also chased off the steamer Charm, which tried delivering supplies to the Confederates from the Big Black River. Based on this, Porter recommended to Grant a joint army-navy assault on Grand Gulf: “I don’t want to make a failure, and am sure that a combined attack will succeed beautifully.”

Grant agreed, but first he wanted to run more supplies past the Vicksburg batteries to his troops. By this time, two of his three corps (John A. McClernand’s XIII and James B. McPherson’s XVII) were below Vicksburg on the west bank of the Mississippi. Sherman’s XV Corps stayed behind to create a diversion on the Yazoo River, north of the city. Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “If I do not underestimate the enemy, my force is abundant, with a foothold once obtained, to do the work.”

On the night of the 22nd, a supply fleet tried running the batteries. Unlike Porter’s attempt to send a flotilla downriver on the 16th, this one was commanded by the army and did not include Porter. The fleet would consist of just six transports and 13 barges, without gunboat support. Also, the Confederates would be on high alert for any Federal attempt to duplicate Porter’s run.

The transports conveyed tons of rations, medical supplies, and other equipment for the Federals below Vicksburg. The fleet had orders “to drop noiselessly down with the current… and not show steam until the enemy’s batteries began firing, when the boats were to use all their legs.”

As the fleet rounded De Soto Point around 11:30 p.m., the Confederates were waiting. They lit up the river and immediately began firing at the ships. Colonel William Oliver, commanding the transport Tigress, reported that the fleet endured “a shower of missiles of all shapes and kinds, from Minie balls to 200-pound shot and shell.” The Tigress took a hit that tore a four-foot-hole in her hull.

The men abandoned ship and used cotton bales to float downriver before they were rescued by another Federal vessel. The Tigress sank with three newspaper correspondents on board. Sherman, who disdained the press and did not know the reporters had been rescued, said, “We’ll have dispatches now from hell before breakfast.” Six barges were also sunk.

Of the five transports that made it through, only two were still operable. Nevertheless, enough of the fleet got through for Grant to proceed with his plan. He now had ships to ferry his troops across the Mississippi and supply them for the coming campaign.

The next day, Pemberton notified Major General Carter L. Stevenson at Vicksburg:

“… that communications, at least for infantry, should be made by the shortest practicable route to Grand Gulf. The indications now are that the attack will not be made on your front or right, and all troops not absolutely necessary to hold the works at Vicksburg should be held as a movable force for either Warrenton or Grand Gulf.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 352; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18348, 13892-402; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 277; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 329-30, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 283-84; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 86; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 340-41; 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. 627; 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. 165; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84