Category Archives: South Carolina

Charleston: Morris Island Abandoned

September 6, 1863 – Confederate forces finally abandoned Morris Island in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, after enduring relentless pressure for nearly two months. The Federals then looked to capture Fort Sumter.

Maj Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, had aborted two planned assaults on Battery Gregg, on the northern tip of Morris Island, earlier this month. But now Gillmore was ready to launch a full-scale attack on the more formidable Battery Wagner. In preparation, Federal gunners had pounded both Wagner and Gregg, as well as Fort Sumter in the harbor, relentlessly.

Colonel Lawrence Keitt, commanding the Confederates on Morris Island, asked the overall commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, if he should surrender the batteries. Beauregard sent two officers to assess the situation, and they quickly recommended abandoning Morris Island. Beauregard reported to Richmond, “Terrible bombardment of Wagner and Gregg for nearly 36 hours… nearly all guns disabled… Sumter being silenced. Evacuation of Morris Island becomes indispensable to save garrison; it will be attempted tonight.”

As Keitt waited for a rescue force to take his men off the island, he wrote Beauregard, “Will boats be here tonight for garrison? If so, at what time? And if our sacrifice be of benefit, I am ready. Let it be said so, and I will storm the enemy’s works at once, or lose every man here.” That night, crewmen from the C.S.S. Chicora and Palmetto State manned rowboats to collect the Confederate defenders at Cummings Point and bring them to James Island to the west.

The next morning, Gillmore postponed his attack to make final preparations. During that time, Confederate deserters came into the Federal lines and reported that the batteries had been evacuated and the guns spiked. Gillmore ordered his troops to advance, and they soon learned that the deserters had told the truth.

The Confederates defending Wagner and Gregg had been under almost constant bombardment for 58 days, during which they held off an enemy force twice their size, inflicted 2,318 casualties, and lost just 641 men. The capture of Morris Island gave the Federals control of the southern entrance to Charleston Harbor. It also gave them access to many channels within the harbor, making the port too risky for most blockade runners to enter. The Confederacy’s main shipping port soon became Wilmington, North Carolina, as a result.

Gillmore informed Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, that army forces had taken Morris Island, and both men quickly turned their attention to capturing Fort Sumter. The Confederates in the fort defiantly held out, despite having sustained such punishment that, according to Dahlgren, Sumter now “from seaward was rather that of a steep, sandy island than that of a fort.”

Beauregard assigned Major Stephen Elliott, Jr. to lead 320 Confederate infantrymen to bolster the fort’s defenses. Beauregard told him:

“You are to be sent to a fort deprived of all offensive capacity, and having but one gun–a 32-pounder–with which to salute the flag. But that fort is Fort Sumter, the key to the entrance of this harbor. It must be held to the bitter end, not with artillery, but with infantry alone; and there can be no hope of reinforcements.”

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

Dahlgren needed to capture the fort, not only because of its symbolic value, but also because the Confederates there prevented him from clearing the torpedoes and other obstructions from the harbor entrance. If the Federals had any hope of capturing Charleston, Fort Sumter needed to be taken first. When Dahlgren demanded the fort’s immediate surrender, Beauregard replied, “Inform Admiral Dahlgren that he may have Fort Sumter when he can take it and hold it.”

Dahlgren dispatched a naval reconnaissance in force on the night of the 7th. The Confederate batteries at Fort Moultrie and on James and Sullivan’s islands opened fire as the ships entered the harbor. The U.S.S. Weehawken grounded on a sandbar between Cummings Point and Fort Sumter. The other vessels, led by the U.S.S. New Ironsides, drew the Confederate fire while tugs tried pulling the Weehawken out; the New Ironsides took 50 hits. The tugs finally freed the Weehawken early next morning, and the fleet withdrew.

Gillmore planned a surprise attack on Fort Sumter by landing two infantry regiments on the island fortification on the night of the 8th. Coincidentally, Dahlgren planned a similar operation that same night with sailors and marines. The two commanders did not learn of each other’s plan until just hours before the attacks were supposed to start.

Gillmore proposed combining their efforts and placing them under army command. Dahlgren replied, “I have assembled 500 men and I can not consent that the commander shall be other than a naval officer.” Gillmore said that “why this should be so in assaulting a fortification, I can not see.” The commanders finally agreed to launch their separate attacks at different points on the island, with both commands using a password to identify each other.

Commander Thomas Stevens, assigned to command the navy part of the operation, expressed doubt that such a plan would work. But Dahlgren assured him, “You have only to go in and take possession. You will find nothing but a corporal’s guard.” The Confederates, having confiscated the signal book of the U.S.S. Keokuk in April, intercepted the Federal signals and knew an attack was coming.

The navy forces began rowing out to Sumter before moonrise, using muffled oars. Confederate lookouts expecting their arrival signaled the alarm, and the batteries on James and Sullivan’s island opened fire. Almost as soon as the first sailors and marines landed, Confederate rifle fire and hand grenades pinned them against the works.

The C.S.S. Chicora soon opened a deadly enfilade fire, and the guns at Fort Moultrie joined in as well. Dahlgren later reported, “Moultrie fired like the devil, the shells breaking around us and screaming in chorus.” The Federals could see nothing in the darkness, but the Confederates were well familiar with their surroundings.

The remaining navy boats turned back. The army boats were delayed by low tide, and when Gillmore learned of the navy’s failure, he canceled his part of the operation. The Confederates captured five boats and inflicted 124 casualties, most of which were prisoners taken. Beauregard reported, “Nobody hurt on our side.”

Dahlgren requested more ironclad monitors from the Navy Department. When Navy Secretary Gideon Welles refused, Dahlgren suspended bombardment operations, and his fleet resumed general blockading duties. Although the Federals had finally captured Morris Island, Fort Sumter and Charleston remained in Confederate hands.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 131-33; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 323-24; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 699-700; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 347, 349; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 405-07; 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. 176-78; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88

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Charleston: The Bombardment Continues

September 1, 1863 – Federal forces continued bombarding the fortifications in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, in preparation for another infantry attack.

As September began, Confederate defenders still held Batteries Wagner and Gregg on the northern end of Morris Island, and Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Federal troops, having failed twice to capture Wagner, remained poised on the southern end of Morris Island to capture both Wagner and Gregg once they were pounded into submission. Federal shells had crumbled the brick walls of Fort Sumter, but the garrison would not surrender.

Setting the stage for a naval attack on Sumter, Federal gunners poured another 627 artillery rounds into the defenses. On the night of the 1st, six ironclad monitors, led by the U.S.S. Weehawken, came to within 500 yards and then opened a blistering five-hour bombardment.

The Confederates in the fort did not respond, but Confederate batteries at Fort Moultrie scored 70 hits on the enemy ships. Captain Oscar C. Badger of the Weehawken was badly wounded when a shot hit the turret and sent iron into his leg. The Federals withdrew at dawn with the fort still in Confederate hands.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The intense Federal bombardment forced General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Charleston Harbor defenses, to rotate the Confederate defenders on and off Morris Island every three days. Beauregard also relied on slave labor to repair the damages; he asked Charleston slaveholders “to send 100 negroes, with competent managers, to Morris Island as soon as practicable (if not already done), to relieve those sent there this morning.”

Beauregard sent his aide, John McDaniel, to the plantations outside Charleston to ask planters to donate a quarter of their slave labor for strengthening harbor fortifications. McDaniel reported that most planters refused. Beauregard responded:

“I regret that you have found planters so ready with excuses for not furnishing labor to defend Charleston. May God grant that, in seeking to avoid furnishing a fourth of their labor, at this momentous junction, they do not materially contribute to the loss of the whole.”

Beauregard directed McDaniel to change his request to an order, and “call on the planters to give you, in good faith, a list of their able-bodied male negroes between the ages of 18 and 45… every man in the district must be required to send one-fourth” of his slaves. McDaniel was to also round up any fugitive slaves (i.e., “refugees”) he could find, as they “of course must fare the same as others. Send back all negroes who have run away from the works.”

Beauregard then wrote to General W.H.C. Whiting, headquartered in North Carolina, “Can you spare me, say, 500 small-arms” to defend the harbor works; he pledged that they would “be returned in 20 days.” Beauregard also asked, “Can you not hurry up the second Blakely gun? Its position on White Point Battery will soon be ready.” He then told Whiting, “Sumter and Wagner still gallantly held.”

By the 2nd, the Confederates huddled in Battery Wagner prepared to evacuate, as Federal troops had inched to within 80 yards. Beauregard started pulling men and guns out of both Wagner and Gregg to minimize his losses in case the batteries fell. Confederate Major General Jeremy F. Gilmer requested that Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory send as many sailors as possible to Charleston to operate the rowboats moving troops and supplies to and from Morris Island.

The Federals in front of Wagner alleged that the Confederate defenders used grenades to hold them off. But Confederate Brigadier General Gabriel J. Rains, who had organized the system of torpedoes and mines protecting the harbor, reported that the devices were really subterra shells. These were eight to 10-inch Columbiad shells buried in the sand that exploded when stepped on. Rains had invented these types of land mines, which both sides considered unethical weapons.

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, resolved to launch another infantry attack on Batteries Wagner and Gregg. But he needed support from Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Dahlgren refused to help because he would have to move his ships close to shore, where they would be vulnerable to counterfire from the batteries. Therefore, Gillmore changed his plan to target just Gregg instead.

Prior to the attack, the Federals unleashed a terrible 42-hour bombardment, during which they fired some 3,000 rounds at Wagner, Gregg, and Fort Sumter. Gillmore loaded troops onto boats and planned to land them on the northern end of Morris Island, where they could assault Battery Gregg. However, the Federals traded fire with a nearby Confederate boat, alarming Gregg’s defenders and compelling Gillmore to call off the attack. Gillmore then planned a night attack, but with the Confederates now on full alert, he aborted this mission as well.

Colonel Lawrence Keitt, commanding the Confederates on Morris Island, received a dispatch intercepted from Gillmore stating that he planned to launch an all-out attack on Battery Wagner on the 7th. Keitt wrote Beauregard, “The whole fort is much weakened. A repetition tomorrow of today’s fire will make the fort almost a ruin. Is it desirable to sacrifice the garrison? To continue to hold it is to do so.”

Keitt had not yet been notified that Beauregard already decided to abandon Morris Island.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 321-23; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 699; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 345-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 403; 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. 176

Charleston: The H.L. Hunley Sinks

August 29, 1863 – The experimental Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sank in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

The H.L. Hunley | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate forces defending Charleston, tried countering the mounting Federal naval pressure on the harbor by requesting the services of the C.S.S. H.L. Hunley, stationed at Mobile, Alabama. The Hunley was an innovative Confederate submarine built from a cylindrical, waterproof iron steam boiler. She was 40 feet long, 3 1/2 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. One man steered the vessel while eight others operated the hand-cranked propeller.

This submersible vessel had been developed by Horace L. Hunley, who had created the Pioneer, a prototype, on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, the previous year. When the Pioneer sunk, Hunley moved his operations to Mobile and developed the Pioneer II in January. (The Federals had also developed a submarine, the Alligator, but it sank while being towed from Philadelphia to Charleston in April.)

Hunley’s third try resulted in the creation of the submersible that bore his name. The Hunley could be hand-cranked to reach a top speed of four knots. Her purpose was to plunge beneath enemy ships with floating torpedoes in tow that could be pulled into the ships’ sides and exploded. Beauregard, impressed by this new vessel’s capabilities, received permission from the Confederate government to use her in Charleston Harbor.

The Hunley left Mobile on the 12th and arrived at Charleston three days later via railroad. She was accompanied by B.A. Whitney, one of her co-owners, and co-designer James McClintock. The Hunley’s first target would be the ironclad U.S.S. New Ironsides, but it was discovered that the water where the Federal ship was stationed was not deep enough for the Hunley to go below. The Confederates therefore revised the plan to attach a spar torpedo to the Hunley’s bow instead.

The Confederates conducted three test dives over the next two weeks, and the vessel failed each one. Confederate officials then took control of the Hunley, replacing Whitney and McClintock with a naval commander, Lieutenant John A. Payne, and eight of his crewmen from the C.S.S. Chicora.

On the 29th, Confederates tied the Hunley to the steamer Etiwan docked at Fort Johnson. Crewmen had opened her front and rear hatches for better ventilation. When the Etiwan began moving unexpectedly, she pulled the Hunley onto her side. Water poured into the hatches and she sank almost immediately.

According to the report from Fort Johnson, “an unfortunate accident occurred at the wharf… by which five seamen of the Chicora were drowned. The submarine torpedo-boat became entangled in some way with ropes, was drawn on its side, filled, and went down. The bodies have not been recovered.” Payne and three crewmen escaped. Theodore Honour of the 25th North Carolina wrote his wife on the 30th:

“Just as they were leaving the wharf at Fort Johnson, where I was myself a few minutes before–an accident happened which caused the boat to go under the water before they were prepared for such a thing, and five out of the nine went down in her and were drowned, the other four made their escape. They had not up to last night recovered either the boat or the bodies–poor fellows they are five in one coffin.”

The H.L. Hunley would eventually be raised and made functional again.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 315, 319; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 339-40

Charleston: The Bombardment Winds Down

August 23, 1863 – The Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter and Batteries Wagner and Gregg in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, temporarily halted.

The Confederates still held their defenses despite enduring an unprecedented artillery bombardment. The garrisons at Forts Sumter, Moultrie, Ripley, and Johnson held firm, and the Confederate vessels C.S.S. Charleston, Chicora, and Palmetto State remained intact. Federal ships still could not enter Charleston Harbor, which was filled with obstructions such as piles, ropes, chains, and anchored torpedoes (i.e., mines).

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

By this time, the South Carolina summer began taking its toll on Federals unaccustomed to the draining heat and humidity. The most prominent officer to fall ill was Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He wrote in his diary, “My debility increases, so that to-day it is an exertion to sit in a chair. I feel like lying down. My head is light. How strange–no pain, but it feels like gliding away to death.”

In the Stono River, several torpedoes exploded and barely missed destroying the U.S.S. Pawnee. Dahlgren responded by directing men to string nets across Stono Inlet to prevent torpedoes from floating downriver and threatening Federal vessels.

At Charleston, a Confederate officer announced that John Fraser & Company would offer a $100,000 reward to anyone who destroyed the ironclad U.S.S. New Ironsides or the wooden gunboat U.S.S. Wabash. On the 21st, a Confederate torpedo boat led by Pilot James Carlin attempted to collect the purse by targeting the New Ironsides near Morris Island.

As Carlin approached, he turned his engines off so he could quietly drift up and detonate his torpedo beside the ship. However, the current placed his vessel alongside the New Ironsides instead. Carlin had trouble restarting the boat, and the Federals could not depress their guns low enough to fire on him. He finally got the boat started and hurried away, avoiding two Federal shots as he escaped.

On the 22nd, Dahlgren, believing the bombardment left Fort Sumter vulnerable, ordered a pre-dawn attack. However, the U.S.S. Passaic ran aground, and by the time she was freed, the sun had come up and the attack was called off. Dahlgren resumed his attack the next day, targeting both Forts Sumter and Moultrie. However, a heavy fog rendered the Federals unable to cite their targets, and the ships withdrew.

The Federal bombardment halted for the time being. Artillerists had fired 5,909 rounds at Fort Sumter, leaving it in ruins. Even a hurricane sweeping through Charleston in late August could not stop the Federal fire. Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, announced:

“I have the honor to report the practical demolition of Fort Sumter as the result of our seven days’ bombardment of that work, including two days of which a powerful northeasterly storm most seriously diminished the accuracy and effect of our fire. Fort Sumter is today a shapeless and harmless mass of ruins.”

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Charleston defenses, sent his chief engineer, Colonel Jeremy Gilmer, to inspect the damage at Sumter and confer with the garrison commander, Colonel Alfred Rhett. Gilmer concluded that of the “very limited” heavy artillery, one gun was “capable of being fired with advantage,” while others were at a “disadvantage, in consequence of shattered condition of parapet.”

Rhett recommended only using the one effective gun, while another officer reported, “The offensive condition of the fort is nearly destroyed.” Rhett stated, “The eastern wall is much shattered by the fire of 7th of April, and has never been repaired.” It had “also been seriously damaged by fire from the land batteries on Morris Island.”

Rhett guessed that any more than another three hours of bombardment “would destroy the integrity of the wall, if it did not bring it down.” Moreover, “The fort wall adjoining the pier of the upper magazine has been completely shot away, and I think a concentrated fire of two hours on the junction of the upper and lower magazines would render the magazine unsafe.” The north wall could sustain only “a few shots.”

Nevertheless, the Confederates reported, “We beg leave to state, that, in our opinion, it is not advisable to abandon the fort at this time. On the contrary, we think it should be held to the last extremity.” Beauregard reported, “Not a single gun remained in barbette, and but a single smooth-bore 32-pounder in the west face could be fired.” Beauregard removed all the functioning guns except one, but the defenders refused to surrender.

Two days later, Beauregard wrote, “Fort Sumter must be held to the last extremity, not surrendered until it becomes impossible to hold it longer without an unnecessary sacrifice of human life. Evacuation of the fort must not be contemplated one instant without positive orders from these headquarters.” He told President Jefferson Davis that Sumter, “even in ruins,” would be held, “if necessary, with musket and bayonet.” Davis approved, writing in response, “By using debris of fort, assisted by sand-bags, it is hoped effective guns can be maintained in position.”

Maj Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By late August, Gillmore was satisfied with the damage he caused, but he was frustrated that he had not compelled any of the Confederate defenders at Fort Sumter or Batteries Wagner or Gregg to surrender. He needed Dahlgren’s help to capture Fort Sumter, but Dahlgren’s vessels could not navigate past the torpedoes in the harbor. Gillmore contemplated landing an infantry force to take Sumter, but this would do no good while Batteries Wagner and Gregg remained in Confederate hands.

Federal troops had slowly inched up Morris Island toward Wagner, but they had to be careful not to advance too far or else they would be vulnerable to Confederate cannon on James Island to the west. By the 25th, the closest Federal entrenchments were within 150 yards of Wagner’s outer rifle pits. Major Thomas Brooks directed an artillery barrage, followed by an infantry charge on the pits, but the infantry never got moving. Brooks later reported that the men “do not yet take much interest in the operations against Wagner.”

Gillmore planned another assault on the rifle pits the next day, with the troops strapping spades to their backs to dig stronger defenses after taking the Confederate embrasure. At 6 p.m., Federal artillery preceded the advance. The troops surged forward, quickly overtaking the 100 Confederates in the outer pits. This line of rifle pits became the Federals’ fifth trench line on Morris Island, putting them within 250 yards of Battery Wagner itself.

However, both sides were stalemated once more. The Federals on Morris Island could advance no further without severe losses, Wagner was impervious to bombardment, Confederates at Fort Sumter refused to surrender, and Dahlgren’s ships could not approach Sumter without removing the harbor torpedoes.

Near the end of August, Dahlgren finally directed his men to begin removing the torpedoes, but near-hurricane storms impeded their progress. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles asked Dahlgren to send him weekly reports and sketches of the damage Confederate artillery was doing to the Federal ironclads:

“These reports and sketches are important to the Bureau and others concerned to enable them to understand correctly and provide promptly for repairing the damages; and frequently measures for improving the ironclads are suggested by them.”

By month’s end, Federal batteries on Morris Island continued their bombardment of Fort Sumter as Confederates at the fort began transferring their cannon to Charleston. Elsewhere in the harbor, Confederate batteries at Fort Moultrie accidentally sank the steamer C.S.S. Sumter after mistaking it for a Federal vessel.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130-31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 315-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340, 342-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 400-01; 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. 175-76

Charleston: The Swamp Angel Debuts

August 22, 1863 – Federals unleashed the destructive cannon nicknamed the “Swamp Angel” on the people of Charleston, South Carolina.

A Parrott rifle used to bombard the harbor | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By the 21st, the Federal guns on Morris Island and the Federal gunboats offshore had been bombarding Fort Sumter and Batteries Wagner and Gregg for four days. Large portions of Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor north of Morris Island, had been reduced to rubble, but the defenders showed no signs of giving up. Confederate defenses remained strong at Wagner and Gregg, on the northern section of Morris Island, as well.

As the bombardment entered its fifth day, construction of a new Federal battery was completed in the marshes between Morris and James islands. This featured the “Swamp Angel,” an eight-inch Parrott rifle launching 200-pound incendiary shells capable of reaching Charleston itself, about four and a half miles away. Placement of this destructive new weapon took nearly three weeks.

Maj Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Before unleashing the Swamp Angel, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, sent a message to General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Charleston defenses, demanding “the immediate evacuation of Morris Island and Fort Sumter.” Gillmore warned that “all my heaviest guns have not yet opened,” even though Sumter was already almost completely destroyed.

If Beauregard refused, “I shall open fire on the city of Charleston from batteries already established within easy and effective range of the heart of the city.” Gillmore concluded, “Should you refuse compliance, or should I receive no reply within four hours, I shall open fire on the city of Charleston.”

Gillmore’s demand arrived at Beauregard’s Charleston headquarters at 10:45 p.m. Beauregard was inspecting the damage at Fort Sumter and did not receive the message before the four-hour deadline expired. Gillmore directed the Swamp Angel to open fire at 1:30 a.m. on the 22nd.

The first round landed in the city, prompting the ringing of church bells and alarm whistles. Federal artillerists fired another 15 rounds, 12 of which were filled with “Greek fire,” an unstable explosive which ignited the shells upon impact. The Federals used St. Michael’s Church as their principal target, but the steeple withstood several direct hits. The Swamp Angel caused little damage other than burning one house and sending residents fleeing out of range. However, it quickly became an effective weapon of terror.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

At dawn, Beauregard rejected Gillmore’s surrender demand and protested the firing of “a number of heavy rifled shells into the city, the inhabitants of which, of course, were asleep and unarmed.” Beauregard condemned Gillmore for waging war against innocent civilians:

“Among nations not barbarous the usages of war prescribe that when a city is about to be attacked timely notice shall be given by the attacking commander, in order that non-combatants may have an opportunity for withdrawing beyond its limits. Generally the time allowed is from one to three days; that is, time for a withdrawal, in good faith, of at least the women and children. You, sir, give only four hours, knowing that your notice, under existing circumstances, could not reach me in less than two hours, and that not less than the same time would be required for an answer to be conveyed from this city to Battery Wagner. With this knowledge, you threaten to open fire on the city, not to oblige its surrender, but to force me to evacuate these works, which you, assisted by great naval force, have been attacking in vain for more than 40 days. It would appear, sir, that despairing of reducing these works, you now resort to the novel measure of turning your guns against the old men, the women and children, and the hospitals of a sleeping city–an act of inexcusable barbarity.”

Beauregard declared that this “mode of warfare, which I confidently declare to be atrocious and unworthy of any soldier… will give you ‘a bad eminence’ in history, even in the history of this war.” On the morning of the 23rd, the British consul in Charleston went to Gillmore’s headquarters to officially protest the use of such a harsh weapon on a civilian population. Gillmore refused to meet him. The Spanish consul protested as well, but the bombardment continued as the war entered a new, more brutal phase, with civilians now becoming legitimate targets.

The issue resolved itself later that night, when the Swamp Angel exploded after firing its 36th round, “blowing out the entire breach in rear of the vent.” Six shells had exploded in the gun before being fired, which weakened its tubing. Federals buried the Swamp Angel in sandbags, and the bombardment of Charleston ended for the time being.

Gillmore reported, “No military results of great value were ever expected from this firing. As an experiment … the results were not only highly interesting and novel, but very instructive.” Nevertheless, five days of bombarding Fort Sumter, Batteries Wagner and Gregg, and Charleston produced three innovations in warfare: the heaviest rifled shells ever used, employment of calcium lights to conduct nighttime operations, and the Swamp Angel.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37, 139; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317-18; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 322, 738; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 698-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 342-43; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 399-400

Charleston: The Federal Bombardment Begins

August 17, 1863 – Federal heavy artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, while Federal naval vessels began bombarding Battery Wagner on Morris Island to the south.

Maj Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, had failed twice to capture Battery Wagner on Morris Island. He insisted that he needed more men to try again. Since no reinforcements were forthcoming, Gillmore instead resolved to bombard Wagner and the other Confederate embrasure on the island, Battery Gregg, as well as the symbol of the rebellion, Fort Sumter.

Gillmore had spent nearly a week positioning 11 heavy-caliber Parrott rifled guns on the southern part of Morris Island and test firing them. Once in place, Gillmore announced to his superiors, “I shall open on Sumter at daylight” on the 17th. The guns were ready to launch a bombardment on Fort Sumter, to the north, that was unprecedented in warfare.

The bombardment would be supported by Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s naval fleet, which consisted of the ironclads U.S.S. Catskill, Montauk, Nahant, New Ironsides, Passaic, Patapsco, and Weehawken; as well as the wooden gunboats U.S.S. Canandaigua, Cimarron, Dai Ching, Lodona, Mahaska, Ottawa, Seneca, and Wissahocken. Dahlgren’s gunboats would silence the Confederate guns at Batteries Wagner and Gregg.

A Parrott rifle fired a round at 5 a.m. on the 17th, signaling the start of the barrage. Soon every cannon joined in, with each battery targeting a different section of Fort Sumter. The artillerists mainly focused on the fort’s south-facing “gorge wall.”

Dahlgren moved his warships as close to shore as the tide could bring him to fire on Wagner and Gregg, using canister and shrapnel. All the ironclads joined in a concentrated fire at 8:30 a.m., forcing the Confederates into their bombproofs until the ships fell back around noon.

The Confederate defenders answered with sporadic fire that usually missed its targets. However, one shot from Fort Sumter struck the pilothouse of the Catskill and killed the ship’s paymaster and Dahlgren’s chief of staff, Captain George W. Rodgers.

Gillmore, who could not see the bombardment’s effect on Sumter from his vantage point, sent a message to Dahlgren at 1 p.m., “What do you think of this morning’s work?” Dahlgren responded, “Sumter seems greatly damaged.” Also, Wagner had been silenced, and if the Confederates returned to their guns, “the monitors will run up and silence her again.” The ironclads sporadically fired on Wagner throughout the rest of the day, but they did relatively little damage to the embrasure.

The Federal guns on Morris Island crumbled sections of Fort Sumter’s walls and disabled seven Confederate cannon. The Federals had fired 948 rounds at the fort, of which 445 struck the outer walls, 233 landed inside, and 270 missed. Remarkably, the Confederates sustained only 18 casualties (one killed and 17 wounded).

Despite such heavy punishment, the rubble and sand that the barrage produced at Fort Sumter actually formed a newer, stronger layer of protection for the defenders. Gillmore notified Dahlgren, “I propose the same programme for tomorrow that we had today.”

The bombardment of Fort Sumter and Batteries Wagner and Gregg continued for the next three days. On the 20th, the mayor of Charleston asked the Davis administration to transfer all South Carolina troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to “defend their native soil.” To most Confederates, states’ rights still took precedence over the central government, and things seemed desperate at Charleston.

As the bombardment entered its fifth day, the Federals had fired 4,500 rounds at the fort, with over 2,000 hitting the walls and another 1,350 landing inside. Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the Fort Sumter garrison, stated, “The gorge face has been much battered, and the greater portion of it has fallen.”

Rhett reported the “northwest scarp wall penetrated at seven upper and five lowered casemates; breaches 8 by 10 (feet) and 6 by 8 through two of them. Stairway at salient demolished; only two traverse circles of barbette battery, northeast face, in good condition; east barracks badly damaged.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate defenses at Charleston, inspected Fort Sumter that day. He informed Richmond that the Federal bombardment was “still progressing rapidly from land batteries. Fort will ere long become ineffective.” However, he added that Sumter “will be held… as long as practicable.”

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 191; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 398

From Spencer G. Welch, 13th South Carolina

Letter from Dr. Spencer Glasgow Welch, a surgeon with the 13th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry

Camp near Orange Court House, Virginia

August 2, 1863

The South Carolina Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

DEAREST:

In a recent letter I promised to write you more about our campaign in Pennsylvania.

On the night of the 29th of June, we camped on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they extend into Pennsylvania. On the morning of the next day (30th), we renewed our march. Shortly after starting, it began raining, but the road was hard and well macadamized and the rain made the march rather agreeable than otherwise.

On this same morning, we passed where a splendid iron factory had been burned by General Early, of Ewell’s Corps. It belonged to a very celebrated lawyer and politician of Pennsylvania by the name of Thaddeus Stevens, who is noted for his extreme abolition views and his intense hatred for slave-holders. The works are said to have been worth more than $100,000. The burning had thrown a great many operatives out of employment, and they seemed to be much distressed.

During the day we wended our way up the mountains… In the afternoon about one or two o’clock we halted and bivouacked among the mountains. Our stopping-place was in a basin of the mountains which was very fertile and contained a few very excellent and highly cultivated farms. A while after we stopped, I started off to one of these farmhouses for the purpose of getting my dinner, as I was quite hungry and wanted something different from what I had been accustomed…

Upon returning to camp, I found that an order had been received during my absence to cook one day’s rations and have it in haversacks and be ready to march at five o’clock next morning. This at once aroused our suspicions, for we concluded that we were about to meet the enemy. Next morning about five o’clock we began moving. We had not gone more than a mile and a half before our suspicions of the evening previous were fully verified and our expectations realized by the booming of cannon ahead of us in the direction of Gettysburg. Upon looking around, I at once noticed in the countenance of all an expression of intense seriousness and solemnity, which I have always perceived in the faces of men who are about to face death and the awful shock of battle…

It was really a magnificent sight. The country was almost destitute of forest and was so open that it was easy to see all that was going on. Our division (Pender’s) continued to keep within about half a mile of Heth’s. McGowan’s Brigade was at the right of the division and the 13th Regiment was at the right of the brigade. This being the case, I could see from one end of the division to the other as it moved forward in line of battle. It was nearly a mile in length…

Officers who have been in all the fights tell me that they never saw our brigade act so gallantly before. When the order was given to charge upon the enemy, who were lying behind stone fences and other places of concealment, our men rushed forward with a perfect fury, yelling and driving them, though with great slaughter to themselves as well as to the Yankees. Most of the casualties of our brigade occurred this day (July 1). As the enemy were concealed, they killed a great many of our men before we could get at them.

There were a good many dwellings in our path, to which the Yankees would also resort for protection, and they would shoot from the doors and windows. As soon as our troops would drive them out, they would rush in, turn out the families and set the houses on fire. I think this was wrong, because the families could not prevent the Yankees seeking shelter in their houses. I saw some of the poor women who had been thus treated. They were greatly distressed, and it excited my sympathy very much. These people would have left their houses, but the battle came on so unexpectedly to them, as is often the case, that they had not time…

The fighting on the first day ceased about night, and when our brigade was relieved by Lane’s North Carolina Brigade, it was nearly dark… When they drove the Yankees to the long high range of hills, which the Yankees held throughout the fight, they should have been immediately reinforced by Anderson with his fresh troops. Then the strong position last occupied by the enemy could have been taken, and the next day, when Ewell and Longstreet came up, the victory completely won. If “Old Stonewall” had been alive and there, it no doubt would have been done. Hill was a good division commander, but he is not a superior corps commander. He lacks the mind and sagacity of Jackson…

On the second day of the battle, the fighting did not begin until about twelve or one o’clock, from which time until night it raged with great fury. The reason it began so late in the day was because it required some time for Ewell and Longstreet to get their forces in position.

On the third day, the fighting began early in the morning and continued with the greatest imaginable fury all day; at one time, about three o’clock in the afternoon, with such a cannonading I never heard before. About 150 pieces of cannon on our side and as many or more on the side of the enemy kept up for several hours. It was truly terrifying and was like heavy skirmishing in the rapidity with which the volleys succeeded one another. The roar of the artillery, the rattle of the musketry and the wild terrific scream of the shells as they whizzed through the air was really the most appalling situation that could possibly be produced. Our troops (Pickett’s Division) charged the enemy’s strong position, which they had now entrenched, but with no avail, although we slaughtered thousands of them.

On the night of the 3rd, General Lee withdrew the army nearly to its original position, hoping, I suppose, that the enemy would attack him; but they didn’t come out of their strongholds, for well they knew what their fate would be if they met the Confederate Army of Virginia upon equal grounds. On the 4th, our army remained in line of battle, earnestly desiring the advance of the Yankees, but they did not come. During this day the rain fell in torrents, completely drenching the troops…

On July 5, we recrossed the Blue Ridge Mountains. Climbing the mountains was very tedious after so much toil, excitement and loss of sleep, but we met with no obstacle until we came to Hagerstown, Md., where we stopped on account of the Potomac’s being too high to ford. While here, the Yankees came up. Our army was placed in line to meet them, but they did not dare to attack. In this situation we remained for several days with them in sight of us.

After a pontoon bridge was finished at Falling Waters and the river was sufficiently down to ford at Williamsport, we left the vicinity of Hagerstown. It was just after dark when we began leaving. It was a desperately dark night and such a rain I thought I never knew to fall… It appeared to me that at least half of the road was a quagmire, coming in places nearly to the knees…

Being very tired, we all lay down and nearly everyone fell asleep. Suddenly the Yankee cavalry rushed upon us, firing and yelling at a furious rate. None of our guns were loaded and they were also in a bad fix from the wet of the previous night. They attacked General Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade first. Our brigade was lying down 50 yards behind his. I was lying down between the two brigades near a spring. General Pettigrew was killed here. I was close to him when he was killed. It was a serious loss to the service. We fought them for some time. Then General Hill sent an order to fall back across the river, and it was done in good order.

The attack was a complete surprise, and is disgraceful either to General Hill or General Heth. One is certainly to blame. The Yankees threw shells at the bridge and came very near hitting it just as I was about to cross; but, after we were close enough to the river not to be hurt by our own shells, our cannon on this side opened upon them, which soon made them “skedaddle” away.

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 169-75