Category Archives: South Carolina

Charleston: The Federal Bombardment Continues

November 12, 1863 – Federal batteries opened a new bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The fort had already been reduced to rubble by this time, but the defenders still refused to surrender.

Federal forces had finally taken Morris Island in September, but they had not been able to capture the symbolic Fort Sumter, in the harbor north of the island. The Confederates at Sumter had prevented the Federals from clearing the torpedoes (i.e., mines) and obstructions from the harbor. The Federals positioned mortars and rifled cannon on Morris Island and, coupled with the gunboats blockading the harbor, tried bombarding Sumter into submission.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

November opened with the Federals firing 786 rounds into the fort. The next day, President Jefferson Davis arrived at Charleston as part of his southern tour. A delegation of military officers and city officials welcomed Davis as he came off the train. This included General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate defenses in the city, despite his strained relationship with Davis. It also included Colonel Robert B. Rhett, whose Charleston Mercury had been highly critical of Davis’s policies.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

According to a correspondent of the Charleston Courier, as Davis rode from the train station to city hall, “The streets along the line of procession were thronged with people anxious to get a look at the President. The men cheered and the ladies waved their handkerchiefs in token of recognition.”

Davis delivered a speech from the portico of city hall, where he recalled that his last visit to Charleston had been to attend the funeral of legendary statesman John C. Calhoun 13 years ago. Davis announced, “He who would attempt to promote his own personal ends; he who is not willing to take a musket and fight in the ranks, is not worthy of the Confederate liberty for which we are fighting.”

Noting the Federal bombardment that could be heard in Charleston Harbor, Davis said that although the city “was now singled out as a particular point of hatred to the Yankees,” he “did not believe Charleston would ever be taken.” Rather than surrender the city, Davis preferred that the “whole be left one mass of rubbish.” As Davis spoke, the Federals launched another 793 rounds into Fort Sumter.

City officials held a reception for Davis in the council chamber, where attendees noticed that Davis said nothing positive about Beauregard’s efforts to defend Charleston. Beauregard did not attend a dinner held in Davis’s honor that night at the home of former Governor William Aiken, explaining that he had a strictly official relationship with the president.

That night, Lieutenant Commander Greenleaf Cilley of the U.S.S. Catskill observed Confederate movements in the harbor that indicated a potential Confederate counterattack:

“Two boats under sail were seen moving from Sumter towards Sullivan’s Island. About 11 p.m. a balloon with two lights attached rose from Sumter and floated towards Fort Johnson… At midnight a steamer left Sumter and moved towards Fort Johnson. At sunrise… observed the three rams and the side-wheel steamer anchored in line of battle ahead from Johnson towards Charleston, and each with its torpedo topped up forward of the bows.”

Federal artillerists fired another 661 rounds into Fort Sumter on the 3rd. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, watched the bombardment from his flagship and said that he “could plainly observe the further effects of the firing; still, this mass of ruin is capable of harboring a number of the enemy, who may retain their hold until expelled by the bayonet…”

Davis left the next day after inspecting the Confederate defenses on James Island and the batteries close to Charleston. The Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continued, with Dahlgren reporting on the 5th, “The only original feature (of the fort) left is the northeast face, the rest is a pile of rubbish.”

As Davis arrived at Wilmington, North Carolina, on the 6th, Dahlgren began using a new kind of torpedo to remove obstructions from Charleston Harbor. The device, invented by John Ericsson, held 600 pounds of explosives in a cast-iron shell about 23 feet long and 10 inches wide. It was attached to the bow of the U.S.S. Patapsco and suspended by two long booms. The torpedo proved ineffective because it interfered with the ship’s movements, and the explosion sprayed water onto the deck. Dahlgren returned the device to Ericsson for refinement.

By the 10th, Davis was back at Richmond and Dahlgren reported that his squadron had fired 9,036 rounds into Sumter over the past two weeks; in the span between the 7th and the 10th, the Federals hurled 1,753 rounds into the fort. The Confederates, having suffered minimal casualties during the bombardment, still refused to surrender.

The Federals began a new artillery barrage of Sumter on the 12th, launching another 2,328 rounds over the next three days. On the night of the 15th, the Confederate batteries at Fort Moultrie responded by firing on the Federal guns at Cummings Point, on the northern tip of Morris Island. Dahlgren notified his squadron commanders to keep a close watch on Cummings Point in case the Confederates decided to land and attack the Federal batteries there.

The U.S.S. Lehigh ran aground while patrolling Cummings Point, and the Confederates opened fire on her at dawn on the 16th. Crewmen from the U.S.S. Nahant attached a line to the Lehigh under heavy fire to tow her off the bar. The Lehigh was rescued, and Landsmen Frank S. Gile and William Williams, Gunner’s Mate George W. Leland, and Coxswain Thomas Irving were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their action.

Meanwhile, Beauregard issued a report explaining why the Confederate gunboats in the harbor were no match for the Federal land batteries or ironclads:

“Our gunboats are defective in six respects: First. They have no speed, going only from 3 to 5 miles an hour in smooth water and no current. Second. They are of too great a draft to navigate our inland waters. Third. They are unseaworthy by their shape and construction… Even in the harbor they are at times considered unsafe in a storm. Fourth. They are incapable of resisting the enemy’s XV-inch shots at close quarters… Fifth. They can not fight at long range… Sixth. They are very costly, warm, uncomfortable, and badly ventilated; consequently sickly.”

In the last two weeks of November, the Federals fired nearly another 4,000 rounds into Fort Sumter, which had become little more than rubble. A landing party of 200 Federals tried to capture the fort on the 19th, but they withdrew when the Confederates discovered their approach. Despite these efforts to pound Sumter into submission, the defenders showed no sign of giving up the fort.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338-41, 343, 345; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 822-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 366-68, 370-76, 378; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 428-35, 437-39; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

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Charleston: Another Federal Bombardment

October 31, 1863 – In a five-day span, Federal batteries fired 2,961 rounds into Fort Sumter, but the Confederate defenders still refused to surrender.

Federal army and navy forces had been unable to capture Sumter, the prime symbol of defiance in the South and of rebellion in the North. Federal gunners on Morris Island south of the fort concluded a six-day bombardment on October 3 after firing 560 rounds at their target. The Federal guns fell relatively silent for the next two weeks as the commanders pondered their next move.

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

Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that since his operations against Charleston began in July, the naval vessels had fired over 8,000 rounds and sustained over 900 hits.

Dahlgren also assured Welles that naval support to the Federal force on Morris Island ensured that “its supplies were entirely covered; provisions, arms, cannon, ammunition… were landed as freely as if an enemy were not in sight, while by the same means the enemy was restricted to the least space and action…”

Despite this, the Federal high command continued pushing for Dahlgren to lead his naval force into Charleston Harbor and capture the city. But the Confederates at Fort Sumter and other batteries throughout the harbor, along with the vast number of obstructions and torpedoes, prevented Dahlgren from doing so. Also, several ironclads needed repairs. Frustrated, Dahlgren told Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox that “the public demand for instantly proceeding into Charleston is so persistent that I would rather go in at all risks than stand the incessant abuse lavished on me.”

On the 22nd, Dahlgren met with his eight ironclad captains and two staff officers in a council of war. Dahlgren asked whether they should invade the harbor as soon as the ironclads were repaired or wait until new ironclads arrived in the winter. The officers voted six-to-four in favor of waiting.

Welles indicated that he did not oppose waiting; he told Dahlgren, “While there is an intense feeling pervading the country in regard to the fate of Charleston, the Department is disinclined to have its only ironclad squadron incur extreme risks when the substantial advantages have already been gained.”

But Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal army forces on Morris Island, would not sit idle while waiting for Dahlgren’s help. From Cummings Point on the island’s northern tip, Gillmore opened a massive bombardment on Fort Sumter on the 26th, which would continue almost non-stop for the next 41 days. The bombardment did little damage since the fort’s walls were already almost completely crumbled.

Federal gunners hurled 625 rounds into Sumter on the 26th. The captain of the U.S.S. Patapsco reported that the fire was “hardly describable, throwing bricks and mortar, gun carriages and timber in every direction and high into the air.”

By the end of October, the Federals had fired 2,961 rounds in the heaviest bombardment of the war. The Confederates held firm for the time being, but the artillery barrage continued into November.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 134; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 334-37; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 823; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356, 364-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 417, 426-27; 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. 179-80; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

David v. New Ironsides

October 5, 1863 – A small torpedo boat named the C.S.S. David detonated a mine against the Federal ironclad U.S.S. New Ironsides outside Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

The Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continued sporadically after Federal forces had failed to capture either Sumter or Charleston by direct assault. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, shifted his main focus from bombarding the fort to blockading the harbor. During this time, General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate defenses in the harbor, directed a new type of naval vessel to attack.

The David was a steam-powered, semi-submersible ship whose construction had been funded by donations from Charleston residents. The David sat just above the waterline, making her nearly invisible to the blockade fleet. A 10-foot spar at the end of the David’s bow held an explosive device (i.e., a torpedo). This device had four percussion caps primed to detonate a gunpowder-filled canister on contact.

The torpedo boat headed out on the night of the 5th to destroy the hated 3,486-ton iron frigate U.S.S. New Ironsides. The David was led by Lieutenant William T. Glassell, and his three-man crew consisted of Pilot Walker Cannon, Assistant Engineer James H. Tomb, and Seaman James Sullivan (fireman). They had spent the past week testing the vessel, and Glassell pronounced them ready for action.

The David passed Fort Sumter around 9 p.m. About an hour later, the deck officer of the New Ironsides sighted the cigar-shaped craft approaching from 50 yards. He hollered, “What boat is that?” Glassell, hoping to cause confusion among the enemy crew, emerged from the David and killed the man with a shotgun blast. The David’s engines then turned off and she drifted toward the New Ironsides.

David approaching New Ironsides | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals opened fire, but it was too late. The David surged forward and rammed the ironclad’s starboard quarter, detonating 60 pounds of gunpowder six feet below her waterline.

The blast was not strong enough to sink the New Ironsides, but it extinguished the David’s boilers. Glassell ordered the crew to abandon ship, and three of the four men began swimming to shore. Cannon stayed aboard because he could not swim, so Tomb returned and the men tried restarting the David. Tomb finally relit the boilers, and he and Cannon escaped. Charleston residents welcomed them back to shore as heroes.

Federals captured Glassell and Sullivan as they tried swimming ashore. They were shipped north to face charges of using an uncivilized weapon, but no trial was held and they were later exchanged as prisoners of war. The New Ironsides went to the repair yard at Port Royal, where workmen discovered the blast had caused more damage than initially thought. She remained under repair for the next eight months.

Dahlgren wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “How far the enemy may seem encouraged I do not know, but I think it will be well to be prepared against a considerable issue of these small craft.” Dahlgren informed Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox, “By all means let us have a quantity of these torpedoes, and thus turn them against the enemy. We can make them faster than they can.”

The explosion terrified the Federal crew and prompted the Federal naval command to develop a defense to this new type of warfare. Dahlgren issued orders for ironclads to have escorts while on patrol, and to be fitted with protective outrigging and netting while anchored.

Meanwhile, the Confederates scrambled to construct more David-like ships with larger torpedoes to attack the Federal fleet at Charleston.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 205; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 331; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 824; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 357; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 418; 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. 178; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525

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

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