Tag Archives: Quincy Adams Gillmore

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

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The Fall of Fort Pulaski

April 11, 1862 – Federal forces on the Atlantic coast targeted a key fort guarding the entrance to Savannah Harbor, near the South Carolina-Georgia border.

Following their victory at Port Royal last November, Federal forces had expanded their occupation zone southward down the coast. That zone stopped at Savannah, which remained a Confederate stronghold guarded by Fort Pulaski, a five-sided brick fortress 14 miles down the Savannah River on Cockspur Island. The fort commanded both channels leading to Savannah, and its 11-foot-thick walls were believed to be impervious to artillery bombardment. It also included 48 cannon and a garrison of 385 men under Colonel Charles H. Olmstead.

When General Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida last November, he figured that any Federal attack on the fort would have to come from Tybee Island, across the southern channel of the Savannah, which the Federals had occupied. Lee assured Olmstead, “Colonel, they will make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance.”

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

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

Lee was initially correct. The Federal guns on Tybee Island were a mile away, which was too far to be effective. Also, Federal gunboats could not take the fort because they could not withstand the fort’s 48 guns. And Federal troops could not be landed on Cockspur Island because the ground was mainly marsh. However, the Federal commander in the region, Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore, believed that the fort could be taken using the new and more powerful rifled artillery.

A former engineer, Gillmore directed the placement of 11 batteries on the northern end of Tybee Island throughout the winter of 1861-62. These batteries included 36 siege guns and mortars, and new James and Parrott rifles. The gun distance from the fort ranged from 1,650 to 3,400 yards.

All the guns were in place by early April, ready to bombard Fort Pulaski. Gillmore issued specific orders to each battery on when to attack and what types of fuses and ammunition to use. At the request of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, crewmen from the U.S.S. Wabash were permitted to man one of the rifled artillery batteries.

Gillmore’s superior, Major General David Hunter, sent a message to Colonel Olmstead demanding “the immediate surrender and restoration of Fort Pulaski to the authority and possession of the United States. The number, caliber, and completeness of the batteries surrounding you leave no doubt as to what must result in case of your refusal, and as the defense, however obstinate, must eventually succumb to the assailing force at my disposal, it is hoped you may see fit to avert the useless waste of life.”

Olmstead was given 30 minutes to answer. He quickly shot back, “In reply I can only say that I am here to defend the Fort, not to surrender it.” After receiving Olmstead’s refusal, the bombardment began at 8:15 on the morning of April 10.

Each gun opened on the fort in succession, with all of them firing within a half-hour. The recoil on three Federal Columbiads blew the guns off their carriages, permanently disabling one of them. In addition, Gillmore was informed that the mortar shells could not reach the fort’s interior as hoped.

Reduction of Fort Pulaski | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Reduction of Fort Pulaski | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

But observing through a telescope, Gillmore could see that the rifled guns were blasting holes two feet deep into Fort Pulaski’s masonry, just as he thought they would. The James rifle proved particularly effective, hurling 84-pound solid shot. Even with the mortars rendered ineffective, the fort was slowly being reduced.

In 10 hours, the Federals hurled 3,000 rounds totaling 110,643 pounds of shot and shell. The fort’s southeastern corner was penetrated by nightfall, with the casemates blasted open. Sporadic return fire did no damage. Three Federal mortars and a Parrott rifle continued firing through the night to prevent the Confederates from repairing the breach, and the Federals hoped to capitalize on their gains the next morning.

Heavy firing resumed from both sides at dawn on the 11th. The Confederates’ aim improved, but the Federals maintained the edge in accuracy. Their guns continued pounding the southeastern breach, expanding it and opening new holes elsewhere. The entire southeastern wall eventually collapsed, along with an adjoining wall. This enabled the Federal gunners to fire directly into the fort. They soon blew open the fort’s magazine, exposing the 400 kegs of gunpowder inside that could destroy the fort if detonated.

The Federals prepared boats and scaling ladders for an infantry charge into the southeastern hole, but Gillmore had planned to bombard the fort another two days before deploying troops. This became a moot point when a white flag appeared over Fort Pulaski’s parapet at 2 p.m. Gillmore was taken by boat to accept the fort’s unconditional surrender.

Under the surrender terms, the Confederate officers would go north as prisoners of war, keeping their personal effects except for side arms. The 360 soldiers were paroled and sent home with orders not to take up arms again until properly exchanged for Federal parolees. The Federals took the fort’s 47 remaining guns, along with 40,000 barrels of gunpowder and large quantities of other supplies.

Four Confederates were wounded in the bombardment, and one was killed. One Federal soldier was also killed. The Federals had fired 5,275 rounds into Fort Pulaski. The structure, which Confederates thought to be invulnerable, was taken in only 30 hours. The rifled battery manned by the naval crew played a key role in reducing the fort.

Many on both sides expressed surprise that the fort had fallen so quickly. This marked the first time that long-range rifled artillery was used to reduce a fortification, thus beginning a new era of warfare. In his report, Gillmore stated that “the eight weeks of laborious preparation for its reduction could have been curtailed to one week, as heavy mortars and columbiads would have been omitted from the armament of the batteries as unsuitable for breaching at long ranges.”

Federals quickly occupied Fort Pulaski and closed Savannah Harbor to Confederate business for the rest of the war. This enabled gunboats to block both the main channel and the back channels of Wassaw and Ossabaw sounds. Controlling the entrance to Savannah helped strengthen the Federals’ coastal blockade. However, no immediate attempts were made to go 14 miles upriver and capture Savannah.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-47-49; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 148, 159; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 131, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 197-99; 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. 371; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 43; Melton, Maurice, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 295