Colonel Hallowell on his return used every means to have the many detached and detailed men returned to the colors, as heavy working parties of from one hundred to two hundred men were still called for to labor on the new works. Our first instalment of furloughed men having returned, the second left for Hilton Head on November 12. Lieutenant Howard relieved Lieutenant Littlefield as acting adjutant. Sergeant Swails of Company F was made acting sergeant-major and Sergeant Vogelsang of Company H quartermaster-sergeant.
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Mercury, November 17, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 7, 1863
—As I closed my letter last Sunday the guns were booming with a dull, heavy sound, and have been ever since, although not quite so many have been engaged during the past week as the one preceding. Sumter still holds out, and, to speak candidly, it is difficult to perceive any great change in the looks of the fort, after the lapse of a week. That part of the walls of the fort exposed to our guns is apparently battered down, as far as can be by artillery, be it ever so heavy and effective. From the top of the wall downward to within apparently 10 or 12 feet from the base, the material of which the wall was composed is entirely knocked down, some of the debris in and some outside the wall, so that the fort on that side (the sea front) presents the appearance of a regular sand work before it is sodded. Now, all the guns in Christendom can never effectually displace the debris accumulated there, for the more projectiles thrown into the mass, the stronger it becomes. Not that Sumter is not practically and theoretically useless, for in reality it is, and very probably has been for some time. Day after day we shoot the flag away, the rebels content themselves with waiting till night, and then they put it up again; so, when daylight comes, we see it still floating proudly on the same old corner. Last Wednesday morning we saw a new flag raised on a longer staff, apparently both new; it floated about two hours, when it was shot away.
Last Tuesday, a deserter came over to Folly Island from James Island, and reported that on the day previous 11 men were killed in Fort Sumter and 27 wounded; he says that the rebels keep only a small garrison there in the day time, but reinforce nightly, to the extent of 400 men, removing them before daylight. We have been on the alert nightly, to hear of an assault being made on it, as it is “reliably” reported daily, that such and such a regiment is to “lead the charge on Sumter to-night”; but it has not come to pass yet. ”Fort Putnam” (Gregg) keeps up the fire now on Sumter, as “Fort Strong” (Wagner) is arranging her guns and embrasures for another point. The other batteries are preparing for another vigorous campaign, and the “Reliables” say that Monday will inaugurate something stunning.
The rebels have kept pretty quiet, firing but very little. Fort Moultrie does not deign to give the monitors a shot, while they lay at anchor close to her, daily firing away at Sumter. Occasionally Moultrie throws a mortar shell over to Putnam or Wagner, but they do but very little damage. There must have been a little affair on James Island last Monday, as we heard pretty brisk firing and could see shell bursting high in the air, a little to the south of Seceshville. We have heard nothing in regard to it, as the most of the notables are quartered on Folly Island, and as a matter of course, the news is kept there. As an item I will record the sailing of the Flag Vessel, cleared, from Lighthouse Inlet Tuesday, Nov. 3d, steamer Philadelphia, — to take her position among the fleet, off Charleston Bar.
The sick and wounded of the 54th Massachusetts volunteers beg to acknowledge the receipt of a lot of hospital stores, kindly sent them by the benevolent citizens of New Bedford; and particularly to the committee, who interested themselves in carrying out the designs of the contributors. It is a gratifying proof that the poor soldier is not forgotten.
Mercury, November 11, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 31, 1863
—The past week has been one of active operations here with us. Last Monday at noon, the bombardment of Sumter recommenced with a vigor unparalled in the annals of warfare. By reference to my notes, jotted down as the events occurred, your readers will have a better understanding of the work going on than otherwise. Monday noon, the three hundred pound Parrott was fired a little, to test her qualities; she commenced by putting one shot into Sumter. Then, feeling pretty well satisfied with that result, she half faced to the right and sent a shot whizzing into Moultrie; then, completely about face, she let old Fort Johnson have a taste of her sauce; still feeling a little more ambitious she right obliqued and sent a message to Castle Pinckney, which must have caused some commotion in the city, as Pinckney is not a great way from town. The rebels, thinking we were opening a regular engagement, assailed our batteries from all the positions. Moultrie, Bragg, Johnson, Simpkins, and one or two other batteries nameless to me, were soon blazing away at the Yankees for dear life, but I am happy to say they did no harm. After our side saw the rebels were “spiling” for a fight, they concluded to let them have a foretaste of what was to come on the morrow. Accordingly, the quondam rebel stronghold, Wagner, was let loose, and it was not long before the rebels were obliged to keep still.
Tuesday morning, at 6 A.M., the battle began to rage. Wagner, Gregg, and the new battery midway between Wagner and Gregg opened all their powerful pieces on poor old Sumter. If Sumter was a wreck before, how shall we express what she is now? Every shot fired at her hit, some of them going literally through the opposite wall. At 11 o’clock the monitors moved up in position, gave a few shots, and walked out, but the land forces never even relaxed their fire. Surely, but slowly, the great siege guns are doing their work; at each shot from the 300-pounder ton after ton of bricks, mortar and rubbish are toppled down into the water surrounding the grim old fortress. Moultrie and Johnson send a few shells over now and then, but they do but little damage. Boom! Boom! in pendulum regularity go the great guns, the sky in the north looks black, and the sun sets once more with the contending guns bellowing with vengeance; the mantle of night is dropped, but still the indefatigable Yankees are pounding the first refuge of armed treason. Two fresh monitors come up and relieve those that have worked since noon; strong, able men on shore are wending their way to the front to serve the guns all night; and long trains of wagons are going to Gregg, Wagner, and the new battery, loaded with shot, shell and powder. The way everything looks now is, that Sumter must and shall fall.
Wednesday, 28th. — The bombardment still goes on, but it is about the same as on the day preceding, a perpetual roar of artillery and a gradual opening of the east wall of Sumter. The outer wall is now a mass of debris, forming an inclined plane of about 25 degrees from the water to the top of the wall. The arches are plainly visible from Fort Wagner without the aid of a glass, but still the irrepressible 11th S.C. hold out, and indeed I see no reason why they should not. It is a question whether one shot out of a hundred thrown at the fort damages that particular corner that is inhabited. The rebels hold what may be termed the southwest corner, directly facing Fort Johnson, and in the position our batteries are, it can hardly be expected that we can damage that corner a great deal, as the projectiles would nine times out of ten glance off, thereby depleting our stock of ordnance stores to no advantage. So, in view of this, we have to be patient and wait to see how knocking down the east wall will affect the work.
Thursday, 29th. — This day, being one of a detail to report at Gregg, I had a good opportunity of seeing how things were progressing; from there could be seen the sad havoc made on the once formidable Sumter. The fort was at times enveloped in smoke for the space of 15 minutes, so rapid was the fall of shell, in and around it. At 10 o’clock, the flag and staff were shot off the wall and toppled in the water; then arose a shout from the gunners, pickets and fatigue party, with waving of hats, caps, and even shovels; every man left his work and mounted the parapets or anything that had an elevation of four or five feet, to see the thing. But, presto! amid the shouts and rejoicings, the bellowing of guns, the whizzing of ponderous balls, and the bursting of bombs over that doomed citadel, another flag is raised out of the black smoke, with the staff inclining greatly to one side; the balls are directed to it in rapid succession — the gallant rebel is forced to desist, till a lull, often occurring in a bombardment like this, enables him to appear again and set the staff firm and upright. After performing this daring feat, he coolly took off his hat, swung it around once, just in time to escape a 12 pound shot fired from a light field piece. After I saw this trick, you may be sure I had some grave doubts of ever getting the rascals out by this mode of attack, although they may be bombed out.
It is now Sunday, but still the battle goes on. The iron clads begin to show their abilities now; there seems to be especial inclination on the part of Moultrie to trouble them, for they lay right in range of her guns; but she has not given them a shot yet — they must make the dirt fly in Sumter, as all their shell are thrown inside. The old Ironsides will take the lead, I hear, when we get ready to talk to Moultrie.
I hope by next week’s mail you will receive the gratifying news that Sumter is surrendered. But we have gone so far that we must go ahead. Thank the Lord there is no land left to build batteries on; we have got to Cumming’s Point, so if they want any shoveling done, they must begin on the next Island — Sullivan’s.
Our new and old works being in readiness at Cumming’s Point, what General Gillmore calls the ” second bombardment of Sumter ” was begun October 26. Its purpose was to prevent guns being mounted there, and to cut down the southeast face, that the casemates of the channel face be taken in reverse. General Seymour had returned and assumed command of the island on the 18th. Under his direction our batteries opened from seven heavy rifles (including a three-hundred-pounder) in Wagner, and four in Gregg and from two mortars. Some fire was directed against Fort Johnson also, the enemy replying briskly. The next day the cannonade was renewed with one gun in Gregg turned upon the city. Our range against Sumter being less than was the case during Wagner’s siege, rendered the force of our shot much greater. Sharpshooters in Sumter armed with the long-range Whitworth rifles were trying to disable our gunners in Gregg, without success.
After four days’ bombardment, a breach was disclosed in the southeast face of Sumter, extending half its length, on which our land and sea fire was concentrated. For about a week longer our bombardment was kept up with great vigor, during which time the enemy suffered many casualties, and Sumter was pounded into a mound of debris covering the lower casemates, in which the garrison found safe refuge…
In honor of some of the officers who had fallen during the operations, Gregg was renamed Fort Putnam ; Wagner, Fort Strong; the Bluff Battery, Fort Shaw ; the new work near Gregg, Battery Chatfield; a work on Lighthouse Inlet, Battery Purviance; and another opposite the last, on Folly Island, Fort Green. By the same order General Gillmore announced that medals of honor, his personal gift, would be furnished to three per cent of the enlisted men who had borne part in the engagements and siege. This medal, however, was not received for some months. In the case of the Fifty-fourth it was awarded to the four men specially mentioned in Colonel Hallowell’s report of the assault of July 18, previously printed herein. There arrived for the regiment a present from Mrs. Colonel Shaw of one thousand small copies of the Gospels, neatly bound in morocco of various colors, which were distributed.
Mercury, November 3, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 24, 1863
—We have no news of any great interest, save what would be considered contraband. Items are as scarce as birds’ teeth; and everything and everybody is quiet as a burglar when the police are around. The rebels keep up a little gun practice daily, but the harm it does is very trifling, further than to make the fatigue parties do a little skedaddling behind the breastworks.
We heard pretty brisk firing on James Island last Wednesday, lasting about an hour and a half; but we have heard no particulars as to what it was. From the direction of the smoke of the guns, the firing must have been in the vicinity of the fight of July 16th.
It is rumored that a detachment of the 55th Mass. has been badly cut up; a detachment of 200 men are away from the regiment, but where they are no one knows; the fact of a number of the men being away, and the firing on James Island, may have given rise to the story; I cannot vouch for its correctness, and am inclined to think it is a canard. The prospect of active operations is rather obscure; but of course those who know “what is what” don’t mean that the secret shall be shared by the public or the “milishey” either. So all we have to do is grin and bear it. Morris Island begins to look as though civilized people were its inhabitants, but how can it be otherwise? Wherever the cosmopolitan Yankee goes, improvement goes with him; warehouses, docks and shipping are sure to spring up as soon as Mr. Yankee plants his feet, wherever there is land to put a house on and water enough to float a mud scow. His genius will make the land larger, or the water deeper, or else there is no virtue in machinery. Some of Johnny Bull’s blockade runners may make a mistake before long, if Morris City progresses as it does now — they will take it that Uncle Sam’s new city is Charleston, and run smack in before they find out their mistake. The navy remains quiet, with the indication of so continuing. But it is said that Admiral Dahlgren is seriously ill; the climate has acted very badly on his health, and it is very questionable if he ever completely recovers.
The Monitors had a little “brush” last night. It seems the rebel ram undertook to come out, for what purpose is quite obvious; she got down the harbor as far as Fort Moultrie, when the little cheeseboxes opened on her savagely. The Monitors were walking round the harbor in fine style, evidently to get around the ram, to head her off, and capture her; but it is likely the rebels recollected the fate of the Fingal,20 for the ram speedily made tracks for the city, well satisfied no doubt that the cheeseboxes are hard cases.
Shortly after the naval skirmish, there was a pretty brisk fire of musketry on Sullivan’s Island; but it is probable it was nothing more than a picket encounter. The pickets are liable to fall in with each other nightly, in their aquatic perambulations.
Old Sumter stands like a deserted castle, a lonely looking mark of departed power and glory. One can hardly realize when standing within less than half a mile of her crumbled walls, what a mighty sway she once wielded over this and the adjacent islands. She fires no gun now, neither do we see any men on the ruined walls. She must be practically deserted; only a few men left to preserve the name of possession. Her flag waves daily, but it is raised but a very few feet above the ruined walls and cannot be seen unless you are within a mile of the Fort, as it is rather unsafe for a man to show himself on the top of the wall. A Parrott gun is very quick in execution. The rebels have a continuous fine of batteries from Moultrie up to Mount Pleasant, but it is shrewdly suspected that the most of them are “dummies.” A few fifteen inch shell will soon reveal what they are.
Last Tuesday night there must have been an extensive conflagration in Charleston; the flames could be distinctly seen from Gregg for over three hours. While the fire was raging, the rebels ceased their regular gun practice, no doubt to view the scene going on at home.
Mercury, November 5, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 17, 1863
—Since my last, little has occurred worth mentioning in affaires de guerre. But we may hope for something pretty soon, as there are indications that powder is soon to be used in very large quantities. To give the reasons on which I base my suppositions of early action would very likely get your humble servant in a rather complicated position, i.e., the Provost Guard House — but it is enough to say that the troops here have not been playing holiday at any time since Wagner was taken. And be it further known, that any department under command of a General like Gen. Gillmore will always earn the gratitude of the nation, — saying nothing about the government funds. If success be the fruit of perseverance, then the army of the South will be successful in an eminent degree, and every man feels sure of success; although none know precisely when, or how it is to be attained. They feel confidence in the head of affairs, and so long as men feel confident of their leaders, there is no such word as fail.
The rebels have been very quiet the past week. It is very unaccountable, but they let our working parties work almost the whole day without molesting them; but all the suspicious work is done under cover of night, so the rebels probably suppose the Yankees are only making themselves comfortable for the winter; but they may find out pretty soon that we want better accommodations than this sand patch affords; we want to know by experience whether the Mills House is equal to the Revere, or St. Nicholas, providing — it stands. Last Monday, the obsequies of Ensign Howard took place. Ensign H. was wounded the night of the attack on the Ironsides; he fingered during the week, till Sunday last, on which day he died. He was said to be a very good officer, and his loss is felt to be a great one by both officers and men. He was followed to the grave by one company of marines, a squad of about 60 sailors, and a large number of officers from the fleet, headed by the Post band.
The health of the troops is improving since the cool weather has set in permanently; I have not noticed an ambulance pass by our street but twice during the past week, but I take the large number of men returning to duty as a test, rather than any diminution in the calls of ambulances.
Col. E N Hallowell returned to his command today. He is looking quite hale and hearty after his severe sickness, caused by wounds received before Fort Wagner on the 18th July. His familiar voice acted like electricity on the men on dress parade today, and Col. Littlefield says he never saw such an apt illustration of the adage that “sheep know the Shepherd’s voice.”
Died, Oct. 15th, of consumption, Nathaniel Jackson, of Hudson, N.Y., Co. A, 54th Mass. Vols.