Mercury, October 8, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Sept. 26, 1863
—Since my last epistle to the “elect in Bedford,” there has nothing very eventful transpired. How long we are doomed to this monotonous state of affairs, I can’t presume to say; the army has done about all in its power to do in this mode of attack on Charleston and are now putting the captured works in a state of defence. Whether it is the intention to inaugurate any further offensive operations from Gregg or Wagner seems to be uncertain. One thing has been clearly demonstrated in this campaign. It is almost useless to undertake to drive an enemy out of sand works at long range. We have tried it on the rebels, and they in turn have tried it on us, with about the same effect. Sand works will stand too, a close bombardment, unless you pitch shell right into them; so if the approaches to Charleston are to be taken before the city lies at our mercy, it will be necessary to bring the iron fleet to close quarters. If there is not enough of them, send for more; for the more vessels we have engaged, the worse for the rebels. The monitors and iron boats were expected to revolutionize naval warfare radically. We have boastingly intimated that the strongest fortified cities were no longer a bugbear and scare to our invulnerable fleets; but we have yet to hear of one stronghold on the sea, or gulf coasts at least, laid low by their prowess. I believe the iron fleet is all that is claimed for it. But we don’t expect the monitors to go up Charleston harbor of themselves. We want a Nelson or Perry, or some one like the Commodore who was determined to “go up to New Orleans, or sink every ship he had.” When we have some one of that stamp we may expect to see Charleston fall, or else by the long and tedious mode of mapping them out, by way of James or Sullivan’s Islands. The first cry was, Fort Sumter is in the way; — now, Fort Sumter is worse than useless, so far as being a defence to the city is concerned. But still the “Webb-feet” are holding on — to their anchors. Then it was, if Forts Wagner and Gregg are put out of the way, then what: why move the fleet up a little nearer and look on the wharves of Charleston, see the boats land and put off for Sullivan’s Island, within gun range of even the land batteries on our side, and the monitors lying right in the mouth of the harbor and letting the rebel boats run from one point to another, not three miles from them, without making an effort to cripple them. Of course they must wait for orders to fire, and if the “great ram” itself came down I suppose ‘twould be the same way.
Whether the government has sagely considered the quotation from Vattel, as interpreted by the Charleston Courier, remains to be seen. But I can’t help thinking, as a great many others think, that if the government exhibits so much needless humanity in deference to Mons. Vattel’s played out theories, compiled two centuries since, as to restrain Gen. Gillmore from laying the nest of treason in her unhallowed dust now that he has the opportunity, we deserve to be beaten.
Does any man suppose that if the rebels had batteries planted, for instance on Long Island, or any where near New York on the Jersey side, they would have any scruples about burning New York with Greek fire if it did not surrender? Suppose the New Yorkers should say, “By the law of nations and all the standard authorities in such matters, you cannot burn or shell our city until you have reduced and passed Fort Hamilton, the floating batteries, and every battery and gun outside the city limits for three miles.” I think the rebels would be pretty apt to say, we are after the city. We don’t want your forts and batteries if we can get your city without them, and if you burn the city yourselves, why the forts are then practically useless. The treasure they were built to protect will be gone, and the forts will have to succumb in a short time, for the city will be no more a base of supply to them. That is about the position Charleston is in now, and we must see to it that the traitors shall learn the cost of warring against their country. What if the London Times does work itself into a fume, and call on the “whole civilized world to witness the inhuman barbarity of the Americans.” Don’t America belong to us? or at least that part which causes England so much anxiety. We have never lashed a rebel to a gun and blown him to pieces, however richly some of them have deserved it; neither have we banished a great warrior and sovereign to an almost desolate island, and left him to die with scarcely a friend to close his eyes. We treated Vallandigham better, who should have been ducked and gagged.
The number of casualties have been very small the past week, when we consider the persistent fire from the rebels. Our men at work up at Gregg and Wagner are most frequently admonished to “cover” from Johnson, or “he low” from Moultrie. The shell and shot come screaming through the air, as though thirsting for a victim; nearing the work they explode, scattering the fragments around, and the pieces hum and buzz like a shoal of maddened wasps. It sounds very inspiriting, providing you are in a position of comparative safety. But I notice that some men won’t cover; the consequence is they soon have someone to do it for them.
September 26, 1863
This is Gooding’s 31st letter to the Mercury
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