Mercury, September 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Aug. 30, 1863
—The past week has developed nothing very stirring that I am aware of, though there may be a number of manufactured “tales” in the mail gleanings, or “the very latest by telegraph.” But for the information of those who feel anxious, I will merely state that Morris Island is bounded on one side by the Atlantic Ocean, and a number of bogs and quagmires on another, and last, though not least, by numerous rebel guns on “tother side.” Of course the siege is progressing finely; how could it be otherwise? For don’t you all know that Charleston was to have fallen the next day surely, for the last month and more! (Vide New York Herald.) Query. What has become of the barque Growler, cleared from Boston with a cargo of “cooling material for Charleston Bar”? This hot weather makes us feel solicitous for her safety. We fear something awful has happened, such a sad casualty perhaps as the ice melting away — in tumblers sitting on high official tables.
Last Thursday night our pickets were successful in assaulting and carrying the rebel rifle pits, close under Wagner, say within 270 yards. Among the captured prisoners, amounting in all to 63, are 5 black men; two were fully armed and equipped, as REBEL SHARPSHOOTERS. They had the very best pattern of rifle, “neutral” make, and are represented by the “trash” as unerring shots. The other three were at work in the trenches. One of these sable rebels is represented to be a reb at heart; he is a large owner of chattels himself, and does not seem to exhibit any of that humble or cowering mien, to indicate that he thinks himself inferior to the “Great Jeff” himself. He holds himself aloof from the other “misguided brethren,” the same as my Lord of the olden time did from his vassals. There may be many more such men as that in the South; but the idea of Mr. Davis relying on his attached and docile SERVANTS to recuperate his wasted armies is all moonshine. In the first place HE knows better than to try any such experiment. The slaves would very likely be glad to get arms, but Mr. Davis probably is certain they would USE them on the “kind and indulgent upholders of the peculiar institution” instead of the “marauding Yankees.” And if he takes the chattels to fill the army, who is to raise the “wittles?” Patriotism and dreams of a Great Southern Empire may sustain the SPIRIT of treason, but the rebels are not Joves nor wizards; they must eat. But I hope Mr. Davis may so far forget himself as to call on every able negro in his so called Confederacy, for it is plain to be seen that they would only be ready to fall into Uncle Sam’s ranks at the first opportunity, with the advantage of coming to us armed and equipped, at the expense of the Confederacy, and —”Neutral Britain.”
Last Sunday we had a grand review of troops. The 54th was the only colored regiment in the column, sandwiched between the white troops. No one on the ground seemed to perceive any signs of danger arising from such close proximity. The regiment was highly complimented by the Commanding General on its cleanliness of dress, good conduct and proficiency in drill. So you see the 54th is bound to five down all prejudice against its color, by a determination to do well in any position it is put. If it is to wield the shovel and pick, do it faithfully; if it is to haul siege guns, or load and unload transports, our motto is, work faithfully and willingly. The regiment has been on guard and picket very little since coming here, as it gained a reputation of being a good working regiment; so we have been pretty well worked out for the last month, but the most of us are yet living.
J. H. G.
Posts Tagged 54th Massachusetts
Captain Partridge about August 23 applied for sick leave and shortly went north. In consequence Captain Emilio again became the senior officer and was at times in charge of the regiment until the middle of October. On the 23d the brigade was reviewed on the beach by General Gillmore, accompanied by General Terry. The latter complimented the Fifty-fourth on its appearance. That evening Captain Emilio and Lieutenant Higginson took one hundred and fifty men for grand guard, reporting to Col. Jos. R. Hawley, Seventh Connecticut, field-officer of the trenches. This was the first detail other than fatigue since July 21. The detachment relieved troops in the second parallel. During the night it was very stormy, the rain standing in pools in the trenches. But few shots were fired. Charleston’s bells could be heard when all was still. At midnight the Swamp Angel again opened on the city. About 10 A. M., on the 24th, Wagner and Johnson both opened on us, the former with grape and canister sweeping the advanced works. In the camp, by reason of rain and high tides, the water was several inches deep in the tents on lowest ground. A new brigade — the Fourth — was formed on the 24th, composed of the Second South Carolina, Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, and Third United States Colored Troops (the latter a new regiment from the north), under Colonel Montgomery.
About dark on the 25th a force was again advanced against the enemy’s picket, but was repulsed. It was found that a determined effort must be made to carry the sand ridge crowned by the enemy’s rifle-pits. Just before dark the next day, therefore, a concentrated fire was maintained against this position for some time. Col. F. A. Osborn, Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, with his regiment, supported by the Third New Hampshire, Capt. Jas. F. Randlett, then advanced and gallantly took the line in an instant, the enemy only having time to deliver one volley. They captured sixty-seven men of the Sixty-first North Carolina. Cover was soon made, a task in which the prisoners assisted to insure their own safety. The Twenty-fourth lost Lieut. Jas. A. Perkins and two enlisted men killed, and five wounded. Upon this ridge, two hundred yards from Wagner, the fifth parallel was immediately opened. Beyond it the works, when constructed, were a succession of short zigzags because of the narrow breadth of the island and the flanking and near fire of the Confederates.
… Our own mortar-shells, on the 27th, in the evening killed seven men, and wounded two of the Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania. That night there was a severe thunder-storm drenching everything in camp and leaving pools of water in the tents. A warm drying sun came out on the 28th. … In the approaches work was slow by reason of the high tides and rain. Moonlight nights interfered also, disclosing our working parties to the enemy. Colonel Montgomery, commanding the brigade, on the 29th established his head-quarters near the right of our camp. It was learned that a list of prisoners recently received from the enemy contained no names of Fifty-fourth men. On the 30th Lieut.-Col. Henry A. Purviance, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania, was killed by the premature explosion of one of our own shells.
New York, Aug. 24, 1863
Brigadier-General Gillmore, Commanding Department of the South.
Sir,–I take the liberty to address you because I am informed that efforts are to be made to recover the body of my son, Colonel Shaw of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, which was buried at Fort Wagner. My object in writing is to say that such efforts are not authorized by me or any of my family, and that they are not approved by us. We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen. I shall therfore be much obliged, General, if in case the matter is brought to your cognizance, you will forbid the descecration of my son’s grave, and prevent the disturbance of his remains or those buried with him. With most earnest wishes for your success, I am, sir, with respect and esteem,
Your obedient servant,
Francis George Shaw
In Camp, [VT]
Morris Island, S.C.,
Aug. 7/ 1863.
Since I wrote my last letter the startling news of the mobs, riots, incendiarism, pillage and slaughter, recently so rife in the North, particularly in New York City, has reached here. You may judge what our thoughts and feelings were as we read bulletin after bulletin depicting to the life the scenes of violence and bloodshed which rivaled and even surpassed in their horrors, those which were perpetrated in Paris, during the bloody French Revolution, for we are yet to find an instance there where the orphan was ruthlessly assailed, or women and children murdered and maltreated without cause or provocation, simply for belonging to another race or class of people.
What cause or provocation have the New York rabble for disloyalty to their country, and for their bloody, atrocious assaults on my countrymen? Are we their enemies? Have we tyrannized over them? Have we maltreated them? Have we robbed them? Are we alien enemies? And are we traitors? Has not the unrequited labor of nearly four million of our brethren added to the country’s wealth? Have we not been loyal to the country, in season and out of season, through good report and evil? And even while your mob-fiends upheld the assassin knife, and brandished the incendiary torch over the heads of our wives and children and to burn their homes, we were doing our utmost to sustain the honor of our country’s flag, to perpetuate, if possible, those civil, social, and political liberties, they, who so malig-nantly hate us, have so fully enjoyed. Oh! how causeless, senseless, outrageous, brutal, and violative of every sentiment of manhood, courage and humanity these attacks on our defenseless brethren have been!
Fearful as these mobs have been, I trust they may prove to be lessons, though fearful ones, to guide the popular and loyal masses in the country, in all times of national emergency and peril, for when the services of every citizen or denizen of the country are imperatively required to defend it against powerful and determined foes, either foreign or domestic, and there can be found a strong minority ready and willing to subvert the government by popular violence and tumult or a base submission unworthy the meanest varlet of some monarchy; much less the boasted citizens of this great and magnificent country, it will bring still more forcibly to their minds the truism that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
These mobs are the stepping-stones upon which base traitors and demagogues hope to mount into arbitrary power, and to overawe and subvert liberty and law. They seek anarchy; and despotism, they think, must succeed. First anarchy, then despotism. They make the negro the catspaw or victim; but the loyalist and the friend of law and order cannot fail to see that every blow directed against the negro is directed against them. Our relation to the government is and has been that of unflinching, unswerving loyalty. Even when the government, by its every precept and practice, conserved the interests of slavery, and slaves were hunted down by United States soldiers and surrendered to traitorous slave-masters, the conduct of the negro was marked with distinguished loyalty.
The instances are too numerous to cite of their braving the most fearful dangers to convey valuable information to the Union armies, and for this, the half yet untold, such has been our reward. Does not Milliken’s Bend and Port Hudson furnish a chapter of valor and faithful loyalty? Is there no justice in America—or are we doomed to general massacre, as Mr. Blair said we would be, in the event of the issue of the President’s Emancipation proclamation? If this be our doom let us prepare for the worst.
The siege of Charleston has not yet commenced. The preparations of Gen. Gillmore are very ample. There is no doubt that this citadel of treason will fall. Every one is impatient at the delay; but the siege of a stronghold upon which all of the engineering skill of the rebel Confederacy has been lavished, cannot be planned and matured in a day. They harass our fatigue parties considerably with their shells, but they only succeed in killing and wounding one or two men a day. These shells are very disagreeable at first, but after one is under them a while he can learn to become accustomed to them. The men sing, dance, and play cards and sleep as carelessly within range of them as if they were no more harmful than so many soap bubbles.
This Morris Island is the most desolate heap of sand-hills I ever saw. It is so barren that you cannot find so much as a gypsum weed5 growing. Our situation is almost unbearable. During the day the sun is intensely hot, and this makes the sand hot; so we are sandwiched between the hot sun and the hot sand. Happily, the evenings are cool and bracing—so much so, that woolen blankets are not uncomfortable. The bathing is most delightful. I think Morris Island beach the most magnificent on the whole Atlantic coast. Had we in the North such a bathing shore, it would soon eclipse Newport, Atlantic City or Long Branch, and the other bathing resorts. The beach at some points is at least one-third of a mile in width, descending at an almost imperceptible angle into the more refreshing breakers.
There is quite a stir in the camp of the 54th just at this moment, created by an attempt on the part of the Paymaster and Col. Littlefield of the 4th Connecticut volunteers (who has been temporarily assigned to the command of our regiment since the death of Col. Shaw, our lamented commander) to pay us off with the paltry sum of Sio per month, the amount paid to contrabands. Col. Littlefield had the men drawn up in their company streets, and addressed them in a style something like this: “Gentlemen, I know that you are in want of money. Many of you have families who are dependent on you for support. The Paymaster refuses to pay any of the colored troops more than $10 per month. I have no doubt that Congress, when it meets next December, will pay you the balance of your pay. The government, in paying you this sum, only advances you this amount—it is not considered paying you off.” Only one company consented to take this sum. The rest of the regiment are highly incensed at the idea that after they have been enlisted as Massachusetts soldiers, and been put into the active service of the United States government, they should be paid off as the drafted ex-slaves are. The non-commissioned officers are to be paid the same as the privates.
There is to be, according to the Colonel’s and Paymaster’s arrangement, no distinction. Our First Sergeants, Sergeant-Major, and other Sergeants are to be paid only $10 per month. Now, if this $10 per month is advanced by the Paymaster, and he is so confident or certain that the next Congress will vote us the pay that regularly enlisted soldiers, like the 54th, generally receive, why does he not advance the privates and non-commissioned officers their full pay? Or does he not fear that the next Congress may refuse to have anything to do with it, and conclude that if we could receive $10 and make out until then, we could make out with that amount to the end of our term? To offer our non-commissioned officers the same pay and reducing them to the level of privates, is, to say the least, insulting and degrading to them.
Then, again, if we are not placed on the same footing with other Massachusetts soldiers, we have been enlisted under false pretenses. Our enlistment itself is fraudulent. When Gov. Andrew addressed us at Readville on the presentation of our colors, he claimed us as Massachusetts soldiers. Frederick Douglass, in his address to the colored people to recruit the 54th, and who penned it by the authority of Gov. Andrew, declares that we form part of the quota of troops furnished by the State of Massachusetts. If this be the case, why make this invidious distinction? We perform the same duties of other Massachusetts troops, and even now we have to perform fatigue duty night and day, and stand in line of battle from 3 to 5 A.M. with white soldiers, and for all this, not to say anything of the many perils we necessarily encounter, we are offered $10 per month or nothing until next December or January! Why, in the name of William H. Seward, are we treated thus? Does the refusal to pay us our due pander to the proslavery Cerberus?” Negroes in the navy receive the same pay that the Irish, English, German, Spanish or Yankee race do, and take it as a matter of course. Why, sir, the State of Massachusetts has been rebuked and insulted through her colored soldiers, and she should protect us, as Gov. Andrew has pledged his word she would. Since our regiment has been in this department, an attempt has been made to substitute the dark for the light-blue pantaloons of the U. S. army. This was at St. Helena. Col. Shaw rejected them, and we continue to wear the uniform of the U.S. Infantry corps.
The ever-memorable anniversary of British West India Emancipation was observed by the non-commissioned officers of the 54th, by calling, on the 1st instant, a meeting, and passing a series of resolutions. This meeting was organized by the appointment of SergeantMajor Douglass, Chairman, and Sergt. Fletcher, Co. A, Secretary. A long list of Vice-Presidents were appointed, representing nearly every State. Commissary-Sergeant Lee represented South Carolina, Sergt. Grey, Massachusetts, Sergt. Swails, Pennsylvania. A Committee, consisting of Sergts. Francis, Stephens, Barquet, Johnson and Gambier, presented the following resolutions, which were passed:
1. Resolved, That we look with joy upon the example set by Great Britain twenty-nine years ago in liberating the slaves in her West India Islands, thereby making a long stride in the pathway of civilization, and eliciting the gratitude of enthralled millions everywhere—contributing largely to influence the people of this country to seek the overthrow of that system which has brought the nation to the verge of dissolution. We hail with more than gratification the determination of our government to follow her great and good example as evinced by that glorious instrument of January ist, 1863, proclaiming freedom to slaves of rebels in Southern States—the desire to purchase those in loyal States—the decision of Attorney-General Bates, and the calling to its aid the strong arms and loyal hearts of its black citizens.
2. Resolved, That we have another day added to our small family of holidays; we hail the 1st of January as twin-sister to the 1st of August,- and as we have met together within six miles of the birthplace of secession to commemorate this day, we trust that on the 1st day of January next, by the blessing of God on our arms, the city of Charleston will ring with the voices of free men, women and children shouting, “Truly, the day of Jubilee has come.”
3. Resolved, That while we look forward with sanguine hope for that day, and have the arms in our hands to help bring it about, we will use them, and put forth all our energies, and never cease until our ears shall hear the jubilant bell that rings the knell of slavery.
4. Resolved, That in our humble opinion the force of circumstances has compelled the loyal portion of this nation to acknowledge that man is physically the same, differing only in the circumstances under which he lives, and that action—true, manly action, only—is necessary to secure to us a full recognition of our rights as men by the controlling masses of this nation; and we see in the army, fighting for liberty and Union, the proper field for colored men, where they may win by their valor the esteem of all loyal men and women—believing that “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”"
5. Resolved, That we recognize in the brilliant successes of the Union armies the proofs that Providence is on our side,- that His attributes cannot take sides with the oppressor.
Private John Peer, 20 Co. B, died at 6 o’clock P.M. this instant.
G. E. S.
August 5 the men were informed that the Government was ready to pay them $ 10 per month, less $3 deducted for clothing. The offer was refused, although many had suffering families. About this time a number of men were detached, or detailed, as clerks, butchers, and as hands on the steamers ” Escort” and ” Planter.” Work was begun on the third parallel within four hundred yards of Wagner on the night of the 9th. When completed, it was one hundred yards in length, as the island narrowed. Water was struck at a slight depth. The weather was excessively hot, and flies and sand-fleas tormenting. Only sea-bathing and cooler nights made living endurable. The Fifty-fourth was excused from turning out at reveille in consequence of excessive work, for we were daily furnishing parties reporting to Lieut. P. S. Michie, United States Engineers, at the Left Batteries, and to Colonel Serrell at the “Lookout.”
Mercury, August 5, 1863
Our correspondent, “J.H.G.” is a member of Co. C, of the 54th Massachusetts regiment. He is a colored man, belonging to this city, and his letters are printed by us, verbatim et literatim, as we receive them. He is a truthful and intelligent correspondent, and a good soldier.
Executive Order – Retaliation
It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations and the usages and customs of war, as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offense against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age.
The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave anyone because of his color the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our possession.
It is therefore ordered, That for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war a rebel soldier shall be executed, and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.
Early on the morning of July 19, the men of the Fifty-fourth were aroused, and the regiment marched down the beach, making camp near the southern front of the island at a point where the higher hills give way to a low stretch of sand bordering the inlet. On this spot the regiment remained during its first term of service, at Morris Island.
That day was the saddest in the history of the Fifty-fourth, for the depleted ranks bore silent witness to the severe losses of the previous day. Men who had wandered to other points during the night continued to join their comrades until some four hundred men were present. A number were without arms, which had either been destroyed or damaged in their hands by shot and shell, or were thrown away in the effort to save life. The officers present for duty were Captain Emilio, commanding, Surgeon Stone, Quartermaster Ritchie, and Lieutenants T. W. Appleton, Grace, Dexter, Jewett, Emerson, Reid, Tucker, Johnston, Howard, and Higginson.
Some fifty men, slightly wounded, were being treated in camp. The severely wounded, including seven officers, were taken on the 19th to hospitals at Beaufort, where every care was given them by the medical men, General Saxton, his officers, civilians, and the colored people.
…Capt. D. A. Partridge, left sick in Massachusetts, joined July 21, and, as senior officer, assumed command.
Preparations were made for a bombardment of Sumter as well as for the siege of Wagner. Work began on the artillery line of July 18, that night, for the first parallel, 1,350 yards from Wagner. When completed, it mounted eight siege and field guns, ten mortars, and three Requa rifle batteries. July 23, the second parallel was established some four hundred yards in front of the first. Vincent’s Creek on its left was obstructed with floating booms. On its right was the ” Surf Battery,” armed with field-pieces. This parallel was made strong for defence … In the construction of these works and the transportation of siege material, ordnance, and quartermaster’s stores, the Fifty-fourth was engaged, in common with all the troops on the island, furnishing large details.
Col. M. S. Littlefield, Fourth South Carolina Colored, on July 24, was temporarily assigned to command the Fifty-fourth. The colonel’s own regiment numbered but a few score of men, and this appointment seemed as if given to secure him command commensurate with the rank he held. It gave rise to much criticism in Massachusetts as well as in the regiment, for it was made contrary to custom and without the knowledge of Governor Andrew. Though silently dissatisfied, the officers rendered him cheerful service.
…About 10 A. M., on the 24th, the Confederate steamer ” Alice” ran down and was met by the ” Cosmopolitan,” when thirty-eight Confederates were given up, and we received one hundred and five wounded, including three officers. There was complaint by our men that the Confederates had neglected their wounds, of the unskilful surgical treatment received, and that unnecessary amputations were suffered. From Col. Edward C. Anderson it was ascertained that the Fifty-fourth’s prisoners would not be given up, and Colonel Shaw’s death was confirmed.
Morris Island, S.C., [VT]
The month of July has been an eventful one for the 54th. We left our camp at St. Helena on the—inst., and landed at James Island on the—, fought the second battle of James Island1 on Thursday, 16th, escaped the snare which eight thousand rebels had prepared to entrap us with, by silent midnight retreat through bogs, marshes, and dense woods, reaching Morris Island beach on Saturday morning, 18th; marched directly to the front, and made (what has been conceded by every one to be) a heroic charge on Fort Wagner.
In the engagement at James Island we lost 45 killed, wounded and missing. Among the killed are Corporal Holloway, a nephew of Bishop Payne—a brave, intelligent, Christian soldier. Also Sergeant Wilson, Company H, of Chicago. He fought four rebel cavalrymen, slew three, but the fourth gave him a mortal wound. Sergeant Vogelsang of the same company was ordered by a party of rebels to surrender. His answer was, “Never!” and received, it is feared, a mortal wound. The battle commenced at daylight. Companies B, H and K were thrown out about two miles on picket. During Wednesday night and Thursday morning the rebels made repeated advances on our picket line, but were kept at bay by our unerring rifles. At the peep of day all was activity among them. Their long, dark line of battle could barely be discerned. Capt. Russell of Co, H ordered us to fall back on our reserve, at the same time, deploying as skirmishers, the whole rebel line advanced full eight hundred strong. Our picket line retired slowly and reluctantly, delivering their fire as if on a skirmish drill. The rebels yelled and hooted, but they could not drive us, and advanced only as our picket line retired.
The 10th Connecticut regiment was encamped on our extreme left. Had our pickets retired precipitately, as pickets generally do, this regiment would have been captured; but they were enabled to take shelter under the gunboats. When our picket line reached the reserve it had all skedaddled, and we were forced to withstand this attack of superior numbers until we reached the main body of our regiment drawn up in a line of battle, supported by the 1st Connecticut artillery. On the rebels came. Volley after volley was poured into them, and after a contest of two hours they fled precipitately. They must have suffered terribly. They carried cart loads of dead off the field.
Although there were a great many other troops on the Island, none but the black regiment of Massachusetts fired a gun. The 54th stood between the foes and our white comrades. A great many of the white soldiers were killed and wounded by the enemies shells. Sergeant Merriman of Co. B was shot in the leg. He says the rebels bound it up for him, and gave him water to drink and to bathe his wound. This seems to ill accord with some of the atrocities they are known to have been guilty of. On that day many of the wounded were killed, and Sergeant Vogelsang was pursued and shot like many others on the banks of an adjoining creek, which is very marshy. The only way that we could secure their bodies after the fight was by boat up the creek. Many of our wounded were shot while lying on the ground. Albert Walls, one of the missing or killed, did not hear the order to fall back and remained at his post and fought until killed or taken prisoner!
It is rumored that the enemy lost a general in the fight. They are known to have an officer killed, but his rank cannot be ascertained. We took eight rebel prisoners. One of our spies penetrated their lines, and found their force to be upwards of eight thousand men. They anticipated inflicting on us another James Island disaster, but our retreat saved us and disappointed them. They did not know that our forces had evacuated the Island until ten o’clock Friday morning. The official report of the killed, wounded and missing has already reached you. Capt. Simpkins1 of Co. K, a brave officer, had his life saved in the engagement. He was attacked by two rebel cavalrymen, when one of his men shot one dead and bayoneted the second one. Every man that fell, fell fighting with his face to the foe.
We left the lower end of Morris Island Saturday morning, and marched slowly and steadily to the front until in sight of Fort Wagner. We had heard of the previous attempt to take it by storm, and knew that nothing but hard fighting, with great sacrifice of life, could result in a successful storming of it. Gen. Strong, the hero of the attack of Saturday, when our regiment reached within range of the shells of the fort, rode out bravely a hundred yards in advance of us and reconnoitered the fort and its surroundings. Rode back to us and briefly addressed us, and asked, “Massachusetts men, are you ready to take that fort ?” The universal answer was, “We will try.” “They are nearly played out. They have but two effective guns,” said he. About sundown we were ordered to advance at the double quickstep, cheering as if going on some mirthful errand. The rebs withheld their fire until we reached within fifty yards of the work, when jets of flame darted forth from every corner and embrasure, and even Fort Sumter poured solid shot and shell on our heads. The 54th, undaunted by the hellish storm, pushed up to the work, down into the moat, and like demons ascended the parapet, found the interior lined with rebels soldiers who were well sheltered and fought them one hour before we were re-enforced; and when the regiment reached us, the 3d New Hampshire, which was presumed to be our re-enforcements, they, to a man, emptied their rifles into us. Thus we lost nearly as many men by the bullets of our presumed friends as by those of our known enemies.
Some few entered the fort, and when they got in, it was so dark that friends could not be distinguished from foes, and there is no doubt but that many a Union soldier was killed by his comrades.
On the whole, this is considered to be a brilliant feat of the 54th. It is another evidence that cannot now be denied, that colored soldiers will dare go where any brave men will lead them. Col. Shaw,is our noble and lamented commander, was the bravest of the brave. He did not take his thirty paces to the rear, but led the column up to the fort, and was the first man who stood oh the parapet of the fort. When he reached it he said, “Come on, men! Follow me!” and he either received a mortal wound and fell over the wall, or stumbled into the Fort and was killed. If he still lives, it is miraculous, for he must have fell on glistening bayonets. One of the rebel prisoners says that he is wounded and still lives, but for my part I do not believe it.
Gen. Strong, seeing that the rebels were in too great a force, ordered the retreat, and now comes another chapter which I would fain pass, but my duty tells me that I must advert to it. There were large quantities of whiskey to be had, and the guard placed to guard the line of retreat and to prevent straggling imbibed rather freely. Some of the men of the skedaddling white regiments were fired on and killed, and when some of our wounded were passing to the rear they were murdered by these drunken wretches. One of our Sergeants was shot dead by a private of this guard in the presence of an officer of our regiment who immediately shot the private dead. Dozens of our wounded were drowned. The only good approach to the fort is by the beach. The tide was low when we made the charge, and before we could secure our dead and wounded the tide came up, and such as could not crawl away were drowned.
Our total loss cannot be positively ascertained. It is placed at about 300 killed, wounded and missing: 75 killed, 125 wounded, 100 missing. It is supposed that Sergeant R. J. Simmons of your city is among the killed. Major Hallowell is badly wounded.
G. E. S
Although the storming column and supports did not move forward with a close formation and promptness in support of the Fifty-fourth, which might have won Wagner that night, their attacks when made were delivered with a gallantry and persistence that made their severe losses the more deplorable and fruitless, by reason of such faulty generalship.
When Strong’s brigade advanced, it met the same devastating fire at the defile; but a considerable number of the survivors, mainly of the Sixth Connecticut and Forty-eighth New York, pushed on to the southeast bastion, feebly defended by the Thirty-first North Carolina, and entered, securing a portion of the salient. Farther they could not penetrate against superior numbers. General Strong accompanied his column, and, as always, exhibited the utmost bravery.
General Seymour, learning the failure of Strong’s brigade to carry the work, ordered Colonel Putnam to advance his regiments. That officer gallantly led forward his brigade, meeting the same severe fire as he neared the fort. With survivors of the Seventh New Hampshire, he entered the disputed salient, followed by portions of the Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh Ohio. His One Hundredth New York advanced to a point near the work, in the confusion and darkness poured a volley into our own men in the salient, and then retired. It must be understood, however, that all these regiments suffered severe losses; but losses that night do not necessarily indicate effective regimental action. The greatest number of men in the salient at any time hardly equalled a regiment, and were of different organizations. They were fighting in a place unknown to them, holding their ground and repelling attacks, but were incapable of aggressive action. Fighting over traverses and sand-bags, hemmed in by a fire poured across their rear, as well as from the front and flanks, the struggle went on pitilessly for nearly two hours. Vainly were precious lives freely offered up, in heroic attempts to encourage a charge on the flanking guns. The enveloping darkness covered all; and the valiant, seeing how impotent were their efforts, felt like crying with Ajax, ” Give us but light, 0 Jove! and in the light, if thou seest fit, destroy us! ”
Every field-officer in the bastion was at last struck down except Major Lewis Butler, Sixty-seventh Ohio. Colonel Putnam had been shot through the head. When all hope of expected support was gone, Major Butler sent out the regimental colors, and gave orders to leave the bastion. There were, according to his account, about one hundred men each of the Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh Ohio, about fifty of the Forty-eighth New York, and some small detachments of other regiments, some with and some without officers. When this force had departed, and the enemy had been re-enforced by the arrival of the Thirty-second Georgia, the wounded, those who feared to encounter the enclosing fire, and those who failed to hear or obey the order for abandonment, were soon surrounded and captured. General Stevenson’s brigade had advanced toward the fort, but it was too late, and the men were withdrawn.
Upon the beach in front of the siege line, drunken soldiers of the regular artillery, with swords and pistol-shots, barred the passage of all to the rear. They would listen to no protestations that the regiments were driven back or broken up, and even brutally ordered wounded men to the front. After a time, their muddled senses came to them on seeing the host of arrivals, while the vigorous actions of a few determined officers who were prepared to enforce a free passage, made further opposition perilous.
Thus ended the great assault on Fort Wagner. It was the second and last attempted. The Confederate loss was 181 killed and wounded, including Lieut.-Col. J. C. Simkins, Captains W. H. Ryan, W. T. Tatom, and P. H. Waring, and Lieut. G. W. Thompson, killed. Our loss was 1,515, including 111 officers, and embracing General Seymour wounded, General Strong mortally wounded, and Colonel Putnam (acting brigadier) killed. Of the ten regimental commanders, Colonel Shaw was killed, Col. J. L. Chatfield, Sixth Connecticut, mortally wounded, and five others wounded. Such severe casualties stamp the sanguinary character of the fighting, and mark the assault as one of the fiercest struggles of the war, considering the numbers engaged. This is further evidenced by the fact that the losses exceeded those sustained by our forces in many much better-known actions during the Rebellion, —notably Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Cedar Mountain, Chantilly, Prairie Grove, Pleasant Hills, Sailor’s Creek, Jonesborough, Bentonville, and High Bridge, in most of which a much larger Federal force was engaged. The following is the official report of the part borne by the Fifty-fourth in the assault: —HEADQUARTERS FIPTT-FOURTH MASS. VOLS.,
MORRIS ISLAND, S. C, NOV. 7, 1863.
BRIG.-GEN. T. SEYMOUR, Commanding U. S. Forces, Morris Island, S. C.
GENERAL, — In answer to your request that I furnish you with a report of the part taken by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers in the late assault upon Fort Wagner, I have to state: —
During the afternoon of the 18th of July last, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. R. G. Shaw commanding, landed upon Morris Island and reported at about six o’clock P.M. to Brig.-Gen. G. C. Strong. Colonel Shaw’s command present consisted of a lieutenant-colonel of the field, a surgeon, adjutant, and quartermaster of the staff, eight captains and eleven subaltern officers of the line and six hundred enlisted men. General Strong presented himself to the regiment, and informed the men of the contemplated assault upon Fort Wagner, and asked if they would lead it. They answered in the affirmative. The regiment was then formed in column by wing, at a point upon the beach a short distance in the advance of the Beacon house. Col. R. G. Shaw commanded the right wing, and Lieut.-Col. E. N. Hallowell the left.
In this formation, as the dusk of evening came on, the regiment advanced at quick time, leading the column. The enemy opened on us a brisk fire, our pace now gradually increasing till it became a run. Soon canister and musketry began to tell on us. With Colonel Shaw leading, the assault was commenced. Exposed to the direct fire of canister and musketry, and, as the ramparts were mounted, to a like fire on our flanks, the havoc made in our ranks was very great.
Upon leaving the ditch for the parapet, they obstinately contested with the bayonet our advance. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the men succeeded in driving the enemy from most of their guns, many following the enemy into the fort. It was here upon the crest of the parapet that Colonel Shaw fell; here fell Captains Russel and Simpkins; here were also most of the officers wounded. The colors of the regiment reached the crest, and were there fought for by the enemy ; the State flag there torn from its staff, but the staff remains with us. Hand grenades were now added to the missiles directed against the men.
The fight raged here for about an hour, when, compelled to abandon the fort, the men formed a line about seven hundred yards from the fort, under the command of Capt. Luis F. Emilio, — the ninth captain in the line; the other captains were either killed or wounded. The regiment then held the front until relieved by the Tenth Connecticut at about two o’clock A. M. of the 19th.
The assault was made upon the south face of the fort. So many of the officers behaved with marked coolness and bravery, I cannot mention any above the others. It is due, however, to the following-named enlisted men that they be recorded above their fellows for especial merit: —
Sergt. Robt. J. Simmons ……………………………………………Co. B.
Sergt. William H. Carney …………………………………………..Co. C.
Corp. Henry F. Peal ………………………………………………….Co. F.
Pvt. Geo. Wilson ………………………………………………………Co. A.
The following is the list of casualties: —
Col. R. G. Shaw…………………………………………………………killed
Lieut.-Col. E. N. Hallowell……………………………………..wounded
Adjt. G. W. James…………………………………………………wounded
Capt. S. Willard…………………………………………………….wounded
Capt. C. J. Russel…………………….missing, supposed to be killed
Capt. W. H. Simpkins……………….missing, supposed to be killed
Capt. Geo. Pope……………………………………………………wounded
Capt. E. L. Jones…………………………………………………..wounded
Capt. J. W. M. Appleton………………………………………….wounded
Capt. O. E. Smith…………………………………………………..wounded
1st Lieut. R. H. L. Jewett………………………………………….wounded
1st Lieut. Wm. H. Homans……………………………………….wounded
2d Lieut. C. E. Tucker……………………………………………..wounded
2d Lieut. J. A. Pratt…………………………………………………wounded
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
E. N. HALLOWELL,
Colonel Commanding Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers.
Lieutenant Howard, in falling back from the fort, with a few men he had gathered, retired directly down the beach, not encountering the larger part of the regiment. Lieut. T. L. Appleton retired first but a short distance, where, in the sand-hills, he found General Strong with some detachments which he was urging to advance. Lieutenant Appleton moved forward again a short distance, but finding there was no concerted advance, went rearward. Sergeant Swails of Company F was with Captains Simpkins and Russel under the left bastion. They climbed the parapet, and were at once fired upon. Captain Russel fell wounded, and Simpkins asked him if he would be carried off. When he declined, and asked to lie straightened out, Simpkins directed Swails to help him do this, and while kneeling over his friend’s head, facing the enemy, was himself hit. Putting his hand to his breast, he fell across Russel, and never spoke or moved again. Swails, who relates this, says he was soon asked by Russel to change his position, that he (Swails) might not draw the Rebel fire on the wounded, and did so. Frank Myers, of Company K, whose arm was shattered, states that he stood under the uplifted arm of Colonel Shaw, while that officer was on the parapet, waving his sword, and crying, ” Forward, Fifty-fourth! ” He saw the colonel suddenly fall, and was struck himself a moment after. Thomas Burgess, of Company I, makes a similar statement.
Capt. J. W. M. Appleton, at the curtain, hearing firing at last on the right, climbed with Captain Jones and Lieutenant Emerson into the southeast bastion, and joined in the desperate fighting there. Captain Appleton was finally badly wounded, and made his way out with great difficulty, to report the situation in the bastion. Captain Jones was also severely wounded. He fell into the moat, where he remained until assisted rearward by George Remsley of Company C. Lieutenant Emerson in the bastion used the musket he had picked up before the curtain. To protect the wounded lying near he pulled out sand-bags. When a volunteer was wanted to report their situation to some general officer, he offered himself, saying, ” I will go, but if I am killed, just tell them I did not run away! ” As he was still able to fight, Captain Appleton, who was disabled, went instead. Lieutenant Homans was wounded near the fort, and thought himself mortally hurt, as he was spitting blood, but staggered along until he was met by Lieutenant Dexter, who assisted him to the rear.
Sergt. George E. Stephens of Company B, in a letter to the writer[Emilio], says,—” I remember distinctly that when our column had charged the fort, passed the half-filled moat, and mounted to the parapet, many of our men clambered over, and some entered by the large embrasure in which one of the big guns was mounted, the firing substantially ceased there by the beach, and the Rebel musketry fire steadily grew hotter on our left. An officer of our regiment called out, ‘ Spike that gun!’ . . . Just at the very hottest moment of the struggle, a battalion or regiment charged up to the moat, halted, and did not attempt to cross it and join us, but from their position commenced to fire upon us. I was one of the men who shouted from where I stood, ‘ Don’t fire on us! We are the Fifty-fourth.’ I have heard it was a Maine regiment. . . . Many of our men will join me in saying that in the early stages of the fight we had possession of the sea end of Battery Wagner. . . . When we reached the Gatling battery drawn up to repel a counter-attack, I remember you were the only commissioned officer present, and you placed us indiscriminately, — that is, without any regard to companies in line, — and proposed to renew the charge. The commanding officer, whom I do not know, ordered us to the flanking rifle-pits, and we then awaited the expected counter-charge the enemy did not make.”
Lieutenant Smith, severely wounded, remained on the field until the next day, when he was brought in. Lieutenant Pratt, wounded in two places, concealed himself in the marsh. There he remained many hours, until at last, braving the fire of Rebel pickets, he escaped into our lines.
First Sergeant Simmons of Company B was the finest-looking soldier in the Fifty-fourth, — a brave man and of good education. He was wounded and captured. Taken to Charleston, his bearing impressed even his captors. After suffering amputation of the arm, he died there.
Morris Island [BCF]
I enclose this letter for Annie, which I didn’t intend to send you, because it is impossible to tell whether I can write again by this mail. If I do, please send this to Annie without taking it home, and tell her why it didn’t go direct.
We hear nothing but praise of the Fifty-fourth on all hands. Montgomery is under Stevenson. I wish I were. He is a good soldier. Strong I like too.
Love to Mother and the girls.
New York Tribune, December 23, 1863 [GABM]pp.33-34
R.J. Simmons, 1st Sergeant, Co. B, 54th Massachusetts Infantry,
Folly Island, South Carolina
July 18, 1863;
We are on the march to Fort Wagner, to storm it. We have just completed our successful retreat from James Island; we fought a desperate battle there Thursday morning. Three companies of us, B, H, and K, were out on picket about a good mile in advance of the regiment. We were attacked early in the morning. Our company was in the reserve, when the outposts were attacked by rebel infantry and cavalry. I was sent out by our Captain in command of a squad of men to support the left flank. The bullets fairly rained around us; when I got there the poor fellows were falling down around me, with pitiful groans. Our pickets only numbered about 250 men, attacked by about 900. It is supposed by the line of battle in the distance, that they were supported by reserve of 3,000 men. We had to fire and retreat toward our own encampment. One poor Sergeant of ours was shot down along side of me; several others were wounded near me.
God has protected me through this, my first fiery, leaden trial, and I do give Him the glory, and render my praises unto His holy name. My poor friend [Sergeant Peter] Vogelsang is shot through the lungs; his case is critical, but the doctor says he may probably live. His company suffered very much. Poor good and brave Sergeant (Joseph D.] Wilson of his company [H], after killing four rebels with his bayonet, was shot through the head by the fifth one. Poor fellow! May his noble spirit rest in peace. The General has complimented the Colonel on the galantry and bravery of his regiment.
Upon arriving at Morris Island, Colonel Shaw and Adjutant James walked toward the front to report to General Strong, whom they at last found, and who announced that Fort Wagner was to be stormed that evening. Knowing Colonel Shaw’s desire to place his men beside white troops, he said, ” You may lead the column, if you say ‘yes.’ Your men, I know, are worn out, but do as you choose.” Shaw’s face brightened, and before replying, he requested Adjutant James to return and have Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell bring up the Fifty-fourth. Adjutant James, who relates this interview, then departed on his mission. Receiving this order, the regiment marched on to General Strong’s headquarters, where a halt of five minutes was made about 6 o’clock p. M. Noticing the worn look of the men, who had passed two days without an issue of rations, and no food since morning, when the weary march began, the general expressed his sympathy and his great desire that they might have food and stimulant. It could not be, however, for it was necessary that the regiment should move on to the position assigned.
Detaining Colonel Shaw to take supper with him, General Strong sent the Fifty-fourth forward under the lieutenant-colonel toward the front, moving by the middle road west of the sand-hills. Gaining a point where these elevations gave place to low ground, the long blue line of the regiment advancing by the flank attracted the attention of the enemy’s gunners on James Island. Several solid shot were fired at the column, without doing any damage, but they ricochetted ahead or over the line in dangerous proximity. Realizing that the national colors and the white flag of the State especially attracted the enemy’s fire, the bearers began to roll them up on the staves. At the same moment, Captain Simpkins, commanding the color company (K) turned to observe his men. His quick eye noted the half-furled flags, and his gallant spirit took fire in a moment at the sight. Pointing to the flags with uplifted sword, he commanded in imperative tones, ” Unfurl those colors!” It was done, and the fluttering silks again waved, untrammelled, in the air.
Colonel Shaw, at about 6.30 P. M., mounted and accompanied General Strong toward the front. After proceeding a short distance, he turned back, and gave to Mr. Edward L. Pierce, a personal friend, who had been General Strong’s guest for several days, his letters and some papers, with a request to forward them to his family if anything occurred to him requiring such service. That sudden purpose accomplished, he galloped away, overtook the regiment, and informed Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell of what the Fifty-fourth was expected to do. The direction was changed to the right, advancing east toward the sea. By orders, Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell broke the column at the sixth company, and led the companies of the left wing to the rear of those of the right wing. When the sea beach was reached, the regiment halted and came to rest, awaiting the coming up of the supporting regiments.
General Gillmore had assigned to General Seymour the command of the assaulting column, charging him with its organization, formation, and all the details of the attack. His force was formed into three brigades of infantry : the first under General Strong, composed of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, Sixth Connecticut, Forty-eighth New York, Third New Hampshire, Ninth Maine, and Seventy-sixth Pennsylvania; the second, under Col. Haldimand S. Putnam, of his own regiment, —the Seventh New Hampshire, — One Hundredth New York, Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh Ohio; the third, or reserve brigade, under Brig.-Gen. Thomas G. Stevenson, of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, Tenth Connecticut, Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania, and Second South Carolina. Four companies of the Seventh Connecticut, and some regular and volunteer artillery-men manned and served the guns of the siege line.
Formed in column of wings, with the right resting near the sea, at a short distance in advance of the works, the men of the Fifty-fourth were ordered to lie down, their muskets loaded but not capped, and bayonets fixed. There the regiment remained for half an hour, while the formation of the storming column and reserve was perfected. To the Fifty-fourth had been given the post of honor, not by chance, but by deliberate selection. General Seymour has stated the reasons why this honorable but dangerous duty was assigned the regiment in the following words:—“It was believed that the Fifty-fourth was in every respect as efficient as any other body of men ; and as it was one of the strongest and best officered, there seemed to be no good reason why it should not be selected for the advance. This point was decided by General Strong and myself.”
In numbers the Fifty-fourth had present but six hundred men, for besides the large camp guard and the sick left at St. Helena Island, and the losses sustained on James Island, on the 16th, a fatigue detail of eighty men under Lieut. Francis L. Higginson, did not participate in the attack.
The formation of the regiment for the assault was, as shown in the diagram below, with Companies B and E on the right of the respective wings.
RIGHT WING. K C I A B
LEFT WING. H F G D E
Colonel Shaw, Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell, Adjutant James, seven captains, and twelve lieutenants, — a total of twenty-two officers, — advanced to the assault. Surgeon Stone and Quartermaster Ritchie were present on the field. Both field officers were dismounted; the band and musicians acted as stretcher-bearers. To many a gallant man these scenes upon the sands were the last of earth; to the survivors they will be ever present. Away over the sea to the eastward the heavy sea-fog was gathering, the western sky bright with the reflected light, for the sun had set. Far away thunder mingled with the occasional boom of cannon. The gathering host all about, the silent lines stretching away to the rear, the passing of a horseman now and then carrying orders, — all was ominous of the impending onslaught. Far and indistinct in front was the now silent earthwork, seamed, scarred, and ploughed with shot, its flag still waving in defiance.
Among the dark soldiers who were to lead veteran regiments which were equal in drill and discipline to any in the country, there was a lack of their usual light-heartedness, for they realized, partially at least, the dangers they were to encounter. But there was little nervousness and no depression observable. It took but a touch to bring out their irrepressible spirit and humor in the old way. When a cannon-shot from the enemy came toward the line and passed over, a man or two moved nervously, calling out a sharp reproof from Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell, whom the men still spoke of as “the major.” Thereupon one soldier quietly remarked to his comrades, ” I guess the major forgets what kind of balls them is! ” Another added, thinking of the foe, ” I guess they kind of ’spec’s we ‘re coming!”
Naturally the officers’ thoughts were largely regarding their men. Soon they would know whether the lessons they had taught of soldierly duty would bear good fruit. Would they have cause for exultation or be compelled to sheathe their swords, rather than lead cowards? Unknown to them, the whole question of employing three hundred thousand colored soldiers hung in the balance. But few, however, doubted the result. Wherever a white officer led that night, even to the gun-muzzles and bayonet-points, there, by his side, were black men as brave and steadfast as himself.
At last the formation of the column was nearly perfected. The Sixth Connecticut had taken position in column of companies just in rear of the Fifty-fourth. About this time, Colonel Shaw walked back to Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell, and said, ” I shall go in advance with the National flag. You will keep the State flag with you; it will give the men something to rally round. We shall take the fort or die there! Good-by!”
Presently, General Strong, mounted upon a spirited gray horse, in full uniform, with a yellow handkerchief bound around his neck, rode in front of the Fifty-fourth, accompanied by two aids and two orderlies. He addressed the men,’ and his words, as given by an officer of the regiment, were: “Boys, I am a Massachusetts man, and I know you will fight for the honor of the State. I am sorry you must go into the fight tired and hungry, but the men in the fort are tired too. There are but three hundred behind those walls, and they have been fighting all day. Don’t fire a musket on the way up, but go in and bayonet them at their guns.” Calling out the color-bearer, he said, ” If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry it on ? ” Colonel Shaw, standing near, took a cigar from between his lips, and said quietly, ” I will.” The men loudly responded to Colonel Shaw’s pledge, while General Strong rode away to give the signal for advancing.
Colonel Shaw calmly walked up and down the line of his regiment. He was clad in a close-fitting staff-officer’s jacket, with a silver eagle denoting his rank on each shoulder. His trousers were light blue; a fine narrow silk sash was wound round his waist beneath the jacket. Upon his head was a high felt army hat with cord. Depending from his sword-belt was a field-officer’s sword of English manufacture, with the initials of his name worked into the ornamentation of the guard. On his hand was an antique gem set in a ring. In his pocket was a gold watch, marked with his name, attached to a gold chain. Although he had given certain papers and letters to his friend, Mr. Pierce, he retained his pocket-book, which doubtless contained papers which would establish his identity. His manner, generally reserved before his men, seemed to unbend to them, for he spoke as he had never done before. He said, ” Now I want you to prove yourselves men,” and reminded them that the eyes of thousands would look upon the night’s work. His bearing was composed and graceful; his cheek had somewhat paled; and the slight twitching of the corners of his mouth plainly showed that the whole cost was counted, and his expressed determination to take the fort or die was to be carried out.
Meanwhile the twilight deepened, as the minutes, drawn put by waiting, passed, before the signal was given. Officers had silently grasped one another’s hands, brought their revolvers round to the front, and tightened their sword-belts. The men whispered last injunctions to comrades, and listened for the word of command. The preparations usual in an assault were not made. There was no provision for cutting away obstructions, filling the ditch, or spiking the guns. No special instructions were given the stormers; no line of skirmishers or covering party was thrown out; no engineers or guides accompanied the column; no artillery-men to serve captured guns; no plan of the work was shown company officers. It was understood that the fort would be assaulted with the bayonet, and that the Fifty-fourth would be closely supported.
While on the sands a few cannon-shots had reached the regiment, one passing between the wings, another over to the right. When the inaction had become almost unendurable, the signal to advance came. Colonel Shaw walked along the front to the centre, and giving the command, ” Attention!” the men sprang to their feet. Then came the admonition, “Move in quick time until within a hundred yards of the fort; then double quick, and charge!” A slight pause, followed by the sharp command, ” Forward!” and the Fifty-fourth advanced to the storming.
There had been a partial resumption of the bombardment during the formation, but now only an occasional shot was heard. The enemy in Wagner had seen the preparations, knew what was coming, and were awaiting the blow. With Colonel Shaw leading, sword in hand, the long advance over three quarters of a mile of sand had begun, with wings closed up and company officers admonishing their men to preserve the alignment. Guns from Sumter, Sullivan’s Island, and James Island, began to play upon the regiment. It was about 7.45 p. M., with darkness coming on rapidly, when the Fifty-fourth moved. With barely room for the formation from the first, the narrowing way between the sand hillocks and the sea soon caused a strong pressure to the right, so that Captains Willard and Emilio on the right of the right companies of their wings were with some of their men forced to march in water up to their knees, at each incoming of the sea. Moving at quick time, and preserving its formation as well as the difficult ground and narrowing way permitted, the Fifty-fourth was approaching the defile made by the easterly sweep of the marsh. Darkness was rapidly com-ing on, and each moment became deeper. Soon men on the flanks were compelled to fall behind, for want of room to continue in line. The centre only had a free path, and with eyes strained upon the colonel and the flag, they pressed on toward the work, now only two hundred yards away.
At that moment Wagner became a mound of fire, from which poured a stream of shot and shell. Just a brief lull, and the deafening explosions of cannon were renewed, mingled with the crash and rattle of musketry. A sheet of flame, followed by a running fire, like electric sparks, swept along the parapet, as the Fifty-first North Carolina gave a direct, and the Charleston Battalion a left-oblique, fire on the Fifty-fourth. Their Thirty-first North Carolina had lost heart, and failed to take position in the southeast bastion, — fortunately, too, for had its musketry fire been added to that delivered, it is doubtful whether any Federal troops could have passed the defile. When this tempest of war came, before which men fell in numbers on every side, the only response the Fifty-fourth made to the deadly challenge was to change step to the double-quick, that it might the sooner close with the foe. There had been no stop, pause, or check at any period of the advance, nor was there now. As the swifter pace was taken, and officers sprang to the fore with waving swords barely seen in the darkness, the men closed the gaps, and with set jaws, panting breath, and bowed heads, charged on.
Wagner’s wall, momentarily lit up by cannon-flashes, was still the goal toward which the survivors rushed in sadly diminished numbers. It was now dark, the gloom made more intense by the blinding explosions in the front. This terrible fire which the regiment had just faced, probably caused the greatest number of casualties sustained by the Fifty-fourth in the assault; for nearer the work the men were somewhat sheltered by the high parapet. Every flash showed the ground dotted with men of the regiment, killed or wounded. Great holes, made by the huge shells of the navy or the land batteries, were pitfalls into which the men stumbled or fell.
Colonel Shaw led the regiment to the left toward the curtain of the work, thus passing the southeast bastion, and leaving it to the right hand. From that salient no musketry fire came; and some Fifty-fourth men first entered it, not following the main body by reason of the darkness. As the survivors drew near the work, they encountered the flanking fire delivered from guns in the southwest salient, and the howitzers outside the fort, which swept the trench, where further severe losses were sustained. Nothing but the ditch now separated the stormers and the foe. Down into this they went, through the two or three feet of water therein, and mounted the slope beyond in the teeth of the enemy, some of whom, standing on the crest, fired down on them with depressed pieces. Both flags were planted on the parapet, the national flag carried there and gallantly maintained by the brave Sergt. William H. Carney of Company C.
In the pathway from the defile to the fort many brave men had fallen. Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell was severely wounded in the groin, Captain Willard in the leg, Adjutant James in the ankle and side, Lieutenant Homans in the shoulder. Lieutenants Smith and Pratt were also wounded. Colonel Shaw had led his regiment from first to last. Gaining the rampart, he stood there for a moment with uplifted sword, shouting, “Forward, Fifty-fourth !” and then fell dead, shot through the heart, besides other wounds.
Not a shot had been fired by the regiment up to this time. As the crest was gained, the crack of revolver-shots was heard, for the officers fired into the surging mass of upturned faces confronting them, lit up redly but a moment by the powder-flashes. Musket-butts and bayonets were freely used on the parapet, where the stormers were gallantly met. The garrison fought with muskets, handspikes, and gun-rammers, the officers striking with their swords, so close were the combatants. Numbers, however, soon told against the Fifty-fourth, for it was tens against hundreds. Outlined against the sky, they were a fair mark for the foe. Men fell every moment during the brief struggle. Some of the wounded crawled down the slope to shelter; others fell headlong into the ditch below.
It was seen from the volume of musketry fire, even before the walls were gained, that the garrison was stronger than had been supposed, and brave in defending the work. The first rush had failed, for those of the Fifty-fourth who reached the parapet were too few in numbers to overcome the garrison, and the supports were not at hand to take full advantage of their first fierce attack. Repulsed from the crest after the short hand-to-hand struggle, the assailants fell back upon the exterior slope of the rampart. There the men were encouraged to remain by their officers, for by sweeping the top of the parapet with musketry, and firing at those trying to serve the guns, they would greatly aid an advancing force. For a time this was done, but at the cost of more lives. The enemy’s fire became more effective as the numbers of the Fifty-fourth diminished. Hand grenades or lighted shells were rolled down the slope, or thrown over into the ditch.
All this time the remaining officers and men of the Fifty-fourth were firing at the hostile figures about the guns, or that they saw spring upon the parapet, fire, and jump away. One brave fellow, with his broken arm lying across his breast, was piling cartridges upon it for Lieutenant Emerson, who, like other officers, was using a musket he had picked up. Another soldier, tired of the enforced combat, climbed the slope to his fate; for in a moment his dead body rolled down again. A particularly severe fire came from the southwest bastion. There a Confederate was observed, who, stripped to the waist, with daring exposure for some time dealt out fatal shots; but at last three eager marksmen fired together, and he fell back into the fort, to appear no more. Capt. J. W. M. Appleton distinguished himself before the curtain. He crawled into an embrasure, and with his pistol prevented the artillery-men from serving the gun. Private George Wilson of Company A had been shot through both shoulders, but refused to go back until he had his captain’s permission. While occupied with this faithful soldier, who came to him as he lay in the embrasure, Captain Appleton’s attention was distracted, and the gun was fired.
In the fighting upon the slopes of Wagner, Captains Russel and Simpkins were killed or mortally wounded. Captain Pope there received a severe wound in the shoulder.
All these events had taken place in a short period of time. The charge of the Fifty-fourth had been made and repulsed before the arrival of any other troops. Those who had clung to the bloody slopes or were lying in the ditch, hearing fighting going on at their right, realized at last that the expected succor would not reach them where they were. To retire through the enveloping fire was as dangerous and deadly as to advance. Some that night preferred capture to the attempt at escaping; but the larger portion managed to fall back, singly or in squads, beyond the musketry fire of the garrison.
Captain Emilio, the junior of that rank, succeeded to the command of the Fifty-fourth on the field by casualties. After retiring from Wagner to a point where men were encountered singly or in small squads, he determined to rally as many as possible. With the assistance of Lieutenants Grace and Dexter, a large portion of the Fifty-fourth survivors were collected and formed in line, together with a considerable number of white soldiers of various regiments. While thus engaged, the national flag of the Fifty-fourth was brought to Captain Emilio; but as it was useless as a rallying-point in the darkness, it was sent to the rear for safety. Sergeant Carney had bravely brought this flag from Wagner’s parapet, at the cost of two grievous wounds. The State color was torn from the staff, the silk was found by the enemy in the moat, while the staff remained with us.
Finding a line of rifle trench unoccupied and no indication that dispositions were being made for holding it, believing that the enemy would attempt a sortie, which was indeed contemplated but not attempted, Captain Emilio there stationed his men, disposed to defend the line. Other men were collected as they appeared. Lieu-tenant Tucker, slightly wounded, who was among the last to leave the sand hills near the fort, joined this force.
Desultory firing was still going on, and after a time, being informed that some troops were in the open ground, the force, numbering some two hundred, was formed by its commander, and advanced from the rifle trench. It is believed this was the only organized body of rallied men ready and able to support Stevenson’s brigade, which alone was prepared after the repulse of the others to resist attack. Presently the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts was encountered; but upon reporting, it was found that support was not required. Marching back to the still deserted trench, that line was again occupied. By midnight firing entirely ceased. About 1 A. M., on the 19th, a mounted officer rode up, inquired what force held the trench, and asked for the commanding officer. Captain Emilio responded, and recognized General Stevenson, who thanked him for the support given the reserve brigade, and his dispositions for holding the line. He was also informed that a regiment would be sent to relieve his men, and shortly after, the Tenth Connecticut arrived for that purpose. When this was done, the white soldiers were formed into detachments by regiments, and sent to find their colors.
The Fifty-fourth men were then marched to the rear, and after proceeding a short distance down the beach, encountered Lieutenants Jewett, Emerson, and Appleton, with some of the men. There the Fifty-fourth bivouacked for the night, under the shelter of the sand-bluffs.