Posts Tagged   assault on Ft Wagner

July 10-12, 1863

Emilio describes ( [BBR], pp.51-55) the lead-up to the 54th’s first major action:

Heavy cannonading was heard in the direction of Morris Island, at 5 A. M. on the 10th. Before night word came that all the ground south of Fort Wagner on Morris Island was captured with many guns and prisoners. This news was received with rousing cheers by Terry’s men and the sailors. At dawn Colonel Davis’s men crossed to James Island, his skirmishers driving a few cavalry. At an old house the main force halted with pickets advanced. While this movement was taking place, a portion of the other troops landed. That day a mail brought news of Vicksburg’s capture and Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg. Lieut. Edward B. Emerson joined the Fifty-fourth from the North.

About noon of the 11th, the regiment landed, marched about a mile, and camped in open ground on the furrows of an old field. The woods near by furnished material for brush shelters as a protection against the July sun. By that night all troops were ashore. Terry’s division consisted of three brigades, —Davis’s, of the Fifty-second and One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania and Fifty-sixth New York; Brig.-Gen. Thomas G. Stevenson’s, of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, Tenth Connecticut, and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania; and Montgomery’s, of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts and Second South Carolina.

James Island is separated from the mainland by Wappoo Creek. From the landing a road led onward, which soon separated into two: one running to the right through timber, across low sandy ground to Secessionville; the other to the left, over open fields across the low ground, past Dr. Thomas Grimball’s house on to the Wappoo. The low ground crossed by both these roads over causeways formed the front of Terry’s lines, and was commanded by our naval vessels. Fort Pemberton, on the Stono, constituted the enemy’s right. Thence the line was retired partially behind James Island Creek, consisting of detached light works for field-guns and infantry. Their left was the fortified camp of Secessionville, where, before Battery Lamar, General Benham was repulsed in the spring of 1862.

General Beauregard, the Confederate Department commander, considered an attack on Charleston by way of James Island as the most dangerous to its safety. He posted his forces accordingly, and on July 10 had 2,926 effectives there, with 927 on Morris Island, 1,158 on Sullivan’s Island, and 850 in the city. Few troops from other points were spared when Morris Island was attacked on the 10th; therefore Terry’s diversion had been effective. Had Beauregard’s weakness been known, Terry’s demonstration in superior force might have been converted into a real attack, and James Island fallen before it, when Charleston must have surrendered or been destroyed.

Captain Willard, on the 11th, with Company B, was sent to John’s Island at Legareville to prevent a repetition of firing upon our vessels by artillery such as had occurred that morning.

In the afternoon the Tenth Connecticut and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania, covered by the “Pawnee’s” fire, advanced the picket line. Word was received of an unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner, with considerable loss to us. Abraham F. Brown of Company E accidentally shot himself to death with a small pistol he was cleaning. Late that afternoon Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell, with Companies D, F, I, and K, went out on picket in front of our right, remaining throughout a dark and stormy night. During the night of the 13th, Captain Emilio, with Company E, picketed about Legareville. Capt. A. P. Rockwell’s First Connecticut Battery arrived from Beaufort on the 14th.

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July 9, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his wife Annie, begun today, extended on the 11th, and completed on the 13:

Stono River, S.C. [RGS][BCF]
July 9,1863 (James’ Island)

My Darling Annie,

Just after closing my last, on the envelope of which I said we were ordered away from St. Helena’s Island, we embarked on board the “Chasseur.” We sailed at about 3 P.M., without anything but India-rubber blankets and a little hardbread, and arrived off Stono Inlet, near Charleston Harbour, at about one o’clock this morning. We lay off the bar until i P.M. waiting for the flood-tide. The sea was running very high all the time, so that the men were very sea-sick, and we had a decidedly uncomfortable day. In the night it rained hard, and we all got a good soaking, as it was too hot to stay below. At about 2 P.M. we came to an anchor at the southern point of Folly Island, and Colonel Montgomery reported to General Terry. We then steamed up the Stono River, in company with the Monitor “Nantucket,” the gunboat “Pawnee,” two other little gunboats, and seven transports containing General Terry’s Division.

We now lie off the place where General Hunter’s troops landed last year in the attack on Charleston. The sail up the river was beautiful, the sun just sinking as we reached our anchorage.

July 10th—Still on board our transport. Last night, two regiments landed, but encountered nothing but a few outposts. General Terry’s part is only to make a feint, the real attack being on Morris Island from Folly. That began this morning, and the news from there is, that General Gillmore has got all his troops on Morris Island, and has possession of nearly half of it.

This afternoon I went inland about two miles, and from a housetop saw Fort Sumter, our Monitors, and the spires of Charleston. Just now the news of the fall of Vicksburg, and of Lee’s defeat has reached us. What an excitement there must be through the North! For my part, though, I do not believe the end is coming yet, and the next mail will probably tell us that Lee has got away with a good part of his army; there is too much danger of our government making a compromise, for peace to be entirely welcome now. I am very glad that McClellan was not restored to command, for such vacillation in the government would have been too contemptible. Every one can rejoice at Meade’s success, as he is as yet identified with no party. I hope the prisoners will not be paroled, for they will be in the army again in a month, if they are.

I found a classmate, to-day, on board the “Nantucket,” surgeon there, and George Lawrence, of the class above me, paymaster on board the “Pawnee.”They are both very nice fellows; particularly so, because they have invited me to dinner; having had hardly anything but hard-bread and salt-junk since we left camp, a good dinner is to be desired.

July 11th—This morning I got a paper from General Terry of July 7th, giving an incomplete list of the killed and wounded in the Second and Twentieth Massachusetts Regiments at Gettysburg. Poor Mudge is dead, I see. It will be a terrible blow to his family. You know he was my captain when we first went out. But every one must expect to lose their friends and relatives, and consider themselves as particularly favoured by Providence if they do not. General Gillmore made an attack on Ft. Wagner this morning, and was repulsed. He will probably begin a regular siege now. Fort Wagner is half-way down Morris Island.

Saturday evening — We landed at noon to-day, and are now about two miles inland. There are two Brigades in line in advance of us. I don’t think anything will be done on this side.

13th — Yesterday I dined with Lawrence on board the “Pawnee,” and met some very pleasant men among the officers. It has been very fortunate for me to have found so many old acquaintances here, as it has been the means of my meeting a great many people who would have otherwise been disinclined to make the acquaintance of an officer commanding a black regiment.

Our men are out on picket with the white regiments, and have no trouble with them. One of my companies was driven in by a small force of Rebels last night, and behaved very well indeed. The Rebel pickets call to us, that they will give us three days to clear out.

… There is a letter from Father a month old at Beaufort, and perhaps your missing ones are there. I shall send this to Father, as our conveniences for writing are very few, and I cannot write another letter in time for this mail.

We have not had out clothes off since we left St. Helena, and have absolutely nothing but an India-rubber blanket apiece. Officers and men are in the same boat. I sent down to-day to get a clean shirt and a horse. They will not allow any accumulation of luggage here.

The general feeling is that Gillmore will get Charleston at last. . . .

Governor Andrew writes that he has urged the Secretary of War to send General Barlow here to take command of the black troops. This is what I have been asking him to do for some time.

We got some ham for dinner to-day, which is an improvement on salt-junk. I hope the mail will be allowed to go this time.

Good bye, dearest Annie.

Your loving Rob

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