Mercury, January 7, 1864 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 26, 1863
Strategy and Common Sense
—Since my last there has been nothing extraordinary occurred in military affairs, and the indications are that nothing will occur between now and spring, unless brought on by the enemy. The whole face of nature now presents a drear and gloomy appearance, and the thousands who a month or two ago were full of hope and expectation have gradually come down to that frame of mind so well adapted to wait till something turns up. The fleet inside the bar has been steadily diminishing, so that there is nothing but the monitors and Ironsides left, together with three or four tugs, and provision/ schooners. The Philadelphia seems to have taken up winter quarters in the inlet, no doubt to save her from being rocked on the waves or the boisterous Atlantic. So, you see, Christmas has come and gone, but Charleston still holds her head high, as the leading city in the van of the rebellion. But then, Secretary Welles, in his annual report, considers it to be no great matter whether the Union army occupies the city or not, as it is not, he says, any strategic point of value or commercial importance to the Confederate guerrillas. All that is very fine, as a defence of the miserable operation of the naval arm during the recent operations against that stronghold; but it will not possibly make the nation see why having it in our possession is not better than to leave it in the hands of the insurgents. Strategy or not, almost every one knows that the rebels depend upon Charleston for a very large amount of ammunition, which is manufactured there on account of its central position and being connected by all the interior lines of railway with different parts of the Confederacy. But the worthy old gentleman does not think that it would be any object to somewhat curtail these facilities, and it has not struck him as an idea, that in sealing Charleston up as a commercial help to the rebels, the most effective way is to take it, so that the fleet employed to watch it could be employed elsewhere. But the worthy Secretary is looking to the establishment of something stunning in war ships, which, as a precautionary measure, is very well. But do, good Mr. Secretary, let us have the 4th of July in Charleston, and we will not regret not having spent a merry Christmas therein so much.
Santa Claus in a Novel Shape
Yesterday (Christmas) morning, we gave the rebels in Charleston a Merry (or dismal) Christmas greeting, by throwing a few shell in among them. The shell thrown evidently set fire to some part of the city, as there was a grand illumination visible in a few minutes after the shell were thrown. The wind being then from the northwest and the air very clear, the sound of the church bells could be distinctly heard at Fort Strong, but whether it was the regular ringing of Christmas bells by the Catholic and established churches, or merely the alarm bells on account of fire, is difficult to determine. From the hour (3 o’clock) it may have been both circumstances that occasioned the loud ringing of bells in the Palmetto City; one set of bells ringing to commemorate a glorious event, bringing joy and mirth to the rising generation, and reflection and thankfulness to those of mature age, — and the other, to warn the guilty conspirators of the avenging flame thrown in their midst, ready to leave them houseless, unless they make efforts to extinguish it.
Soon after, the rebel batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands were opened, but with the same effect as heretofore — a waste of powder and shell; but about daylight we could hear very rapid and heavy firing* on James Island in the neighborhood where our gunboats are stationed in Stono river. I have not found out anything as yet in regard to it, but I suspect the rebels were retaliating on the gunboats for our firing on the city, and the gunboats of course must have given them as good as they sent. I don’t think it was anything more than for annoying each other in that quarter; at least I shall wait till I hear something more definite, as I may be sold a la Pocatiligo. Christmas was rather a dull day with us, the 54th. But the 3d U.S. had a stirring time — eating and drinking. Apple dumplings, equalling a young mortar shell in weight, with rye whiskey sauce, was the principal item on the bill of fare. So far as my observation went, apple dumplings formed the first and last course, but the boys enjoyed them notwithstanding the seeming lack of talent in the pastry cooks. The dinner to the boys shows a warm attachment between the shoulder straps and the rank and file, for the expense was borne by the officers. The meeting referred to in my last, squelched by conservatives throwing cold water on the fire [fine?] spun plans of the radicals, adjourned sine die.
Hereafter Lieut. J. W. Grace ceases to be such — why? he will wear two bars on his shoulders, which it is hoped, will be replaced by two leaves — in time.
*This was the attack on the Marblehead, the account of which we have published. [Mercury Editor]
Posts Tagged James Grace
Mercury, August 16, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, August 3, 1863
The latest news from this department is the capture of a blockade runner having on board heavy Whitworth guns. The guns captured are now in course of erection on the north end of the Island to bombard the fort, which they were intended to defend. The planting of siege guns steadily progresses, but is necessarily slow, as the guns have to be hauled through a marsh, and that too in the night, so the enemy cannot see what we are about, and to avert their constant rain of shells, they thinking of course we can’t work when they are shelling us; but they may find out their mistake before this week is out. Every available man on the Island is constantly at work, so as to bring things to a speedy issue. Some are throwing up breastworks, some hauling guns, others loading shells, or carting ammunition from the wharf to the magazines, and every one is confident of success, helping cheerfully in the great amount of work, which must be done before the “grand ball” comes off. It is evident the Commanding General intends to make a sure thing of it this time, and not make the assault till he has got everything ready. One noticeable feature is Gen. Gillmore is supervising the preparations himself, and I do not think any man in the department works more than he does. The consequence is the men has confidence in him, and the rebels a corresponding degree of fear of the “intrepid engineer,” as they term him. As I write, the rebels are vainly blazing away, while our men both white and black are steadily pursuing their work right in their very teeth. When they see the flash from Fort Sumter they merely slip into their caves, dug already for the purpose, and after the shell has exploded, out they come and go to work again, till old Sumter gives them another salute. I have been up to the front three times this week, but “I still live,” and all the others who have been up there.
The rebels are evidently getting scared. Last Tuesday we could see a balloon hovering over Charleston for over an hour; they were doubtless reconnoitering, but I think it is likely they could see they would be warmly received, should they take a notion to visit us. We were enlightened by the New York or Boston press, of the 18th to 20th ult. We were informed that the Monitors had reduced Forts Wagner and Sumter on the 11th, and Beauregard had evacuated and burned Charleston! And another yarn, of two regiments planting a flag on Fort Wagner, and holding it two hours! which would have been, but for the cowardice of a Pennsylvania regiment — all of which stories are sell, and must be compared with the Commanding General’s official report. The fact is, “our own special correspondents travelling with Gen. So-and-so’s division” are a good deal like the “highly intelligent contraband,” or the “gentleman of undoubted veracity”— they write of what they hear, rather than what they see. In a conversation with one of the men of the 6th Conn, regiment, which was in the charge first made, he said if any one got in the fort it was more than he knew, and he said the regiment which had been mentioned as acting cowardly had been wronged.
There is one name I omitted in the two last letters. Nathan L. Young of New Bedford, was wounded on the night of the 18th, and died on board the steamer before arriving at Hilton Head. According to Lieut. Grace’s official report from the Surgeon General at Beaufort, Corp. Torrance is not there, and the men who have arrived from there corroborate the statement. So he is among the killed or prisoners, as I intimated in my first letter. I am unable to give you any account of how the wounded are getting along, as I have received no communication from any of them since they have been there. Our boys have got over their depression of spirit somewhat, caused by the fall of so many of their companions, in the dawning of a speedy victory. They are all in hopes of another “good time” before going into Charleston, but they would a leetle rather have it on a fair field, with no odds. Charging is good when you have a fair sight; but they all agree that Wagner is a hot place.
J. H. G.
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.
To: Brigadier General R.A. Pierce, Readville
Knowing your deep interest in the officers and men of the Regiment, I thought I would let you know how we are after our Skirmish and retreat from James Island and Fight at Morris Island.
We were on the move three days and nights before the Fight on this Island. When we arrived here, we were very much exhausted, tired and hungry, not having any thing to eat for twenty four, hours. I simply speak of this to let you know what condition we were in before the Fight. We arrived on the Island about 3 o’clock, rested a short time, and then moved forward to the upper end of the Island (the Island is about four miles long). When we arrived within one thousand yards of Fort Wagner, we laid down waiting for our support to come up. We laid there about thirty minutes when we were ordered to rise up and charge on the works, which we did at double quick time with a tremendous scream. When we arrived within a short distance of the works, the Rebels opened on us with grape and canister accompanied with a thousand muskets, mowing our men down by the hundreds. This caused us to fall back a little, but we soon made another rush to the works, when we received another tremendous discharge of musketry, and also grape and canister. Such a tremendous fire right in our faces caused us to fall back, which we did in very good order. Our men are highly spoken of by military men as showing great bravery. They did fight when they were in front of the works [and a] good many of our men went on to the works and fought hand to hand with the Enemy.
Lieutenant James W. Grace
Mercury, August 1, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, July 20, 1863
—At last we have something stirring to record. The 54th, the past week, has proved itself twice in battle. The first was on James Island on the morning of the 16th. There were four companies of the 54th on picket duty at the time; our picket lines extending to the right of the rebel battery, which commands the approach to Charleston through the Edisto river. About 3 o’clock in the morning, the rebels began harassing our pickets on the right, intending, no doubt, to drive them in, so that by daylight the coast would be clear to rush their main force down on us, and take us by surprise. They did not suppose we had any considerable force to the rear of our pickets on the right, as Gen. Stevenson’s brigade was plain in sight on the left; and their plan, I suppose, was to rush down and cut Gen. Stevenson off. They made a mistake — instead of returning fire, the officer in charge of the pickets directed the men to lie down under cover of a hedge, rightly expecting the rebels to advance by degrees toward our lines. As he expected, at daylight they were within 600 yards of the picket line, when our men rose and poured a volley into them. That was something the rebels didn’t expect — their line of skirmishers was completely broken; our men then began to fall back gradually on our line of battle, as the rebels were advancing their main force on to them. On they came, with six pieces of artillery and four thousand infantry, leaving a heavy force to drive Gen. Stevenson on the left. As their force advanced on our right, the boys held them in check like veterans; but of course they were falling back all the time, and fighting too. After the officers saw there was no chance for their men, they ordered them to move on to a creek under cover of the gunboats. When the rebels got within 900 yards of our line of battle, the right wing of Gen. Terry’s brigade gave them three volleys, which checked their advance. They then made a stand with their artillery and began shelling us, but it had no effect on our forces, as the rebels fired too high. The 6th Connecticut battery then opened fire on them from the right, the John Adams and May Flower from the creek between James and Cole Islands, and the Pawnee and a mortar schooner from the Edisto [i.e., Stono], when the rebels began a hasty retreat. It was a warmer reception than they had expected. Our loss in the skirmishing before the battle, so far as we can ascertain, was nine killed, 13 wounded, and 17 missing, either killed or taken prisoners; but more probably they were driven into the creek and drowned. Sergeant Wilson, of Co. H, was called upon to surrender, but would not; he shot four men before he was taken. After he was taken they ordered him to give up his pistol which he refused to do, when he was shot through the head.
The men of the 54th behaved gallantly on the occasion — so the Generals say. It is not for us to blow our horn; but when a regiment of white men gave us three cheers as we were passing them, it shows that we did our duty as men should.
I shall pass over the incidents of that day, as regards individuals, to speak of a greater and more terrible ordeal the 54th regiment has passed through. I shall say nothing now of how we came from James to Morris Island; suffice it to say, on Saturday afternoon we were marched up past our batteries, amid the cheers of the officers and soldiers. We wondered what they were all cheering for, but we soon found out. Gen. Strong rode up, and we halted. Well, you had better believe there was some guessing what we were to do. Gen. Strong asked us if we would follow him into Fort Wagner. Every man said, yes — we were ready to follow wherever we were led. You may all know Fort Wagner is the Sebastopol of the rebels; but we went at it, over the ditch and on to the parapet through a deadly fire; but we could not get into the fort. We met the foe on the parapet of Wagner with the bayonet — we were exposed to a murderous fire from the batteries of the fort, from our Monitors and our land batteries, as they did not cease firing soon enough. Mortal men could not stand such a fire, and the assault on Wagner was a failure. The 9th Me., 10th Conn., 63d Ohio, 48th and 100th N.Y. were to support us in the assault; but after we made the first charge, everything was in such confusion that we could hardly tell where the reserve was. At the first charge the 54th rushed to within twenty yards of the ditches, and, as might be expected of raw recruits, wavered — but at the second advance they gained the parapet. The color bearer of the State colors was killed on the parapet. Col. Shaw seized the staff when the standard bearer fell, and in less than a minute after, the Colonel fell himself. When the men saw their gallant leader fall, they made a desperate effort to get him out, but they were either shot down, or reeled in the ditch below. One man succeeded in getting hold of the State color staff, but the color was completely torn to pieces.
I have no more paper here at present, as all our baggage is at St. Helena yet; so I cannot further particularize in this letter. Lieut. Grace was knocked down by a piece of shell, but he is not injured. He showed himself a great deal braver and cooler than any line officer.
J. H. G.
Our correspondent gives a list of killed, wounded and missing. It is the same that we have already published. [Mercury Editor]
MORRIS ISLAND. S. C. July 20
MY DEAR AMELIA:
I have been in two fights, and am unhurt. I am about to go in another I believe to-night. Our men fought well on both occasions. The last was desperate we charged that terrible battery on Morris Island known as Fort Wagoner, and were repulsed with a loss of 3 killed and wounded. I escaped unhurt from amidst that perfect hail of shot and shell. It was terrible. I need not particularize the papers will give a better than I have time to give. My thoughts are with you often, you are as dear as ever, be good enough to remember it as I no doubt you will. As I said before we are on the eve of another fight and I am very busy and have just snatched a moment to write you. I must necessarily be brief. Should I fall in the next fight killed or wounded I hope to fall with my face to the foe.
If I survive I shall write you a long letter. DeForrest of your city is wounded George Washington is missing, Jacob Carter is missing, Chas Reason wounded Chas Whiting, Chas Creamer all wounded. The above are in hospital.
This regiment has established its reputation as a fighting regiment not a man flinched, though it was a trying time. Men fell all around me. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking. How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here. My Dear girl I hope again to see you. I must bid you farewell should I be killed. Remember if I die I die in a good cause. I wish we had a hundred thousand colored troops we would put an end to this war.
Good Bye to all Write soon
Your own loving LEWIS
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.
Mercury, April 13, 1863[OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, April 11
—Since my last weekly epistle, we have received 315 recruits, making the total number 614, and more expected daily. The ground about the barracks has dried enough now to make walking quite a pleasure. Our company have been presented with a couple of foot-balls by Lieut. Grace, and they are a source of amusement and recreation to the whole regiment. The regiment attracts considerable attention, if judged by the number of visitors we have, including a goodly portion of ladies.
Rev. Wm. Jackson desires to say through the MERCURY, in order to clear up some false impressions which have obtained, through the Pastor of the A. M. E. Church, that he did NOT apply, either in person or by letter to the governor, for the chaplaincy of the 54th; that the appointment was made at the suggestion of some friends of his in Boston; furthermore, it was unnecessary for the Pastor of the “Bethel Church” to publish his resignation when he never held any position to resign. Mr. Jackson has in his possession a letter from Secretary Hayden, which will substantiate the above statement. I think myself, Mr. Jackson has been the victim of prejudice—all we want for him is fair play.13
The camp was visited yesterday by Surgeon General Dale,14 who expressed himself well satisfied with [the] physical appearance of the men. Surgeon Stone, acting in this regiment, had all the men vaccinated yesterday, as a preventive against small pox.15 There is not much sickness in camp, considering the number of men present, there being but three men unable to walk out of doors. The men are growing fat, rugged, but not saucy.
Tell the ladies that our boys think there are no women anywhere so good as the New Bedford ladies; and one, who belongs to our company but not to New Bedford, said, “I guess them New Bedford wimmin must be mighty good lookin’” “Why so?” says one. “Cause they are allers sendin’ us somethin’.” After that speech the boys gave three cheers for the ladies of the Relief Society, expressive of thanks for sewing purses containing needles, thread, buttons, yarn, a thimble and paper of pins, one for each man.
J. H. G.
[Mercury, March 18, 1863][OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 15
—Presuming a few lines from this locality would prove interesting to some of your many readers, I have taken upon myself the task of penning them. Among the men in this camp the New Bedford men stand A No. 1, in military bearing, cleanliness and morality; not because I happen to belong to the New Bedford company do I assert this, for if the other companies proved to be better ordered than ours, I should be proud to confirm it. All the men appear to regard Capt. Grace with (I might say) veneration; for he presents that uncommon combination of a man strict in military discipline, but always tempered with kindness; a man who will go to the utmost length of his military power to assist or benefit an inferior. A better man, in my judgment, could not have been placed in command of a company of colored men; for he seems to have studied the peculiar modes of thought, action and disposition of the colored men so well, that there is the most cheerful obedience rendered to the most imperative command. These opinions are not hastily formed, but are arrived at by a close and careful observation of things as they are.
We have prayers every morning and evening, most of the men taking part in them; and I need not add that there is a great degree of fervor exhibited vide Bethel Church, Kempton street. As for myself I find it somewhat dull when I am not on duty, as I have nothing to read, although it is a source of amusement to watch some of the odd capers or listen to some of the equally ludicrous speeches, so peculiar to some of our class of people. They are all anxious to perfect themselves in drill that they may the sooner meet the Rebs, and they all feel determined to fight; they all say that is their wish, and I cannot doubt it, for there seems to be a sort of preternatural earnestness about their expressions which no one can mistake. They do not, some of them, yet exactly comprehend the future benefits of enlisting, but they have an impulse equally as great, so far as they are capable of understanding it, and that is revenge. Hoping the Relief Committee have paid the money to the families of those who are here in camp, for I know some who needed it very much, I will close.
J. H. G.
[Mercury, March 3, 1863]
—As the time draws near for the departure of the men Capt. Grace has recruited, for camp, and there is not a sufficient number to form a whole company, does it not behoove every colored man in this city to consider, rationally with himself, whether he cannot be one of the glorious 54th? Are the colored men here in New Bedford, who have the advantage of education, so blind to their own interest, in regard to their social development, that through fear of some double dealing, they will not now embrace probably the only opportunity that will ever be offered them to make themselves a people. There are a great many I must confess, who, Micawber-like, “are waiting for something to turn up”; but they will have to learn sooner or later, that if anything does “turn up” to their advantage, they will have to be the means of turning it up themselves; they must learn that there is more dignity in carrying a musket in defence of liberty and right than there is in shaving a man’s face, or waiting on somebody’s table. — Not that it is any degradation to perform those offices, but those who perform them are considered nothing but appendages to society; for in either case, the recipients of these favors could perform them for themselves on a “pinch.” Another class are those who argue “it won’t pay to go for a soger”; but I think there are not nine out of ten who will realize as much in a year here at home as a man will in the army in the same length of time. And again, if the colored man proves to be as good a soldier as it is confidently expected he will, there is a permanent field of employment opened to him, with all the chances of promotion in his favor. Such an event is not unlikely in this country, any more than it is in India and other colonial dependencies of England. In India the native militia is considered equal if not superior to the English soldiery in tactics and bravery, and there are natives holding the highest military positions. Our people must know that if they are ever to attain to any position in the eyes of the civilized world, they must forego comfort, home, fear, and above all, superstition, and fight for it; make up their minds to become something more than hewers of wood and drawers of water all their lives. Consider that on this continent, at least, their race and name will be totally obliterated unless they put forth some effort now to save themselves.
G. — One of the 54th
Feb. 16,1863, Monday
I arrived here yesterday morning, after a very uncomfortable night in the sleeping-car. I have been at work all day, looking over papers with Hallowell, and talking with Governor Andrew. We have decided to go into camp at Readville, and not at Worcester. It is near enough to Boston to make the transportation of supplies an easy matter, and we see no reason to apprehend any trouble from the white soldiers stationed there. Now that it is decided that coloured troops shall be raised, people seem to look upon it as a matter of course, and I have seen no one who has not expressed the kindest wishes for the success of the project. Governor Andrew’s ideas please me extremely, for he takes the most common-sense view of the thing. He seems inclined to have me do just what I please.
With much affection, your
I arrived here yesterday morning. Things arc going along very well, and I think there is no doubt of our ultimate success. I took a long drive with the Governor, and liked him very much. His views about the regiment are just what I should wish. We have decided to go into camp at Readville; as we think it best to plunge in without regard to outsiders. We shall have to do it some time, and it is best to begin immediately; I do not apprehend any trouble out there. We have a great deal of work before us, but every one seems anxious to give us a helping hand, and applications for commissions come in, in shoals. The more money we can get, the better; the transportation of men from other States will cost a great deal.
I will write to Mother soon.
Your affectionate Son
In five days [after the Boston Journal ad] twenty-five men were secured; and Lieutenant Appleton’s work was vigorously prosecuted, with measurable success. It was not always an agreeable task, for the rougher element was troublesome and insulting. About fifty or sixty men were recruited at this office, which was closed about the last of March. Lieutenant Appleton then reported to the camp established and took command of Company A, made up of his recruits and others afterward obtained.
Early in February quite a number of colored men were recruited in Philadelphia, by Lieut. E. N. Hallowell, James M. Walton, who was subsequently commissioned in the Fifty-fourth, and Robert R. Corson, the Massachusetts State Agent. Recruiting there was attended with much annoyance. The gathering-place had to be kept secret, and the men sent to Massachusetts in small parties to avoid molestation or excitement. Mr. Corson was obliged to purchase railroad tickets himself, and get the recruits one at a time on the cars or under cover of darkness. The men sent and brought from Philadelphia went to form the major part of Company B.
New Bedford was also chosen as a fertile field. James W. Grace, a young business man of that place, was selected as recruiting officer, and commissioned February 10. He opened headquarters on Williams Street, near the post-office, and put out the United States flag across the street.Colored ministers of the city were informed of his plans; and Lieutenant Grace visited their churches to interest the people in his work. He arranged for William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and other noted men to address meetings. Cornelius Rowland, C. B. H. Fessenden, and James B. Congdon materially assisted and were good friends of the movement. While recruiting, Lieutenant Grace was often insulted by such remarks as, “There goes the captain of the Negro Company! He thinks the negroes will fight! They will turn and run at the first sight of the enemy! ” His little son was scoffed at in school because his father was raising a negro company to fight the white men.
At camp the New Bedford men, — some seventy-five in number,—with others from that place and elsewhere, became Company C, the representative Massachusetts company.
Watson W. Bridgee …[his] headquarters were at Springfield, and he worked in Western Massachusettts and Connecticut. When ordered to camp, about April 1, he had recruited some seventy men.