Posts Tagged siege of Ft Wagner
Mercury, October 1, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Sept 19, 1863
—”All quiet” in this department of the South is a very appropriate mode of expressing the operations the past week with us here. Although you may expect at no distant day to hear of stirring actions, that is, if signalizing, backing up and backing down mean anything. The monitors run up—fall in line — up goes a signal from the flag vessel — they break ranks, and, blow off steam out of gun range of old Moultrie. A comical chap in our company says, he guesses “they are having dress parade.” We expected to see the cheese boxes knock Sullivan’s Island batteries higher than a kite long ago, but we are agreeably left to keep expecting. But the land forces are busy preparing for something, but what it is to be I can’t venture to say for fear it may prove greatly the reverse. But if I were a rebel, and lived in Charleston, I should feel decidedly skittish to see the villainous Yankees planting those dangerous Parrot guns right in front of the city, and less than 4 miles off too. Mr. Beauregard is aware that those barbarous engines of war will carry a message a little over five miles. Hence his persistent efforts to shell us out of Wagner and Gregg. The mathematician of the regiment estimates that if the number of shells wasted by old Beaury costs three dollars in good money, it will only take three months and seven days to run out the last Confederate loan — each shell costing $15 in rebel scrip. I think Senator Toombs should point out the utter folly and extravagance of Beauregard’s course, as the Senator is deeply concerned about the Confederate finances.
Night and day the rebels are pouring shell around Wagner, Gregg, and on our camps on Black Island, or at the “Swamp Angel” but so far, they would have accomplished as much had they fired at the moon. Yesterday, they appeared to be unusually extravagant — from the north end of James Island all the way down to Seceshville, they kept their batteries open (numbering 12 guns), firing at — nobody knows; it is certain their shot came no where near Morris Island. It is said a magazine was blown up on James Island last Tuesday, but I cannot rely upon it; there certainly was a great smoke seen over there, but it might have been a fire in the woods. Of course, every rebel magazine blown up is considered a gain to the Union cause, in the same light of the “utter demoralization” of such and such a rebel army, or a “strong Union sentiment” existing in this or that section, and many persons are credulous enough to believe that all such natural combinations will end the war, instead of good hard fighting. The best mode of creating Union sentiments now, is by planting artillery near the thresholds of those who are without them, and if you get that close to them, you must fight hard to get there; that is, you will have to demoralize the army between you and the apocryphal Union section by giving them a good sound drubbing, or else capture and put them in the penitentiary. We had a heavy gale here, lasting all day Wednesday and Thursday; the rain came down as it only can in these latitudes, with a vengeance. The most of the shipping inside the bar had to be towed out, for fear some of them would be swept ashore. The beach was strewn with boats, broke loose from vessels in the offing, stumps of huge trees, timber and spars. I saw the floor ribs of a good-sized ship high and dry on the beach, drove up by the fury of the waves. She may be a relic of the stone blockade, as I saw a piece of a vessel’s knighthead marked “Corea,” and I believe there was a ship of that name in the stone fleet. The weather is quite cool here since the storm; it is very comfortable in the day time, but the nights make an overcoat indispensable. I believe the bark Growler, or Grumbler, has arrived at last. Misfortunes or blessings never come singly — now we have cold weather, we have ice water. But the soldiers thank the donors all the same, and bless the good people who thought of them weeks ago, when the days were long and sultry.
As I have taken too much of your space, I will end by giving the thanks of the 54th regiment to their friends in the Sperm City for the interest taken in our behalf. May they ever have plenty of “spondulicks” to relieve the boys in the field, if they can’t relieve us on picket.
Fort Wagner has fallen! The stronghold which bade defiance to every assault, and received for forty days the peltings of iron missiles vomited from the heaviest ordinance employed in modern warfare, has submitted to patient toil and labor with the spade. The enemy have admitted that Wagner was the key to Charleston, and our lights say that the reduction and occupancy of Sumter was an impossibility while it (Wagner) remained in possession of the enemy. These notices have been iterated and reiterated until the fall of Fort Wagner has become to be regarded by those far removed from the scenes of active operations as great an achievement as the capture of Fort Sumter, or the formidable Sullivan’s Island batteries. Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg, with some one hundred prisoners and a considerable amount of commissary stores, with seven or eight pieces of artillery, are our only trophies of victory.
For a week previous to the evacuation of Fort Wagner by the rebel forces, they had been removing their arms and ammunition, and when our forces took peaceable possession of it, the magazine was found to be empty, or nearly so. Their prisoners say no power on earth could keep us out of Fort Wagner or any other fort that could be approached by parallels. From the first landing of troops on Morris Island it has been regarded as lost. They admit that the city of Charleston can be destroyed by our combustible shells, and the rebel authorities seem to dare our commanding General to burn the city. For what are all those rebel batteries erected? To save the city of Charleston from destruction and to prevent its occupation by our forces. If we burn the city, half the necessity for rebel batteries has been taken away. And another thing: if Beauregard, or whoever else may have command, when he or they found that there was a fixed determination to bum it, if not surrendered, we would have [had) but very few of their insolent parleyings. I would spare the aged and infirm, the women and children, and give them ample time to go beyond the reach of danger, but the city I would burn to ashes. Not one stone of its buildings would I leave upon another for active rebels, armed and unarmed, I would dig graves beneath its smoldering ruins. It is not very likely that the rebels would occupy their works after the material interests of the city were destroyed. If the old nest which contains and has hatched out so many secession serpents was destroyed, the country would be spared many troubles, and a new order of beings not branded with treason or infatuated with slavery could find a home and habitation. The course would in the end be found to be one of the grandest steps toward restoring loyalty and peace, and remove the necessity of a standing army in South Carolina. For the sake of humanity, peace and victory give them "Greek fire," the torch and shell, not in anger or for revenge, but as a just, well merited punishment for treason, violation of the law, and other crimes.
From present appearances Charleston will not be burned, and the reduction of the other forts and batteries in Charleston harbor is as great a military problem as ever. There is a question between the relative activity of the land and naval forces now engaged in the sieges. The army claim to have achieved all the successes thus far, and that the navy have failed to fully co-operate with them. In the first place, with justice to the navy, it may be said to have been the right arm of the Federal service, and has been the safeguard of the army. The land forces have on many occasions owed their salvation to the naval. It seems to be unjust to deny the navy the high honors it deserves. What if victory has been achieved by the co-operation of the navy? One thing I think is demonstrated in the present siege: the superiority of the Ironsides over the Monitors for such operations. Rapidity of firing is just as essential as great weight of metal. Complete invulnerability cannot be attained. That is, an iron vessel could not be floated with a hull strong enough to resist steel-pointed shot of the weight modern improved guns can propel against it. Nothing but huge sandbanks can withstand these terrible missiles. During the siege of Fort Wagner, when the Ironsides would run up into the very jaws of their batteries on Sullivan's Island, right in the face of Wagner and Sumter, she invariably silenced them. One shell would not explode before another would take its place to fill the atmosphere with death. She did not give them breathing time. They could not take shelter from one shell and man and fire their guns before another could reach them, as they can easily do when engaged with the Monitors.
It is contraband to write of present operations, but I am privileged to have my say about the operations which led to the evacuation of Wagner and Gregg. We have lost as much of blood and suffered as much in toil as any other regiment in the Department in the performance of this task, and I presume that when the commanding General shall come to sum up his report of this affair, he will give us the credit we deserve. The truth cannot always be learned from newspaper correspondence, there is such wide scope for the ventilation of sentiments of prejudiced and irresponsible men. This may be "like pot calling kettle black," but I must say that after we have done as much as any other soldiers here, our flag should have been alongside the rest. Serrill's Engineers, who deserve the highest honor, planted their flag on the works, as did the 3d Rhode Island. If we had demanded to have our flag and urged its claims to a place there, as Col. Shaw would have done, it would have floated there. But not one suggested the propriety of it.
The main portion of our regiment was in line of battle, on the right of Montgomery's Brigade. Detachments from the 54th Massachusetts, ad South Carolina, 100th New York, 10th Connecticut and the Marine Corps intercepted three of the rebel barges which contained the last remains of Gregg's and Wagner's garrison, numbering about one hundred men. One of the rebel barges escaped. Some of the rebels in their fright and excitement jumped overboard. There were some drowned, but the greater number were rescued. There were some few men found scattered around the works who seemed to court capture. Our pickets were apprized by a rebel soldier of the evacuation of Wagner about midnight, but before he could make it known that he bore information for us some of the pickets shot him. The detachment which captured these retreating rebels was part of a programme of movements to take Wagner by assault. The part they had to play was to intercept re-enforcements during the assault, and it was not until we had marched them away down to the Beacon House that one of their principle men admitted that the works had been abandoned. They, to a man, deny havingbeen in the fort on the 18th; They, say they relieved the men who held the battery at that time. About a week ago they conversed freely with us negroes," and seemed to have vague notions of retaliation. They all said that they belonged to the Charleston Battalion—-were boatmen carrying provisions over to Curnmings's Point. There was an officer with them who said that he was only assistant surgeon, but his rank is higher and he does not belong to the medical corps. He cut a mighty sorry figure as he marched at the head of his comrades, and on each side of them the silent, moody negro guard.-Now and then the Sergeant would give out the stern command, "Close up!" and Mr. Reb did not have to be told a second time.
Quite a considerable number of colored refugees have come into our lines since the capture of the whole of Morris Island. Ten persons made their escape on last Friday night: four children, one women and five men. They came from the city and confirm the report of the destructiveness of shells charged with "Greek Fire." They say that the citizens are running off their slaves by the thousands. They towed their boats down the harbor in safety, and the mother says that just as they got opposite Sumter the little baby broke out in shrill screams and would not be comforted. They gave up all for lost, but the heroic mother instantly made a wad of a shawl and filled its little mouth, and when they landed on the beach and surrendered to our pickets, the poor little things were almost suffocated. She thinks "it better die den all be slave.";
I cannot resist the temptation to refer to the conduct of the colored soldiers digging in the approaches. Says Sergt. Barquet: "Men born and reared on Southern plantations who never saw a gun can now talk as glibly as you please of planes, augers, ranges and distances, and the entire military vocabulary is becoming familiar to them. I overheard the following conversation between two contraband soldiers: 'Sam, Cohorn mortar trow shell great range; to fetch him, reb wastes much powder.' 'Ah! Jirn, Cohorn mortar wuss den grape and schrapanel; grape shell come straight in trench—de odder bound to go ober.' " What a fund of information these men have gained, and what a grand school for the soldier is here opened to them! Eight hours out of thirty-six toiling and laboring in the face of death, shell from front and flank, Minnie bullets, grape and shrapnel plunging, whizzing and plowing up"the earth on all sides. Some one of the officers of the Engineer Corps has to superintend the work of the fatigue parties.
Barquet gives the following scrap which will show how reckless and profane a man can be under the intoxicating influence of rum, and, is, to say the least, an incident worth telling: The fifth and last parallethad been reached; the rebels seemed to be frenzied with alarm, and their sharpshooters and heavy guns kept up an incessant play on the fatigue parties. An Irish Lieutenant of Serrill's Engineer Corps had charge of the operations on that night. The perilous march had been made without any casualties. When our fatigue reached the point of operations, the following colloquy occurred between the Irish Lieutenant and the men who had the dangerous duty to perform:
"Who comes there?"
"54th fatigue party!"
"Arrah, there should be here at this late hour a brigade of fatigue men. Now listen. There was niver a man hurt wid me," the shot then nearly blinding the men with their fizzing, fuming glare. "I want two parties of sappers and miners of four men each. First party come forward!" The men came. "No. 1 you're a sapper. No. 2, you're a miner. No. 3, you're a sapper. No. 4, you're a miner. No. 1, you're kilt! No. 2, you take his place. No. 3, you're kilt. No. 4, you must take his place." No. 1'S and 3's feelings may be better imagined than described. As a sort of climax to this arrangement, the inebriated officer said, "All I ask is two gabions to a man, and by to-morrow morning we'll be in the gates of Fort Wagner and the jaws of death and hell."
The boys went to work with a will, and before daylight an indignant rebel in the riflepits, just behind our parallel, was forced to exclaim to our boys,. "You black Yankee sons of b—s intend to bury us in sand, don't you?" On this night poor young Vanderpool was killed, three of the 104th Pennsylvania volunteers, and several wounded.
The Rev. Samuel Harrison has been appointed Chaplain of our regiment. This is most fortunate. Our regiment has felt the need of a chaplain. We have had but four sermons preached to us since we left the camp Readville, Mass.—one by Rev. James Lynch at St. Helena, and one on St. Simon's by the Chaplain of the 2d South Carolina Volunteers, and two on Morris Island by an able and eloquent agent of the American Tract Society, now home in the North, and whose name I disremember. Prayer-meetings are regularly held in our camp and I think there are a few evidences of a revival. These meetings are very boisterous, and many who believe in deep, fervent, devotional worship cannot take as active a part in them as they would if there was less excitement and fewer of their unearthly yellings.
Gen. Gillmore has commenced granting furloughs. Today some ten or twelve of the 54th go North in the steamer that bears this letter. Your humble servant defers his visit North to a more convenient season. Sergt.-Major Douglass, Sergt. Barquet, and Sergt. Gray of New Bedford, are among this first installment of absentees.
I have just seen another Letter from Gov. Andrew, to the effect that there is no law which prevents our receiving full pay—that the Paymaster is not a competent judge in the matter, and that free colored men, citizens of Massachusetts, regularly enlisted as Massachusetts volunteers, cannot be less than citizen soldiers whom the Paymaster has no right to know but as soldiers, and advising us to take ten dollars a month under protest only. The law referring to persons of African descent employed in the army cannot refer to us. There is no proof that any of our fathers are Africans. If they adopt this rule there is no such thing as an American in the country, for all whites and blacks are not aborigines.
DEPARTMENT OP THE SOUTH,
MORRIS ISLAND, S. C, Sept. 16, 1863.
It is with no ordinary feelings of gratification and pride that the brigadier-general commanding is enabled to congratulate this army upon the signal success which has crowned the enterprise in which it has been engaged. Fort Sumter is destroyed. The scene where our country’s flag suffered its first dishonor you have made the theatre of one of its proudest triumphs. The fort has been in the possession of the enemy for more than two years, has been his pride and boast, has been strengthened by every appliance known to military science, and has defied the assaults of the most powerful fleet the world ever saw. But it has yielded to your courage and patient labor. Its walls are now crumbled to ruins, its formidable batteries are silenced, and though a hostile flag still floats over it, the fort is a harmless and helpless wreck.
Forts Wagner and Gregg, works rendered memorable by their protracted resistance and the sacrifice of life they have cost, have also been wrested from the enemy by your per- severing courage and skill, and the graves of your fallen comrades rescued from desecration and contumely. You now hold in undisputed possession the whole of Morris Island; and the city and harbor of Charleston lie at the mercy of your artillery from the very spot where the first shot was fired at your country’s flag and the Rebellion itself was inaugurated. To you, the officers and soldiers of this command, and to the gallant navy which has co-operated with you are due the thanks of your commander and your country. You were called upon to encounter untold privations and dangers, to undergo unremitting and exhausting labors, to sustain severe and disheartening reverses. How nobly your patriotism and zeal have responded to the call the results of the campaign will show and your commanding general gratefully bears witness.
Q. A. GILLMORE,
Mercury, September 21, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Sept. 9, 1863
—At last Wagner and Gregg have the old flag waving over them. Sumter is a mass of shapeless ruins; Gregg is occupied by our forces, a small detachment of men, to repair and hold it. The agreeable fact was doubted a long time this morning by those whose duties were otherwheres but the “front.” But by sunrise, all doubts were cleared by the evidence of prisoners and trophies. The attack was made about 2 1-2 o’clock this morning by Generals Terry and Stevenson, and in half an hour the welkin rang with the loud cheers of our victorious army. While one part of our force were taking possession of Wagner, another small detachment marched on battery Gregg; but the rebels, panic-stricken by flying fugitives from Wagner, commenced to follow. So by one well-directed blow, we have swept the rebels from their strongest positions for the defence of Charleston. This is emphatically a triumph of skill; repulsed twice with a great loss of life, the Commanding General has at last been successful in proving the oft boasted impregnability of the defences of Charleston to be all moonshine in the age of science and expedients. Gen. Gillmore can proudly say he has gained what the rebels most dreaded to lose, without the loss of hardly a life. To be sure life has been sacrificed in the preparations to accomplish the great end; for how could it be otherwise, when the work had to be done under a heavy fire, and a continuous rain of shell, grape, and canister. Indeed what seemed to be the preliminary of a grand coup de main, was in fact the work which scared the rebels out. The bombardment commenced at daylight, Sept. 5th, and was kept up without intermission till Sunday night at 11 1-2 o’clock by the land batteries, and Ironsides, and “cheese boxes.”12 No wonder Wagner fell! Such a continuous pour of shot and shell never struck one work so accurately and effectively as on Saturday and Sunday; our trenches then being so close to the parapet of Wagner that the recoil of pieces of shell from our own guns wounded our men, who were digging the “last parallel,” that our boys could have a covered way to enter Wagner. All hands are satisfied, one with the other, and all feel that they are well repaid for disappointments and toil, and that each and every man reflect[s] credit and glory on the old flag, which waves defiantly at the gates of rebeldom. I have not room to describe the infernal machines put in the way by the rebels to destroy our men; suffice it to say, these torpedoes have killed many of our men when struck by them with their spades. In the trenches they had another diabolical contrivance consisting of a hook, not unlike a “gaff” (used by whalemen in handling blubber), and a lance with a long shank, the point of the lance being about 9 inches from the hook. These are mounted on poles five or six feet long and were no doubt purposely made for spearing men when charging, and then pulling them in the fort with the hooks. I was in the work a short time today, but could not stay long enough to gain any correct idea of how it is arranged internally; the sand is piled up in huge heaps here and there, almost completely covering the entrance to the bomb-proofs. There is nothing evidently in its appearance now to give one a just appreciation of the engineering displayed in its construction. I have not been so far as Gregg or Sumter yet and if they smell as bad as Wagner, I don’t want to. The smell in Wagner is really sickening, dead men and mules are profuse, some exposed to the rays of sun, and others being half buried by earth thrown over them by our shot and shell during the bombardment. Forts Moultrie and Johnson are now vainly trying to make the “Yankee” leave Wagner, but the monitors bark at them every now and then, so they will soon be silent.
Killed Sept. 5th by our own guns — Charles Van Allen, of Lenox, Mass., and Aaron Spencer, of North Lee, Mass., both of Co. A, 54th Mass. regiment.
Early on the 5th the land batteries,” Ironsides,” and two monitors opened1 a terrific bombardment on Wagner which lasted forty-two hours. Under its protection our sap progressed in safety. Wagner dared not show a man, while the approaches were so close that the more distant batteries of the enemy feared to injure their own men. Our working parties moved about freely. Captain Walker ran some one hundred and fifty yards of sap; and by noon the flag, planted at the head of the trench to apprise the naval vessels of our position, was within one hundred yards of the fort. The Fifty-fourth detail at work there on this day had Corp. Aaron Spencer of Company A mortally wounded by one of our own shells, and Private Chas. Van Allen of the same company killed. Gregg’s capture was again attempted that night by Major Sanford’s command. When the boats approached near, some musket-shots were exchanged ; and as the defenders were alert, we again retired with slight loss.
Daylight dawned upon the last day of Wagner’s memorable siege on September 6. The work was swept by our searching fire from land and water, before which its traverses were hurled down in avalanches covering the entrances to magazines and bombproofs. Gregg was also heavily bombarded. As on the previous day our sappers worked rapidly and exposed themselves with impunity. The greatest danger was from our own shells, by which one man was wounded. Lieutenant McGuire, U. S. A., was in charge a part of the day. He caused the trenches to be prepared for holding a large number of troops, with means for easy egress to the front. Late that evening General Gillmore issued orders for an assault at nine o’clock the next morning, the hour of low tide, by three storming columns under General Terry, with proper reserves. Artillery fire was to be kept up until the stormers mounted the parapet. At night the gallant Captain Walker, who was assisted by Captain Pratt, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, observed that the enemy’s sharpshooters fired but scatteringly, and that but one mortar-shell was thrown from Wagner. About 10 p. M. he passed into the ditch and examined it thoroughly. He found a fraise of spears and stakes, of which he pulled up some two hundred. Returning, a flying sap was run along the crest of the glacis, throwing the earth level, to enable assailants to pass over readily.
A picket detail of one hundred men went out from the Fifty-fourth camp at 5 p. M. on the 6th. Our usual detail was at work in the front under the engineers. It was not until two o’clock on the morning of September 7 that the officers and men of the regiment remaining in camp were aroused, fell into line, and with the colored brigade marched up over the beach line to a point just south of the Beacon house, where these regiments rested, constituting the reserve of infantry in the anticipated assault. Many of the regiments were arriving or in position, and the advance trenches were full of troops. Soon came the gray of early morning, and with it rumors that Wagner was evacuated. By and by the rumors were confirmed, and the glad tidings spread from regiment to regiment. Up and down through the trenches and the parallels rolled repeated cheers and shouts of victory. It was a joyous time; our men threw up their hats, dancing in their gladness. Officers shook hands enthusiastically. Wagner was ours at last.
Just after midnight one of the enemy, a young Irishman, deserted from Wagner and gained our lines. Taken before Lieut.-Col. 0. L. Mann, Thirty-ninth Illinois, general officer of the trenches, he reported the work abandoned and the enemy retired to Gregg. Half an hour later all the guns were turned upon Wagner for twenty minutes, after which Sergeant Vermillion, a corporal, and four privates of the Thirty-ninth Illinois, all volunteers, went out. In a short time they returned, reporting no one in Wagner and only a few men in a boat rowing toward Gregg. On the receipt of this news the flag of the sappers and the regimental color of the Thirty-ninth Illinois were both planted on the earthwork. A hasty examination was made of Wagner, in the course of which a line of fuse connecting with two magazines was cut. Every precaution was taken, and guards posted at all dangerous points.
A few moments after our troops first entered Wagner two companies of the Third New Hampshire under Captain Randlett were pushed toward Gregg. Capt. C. R. Brayton, Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, and some Fifty-fourth men started for the same point. Amid the sand-hills the Third New Hampshire men stopped to take charge of some prisoners, while Captain Brayton kept on, and was the first to enter Gregg, closely followed by the Fifty-fourth men. In Wagner eighteen pieces of ordnance were found, and in Gregg, seven pieces. All about the former work muskets, boarding-pikes, spears, and boards filled with spikes were found arranged to repel assaults. Inside and all around, the stench was nauseating from the buried and unburied bodies of men and animals. The bombproof was indescribably filthy. One terribly wounded man was found who lived to tell of his sufferings, but died on the way to hospital. Everywhere were evidences of the terrific bombardment beyond the power of pen to describe.
About half a dozen stragglers from the retiring enemy were taken on the island. Our boats captured two of the enemy’s barges containing a surgeon and fifty-five men, and a boat of the ram ” Chicora ” with an officer and seven sailors.
Wagner’s siege lasted fifty-eight days. During that period 8,395 soldiers’ day’s work of six hours each had been done on the approaches; eighteen bomb or splinter proof service-magazines made, as well as eighty-nine emplacements for guns, — a total of 23,500 days’ work. In addition, forty-six thousand sand-bags had been filled, hundreds of gabions and fascines made, and wharves and landings constructed. Of the nineteen thousand days’ work performed by infantry, the colored troops had done one half, though numerically they were to white troops as one to ten. Three quarters of all the work was at night, and nine tenths under artillery and sharpshooters’ fire or both combined.
Regarding colored troops, Major Brooks, Assistant Engineer, in his report, says, —” It is probable that in no military operations of the war have negro troops done so large a proportion, and so important and hazardous fatigue duty, as in the siege operations on the island.”
The colored regiments participating were the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, First North Carolina, Second South Carolina, and Third United States Colored Troops. Officers serving in charge of the approaches, when called upon by Major Brooks to report specifically upon the comparative value of white and colored details under their charge for fatigue duty during the period under consideration, gave testimony that for perseverance, docility, steadiness, endurance, and amount of work performed, the blacks more than equalled their white brothers. Their average of sick was but 13.97, while that of the whites was 20.10. The percentage of duty performed by the blacks as compared with the whites was as fifty-six to forty-one.
Major Brooks further says, —” Of the numerous infantry regiments which furnished fatigue parties, the Fourth New Hampshire did the most and best work, next follow the blacks, — the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts and Third United States Colored Troops.”
General Beauregard [opposing Confederate commander] reports his loss during the siege as a total of 296, exclusive of his captured. But the official ” War Records ” show that from July 18 to September 7 the Confederate loss was a total of 690. The Federal loss during the same period by the same authority was but 358.
Despite the exposure of the Fifty-fourth details day and night with more or less officers and men at the front, the casualties in the regiment during the siege as given by the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts were but four killed and four wounded.
Morris Island, Sept. 5, 1863 [OAF]
—As there is nothing to record the past week, other than the (insignificant?) death of a dozen pickets, or as many more laborers in trenches, of course you must expect a dull letter. We had hoped the weather would continue cool, as it had been the last week, but the thermometer is now up to the old numbers, 112 to 98; but the nights are very chilly. We have been so unfortunate as to lose three men during the week, who were at work at the front, besides five severely wounded. One of the men killed, George King, last place of residence, Toledo, Ohio, was once a slave, belonging to Gen. [John Cabell] Breckinridge, rebel army, and his mother and one sister are yet slaves, now in Richmond, Va. The others killed were Alexander Vanderpoel, of Coxsackie, N.Y. and Geo. Hunter, of Cleveland, O.10 It is now an ordinary spectacle to see stretchers passing, with blood trickling through the canvass, with some poor fellow who was wounded on picket or assisting the engineers. That is the last we ever hear or know of it; they are borne to the grave, and all the news-devouring people think is, “Oh that’s nothing, why don’t they have a great big battle, so we shall have a respectable list of killed, mangled and missing?” But the relatives and friends of the patriot soldier who is killed or wounded by a chance fragment of a shell, or a sharpshooter’s deadly aim, are apt to feel as bad as though the victim died on the ramparts, waving a battle flag before an assaulting column. A man dies none the less gloriously, standing at his post on picket, or digging in the trench; his country needs him there, and he is as true a soldier as though he were in the thickest fray. We should like to know from the North how the siege is progressing; we are pretty close to the work, but we know nothing as regards the news. I saw one of our boys brushing his dress-coat very carefully the other day, and asked him what he was so particular for. He said he wanted to have his clothes look nice, because he “guessed we would soon march into Charleston!” Of course, I hope he will be gratified in his wish, and do not doubt him in the main, if he will ignore “soon.” It is pretty generally believed that Sumter is evacuated, for it does not seem possible for men to stay in it, in its present dilapidated condition. There appears to be no signs of work going on in the fort, neither has there been a gun fired these three weeks from her. But there are “other fish to fry” besides Sumter, and you may depend upon it that they will be done brown by the fire the Chef de Cuisine will put under them. Time works wonders, and time is needed to take Charleston.
Morris Island, S.C., [VT]
Sept. 4, 1863.
Mr. Editor: There is so much of exciting interest to communicate, and there is so much danger of violating the orders of Gen. Gillmore regarding “contraband information,” that one scarcely knows where to commence or where to end. The recent order from headquarters declares that “the severest punishment known to the military law and usage in the field, will be inflicted on any citizen or soldier who gives information that will be of service to the enemy, or without permission from headquarters of U.S. forces in this department.” I have no desire to do this thing, and if there were no order touching the matter, my earnest desire for the speedy triumph of the cause would be amply sufficient to deter me from saying anything that would, in the least, give aid or comfort to the enemy.
The first item of interest to be referred to is the grand review of Gen. Stevenson’s Brigade, to which the 5 4th belongs, on the 16th ult. Ours is the only colored regiment in this brigade, and were drawn up in line, colors flying and marched with the other Massachusetts and also New York’soldiers, and reviewed by Gen. Gillmore and staff, Gen. Terry, and Gen. Stevenson and staff. Gens. Gillmore and Stevenson expressed the utmost satisfaction at the fine appearance of the regiment, and when on the march from camp, Gen. Terry met Col. Littlefield and said that no other regiment in the brigade made a finer appearance or marched better than the 54th. Even the privates in some of the regiments conceded that we outmarched them. When we passed Gen. Gillmore, he sat uncovered and could not fail to discover that the desire of every soldier in our regiment was to create a favorable impression on his mind. The good and faithful soldiers courts the favor and approval of his superior officer. The question of our pay continues to be the topic of conversation and correspondence. Numerous letters have reached us from distinguished friends in the State of Massachusetts, all expressing the utmost confidence that we will receive all of our pay and have secured to us every right that other Massachusetts soldiers enjoy. His Excellency Gov. Andrew; in a letter dated “Executive Department, Boston, August 24th,” and addressed to Mr. Frederick Johnson, an officer in the regiment, says:
“I have this day received your letter of the 10th of August, and in reply desire, in the first place, to express to you the lively interest with which I have watched every step of the Fifty-fourth Regiment since it left Massachusetts, and the feelings of pride and admiration with which I have learned and read the accounts of the heroic conduct of the regiment in the attack upon Fort Wagner, when you and your brave soldiers so well proved their manhood, and showed themselves to be true soldiers of Massachusetts. As to the matter inquired about in your letter, you may rest assured that I shall not rest until you have secured all of your rights, and that I have no doubt whatever of the ultimate success. I have no doubt, by law, you are entitled to the same pay as other soldiers, and on the authority of the Secretary of War, I promised that you should be paid and treated in all respects like other soldiers of Massachusetts. Till this is done I feel that my promise is dishonored by the government. The whole difficulty arises from a misapprehension, the correction of which will no doubt be made as soon as I can get the; subject fully examined by the Secretary of War.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
John A. Andrew,
Governor of Massachusetts.”
The trouble seems to be something like this: The Paymaster General, whoever that may be, has directed the paymasters to pay all negro troops, of African descent, $10 per month, the pay allowed to contrabands by statute when employed in the Commissary or Quartermaster’s Department. There seems to have been no provision made to pay colored soldiers. There may be some reason for making distinction between armed and unarmed men in the service of the government, but when the nationality of a man takes away his title to pay it becomes another thing. Suppose a regiment of Spaniards should be mustered into the service of the United States, would Congress have to pass a special law to pay Spaniards? Or, suppose, a regiment of Sandwich Islanders should do duty as soldiers of the United States, would it be necessary to pass a law to pay Sandwich Islanders? Does not the deed of muster secure the services and even life of the man mustered into the service, to the government? And does not this same deed of muster give a man a title to all pay and bounties awarded to soldiers bearing arms? I believe that “by law, we are entitled to the same pay as other soldiers,” and the “misapprehension arises” from this. The Paymaster General will not have the colored soldiers paid under the law which pay white soldiers, and virtually creates in his own mind the necessity for the passage of a special law authorizing them to be paid. Is there a special law on the statute books of the National Legislature touching the payment of colored men employed in the naval service?
In my last letter I made the types say that Col. Littlefield, our present commander, was of the 4th Connecticut Volunteers—it should have been 4th South Carolina; and for fear that my letter may create an impression that Col. Littlefield is not the friend of the colored soldiers, I will say that since Col. L. assumed command of our regiment he has done as much in the power of one man has, to maintain the character and discipline, as well as the comfort, of the men. Col. Littlefield is a martyr for the cause — an exile from his home, and holds a commission as Colonel of a negro regiment, the 4th South Carolina, now in process of formation. After the siege of Charleston he will make an active and efficient organizer of colored men. Few men are more capable of active, vigorous service, or have a higher appreciation of the services and efficiency of colored soldiers.
Since I wrote my last letter, the 54th has been assigned to a most perilous duty. A certain regiment in this department has been assigned to dig in the foremost parallels, but it was a new one and unaccustomed to sweeping grape and canister and bursting shells. The Commanding General sent word to Col. Littlefield that the aforesaid regiment, its officers as well as men, could not stand fire, and assigned the duty to the 54th. We are to do nothing else. It is a duty of the greatest danger. The men have to dig under the fire of rebel sharpshooters and all the rebel batteries on Morris and James Island. Every man “for duty” in our regiment has to suffer the ordeal eight hours out of every thirty two. We operate under the protection of our sharpshooters. You talk about your charges on Fort Wagner! It is a “pull Dick, pull Devil,” between them and the foremost parallels. But the labor must be done, and I feel proud that we are thus honored with the post of danger. Since we have been engaged thus we have been peculiarly fortunate. It seems that Divine Providence has willed that we have suffered enough in loss of life, for the 3d Pennsylvania Volunteers, colored, have lost considerably. The casualties in the 3d Pennsylvania up to this date are:
Corp. Edward Powell, killed.
Private Andrew Jackson, killed.
Private Joseph Harris, wounded.
Corp. Denny, wounded severely. All of Philadelphia.
Sergt. Hardy, wounded severely.
Corp. Denton Lox, killed.
Private Alfred Fenley, killed.
Private Alfred Rothwell, killed.
Private James Gray, killed.
Benj. Williams, slightly wounded.
Rich. Turpin, slightly wounded.
John Harris, slightly wounded.
Isaac Goddart, slightly wounded.
Daniel Jones, killed.
Israel Jones, wounded.
Francis Jackson, wounded slightly.
Benj. Bradley, wounded slightly.
Casualties in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
John Alfred Green, wounded.
Corp. Joseph Stilles, wounded slightly.
Private Horace Bennett, wounded slightly.
Private Jas. Postley, wounded slightly.
Private Aaron Croger, wounded dangerously in back.
Geo. King, leg blown off, since died.
Geo. Vanderpool, Coxsackie, N.Y., killed.
Alex. Hunter, wounded in head severely.
G. E. S.
With our capture of the ridge on the 26th the last natural cover was attained. Beyond for two hundred yards stretched a strip of sand over which the besiegers must advance. It seemed impossible to progress far, as each attempt to do so resulted in severe losses. Every detail at the front maintained its position only at the cost of life. So numerous were the dead at this period of the siege that at almost any hour throughout the day the sound of funeral music could be heard in the camps. Such was the depressing effect upon the men that finally orders were issued to dispense with music at burials. The troops were dispirited by such losses without adequate results. That the strain was great was manifested by an enormous sick list. It was the opinion of experienced officers that the losses by casualties and sickness were greater than might be expected from another assault.
Success or defeat seemed to hang in the balance. Under no greater difficulties and losses many a siege had been raised. General Gillmore, however, was equal to the emergency. He ordered the fifth parallel enlarged and strengthened, the cover increased, and a line of rifle trench run in front of it. New positions were constructed for the sharpshooters. All his light mortars were moved to the front, and his guns trained on Wagner. A powerful calcium light was arranged to illumine the enemy’s work, that our fire might be continuous and effective. Changes were also made in the regiments furnishing permanent details in the trenches and advanced works, and an important part, requiring courage and constancy, was now assigned to our regiment. It is indicated in the following order: —HEADQUARTERS U. S. FORCES,
MORRIS ISLAND, S. C, Aug. 31,1863.
Special Orders No. 131.
II. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. M. S. Littlefield, Fourth South Carolina Volunteers, commanding, are hereby detailed for special duty in the trenches under the direction of Maj. T. B. Brooks, A. D. C. and Assistant Engineer. The whole of the available force of the regiment will be divided into four equal reliefs, which will relieve each other at intervals of eight hours each. The first relief will report to Major Brooks at the second parallel at 8 A. M. this day. No other details will be made from the regiment until further orders.
By order of
BEIG.-GEN. A. H. TERRY.
Captain, and Assistant Adjutant-General.
Major Brooks, in his journal of the siege under date of August 31, thus writes, —” The Third United States Colored Troops, who have been on fatigue duty in the advance trenches since the 20th inst., were relieved to-day by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers (colored), it being desirable to have older troops for the important and hazardous duty required at this period.”
Throughout the whole siege the First New York Engineers held the post of honor. Their sapping brigades took the lead in the advance trench opening the ground, followed by fatigue details which widened the cut and threw up the enlarged cover. These workers were without arms, but were supported by the guard of the trenches. Upon this fatigue work with the engineers, the Fifty-fourth at once engaged. During the night of the 31st work went on rapidly, as the enemy fired but little. Out of a detail of forty men from the One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania, one was killed and six were wounded. One of the guard was killed by a torpedo. A man of Company K, of our regiment, was mortally wounded that night.
Early on September 1 our land batteries opened on Sumter, and the monitors on Wagner. Four arches in the north face of Sumter with platforms and guns were carried away. Lieut. P. S. Michie, United States Engineers, was temporarily in charge of the advance works on the right. Much work was done in strengthening the parapets and revetting the slopes. Our Fifty-fourth detail went out under Lieutenant Higginson that morning, and had one man wounded. Rev. Samuel Harrison, of Pittsfield, Mass., commissioned chaplain of the regiment, arrived that day.
September 2 the land batteries were throwing some few shots at Sumter and more at Wagner. Capt. Jos. Walker, First New York Engineers, started the sap at 7 P. M. in a new direction under heavy fire. Considering that the trench was but eighty yards from Wagner, good progress was made. The sap-roller could not be used, because of torpedoes planted thereabout. Our fire was concentrated upon Wagner on the 3d, to protect sapping. But little success resulted, for the enemy’s sharpshooters on the left enfiladed our trench at from one hundred to three hundred yards. At this time the narrowest development in the whole approach was encountered, — but twenty-five yards; and the least depth of sand, — but two feet. Everywhere torpedoes were found planted, arranged with delicate explosive mechanism. Arrangements were made to use a calcium light at night. From August 19 to this date, when the three regiments serving as guards of the trenches were relieved by fresher troops, their loss aggregated ten per cent of their whole force, mainly from artillery fire.
On the night of the 3d, Wagner fired steadily, and the James Island batteries now and then. Our detail at the front had George Vanderpool killed and Alexander Hunter of the same company — H — wounded. Throughout the 4th we fired at Wagner, and in the afternoon received its last shot in daylight. Captain Walker ran the sap twenty-five feet in the morning before he was compelled to cease.
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.
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.