- 17 Jul 2021 13:47
July 18, Saturday
At Charleston, the repulse on the 11th might have convinced Major General Gillmore that Fort Wagner is impervious to direct infantry assault, but he has decided to try once more before settling down to siege operations. This time, however, he will first soften the position by intensive artillery bombardment. Both heavy and light guns have been brought up, and Rear Admiral Dahlgren’s warships moved into position. Now Gillmore’s guns, together with the New Ironsides, five more monitors, and five gunboats, throw an awesome barrage of shot at Fort Wagner—enough to establish “several first class iron foundries.” Eventually the defenders stop replying. The bombardment ends, and the Federals prepare for an evening attack.
Gillmore assigns overall responsibility to Brigadier General Truman Seymour, an officer of the garrison that surrendered Fort Sumter at the start of the war. Seymour is grimly determined to see that fort restored to the Union. He taps General Strong, who showed great courage in the previous assault, to lead seven regiments in the first wave of the attack. A second wave will be composed of four regiments commanded by one of Strong’s West Point classmates, Colonel Haldimand S. Putnam. And a third wave of four regiments is to be led by Brigadier General Thomas G. Stevenson. Strong chooses a newly arrived Massachusetts regiment to spearhead the charge—a Black regiment commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a slight, blond, 25-year-old Boston Brahmin whose abolitionist mother, as she watched the regiment march proudly out of Boston late last May, cried out, “What have I done that God has been so good to me!” The regiment, led by young Whites and manned by freedmen (including two sons of Frederick Douglass), has seen little fighting and is distrusted by many military men, who doubt the ability of Blacks to fight. So when General Strong offers to let the regiment lead, Shaw eagerly accepts. Here is an opportunity to prove the caliber of his men.
Almost immediately it becomes obvious that the bombardment of the sand fortress has failed to subdue the Confederate garrison. Emerging from their bombproof, the Confederates loose a torrent of shot and shell on the Black troops, who are forced to advance in column of companies rather than line of battle on the narrow beach. The soldiers are so tightly wedged together, elbow to elbow, that the bullets and shells from the fort can hardly fail to hit a target. Men fall on all sides as the quick step becomes a double-quick and then a full run. Shaw, in the lead, splashes through the moat and gains the walls of the fort. He is shot through the heart atop the parapet and topples headlong into the fort. The color-bearers go down as well, and the state flag is torn from its staff by a jubilant Confederate. A 23-year-old Black private, William H. Carney, though wounded twice and covered in blood, picks up the US flag and manages to drag it from the field. For this act, he will be the first Black awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. As the regiment falls back, the rest of Strong’s brigade comes up. Some of the soldiers of two regiments from Connecticut and New York manage to climb to the top of the bombproof and the eastern redoubt of the fort, where they engage the Confederates hand to hand. Down the beach General Strong, sword in hand, decides to bring in a Pennsylvania regiment. As he raises the cry, he goes down with a ragged shrapnel wound in his thigh; he will be dead in two weeks.
Now the second wave—Colonel Putnam’s regiments—enter the fray. Reaching the fort, they find a jumble of Federal dead, Black and White alike. Putnam clambers onto the redoubt, beyond which—atop the bombproof—remnants of Strong’s regiments are holding their own against the Confederate defenders. In the gathering gloom, one of Putnam’s regiments mistake the Federals on the fortress for the enemy and fires into their midst. Hit by defenders in front and the attackers coming up behind them, Federals fall by the dozens. As darkness comes, the survivors huddle on the piled-up bodies of their fallen comrades. Putnam has been shot dead along with most of his officers, and at dawn, finding themselves surrounded by the fort’s defenders, the surviving Federals will surrender. During the bloody attack, messages have been sent to the rear urging that the third wave, under Thomas Stevenson, be brought up. But Seymour has been wounded, and General Gillmore is so shaken by his losses that he refuses to commit any more troops. It has been a massacre. The Federals have lost 246 dead, 880 wounded, and 389 missing for a total of 1,515, compared to 36 killed, 133 wounded, and 5 missing for 174 Confederate casualties out of a garrison of 1,785 men.
In ten days on Morris Island, General Gillmore has lost a third of his men, and the capture of Fort Wagner, his immediate goal, seems as remote as ever. Instead of risking another frontal attack, Gillmore decides to try what he trusts will be a less costly method of forcing the garrison’s surrender. He will lay siege to it. Sappers will dig zigzag trenches in front of the parapet, and slowly Gillmore’s big guns will be brought closer and closer to the wall. Meanwhile, the Confederates transfer guns from Fort Sumter to other points in the harbor. For nearly a month the preparations will continue, with Gillmore’s artillery setting up heavy batteries on Morris Island.
In the West, the editor of the Chicago Tribune feels spry enough to manage another verbal sally. “John Morgan is still in Ohio, or rather is in Ohio without being allowed to be still.” It is true; Morgan is still in Ohio, delayed by militiamen he encountered yesterday. Bypassing Pomeroy this morning, 150 miles east of Cincinnati, he has had to call a halt at Chester, just beyond, to wait for stragglers: with the result that the head of his column doesn’t approach the river above Buffington until well after dark. There he receives his worst shock to date. Swollen by two weeks of rain, the Ohio is on an unseasonal boom, and the fords—if they can be called that, deep as they are—are guarded by 300 enemy infantry who have been brought upstream on transports, together with two guns which they have emplaced on the north bank, covering the approaches to the shallowest of the fords. Moreover, if transports can make it this far upriver, so can gunboats; which is something the general hadn’t counted on. Deciding to wait for daylight before attacking, Morgan gives his men some badly needed sleep.
In Sherman’s campaign against Jackson, Mississippi, skirmishing breaks out at Brookhaven. Other fighting occurs near Germantown and Memphis, Tennessee, and Des Allemands, Louisiana. Federals skirmish with Amerinds on the Rio Hondo, New Mexico Territory. There is skirmishing at and near Hedgesville and Martinsburg, West Virginia.
General William Pender, promising Confederate division commander wounded on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg and evacuated to Staunton, Virginia, has an artery in his wounded leg rupture. Surgeons amputate his leg in an attempt to save him, but he dies several hours later.
Federal Major General John G. Foster assumes command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and Major General John A. Dix takes over the Department of the East. Federal scouts and expeditions lasting for several days move from Cassville, Missouri, to Huntsville, Arkansas; and from New Berne to Tarborough and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Federal forces enter Wytheville, Virginia, in the southwestern part of the state.
At New Albany, Indiana, George W.L. Bickley, one of the leaders of the Knights of the Golden Circle, is arrested.
President Lincoln commutes a number of sentences of soldiers found guilty of various crimes.
President Davis calls for enrollment in the Confederate Army of those coming under the jurisdiction of the Conscription Act.
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.