Harper's Weekly 08/08/1863


THE ATTACK ON FORT
WAGNER.


We publish on page 509 an illustration of the
unsuccessful attempt of General Gilmore's army to
storm Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, on 18th ult.
The bombardment of the fort by the iron-clads and
our land-batteries on Morris Island commenced at
noon that day, and lasted till the evening. The
Tribune correspondent thus relates what then oc-
curred:


“Something must be done, and that, too, quickly, or in
a few days we shall have the whole army in Virginia upon
us,” said an officer high in command. “We must storm
the fort to-night, and carry it at the point of the bayonet.”


In a few moments signals are made from the top of the
look-out, and soon generals and colonels commanding di-
visions and brigades were seen galloping to the head-quar-
ters of the commanding general. A few words in consulta-
tion, and Generals Seymour, Strong, Stevenson, and Col-
onels Putnam and Montgomery are seen hastening back to
their respective commands. Officers shout, bugles sound,
the word of command is given, and soon the soldiers
around, upon, and under the sand-hills of Morris Island
spring from their hiding-places, fall into line, march to
the beach, are organized into new brigades, and in solid
column stand ready to move to the deadly assault.


Not in widely-extended battle line, with cavalry and
artillery at supporting distances, but in solid regimental
column, on the hard ocean beach, for half a mile before
reaching the fort, in plain sight of the enemy, did these
three brigades move to their appointed work.


General Strong, who has so frequently since his arrival
in this Department braved death in its many forms of attack,
was assigned to the command of the 1st Brigade.
Colonel Putnam, of the 7th New Hampshire, who, although
of the regular army, and considered one of the best
officers in the Department, had never led his men into
battle nor been under fire, took command of the 2d, and
General Stevenson the 3d, constituting the reserve. The
54th Massachusetts (colored regiment), Colonel Shaw, was
the advanced regiment in the 1st Brigade, and the 2d
South Carolina (negro), Colonel Montgomery, was the last
regiment of the reserve.


These brigades, as I have remarked before, were formed
for this express duty. Many of the regiments had never
seen their brigade commanders before; some of them had
never been under fire; and, with exception of three regi-
ments in the 1st Brigade, none of them had ever been en-
gaged in this form of attack. All had fresh in their mem-
ories the severe repulse we had met on the morning of the
11th inst. For two years the Department of the South
had been in existence, and until the storming of the batteries
on the south end of Morris Island, the army had
won no victory fairly acknowledged by the enemy.


Just as darkness began to close in upon the scene of the
afternoon and the evening, General Strong rode to the
front and ordered his brigade, consisting of the 54th Massa-
chusetts, Colonel Shaw (colored regiment); the 6th Con-
necticut, Colonel Chatfield; the 48th New York, Colonel
Barton; the 3d New Hampshire, Colonel Jackson; the 76th
Pennsylvania, and the 9th Maine, Colonel Emery, to ad-
vance to the assault. At the instant the line was seen
slowly advancing in the dusk toward the fort, and before
a double-quick had been ordered, a tremendous fire from
the barbette guns on Fort Sumter, from the batteries on
Cummings' Point and from all the guns on Fort Wagner,
opened upon it. The guns from Wagner swept the beach,
and those from Sumter and Cummings' Point enfiladed it
on the left. In the midst of this terrible shower of shot
and shell they pushed their way, reached the fort, portions
of the 54th Massachusetts, the 6th Connecticut, and the
48th New York, dashed through the ditches, gained the
parapet, and engaged in a hand-to-hand fight with the
enemy, and for nearly half an hour held their ground, and
did not fall back until nearly every commissioned officer
was shot down. As on the morning of the assault of the
11th inst., these brave men were exposed to a most galling
fire of grape and canister, from howitzers, raking the
ditches from the bastions of the fort, from hand-grenades,
and from almost every other modern implement of war-
fare. The rebels fought with the utmost desperation, and
so did the larger portion of General Strong's brigade, as
long as there was an officer to command it.


When the brigade made the assault General Strong
gallantly rode at its head. When it fell back, broken,
torn, and bleeding, Major Plimpton of the 3d New Hamp-
shire was the highest commissioned officer to command it.
General Strong, Colonel Shaw, Colonel Chatfied, Colonel
Barton, Colonel Green, Colonel Jackson, all had fallen.
The 54th Massachusetts (negro), whom Copperhead offi-
cers would have called cowardly if they had stormed and
carried the gates of hell, went boldly into battle, for the
second time, commanded by their brave Colonel, but came
out of it led by no higher officer than the boy, Lieutenant
Higginson.


The 1st Brigade, under the lead of General Strong,
failed to take the fort. It was now the turn of Colonel
Putnam, commanding the 2d Brigade, composed of the 7th
New Hampshire, the 62d Ohio, Colonel Steele, the 67th
Ohio, Colonel Vorhees, and the 100th New York, Colonel
Danely, to make the attempt. But, alas! the task was
too much for him. Through the same terrible fire he led
his men to, over, and into the fort, and for an hour held
one-half of it, fighting every moment of that time with the
utmost desperation, and, as with the 1st Brigade, it was
not until he himself fell killed, and nearly all his officers
wounded, and no reinforcements arriving, that his men
fell back, and the rebel shout and cheer of victory was
heard above the roar of Sumter and the guns from Cum-
mings' Point.


In this second assault by Colonel Putnam's brigade,
Colonel Turner, of General Gilmore's staff, stood at the side
of Colonel Putnam when he fell, and with his voice and
sword urged on the thinned ranks to the final charge. But
it was too late. The 3d brigade, General Stevenson's, was
not on hand. It was madness for the 2d to remain longer
under so deadly a fire, and the thought of surrendering
in a body to the enemy could not for a moment be enter-
tained. To fight their way back to the intrenchments was
all that could be done, and in this retreat many a poor
fellow fell, never to rise again.


Without a doubt, many of our men fell from our own
fire. The darkness was so intense, the roar of artillery so
loud, the flight of grape and canister shot so rapid and de-
structive, that it was absolutely impossible to preserve or-
der in the ranks of individual companies, to say nothing
of the regiments.


More than half the time we were in the fort the fight
was simply a hand-to-hand one, as the wounds received by
many clearly indicate. Some have sword-thrusts, some
are hacked on the head, some are stabbed with bayonets,
and a few were knocked down with the butt-end of mus-
kets, but recovered in time to get away with swollen heads.
There was terrible fighting to get into the fort, and terri-
ble fighting to get out of it. The cowardly stood no bet-
ter chance for their lives than the fearless. Even if they
surrendered, the shell of Sumter were thickly falling
around them in the darkness, and, as prisoners, they
could not be safe until victory, decisive and unquestioned,
rested with one or the other belligerent.


The battle is over; it is midnight; the ocean beach is
crowded with the dead, the dying, and the wounded. It
is with difficulty you can urge your horse through to
Light-house Inlet. Faint lights are glimmering in the
sand-holes and rifle-pits to the right as you pass down the
beach. In these holes many a poor wounded and bleeding
soldier has laid down to his last sleep. Friends are
bending over them to stanch their wounds, or bind up
their shattered limbs; but the deathly glare from sunken
eyes tells that their kind services are all in vain.



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