George Eggleston.

The History of the Confederate War, Its Causes and Its Conduct. Volume 2 of 2



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In the meanwhile the struggle at that point was marked by many fierce land contests in the country round about, and by much heroic naval fighting.

The Confederates made such endeavors as they could, with the meager means at hand, to create a naval power there which might be launched against the blockading fleet outside. There was no navy yard and no ship-building plant at Charleston, but with an energy that did credit to the men who exercised it, several small gunboats and torpedo boats were extemporized within the harbor and employed with energy and effect. In January, 1863, two of these extemporized gunboats boldly steamed out one morning, and assailed the Federal fleet lying off the harbor. They promptly disabled two of the Federal ships, and compelled them to strike their colors. But the rest of the enormous Federal fleet came quickly to the rescue and the two little gunboats were forced to retreat again, and take refuge under the guns of the forts.

This event gave warning at Washington of the necessity of promptly and greatly strengthening the naval force employed off Charleston. Accordingly, a powerful fleet, consisting of seven monitors, an ironclad frigate, an ironclad ram and many gunboats was sent in April, 1863, under command of Rear-Admiral S. F. Du Pont, to reduce and capture Charleston. The expedition failed in its purpose, as all previous ones sent with a like end in view had done, and as all future ones did to the very end.

It was on the seventh of April, 1863, that Du Pont, with his masterful armada, steamed into the harbor to reduce the forts and to sweep away all the defenses of Charleston. At every point he found himself under a destructive fire from forts and batteries occupied by men who knew how to shoot. At every point he found his pathway obstructed by chains and torpedoes and whatever else mechanical ingenuity up to that period in human history had succeeded in devising for the checking of an enemy's progress.

One of the Federal ironclads, the Keokuk, ventured too near Fort Beauregard, manned by Confederate volunteers who had practised with their cannon as they might have done with close range rifles until they could plant a shell wheresoever they desired. The commandant of the fort did not open fire upon the vessel until it had securely anchored itself, bow and stern, in a position from which its officers expected to make themselves quickly masters of the work. When they were thus securely fastened in position the commander of the fort gave the order to fire. Within the next minute or two the Keokuk was struck and penetrated by not less than 100 shells, ninety of which had passed through her sides below the water line and burst within her engine rooms. She went down as a cracked teapot might have done.

Another ironclad, the Weehawken, had been sent to lead the way, pushing a raft before her in order to explode all contact torpedoes before reaching them. As soon as she became involved in the chain and other defenses of the harbor a terrific fire was opened upon her and for half an hour she was threatened with the fate of the Keokuk.

At the end of that time she retired, baffled and beaten, and DuPont, seeing how completely his effort had failed, abandoned the purpose of taking Charleston or reducing its defenses by any sea attack. Nearly all of his vessels had been so far damaged as to be unfit for further use until repairs in them could be made. Most of the monitors had been completely disabled for effective action by the smashing of titanic shells against their turrets, which were bent and twisted in such fashion that they could no longer be revolved. Many of the ships of less formidable character had been altogether withheld from action in view of the terrific effectiveness of the Confederate fire. Finding that even his most powerful floating fighting machines were unable to resist the fire of the forts Du Pont wisely reserved his weaker vessels and kept them out of a contest in which they were so manifestly unfit to engage.

Thus came to an end the best planned and most capably conducted effort that was at any time made to conquer Charleston by sea. It was obvious from that time forth that if Charleston was to be taken at all it must be captured by other means than those of a flotilla attempting to force its way into the splendidly defended harbor.

With that patience and persistence which are dominant characteristics of the American mind the authorities at Washington set themselves at once at work to devise and use those other and slower, but more hopeful means of conquest. General Quincy A. Gillmore was assigned to this work. A large force was placed under his command and whatever guns he needed were subject to his requisition. The monitors and other naval vessels were ordered to co?perate with him and act under his direction.

His plan was quickly and intelligently formed. Charleston lies upon a tongue of land between the Ashley and Cooper rivers which, uniting at the battery, form the bay exactly as the union of the North and East rivers does at New York. Indeed, a map of Charleston in outline differs from a map of New York only in one important particular, that the widening of the peninsula in its middle part occurs on one side in Charleston and on the opposite side in New York. South of the Ashley river the coast line sweeps in a semicircle trending northwards and bounded by James Island. That island is separated from the mainland by Wapoo Cut, which connects the mouth of the Ashley river with Stono Inlet. Stono Inlet separates James Island from John's Island and the mainland on the south, and its entrance is from the sea. On the eastern side of James Island there is an inlet known as Folly river which has many ramifications, and which in its general course cuts off from James Island a marsh known as Folly Island. This marsh lies along the ocean front very much as Sandy Hook does at the mouth of New York harbor. A narrow and shallow creek cuts Folly Island in two towards its northern end, and the space north of that creek is known as Morris Island. The northern end of Morris Island abuts upon the entrance to the harbor and commands it on the one side while Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island commands it on the other. Fort Sumter, built upon an artificial island in the middle of the harbor, forms the third point in the triangle in which the Federal fleet had encountered such difficulty, and suffered such defeat.

General Gillmore's plan was to capture Morris Island, and gain possession of its northern extremity, known as Cummings's Point, where stood Battery Gregg, on guard against entrance to the harbor.

By an error in judgment the Confederates gave him his opportunity. They withdrew from the marsh known as Folly Island, where they might have defended themselves almost to the end of time. Gillmore was quick to see their mistake, and to take advantage of it. He instantly seized upon the southern end of Folly Island, and set to work to convert his troops into amphibians. In boats, on rafts and by wading through indescribable mud he pushed them northward to Morris Island.

In anticipation of this movement on his part, the Confederates had strengthened a battery on that island, and named it Fort Wagner. They had armed it with the best they had in the way of heavy guns, light guns and infantry forces of grandly desperate courage and determination. Here was to be fought out the question of the possession of Morris Island and the control of Charleston harbor.

The fighting in front of that work was, from the first, desperate in the extreme. In order to approach it at all the Federal troops were forced to wade waist deep in water, carrying their rifles above their heads. The first assault was made on the eleventh of July, 1863, and was aided by a terrific fire from the fleet. It was led by the first regiment of negroes that had thus far actively participated in fighting in the war, and the conduct of those troops was worthy of the best traditions of battling. The assault was met in such fashion as to destroy the greater number of the assailants and hurl back the fragmentary remains of the column in confusion. So desperate was this endeavor and with such determination was the assault made that the Federals lost more than 1,500 men while inflicting a loss of less than one hundred upon their adversaries.

Having failed in direct assault General Gillmore determined to take Fort Wagner and the works north of it by regular siege approaches. General Gillmore was an engineer of the highest capacity and a soldier of the utmost courage, energy and determination. He drew his first parallel and mounted great siege guns upon it almost immediately. Then working under such cover as he could provide he established a second parallel, and opened fire from it on the twenty-third of July. He was advancing in this slow and perilous way over a narrow strip of land – a mere marsh scarcely at all elevated above the level of the surrounding waters. His sick list was from the first enormous, and day by day it grew as one man after another succumbed to the poisonous miasms of those pestilential swamps in which, until the time of the war no white man had ever dared spend a night between the first of June and the end of November. "Country fever" – believed by many physicians to be nothing less than yellow fever in its native and endemic form – slew far more of his troops than the shot and the shell and the bullets of his adversary did. Nevertheless, like the soldier that he was, Gillmore pressed on, working his way inch by inch toward the hostile embankments.

Toward the last his lines were swept by a fire from a battery on James Island and by a cross fire of infantry and sharpshooters from a point in Fort Wagner itself. With the ingenuity of an accomplished engineer he protected his men against these special dangers by bringing up tubes of boiler iron through which the men were able to do their mining, moving them forward at night, in order to cover the space excavated by day.

In all the war no more desperate work was done than that of both the Federals and Confederates on the face of Fort Wagner. The fire was incessant and whether it came from siege guns, from field pieces, from rifles or from pistols held in the hand, it was all at pistol shot range. And it was all murderous in its effects. Yet on neither side was there for one moment a sign of flinching by day or by night. Many scores of men were shot through the body as they slept, and at no moment of the twenty-four hours was any man secure against this danger.

Little by little Gillmore got his great guns into position for breaching his enemy's works. The moving of each gun into its place cost scores of lives and every attempt to fire it must cost other scores. But here was work that must be done, and here were men resolute enough to do it.

On the seventeenth of August the great guns opened against Fort Wagner and Fort Sumter. Night and day for a full week the terrible conflict continued. The walls of Fort Sumter were beaten into an amorphous mass of bricks and mortar, its guns were dismounted and its men dwelt ceaselessly under the fire of Gillmore's terrible instruments of death. Nevertheless, they stood firm, and held their position without faltering or failure. It is to be observed that the terror of this struggle was due to the fact that the men on the one side and on the other were of unconquerable spirit, and indomitable courage, and that to them the measure of danger served only to set a measure for endurance.

It should be stated here that in spite of the ruin of Fort Sumter's defenses, the Confederates continued to occupy that work, driving off several assaults that were afterwards made upon it. A little later Major, afterwards Brigadier General, Stephen Elliott, of South Carolina – a man almost womanly in his delicacy of demeanor, but lion-like in courage and activity – was sent to take command of the little infantry force which still held the ruins of the fort. With an enterprise that suggests a creative imagination on his part, he ordered cargoes of sand bags to be brought thither by night, and little by little with these, he reconstructed the frowning walls, and mounted upon them again the great guns that such a fort is supposed to carry.

His work was first revealed to the enemy in a dramatic and poetic way. When the time came for the Christmas salute in which the foes, as it were, lifted their caps to each other, the saluting was begun by the ships of the Federal fleet. One after another, as they lay in line, they fired the conventional number of guns. Then the Confederate batteries took up the courteous work, each firing its quota. When the last one on the left of Sumter had fired it was supposed that the saluting would be continued by the next battery on the right of that ruined work. It was not dreamed on either side that Sumter had a single gun in position. But Elliott's work of reconstruction had been done. His guns were ready again for the fray. And in his turn he fired the Christmas salute, to the astonishment and admiration of all.

Then came one of the graceful courtesies of war. Under signal orders from the commandant of the Federal fleet every ship in the squadron dipped its flag in deference to Fort Sumter.

Here were brave men saluting brave men, and rejoicing in their courage and their enterprise although these were antagonistically employed. Perhaps no incident in all the war better illustrates than this one does the sympathy that brave men feel for brave men, irrespective of the lines of conflict drawn between them.

As he approached Fort Wagner General Gillmore was forced to work upon ground so low that the spring tides freely washed over it, and drenched his working details to their waists. Nevertheless, he pushed them forward, determined that the work he had undertaken should be fully done. As his parallels drew nearer and nearer to the work they were intending to reduce they came at last upon ground which had been mined, and planted with destructive torpedoes. Nevertheless, Gillmore pushed forward his working parties and multiplied the fire of his mortars which dropped shells incessantly into the fort, letting them fall vertically so that no earthwork might afford protection against their destructiveness. Under the glare of powerful calcium lights the work went on by night as well as by day. During every minute of every hour in the twenty-four the contest was continued ceaselessly. The destructive fire upon the Confederate fort was added to by bringing a great ironclad warship the New Ironsides close in shore, and setting her guns at work.

After two days of this fearful conflict Gillmore was ready with his infantry columns to make that final rush upon the works by which he hoped to conquer them. But suddenly, in anticipation of a charge which they were too weakened to resist with any hope of success, the Confederates abandoned Fort Wagner, and withdrew also from Battery Gregg to the north of it.

This gave Gillmore complete control of Morris Island clear to Cummings's Point, and as he believed, made him master of Charleston harbor. In that belief he sent a fleet of whaleboats packed with infantrymen to take possession of Fort Sumter. But the Confederates there resisted with a vigor which destroyed most of the boats, disabling their crews, and resulted in the killing or capturing of the infantrymen who constituted their ship's companies.

It had been the hope of General Gillmore that when he should thus secure command of the entrance to Charleston harbor the fleet lying outside would press in and complete his work by capturing the city. But in this hope he was disappointed. Admiral Dahlgren, who commanded the fleet, knew far better than Gillmore did the reserve resisting power of the Confederate batteries within the harbor, and he wisely declined to push his vessels into a bay which, if he had resolutely invaded it, would have become quickly a naval graveyard.

During all this time it had been Gillmore's ambition to bombard the city of Charleston itself. To that end in August he had brought up to Morris Island an eight-inch rifle gun of exceedingly long range and ordered it planted at a point selected by himself. The point was one so marshy that for a time no platform could be constructed that would support the gun. It is humorously related that the officer constructing it, having been told to make requisitions for whatever materials he might need, formally sent in a requisition for "a hundred men eighteen feet high." At last, however, by driving piles a platform was made and the gun, which the men named the Swamp Angel, was got into position. It threw thirty-six shells into the city of Charleston five miles away, and then burst. In order to reach so great a distance it had been elevated to about 23 degrees. No gun that was ever constructed other than a mortar, can long endure firing at so great an elevation.

After his capture of Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg Gillmore resumed his bombardment of the city from the latter point, which lies a mile or two nearer than did the position of the Swamp Angel.

Gillmore had succeeded in capturing what had been supposed to be the main defenses to the harbor and the city. He had utterly failed to capture the city itself, or in any way to break the resistance which, to the end, continued to hold the harbor secure against Federal attack.

During all this time the Federals had been holding Port Royal and the islands along the coast between Charleston and Savannah. With strong forces they had made many advances inland, hoping to break the railroad line between the two cities and to push through the open country into the rear of one or the other.

All of these efforts had failed. Chief among them was the attempt upon Pocotaligo and Coosawhatchie, which was made with a force of five thousand men on the twenty-second of October, 1862. This attempt was defeated by a meager force of 350 men reinforced to 700, who stood all day against eight times their number in defense of a causeway 225 yards long, which ended in a bridge on the Confederate side. The bridge was torn up by the Confederates and hour after hour during the long day they stood to their guns and swept away every column that was formed to advance along the causeway and rebuild the crossing.

CHAPTER XLII
The Campaigns of Chickamauga and Chattanooga

While Lee was fighting his tremendous campaigns in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and while Grant was battling for Vicksburg, two other armies confronted each other near the southern border line of Tennessee. Rosecrans had command of the Federal forces near Murfreesboro, and Braxton Bragg was in charge of the Confederates at Chattanooga. The position of each of these armies was a serious threat to the other side. If Bragg should be left unoccupied by his enemy it was easily within his power to make a dangerous dash towards Cincinnati or Louisville, while if he should withdraw from Rosecrans's front there was nothing to prevent that general from "marching through Georgia," to Mobile or Savannah or Charleston.

Grant, besieging Vicksburg, asked for reinforcements from Rosecrans by way of warding off that blow in the rear which he feared that Johnston might deliver and at the same time Johnston begged for reinforcements from Bragg in order that he might deliver such a blow. Each of the commanders at Murfreesboro and Chattanooga realized the necessity of remaining where he was so long at least as his adversary should remain. The result was that neither sent the reinforcements for which his brother in the field was so clamorously calling.

These two armies for a long time stood watching each other, each waiting for the other to make some movement that would give it opportunity. In the meanwhile the cavalry on either side was engaged in making some of the most picturesque raids that were at any time made during the struggle. On both sides the cavalry had by this time learned its business, and realized its possibilities of independent action in the enemy's country. The Federal cavalier, Grierson, swept through Mississippi carrying desolation wherever he went. The Confederates, Wheeler and Forrest, rushed hurricanelike through the country north, battling here and there with such forces as they met. Gordon Granger and Colonel Streight on the Federal side were swinging swords almost continually.

The operations of this kind were too many, and strategically of too little importance to call for detailed description in a general history of the war. But two of them were so dramatic in their conduct and ending that they must be mentioned here. One of these was the attempt of Colonel Streight with about 2,000 men to march around Bragg's army, and cut off his communications. This raid was made early in April, and Forrest followed it with all the vigor that usually characterized that general's operations. The two forces were in constant battle as the one swept onward and the other followed. Streight meanwhile was working havoc with Confederate depots of supplies, with railroad property, and other possessions of his enemy. Finally on the third of May, Forrest succeeded in placing himself in a position where he was justified in demanding the surrender of Streight's force. He made the demand boldly and threateningly and Streight surrendered only to learn after the capitulation was made that the men under his command really outnumbered those of Forrest. It was Forrest's boast afterward that in this case he had "won by a pure bluff."



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