The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery’s regimental history is a prime resource for those studying the siege and campaigns around Charleston, South Carolina. The journal-like entries often provide colorful side notes to the larger episodes of the war. A good example are the paragraphs offered for June 26, 1864. In addition to the ceremony surrounding the Gillmore medals, Frederic Denison also discussed some of the bombardment occurring later that day.
As detailed in an earlier post, this was a period of “desultory firing” in the words of Confederate engineer John Johnson. For Johnson, the most important incidents during the days between June 7 and 30 was the four times Federal fires cut down the flag of Fort Sumter. The third of those incidents occurred on June 26… but there’s more to the story than Johnson recalled. In fact, it was a bad day for flagstaffs all around. Starting with Denison:
On the same day [as the Gillmore medal ceremony] an interesting affair occurred in Fort Putnam, while our gunners were engaged in a hot and heavy duel with the rebel forts on James Island. A rebel shell cut off the top of the topmast of the flag-staff in Putnam, and our flag ran down to half-mast. In an instant, defying the shots of the enemy’s sharp-shooters in Sumter and the shell from the engaged batteries, George F. Sweet (Company E), darted up the mast and brought down the flag. Immediately upon this, F.W. Tibbets (Company M), who had been a sailor, climbed to the cross-trees, repaired the topmast, and lifted again defiantly the good old banner of the brave. And following this, one of our men trained a thirty-pounder Parrott and shot away the flag and flag-staff of Sumter.
The shooting of flagstaffs was also recorded by Captain John C. Mitchel in Fort Sumter that day, with more details from the Confederate side:
… our flag-staff was cut down twice to-day within two minutes; the second time while being replaced, in the face of sharp fire, by Privates Walter Steele, of the Gist Guard Artillery, and D.E. Badger, Company I, Twentieth South Carolina Volunteers, to whose gallantry I beg leave to call attention. The last staff put up has been splintered. The enemy’s staff at Battery Gregg [now Fort Putnam] was shot down from Fort Johnson.
On open field battles, the flag bearer was often the target of enemy fire and many brave acts centered around maintaining those colors. Likewise, in the siege of Charleston the flagstaffs drew their share of attention. And many gallant acts occurred around them.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 220; Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 252.)