“The heavy fire of a fresh bombardment was suddenly opened”: Foster starts the 3rd Major Bombardment

By July 7, 1864,  Major-General John Foster’s July offensive was marking time for the most part.  Although a lot of fighting took place on John’s Island that day (which I’ll get to in a separate post), nothing played out to change the situation on James Island.  So any door Foster had hoped to kick open remained secured and barred with the line of works extending to the left of Battery Pringle.  But Foster could, with justification, claim his directive from Washington was met – he was offering significant demonstrations to tie down Confederate troops at Charleston.

In addition to the land movements, Foster had ordered continued “desultory fire” on Fort Sumter, if for nothing else to prevent the garrison there from making repairs.  Writing on July 7 to Major-General Henry Halleck in Washington, Foster determined to increase that to a full scale bombardment:

Having become convinced that the enemy were strengthening themselves in Fort Sumter and making arrangements for defense, I have concluded that it is necessary to more effectually demolish the walls of that fort. For this purpose I have ordered the bombardment to be renewed to-morrow morning and all the guns to be so aimed as to breach the wall in a horizontal line on that part of the wall which is now standing vertical. As soon as a good cut is made though the wall I shall float down against it and explode large torpedoes until the wall is shaken down and the surrounding obstructions are entirely blown away. I shall continue this until the walls are demolished as far as possible.

Foster was correct in that the Confederates were making repairs to the fort.  Captain John Johnson, who was the engineer in Fort Sumter, stated:

The garrison of Fort Sumter, now under Captain J.C. Mitchel, had been, for some months past, lulled into a feeling of security.  True, the sixth and seventh minor bombardments operated to disturb their equanimity, but they did not stop for a day the changes and improvements going on in the fort.  These had progressed favorably from one point to another until the strengthening of the much-battered and reduced sea-face of the work came up for consideration. Just as it was fairly begun with the building of cribwork filled with débris, as close under the interior crest of the wall as possible without reducing the height of the crest one inch by caving, and just when the engineers wanted to be undisturbed in this critical stage of their secret proceedings, the heavy fire of a fresh bombardment was suddenly opened on the morning of the 7th of July at five o’clock.

But wait… Foster said on July 7th that he would start tomorrow (July 8).  And Foster went on to report, on July 12:

On Friday fire was opened on Fort Sumter, and by Saturday the wall was successfully cut through in several places. On Sunday the fire was discontinued, but opened again on Monday morning, and will be continued until the fort is thoroughly demolished. This has never been thoroughly done yet, and as far as I can ascertain the lower line of casemates remain intact. I propose to make a breaching cut along the line of lower embrasures and then shake the wall by explosions of large quantities of powder, floated down against the fort on rafts. I shall take these rafts up to-morrow morning.

So was it July 7th or 8th that this major bombardment started?  The daily report from Mitchel, sent at 4 p.m. on July 7th, supports Johnson’s post war account:

The enemy continue a heavy fire on us.  Their evident intention is to destroy our boom and our defenses against assault, as also to break through the gorge wall.  In the first part of their plan they have to some extend succeeded.  The fire is quite as damaging as any bombardment since the year commenced.  We have no labor to repair. Can’t you send me 50 more men?

Mitchel followed that up at 6:10 p.m.:

Our flag has been cut down three times, and is torn to pieces. Can you not have me sent the one I made requisition for?

Clearly Mitchel, calling for men and a flag, figured to be under a major bombardment starting on the 7th.   Some of this may be in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.  The gunners on Morris Island may have been stepping up the desultory bombardments on the 7th in anticipation of the heavy fireworks on July 8th.  Regardless, I would go with the Confederate accounts – since they were on the receiving end of all this Federal fire.

For the next sixty days, shot and shell rained down on Fort Sumter at a rate not sustained since the previous fall.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 65, pages 14, 16-17, and 221; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, pages 223-4.)


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