“The garrison appears in good spirits.”: Huguenin takes command of Fort Sumter

With the death of Captain John Mitchel on July 20, 1864, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin arrived to assume command of Fort Sumter.  The moment was critical for the garrison, and to no small degree the defenses of Charleston.  Fort Sumter was the absolute front edge of the Confederate defenses and most exposed to Federal attention.  The Third Great Bombardment was at that time entering a third week with heavy, sustained fire.  The most important job for the men in Fort Sumter was upkeep of the rubble pile which the fine brick walls had become. So long as the walls presented a barrier to Federal landings, the fort could be defended.  There was the Confederate focus.

The following day, July 21, Huguenin provided a detailed report of the fort’s status:

I reported my arrival yesterday evening by telegraph. I regret to say that on my arrival I found Capt. J. C. Mitchel, First South Carolina Artillery, was dead from the wound he had received during the day. Captain Phillips, Thirty-second Georgia, the temporary commander, turned over the fort to me, and, after as careful inspection as could be made at night, I found the fort not seriously damaged by the present bombardment. Capt. John Johnson, engineer in charge, is endeavoring to repair during the night whatever damage may be made during the day; every effort will be made to effect this purpose. The fire from rifle guns has lately been directed upon the southwest angle with considerable effect, cutting away the exterior crest, and thus making a more easy ascent with the debris which falls. The loss of material at this point has required the abandonment of the most southerly casemate on the second tier of the western face, and if it continues will require a similar abandonment of the corresponding casemate in the lowest tier; these casemates are being filled up, and the only real loss will be the loss of quarters.

So as for the garrison’s primary mission of just “being” and remaining a point contesting the Federals, the fort retained its wall.  The Federals blast down parts during the day.  Johnson rebuilds at night.  Though some portions of the fort were by that time so badly damaged as to become useless to the garrison.

Huguenin went on to mention some fire shells, perhaps left over from trials the previous fall, were used against the fort:

The enemy are using some incendiary shell upon this point, and I have been compelled to remove the ammunition from the southwest magazine for fear that some incendiary matter may be communicated by the ventilator, which cannot be filled up at present.

Huguenin turned to the priority of work, specifically repairs:

The firing upon the gorge wall has been discontinued, and I hope that it will soon be repaired. The boom has been broken in two places near the southeast angle, and I would earnestly urge upon you the necessity of having it repaired at the earliest possible moment. Captain Johnson thinks it necessary that about a thousand bags of sand should be sent down every night whenever it can possibly be done, as if the present bombardment continues it will be required in large quantity. He desires it to be sent in bags, as it is easier handled. In the event of an attempt to assault the fort it will be important that the batteries on Sullivan’s and James Islands be apprised as soon as possible, and therefore I desire to keep a signal officer on the parapet all night, so that he may be able to communicate the intelligence of the enemy’s approach as soon as it is known to ourselves. I have only 2 signal men here at present on duty and I cannot carry out my wishes in the above respect unless the number is increased. I would therefore respectfully request that the signal force be increased to 4.

So add sandbags and signal officers to the list of requests, including the baskets and gabions Johnson requested earlier.  Closing he added, “The garrison appears to be in good spirits.

From June 21 to June 25, the Federals launched 1603 shots against the fort:

  • June 21 – 281 shots in the day, 38 at night, and 57 missed; Total 376.
  • June 22 – 214 during day, 35 at night, and 137 missed; Total 386.
  • June 23 – 155 during day, 32 at night, and 50 missed; Total 237.
  • June 24 – 94 during day, 32 at night, and 35 missed; Total 161.
  • June 25 – 298 during the day, 53 at night, and 92 missed; Total 443.

An average of over thirteen shots per hour.  Rather odd, however, is the high number of those which missed on June 22. On the Federal side, there is mention of new guns added to the batteries.  So some of the missed shots may be those expended registering new guns onto the targets.

Major-General John Foster was now determined, 150 years ago today, to level Fort Sumter.  And the garrison defending it was just as determined to rebuild the fort out of the ruble.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 227.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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