July 25, 1864: Foster assesses the bombardment of Fort Sumter

On July 25, 1864, Major-General John Foster provided an assessment of operations in the Department of the South, through mid-July, for Major-General Henry Halleck in Washington. He began with an brief description of operations around Charleston:

 I have nothing important to communicate since my last report. The bombardment of Fort Sumter and the city is maintained slowly. I am extending Battery Putnam and connecting it with Battery Chatfield, so as to obtain positions for a larger number of guns bearing on Fort Sumter and the channel. We have already knocked down the temporary defenses erected by the rebels on top of the ruins of Sumter and have also scraped off the ruins at one point of the gorge, so as to make the ascent practicable from the water’s edge. The northeast storm that has prevailed for several days has put a stop to the operations of the mine rafts as well as to all military movements by water. I hoped to have received aid from the monitors in floating these rafts against the fort, but I found after some delay that the officers entertained so many objections to going as near the fort as I judged necessary for effect, say 1,000 yards, that I was forced to give up the idea of their assistance. I then turned the rafts over to the boat infantry on shore to operate. I do not think that Admiral Dahlgren intends to undertake, on his own responsibility, any offensive operations with the iron-clads.

That last line reflected the general consensus among the army generals – Rear Admiral John Dahlgren was not the bold type to lash himself to the rigging and launch full speed into a field of torpedoes… for what that was worth.  This, of course, chilled Foster’s plans for powder rafts and other means of eliminating Fort Sumter.

The “meat” of Foster’s report was an assessment of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter up to that date:

I have ascertained much with regard to the present condition of Fort Sumter from deserters. The summary of all this is as follows, viz: The lower tier of casemates is generally still intact and habitable, being used as quarters for officers and men, store-rooms, magazine, and gun-rooms. The top of the arches of this tier is covered with the debris from the second tier and parapet, and is nearly bomb-proof. The ends of the arches toward the parade are closed up by the ruins of the upper wall, and are thus effectually protected from shot or shell. A communication extends all around in this tier from casemate to casemate, even through the ruins of the gorge. The earth has been taken out of the parade to put upon the arches and bomb-proofs and to build traverses. A walk of 3 or 4 feet width only is left around the edges. The water in the space thus dug out is about 4 feet deep. A plank walk extends across this from the sally-port, which is on the left bank near the shoulder angle, to the battery, as it is called, which is on the right face near the shoulder angle. This battery is on the right face near the angle and consists of three guns. In rear of this, on the parade and covering the casemates, in which are the guns, is a large bomb-proof, constructed of timber and covered with earth. Two more guns are in casemates on the left face near the shoulder angle. One of these is fired as evening gun.

Rather accurate description, if compared to the accounts of Captain John Johnson and others.  Foster continued, with hits and misses with respect to the details:

The sally-port is formed by enlarging an embrasure on the left flank near the shoulder angle. It has strong gates and opens upon a floating wharf. The magazine is now situated in the right shoulder angle of the fort. The old magazine in the left gorge angle was blown up accidentally some time ago. There are four light field pieces, 12-pounder howitzers, which are hauled to the top of the ruins every night to be used in case of assault. Hand-grenades of the improved pattern are also issued to the guard on the wall each night. This guard is about 100 men. The garrison numbers 250 men, and is relieved every two or three weeks. Captain Mitchel, the son of the Irish patriot, now commands. Temporary obstructions are placed upon the ruins at night, and removed before daylight. There is the fragment of a boom still in front of the right face. No torpedoes are around the fort.

By the time Foster was writing, Mitchel was dead, the boom had been destroyed, but there were some torpedoes remaining around the fort.

The next paragraph was exactly what Washington wanted to hear:

The rebel force in this department has been very much increased since our demonstration on John’s Island. At that time Jackson’s brigade of Georgia troops (veterans) were withdrawn from Johnston’s army, and arrived in time to fight our men on John’s Island. Since then more men have arrived in Charleston. In Savannah the veteran force is reported from 1,500 to 2,500 men, besides all the heavy batteries and six field batteries of four guns each.

Inflated, in terms of the numbers, but indeed what ears in Washington wanted to hear from Hilton Head.  The Confederates had shifted no more than half that number of men to defend Charleston and Savannah.  But Foster did accurately describe the Confederate defense of the railroad line as he related his next course of action:

The line of the railroad is now strongly guarded in anticipation of a raid, and field batteries are stationed at central points, so as to be able to reach each available landing place. The point upon which I hoped to effect a surprise with our 300 cavalry is now guarded by a battery and 1,000 rebel cavalry. There are two points near Savannah that are accessible, but the operation will involve several days and nights spent in the rice fields, and this at this season will be apt to prostrate the troops with fever. I am, however, determined to attack somewhere as soon as I can make the necessary preparations, which take considerable time, as it will now be necessary to go in full force whenever I make an attempt.

So after several days in the field at the start of July, Foster was still willing to roll out on another “demonstration.”  Give him credit for keeping the initiative.

Foster then briefly mentioned those fifty prisoners still held in Charleston, “I inclose copies of letters received (unofficially) from our officers, prisoners in Charleston, with my reply.”  He was, of course, referencing his correspondence with Confederate Major-General Samuel Jones.  Foster was waiting approval to exchange the prisoners.

He closed with, “The health of the command continues good.”  For better or worse, Foster was committed to keeping active in front of Charleston.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 18-19.)


Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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