108th Day of the Siege – Enemy Opened Fire : 2nd Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter

On this day in 1863, around 12:30 PM, the Federal batteries on Morris Island along with two monitors in the main ship channel, opened a massive bombardment of Fort Sumter.  As detailed back during the sesquicentennial, that eruption marked the start of the Second Major Bombardment of the fort.  Those “major” and “minor” bombardments, along with “desultory” bombardments, were defined by the Confederates on the receiving end.  Though the periods track well with Federal operational accounts.  And this “major” was indeed a rather substantial bombardment by any measure. Between October 26 and December 6, the Federals fired over 18,000 rounds at Fort Sumter.  That’s not counting shots fired at other points in and around Charleston during the same period, which was no small number.

The following morning, subscribers to the Charleston Courier saw this lead on the second column of the front page:


Notice how this news was titled and categorized.  This was the 108th day, going back to July 10, of the siege of Fort Sumter and for all practical purposes Charleston itself.  This is a point I drive home in presentations about the war around Charleston.  The siege of Fort Sumter was the longest battle of the war, running from the summer of 1863 through February 1865.  And by extension, the campaign against Charleston was the longest of the war, if we take into account the blockade operations beginning in May 1861.  The citizens of Charleston, the Confederates defending Charleston, and the Federals on Morris Island all counted those days.

The full article read:

News from the Islands.

One Hundred and Eighth Day of the Siege – Enemy Opened Fire

The enemy on Morris’ Island having completed his preparations, about half-past 10 o’clock, Monday morning, opened a vigorous fire from Batteries Gregg and Wagner, with seven guns mounted in the former and four in the latter, all of heavy calibre, being mostly two and three hundred pounder Parrotts.  The heaviest fire was directed on Fort Sumter.  Out of one hundred and eighty-eight shots fired from Morris’ Island at Fort Sumter during the day, one hundred and sixty-five struck the fort and twenty-three passed over.  Two of the guns on Battery Gregg devoted their entire attention to Fort Johnson, which also received an occasional shot from Battery Wagner.

Forts Moultrie and Johnson, and batteries Marion, Simkins and Cheves, kept up a spirited reply.  The firing on both sides ceased about dark.  The enemy threw some ten or fifteen shots and shells from a twelve pounder Parrott, mounted on Gregg, at Battery Bee and Fort Moultrie, but did no damage.  Two monitors, which rounded Cummings’ Point, were also engaged, and fired some ten shots at Sumter.  No casualties to the garrisons or injuries to the works are reported at any of the forts or batteries.

The fire from Fort Moultrie and the batteries upon the advanced Monitors and the enemy’s works, was excellent, and it is believed did considerable execution.  It was reported that one of the enemy’s guns burst in Battery Gregg early in the action Monday morning on the third or fourth trial.

The firing is expected to be renewed this morning.  With the exception of the two Monitors engaged there was no change in the position of the fleet.

The newspaper report is noteworthy in the details.  However, Federal sources insist the bombardment began around noon, and not earlier.  And there is not mention of a burst gun on that day from Federal accounts (although, one is recorded as bursting the following day).  Usually, and I doubt this day’s report was any exception, the Courier’s writers blended information obtained from Confederate officers along with what their reporters saw first hand.  After all, the war was happening, day and night, right outside their windows.

On the other side of the battle line, the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery was very active, handling the big guns. From their regimental history:

Please notice the handling of one of those guns.  The piece has just recoiled from the last firing, and is out of battery; it is instantly depressed to a level; up step the spongers; back and forth, with a rolling twist, goes the sponge, and it is withdrawn; up rises the great bag-like cartridge and is entered; quickly the rammers drive it home to the clean, moist, but warm chamber; stout men lift the great conical shell and pass it into the black lips of the monster; and again the rammers bend to their work and drive back the projectile upon the powder; now the gunners heave the piece into battery; the sergeant looks to and adjusts the training, right or left; now he turns to secure again his proper and exact elevation, and makes his allowance for windage; the primer is entered; the lanyard is attached, and the gunner, standing behind the traverse, waits order.  The officer cries: “Ready!  Fire!” Hold your ears.  Note the smoke – an aerial maelstrom and cataract, with voice of an earthquake.  See that black spot traveling on its parabolic journey.  Ha! How smokes and tumbles the rebel wall.  Up go the loyal cheers and the boys pat their gun.

This work would continue, shot after shot, day after day, through the first week of December.  Some days the fire would slack to only a hundred or so rounds, particularly toward the first week of December.  But in those early days of the Second Major Bombardment, the tallies often reached 900 or 1000 rounds a day.

Such was the start of a loud phase in a long battle.

(Citations from Charleston Courier, October 27, 1863, page 1, column 2; 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 195.)


A South Carolinian calls for “protection against the destructive lawlessness” of Wheeler’s Command

The Charleston Courier reprinted a letter a Barnwell, South Carolina resident on the first page of its January 13, 1865.  The letter, addressed to Secretary of War James Seddon, carried the news-column title “Outrages of Wheeler’s Command”:

 Lower Three Runs, Barnwell District, S.C., Dec. 31, 1864

To Hon. J.A. Seddon, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:

I cannot forebear appealing to you in behalf of the producing population of the States of Georgia and South Carolina for protection against the destructive lawlessness of members of General Wheeler’s command. From August to Hardeeville the road is now strewn with corn left on the ground unconsumed.  Beeves have been shot down in the fields, one quarter taken off and the balance left for buzzards.  Horses are stolen out of wagons on the road, and by wholesale out of stables at night.

The writer saw an order from Gen. Wheeler, authorizing search to be made in his command for thirty-seven animals stolen from Mr. Fitzpatrick’s plantation, in Twiggs County, Ga., only four of which had, up to a few days ago, been recovered.  Within a few miles of this neighborhood, Wheeler’s men tried to rob a young lady of a horse while she was on a visit to a neighbor’s, but for the timely arrival of a citizen, who prevented the outrage being perpetrated.  It is no unusual sight to see these men ride into camp with all sorts of plunder. Private homes are visited; carpets, blankets, and other furniture they can lay their hands on, are taken by force in the presence of the owners.

We ask, respectfully, if the Government expects the people to bear such burdens, in addition to the ravages of the enemy?  Can such devastation by our our soldiery be permitted, and the farmer and soldier’s unprotected family have no redress? Are General Wheeler and his brigade commanders not responsible to the country for the depredations of the men under them?  By stealing the stock engaged in the production of food for our army, the tailing off in the production of corn alone in the States of Georgia and South Carolina may be counted by the hundred thousand bushels. Make the country one immense camp – let everybody be engaged in working or the support of the whole army, but for the sake of our glorious cause, give the producer the protection necessary to enable him to make bread for the army, and his little ones.  If Gen. Hampton’s cavalry had used Virginia and North Carolina as General Wheeler’s men have used Georgia and South Carolina, where would Gen. Lee now be?


The letter, obviously signed anonymously, also ran in the Charleston Mercury the following day.

These charges were not new.  All through December claims against Major-General Joseph Wheeler came in through military and civilian channels.  Governor Joseph Brown, of Georgia, called for a military inquiry.  On December 28, 1864, Wheeler responded to these claims in a lengthy letter to General Braxton Bragg.  Wheeler had plenty of explanations for the destruction committed by Confederates on Confederate citizens. These ranged from the ill-advised impressment of absentees to the ranks to the need to remove livestock from in front of the Federal advance.  Wheeler also claimed that roving bands, both Confederate and Federals, swarmed the countryside and falsely claimed to be from his command.   So, according to Wheeler, none of these deprivations were due to his, or his commanders, misconduct.

But, even Wheeler admitted these acts had occurred.  The cavalry chief went as far to issue General Orders No. 7, on December 29, 1864, to deter further injury on private property.  As with similar issues on the Federal side, we must consider that if Wheeler had to issue such an order, then these assaults on private property of southerners by Confederates did indeed occur.

Stories of deprivations committed by Federals during “the march” (considering here in the long sense – Georgia through the Carolinas) are thick and heavy.  One finds difficulty separating fact from fiction.  But nobody stands up to say “Wheeler’s men robbed my great-great-great-grandfather house an stole his horses!” Yet, we have the witness’ statements.

Interesting indeed what stuff gets lodged into, and what gets discarded, as confabulations are constructed through the generations.

(Citation from Charleston Courier, Friday, January 13, 1865, page 1, column 5.)

December 1864 – “The employment of slaves in the army should be guarded with the greatest caution”: Arming slaves in South Carolina?

As the last days of 1864 passed, the situation in South Carolina turned ever more desperate.  The “invader” had always been along the coast, as blockaders or the Federal garrisons on the islands.  But with the fall of Savannah, a large army was in position to cross into the state. If even a hope of defense was to be mounted, South Carolina needed troops.  Yesterday I mentioned correspondence between Governor Andrew MacGrath and Richmond, in which the governor stated he was reorganizing the militia.  Running in the Charleston Courier on December 31, 1864 were special orders from MacGrath relating legislation passed in this regard:

The Legislature of South Carolina has declared that all free white men between the ages of sixteen and sixty years, not already in Confederate service, shall be liable to militia service.

The city of Charleston requires for its defense all within its limits who are between these ages. This service is for the defense of our state.  It cannot be declined except by those who are unwilling to defend that State whose forces protect them….

For this service there are no exemptions: none will be allowed except under special circumstances.  Certificates of disability, or other causes, consequence of which exemptions have been hitherto granted, will not be regarded…. If there are company not true to our State, they have no proper place among those who now prepare for its defense.

But the state needed more than just able and willing free whites.  Earlier in the month the State Legislature passed an act revising the system to requisition slave labor for work on the defenses.  This had been a long running issue between the state and military authorities (and as I’ve written before, there were never enough slaves employed for the work required).  The act allowed for impressment of up to one-tenth of the state’s male slaves from the ages of 18 to 50 years.  The term of impressment would last up to twelve months.  While thus employed, the slaves would receive rations, clothes, shoes, and a hat.  The owners would be paid $11 per month.  To comply with this regulation, owners were instructed to transport their slaves to centralized collection points.  The Commissioner of Roads, state agents, and local sheriffs were empowered to enforce this law.  As with previous laws governing the impressment of labor, the state, and not the Confederate authorities, were enforcing the rules.

But there was one measure that South Carolinians remained reluctant to adopt.  Governorn MacGrath had referenced proposals made in Richmond with respect to arming slaves. The Legislature’s Committee on Confederate Relations took up discussion of the matter.  On December 27, their report appeared in the Charleston papers.


The committee reported:

That, in their opinion, the employment of slaves in the army should be guarded with the greatest caution. That this practice has become a regular one in the armies of our enemy, is scarcely an argument for its introduction among us; for it is clear that every slave captured and so employed in the military services of the United States is to them a positive gain, adding to their strength in one department and detracting nothing from their resources in any other, while with us the labor thus secured to one branch of the service is a positive withdrawal of the same amount of labor from the equally important field of supply and production.  And your Committee are further of opinion that it is a matter of very doubtful expediency to intrust the wagon-trains of an army entirely to negro teamsters. …

The committee approved continuing the practice of employing slaves for military projects. But only within the established constructs – impressment with compensation.  Beyond that, the Committee said:

But in thus consenting to the use of negro labor to the extent and for the purpose indicated it is with the distinct understanding that such slaves shall be employed in duties other than those which are the province of the soldier, and that in all such employment their service status shall be clearly and steadily preserved; for your Committee cannot but express their decided disapproval of the plan recommended by the President in his recent message, by which the Confederate Government is to become the purchaser of forty thousand negros, who are to be declared free at the expiration of their term of service.

Emphasis above is mine.  The Committee justified this stance:

Your Committee can find nowhere in the Constitution the slightest shadow of power, either express or implied, to make such purchase or declare such emancipation, and they are satisfied it is in direct violation of its spirit, which wisely and explicitly commits all the social and domestic relations and institutions of the Southern people to the care and charge of the individual States.

The report went on to observe that emancipation under the system proposed by the Confederate government rested “on no principle, and to offer no practical advantages.”  Among the objections raised was the status of freedmen after the war.  “If emancipated as freedmen, they would either have to be employed in the dock-yards, arsenals and other industrial establishments of the Government, or they would have to be remanded to the States whence they were taken.”  So, regardless of what was being said in Richmond, at the state level, emancipation was not an acceptable measure… even with the world crashing all around.

Closing the report, the Committee offered several resolutions, of which three are worth mention here:

Resolved, That if, in the opinion of those authorized and competent to decide the employment of slaves in the army as laborers, servants, hospital attendants, teamsters, or cooks will contribute to the military efficiency of the Confederate forces, the State will cheerfully and promptly furnish the quota which may be required; Provided, That in the discharge of such service, the servile status of the negro be maintained.

Resolved, That this State cannot consent to the proposition by which slaves so employed shall be purchased and declared free by the Confederate Government upon expiration of their term of service, because the creation of such as class would involve the most delicate and dangerous questions as to the rights of the General Government on subjects belonging to the exclusive control of the individual States.

Resolved, That the plan recommended by the President, even if otherwise unobjectionable, confers its privileges unequally and unjustly and would compel, on the part of the State, in departure from the spirit and tenor of its steady and consistent domestic legislation for near half a century.

There you have the Doctrine of States Rights in play.  Be it this Committee in 1864 or the Secession Convention in 1860, the expression is clear – the State’s powers were above those of the central government, Federal or Confederate… and also above any individual, inalienable, rights. There are many conclusions to draw from the Committee’s report. Not the least of which is that Confederate Emancipation was not at any point, in conception or execution, equivalent to that offered by the United States starting on January 1, 1863.

(Citations from Charleston Mercury, December 27, 1864, page 1, columns 2-3; Charleston Courier, December 31, 1864, page 1, column 1.)

Marching Through Georgia, December 8, 1864: To the outskirts of Savannah

News traveled in 1864 as it does today.  News sources pick up stories from other outlets and reprint them.  But how fast did it travel in 1864?  Faster than you would think.  We all know about Lieutenant-General John Bell Hood’s failed attack at Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864.  Word of that battle reached the front page of the New York Times the next day.  And by December 5, the Charleston Courier ran this bit of news, citing those articles as the source:


The Courier followed up with a reprint of official dispatches also copied from northern newspapers, mentioning the disproportionate Confederate losses.  Savannah papers likewise carried the news, all attributed to New York papers. On December 7, some of these southern papers were in the hands of Major-General William T. Sherman, “A Savannah paper, 5th, says Hood attacked Thomas at Franklin and was defeated, with loss of 6,000 and 1,000 prisoners; Yankee loss, 500.  Copied from New York papers.”  Rather curious how the information came in a round-about way to Sherman’s hands.

Also copied from northern newspapers and posted in the Courier on December 8 was an editorial comparing Sherman’s march to that of Hood:

There is no parallel at all.  Sherman, with an immense, well equipped and well fed army, marches through a hostile country without any hostile force on his front, and goes toward a base where supplies and ammunition will meet him.  Hood, with a small army, marches away from a base without the hope of any other, and with an army in front abundantly able to fight him, and if be should march as far as Sherman will that distance will insure his complete destruction. – New York Herald, [November 30].

That was the news from the front to the home front on December 8, 1864… or should we say the reality of the day.

For his part on December 8, Sherman continued to close his armies towards Savannah and that base of supplies mentioned in the papers.  But the Left Wing continued to lag behind the Right Wing.  The last thing Sherman wanted was isolated columns that might invite a Confederate sortie from Savannah.  So “close up” was the order of the day.


The Fourteenth Corps, under Major-General Jefferson C. Davis, had the most distance to make up.  Lead elements of the corps stopped the night before just short of Ebenezer Creek near its mouth at the Savannah River.  To continue its line of march, the Fourteenth had to cross a deep swamp cut by several streams.  Overnight, pontooniers of the 58th Indiana Infantry began repairing the bridge span over the creek, which had been burned by retreating Confederates.  The pontooniers continued further south to put a string of bridges across Lockner’s Creek.  On either side of these crossing points, soldiers and freed blacks labored to lay corduroy roads.  All of these preparations took time.  And with that time spent, the corps fell further behind schedule.

Two Confederate actions contributed a little to the delay.  Continuing to press the Federals, Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry struck the cavalrymen of Second Brigade of the Cavalry Division.  In a repeat of earlier actions, the Federal troopers fell back and formed a line in conjunction with the supporting infantry.   This blunted the Confederate jab, but notice was served.  The Federals had to carefully cross Ebenezer Creek, lest Wheeler catch them astride.

The other action by the Confederates was more a novelty than injury.  The gunboat C.S.S. Macon steamed up the Savannah River and lobbed a few shells at the Federals crossing at Ebenezer Creek.  Firing at long range, the effect was minor.  Colonel Robert Smith, commanding First Brigade, Second Division, Fourteenth Corps, related, “here a rebel gun-boat threw a few shells at our column, doing no damage.”

But the terrain and Confederate annoyances prevented Fourteenth Corps from covering much ground that day.  The lead regiments were only four miles past the bridges by nightfall.  Much of the corps remained on the north side of Ebenezer Creek that evening, guarding the trains.  And among the column was a large gathering of escaped slaves who continued, against the wishes of Davis, to follow.

West of Ebenezer Creek, the Twentieth Corps received orders to march towards Monteith, near the junction of the Charleston & Savannah and Georgia Central Railroads.  Leading the march was Brigadier-General John Geary’s division, commencing at 6 a.m. with orders to locate a “middle road” to Monteith.  After a few miles, Geary and his men discovered there was no “middle road” and they were in effect blazing their own path through the swamp:

The looked-for middle road was not found to-day. The roads were generally fair, although we crossed several small swamps. In them we found timber felled across the road. This was removed by our pioneers, without delaying the march more than thirty minutes at any one time. Most of our route to-day was through pine forests. We passed a number of plantation houses in these forests, and quite a large supply of potatoes, sugar cane, fodder, mutton, and poultry was obtained. It is worthy of note that the swamp water through this region is excellent for drinking purposes, being much superior to the well water. Weather to-day pleasant. Distance, thirteen miles.

The Seventeenth Corps continued their comparatively leisurely march south with an advance to Station No. 2 (Eden).  In front of them, First Division (Brigadier General John Corse) of Fifteenth Corps marched south with the aim to reach the Savannah & Gulf Railroad.  Corse met no opposition on this sortie. But as he neared the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal he found burned bridges.  As the large scale map does not show these place names, and they are important to the discussion, allow me to adapt this map of the area to point out the bridges:


Confederates burned Dillon’s Brige, which crossed the Ogeechee just north of the canal.  This prevented any junction with other Fifteenth Corps elements operating on the other side of the river.  Likewise the bridge over the canal was burned.  But the canal held up Corse only for a short time:

A new one was speedily constructed by the pioneer corps, and a portion of the Third Brigade crossed and threw up a tête-de-pont, and the Seventh Illinois Mounted Infantry moved out to reconnoiter the enemy’s position.  From citizens we ascertained that a force of the enemy had erected works at the junction of the Dillon’s Bridge road with the King’s Bridge and Savannah road.

Corse, though an aggressive commander, opted for discretion.  Though he had flanked the outer line of Savannah’s defenses, at the canal, any advance toward the city would wait until the other forces closed up.

On the other side of the Ogeechee, while Third Division, Fifteenth Corps protected the trains at Jenks’ Bridge, the other two divisions probed for crossings of the Canoochee River (in what is today Fort Stewart Military Reservation).  Reporting late in the day, Major-General Peter Osterhaus indicated the road through Fort Argyle (a colonial-era fort, which endured by placename) to Dillon’s Bridge was impassable.   All the bridges over the Canoochee were burned.  And a Confederate force with artillery opposed any crossing. But he hoped to effect a crossing once the pontoons were brought up.  Considering the ground beyond the river, Osterhaus added:

The description which I received of the road beyond the Cannouchee is anything but inviting; the only good road seems to be the one from King’s Bridge (above the mouth of Cannouchee), seven miles of which are planked.  King’s Bridge is burned, an so is every other bridge across the two streams.

So for the moment, 150 years ago, the Fifteenth Corps had advanced as far as they dared.  But they were looking at the two “gates” to Savannah from the west – King’s Bridge and the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal.

Tracing the march by way of markers, entries for today are located at Springfield, Eden, Guyton, and Fort Stewart.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 126, 185, 275-6, 652, and 659-60.)