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´╗┐Title: Reminiscences of Service with the First Volunteer Regiment of Georgia, Charleston Harbor, in 1863 - An address delivered before the Georgia Historical Society, - March 3, 1879
Author: Olmstead, Charles H.
Language: English
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                 WITH THE
               OF GEORGIA,


                AN ADDRESS

              MARCH 3, 1879.


              SAVANNAH, GA.:


In preparing the following paper, it has been my desire only to record
what its title suggests--personal reminiscences.

Leaving to other and abler pens the task of writing an accurate
history of the scenes and events to which reference is now about to be
made, I shall confine myself simply to the task of setting down such
things as came under my personal observation, or within the scope of
my individual knowledge.

I do this the more confidently, remembering the marked interest that
invariably attaches to the testimony of an eyewitness, and also
bearing in mind (for my own comfort) that this interest will always
incline his hearers to leniency in judging literary demerits. It is
probable, too, that some of my old comrades will be pleased at this
recurrence to an eventful period in their lives, while a younger
generation in the ranks may be glad to have placed before them a
record, not of the "pomp and circumstance of glorious war," but of its
privations, its hardships, its perils, and, it may be added, its
lessons of self-abnegation and of devotion to duty.

Early in the month of July, 1863, while stationed very comfortably at
the Isle of Hope, a courier, "spurring in hot haste," brought orders
from Department headquarters that set our camp at once in a turmoil of
eager and excited preparation. The 32d Georgia, Col. George P.
Harrison, Jr., the 12th and 18th Georgia Battalions, Lieut.-Col. H. D.
Capers and Major W. S. Basinger, and a battalion from the First
Volunteer Regiment of Georgia, were ordered to proceed with the least
possible delay to Savannah, there to take cars for Charleston.

A private note at the same time brought the intelligence that that
city, so long threatened, and, indeed, once already assailed by sea,
was now to undergo a vigorous and combined attack from both land and
naval forces. The day was an eventful one to us without this
additional stimulant. In the morning we had received the sad news of
the fall of Vicksburg and the consequent opening of the Mississippi
river to the Federal fleet, from the mountains to the sea, a disaster
that secured to the enemy the grand object of his most strenuous
exertions, while it severed the young Confederacy in twain and
deprived our armies east of the river of all the aid and comfort in
the way of material supplies and gallant recruits, that had been so
long and so freely drawn from the west bank. We had just learned, too,
of the check received by General Lee at the battle of Gettysburg, and
now came the summons to tell that our turn had come for a little
squeeze in the folds of the traditional "Anaconda," that the New York
_Herald_ had so graphically depicted as encircling the South.

The men received the orders with enthusiasm--indeed, when was it
otherwise with the Southern soldier. Thoroughly conversant, as they
all were, with the details of the war, they could not but be depressed
by the news of such grave reverses to our arms as the morning's mail
had brought them, and they gladly welcomed the relief that active
service promised from the tedium of camp life, and the necessity of
thinking upon melancholy subjects.

Our march began in the midst of a terrific thunder-storm that had the
effect, not only of cooling down any overplus of excitement, but also
of rendering the road to the city almost a quagmire throughout its
entire length.

There are pleasanter ways of spending a summer's evening than in
trudging for eight miles, through mud and rain, in heavy marching
order; but upon this, as on similar occasions during the war, I was
deeply impressed by the uncomplaining patience and cheerfulness with
which the men endured hardships that few would care to face now, but
which, then, were regarded as mere matters of course--distasteful,
certainly--but not worth talking about.

The storm delayed our march considerably, and upon reaching the depot
we found that the 32d Regiment, which had been stationed at a point
nearer the city, had already taken train for Charleston.

We, too, were soon _en route_, and early in the forenoon of the
following day--July 10, 1863--the three battalions were safely in
bivouac at the terminus of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad. Here
we were met by a staff officer, who informed us that we were to
reinforce the garrison of Battery Wagner, on Morris Island, and that
at dusk the necessary transportation would be furnished to take us
down to the fort. He also told us that the enemy, under cover of a
tremendous fire of artillery, from batteries on Folly Island, which
had been unmasked during the night, had effected a lodgment on the
south end of Morris Island, and had driven our forces back upon
"Wagner," which fortification would, doubtless, be attacked on the
next day. We learned, also, that another force was threatening James
Island, and that the 32d had been sent, with other troops, to meet
that danger. Events proved that this last was a feint, to distract
attention from the main attack.

All day we remained quietly at this place, endeavoring to make out the
various points of interest in the beautiful harbor spread before us,
and watching the little clouds of smoke that ascended from the
parapets of Fort Sumter, as its guns were slowly fired at the enemy.
It was a lovely day, clear and bright, without a cloud in the sky. The
vegetation about us, freshened by the rain of the previous evening,
added sweet odors to the soft sea-breeze that came up the bay. Upon
our left the city of Charleston "sat like a queen," her roof tops and
spires glittering in the sunlight, while afar down, over an expanse of
shining water, could be seen the ships of the fleet swinging lazily at
their anchors.

The picture was beautiful, and for one I would have found it difficult
to realize that beneath it all were the grim front and iron hand of
war, but for the dull rumble of the constantly recurring shot from
Sumter. That was "the fly in the ointment of the apothecary;" that
"the spectre at the feast;" that the refrain ever ringing in our ears
and suggesting the unwelcome thought--"it looks peaceful enough now,
but just wait until tomorrow."

About nightfall we embarked in a steamer that had been sent for us,
and, after many delays, were safely landed at Cumming's Point, on the
northern end of Morris Island. The line was formed at once, and we set
out for Battery Wagner, reporting to its commander, Col. Graham, of
the 21st South Carolina Regiment, at about 11 o'clock at night.

At the risk of being somewhat tedious, I must here devote a few lines
to the topography of this famous island. It is a long, narrow strip of
sand, running almost due north and south for about four miles, varying
in breadth from, say one hundred yards at the narrowest point to half
a mile at the broadest. Upon the west side the island is separated
from James Island by Vincent's creek and by broad marshes intersected
by numerous salt water creeks, while its eastern shore is washed
throughout its entire length by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. At
the south end were the batteries from which our troops had been driven
in the morning. Light House Inlet separated this point from Folly
Island, and across this inlet the enemy had suddenly thrown their
forces, under cover of a furious fire of artillery, as has already
been stated. At the northern extremity of the island, known as
Cumming's Point, was located Battery Gregg, and about three quarters
of a mile to the south of this, Battery Wagner stretched entirely
across the island from the sea on the left to Vincent's creek on the
right, the battery facing due south. It was an irregular work. On the
extreme left a heavy traverse and curtain protected the sally port and
gave a flanking fire down the beach to any force that might assail the
main work. Then came a salient, one face of which commanded the ship
channel, then a broken line, arranged for flanking fires, extending to
the marsh. The parapets were solid, and a broad, deep, dry moat added
boldness to their profile. Within the parade were bomb-proofs and
lightly constructed barracks for the small garrison that had
heretofore occupied the work. The armament consisted of one 10 inch
Columbiad and some 32-pounders in the sea face, and four or five
lighter guns, chiefly howitzers, on the land side. A short distance in
front of the right of the line an inward bend of Vincent's creek
narrowed the island in such manner as to render it obligatory upon an
attacking force to deliver its assault only against the left half of
the fort, and also affording scant opportunity for the deployment of
such a column. In point of fact this peculiar feature in the
topography proved of great service to us, and correspondingly
troublesome to the enemy in the operations that followed. The surface
of the island is but little raised above the level of the sea and
presents a glaring stretch of white sandy hillocks, which were
sparsely dotted with the coarse grasses of the coast, and which
changed their contour in every high wind.

There is but to add that the main channel by which ships enter
Charleston harbor runs within easy gunshot of Morris Island from one
end of it to the other, then crosses to the northward and passes
between Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, and Fort Sumter, built
upon a shoal about midway between the two islands.

From this rapid sketch, reference being had to the map, it will be
readily appreciated that from the base held by the enemy, a _front_
attack upon Charleston could begin here and nowhere else; and that, as
the defences of the inner harbor were at that time imperfect, the
immediate fall of Wagner would gravely impair the safety of Charleston
also. But that little mound of sand had its history to make, a story
that will ever bring a flush of honest pride to the face of every man
who participated in the long defence.

As soon as we had reported to Colonel Graham, the troops were put into
position, the 18th Battalion in the salient, the 12th upon its right,
and the 1st Georgia on the left, occupying the flanking curtain and
the sea face, to which allusion has been made. The guns were all
manned by South Carolina artillery and the right and centre of the
fort were held by infantry from the same State. The men were cautioned
that an attack was expected at daylight, and then, tired out, they
slept on their arms upon the ramp, ready at a moment's call for
action. Captain C. Werner, of the German Volunteers, was appointed
officer of the night, and in a few minutes every sound was hushed save
the swash of the waves upon the beach, and the occasional challenge of
a sentinel from his post.

My own resting place was upon the parapet, and looking up to the
cloudless heavens above the solemn glory of the night impressed itself
upon my last waking thoughts.

At the first peep of dawn, on the 11th, we were wakened by a few
straggling shots in our front, followed by a ringing cheer and three
distinct volleys of musketry from our picket line. The anticipated
assault was upon us. In an instant, the garrison was aroused, and as
the men had slept in position they had only to spring to their feet,
and we were ready. Now we could see our pickets, their duty having
been faithfully performed, retiring rapidly towards our right, in
accordance with the instructions they had received, so as to uncover
the advancing columns of the enemy. And, then, through the dim, gray
light of the morning we could distinguish a dark, blue mass of men
moving up the beach towards us, at the double quick, cheering as they

Then came the thunder of our first gun (what old soldier is there who
does not recall _its_ startling effect), then another and another,
then the deafening rattle of small arms, mingled with yells and
cheers, and we were fairly in the midst of battle. The issue was never
doubtful for a moment. The attacking column attempted to deploy after
passing the narrow neck in front, but entirely failed to do so; while
the dense formation rendered it an easy mark for both infantry and
artillery. Still it pressed gallantly on, and some few of the foremost
men reached the scarp of the work, only to find themselves unsupported
by their comrades, and with no other alternative than to yield
themselves prisoners. One brave fellow I saw, however, who had not the
thought of yielding in him. Alone he reached the top of the parapet,
immediately in front of a 32-pounder, double charged with grape shot.
The officer in command (Lieutenant Gilchrist, of South Carolina, if
memory serves me,) struck by his bearing, called to him to come in
before the gun was fired. His only reply was to put his musket to his
shoulder, and a bullet whizzed by Gilchrist's head. The explosion of
the gun followed, and a blue and mangled body, all that remained of a
brave man and a good soldier, was hurled across the ditch.

The engagement was of short duration; the attack had failed, and soon
the broken column was in full retreat, rapidly, and without any
semblance of order, leaving some hundreds of their number, stretched
dead and wounded on the sands, or prisoners in the fort.

Our own loss was insignificant in numbers, but the 1st Regiment was
sorely bereaved in the death of Captain Werner. This gallant officer
was slain early in the fight. He died in the discharge of duty, nobly
battling for the land of his adoption. His voice, calling his
comrades to arms, had been the first to greet our ears as the morning
broke, and now it was hushed forever. Modest, simple, and unpretending
in his manners, he had won a warm place in the affections of the
command, while his perfect reliability under all circumstances
enforced the respect and admiration of all who knew him. Savannah was
called upon to mourn the loss of many sons in those terrible years,
but none of them had taken up arms in her defense sooner, none
suffered privation and imprisonment for her more patiently, and none
died more gallantly than Claus Werner.

The loss in the 18th Georgia was heavier than in any other
organization, as it had occupied the salient, against which the
assault was principally directed.

Lieutenant Frederick Tupper was severely wounded, and among the killed
was young Edward Postell, who now sleeps in Laurel Grove, side by side
with a noble brother, who, like himself, as the marble record
testifies, "died in battle."

Immediately after the action, a singular instance of the ups and downs
and uncertainties of warfare, was brought to our attention. Among the
first troops to enter Fort Pulaski, at its capture in the previous
year, was the 7th Connecticut Regiment, then commanded by Colonel
Alfred H. Terry (subsequently Major-General). Both officers and men
had behaved towards us with great kindness during the few days that we
remained at the fort after its capture, and we had become personally
acquainted with quite a number of them. _Now_, we were the victors,
and among the prisoners brought in at our end of the line, were many
of our old friends of the 7th Connecticut, who recognized and called
us by name.

The news of the attack created much excitement in Charleston, and
during the morning many visitors, both military and civilian, came to
the island, some to assure themselves of the continued strength of our
position; others to gratify a pardonable curiosity. Among the former
was Brig. Gen. Ripley, the district commander, who was much elated at
the successful issue of the fight, and who wished to examine,
personally, the ground in front of the fort.

Now, at one point in our front, torpedoes had been planted the day
before, and to prevent any of the garrison from treading upon them, a
sentinel was placed to warn them off. At that time the man who held
this post was Private Donnolly, of Company G, 1st Georgia, a native of
the Emerald Isle, as his name would indicate, and a true son of his
mother. Of any knowledge of ordinary military manoeuvres he was
calmly innocent. On one occasion a Lieutenant of the company asked
him, impatiently:

"Donnolly, why _don't_ you keep step? All the men are complaining
about you." And received the reply:

"Faith, its divil a one of 'em can kape shtep wid me!"

Past this hero General Ripley spurred his horse, and was riding
straight for the dangerous ground, when he was suddenly brought to a
halt by a loud "Shtop!" uttered in the most emphatic tone, and the
emphasis receiving additional point from Donnolly's attitude, as he
stood with his musket at full cock, at the shoulder, and squinted
along the barrel, taking dead aim at the General. For a moment there
was strong probability of a vacancy among the Brigadiers of the
Confederate army, but an officer rushed forward, struck up the gun,
and explained to General Ripley the reason for his being halted.

Subsequently, our sentinel was asked:

"Donnolly, what were you going to do?"

"I was going to shot him."

"And why?"

"To kape him from being blown up with the saltpaters, to be sure."

Donnolly's comrades, in view of his little infirmities of drill, had
always insisted upon his having a place in the rear rank, but on this
day he was heard to say, with much satisfaction:

"There's moighty little throuble getting in the front rank now."

Our experience for the next week was a trying one. Failing in the
direct attack, the enemy's endeavor seemed to be to make our berth
uncomfortably warm, and here the success was undoubted. Day after day
the monitors--some four or five in number--and that tremendous war
vessel, the "New Ironsides," would take their positions directly
opposite the fort, at a distance of six to eight hundred yards, the
wooden ships being at much longer range. Then would be poured in upon
us a steady stream of shot and shell, much more pleasant to dwell upon
as a memory than it was to endure, while upon the land side new
batteries were built by the enemy, and each day the weight of metal
thrown against us would seem to be heavier than the day before. I well
remember the approach of the first monitor. How deliberate its
movements; how insignificant its appearance; the deck almost level
with the water, and the little black turret giving small promise of
its hidden power for attack. My curiosity about the vessel was great,
but was soon to be satisfied without stint. There was a slow revolving
motion of the turret, a cloud of smoke, a deafening roar, and then,
with the rush and noise of an express train, the huge fifteen inch
shell, visible at every point of its trajectory, passed over head and
burst far in the rear. The next shell exploded in the parapet,
covering several of us with dirt. The introduction was complete.
Thenceforward we held these singular looking craft in wholesome
respect. The "Ironsides," however, was probably the most formidable
ship of the fleet. She is said to have carried at bow and stern two
hundred pound Parrott guns, and nine eleven-inch Dahlgrens on a side.
Her broadsides were not fired in volley, but gun after gun, in rapid
succession, the effect upon those who were at the wrong end of the
guns being exceedingly demoralizing. Whenever she commenced there was
a painful uncertainty as to what might happen before she got through.

We had but one gun with which to fight the monitors--the ten-inch
Columbiad located just over the sally-port. True, the thirty-twos were
tried for a while, but they were so impotent to harm the heavy mail of
the ships that their use was soon discontinued. This Columbiad was
manned, I think, by the Matthew's Artillery, of South Carolina, and
the gunner, Frazer Matthews, was as noble a soldier as the siege
produced. In the midst of the hottest fire he would stand quietly on
the chassis directing the aiming of the gun with all the coolness and
precision of target practice. Never flurried, always intent upon the
work before him, and never giving the signal to fire until the aim was
taken to his entire satisfaction, the accuracy of his marksmanship was
great. Again and again I saw the solid ten-inch shot strike upon the
sides of the monitors, only to break into a thousand fragments, that
would splash into the sea like so much grape-shot.

At first we thought that no harm was done by our fire, but we learned
afterwards that the concussion within the turret was tremendous, and
that, among others, one very prominent officer had been killed by it.

Unfortunately, our Columbiad was soon dismounted, and although a new
carriage was supplied, that, too, was knocked to pieces in short
order. Indeed, this experience was repeated half a dozen times.

Such continuous cannonading of course seriously impaired the integrity
of our parapets. But as at that stage of the siege the firing ceased
at nightfall, opportunity was given to repair damages, and all night
long the garrison would work, filling sand bags and painfully
endeavoring to make good the yawning chasms and ragged craters left by
the terrible missiles that had been hurled into the fort during the
day. There was a constant strain upon all the faculties, that gave
little time for anything save the stern duties of the hour, and yet
there were humorous incidents ever occurring that even now will bring
smiles to the lips of all who remember them.

Who can forget "Aquarius," the water bearer, as he was dubbed--a
simple-hearted fellow, from the back woods of South Carolina, who
devoted his time to bringing water to the wounded. Both heels of his
shoes were carried away by a shell, and from that time he went
barefooted--there was "danger in shoes," he said. And, then, the
simple manner in which, on returning from one of his trips to the
well, he held up one full jug and only the handle of another, saying,
apologetically, "Oh, a shell took hit."

I can see in my mind's eye, too, the brilliant engineering feat of a
member of the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, who, while cooking a little
dinner in the open parade, provided protection for himself by placing
an empty flour barrel alongside of the fire, and gravely sticking his
head into it whenever the scream of a shell warned him of approaching

During the week General Taliaferro, of Virginia, assumed command, and
on the night of the 17th fresh troops were sent to relieve us--and it
may be mentioned here, that this plan of changing commanders, and the
garrison (or at least a part of it), every few days, was continued
throughout the siege. In fact, the strain upon body and mind was so
unremitting, that a week's tour of duty was about as much as any men
could undergo at a time, as there was no rest day nor night.

We were landed at Fort Johnson, on James Island, a little before dawn
on the 18th, and were just getting comfortably settled in the village
then existing at that point, when a tremendous cannonading began
against the fort we had just left. All day long it continued,
exceeding in fierceness and rapidity anything we had yet witnessed.
The noise was terrific, great clouds of smoke hung over the devoted
battery, and huge columns of sand rose high in the air, as shell after
shell rent the parapets, while only an occasional shot in return gave
any sign that there was life left in the garrison. With mingled
feelings we watched the bombardment, full of anxiety for the ultimate
result, and for the safety of our comrades in the fort, there was,
also, it must be confessed, a profound complacency at the thought that
we were well out of it ourselves.

A little before dusk the firing suddenly ceased on the part of the
enemy, and almost instantaneously a rapid succession of guns from
Sumter, trained for the beach of Morris Island, gave notice that
another attempt was to be made to throw a column into Wagner by

It was even so. General Gillmore, fully alive to the difficulties
which the topographical features of the ground presented for regular
approaches, and counting with reason upon the damaging effect of the
awful bombardment, both upon the work itself and the "morale" of the
garrison, had determined to make one more effort to wrest the position
from the Confederates by storm. To this end he had organized a strong
column of two brigades (a third brigade being held in reserve), under
command of General Seymour, the formation being made behind the sand
hills. Its advance was supported by light batteries, and as the heavy
firing ceased, it swept forward with a rush. An officer, who was in
Wagner, told me on the following day that the assault came very near
meeting with perfect success, for, although it was anticipated, the
awful artillery fire had compelled the garrison to seek shelter in the
bomb-proofs. The exits from these places were narrow, and there was
much trouble in getting the men to the ramparts in time to repel the
onslaught. As it was, the result was long doubtful. A part of the
enemy's column effected a lodgment in the salient on the left, and not
until reinforcements were sent down from James Island to the
assistance of the garrison, were these assailants finally overpowered
and the entire fort once more in the hands of the Confederates.

The attack was bloody and disastrous to the attacking force. Its
leader, General Seymour, was dangerously wounded, and General Strong,
with many of his best officers, and hundreds of the men, were killed,
while the total loss in killed, wounded and prisoners, has been
variously estimated at from 1,500 to 2,200 men. Nearly all of the
enemy's regiments were in a state of disorganization, and gloom and
dismay settled upon them.

In this connection it will be of interest to state that, during the
siege, the Federal signal book was in our possession, having been
captured on the person of a signal officer, near Georgetown, South
Carolina. Its valuable secrets had been drawn from him by a
Confederate who shared his place of imprisonment in the garb of a
Federal prisoner. More than once the knowledge thus acquired proved of
essential service to us. On this occasion, the following dispatch from
General Gillmore to Admiral Dahlgren had been intercepted, and in
General Beauregard's possession hours before the assault: "Continue
the bombardment throughout the day; at sunset redouble it. The assault
will commence at seven."

Notwithstanding this disaster, General Gillmore, with great tenacity
of purpose worthy of admiration, gave no evidence of having been
diverted from his objective point. Though apparently convinced of the
futility of all efforts at a _coup de main_, he at once settled down
into an endeavor to reduce Wagner by parallels and trenches. Time was
necessary to do this, however, and time was the salvation of
Charleston, for upon _our_ side the distinguished officer who
commanded the department, General Beauregard, was not idle, and
nothing was left undone for the defence, not only of the outworks, but
of the inner harbor, and of adjacent islands and inlets. The batteries
on Sullivan's Island were strengthened, heavy additions were made to
the armament of Sumter, new batteries were constructed within the city
limits and upon the shores of James Island; some to command the ship
channel, and others to deliver a flanking fire, though at a long
distance, upon the enemy's works on Morris Island, while every device
that the highest engineering skill could suggest, was gallantly acted
upon by the garrison of Wagner to prolong its defence and retard its
fall to the latest possible moment. Torpedoes and submarine batteries
were placed in the waters of the harbor also, and, although I did not
learn that one of them was ever exploded, there can be no doubt that
they exerted a great moral effect, and deterred the vessels of the
fleet from prowling around where we did not want them.

On the night of the 22d of July our second tour of duty at Wagner
began. We found General Taliaferro still in command, and the garrison
increased to about 1,500 men--though changes were so constantly being
made that, without reference to statistical reports, I will not
pretend to accuracy on this point. On every hand could be seen
evidences of the severe trial through which the fort had already
passed and was daily called upon to endure. The barracks and store
houses were in ruins, and all of the slopes and inclines, upon which
the eye of the engineer had loved to rest, were ploughed up in huge
furrows, or pitted with cavernous holes that marked the bursting place
of shells. But sand has many advantages over masonry, and wherever
during the day the injuries done had impaired the defensive powers of
the fort, a thousand busy workers would bend their energies, and the
morning light would show guns remounted, parapets repaired and a
strong front still presented to the enemy. On the 24th of July the
bombardment was unusually severe. The iron-clads, having nothing in
Wagner to oppose them (for on that day our 10-inch gun was useless),
came in as close as the channel would permit, shortly after daylight,
and in conjunction with the land batteries poured in an awful fire
upon us for hours, while from our side, Moultrie, Sumter, Gregg, and
the batteries on James Island, Johnson, Haskell, and Cheves, joined in
the fray. It was certainly a sublime yet terrible sight, never to be
forgotten by any who witnessed it. The impact of tremendous missiles,
followed by the roar of their explosion, shook the solid earth, and
the loud thunder of the guns seemed to rival the artillery of the
heavens as its unceasing reverberations smote upon the ear.

Grave doubts were entertained as to the ability of our fort to stand
much longer this dreadful storm, but help came. About noon the steamer
Alice (that had recently run the blockade), under command of Colonel
Edward C. Anderson, of this city, came rapidly down the harbor from
Charleston, bearing a white flag, and laden, as we learned, with a
large number of Federal wounded, who were to be exchanged for
Confederate wounded. She steered directly for a position between the
fleet and Wagner. One shot was fired over her, but in a moment the
cannonading ceased, and never was relief more welcome or more needed.

Serious injury had been done to Wagner, injury, indeed, that a short
continuance of the firing might have rendered irremediable, as upon
inspection it was found that there remained but about eighteen inches
of sand as a covering for the logs, of which our main service magazine
was built. One shell had carried away the air-flue and the flame, as
it burst, had lit up the interior of the magazine, very much to the
dismay of the men who were serving there, and who came tumbling out
head over heels--evidently not standing on the order of their
coming--only desiring to come quickly.

Colonel Anderson, in speaking of this occurrence, tells me that as he
came down the bay, the gravity of our position was fully realized by
him, and his determination formed to pursue the course he did in order
to bring the firing to an end as soon as possible. He was warned off
as he drew near the fleet, and a shell fired over him, but paid no
attention to the warning, and succeeded in what he aimed to do. It was
the right thing done at the right time, and, as a member of the
garrison, I beg to make here my acknowledgments of the service

The bombardment was not renewed that day, and during the afternoon
General Taliaferro worked to such good purpose that nightfall found
the principal damages substantially repaired.

On this occasion was brought to my attention a striking instance of
the fact that a lofty heroism and nobility of soul may exist where an
ordinary observer would never expect to find them. In the ranks of
Company K, of the 1st Georgia, was a man from Bulloch county. Before
his enlistment, a charcoal burner; he was of mean exterior, sickly
frame and complaining disposition. He had long been a butt for the
rough witticisms of his comrades, and more than once came to me for
redress. What troubled him most was that the men told him he had been
"dug-up," an implication upon the manner of his entry into the
world--that he resented bitterly. During the bombardment of this day
he had, in the performance of customary guard duty, been posted at the
rampart, near the flag staff, to watch for any movements of the enemy
that might indicate the formation of an assaulting column. At the end
of his tour, Lieutenant Cyrus Carter started from the guard quarters
to relieve him. Carter told me that as he crossed the parade, he did
so with the profound conviction that he would be struck down before
reaching the other side, so appalling was the storm of projectiles
that tore up the ground around him. What was his surprise, therefore,
to find the sentinel, not sheltered behind the parapet, as it was
intended he should be, but quietly walking back and forth upon its
very crest, for the expressed reason that he "couldn't see good down

The flag staff had been shattered at his side, and with a strip torn
from his shirt, he had tied the colors to the stump and continued his
walk. As may be well supposed our charcoal burner escaped criticism
after that.

From this time forward the works of the enemy were pushed forward
most assiduously. One parallel after another was opened and breaching
batteries established, armed with heavy sea coast mortars and rifle
guns of tremendous size and power.

On our part, corresponding exertions were made. A heavy fire from our
howitzers and other guns was maintained; sharp-shooters, armed with
Whitworth rifles, kept unremitting watch upon the movements of the
enemy, and a well placed line of rifle-pits, two or three hundred
yards in our front, gave additional strength to our position and
seriously annoyed the besiegers. There were two sides to the matter of
sharp-shooting, however, and the loss of some brave officers and men,
killed by bullets fired at a thousand yards distance, or more, warned
us against anything like heedless exposure.

The discomforts and privations to which the garrison was subjected
rapidly increased, and soon attained proportions that will be
remembered by those who endured them, like the details of some
horrible dream. To avoid an unnecessary loss of life, the men were
kept as much as possible within the bomb-proofs during the day time;
but the gun squads and riflemen, of course, were constantly exposed,
as well as numbers who could find no room in the shelters, or who
preferred taking the fresh air, with all its attendant hazards. From
these there were constant additions to the list of our losses. The
wounded (and the wounds were mostly of a terrible character), were all
brought in among the men, and the surgical operations were performed
in the midst of the crowd, by the light of candles, that dimly burned
in the heavy air from which all vitality had been drawn. The cries of
these poor sufferers, the unceasing roar of artillery above and
around, the loss of rest, the want of pure air, and the baking heat of
a Southern summer, all combined to render the position almost
unbearable. The enemy's dead from the two assaults had been buried
immediately in front of the moat; those from our garrison just back of
the fort. From the description of the island it will be understood
that shallow graves only could be given--graves from which a high wind
would blow the light, sandy soil, or which a bursting shell would
rend, exposing the bodies to the sunshine. The whole air was tainted
with corruption, and finally the little wells, from which our supply
of water was drawn, became so foul, from the same cause, that their
use was abandoned, and thenceforward drinking water was sent from the
city of Charleston.

Now began a most remarkable feature of the siege, and one that has
marked a new era in the science of attack and imposed new and
startling problems upon the military engineer charged with the
construction of permanent fortifications. I allude, of course, to the
battering down of the walls of Fort Sumter from a distance of two and
a half miles. The power of rifled guns against masonry had been
conclusively demonstrated during the previous year at Fort Pulaski.
There, however, the breaching batteries were distant about one mile,
but there were few who could believe that at more than twice that
range Sumter was seriously endangered. It had been thought that the
grand old fort was safe so long as Wagner held out. But one morning a
new battery opened; the shot and shell went high above our heads, and
were hurled with irresistible power against the walls of Sumter. Great
masses of masonry from the outer wall fell as each shot struck, and
ere many days it seemed as though nought but a pile of ruins would
mark the spot. Here, however, General Beauregard gave splendid
evidence of his readiness to meet emergencies, and of his skill as an

As soon as it became evident that the fort must yield to the power of
the heavy artillery brought to bear upon it, he rapidly withdrew all
the guns that could be utilized for defensive purposes at other
points, and from the very ruins of Sumter, constructed, as it were, a
new fortification, fully adequate to the purpose of commanding the
ship channel to the city. But all other power of the fort was gone,
and in the subsequent events on Morris Island, Sumter took no part.
This bombardment lasted for seven days, and in that time a first class
masonry fort was reduced to a shapeless ruin from batteries located at
points far beyond the remotest distance at which any engineer had ever
dreamed of danger. The debris of the walls fell in a natural slope and
served as an impenetrable protection to the lower casemates of the
channel face, in which the new battery was placed. Some little time
elapsed, however, before these changes were completed, and I am unable
to understand why Admiral Dahlgren did not meanwhile avail himself of
the opening thus offered and push with his iron-clads for the inner
harbor. We certainly looked for such a dash, and General Gillmore was
evidently chagrined at the fact that it was not made. Whether or not
such a course would have been successful is problematical. There can
be no doubt, though, that it would have added grave complications to
the Confederate military position, to say the least of it.

At such time as the 1st Regiment was not on duty at Wagner, it was
posted at Fort Johnson, the point of James Island nearest to Morris
Island. For a time our comrades of the 12th and 18th Battalions shared
this post with us, but as the season progressed, we were separated;
the 12th going to Sumter and other points, and the 18th to Fort
Moultrie, where it performed months of arduous and trying service.

At Fort Johnson, which, up to that time had possessed no special
strength, very heavy works were constructed, having reference not only
to the inner harbor, but also to the operations of the enemy on Morris
Island. These batteries, as well as the others along the shores of
James Island, proved very annoying to the enemy, and the accuracy of
their fire is mentioned more than once in his reports.

A most interesting feature in this summer's operations was the
development of the attacking power of movable torpedoes. Special
interest attaches to a boat that was brought from Mobile, by railroad,
and which was generally known, from its shape, as the "Cigar Boat."
Its history is linked with deeds of the loftiest heroism and devotion
of self to the service of country. The story is familiar to all of us,
yet I cannot refrain from repeating it.

This boat was one day made fast to the wharf at Fort Johnson,
preparatory to an expedition against the fleet, and taking advantage
of the opportunity, I examined it critically. It was built of boiler
iron, about thirty feet in length, with a breadth of beam of four feet
by a vertical depth of six feet, the figures being approximate only.
Access to the interior was had by two man-holes in the upper part,
covered by hinged caps, into which were let bull's eyes of heavy
glass, and through these the steersman looked in guiding the motions
of the craft. The boat floated with these caps raised only a foot or
so above the level of the water. The motive power was a propeller, to
be worked by hand of the crew, cranks being provided in the shaft for
that purpose. Upon each side of the exterior were horizontal vanes, or
wings, that could be adjusted at any angle from the interior. When it
was intended that the boat should go on an even keel, whether on the
surface or under, these vanes were kept level. If it was desired to go
below the water, say, for instance, at an angle of ten degrees, the
vanes were fixed at that angle and the propeller worked. The
resistance of the water against the vanes would then carry the boat
under. A reversal of this method would bring it to the surface again.
A tube of mercury was arranged to mark the depth of descent. It had
been the design of the inventor to approach near to an enemy, then to
submerge the boat and pass under the ship to be attacked, towing a
floating torpedo to be exploded by means of electricity as soon as it
touched the keel. Insufficient depth of water in the harbor prevented
this manner of using the boat, however, and so she was rigged with a
long spar at the bow, to which a torpedo was attached, to be fired by
actual concussion with the object to be destroyed. This change
necessarily made the boat more unwieldy, and probably had something to
do with the tragic circumstances of her after history.

It will be remembered that she was sunk at the wharf at Port Johnson
by the waves from a passing steamer, while a part of the crew were in
her. Days elapsed before she could be raised. The dead were removed,
and a second crew volunteered. They made repeated and successful
experiments in the harbor, but finally they, too, went down and, from
some unknown cause, failed to come up. Once more a long time passed
before the boat was raised, and then the poor remains of the devoted
crew were taken from her in an indescribable condition. Yet, still
another set of men came forward and volunteered for the duty. Surely
love of country and courage of the sublimest type never found better
exponents than these. The expedition started, but did not return. That
night the sloop-of-war, "Housatonic," was reported as having been sunk
by a torpedo in the lower harbor, but of the gallant men who had thus
accomplished what they aimed to do, nothing definite was ever known
until after the war, when divers, in endeavoring to raise the
Housatonic, discovered the cigar boat with the bleached bones of her
crew lying near the wreck of the noble ship that she had destroyed.

The line of rifle pits in front of Wagner had been gallantly held by
our men during the siege, and had sorely troubled the besiegers. On
the 21st of August an infantry force attempted the capture of these
pits, without success. On the afternoon of the 26th, a heavy artillery
fire was brought to bear upon them without dislodging the holders, but
that night a dashing charge of the 24th Massachusetts Regiment gained
the position, capturing most of the Confederates who held it, about
seventy men. General Gillmore's fifth and last parallel was at once
established on the ground thus won, and before dawn on the 27th, under
cover of the flying sap, the trenches were pushed about one hundred
yards nearer to the fort.

Notwithstanding this success, General Gillmore, in his report, speaks
of this period as "the dark and gloomy days of the siege," and of the
progress made as "discouragingly slow, and even painfully uncertain."

The ground between his front and Wagner was thickly studded with
torpedoes, his left flank was searched by the unremitting fire from
our batteries on James Island. The head of the sap was slowly pushed
forward under the ceaseless fire of howitzers and sharp-shooters from
the entire front of the fort, while last, though not least, the
besiegers had now reached a point where every onward step compelled
them to dig through the bodies of their dead, who had been buried some
weeks before.

"In the emergency," General Gillmore availed himself of his superior
resources in artillery, to keep down the active resistance of Wagner,
and to this end every gun ashore and afloat was turned upon it. The
final bombardment began at daybreak on the 5th of September and for
forty-two hours continued with a severity and awful terror beyond the
power of words to describe. That night, as witnessed from Fort
Johnson, where the 1st Regiment were stationed, the scene was grand in
the extreme. The lurid flushes of the guns, their unceasing roar, the
shells from every description of tremendous artillery, that could be
tracked through the air by flaming fuses; the mortar shell rising in
stately curve and steady sweep, the Parrott shell darting like
lightning in its mission of death, the missiles from the fleet booming
along the water and bursting in Wagner with cruel accuracy, the glare
of calcium lights, bringing out every detail of our works as in the
noonday--all these filled the souls of Confederate spectators with
awe, and found their painful antithesis in--_the silence of Wagner_.
The end had come.

All through the 6th the bombardment continued, and that evening the
sap had reached the counter scarp of the work, and only the ditch and
parapet separated the combatants. The assault was ordered for nine
o'clock on the morning of the 7th, but by midnight on the 6th the
place was evacuated by the Confederates, the whole force being taken
off the island in row boats. Some few of these boats were intercepted,
but the garrison, as a garrison, was saved. The enemy at once occupied
both Wagner and Gregg, and Morris Island, in its entirety, was in
their possession.

So ended the siege of Battery Wagner, after a defense of fifty-seven
days: a defense that may, without question, be said to have saved
Charleston. The outwork was taken, but the inner citadel still proudly
stood. Still from the ruins of Sumter, still from historic Moultrie,
still from the "City by the Sea," the Southern Cross fluttered in the
breezes of the bay and bade defiance to the foe.

The evacuation so successfully accomplished, in the face of so many
difficulties, under so terrible a fire, and with the enemy in such
close proximity, has justly been considered a remarkable event and the
crowning glory of the defense. That had been protracted to the latest
moment, and when resistance was no longer possible, the brave garrison
was saved to add fresh lustre to the Southern arms on many another

On the afternoon of the 8th of September, notice was received by the
commanders of batteries within range of Sumter, that a boat attack
would be made upon that fortification during the night, and they were
ordered at a given signal to open with all their guns upon the point
where the boats were expected. The signals of the enemy had again been
interpreted, and upon our side there was perfect readiness. The
garrison of Sumter prepared to meet the enemy upon the slope with a
shower of musketry. The guns of our contiguous batteries were
carefully trained upon the right spot before dark, and as soon as
night had fallen, a Confederate ironclad moved into position to add
the fire of her powerful guns. Silently the night wore on; for hours
not a sound broke its stillness; the men sat drowsily by the guns, and
the belief gained ground that the proposed attack had been abandoned,
when suddenly there was a twinkle of a musket from Sumter, then a
rocket soared in the air, and then the bellowing thunder of the great
guns and the explosion of shells instantaneously and startlingly
contrasted with the sleepy quiet of our long hours of watching. The
assault was repulsed with considerable loss to the assailants, but
with no loss to the garrison.

It is singular to note from General Gillmore's report, as an evidence
of a want of harmony between the land and naval forces, that two
independent expeditions were organized for this attack--one by Admiral
Dahlgren, the other by General Gillmore. The report says: "The only
arrangement for concert of action between the two parties, that were
finally made, were intended simply to prevent accident or collision
between them. Each party was deemed in itself sufficiently strong for
the object in view."

The naval expedition, consisting of some twenty-five or thirty boats,
came directly from the ships, in tow of steam tugs, and, reaching
Sumter first, at once delivered its attack. The land forces, about 400
strong, embarked in their boats in Vincent's creek. The windings of
the creek probably delayed them, and they had not quite reached the
fort when the naval assault was made and repulsed. All hope of a
surprise being at an end, the second force retired.

From this time the active operations for the reduction of Charleston
upon this line virtually ceased, though an interchange of artillery
fire was continued with more or less activity for many months. Not
until Sherman's great army swept through South Carolina, and the dying
days of the Confederacy were at hand, did the proud city bow her head,
and yield to the inevitable.

Mr. President, my story is told. It has been my endeavor to place
graphically before this audience a sketch of some of the scenes of
that eventful summer. They have passed into history, but history fails
to record a thousand little details which breathe life into the
picture. Some of these I have tried to present.

Certainly no period of the war was more fruitful in dramatic incident,
and in no portion of the Confederacy was there a grander exhibition of
scientific warfare. The wonderful developments of engineering skill,
both in the attack and in the defense, will ever mark the siege as a
most memorable one, while the share of success attained by each side
robs the memory of the event of any sting of mortification for Federal
and Confederate alike. Sure am I that every member of the First
Georgia who participated in these stirring scenes will, to his latest
day, feel his heart throb with pride in saying, "I was at Charleston
in 1863."

        Savannah, March, 1879.

NOTE.--Referring to the action of Col. Anderson, related on page 10,
it is proper to state that the steamer Alice was sent out from
Charleston _in conformity to an explicit arrangement that had been
entered into by the commanding Generals for an exchange of wounded on
that day_.

She carried a "hospital flag," as well as the ordinary flag of truce.
Soon after the firing ceased, she was met by the Federal steamer
Cosmopolitan, bearing the Confederate wounded, when the exchange was
effected. Both steamers then returned, and the truce ended.

        C. H. O.

Transcriber's Note

Variable spelling, e.g. defense and defence, is preserved as printed.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Reminiscences of Service with the First Volunteer Regiment of Georgia, Charleston Harbor, in 1863 - An address delivered before the Georgia Historical Society, - March 3, 1879" ***

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