Page images





sometimes called the Middle-Ground Battery. On Cummings's Point of Morris Island was Battery Gregg, and about a mile south of it, commanding the main channel, was a very strong and extensive work, called

Fort Wagner. A little farther south, at Light-House inlet, which divides Folly and Morris Islands, was a battery that commanded the landing-place there. On these works several hundred guns were mounted, a large portion of them of Enlish manufacture. Further to protect the city, the southerly channel of the inner harbor was obstructed by several rows of

piles, one of them having an open space that might invite a vessel to enter, but to perish in the attempt, for under the water, at the threshold of that open door, was a mine containing five thousand pounds of gunpowder. Besides these, there were chains composed of linked railway-iron, to obstruct channels; and there lay, between Forts Sumter and Moultrie, a heavy rope buoyed up by empty casks, and bearing a perfect tangle of nets, cables, and other lines, below, attached to torpedoes, chiefly of the form shown in the engraving, the whole kept in place by anchors of peculiar form, represented in the cut. These torpedoes were prepared for explosion, by means of electricity transmitted through wires from batteries at Farts Sumter and Moultrie. The harbor and its approaches were also sown with torpedoes,

one kind of which, represented in
the engraving, was supplied with
a head, filled with detonating pow-
der, from which radiated tubes.


of these were struck, an

explosion was produced by means of the percussion powder. Such were some of the contrivances for obstructing Charleston harbor—such were the fortifications which have been alluded

to, against which the squadron of Dupont was arrayed on a bright and balmy day in early April, 1863.

Dupont intended to move up the main ship-channel, immediately after crossing the bar, to an attack on Fort Sumter, without returning any fire that might be opened on Morris Island. But a thick haze that spread over land and water, just after sunrise, obscured the more distant guides for the pilots, and the squadron lay quietly

within the bar, in the main ship-channel, until little past April 7,

noon the next day," when it advanced in a prescribed

manner of line ahead,” the Weeharken, Captain Rodgers, leading, the others following in the order named in note 3, page 192. “The ships will open fire on Sumter,” ran Dupont's directions, “when within easy range, and will take up a position to the northward and westward of






· These were made of common barrels, with solid pointed ends of palmetto wood, and Alled with gunpowder.

· The upper half of this torpedo was an empty hollow cone of tin, that actod as a buoy for the lower hall, which was a inine containing about twenty ponnds of gunpowder.




that fortification, engaging its left or northwest face [its weakest side,') at à distance of from one thousand to eight hundred yards; tiring low and aiming at the central embrasure." The commander then knew nothing of the great hawser and its dreadful festoons, that hung in the prescribed path of his warriors.

But it was soon discovered, and the silence of the lower Confederate batteries, and especially of powerful Fort Wagner, as the squadron moved by them—a silence which created the most painful forebodings and suspense—was explained.

The Weehawken, its bow furnished with a contrivance for exploding torpedoes and removing obstructions, went forward, leading the procession of strange monsters of the deep, and at three o'clock came suddenly upon that fearful boom, and could go no farther. Her propeller became entangled in the horrid net-work, and she seemed subject only to the action of the tide. The other vessels were drawing nearer and nearer, their people wondering why the Weehawken hesitated, when suddenly the silence was broken, as the heavy barbette guns of Fort Sumter poured a stream of plunging shot and shell upon the thralled vessel. Rodgers saw that contest there would be fatal to his ship, and he managed to withdraw. Then, followed by the other vessels, he attempted to pass by Sumter, in the channel between it and Cummings's Point, but was there confronted by the rows of piļes. It was well that he was stopped, for had he gone into the open way through one of the rows, the Weehawken would doubtless have been blown to atoms by the monster torpedo just mentioned.

Meanwhile Dupont was bringing the monitors into position for a simultaneous attack on Fort Sumter, when his ponderous flag-ship, the New Ironsides,' struck by the tide, became almost unmanageable, and confused the line. He signaled for the other vessels to disregard her, and take positions for the most effective work. Lieutenant-Commander Rhind then ran the little Keokuk within five hundred yards of the fort, and hurled upon it her immense projectiles, until she, herself, was riddled, began to sink, and was compelled to withdraw. The Montauk and Catskill were almost as near, and these, with the remainder of the monitors, poured a tremendous storm of heavy metal on the fort.” At the same time the guns of Forts Sumter,


1 See notice of the character of Fort Sumter on page 118, volume I.

This vessel was built at Philadelphia by Merrick & Sons, at a cost of $780,000. She was of 3,486 tons burden. She was launched in May, 1862. Her armament was of 200-pounder rifled Parrott guns, capable of throwing solid sbot six miles, and her complement of men was 500. She did good service during the war, and was accidentally burnt near Philadelphia, in December, 1866.

: Mr. Swinton, author of Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, who was on board the flag-ship during the action, and sent a graphic account of it to the New York Times, thus depicted the scene in the turret of a "monitor" in action : " Here are two huge gans which form the armanent of each monitor-the one 11, the other 15 inches in diameter of bore. The gunners, begrimed with powder and stripped to the waist, are loading the gun. The allowance of powder, 85 pounds to each charge, is passed up rapidly from below; the shot, weighing 420 pounds, is hoisted up by mechanical appliances to the muzzle of the gun, and rammed home; the gun is run out to the port and tightly compressed. The port is open for an instant; the captain of the gun stands bebind. lanyard in hand— Ready, fire ! —and the enormous projectile rushes through its buge parabola, with the weight of 10,000 tons, home to its mark.”




Moultrie, Wagner, and the batteries within range, having an aggregate of nearly three hundred pieces,' were hurling heavy shot and shells upon the squadron then within the focus of their concentric fire, at the distance of from only five to eight hundred yards. These were thrown at the rate of one hundred and sixty a minute. The greater portion of them glanced off the mailed ships as harmlessly as if they had been pistol-shot, while others made severe bruises. The weaker Keokuk suffered most, having been hit ninety times. Both her turrets were riddled, and nineteen holes were made in her hull, some of them eighteen inches in diameter. She withdrew, went down the coast of Morris Island to Light-House inlet, and there sunk, at eight o'clock in the evening, after her people had safely abandoned her.

“ The best resources of the descriptive art,” wrote an eye-witness, “ I care not in whose hand, are feeble to paint so terrific and awful a reality. Such a fire, or any thing even approaching it, was simply never seen before. The mailed ships are in the focus of a concentric fire of five powerful works, from which they are removed only from five to eight hundred yards, and which, in all, could not have mounted less than three hundred guns. understand, these not the lighter ordnance, such as thirty-two or forty-two pounders, which form the ordinary armament of forts, but of the very heaviest caliber-the finest and largest guns from the spoils of the Norfolk Navy. Yard, the splendid ten and eleven-inch guns cast at the Tredegar Works, and the most approved English rifled-guns (Whitworth and others) of the largest caliber made. There was something almost pathetic in the spectacle of those little floating circular towers, exposed to the crushing weight of those tons of metal, hurled against them with the terrific force of modern projectiles, and with such charges of powder as were never before dreamed of in artillery firing. It was less the character of an ordinary artillery duel, and more of the proportions of the war of the Titans in the elder mythologies. There was but one conviction in the minds of all who were made acquainted with the facts, whether among the naval officers engaged or intelligent outside observers the fight could not be renewed. And yet it was fully expected, on the night of the battle, that another trial would be made in the morning. I saw many of the captains of the iron-clads during that night. All were ready to resume the battle, though each man felt that he was going to an inevitable sacrifice. I confess I prayed that the fiery cup might pass from them, and that no impetuosity might prompt our leader to throw the fleet again into that frightful fire.

No man could possibly feel with greater intensity all the instincts and motives that prompted the renewal of the battle, than the grand old sailor, the noble Dupont; and yet no man could possibly see with more clearness the blind madness of such an attempt. He dared to be wise." 4

The terrible fight did not last more than forty minutes, during which time, it was estimated, the Confederates fired three thousand five hundred

1 According to the report of General Ripley, who was in charge of the defenses of Charleston, only 76 of these guns wero bronght to bear on the squadron.

? Mr. Swinton said: “Some of the commanders of the iron-clads afterward told me that the shot struck their vessels as fast as the ticking of a watch."

3 The turrets of the Keokuk were made of iron, nearly six inches in thickness, and yet they were pen. etrated, without much difficulty, by the steel-pointed shot burled against them.

4 Mr. Swinton in the Nero York Times.



shots. Dupont, seeing the Keokuk nearly destroyed, half his other vessels injured, his flag-ship placed in peril, and Fort Sumter apparently but slightly injured, he was satisfied that further efforts to reduce that work by the navy alone would be futile, so at five o'clock he signaled the squadron to retire.

The attack on Sumter was a failure, but did not involve disaster. Dupont lost but few men,' and only one vessel (the Keokuk), the remainder of his squadron being in a condition to be easily repaired. He was blamed by the inexpert and zealous for not longer continuing the fight, or renewing it the next day, but subsequent events vindicated the soundness of his judgment. His withdrawal gave the Confederates great joy, and “the happy issue," Beauregard said in a general order, “inspired confidence in the country that the ultimate success of the Confederates would be complete." : Had a sufficient supporting land force been employed in vigorously attacking the Confederates on Morris Island, and keeping the garrisons of Battery Gregg and Fort Wagner engaged while the squadron was attacking Fort Sumter, the result might have been different. But only about four thousand of Hunter's troops had aught to do with the expedition directly. These, under General Truman Seymour, Hunter's chief of artillery, were posted behind a thicket of palm-trees, on Folly Island, at Light-House inlet, with pontoons and cannon, ready to dash across to Morris Island and attack the Confederates there when the squadron should reduce Fort Sumter and silence the guns of Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg; but they were not permitted to co-operate in that work. The squadron failed, and the land troops had nothing to do. “A mere spectator,” General Hunter wrote to April 8, Admiral Dupont the next day from the transport Ben Deford, “I could do nothing but pray for you, which, believe me, I did most heartily."


1 The Mahant received thirty wounds, one of which was produced by a heavy rifled-shot which struck her pilot-house, and dislodged several bolts, by which Edward Cobb, quartermaster, was fatally hurt, and the captain and pilot were injured. The Passaic received as many wounds. One of the shot which struck the top of her turret broke all of the eleven one-inch plates of iron that composed it, and injured the pilot-house. The port of the Nantucket was firmly closed by a shot that damaged it. The Nero Ironsides had one of her port shutters carried away by a shot, and her wooden bows were penetrated by shells; and the deck-plating of the Catskill was torn up by a shell.

? Only one man died of injuries received, and about twenty-five were wounded, principally on board the Keokuk and Nahant.

: All the trophies of victory secured by the Confederates were “two 11-inch Dahlgren guns, two United States flags, two pennants, and three signal flags.” The guns were immediately put into the Confederate service* substantial trophies of the affair," Beauregard said.










• June 2,


HERE was comparative quiet along the coasts of South

Carolina and Georgia for some time after the attack of the iron-clad squadron on Fort Sumter. Dupont kept a careful watch over the movements of the Confederates, especially those on Morris Island. He had been instructed not to allow them to erect any more fortifica

tions on that strip of land, for it had been determined to seize it, and begin a regular and systematic siege of Charleston by troops and ships.

General Hunter was relieved of the command of the Department of the South, and General Q. A. Gillmore, who captured Fort Pulaski the year

before,' was assigned to it. He arrived at Hilton Head on the 12th of June, and immediately assumed command. He found

there not quite eighteen thousand land troops, mostly veterans. A greater portion of them were the men left there by General Foster. The . lines of his Department did not extend far into the interior, but were of great length, parallel with the coast. He had to picket a line about two hundred and fifty miles in length, besides establishing posts at different points. This service left him not more than eleven thousand men that might be safely concentrated for operations directly against Charleston. He had at his disposal ninety-six heavy guns, but only eighty were effective, a dozen 13-inch mortars being too large. He was well supplied with materials of every kind to carry on a siege, and he worked diligently in preparations for it. The National forces were then in possession of most of the sea-coast islands west of the Stono River, and also of Folly Island, eastward of Stono inlet, where their pickets confronted those of the Confederates on Morris Island, at Light-House inlet.

At about the time of Gillmore's arrival, rumors reached Dupont that his blockading vessels were in danger from a very powerful iron-clad ram, which for fourteen months had been in preparation at Savannah, and was then completed. The rumor was true. A swift British blockade-runner, named Fingal, built in the Clyde, which had gone up the Savannah River full eighteen months before with a valuable cargo, and had not been able to get out to sea again, had been converted into a warrior which the Confederates believed would be a match for any two monitors then afloat. She was thoroughly armed with a coat of thick oak and pine, covered with heavy

1 See page 819, volume II.

« PreviousContinue »