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Chapter V, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4


Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5

But in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, the persistence and the inexhaustible naval resources of the Federals made a continually deepening impression. Fort Pulaski, on the Savannah river, a Federal fort before the war, was cannonaded and compelled to surrender in April, 1862. Pensacola, in Florida, was evacuated by its Confederate garrison in the following May. At an earlier period (January, 1862), the naval officer in command of the blockading fleet off Charleston caused hulks laden with stones to be sunk across one of the ship channels leading into Charleston harbour, so as to make the work of watching and catching the blockade-runners less arduous. A great outcry was raised when the news of this measure reached Europe. The Federal Government, in attempting to ruin a fine harbour for the sake of a military object, was charged with warring against the common rights and permanent interests of civilised man. If, however, Mr. Greeley is to be trusted, no such effect was either intended or produced. "No complaint has since been made of any actual injury thus inflicted on the peaceful commerce of Charleston; on the contrary, it has been plausibly asserted that the partial closing of one of the passes, through which the waters of Ashley and Cooper rivers find their way to the ocean, was calculated to deepen and improve those remaining."

Nothing more of moment took place in 1862. On the last day of January, 1863, the Confederates at Charleston, being doubtless fired with the wish of emulating the exploits of their friends in Texas, sent down two ironclads, which, attacking the blockading fleet, compelled one of them, the Mercedita, to surrender, and disabled another, the Keystone State. But upon other ships coming up, the Confederate iron-clads sheered off, and retreated up the harbour. The naval and military commanders in Charleston then solemnly declared the blockade to have been raised, and the port to be open! In April, Commodore Dupont, in the Ironsides, led nine iron-clads to the attack of Fort Sumter. That fort, as is very generally known, stands on an artificial island in mid-channel, just within the entrance to Charleston harbour. It had five faces, built up with very solid masonry, and armed with guns in casemates; its heaviest pieces, however, were mounted on the top of the parapet en barbette. From a flagstaff on one of its angles floated the Confederate flag; another flagstaff at the opposite angle bore the Palmetto flag, the banner of South Carolina. The iron-clads steamed up to the attack, but they found all sorts of obstacles in their way; and when they were near enough to commence firing, they were overwhelmed by such a storm of heavy missiles from Fort Sumter and the Moultrie and other batteries, that after one of his ships, the Keokuk, had been riddled and reduced to a sinking state, and others much damaged, while no serious impression had been made on Fort Sumter, Commodore Dupont made the signal to retire. No attempt was made from this time to force a way up the harbour with the iron-clads.

But if there was one object on which the Republican party at the North, and their representatives administering the Federal government, had set their hearts more fervently than another, it was the reduction and humiliation of the proud little city where first the flag of secession had been raised, the first shot fired at the Stars and Stripes. Dupont seemed to be at the end of his invention; he was therefore recalled, and the command of the blockading fleet given to Commodore Dahlgren. About the same time - a change of much greater significance - General Hunter, who hitherto had charge of the department of the Carolinas, was superseded by General Gillmore, an engineer officer of great capacity. Gillmore, after a careful survey of the ground, determined upon the following plan of operations: - to land, first of all, a strong force on the southern end of Morris Island (the island which forms the south-west side of the outer portion of Charleston harbour); reduce Fort Wagner, a powerful sand redoubt near the northern end of the island; and, planting batteries on Cumming's Point, the extreme point of the same island, overlooking the harbour, bombard and dismantle Sumter from thence. This was an able and profound conception, and Gillmore immediately proceeded to carry it out. General Strong, with 2,000 men, was landed, without loss (July 10), on the south end of Morris Island. Batteries were then traced and armed within short range of Fort Wagner. The bombardment opened on the 18th July, and was aided by the guns of the fleet; the garrison of Fort Wagner, I their fire being quite overpowered, retired within their bomb-proofs; and General Strong, believing the defences to be ruined, ordered a general assault. The Federals advanced bravely to the moat, but only to be mown down with great slaughter by enemies of equal courage and all the advantages of position The assailants were beaten back with the loss of 1,500 men. In this engagement fell Colonel Shaw, at the head of a negro regiment organised in Massachusetts, which advanced to the assault with great gallantry, and lost many men. This was the first coloured regiment raised in a free state. Colonel Shaw was a hereditary Abolitionist; and the Confederates, it is said, vainly thought to heap indignity upon him by "burying him in the same pit with his niggers." Mr. Greeley warms into eloquence on this occasion and says: - "His relatives and friends gratefully accepted the fitting tribute; and when, in due time, a shaft shall rise from the free soil of redeemed Carolina above that honoured grave, it will perpetuate, alike for leader and for led, the memory of their devotion to the holy cause whereto they offered up their lives a willing sacrifice."

This seems a fitting opportunity to make a short digression, for the purpose of examining to what extent the coloured people had been hitherto employed in the war, whether on one side or the other.

In the War of Independence the revolted colonies freely employed negro soldiers at first, wh^her free or bond, but afterwards decided not to enlist any that were not free. British governors - Lord Dunmore in Virginia, for instance - often offered freedom to any negroes who would leave their masters and enlist in the King's service; and a considerable number did so enlist and were turned into valuable soldiers. Had the war continued two or three years longer, the course of events would have probably led, even then, to the extinction of slavery in the short war of 1812, negroes were employed on one memorable occasion by General Jackson, in his famous defence of New Orleans. Ho publicly and vigorously reprobated the " mistaken policy" which had hitherto excluded them from the service, and emphatically attested their bravery and good conduct while serving under his eye.

General Hunter, commanding in the Carolinas, and General Phelps, in Louisiana, under Butler, were the first that endeavoured to raise negro regiments, though at first with little encouragement from their superiors. The danger of alienating Kentucky and Missouri still more than they were then alienated, by doing what would please the Abolitionists, was deemed for a time a sufficient ground for discountenancing the enlistment, and consequent emancipation, of slaves. But when negroes came flocking in great numbers to the Federal commanders encamped in slave states, entreating to be employed or fed, as their masters had quitted the plantations, leaving them with no means of subsistence, the difficulty of rejecting them became so great as to be insurmountable. Butler himself, who had roughly thwarted General Phelps in his project for enlisting negroes, was compelled by the necessities and perils of his position to appeal to the free coloured men of New Orleans to take up arms in the national service. The appeal was responded to with alacrity and enthusiasm, and a first regiment, 1,000 strong, filled within fourteen days; all its line officers coloured as well as the rank and file. His next regiment, raised soon afterwards, had its two highest officers white, all the rest coloured. After Banks had succeeded Butler at New Orleans, these regiments came in for their full share of military hardships and perils. Especially is it recorded to their honour that they took part in the desperate assault on Port Hudson, on the 27th May, 1863, when they are said to have vied with the bravest; "making three desperate charges on rebel batteries, losing heavily, but maintaining their position in the hottest forefront to the close."

The Confederate Government, when it first heard of the efforts that were being made by Generals Hunter and Phelps to enlist negro soldiers for the Union armies, was furious. Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, issued an order directing that " said generals be no longer regarded as public enemies of the Confederacy, but as outlaws; and that in the event of the capture of either of them, or of any other commissioned officer employed in organising, drilling, and instructing slaves, he should not be treated as a prisoner of war, but held in close confinement for execution as a felon, at such time and place as he (the President) should order." The cloven foot comes out here portentously. It is a fair act of war to arm and enlist any of the inhabitants of a country with which you are at war, if they are willing to serve you; though the penal consequences to them of disloyalty, if caught, may be of the most terrible description. Had the Confederate leaders viewed the slaves as men, they must have regarded the matter in this light; but they looked on them as chattels, as creatures not endowed with a reasonable will, as bimanous animals, useful when kept to labour, but capable of frightful mischief if they broke loose from restraint. Their anger, therefore, was directed, not against the slaves themselves, but against those who abused their feeble intelligence to induce them to turn against their kind masters.

Nevertheless, the enlistment of slaves went on, and not on the Federal side only. The Confederate commanders had impressed negroes in large numbers for auxiliary services long before the Federals thought of raising negro regiments. They took rather a pride in doing so, as if to show that they were not afraid to trust their slaves with arms. Mr. Greeley says: - " The credit of having first conquered their prejudices against the employment of blacks, even as soldiers, is fairly due to the rebels." But after Mr. Lincoln had issued his proclamation of January, 1863, emancipating all slaves in states then in arms against the United States, the balance of negro availability inclined greatly in favour of the Federals. It is not in human nature that a slave should fight as well in an army arrayed for the maintenance of the institution of slavery, as his brother in the opposite ranks, who fights for its abolition.

From this digression, we return to the narrative of the siege of Charleston. The assault on Fort Wagner having failed, there was nothing for it but to approach the place by regular parallels; and trenches were opened without delay. Perceiving at the same time that by planting rifled guns in the swamp between Morris Island and James Island he could reach Charleston, though the distance was not less than five miles, Gillmore caused a solid platform to be constructed with infinite labour in the marsh, and mounted upon it an 8-inch rifled Parrot gun. The soldiers christened this gun the " the Swamp Angel." Before opening fire, Gillmore summoned General Beauregard (who was in command at Charleston) to abandon Morris Island and Fort Sumter, on penalty of the bombardment of Charleston. General Beauregard being away on some special service, the messenger returned without an answer, and Gillmore then opened fire (August 21). From that time till the end of the year an intermittent bombardment of the city was kept up. The " Swamp Angel," after several of its shells had reached and exploded in the lower part of Charleston, though without destruction of life, burst at the thirty-sixth discharge. But Gillmore was soon afterwards able, in the manner presently to be related, to plant batteries a full mile nearer to Charleston, by means of which a full half of the city was brought within shell range, and, after the loss of some lives, abandoned by most of its inhabitants; while many of the buildings, including some of the most substantial and costly edifices, suffered severely. The effects of this bombardment were thus described by the correspondent of a northern paper, who entered Charleston after its evacuation by the Confederates: -

" Not a building for blocks here that is exempt from the marks of shot and shell. All have suffered more or less. Here is a fine brown stone bank building, vacant and deserted, with great gaping holes in the sides and roof, through which the sun shines and the rain pours; windows and sashes blown out by exploding shell within; plastering knocked down; counters torn up; floors crushed in; and fragments of mosaic pavement, broken and crushed, lying around on the floor, mingled with bits of statuary, stained glass, and broken parts of chandeliers. Ruin within and without; and its neighbour in no better plight. The churches, St. Michael's and St. Philip's, have not escaped the storms of our projectiles. Their roofs are perforated, their walls wounded, their pillars demolished, and within the pews filled with plastering. From Bay Street, studded with batteries, to Calhoun Street, our shells have carried destruction and desolation, and often death, with them."

This wanton destruction does not appear to have been justified by any recognised maxim or usage of the Law of Nations. It was useless for any military end, for it did not shorten the Confederate tenure of Charleston by a single day. Like the Prussian bombardment of the churches and civil buildings of Peronne and other places in the French War, the design seems to have been to break down the resistance of the defenders of the place through the moral impression caused by the infliction of severe sufferings on non-combatants. This, though consonant to the usages of ancient warfare, has been supposed to be proscribed by the more humane spirit of modern times. The celebrated American publicist, Dr. Wheaton, lays down that, " by the modern usage of nations, which has now acquired the force of law, temples of religion, public edifices devoted to civil purposes only, monuments of art, and repositories of science, are exempted from the general operations of war."

Meantime, the siege of Fort Wagner was steadily carried on, and a rain of shot and shell poured into it incessantly, both by the batteries on Morris Island and by the blockading ships. At length, after a protracted and heroic defence, when the sap of the besiegers was now pushed up to the edge of the counterscarp, and the assault was ordered for the following morning, the garrison evacuated the place in the night. Though 122,300 pounds of metal had been hurled at the fort within the past two days, at short range, from breaching guns, none of them less than a 100-pounder, its bomb-proof was found substantially intact, and capable of sheltering 1,500 men. Sand was proved to possess a power of protracted resistance to the fire of heavy ordnance far surpassing that of brick or stone. Fort Wagner was abandoned on the 7th September. On the following day, an unsuccessful attempt was made to take Sumter by an expedition of boats from the fleet. The fort had been nearly silenced, and greatly damaged by the fire of the Morris Island batteries, and Admiral Dahlgren seems to have counted on a feeble resistance. But no sooner had the crews from three boats landed on the crumbling debris than the garrison opened a heavy fire, which sank the boats, and killed or wounded a considerable number of the stormers: the rest surrendered. The other boats drew off unhurt.

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Pictures for Chapter V, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

Archbishop Whately
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Puebla
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Puebla
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Ditch of fort Wagner
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Charleston harbour
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Captain Speke
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