Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

By Earl J. Hess | Go to book overview
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11 Charleston

One week after the battle of Gettysburg, Federal troops began a campaign against Charleston, South Carolina, that would be the largest land attack on the defenses of that important city. Not only was it a highly visible symbol, the place where the first shots were fired in the Civil War, but Charleston was an important port for blockade runners. The operations against the city in the summer of 1863 involved extensive fortifications for both offensive and defensive purposes. In fact, Charleston was one of the most heavily fortified cities in America. Confederate authorities had sought to protect the place as soon as the Yankees had evacuated Fort Sumter in April 1861, and Union commanders had pondered how best to tackle this citadel of the South.

Various Federal officers had proposed plans for operations against Charleston for some time. Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman commanded the expeditionary corps that cooperated with the navy in the capture of Port Royal in November 1861. He passed on the recommendation of his chief engineer, Capt. Quincy A. Gillmore, who proposed a plan for taking Charleston. Gillmore advised seizing Morris Island and Sullivan's Island, which flanked the throat of Charleston Harbor south and north. Gillmore then recommended using rifled artillery to reduce Fort Sumter, which was located on a sandbar near the middle of the throat. He also thought a similar strategy could be employed against Fort Moultrie on the southern end of Sullivan's Island and Fort Johnson on the northern shore of James Island. This latter island comprised much of the land south of the harbor. Then Gillmore recommended bombarding Charleston itself. Alternatively, Gillmore noted that the Federals could advance up the Stono River, which constituted the western and southern border of James Island. Once the island was in Union hands, the forts at the entrance to the harbor would eventually fall like ripe apples. Gillmore thought it would take 14,000 men, a dozen field guns, and twenty siege guns to take James Island. Sherman agreed with his engineer but thought more resources were needed to accomplish either of the two plans. Almost the same proposal was advanced a few weeks later by Lt. Col. Daniel P. Woodbury, aide-de-camp to John G. Barnard.1

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