On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier's Civil War Letters from the Front

By James Henry Gooding; Virginia Matzke Adams | Go to book overview

4
Yankee Pandemonium Charleston, South Carolina, August and September 1863
After two unsuccessful frontal at-
tacks on Fort Wagner in which he
lost one-third of his men, General
Gillmore was ready to try a dif-
ferent approach. He would lay
siege to the fort, constructing
trenches, or saps, which could
bring his heavy guns ever closer to
the enemy's batteries. The first par-
allel was begun 1,350 yards from
Wagner on July 23. One month
later the fifth parallel had been
completed within 200 yards of the
fort.
The work was carried out under
incredibly difficult conditions. The
heat was almost unbearable; mov-
ing the heavy guns and setting
them up on shifting sand or marsh
mud required extraordinary
strength and engineering skill;
and with little natural cover for
protection, workers at the front
were frequent victims of rebel
sharpshooters.
By mid-August the advancing
parallels had brought Fort Sumter
well within reach of Union artil-
lery and it was decided not to wait
for the fall of Wagner before at-
tempting Sumter's destruction.
Therefore on August 17 the Morris
Island batteries, joined by the
ironclads, began an intense bom-
bardment of the fort which con-
tinued without letup for seven
days. At the end of that time Fort
Sumter was, in General Gillmore's
words, "a shapeless and harmless
mass of ruins,"1 yet it steadfastly
refused to surrender. General
Gillmore now expected the fleet to
proceed into Charleston Harbor.
Admiral Dahlgren and the Navy
Department evidently thought it
still too risky and the fleet stayed
____________________
1
ORA 1, 28.1:3.

-44-

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