July 18, 1863 ~ 2nd Battle of Fort Wagner

 

The Second Battle of Fort Wagner, Morris Island one of the most iconic battles of the U.S. Civil War.  It happen in Charleston, South Carolina on July 18, 1863.

Although Charleston was an important port for the Confederates early in the war, by 1863, the Union blockade of the city early in the war had bottled up Charleston Harbor. But, Charleston was symbolic of the Confederate cause, so its capture would be a major prize for the Union.

Union General Quincy Gillmore was tasked with capturing the Confederate stronghold.

His plan was to approach the city from the south and capture Morris Island located at the entrance to the Harbor.

On July 10, Gillmore’s troops quickly secured most of Morris Island, but still faced Battery Wagner, an imposing fortress.

The fort was 30 feet high, nearly 300 feet from north to south, and over 600 feet from east to west.

Inside were 1,600 Confederates, 10 heavy cannons, and a mortar for hitting ships off the coast.

Gillmore attacked on July 11, but the attack was easily repulsed.

He regrouped and set about planning a much larger assault of the fortress.

Beginning the morning of July 18, Union artillery, ships, and ironclads began bombarding Fort Wagner .

The bombardment did little actual damage as the fort’s sand walls absorbed the Union shells and the garrison took cover in a large bombproof shelter.

With the bombardment underway, Union forces began preparing for the assault.

Brigadier General George Crockett Strong’s brigade was selected to lead the assault.

Strong accorded Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s 54th Massachusetts, One of the first regiments composed of African-American troops, the honor of leading the assault.

As the bombardment concluded, Shaw raised his sword and signaled the advance.

Moving forward, the Union advance was compressed at a narrow point in the beach.

As the lines of blue approached, BG William B. Taliaferro’s confederates emerged and began manning the ramparts.

Almost immediately, the 54th came under Confederate fire.

COL Shaw, was killed early in the action, but the 54th were reinforced by Strong’s other regiments which attacked the wall closer to the sea.

The 54th managed to reach the parapet, but after a fierce struggle, including hand-to-hand combat, they were forced back.

The 6th Connecticut and 48th New York continued the attack, but the newly reinforced Confederates were gaining the underhand.

As the Union assault crumbled, the Confederates swept over the bastion, killing and capturing the rest of the Union troops that remained.

Gen. George Crockett Strong was mortally wounded in the thigh by grape shot while trying to rally his men.

Also, another of the 54th’s casualties was Lewis Douglass, son of the famous orator Frederick Douglass.

After the July 18 battle, Gillmore settled in for a long siege.

The Confederates finally evacuated the fort on September 7, 1863.

Two men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at Fort Wagner that day, including SGT William Carney of the 54th Massachusetts.

Sergeant had save the Union Colors after the flag bearer had been killed. He led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.

He received the Medal nearly 40 years later in May, 1900.

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