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Battle of Fort Wagner, Morris Island
Part of the American Civil War
The Storming of Ft Wagner-lithograph by Kurz and Allison 1890.jpg
The Union charging towards Fort Wagner.
Date July 18, 1863
Location Morris Island, South Carolina
Result Confederate victory

(Forced to abandon after subsequent shelling)

Belligerents
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders
Quincy A. Gillmore
Truman Seymour
George Crockett Strong
John Lyman Chatfield
Haldimand S. Putnam  
Robert Gould Shaw  
Johnson Hagood
William B. Taliaferro
Strength
5,000 1,800
Casualties and losses
1,515 174

The Battle of Fort Wagner, Morris Island, also known as the Second Assault on Morris Island, was fought on July 18, 1863, during the American Civil War. Union Army troops commanded by Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore, launched an assault on the Confederate-held fortress of Fort Wagner, which protected Morris Island, south of Charleston Harbor. The battle came one week after the First Battle of Fort Wagner.

The 54th Massachusetts, an infantry regiment composed of African-American soldiers, led the Union attack at dusk on July 18. They were backed by two brigades composed of nine regiments. The first brigade was commanded by Gen. George Crockett Strong and was composed of the 54th Massachusetts, 6th Connecticut, 48th New York, 3rd New Hampshire, 76th Pennsylvania, and the 9th Maine regiments. The second brigade was commanded by Col. Haldimand S. Putnam of the 7th New Hampshire as acting brigade commander. His brigade consisted of the 7th New Hampshire, 62nd Ohio, 6th Ohio, and the 100th New York regiments. A third brigade under Gen. Stevenson was in reserve, with General Truman Seymour commanding on the field, but did not enter action. The assault began at 7:45 p.m. and was conducted in three movements. The 54th attacked to the west upon the Curtain of Wagner, with the remainder of Gen. Strong's brigade and Col. Putnam's brigade attacking the seaward salient on the south face. By 10;00 p.m. the bloody struggle had concluded with heavy losses. Gen. Strong was mortally wounded in the thigh by grape shot while trying to rally his men. Col. Putnam was shot in the head and killed in the salient while giving the order to withdraw. Col. Chatfield of the 6th Connecticut was mortally wounded. The 54th's colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, was killed upon the parapet early in the action. Some confederate reports claim his body was pierced seven times, with the fatal wound a rifle wound to his chest. The 54th was hailed for its valor. Their conduct improved the reputation of African Americans as soldiers, leading to greater Union recruitment of African-Americans that strengthened the Northern states' numerical advantage.

The approach to the fort was constricted to a strip of beach 60 yards (55 m) wide with the ocean to the east and the marsh from Vincent's Creek to the west. Upon rounding this defile, the Union Army was presented with the 250-yard south face of Fort Wagner, which stretched from Vincent's creek to the sea. Surrounding the fort was a shallow moat riveted with sharpened palmetto logs, as abatis, and the moat on the seaward side had planks with spikes positioned beneath the water. The armament of Fort Wagner on the night of July 18th consisted of one 10" seacoast mortar, two 32lb. carronades, two 8" shell guns, two 32lb. howitzers, a 42lb. carronade, and an 8" seacoast mortar on the land face. Company A of the 1st South Carolina Artillery also had two guns positioned outside of Wagner's southern face by Vincent's creek to provide enfilading fire. The sea face of Wagner was armed with one 32lb. carronade, one 10" Columbiad, and two 12lb. howitzers. The garrison of Battery Wagner, as the Confederates called it, consisted of the 1st South Carolina Artillery, the Charleston Battalion, the 31st North Carolina, and the 51st North Carolina. The fort was commanded by Gen. William Booth Taliaferro. He was reinforced by Gen. Johnson Hagood's brigade shortly after the assault had ended. The garrison of Fort Wagner was then changed during the night, and Gen. Hagood took over command of Battery Wagner. He was relieved by Col. Laurence M. Keitt who commanded the fort until it was abandoned on Sept. 7th, it having been deemed untenable due to the damage from constant bombardment, lack of provisions, and the close proximity of the Union siege trenches to Wagner. Gen Hagood wrote a book titled "Memoirs of the War of Secession", in which he states that the constant bombardment from the Union guns had unearthed such large numbers of the Union dead buried after the assault of the 18th, that the air was so sickening with the smell of death, that one could no longer stand to be in the fort. The constant bombardment caused Confederate soldiers who were killed during the siege to be buried in the walls of Wagner, and they were also constantly being unearthed.

In all, 1,515 Union soldiers were killed, captured, or wounded in the assault of July 18th, although this number has never be accurately ascertained. Gen. Hagood, the commander of Fort Wagner on the morning of July 19th, stated in his report to Gen. Beauregard that he buried 800 bodies in mass graves in front of Wagner. Only 315 men were left from the 54th after the battle. Thirty were killed in action, including Col. Shaw and Captains Russel and Simpkins, and buried together in a single grave. Twenty-four later died of wounds, fifteen were captured, and fifty-two were reported missing after the battle and never seen again. Confederate casualties numbered 174.

Following the Union repulse, engineers besieged the fort. Confederates abandoned the fort on September 7, 1863, after resisting 60 days of shelling.

A depiction of the battle takes place in the film Glory and is the climax of the movie.

References


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