July 1863 Just Was A Bummer for the Confederacy
The momentous US Army victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Tulahoma that I have written about in earlier blog posts piqued the sensabilities of the US Navy! There was a definite desire, nay a need, for some glory and justification for the dollars spent on expensive ironclad monitors and heavy guns. Again in a previous blog I wrote about the black pilot, Robert Smalls, who commandeered a Confederate supply ship, CSS Planter, with his family and surrendered it to the blockading force. Well, Smalls reported that the defenders of Charleston had pulled back from the southern reaches of James Island along the Stono River. This provided an opportunity for a flanking attack on Charleston’s defenses. The avenue for the installation of the Swamp Angel was a result of this information as well as the seeds of the land attacks on Morris Island which held the infamous Battery Gregg and its southern flank defensive position, Battery Wagner, of Glory fame. On 18 July Col. Robert Gould Shaw and his famous 54th Massachusetts attacked Ft Wagner. But it took until 7 September for the Confederates to be forced to abandon Wagner.
We were on Folly Island this Spring and looked across the Lighthouse Inlet to the beach approach to FT Wagner. It is clearly evident why the attack was made in column of regiments on line. The depiction of the attack on the beach in the movie is exactly correct.
The siege of Charleston and it’s harbor defenses is the longest set battle of the Civil War. An amphibious attack was made on FT Sumter, the perceived key to the harbor, and it failed. It was a sole Navy operation and suffered from lack of coordination and underestimation of the defenders capability and determination. Other attacks along the coast including Ft Wagner also suffered from lack of adequate foresight and coordination-often deliberately caused by self interest on the part of Gideon Wells and Gustavus Fox, the Undersecretary of the Navy. On the Mississippi close relations between Grant and the Navy were wildly successful. In the East not so. Too bad.