Sunday September 6th, 1863
It is Sabbath morning, my dear mother, but it is a very difficult matter to realize the fact. All day yesterday, all last night and all day up to this hour, Battery Wagner has been subjected to a most terrific bombardment. Over one hundred were killed and wounded within its walls yesterday. No human being could have lived for one moment upon its walls or upon its parade. Against it were hurled the combined projectiles fired from the ironsides and the various mortar and Parrott batteries of the enemy located at different points on Morris Island. As their shells in numbers would explode in the parapet and within the fort, Wagner would seem converted into a volcano. Never was any battery called upon to resist such a bombardment, and I fear that it i now held more as a matter of military pride than anything else. It is very questionable whether this should be done.
In full view of everything on yesterday afternoon, from Battery Haskell, which was firing upon the enemy, I witnessed the progress of the siege. The gunnery of the Federals was wonderful. Wagner could not answer a single shot. The enemy last night assaulted Battery Gregg, which is located on the extreme north point of Morris Island, and were repulsed. God be praised for that; for had Gregg been carried, the entire garrison at Wagner would have been captured. I would not be surprised if the enemy assaulted Wagner tonight. That portion of the parapet looking towards the south of Morris Island has been knocked very much to pieces, and the sand crumbled into the ditch. In the very nature of things it cannot be held very much longer.
As a port of commercial ingress and egress Charleston is gone, but my impression at present is that the enemy will never be able to obtain possession of the city itself. It may be destroyed in whole or in part by the shells of the enemy, but it is questionable whether they can ever hold it as a site. The inner defenses are as yet intact, and the large Blakely gun is nearly mounted. Three ironclad gunboats are in the house, ready to attack the enemy in the event of their endeavoring to enter with their fleet.
We know not what a day may bring forth, but I trust that we may all be enabled, by God’s blessing, to do our heroic duty under any and every circumstance. This life is a terrible one but must be endured. do, my dear mother, kiss my precious little daughter for me. Assure all at home of my sincerest love. And believe me ever
Your affectionate son,
Charles C. Jones, Jr.
Fort Wagner was part of Charleston, South Carolina’s defenses. The structure was about 250 yards by 100 years, made of sand and earth walls that reach about 30 feet high and supported by logs and sandbags. The assigned garrison numbered about 1,700 and worked the fourteen cannons within the fort. Beyond the earthen walls, the defenses included a water trench and sharp stakes.
In July 1863 the first and second Union assaults on Fort Wagner took place. During the second attack, the 54th Massachusetts made their charge. (More details here.) However, those attacks failed to take the Confederate fort, and the Union troops laid siege. After two attempts, the blue-clad troops captured and held the advance rifle pits on August 26.
On the day Jones wrote this letter (September 6) marked nearly sixty days of artillery barrage. That night the Confederates took the cannons and withdrew from Battery Wagner. Later, in 1863 – after the fall of Fort Gregg – Charleston’s port would be closed, though the city would remain in Southern hands until 1865.
The Big Guns
I don’t know what you think of when “Civil War artillery” comes into a conversation, but I think of the field guns used and maneuvered on the battlefields. Maybe because I’ve studied more battlefield operations than sieges, or maybe because I like to photograph field guns.
At Battery Wagner, there were fourteen artillery pieces. One of them was a Columbiad – a large fort gun. This type of seacoast defense gun was invented in the early 19th Century and various sizes and models were used in Civil War forts. The Confederates got most of their Columbiads by capturing the U.S. Forts or arsenals.
The Columbiad at Battery Wagner fired a 128 lb. shell. Yikes!
The timing of this post and the notes on Battery Wagner come at an interesting time in modern preservation efforts. Recently, it was announced the Charleston, South Carolina received a large grant to study the “forgotten” historic sites around the city and Civil War defenses.
Check out the details in this post from Emerging Civil War.