Sumter and Wagner Still Gallantly Held! – Beauregard Needs More Slaves

September 1, 1863 (Tuesday)

General Beauregard - perhaps not so gallantly...
General Beauregard – perhaps not so gallantly…

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard had quite a bit of pride in what he and his men were accomplishing. Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner (along with an array of other forts and batteries) protected Charleston from the Federals pounding at the gate. Union troops under Quincy Adams Gillmore had twice attacked Wagner, and were twice defeated. Admiral John Dahlgren’s fleet of ironclads, along with Gillmore’s artillery, had spent the past week and a half bombarding both Sumter and Wagner, and though they were battered, the Rebels were holding. But how long they might continue to hold was still in great debate.

Life in Sumter was hellish, but the troops under Alfred Rhett endured. They were on an island all to themselves, and though they expected that the Yankees might eventually land upon it to take the fort, they felt more or less certain that the only way Sumter would fall would be through an intense battle.

Things were quite a bit different in Battery Wagner, itself much like a fort. Most obvious, they shared Morris Island with the Federal infantry. Wagner and her smaller sister, Battery Gregg, occupied the northern tip, while the Union troops held the southern portion with rows of trenches and batteries. General Beauregard rotated troops in and out of Wagner at a fairly brisk pace. The constant strain sapped morale, and many, even the higher officers, were now considering abandoning Morris Island all together.

So constant was the Federal bombardment upon Wagner, and so real the threat of sharpshooters, that signalmen, usually manning flags to wig-wag messages from Wagner to Gregg, were reduced to running the gauntlet of fire from one battery to the next with the aid of swift and fearless horses.

Fort Sumter during the bombardment.
Fort Sumter during the bombardment.

But Rebel soldiers weren’t the only people being rotated in and out of Sumter. The slaves attached to the Confederate army were also on rotation. To his engineers and the Charleston garrison, Beauregard requested each “to send 100 negroes, with competent managers, to Morris Island as soon as practicable (if not already done), to relieve those sent there this morning.” The slaves were being put to work on fixing the damage caused by Union shells. It was dangerous and back breaking, two “good” reasons why the Rebels forced the slaves to do it.

Slaves, however, were in short supply. John McDaniel had been tasked with convincing the wealthy land owners in the area to let the Confederate Army borrow a quarter of their slaves. He wrote to Beauregard that his luck had been poor and few slaves had been acquired. Beauregard replied on this date.

“I regret that you have found planters [plantation owners] so ready with excuses for not furnishing labor [slaves] to defend Charleston,” he began. “May God grant that, in seeking to avoid furnishing a fourth of their labor, at this momentous junction, they do not materially contribute to the loss of the whole.”

Finished with his sales pitch, Beauregard shoveled out his advice. If McDaniel was unable to find men to help him round up the slaves, he was to “call on the planters to give you, in good faith, a list of their able-bodied male negroes between the ages of eighteen and forty-five….” He reiterated that “every man in the district must be required to send one-fourth” of his slaves.

Beaureagard most wanted the slaves of the people who had not yet contributed. They were to come first. As for the black people unattached to white owners, McDaniel was to round up them up as well. The “refugees,” explained Beauregard, “of course must fare the same as others. Send back all negroes who have run away from the works.”

Battery Wagner
Battery Wagner

General Beauregard well knew the condition of both forts. He received daily reports from Wagner and could clearly see that Sumter was all but reduced. He also knew that if Sumter and Charleston itself were to be saved, more arms were needed. On this day, he did what he could to hurry them along.

“Can you spare me, say, 500 small-arms,” he wrote to General Whiting in Wilmington, North Carolina, adding “to be returned in twenty days” as a bit of incentive. A little later, he wrote Whiting again. “Can you not hurry up the second Blakely gun? Its position on White Point Battery will soon be ready.” He believed that Admiral Dahlgren was planning on running his ironclads past the batteries to gain entrance into Charleston Harbor. “Sumter and Wagner still gallantly held,” he closed.

The Federal bombardment stretched on throughout this day, but would taper off as Union General Gillmore concocted a new plan to wring some sort of victory out of his stay near Charleston.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 28, Part 1, p108, 620; Part 2, p328-330; Gate of Hell by Stephen R. Wise. []
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Sumter and Wagner Still Gallantly Held! – Beauregard Needs More Slaves by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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