The Second Assault against Fort Wagner

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#1
‪#‎Wagner150‬ July 17, 1863: Another Attack is Delayed by Rain

The Second Assault against Fort Wagner was originally planned for Friday July 17, 1863, 150 years ago today. However, rain along the South Carolina coast would delay the battle another day. The rain would also play a role in the artillery bombardment planned to proceed the assault.

Federal troops and officers continued to build and arm batteries. The Navy, under Admiral Dahlgren who had met with General Gillmore on the 16th, was preparing to provide support for the assault. Generals Strong and Seymour, made plans for which units would participate in the assault and what order they would attack.

Confederate General Taliaferro carefully positioned the newly arrived troops within Fort Wagner. Infantry troops would include the Charleston Battalion, the 51st North Carolina, and the 31st North Carolina. Artillery positions inside and outside the fort would by manned by Company A, H, and I 1st SC Artillery, Company B and K 63rd GA Artillery, and Company D 22nd GA Battalion.

The final pieces were now in place. On both sides, confidence was abundant, believing it would be a quick fight. Even the rain would not dilute the adrenaline running through their veins.

(Image: Map of Fort Wagner July 18, 1863 from Stephen Wise's book "Gate of Hell" page 98)

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gary

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#2
Stephen Wise's book, Gate of Hell, is one of the best books on the campaign involving the Siege of Battery Wagner and Charleston. Timothy Bradshaw's book, Battery Wagner, is a good companion.
 

Carronade

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Being me I'll point out that carronades F, K, and L are positioned to sweep the face of the fort, mainly with canister. That face is a classic Vauban design, ensuring that at no point can attacking soldiers find cover by getting right up against the wall. It's a good use for weapons with short range but a high rate of fire.

It appears that howitzers A and B can do the same on their side of the fort, although the angle is not quite so favorable; they have to train about 45 degrees right to completely sweep the face.
 
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#4
The movie Glory ends with the battle and it is very sad. Highly recommended. My great great grandfather and my great great great grandfather served in the 51st NC, although I am not sure if they were at Battery Wagner- it would be awesome if they both were.
 

rhettbutler1865

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#5
Stephen Wise's book, Gate of Hell, is one of the best books on the campaign involving the Siege of Battery Wagner and Charleston. Timothy Bradshaw's book, Battery Wagner, is a good companion.
I have, in my admitted ignorance on this subject, wondered WHY the Union wanted so badly to take this impregnable fort?
 

gary

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#6
rhettbutler1865 said:

I have, in my admitted ignorance on this subject, wondered WHY the Union wanted so badly to take this impregnable fort?
Charleston was seen as the hotbed of the rebellion. Capturing and humiliating Charleston would be symbolic of eventual Union victory. Gillmore saw Fort Sumter as the key to Charleston Harbor. Guarding Fort Sumter's vulnerable southern flank (called the Gorge) was Battery Gregg on Morris Island. Battery Gregg was vulnerable from a land attack from the south. Thus Battery Wagner was built.

The Union general, Quincy Gillmore, felt that by capturing Wagner, Gregg and Morris Island would fall. Sumter would follow and then the Navy could sail into Charleston Harbor and bombard Charleston into submission. Before Gillmore was appointed to command the Union forces in that area, David Hunter attempted to follow the British plan and attack Charleston from the land. His advance was stopped at Secessionville. Hence Gillmore, having made his name as a siege expert, struck upon the plan described above. He became fixated on his plan and did not consider any alternative strategy. It took a Virginia Interlude before he landed forces north of Charleston and threatened the City with an invasion by landing at Bull's Bay instead.
 

dlavin

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#7
Curious if anything is left of this area? Has the coast line changed so there is no more of Battery (Fort) Wagner? Can you even visit that stretch of land.

Sadly what I mostly know is based from Glory. Though I do know that the movie portrayed the wrong direction of the attack. The movie shows the attack moving south, when it should have been north.
 

gary

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#8
Most of site Battery Wagner is accessible only during low tide. That's why I didn't bother to visit it when I was in Charleston.

BTW, I just learned there were more than a handful of telescope rifles used by the Union at Wagner. An ad-hoc company was attached to the Billinghurst-Requa battery.
 

gary

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#9
Just learned that the Requa-Billinghurst Battery had a small company of target telescope riflemen attached to it. They were deployed at night near Battery Wagner to support the July 18th assault.
 
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#10
So Gilmore was "fixated" on taking Wagner, and then the rest would fall apart? That is madness.

I'm sorry he wanted his name in the papers as much as he did. Looking at a map of Charleston and it's various forts and batteries there was so much room for alternate attack. The other forts could have been taken, as they were small batteries behind Wagner. Besides it's on an island. It could have been filled with union shot and shell as Fort Fisher was the second time 'round. If you shoot at people long enough they can't take it, no matter how secure the dugout is.

The attack was pointless. I was in a another discussion about troops as cannon fodder. I see this as troops being used. They may have been pawns on a board to Gilmore. When you think you're the best, you're well on your out.
 

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Irishtom29

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#11
Being me I'll point out that carronades F, K, and L are positioned to sweep the face of the fort, mainly with canister. That face is a classic Vauban design, ensuring that at no point can attacking soldiers find cover by getting right up against the wall. It's a good use for weapons with short range but a high rate of fire.

It appears that howitzers A and B can do the same on their side of the fort, although the angle is not quite so favorable; they have to train about 45 degrees right to completely sweep the face.
According to maps I've seen of the assault many of the Federals went at the curtain, the wall between the two demi-bastions, thus putting the troops in a crossfire. Assaults were best made along the capital line of a bastion, a line running from the middle of the bastion gorge through the salient; the outside tip. Such an assault was still a desperate endeavor of course but better than hitting the curtain.

Of course this is easy for me to say. I wonder how well the Federals understood the layout of the fort since even today from outside a well preserved permanent artillery fortification it can be difficult to discern salients, reentrants, shoulders, faces, flanks and the general scheme, much less so with temporary earthworks. Did the Federals send an engineer out at night to the counterscarp to inspect the works? And the large numbers used in the assualt may have led to the troops spreading out even if concentration on a small spot was intended.
 

gary

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#12
The Confederates used the terrain wisely and built Wagner such that an attacking force was forced into a bottleneck, aka kill zone.
 



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