Over the weekend I stopped at the Elyria Public Library and retrieved the second part of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram two-part series on General Quincy A. Gillmore written by Don Miller. Here’s the article (below) as it appeared in the July 18, 1961 edition.
Artillery Skill Helped Lorain County General
Overcome Civil War Numerical Troop Odds
By DON MILLER
The fall of Fort Pulaski to Union forces in April, 1863, helped to serve as a springboard for Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, native of Black River, O., with the Federal Army.
Gillmore, who graduated from West Point at the head of his class, was regarded as the nation’s top expert on besieging of heavily fortified units. He’d risen from lieutenant to major general, commanding the Department of Western Virginia and the Department of the South.
Menu under his command, outnumbered and outgunned, had defeated the Confederates wherever Gillmore ordered them into action.
So to Gen. Gillmore went the task of reducing Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started in April, 1861. It was this action which was to make the name of “Swamp Angel” one of those most to be remembered from the entire Civil War.
2 Stumbling Blocks
To assault the heavily-armed fort in Charleston Harbor, Gen. Gillmore first had to overcome the protection of two other forts, Wagner and Gregg, both rebel-held.
To do this he got a foothold Aug. 24, 1863, on Morris Island which brought Fort Sumter within range of his guns. An assault on Fort Wagner failed, so Gillmore puzzled the problem out in speedy and workmanlike fashion.
If he couldn’t go through those two first-line forts, he’d go over them. And this was the technique he used in a seven-day bombardment to leave Fort Sumter in ruins, helpless for the harbor defense although not actually surrendered.
Gen. Gillmore’s artillery was two miles from Fort Sumter. And as he’d done earlier at Fort Pulaski, the Lorain Countian used the concealment of darkness, plus camouflage in daytime, to move his pieces into position for the bombardment.
The task was rugged, for at the fort the Confederates had taken strenuous measures to strengthen the walls. These were of sold brick to start with.
And the Confederate piled sand bags loaded with sand 15 feet thick and 45 feet high on the outside of the brick wall. They did the same thing on the inside, giving them a brick wall and sand wall 35 feet thick.
Swamp Route Chosen
Gillmore’s answer was to head for the swamps again, ordering a single 200-pound Parrott rifled cannon – the Swamp Angel – into a swamp to the left of Fort Sumter.
A young lieutenant, ordered to mount this gun in the swamp, claimed it was an impossible task. But higher officers insisted that it could be done; Gen. Gillmore wanted it accomplished.
And if the young officer knew what was good for him, he’d just go ahead and order whatever he wanted in the way of equipment to move the heavy cannon through the sea of mud.
In a masterpiece of striking back at military rank and red tape, the young officer wrote out his requisition:
“Wanted, twenty men, 18 feet long, to cross swamp 15 feet deep.”
The project was one to stagger the imagination. Before it was to be done and the “Swamp Angel” in place, two and a half miles of bridges would be constructed. Men would carry 10,000 bags of sand more than two miles. They’d carry 300 heavy pieces of timber and logs more than 10 miles.
The job was formidable. But 1,000 men worked seven nights and the “Swamp Angel” was ready to fire on Fort Sumter, two miles away, and Charleston, 4 1/2 miles away.
Before firing, Gen. Gillmore sent a message to Confederate Gen. P. T. Beauregard, ordering him to surrender Morris Island and Fort Sumter or face fire.
The demand was refused, and the siege launched.
First shot of the campaign came from the Swamp Angel, heralding the beginning of a seven-day rain of shells on Fort Sumter. The wall was breached as, day and night, shots rained onto the fort.
The parapette crumbled. The Barbette guns fell. The sandbags disappeared, and shells plowed through the regular brick wall. The fort was a jagged ruin, no longer able to aid in the harbor defense.
The Union forces, however, didn’t gain control of the fort itself.
Then Gillmore turned his attention to Charleston, warning Gen. Beauregard that he intended to shell the city with incendiary shells, known as Greek Fire. Beauregard ignored the warning.
The shelling started, as promised, but without too much damage at this time.
Fort Wagner was still a thorn in Gen. Gillmore’s side, and even as Charleston was under siege he turned attention to this fort. In a few days, Union men dug 10 miles of trenches which led them to the fort itself.
They crowded against its wall, a single step away from the rebels, and prepared to charge over the walls the next morning. But that night Gen. Beauregard evacuated Fort Wagner along with Fort Gregg.
Now in possession of Morris Island, Gillmore stepped up the assaults on Fort Sumter and Charleston. Ruins of the fort literally were pulverized and Charleston residents fled from the city.
From Cummings Point on Morris Island, Gillmore’s heavy artillery rained shot and shell, plus Greek Fire onto the fort and city.
For six months Fort Sumter was to be pounded. It was helpless to assist the Confederate cause, but it didn’t fall.
Next came the assault on Richmond, Va., with Gen. Gillmore shifted to the Tenth Corps under Gen. Benjamin F. (Cockeye) Butler.
Gillmore commanded the left flank, and in the assault swept the rebels ahead in a three-mile stretch. Here he urged that Butler order the men to intrench.
But Butler, visions of glory in his eye, refused. He wanted an offensive, not defensive, action.
Fog Shrouds Attack
Then came a dense fog, two days later, and the Confederate troops swarmed down on the army’s right flank, carrying it after a three-hour battle.
Butler ordered a retreat, but Gillmore begged him to stay, confident he could hold his area. Butler refused.
There was a seven-mile retreat, and the battle emerged as one which hurt the Union. For the original occupation by Gillmore’s forces had slashed the southern Confederate Army off from Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces.
Disgusted with Butler, Gillmore asked that he be relieved of command and was transferred to the army in Maryland. Here, while at the head of the 19th Corps, Gen. Gillmore was tossed from a horse and severely injured his ankle.
In that same month, July, he was promoted to the rank of major general. Late in 1864, Gen. Gillmore made an inspection tour of defenses and forts in the West, then in the spring of 1865 he was back with Gen. William Sherman in the Carolinas, and later helped in the occupation of Atlanta, Ga.
The Lorain Countian who took Forts Pulaski, Gregg and Wagner; who pulverized Charleston and Fort Sumter, finished out the war in comparative quietness. Only Gen. Butler’s order to retreat at Richmond had kept him from gaining even higher honors and perhaps ending the war months earlier.
****Local historian and regular blog contributor Rick Kurish emailed me about the Chronicle-Telegram's series on General Gillmore. He wrote, "The C-T articles from 1961 did a good job of detailing the operation against Charleston harbor in the summer of 1863.
"On September 15, 1863 General Gillmore issued a General Order to his command expressing his thoughts and thanks for the successful completion of the operation. Thought you might be interested in reading the General Order. It was copied from the official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Series 1, Volume 28."
Here is the order (below). It's very well-written and I'm sure it meant a lot to his troops.
Thanks for sharing, Rick!