Siege of Ft. Wagner – 150th Anniversary

Siege of Ft. Wagner – 150th Anniversary

Siege of Ft. Wagner – 150th Anniversary

1863: July 18 – September 7

Excerpts follow; read more at:

After the successful amphibious operation against Port Royal and the stunning, long range artillery bombardment that led to the swift capture of Fort Pulaski, Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore was assigned to lead the 1863 campaign against the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Gillmore, who graduated first in his West Point class of 1849, was a rising star within the Union ranks.

On July 18, 1863, after the heavy land and sea bombardment subsided, Gillmore sent forward his Federal regiments. The assault was led by the 54thMassachusetts regiment; a Boston regiment filled with free African-Americans, and led by the Harvard educated Col. Robert Gould Shaw. The decision to have the 54th Massachusetts lead this dangerous attack was fraught with all sorts of political and military risk, but in the end it was Shaw’s men that led the attack up the narrow beach.

As the Federal soldiers neared the fort they were subjected to artillery and musket fire that shredded the exposed Yankee ranks. Despite their heavy losses, the remnants of the 54th Massachusetts reached and scaled the earthen walls of Fort Wagner. Descending into the fort, the 54thengaged in a bloody hand-to-hand struggle with the Confederate defenders.  Col. Shaw, shouting “Onward boys! Onward boys!” was quickly shredded by a number of Confederate bullets and died on the sandy ramparts.Facts 54th


Federal casualties reached 1,515, with the 54thMassachusetts losing 42% of its ranks in the attack. General Strong and Colonels Shaw, Putnam, and Chatfield all were killed or mortally wounded in the attack. Light by comparison, Confederate losses numbered 174 men.

After this bloody repulse, Gillmore settled into their Morris Island positions for a lengthy and costly siege that finally led to the Confederate abandonment of Fort Wagner on September 7, 1863 – far later than he had hoped.




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