Henry F. W. Little.

The Seventh Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion online

. (page 11 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

return we learned that an assault had been determined on,
— contrary to his advice, as he said. " I told the general,"
said he, " I did not think we could take the fort so, but
Seymour overruled me ; Seymour is a devil of a fellow for
dash." To Major Henderson he remarked, "We are all
going into Wagner like a flock of sheep." Immediately
upon Colonel Putnam's return the regiment was ordered
to fall in, and we could hear the commands given in the
brigade in our front. We have no doubt that our troops
had been seen all day upon the beach from the lookouts at
Fort Sumter, and that they knew we were massing troops
for some purpose. The dysentery, which prevailed among
the troops while on Folly Island, had enormously swelled
the sick-list of the Seventh, and the adjutant that morning
at roll-call reported to the brigade commander but four

120 History of the Seventh Regiment

hundred and eighty officers and men present for duty after
the line was formed.

The regiments of the Second Brigade formed in column
by companies, the Seventh New Hampshire leading, it
being the regiment of the ranking colonel. It was then
we knew full well the meaning of such a movement, and
as the rays of a glorious sunset shone upon the bright,
iixed bayonets of our troops, it blended with the pale, up-
lifted faces of our comrades, whose firm, resolutely com-
pressed features we knew meant " victory or death." Not
a man asked to leave the line. There was no apparent
show of fear upon those visages, as we looked along the
line in pride at the noble representation from the Old
Granite State, and, probably, not one in those crowded
columns realized at that moment that perhaps one fourth
of their number would be " mustered out" ere the rising
of another sun.

The command, " Forward, " was given. The Fift}'-
fourth Massachusetts (colored) had already left the ad-
vance works on the double-quick, with the brave Col.
Robert G. Shaw^ at their head, closel}' followed b}^ the
First Brigade under dashing Gen. George C. Strong, and
they in turn supported at half brigade distance by the
Second Brigade under the gallant Putnam, of the Seventh
New Hampshire, whose soldierly bearing instilled more
courage into his troops, than any officer we ever saw in
the service during the whole period of the war. We shall
never forget the scene. As he sat on his horse, facing
the left flank of his brigade (which was then in column
by company), attired in a cominon soldier's blouse without
straps, he looked every inch a soldier.

As soon as the Second Brigade had passed our outer line
of w^orks, the firing of our batteries and the fleet at once
ceased, and Colonel Putnam deployed his brigade into
column b}' battalions, and the different regiments of the

Co. D.

Co. D.


SERGT. II. F. W. Lirri.K
Co. D(War tiuip).

Co. D, Historian Seventh X. H. Vols. (Peace).

New Ha:mpshire Volunteers. 121

brigade closed up to less than half distance. So narrow
was the neck of land between our advanced works and
Fort Wagner, that, small -as was our regiment in numbers,
only six companies could dress in line, and consequently
four companies had to march eii echelon to the rear. Then
as if aroused from sleep Fort Wagner opened its batteries.
Its heavy siege guns, howitzers, and forty-tvvo-pounders
poured a fearful cross fire of grape and canister upon the
narrow neck of sand along which the crowded columns of
the storming party must advance, while the profile of the
parapet of Fort Wagner was outlined against the dark
thunder clouds rising behind, b}' the sparkling fire of the
rifles of the garrison, who, secure in their immense bomb-
proof during the long hours of the bombardment, had
sprung to the parapet upon its cessation, to repel the ex-
pected assault. Besides the storm of iron hail from Forts
Wagner, Sumter, and Moultrie, and Battery Gregg, all
the batteries on James Island were throwing shells and
shrapnel, and the nearer ones grape and canister, work-
ing their guns for all the}- w^ere worth, plowing wide
swaths through our ranks, which, however, were quickly
closed. For a moment the brigade was halted, at the mo-
ment that the regiment under Shaw, and the First Brigade
struck the enemv-'s picket line — which time the writer of
this occupied in placing a tourniquet upon one of the men
in Compan}^ D, Hinckley D. Harris, by name, whose
right leg was badly shattered at the knee by a grape-
shot, and we had barely time to affix the instrument, the
grape and canister in the meantime splashing the water
into our faces ; for the left of the regiment then stood in
the edge of the marsh on the left of the narrow neck of
land, and the water was a toot deep or more where we
stood — when we heard the ringing command, " Forward,"
from Colonel Putnam, who was ever on the alert to have
his brigade on time ; besides which we distinctly remember

122 History of the Seventh Regiment

the order given b}^ Lieutenant-Colonel Abbott, which was,
" Seventh New Hampshire, keep closed on the colors."
Springing to their feet the line pushed on into a storm
of shot that seemed to fill the air like the drops of a
summer shower, x^fter that it was hard to know or hear
any command, as there was such a noise from the shells
and guns, together with the shrieks and cries of the
wounded. All this time it was growing darker, and upon
nearing the coveted works we went in on the double-quick.
We passed their outer works and opened to let the rem-
nant of the First Brigade with Shaw's broken battalion
pass through on their way to the rear, for they had nobly
borne the first shock, their onset being so fierce and heavy
that they were badly shattered, and the Second Brigade
had the front.

Closing up as well as possible the regiment reached
the ditch, a trench with sloping sides, some fifty feet in
width, five in depth ; and for the whole length of the south
front waist deep in water and soft mud, though at the
southeast angle and along the sea front it was dry. This
ditch was enfiladed by heavy howitzers, which kept up
a constant fire of grape and canister, and the sides and
angles of the fort and the ditch itself were covered wnth the
dead and wounded. In the angles of the ditch especially
we noticed they lay piled one upon another, and there was
no chance to get down into the ditch without climbing
over these bodies.

Before starting on this charge Colonel Putnam directed
that the cap should be removed from the rifies, as our de-
pendence must be on the bayonet should we come to fight-
ing. In the regiment just behind us (the One Hundredth
New York), this order was neglected, Colonel Dandy say-
ing that his men never fired without orders, a statement
sadly and signally disproved within an hour. The right
of the regiment crossed the ditch near the southeast angle.

New Hampshire Volunteers. 123

and found a small portion of the First Brigade on the para-
pet near that angle ; the companies on the left tinding the
ditch in their immediate front impassable, crowded around
to the riirht, and crossed the ditch near the same ancjle,
while the four companies en echelon, passed clear around
the right, and some of them scaled the parapet of the fort
upon its sea face. The next regiment in our rear (the One
Hundredth New York) came promptly up to the ditch and
in the darkness, which was only lighted up by the flashes
of the guns, saw the parapet covered with men, and sup-
posing them to be Confederates, fired into them, undoubt-
edly killing and wounding many of our men. As it had
now become ver}- dark we could only see our way when
the flashes of the rebel guns which sw^ept the moat, lit up
the ghastly scene for a moment only, but at short intervals.
But we mounted the parapet of the fort, only to find that
the stronghold was so constructed as to be almost impreg-
nable ; and some mistake or delay in giving orders to
General Stevenson, prevented the Third Brigade coming
to our aid. It was now nearly 10 o'clock.

We had already driven the rebel gunners from some of
the nearest guns, but only to find that other guns which
we had not seemed to find in the darkness, swept the trav-
erses. After waiting for reinforcements, and holding
the whole southern face of the stronghold until it was im-
possible to stop longer, our ranks having become so badly
thinned and broken, we retired in as good and quick order
as possible under the circumstances, for it was about as
difficult to pfet back as it was to (jo on. Therefore, after
some skillful engineering, as we thought, to escape the
missiles thrown after us, the remnant of our brigade re-
ported at our outer line of entrenchments where we found
the Third Brigade drawn up in line to resist any sortie the
enemy might make, and leaving on the field behind us
and at the fort upwards of six hundred of our brave com-

124 History of the Seventh Regiment

rades, among them our heroic brigade commander, who
was shot through the head and instantl}- killed on the

The loss of the Seventh New Hampshire in this assault
was two hundred and sixteen killed, wounded, and miss-
ing, and of this number eighteen were officers, eleven of
whom — including our gallant and beloved colonel — were
either slain outright or mortally wounded and left in the
enemy's hands.

After crossing the ditch all regimental action ceased,
and each action seemed an individual one, and will be best
illustrated by quoting from the narrative of Adjt. Henry G.
Webber, who says : " Crossing the ditch at or near the
southeast angle, I found mvself, on reachincj the crest of
the parapet, in a corner where the bomb-proof, rising some
six feet higher than the parapet, afforded a protection in
front from the enemy's fire, and crowded upon the parapet,
the slope of the bomb-proof, and in the corner were one or
two hundred men from all the regiments in both brigades,
among whom the few that I could make out as beloncring
to the Seventh New Hampshire were scattered. It was in
\'ain that I tried in the tumultuous crowd, to get them to-
gether. All was wild uproar, with the groans and cries
of the wounded : men calling for their officers, officers
calling for their men, and many in wild excitement yell-
ing with no apparent object but to add to the confusion.
Captain Brown, of Company K, stood upon the bomb-
proof, trying in vain to excite some men to follow him.
Captain Rollins, of Company F, Lieutenants Knowlton
and Bennett, of Company D, had all crossed at the same
point, and no two men who stood together belonged to the
same company, if by chance to the same regiment.

Colonel Putnam, delayed by his horse being shot from
under him, now appeared upon the fort, and ordered an
attempt to charge and silence one of the guns that flanked

New Hampshire Volunteers. 125

the sea face, and still swept the top and sides of the bomb-
proof with grape.

Lieutenant Bennett and myself then joined Captain
Brown upon the top of the bomb-proof, and a few men
moved to follow us. The position of the gun could be
plainly seen in the gathering darkness, by the burning
fragments of cartridges before its muzzle, but right across
the path yawned a wide, deep, black pit — an opening into
the bomb-proof in rear of a seaward embrasure, up from
which came occasional shots. To the left was apparently
a chance to get around, but the road was blocked by a
crowd of men, sitting, lying, or standing ; some disabled
by wounds, some apparent!}' paralyzed by fear. As we
attempted to force a path through them a shell burst in our
midst. Bennett was killed. Brown mortally wounded, and
one of m}- legs went out from under me, and refused duty.
The men fell back and I crawled over the edge of the
bom.b-proof again, among the increasing throng of wounded
and dying, to see how much I was hurt, and was relieved
to find it more of a bruise than a wound, from which the
numbness soon began to pass away.

" Colonel Putnam went up on the bomb-proof, and endeav-
ored to get up a charge, but in vain ; after which, drawing
his men into the crowded corner of the fort, he endeavored
to hold out until reinlbrcements, tor which he had sent,
should arrive. The enemv made one charge upon us, but
were driven back b}' our tire. Shortly afterwards a ball
through the head stretched Colonel Putnam among the
slain, just as he had announced to Captain Rollins his de-
termination to hold out to the last. Major Butler, Sixty-
seventh Ohio, Captain Rollins, and myself, were now the
only officers left, and the small tbrce of men was woefully
thinned, while the dead and dying were piled over the
small space we held.

126 History of the Seventh Regiment

" So long a time had elapsed since reinforcements were
sent for, that Major Butler began to tear that the officer
who was sent had failed to cross the belt of tire that still
swept the outside of the ditch, and expecting a charge
every moment, to which our small force could oppose but
feeble resistance, he at last gave the order to retreat, and
taking a last shot over the bomb-proof, we silently skedad-
dled toward our lines."

Five officers fell before reaching the moat which sur-
rounded the work. Of the line, Captain Brown and Lieu-
tenants Cate, Baker, Bennett, and Bryant, fell dead on or
near the w^orks. Captain Leavitt lived until he reached
Charleston. Captain House died of his wounds in Octo-
ber, and Lieutenants Davis and Worcester died on board
transports, after they were exchanged. All other wounded
officers recovered. It is an historical fact that in this
assault the Seventh New Hampshire lost more officers
than any other regiment in any one engagement during
the war.

General Strong and Colonel Chatfield, of the Sixth
Connecticut, had fallen mortally wounded near the fort,
while leading the First Brigade, and General Seymour was
severely wounded by a grape-shot, while the Second Brig-
ade was moving up, and was obliged to leave the field.

Had the Third Brigade come to the assistance of the Sec-
ond Brigade on the evening of the assault on Fort Wag-
ner, and sent two of its regiments around the sea front of
the fort to the rear of that stronghold, the Union forces
would have taken the fort and its garrison ; and instead of
smashing two good brigades upon the fortified front ot
such a formidable earthwork, a portion of one of the bri-
gades engaged, would have been sufficient to hold the
front while two good regiments passing around the work
to the rear, which was almost wholly unprotected, and
which movement would have been a feasible one, would

New Hampshire Volunteers. 127

have successfully terminated the assault. Why our gen-
eral othcers who had the advantage of a military education
should have seemingly overlooked the advantage of such
a movement is not clearly comprehensible. Even noted
Confederate authorities seem never to have given a thought
to the accomplishment of such a movement, which could
have been easily made, and the long and arduous siege
and consequent loss of life have been averted. Such a
movement would also have shown conclusively the fault of
construcdncr a formidable earthwork with the rear almost
wholly unprotected.

The morning of the 19th was Sunda}-, and an inspection
of the troops upon the island was ordered, and only nine
officers and two hundred and fifty-eight men appeared on
the line of the Seventh New Hampshire as present for

Company C had lost every commissioned officer. First
Lieut. Virgil H. Cate had onl}- lately been exchanged and
returned to the regiment, and was acting aide-de-camp to
Colonel Putnam. Second Lieut. Andrew J. Lane was
killed before reaching the fort. Of the two hundred en-
listed men who were either killed, wounded, or missing, I
desire to speak in particular, because without them where
would the glory and fame of our regiment have been?
Good, f ait Ji fill, brave men and tried even unto death.
They were of the best we had. Their memory we shall
ever cherish, and as we recall the faces and pronounce the
names of those comrades who were missing on that event-
ful evening of July 18, 1863, we find they were men w^hom
we would have chosen for an}- emergency. First Sergts.
Gilbert F. Dustin, of Company D ; Alexander S. Stevens,
of Company E ; Thomas F. Meader, of Company F ;
Charles C. McPherson, of Company I : and Jacob W.
West, of Company G, who died of his wounds August 5,
" went in to stay,"' and the loss of these five first sergeants


History of the Seventh Regiment

was sadly felt by the companies to which they belonged.
Only a few, a ver}^ few of oui* wounded men ever came
back to us. Nearly all of our missing comrades proved
to have been either killed or wounded and died in rebel
hands. The squad of men who were captured from Com-
pany D, at St. Augustine, Fla., had been returned but a
short time to the regiment, and some of them were that
evening either killed or again captured. At least no tid-
ings ever came of them. Every company had its list of
killed and wounded, and scores of New Hampshire homes
went into mourning for those who never returned.

The men who were wounded were generally found to
be seriously so, making it very much the worse for them,
as it was impossible to get those badly wounded comrades
back to our lines ; and as we were compelled to retreat on
the double-quick, those who had not been able to get back
by their own etlbrts, and those who were left near the
rebel works had to be left to the mercy of rebel hands.


\\( I/O

I-20 History of the Seventh Regiment

























Immediately after the inspection of the 19th, the differ-
ent brigades were assigned camping-grounds in regular
order and as far as could be seen evervthing betokened a

New Hampshire Volunteers. 131

long, heavy siege : the two principal objects being the
besieging of Fort Wagner by regular approaches, and
demolishing Fort Sumter by one hundred, two hundred,
and three-hundred-pounder Parrott rifled guns from the
ground now in our possession.

Our tents were sent over from Folly Island on the 23d
and our knapsacks and other company baggage were sent
a few days later. After getting our camps in good
order, heavy details were at once made and called for each
day for fatigue work and picket duty in tlie trenches, and
large w'orking parties w^ere called for each night. We
began a series of zig-zags and parallels, each additional
one bringing us nearer and nearer Fort Wagner, and
heav}' Parrott guns were mounted and at once commenced
the reduction of Fort Sumter, w4iile other batteries for both
guns and mortars were erected and concentrated their lire
upon Forts Wagner and Gregg. Meanwhile the rebels
kept up a constant lire of small arms from their advanced
works or trenches, and also a heavy fire from the guns of
Forts Wagner, Gregg, and Sumter, and the batteries on
James and Sullivan's Islands. Our routine of dutv was
varied b}' being first detailed on fatigue, then on picket
or support at the trenches, the time being about equally
divided between the camp and trenches. Sharpshooters
were placed in the front trenches on both sides, and many
a comrade lost his life by carelesslv exposing some part of
his body. At times we got tor a change, a detail at un-
loading vessels, down at the point at Lighthouse Inlet, the
cargo consisting of fixed ammunition, rations, etc.

Reinforcements now began to arrive, and the number of
small naval vessels performing blockade dutv was materi-
ally increased. In fact, ue found ourselves disciplined
into the more industrious part of armv tactics, and there
was plenty of work for all.

Our food was as good as could be expected under the
circumstances, and we had everv facility tor cooking that

132 History of the Seventh Regiment

was at this time possible, our fire-wood being all brought
from Folly Island. But our drinking-water was abomina-
ble. Wells were dug in the sand-hills, back away from
the beach, and for curbing we used a pork or beef barrel.
After standing in the well over night the water would be
covered with a thick green scum ; the wells were not
deep, as we rarelv used more than one or two barrels, and
the smell from these wells was sickening — especially after
they had been dug for a number of days — owing, per-
haps, to the too close proximity of salt water; therefore
we were under the necessity of digging a new well every
few days. We found upon trial that a small portion of
vinegar added to a canteen of this water w^as a very good
sanitary precaution besides materially improving it in taste.
The construction of the various fortifications and batter-
ies which General Gillmore now determined to erect upon
the island was given in charge of the First N. Y. Volun-
teer Engineers, under Colonel Serrell, whose officers
superintended the working parties in their difi:erent opera-
tions. A series of night working parties w'ere instituted
by the navy, and several large obstructions were removed
from the main channel at the entrance to the harbor,
among which we noticed a huge chain made of railway
iron, hooked together at the ends by the rails being heated
and turned.

From the sea side of the island, and not far from the
shore, could be seen the turrets of the monitor "Keokuk,"
which the rebels had sunk at one of the first attacks on
Fort Sumter. It was more familiarly known as the
" Wooden Monitor."

. It is an admitted fact that the heavy Parrott guns used
bv General Gillmore might just as well have been brought
to Morris Island a fortnight earlier, mounted, and directed
at Fort Sumter, regardless of Fort Wagner, and both of
those disastrous assaults upon Fort Wagner could have

New Hampshire Volunteers.


been avoided. The effective range of these heavy guns
was from four thousand to eight thousand yards, while the
farthest battery used for the reduction of Fort Sumter was
only four thousand two hundred yards distant, showing
conclusively, that the possession of Fort Wagner was not
necessary for the reduction of Fort Sumter.


From the time of our landing on the island an annoying-
fire was kept up by Fort Sumter upon the approaches to
Fort Wagner, both from two Brooke rifles and two mor-
tars, having the range of the neck of land where we were
constructing our different parallels ; the Brooke rifles,
which threw a seven-inch shell, were very annoying, as
they had the range of nearly the whole length of the

134 History of the Seventh Regiment

island, and caused many casualties back among our
camps, about three and one half miles from Sumter.
One of these Brooke rifles was disabled on the fifth day
of the firing, according to Confederate authority on the
15th, this being the one on the southeastern angle of the
fort, while the other, which was mounted on the northern
angle, was afterwards removed with most of the larger
guns of Fort Sumter, atl:er the heavy firing from General
Gillmore's batteries of Parrott guns had so weakened the
fort that they could not be used.

As early as the morning of July 16, while at breakfast,
General Gillmore told Gen. Edward W. Serrell, then
colonel of the First N. Y. Volunteer Engineers, who was
also a noted engineer, of the great desirability of selecting
a position from which fire could be opened upon the City