A Captain Feilden came to call upon me at 9 A.M. He is an Englishman, and formerly served in the 42d Highlanders. He is now in the Confederate army, and is on the staff of General Beauregard's army. I remember his brother quite well at Sandhurst. Captain Feilden accompanied me to General Ripley's office, and at 12 o'clock the latter officer took us in his boat to inspect Fort Sumter. Our party consisted of an invalid General Davis, a congress man named Nutt, Captain Feilden, the general, and myself. We reached Fort Sumter after a pull of about three-quarters of an hour.* This now celebrated fort is a pentagonal work built of red brick. It has two tiers of casemates, besides a heavy barbette battery. Its walls are twelve feet thick at the piers, and six feet thick at the embrasures. It rises sheer out of the water, and is apparently situated in the centre of the bay, but on its side towards James Island the water is extremely shallow. It mounts sixty-eight guns, of a motley but efficient description. Ten-inch columbiads predominate, and are perhaps the most useful. They weigh 14,000 lb. (125 cwt.), throw a solid shot weighing 128 lb., and are made to traverse with the greatest ease by means of Yates's system of cogwheels. There are also eight-inch columbiads, rifled forty-two pounders, and Brook guns to throw flat-headed projectiles (General Ripley told me that these Brook guns, about which so much is said, differ but little from the Blakely cannon); also there are parrot guns and Dahlgrens; in fact, a general assortment of every species of ordnance except Whitworths and Armstrongs. But the best gun in the fort is a fine new eleven-inch gun, which had just been fished up from the wreck of the Keokuk; the sister gun from the same wreck is at –––. The garrison consists of 350 enlisted soldiers under Colonel Rhett. They are called Confederate States regulars, and certainly they saluted in a more soldier-like way than the ordinary volunteers. A great proportion of them are foreigners.
Fort Sumter now shows but little signs of the battering it underwent from the ironclads eight weeks ago. The two faces exposed to fire have been patched up so that large pieces of masonry have a newer appearance than the mass of the building. The guns have been removed from the casemates on the eastern face, and the lower tier of casemates has been filled up with earth to give extra strength, and prevent the halls from coming right through into the interior of the work, which happened at the last attack There is consequently a deep hole in the parade inside Fort Sumter, from which the earth had been taken to fill up these casemates. The angles of Sumter are being strengthened outside, by stone buttresses. Some of the cheeks of the upper embrasures have been faced with blocks of iron three feet long, eight inches thick, and twelve inches wide. I saw the effect of a heavy shot on one of these blocks which had been knocked right away, and had fallen in two pieces on the rocks below, but it had certainly saved the embrasure from further injury that time. I saw some solid fifteen-inch shot which had been fired by the enemy: they weigh 425 lb. I was told that several fifteen-inch shell had stuck in the walls and burst there, tearing away great flakes of masonry, and making holes two feet deep at the extreme. None of the ironclads would approach nearer than nine hundred yards, and the Keokuk, which was the only one that came thus close, got out of order in five minutes, and was completely disabled in a quarter of an hour. She sank on the following morning. Solid ten-inch shot and seven-inch flatheads were used upon her. Ripley said he would give a great deal for some more eleven-inch guns, but he can't get them except by such chances as the Keokuk.
The fight only lasted two hours and twenty-five minutes. Fort Sumter bore nearly the whole weight of the attack, assisted in a slight degree by Moultrie. Only one man was killed, which was caused by the fall of the flagstaff. The Confederates were unable to believe until some time afterwards the real amount of the damage they had inflicted; nor did they discover until next day that the affair was a serious attack, and not a reconnaissance. General Ripley spoke with the greatest confidence of being able to repulse any other attack of the same sort.
Colonel Rhett, the commandant, entertained us with luncheon in one of the casemates. He is a handsome and agreeable man, besides being a zealous officer. He told me that one of the most efficient of his subordinates was Captain Mitchell, son to the so-called Irish patriot, who is editor of one of the Richmond newspapers.
From the summit of Fort Sumter a good general view is obtained of the harbour, and of the fortifications commanding the approach to Charleston.
Castle Pinckney and Fort Sumter are two old masonry works built on islands — Pinckney being much closer to the city than Sumter. Between them is Fort Ripley, which mounts heavy guns.
Moultrieville, with, its numerous forts, called Battery Bee, Fort Moultrie, Fort Beauregard, &c, is on Sullivan's Island, one mile distant from Fort Sumter.
There are excellent arrangements of –––, and other contrivances, to foul the screw of a vessel between Sumter and Moultrie.
On the other side of Fort Sumter is Fort Johnson on James Island, Fort Cummins Point, and Fort Wagner on Morris Island. In fact, both sides of the harbour for several miles appear to bristle with forts mounting heavy guns.
The bar, beyond which we counted thirteen blockaders, is nine miles from the city. Sumter is three and a half miles from the city. Two or three thousand Yankees are now supposed to be on Folly Island, which is next beyond Morris Island, and in a day or two they are to be shelled from the Confederate batteries on Morris Island. The new Confederate flag, which bears a strong resemblance to the British white ensign, was flying from most of the forts.
In returning we passed several blockade-runners, amongst others the steamer Kate, with the new double screw. These vessels are painted the same colour as the water; as many as three or four often go in and out with impunity during one night; but they never attempt it except in cloudy weather. They are very seldom captured, and charge an enormous price for passengers and freight. It is doubtful whether the traffic of the private blockade-runners doesn't do more harm than good to the country by depreciating its currency, and they are generally looked upon as regular gambling speculations. I have met many persons who are of opinion that the trade ought to be stopped, except for Government stores and articles necessary for the public welfare.
After we had landed, Captain Feilden took me on board one of the new ironclads which are being built, and which are supposed to be a great improvement upon the Chicora and Palmetto State; these are already afloat, and did good service last February by issuing suddenly forth, and driving away the whole blockading squadron for one day. Last night these two active little vessels were out to look after some blockaders which were supposed to have ventured inside the bar.
At 5 P.M. I dined with General and Mrs Ripley. The dinner was a very sumptuous one, for a “blockade” dinner, as General Ripley called it. The other guests were General Jordan, Chief of the Staff to Beauregard; General Davis, Mr Nutt, and Colonel Rhett of Fort Sumter. The latter told me, that if the ironclads had come any closer than they did, he should have dosed them with flat-headed bolts out of the smooth-bore guns, which, he thinks, could travel accurately enough for 500 or 600 yards.
Mrs H––– asked me to an evening party, but the extreme badness of my clothes compelled me to decline the invitation.
* As Fort Sumter must be in a very different state now to what it was when I saw it, I think there can be no harm in describing the fort as it then stood. — Nov. 1863.
SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 182-8