Friday, July 29, 2016

Diary of Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle: Thursday, June 11, 1863

General Ripley took me in his boat to Morris Island. We passed Fort Sumter on our left, and got aground for five minutes in its immediate neighbourhood; then bearing off towards the right, we passed Fort Cummins Point, and (after entering a narrow creek) Fort Wagner on our left. The latter is a powerful, well-constructed field-work, mounting nine heavy guns, and it completely cuts across Morris Island at the end nearest to Fort Sumter. General Ripley pointed at Fort Wagner with some pride.

We landed near the house of the colonel who commanded the troops in Morris Island,* and borrowed his horses to ride to the further extremity of the island. We passed the wreck of the Keokuk, whose turret was just visible above the water, at a distance from the shore of about 1500 yards. On this beach I also inspected the remains of the so-called “Yankee Devil,” a curious construction, which on the day of the attack had been pushed into the harbour by one of the Monitors. This vessel, with her appendage, happened to be the first to receive the fire of Fort Sumter, and after a quarter of an hour Monitor and Devil got foul of one another, when both came to grief, and the latter floated harmlessly ashore. It seems to have been composed of double twenty-inch beams, forming a sort of platform or stage fifty feet long by twenty broad, from which depended chains with grappling irons to rake up hostile torpedoes. The machine was also provided with a gigantic torpedo of its own, which was to blow up piles or other obstacles.

Morris Island is a miserable, low, sandy desert, and at its further extremity there is a range of low sandhills, which form admirable natural parapets. About ten guns and mortars were placed behind them, and two companies of regular artillery were stationed at this point under the command of Captain Mitchell (the “patriot's” son), to whom I was introduced. He seemed a quiet, unassuming man, and was spoken of by General Ripley as an excellent officer. He told me he expected to be able to open fire in a day or two upon the Yankees in Folly Island and Little Folly; and he expressed a hope that a few shell might drive them out from Little Folly, which is only distant 600 yards from his guns. The enemy's large batteries are on Folly Island, 3400 yards off, but within range of Captain Mitchell's rifled artillery, one of which was a twelve-pounder, Whitworth.

A blockade-runner, named the Ruby, deceived by some lights on Folly Island, ran ashore at one o'clock this morning in the narrow inlet between Morris Island and Little Folly. The Yankees immediately opened fire on her, and her crew, despairing of getting her off, set her on fire — a foolish measure, as she was right under Captain Mitchell's guns — and whenever a group of Yankees approached the wreck, a shell was placed in their midst, which effectually checked their curiosity. The Ruby was therefore burning in peace. Her crew had escaped, all except one man, who was drowned in trying to save a valuable trunk.

After having conversed some time with Captain Mitchell and his brother officers, we took leave of them; and General Ripley, pursuing his tour of inspection, took me up some of the numerous creeks which intersect the low marshy land of James Island. In one of these I saw the shattered remains of the sham Keokuk, which was a wooden imitation of its equally short-lived original, and had been used as a floating target by the different forts.

In passing Fort Sumter, I observed that the eastern face, from which the guns (except those en barbette) had been removed, was being further strengthened by a facing of twelve feet of sand, supported by logs of wood. There can be no doubt that Sumter could be destroyed if a vessel could be found impervious enough to lie pretty close in and batter it for five hours; but with its heavy armament and plunging fire, this catastrophe was not deemed probable. General Ripley told me that, in his opinion, the proper manner to attack Charleston, was to land on Morris Island, take Forts Wagner and Cummins Point, and then turn their guns on Fort Sumter. He does not think much of the 15inch guns. The enemy does not dare use more than 35 lb. of powder to propel 425 lb. of iron; the velocity consequently is very trifling. He knows and admires the British 68-pounder, weighing 95 cwt., but he does not think it heavy enough effectually to destroy ironclads. He considers the 11-inch gun, throwing a shot of 170 lb., as the most efficient for that purpose.

In returning from Morris Island, we passed two steamers, which had successfully run the blockade last night, besides the luckless Ruby, which had also passed the blockading squadron before she came to grief. The names of the other two are the Anaconda and Racoon, both fine-looking vessels.

I dined at Mr Robertson's, at the corner of Rutledge Street, and met Captain Tucker of the navy there. He is a very good fellow, and a perfect gentleman. He commands the Chicora gunboat, and it was he who, with his own and another gunboat (Palmetto State), crossed the bar last February, and raised the blockade for a few hours. He told me that several Yankee blockaders surrendered, but could not be taken possession of, and the others bolted at such a pace as to render pursuit hopeless, for these little gunboats are very slow. They made the attack at daylight, and though much fired at were never struck. They seem to have taken the Yankees by surprise, and to have created great alarm; but at that time the blockading squadron consisted entirely of improvised men-of-war. Since this exploit, the frigate Ironsides, and the sloop of war Powhattan, have been added to its strength.

It poured with rain during the evening, and we had a violent thunderstorm. General Beauregard returned to Charleston this afternoon.

* This must have been about the spot from whence Fort Sumter was afterwards bombarded. I cannot help thinking that the Confederates made a great mistake in not fortifying the further end of Morris Island and keeping a larger garrison there, for when the Federals landed, they met with no fortification until they reached Fort Wagner.

SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 188-93

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