Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Official Reports of the Operations in Charleston Harbor, S. C., December 20, 1860 – April 14, 1861: No. 21. – Reports of Capt. George B. Cuthbert, Palmetto Guard, South Carolina Infantry.

No. 21.

Reports of Capt. G. B. Cuthbert, Palmetto Guard, South Carolina Infantry.

Morris Island, April 17, 1861.

DEAR SIR: In the report which I now make I propose to give an account of the most prominent incidents connected with the batteries manned by the Palmetto Guard, and which transpired during the engagement which took place on the 12th and 13th instant. I will also take occasion to mention the names of those who particularly distinguished themselves by their courage and efficiency. In conclusion I shall render you a statement of the number of shells and solid shot fired from the above-mentioned batteries.

The mortar battery at Cummings Point opened fire on Fort Sumter in its turn, after the signal shell from Fort Johnson, having been preceded by the mortar batteries on Sullivan's Island and the mortar battery of the Marion Artillery.

At the dawn of day the Iron battery commenced its work of demolition. The first shell from columbiad No. 1, fired by the venerable Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia, burst directly upon the parapet of the southwest angle of the fort. After the first round the Iron battery continued firing at regular intervals of fifteen minutes, in accordance with the orders of General Beauregard. The mortar battery continued during the day in the order prescribed.

At 7 o'clock a.m. Major Anderson fired his first shot. This was directed at the Iron battery. The ball passed a few feet above the upper bolts of the shed. The enemy continued firing at too great an elevation until the sixth shot, which fell harmlessly upon the upper portion of the shed, between the embrasures No. 2 and No. 3. At 9 o'clock a.m. columbiad No 1 became disabled by the recoil of the piece, which broke the bolts connecting the chains with the epaulement. This damage was repaired, however, after the expiration of an hour. At 10 o'clock a.m. columbiad No. 2, being aimed at the 10-inch columbiad bearing upon the Iron battery from the parapet of the southwest angle, was fired with such precision as to dismount the grim monster. A few minutes afterwards the window of columbiad No. 2 was struck near the center by a 42-pounder shot, which shattered the bolts and scattered the fragments between the cannoneers. The proper working of this window, however, was not interfered with by this occurrence, but in a half hour after this columbiad recoiled with such violence as to break the lever-bar by which the window was lifted. This casualty prevented the use of this gun until the following morning, several engineers being engaged for the purpose of repairing it. After the second shot from the same piece on the following morning the bar became fractured again in the same place, and, until the surrender, columbiad No. 2 was fought with its shutter opened permanently. The fire of the Iron battery was directed during the first day at the guns in barbette and those in the casemates. Major Anderson directed his fire for four consecutive hours from 7 to 11 o'clock a.m., at the Iron battery, striking it seven times. He then pointed his guns at the mortar battery of Cummings Point, and making no impression upon the unbroken wall of sand he turned his attention to the 42-pounders, thrusting at successive intervals their muzzles along the sides of their palmetto embrasures. At 4 o'clock p.m. the gunners at Fort Sumter ceased firing towards Morris Island, the batteries pointing in that direction being completely silenced. The rifled cannon did great execution, two of its balls passing entirely through the walls of Fort Sumter.

On the morning of the 13th we attempted to breach with our columbiads by concentrating our fire upon a point to the right of the sally-port, intending thus to effect another object at the same time, viz., by the ricochet of the ball to beat away the traverse of granite, which had been built up for the purpose of protecting the doorway from an enfilading fire. We had fired but a few shots when a shell from the mortar battery at Cummings Point fell upon the northwestern portion of the roof of the fort. After the lapse of some minutes we perceived the smoke issuing from that quarter. Soon flames burst upward. From that moment until the flagstaff was shot down seven-second shells were fired rapidly from the Iron battery, aimed in such a manner as to scatter the flame and to increase the fury of the conflagration. I refer you, dear sir, to the marks of shot and shell upon the outer and interior walls of the fort to enable you to form an adequate idea of the accuracy with which the columbiads, the mortars, the rifled cannon, and the 42-pounders of the Cummings Point batteries were aimed and fired.

The posts of the officers of the Palmetto Guard were as' follows: Captain Cuthbert commanded and directed the fire of the Iron battery; First Lieutenant Holmes, assisted by Lieutenant Armstrong, of the Citadel Academy, commanded the mortar battery; Second Lieutenant Brownfield commanded and directed the fire of the 42-pounders; Captain Thomas, of the Citadel Academy, with a squad of the Palmetto Guard, had charge of the rifled cannon; to Major Stevens was assigned the post of superintending the working of all these batteries, and he was so recognized; Lieutenant Buist acted as gunner to No. 3 columbiad during the greater part of the engagement, aiming many of his shots very accurately.

Lieutenants Holmes, Brownfield, and Buist behaved throughout the conflict with distinguished courage and gallantry. Major Stevens, Captain Thomas, and Lieutenant Armstrong, by their coolness, bravery, and skill, gave the highest evidence of their long military training. Lieutenant Brownfield's 42-pounders were fired with great precision, and to his industry and pride in his battery is attributable the fine working condition of his guns. To Mr. Phillips and Mr. Campbell much praise is due for their untiring devotion to their particular department of the magazine stores. In the Iron battery, Orderly Sergeant Bissell aimed many a capital shot at the casemates, and the two Sergeants Webb at the parapet. Bissell crippled the gun of the left casemate, bearing directly upon the Iron battery, and Serg. L. S. Webb dismounted the 10-inch columbiad upon the parapet. Second Sergeant Bissell and Mr. Farelly also made some good shots. At the 42-pounders Sergeant Brownfield, Corporals Rhett, Wright, and Dwyer distinguished themselves as gunners. At the mortar battery Sergeant Gaillard, Corporals Robinson, Zalam, Brailijon, and Rhett did good service as gunners. Capt. Stephen Elliott, of the Beaufort Artillery, was present during the action on the 12th instant, and aimed several good shots.

On the same day when columbiad No. 2 was silenced in consequence of the serious accident referred to above, to repair the damage it became necessary to send forthwith to Charleston to procure the proper materials and implements. Privates Trouche, Craskeys, and Alrains volunteered to go in an open boat, under heavy fire from Fort Sumter and Fort Johnson. They went, and succeeded in accomplishing their errand. A sand bag on the first day of the engagement seriously interfered with the working of the window of columbiad No. 1. Private Allison volunteered to extricate the troublesome impediment. While engaged in the performance of this important service a ball from one of the casemates of Fort Sumter passed directly over him, striking the iron shed. He removed the bag and returned to his post.

The sang-froid of Mr. Lining, the judge-advocate of the Seventeenth Regiment, who served as a private during the engagement, has already received ample commendation in the public prints. I can vouch for the truth of the incident, having been an eye witness. (Please incorporate the report of the Courier in relation to the circumstance.)

The appointment of the Palmetto Guard to the occupation of Fort Sumter for one night was the highest compliment ever bestowed upon any volunteer corps in the history of our State, and that event will always be held by them in grateful remembrance. Upon reaching the stronghold, however, their labors were not yet finished. I wish to take no laurels from the brows of the members of the fire-engine companies of Charleston, but truth requires that I should state that, from the moment of their being disbanded within the walls of the fort, the Palmetto Guard worked incessantly at the engines until after midnight.

A proper respect for the memory of the dead, as well as the desire to put on record a noble act, induces me recount the following fact: Immediately before the departure of the Palmetto Guard for Fort Sumter, Sergeant Webb, Corporal Robinson, and Private Mackay placed a neat and appropriate head-piece over the grave of the unfortunate Howe, the first victim of the sad explosion which took place while Major Anderson was engaged in saluting his flag. The performance of this sacred duty did credit to their generous hearts, and proved that Carolina chivalry exists only in combination with a spirit of reverence and magnanimity. I am proud of the opportunity of stating that all of the members of the company conducted themselves nobly and bravely in the fight. Nor will those whose names have not been mentioned in this report object to the particular honorable notice of their gallant comrades.

Statement of ammunition expended upon Fort Sumter from the Iron battery: Shell, 60; solid shot, 183.

Ammunition expended from the other batteries of Cummings Point: Mortars, 197 shell; 42-pounders, 333 solid-shot, 3 grape-shot; rifled cannon, 11 shot, 19 shell.

With increased admiration for your own individual courage and efficiency on these two eventful days, I remain, dear sir, your obedient servant,

Captain Palmetto Guard.
Colonel, Commanding Battalion of Artillery.

Morris Island, April 20, 1861.

DEAR SIR: I write to make an addition to the report which you received yesterday. Please incorporate the following:

Private Gourdin Young volunteered to accompany Colonel Wigfall in a small boat when the latter gentleman was instructed to proceed to Fort Sumter on the fall of the United States flag, for the purpose of inquiring into the cause of that circumstance and to propose a surrender of the fortification. During the passage from Morris Island, amid an incessant fire of shell and grape, he displayed that coolness and determination characteristic of a true South Carolinian. Upon his return he was borne upon the shoulders of his fellow-comrades to the Iron battery.

With great respect, I remain yours, very truly,

SOURCES: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 1 (Serial No. 1), p. 54-7; This report is quoted in Samuel Wylie Crawford’s The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-1861, p. 430.

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