23rd Georgia Infantry

The Sinking of the CSS Side Paddlewheel Steamer Sumpter Transport Ship

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Another Letter from a Soldier of the 23rd Georgia about Battery Wagner and the Sinking of the Sumter
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H. S. Fuller, late of Walker County, Ga.’s Co. H, 23rd G.V.I.R., writing from Arkansas after the war and printed in the original Confederate Veteran
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“It was not a pleasant change for men who had been marching and fighting with the Army of Northern Virginia to be cooped up on a little sandy island of not more than fifteen or twenty acres of land almost surrounded by a fleet of from fifty to sixty armed vessels carrying guns of the heaviest caliber, pouring their deadly missiles on us, and supported by land batteries of heavy artillery and mortars, to say nothing of their sharpshooters, who were ready and willing to pick us off if we ventured to show a hand above our fortification. . . . During the day they would knock down so much of our fortications, principally of sand, that it would require almost the entire force at the garrison to repair it through the night. Our walls were fifteen feet high and from twelve to fourteen feet thick, but their mortar batteries would throw their shells over in our midst doing great damage . . .
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On dark nights the lighted fuses to these shells would look like falling stars, and they would come sometimes in showers as to appear that all the stars were falling at once . . . .
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when about a mile and a half from land we came in range of the guns from Fort Moultrie, occupied by the enemy, and in a few moments they knocked our wooden steamboat into splinters, and she went down with a thousand or twelve hundred men on board. [This was actually FRIENDLY FIRE from Confederate troops at Fort Moultrie. The fort did not surrender to the enemy until 1865. The author of this letter was still mistaken years later and reasonably so.] Fortunately, the channel was shallow at this point and the tide was out, which left the upper deck out of water, and we hung on to it though the night, . . . Our marine corps came to our relief, and in yawls and barges carried us over to Fort Sumter, landing the last of us about eight o'clock.”
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Statement of J. R. Riley,
Captain of the Steamer Sumter
INSPECTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE,
Charleston, S. C., September 3, 1863.
“James R. Riley, captain of the steamer Sumter, sunk during the night of August 30, 1863, by the firing of Fort Moultrie, makes the following statement:
It was low tide when he left Morris Island with the troops that had been relieved. The steamer could not come back from point to point, but had to go round the channel way, which is at Cumming's Point buoy. As we rounded that buoy, and at about 50 yards from it, Fort Moultrie opened fire upon the steamer. The first shot fell short, the second went over the steamer, and the third struck her hull under the starboard water wheel. The fourth shot killed 2 men; he does not know how many were wounded.
After the third shot, he steered his boat ashore on the east end of fort reef. He then lowered his small boat and went to Fort Moultrie, to stop the firing. The fort kept firing until he landed on the beach. when he did so he begged the officers to stop their firing; that the steamer ahead was the Sumter, one of our harbor transports.
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A light, called bull's-eye light [a lantern with a tallow candle], was shown on the steamer after the first shot was fired. It was held in front, on the upper deck, and on the starboard side of the pilot-house, by Major Pringle in person. That light was so held even after he got on the Moultrie shore, and was very distinct from that point. Besides the light, the whistle was blown also, immediately after the first shot. It was blown in the usual way, three blasts in succession, as when signals are made to Fort Sumter. He had never received orders on that or any other occasion to use signals for Fort Moultrie.
After speaking to the officers of Fort Moultrie, he went back to the steamer and sent a small boat to Fort Sumter in charge of Mr. Benjamin Hernandez, with orders to telegraph immediately to Charleston for assistance. [The tidal range for Charleston is 6 1/2 feet.]
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When he reached his steamer after having been at Moultrie, as stated above, he found most of the troops still on board. Some, however, had jumped overboard, and were standing in the water about 2 feet deep. Small boats, nine or ten in all, and one of them from Sullivan's Island, in charge of Captain Pinckney, came to assist the troops. It was about 5 a. m. Several trips were made from the steamer to Fort Sumter, and as the enemy's batteries had begun to open on the front, the troops rescued from the steamer where transferred from Fort Sumter to Sullivan's Island. Lieutenant-Colonel Dantzler, Major Pringle, and he-the captain of the steamer-left only when all the troops were moved. It was then about 8 a. m. The steamer was a perfect wreck, with about 4 feet water on the lower deck.” JAMES R. RILEY.
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Two of the many Reports from the Land Batteries
Explaining their Actions that Night BATTERY K, SULLIVAN'S ISLAND, September 3, 1863.
Major DE TREVILLE, Fort Moultrie:
“MAJOR: I would state in reference to the firing into the steamer Sumter, that the sentinels reported a vessel coming in from the direction of the fleet. I then observed a vessel, which appeared to me to be a monitor, moving toward Fort Sumter. I had my guns manned. I saw no light on board the steamer, nor did I hear nay whistle or other noise proceeding form her which could give me any intimation of her being one of our steamers. When first seen she was in the direction of the 3,000-yards buoy.
[Buoys and markers were prepositioned at known ranges over the entire harbor.] After having fired for about ten minutes, I heard the pickets on the beach called out, "Cease firing," and as soon as this was herd I ordered the firing to cease. As well as I can remember, it was between 2 and 2.30 o'clock in the night when the first opened on her. There was nothing in her appearance to give us any idea that she was one of our own boats; on the contrary, she appeared in the very same course that the monitors took when they entered the harbor at night, and after Fort Moultrie fired the first shot, and not seeing any signal shown, I was firmly under the belief that it was an enemy's vessel, and opened fire immediately. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. H. RIVERS,
Captain, Commanding Battery K.”
FORT MOULTRIE, September 3, 1863.
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W. J. MARSHALL, Adjutant of Post:
“SIR: Being at the battery on the night of the 30th of August, where officers and men were required to be, at their guns, the alarm was sounded and our guns were promptly manned. On looking out from the parapet, I distinctly saw what I supposed to be a monitor coming in rear of Morris Island. She showed no lights whatever, neither did I hear a whistle of nay kind, nor did I see any light form Sumter. I was ordered to open fire, which I did from my 10-inch Colombian .[It fired a 120 lb. solid shot or a 101 lb. shell filled with powder. The gun tube alone weighed 15,400 lbs.] After firing 1 or 2 shorts, I discovered a very dim light, but only for a moment, when it again disappeared. I heard no noise, no did I see anything to warrant that she was not an enemy's vessel.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. VALENTINE,
Captain, Commanding Battery, Fort Moultrie”
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from Civil War Times Magazine Feb 2009, article titled “Rebels in the Lime Light” pg 48Discusses Union troops using Calcium Lights to light up Battery Wagner in the summer of 1863
Confederate supply runs became treacherous. As General Beauregard reported, “At times...the enemy illuminated the landing with a powerful calcium light, so as to prevent the approach of our steamers, forcing us to transfer our supplies of men and munitions by means of small boats.” Confederate Major Mott Pringle’s August 30th supply run ended in disaster. Pringle was able to deliver the troops and supplies and load the men being relieved without “molestation.” But he noted that “the night had changed into an exceedingly bright one, and at the upper end of the island there was a powerful calcium light.” On the return trip, nervous Confederates at Fort Moultrie mistakenly fired on and sank Pringle’s steamer, killing two men and wounding several others.
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News Paper account from the “Rome Weekly” Sept 1863
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Sinking of the Sumter **Casualties in the 23rd Georgia Regt
Camp 23rd Ga. Regiment
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.... Sept 2d 1863
Ed. Intelligencer:
.... I respectfully apply to you, for room in your widely circulated paper, to inform the friends and relatives of the soldiers of the 23d Georgia regiment, of the casualties of the regiment, from the 23rd to the 31st of August, 1863, it’s stay at Battery Wagner---the affair of the sinking of the steamer Sumter, with the 20th S.C.V. and the 23rd Ga. regiment on board, and that too by, by our own batteries. Not withstanding the Yankees thrown on an average, thirty shells into Wagner, the casualties of the 23rd Ga. were small;
Killed – Privates J.P. Cooper, co. C. and J. Dodgen, co. F.
Wounded ---Lt. R.E. Lawhorn, of co. F. left leg amputated, and flash wound in the right leg; Privates William Williams co. C, in thigh; R.D. Moss, co. D, in arm; R. Bryan, co. C, in knee; T.M. Byrd, co. G in head; L.H. Wrinkler left arm amputated; E.T Maddox, co. H, thigh severe; W.J. Dean, co. K, in arm.
... The regiment was relieved on the morning of the 31st ult., and got on the steamer Sumter to go to Fort Johnson. The tide being low they could not go the usual coarse, but steamed off in the direction of Sullivan’s Island. The watch at Moultrie supposing it to be a Yankee Monitor, awakened the gunners, when they opened a spirited fire on the defenseless vessel. Every means possible, were employed to signal to them, both from Fort Sumter and the boat, but they recognized no signal. The third and fourth shots sunk the boat, yet they kept firing until a small boat was sent to tell them who we were. This was about 3 o’clock a.m. The men were panic struck, and leaped off into the water by fifties and hundreds, and it seamed for a while that nearly all would be either killed or drowned, but the cool conduct of Major Ballenger, the commander of the 23rd Ga., and a sand bar on the left of the boat, covered by some four or five feet of water, saved them from a watery grave. But guns, blankets, oil cloths, haversacks, canteens, boots and shoes, and in fact all kinds of clothing, were left upon the rugged waters of the boiling keep.
... Lieut. Lawhorn is lost to the service. and never did the country lose a more efficient and brave soldier than he.
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Respectfully,
R.M. Mitchell,
Capt. Co. C. 23rd Ga.