Illustrations of the War in AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1190, p. 230.
February 28, 1863
THE war which has raged so long and fiercely throughout the States began, as our readers are aware, by the bombardment, just two years ago, of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour, South Carolina--a bloodless engagement, little indicative of the seas of blood which were and, it is to be feared, still are to be shed. Public attention has been again directed in a special manner to Charleston on account of the recent dashing attack of Confederate gun-boats on the Federal blockading squadron off the harbour, and by reason also of the news just received that a formidable land and naval expedition was about to attack Charleston forthwith. We give, therefore, in this week's Impression a View of the Entrance to Charleston Harbour, from a sketch recently taken inside the harbour by our Special Artist, and forwarded to England by one of the many vessels which are continually breaking the blockade. We remark, in passing, that some of the sketches of our Special Artist in the Southern camp which have from time to time fallen into the hands of the Federals figure in the New York illustrated journals, and the question naturally arises--might they not as well have been handed over to their owners for publication?
Charleston is built on a low point of land between the Rivers Ashley and Cooper, which unite immediately below and form a spacious and convenient harbour communicating with the ocean at Sullivan's Island, about seven miles from the city. The main entrance to the harbour is divided by Fort Sumter, founded upon an artificial island, while on the right hand is Sullivan's Island, on the left Morris Island, and beyond Fort Sumter, midway to the city of Charleston, is Castle Pinckney. A vessel thus going to Fort Sumter would have to run the gauntlet of a double fire. Fort Sumter is a modern truncated pentagonal fort, three miles and three-eighths from the city of Charleston. The walls are of solid brick and concrete masonry, built close to the edge of the water. They are 60 ft. high, and from 8 ft. to 12 ft. thick. They are pierced for three tiers of guns on the north, east, and west sides. It is designed for one hundred and forty pieces of ordnance. Two tiers of the guns are under bombproof casemates; the upper tier is open, or en barbette. Fort Moultrie is distant from Sumter a mile and a half. It is nothing more than a large water battery. Its armament is eleven heavy guns and several mortars. The walls are of brick, and present a solid mass of about 13 ft. Cumming's Point Iron Battery is the nearest point of land to Fort Sumter, being only 1150 yards distant. The iron battery here erected is made of railroad-iron. The roof slants towards the ground, so that shots will glance over it as they strike at an obtuse angle. Fort Johnson is a series of batteries protected by standworks, and are armed with mortar and siege guns. They are one mile and a quarter from Fort Sumter. Castle Pinckney is situated on the southern extremity of Shute's Folly Island, between Hog Island and Charleston city. It is about three miles from Sumter, and is the north-west. It has two rows of guns, the lower bombproof casements, the upper en barbette. The height of the rampart is 20 ft., and the width 32 ft. The armament is twenty-five guns. Batteries were thrown upon Morris Island at the beginning of the war, commanding the entrance of Charleston Harbour. Stone Point is on Morris Island, and faces the sea. It consequently commands the entrance to the harbour. There are about 9 ft. of water at low tide at Stone Point.
These particulars of Charleston Harbour are necessarily exceedingly imperfect, and must be taken with much reservation, as they were gathered at the outset of the war, since which time, of course, the defences named have been greatly strengthened and many others probably added. Touching these points, any information concerning which would have been of deep interest, our Artist, "incommunicable elf," preserves a profound silence, on the plea--a valid one, doubtless--that he was bound in honour not to divulge secrets entrusted to him in confidence. We must content ourselves, therefore, with some particulars of the present condition of the defences of Charleston Harbour from a letter by the Times correspondent at Charleston, who also evidently writes with a reticent pen:--
To assert that Charleston, in its present attitude, is impregnable would obviously be a ludicrous fallacy; but it is none the less true that it could not be taken without an enormous force attacking simultaneously by sea and land, and that the attack, even in that case, would have to be conducted with desperate valour before it could be successful. At the entrance of the harbour Fort Sumter, thoroughly repaired and mounting enormous guns en barbette, frowns at the blockaders, while the neighbouring points, on Morris Island and Sullivan's Island, from which the memorable attack upon the fort on the 13th Of April, 1861, was conducted are in possession of the Confederates, and are not likely to pass out of their hands. Behind Fort Sumter a new fort, which takes its name from General Ripley, and is built almost entirely of palmetto-wood, enhances the difficulty to which ships are exposed in approaching the town. . . . To return to Charleston, although for obvious reasons I do not feel myself at liberty to enter into details with regard to its fortifications, it may be stated that all that two of the most accomplished engineer officers of the Confederacy--Generals Lee and Beauregard--could suggest or devise has been done to strengthen the town on its land side. General Lee, before he was moved to Virginia and assumed his present high position, was for some time in command of Charleston, and by him the first line of land defences was planned and executed. This line has grown and expanded at the inspiration of General Beauregard into a perfect network of earthworks and redoubts, reaching from the Cooper River on the north to the Ashley River on the south. It is not likely that so scientific an engineer as General Beauregard would be fully satisfied with his system of defences until he had spent four or five years in perfecting them. Suffice it to say that, in the opinion of competent judges, they are sufficiently strong to defy a force ten times stronger than is ever likely to be brought against them. In addition to this, a very slight acquaintance with the country in the neighbourhood of Charleston satisfies the spectator how impossible it is for an invading army to penetrate such lagoons and swamps and forests as lie between the frequent rivers which intersect the surface of South Carolina. I had occasion last week to go to Pocataligo, about half way between Charleston and Savannah, to inspect the battle-field on which the Federals recently encountered a very inferior force, and were by them routed and driven back to their gunboats. Between Pocataligo and Charleston a dozen low-lying swampy rivers, such as the Ashepoo, the Combahee, the North and South Edisto, and many more, find their way to the sea, and along their banks the far-famed rice plantations of South Carolina present their glistening, unctuous surface to the sun, and scarcely afford foothold to anything heavier then a foxhound. On the highest ridge of land between these rivers the sandy soil is covered with a growth of pinewood, which is everywhere fringed with a dense undergrowth of evergreen shrubs. Everywhere the beautiful evergreen water oak, which resembles our English ilex, but grows to a far larger size, delights the eye, and is covered on every branch with long weepers of parasitical moss, which give to the forest trees a weirdlike aspect, as of giants with hoary, streaming beards. It is through such a country as this that an invading army would have to advance to attack Charleston from the land side.
As regards the efficiency of the blockade which clutches the throat of Charleston Harbour, the same correspondent writes as follows:--
If the efficiency of a blockade be tested by the frequency of the capture of ships attempting egress and ingress, it is a farce to consider Charleston, Wilmington, Savannah, and Mobile effectually blockaded. Scarcely a dark night passes but a vessel goes into or out of one of these ports; and yet it would be difficult, so far as the number of blockading-vessels is concerned, for any nation to institute a more restrictive blockade. The truth appears to be that if it was difficult for any nation to institute an efficient blockade in the days of sailing-vessels,--and how difficult it was the British nation fully learnt in their long war at the beginning of this century with France--it is almost impossible to do so in these days of steam. Swift vessels of light draught, painted lead colour, so as to be scarcely visible at the distance of thirty yards, and consuming coal which emits only a light, vapoury smoke laugh the blockade to scorn as they noiselessly emerge from or creep into their sheltering harbours at a slow, stealthy pace, which is attended by no sound from screw or paddle. There are vessels which, during this war, have run into and out of Southern harbours some fifty times, and have scarcely had one shot fired at them.
A fruitless attempt made by the army of the Potomac to cross the Rappahannock in January last forms the subject of an Illustration by our Artist on page 229. A correspondent of the New York Times supplies the following account:--
The night of the 20th of January was a wild Walpurgis night, such as Goethe paints in the "Faust" while the demons held revel in the forest of the Brocken. All hopes that it would be a "mere shower" were presently blasted. It was evident we were in for a regular north-easter, and among the roughest of that rough type. Yet was there hard work done that fearful night. One hundred and fifty pieces of artillery were to be planted in the position selected for them by General Hunt, Chief of Artillery, a man of rare energy and of a high order of professional skill. The pontoons, also, were drawn down nearer toward the river; but it was dreadful work; the roads under the influence of the rain were becoming shocking; and by daylight, when the boats should all have been on the banks, ready to slide down into the water, but fifteen had been gotten up--not enough for one bridge, and five were wanted.
The night operations had not escaped the attention of the wary Confederates. Early in the morning a signal-gun was fired opposite the ford, reminding one of that other signal-gun fired by them on the morning of Thursday, the 11th of December, when we began laying the pontoon opposite Fredericksburg, and which was the token for the concentration of the whole force at that point. It was indispensable that we should secure all the advantages of a surprise; and, though our intention was thus blown to their ears early on Wednesday morning, we were, nevertheless, forty-eight hours ahead of them, and, with favourable conditions, should have been able to carry our position before they could possibly concentrate.
Accordingly a desperate effort was made by the commanding General to get ready the bridges. It was obvious, however, that, even if completed, it would be impossible for us, in the condition of the ground, to get a single piece of artillery up the opposite acclivity. It would be necessary to rely wholly on the infantry--indeed, wholly on the bayonet. Happily, if the Confederates should prove to be in strong force, the country is too thickly wooded to admit of much generalship, and it was hoped that our superior weight of metal would carry the day.
The utmost effort was put forth to get pontoons enough into position to construct a bridge or two. Double and triple teams of horses and mules were harnessed to each pontoon-boat. It was in vain. Long, powerful ropes were then attached to the teams, and 150 men were put to the task on each boat. The effort was but little more successful. They would flounder through the mire for a few feet--the gang of Lilliputians with their huge-ribbed Gulliver--and then give up breathless. Night arrived, and the pontoons could not be got up. The Confederates had discovered what was up, and the pickets on the opposite bank called over to ours that they "would come over to-morrow and help us build the bridge."
That night the troops again bivouacked is the same position in the woods they had held the night before. You can imagine it must have been a desperate experience--and yet not by any means as bad as might be supposed. The men were in the woods, which afforded them some shelter from the wind and rain, and gave then a comparatively dry bottom to sleep on. Many had brought their shelter-tents, and, making a flooring of spruce, hemlock, or cedar boughs, and lighting huge camp-fires, they enjoyed themselves as well as the circumstances would permit. On the following morning a whisky ration, provided by the judicious forethought of General Burnside, was on hand for them.
Thursday morning saw the light struggling through an opaque envelop of mist, and dawned upon another day of storm and rain. It was a curious sight presented by the army as we rode over the ground, miles in extent, occupied by it. One might fancy that some new geologic cataclysm had o'ertaken the world, and that he saw around him the elemental wrecks left by another deluge. An indescribable chaos of pontoons, waggons, and artillery encumbered the road down to the river--supply-waggons upset by the roadside--artillery "stalled" in the mud--ammunition-trains mired by the way. Horses and mules dropped down dead, exhausted with the effort to move their loads through the hideous medium. A hundred and fifty dead animals, many of them buried in the liquid muck, were counted in the course of a morning's ride. And the muddle was still further increased by the bad arrangements--or, rather, the failure to execute the arrangements that had been made. It was designed that Franklin's column should advance by one road and Hooker's by another. But, by mistake, a portion of the troops of the left grand division debouched into the road assigned to the centre, and, cutting in between two divisions of one of Hooker's corps, threw everything into confusion. In consequence, the woods and roads have for the past two days been filled with stragglers, though very many of them were involuntary stragglers, and were evidently honestly seeking to rejoin their regiments. It was now no longer a question of how to go on; it was a question of how to get back.