General Robert E Lee, the most famous Confederate general of the American Civil War offered his resignation in August 1863 after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg in July. Lee took full responsibility for the defeat but Jefferson Davis refused his offer. While the South licked its wounds in August, Lincoln ordered for the Union’s armies 60,000 Spencer Repeating Carbines – a rifle that greatly increased the firepower of the Union’s infantry soldiers.
August 1st: The Confederate spy Belle Boyd was arrested and imprisoned in Washington DC. Jefferson Davis offered an amnesty to any Southern soldier absent without leave. This was becoming a chronic problem for the South and Davis hoped to rectify it in this manner. However, he was unaware that the North was experiencing a similar problem.
August 2nd: plans were submitted to build a suitable artillery gun platform in the marshland near Charleston to enable the North to use large calibre guns against the city. However, as the city was nearly 8,000 metres from this platform, even the largest calibre guns would have been at the end of their range.
August 4th: Union engineers started to build the gun platform on Morris Island to allow for the bombardment of Charleston. Logs were forced vertically down 20 feet through the mud into the sand substratum. Pine logs were then laid across these logs, which in turn were covered with 13,000 sandbags that contained 800 tons of earth. This was capable of supporting an 8-inch 200-pounder Parrott rifle. It was impossible to disguise what they were doing and the defenders of Charleston responded with strengthening the city’s defences.
August 6th: President Lincoln proclaimed this day as a day of thanksgiving for the recent Union victories. Businesses in the North were shut as all were encouraged to attend church services.
August 8th: Robert E Lee offered his resignation and took full responsibility for the disaster at Gettysburg. On no occasion did he try to blame a subordinate officer – a problem in the Union’s Army of the Potomac that created many divisions among senior generals who could never be totally sure who they could trust. Davis refused Lee’s offer.
August 12th: Union gun ships arrived off Charleston to give the engineers more cover from Confederate artillery attacks. In particular the 10-inch guns at Battery Wagner were proving a real concern. Battery Wagner was at the far seaward end of Morris Island and had originally been built to defend the harbour entrance into Charleston. It guns were in easy range of the Union engineers still constructing their platform but also now very open to a naval assault by Union gun ships.
August 17th: 450 Union soldiers managed to move the 200-pounder Parrott gun to its base. It was nicknamed the “Swamp Angel”. All day, hundreds of men moved the required supplies to its base – gunpowder, shot etc.
August 18th: President Lincoln tried out the new Spencer Repeating Carbine. Suitably impressed, he gave it his approval. The rifle was more accurate than previous ones issued to Union troops and, correctly used, it could fire more bullets over the same period of time. The Spencer rifle was to give the North’s infantrymen a major advantage over the South’s. 60,000 were eventually supplied.
August 21st: The “Swamp Angel” was ready for use. The North demanded that the South had to evacuate Battery Wagner or that they would fire on Charleston.
August 22nd: As the South had not agreed to the North’s demands, the first shot by the “Swamp Angel” was fired at Charleston at 01.30. The gunners could not actually see their target but artillery officers had spent the previous day working out the necessary predicted range and angle of fire. In total twelve shots were fired in quick succession, including four incendiary rounds.
August 23rd: The officer in command of defending Charleston, General Beauregard, wrote to the Union commander on Morris Island, General Gillmore, claiming that he was firing on innocent women and children, none of whom had been given the chance to leave the city. “Your firing a number of the most destructive missiles ever used in war into the midst of a city taken unawares and filled with sleeping women and children will give you a bad eminence in History.” Gillmore replied that the city had been given fair warning and that if women and children were in the city, it was the fault of the city’s commanders and not his. The issue was solved not by diplomacy but by the “Swamp Angel” itself. After firing a further 20 rounds, the breech exploded and put the gun out of use.
August 24th: Fort Sumter, also built to guard Charleston, surrendered after a 7-day artillery bombardment. Hit by over 2,500 rounds, the fort was reduced to ruin. However, when the troops in the fort were seen trying to remove the remaining artillery guns, which were going to be shipped to Charleston to bolster the city’s defences, a further 627 rounds were fired at it.
August 26th: Union troops moved to within 250 metres of Battery Wagner, which had yet to be put out of action. However, any further movement forward was severely hampered when it became clear that the battery had been surrounded by “sub-surface torpedo mines” activated by foot pressure. However, General Beauregard believed that the fall of Battery Wagner was inevitable and planned for its evacuation.