Fort Wagner

Fort Wagner

Battery Wagner, Morris Island

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Fort Wagner, part of the formidable Confederate defenses of Charleston Harbor, was built on Morris Island on the south edge of the bay.  The fort's 30-foot high earth and sand filled walls protected 14 heavy artillery pieces that could bear on attackers or warships trying to enter the harbor. The Union Navy attempted to reduce the defenses of Charleston in early 1863 with little success. In early June, Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore attempted to capture the batteries on Morris Island and use them against Fort Sumter in the harbor's entrance. On June 11th, Gilmore ordered an assault on Fort Wagner with one brigade, which met with little success. His beachhead was reinforced and Gillmore made plans to attack the fort again. At dusk on July 18th, an attack spearheaded by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a colored regiment, stormed and captured the outer rifle pits surrounding the fort. The unit’s colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, was killed. Nine other regiments in two brigades scaled the parapet and entered the fort, but after brutal hand-to-hand combat were driven out with heavy casualties. Unconvinced of the success of frontal assaults, the Federals resorted to land and sea siege operations to reduce the fort. The Confederates abandoned Fort Wagner on September 7, 1863, after resisting 60 days of shelling. The 54th Massachusetts played a crucial combat role, proving to skeptics that colored soldiers would fight bravely if given the chance.

Battle Facts

Result

Confederate Victory
COMMANDERS
Forces Engaged
6,800

Union

5,000

Confederate

1,800
Total Estimated Casualties
1,689

Union

1,515
246
killed
880
wounded
389
missing & captured

Confederate

174
36
killed
133
wounded
5
missing & captured