141. On the night of September 6, the sapper crowned the crest of the counterscrap on the east front, masking all the guns of the work. The following order, to carry the place by assault at the hour of low tide on the following morning, was issued late in the evening:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH, Numbers 513.
In the Field, Morris Island, September 6, 1863.
I. Fort Wagner will be assaulted at 9 a. m. to-morrow, the 7th instant, by troops to be designated by Brigadier-General Terry, who will command in person.*
The artillery fire on the work will be kept up until the troops mount the parapet, and will then cease at a given signal.
The assault will be in three column, as follows:
First. A column of two small regiments of picket troops will debouch from the advanced trenches, mount the parapet of the sea front and the bomb-proof and traverses, spike the guns, and seize and hold the sally-port.
Second. A column of one brigade drawn up right in front in the trenches, in rear of the first column, will debouch upon the beach by regiments, pass the sea front of the fort, file sharp to the left, and mount the parapet of the north and west faces, regiment after regiment, as they gain the requisite distances.
Third. A column of one brigade, left in front, will follow behind the second column, and deploy across the island in rear of Fort Wagner, facing Cumming's Point, with skirmishers well out in front.
II. The guards of the trenches will be held in reserve at their appropriate stations. The balance of the infantry force of General Terry's command will be kept under arms from and after 8 o'clock in the morning near the Beacon House. The batteries of field artillery will be held ready for action near the lookout.
By order of Brigadier General n. Q. A. Gillmore:
ED. W. SMITH,
143. About midnight on the 6th, it was reported to me that the enemy was evacuating the island, and such was the celerity of his flight, that nearly the whole of his force made its escape. Seventy men were intercepted on the water and taken.
Our forces at once occupied the north end of the island. Eighteen pieces of ordnance of various calibers were captured in Fort Wagner and seven in Battery Gregg.
144. Fort Wagner was found to be a work of the most formidable characer; far more so, indeed, than the most exaggerated statements of prisoners and deserters had led us to expect. Its bomb-proof shelter, capable of containing from 1,500 to 1,600 men, remained practically intact after the most severe bombardment to which any earthwork was ever exposed. (See Plate III.+) The history of sieges furnishes no parallel case.
145. The attempt to form an opening in the bomb-proof by breaching failed for want of time. The heavy projectiles were slowly eating their way into it, although their effect was astonishingly slight. Indeed, the penetration of rifle projectiles into a sand parapet, standing at the natural slope, or approximately so, is but trifling. They are almost invariably deflected along the line of least resistance, or departing but slightly from it, scooping out in their progress a small hollow, the contents of which are scattered but a short distance.
Under such circumstances, the general effect produced by firing a large number of successive shots within a small area of, say, from
*For General Terry's detailed instructions, see addenda to Gillmore's reports of operations on Morris Island.
+Reference is to the "Plan of a portion of the siege operations against the defenses of Charleston Harboer prior to the capture of Fort Wagner," &c., which is to appear in Atlas.