Letter Written by Col. Chas. H. Olmstead 1st Ga. Inf. to His Wife from Battery Wagner on July 14, 1863
Letter Written by Col. Chas. H. Olmstead 1st Ga. Inf. to His Wife from Battery Wagner on July 14, 1863 – This letter, written in ink, by Col. Charles H. Olmstead of the 1st Georgia Infantry, was composed on July 14, 1863, just a four days prior to the famed assault by the 54th Mass. USCT on Battery Wagner. In the letter, Olmstead tells his wife that he has safely endured a recent assault by the Yankees, and that after a brief respite, the Union navy has brought three of “their monitors, accompanied by several wooden gunboats, to within 600 to 700 yards of the fort and opened a terrific fire upon us.” He reports that the artillery fire merely made a few holes in the sand earthworks and only slightly wounded a few men. He mentions that later, “on Sunday”, return fire, by Wagner’s 10 inch gun, may have significantly damaged one of the monitors; during this barrage, Olmstead relates that some of the men in Wagner were wounded and two killed; another round of bombarding by the Federal, wooden gunboats did little damage and wounded none of Wagner’s occupants, as also reported by Olmstead. The remainder of the letter relates Olmstead’s well wishes for his wife and child; he assures her that his fate rests in the hands of God. The letter, written on typical, war period, blue stationary, remains in excellent and highly readable condition. The letter was folded and mailed as is, without a cover, and it is cancelled on one side of the exterior with the number “10” and an encircled stamping that reads: “CHARLESTON S.C. / JUL 15”; Olmstead addressed the letter to: “Mrs. Chas. H. Olmstead / Care of A.N. Miller Esq / Savannah Ga”; the return address is as follows: “Chas H. Olmstead / Col 1st Vol Reg of Ga”. Col. Olmstead, earlier in the war, was a principle in the Confederate defense of Ft. Pulaski and Savannah. This letter provides a rare, eyewitness account, composed by a prominent, Confederate officer, from the interior of the famous Battery Wagner, describing conditions and occurrences within Wagner, just prior to the assault of July 18, 1863. Olmstead was a prominent Georgia citizen in the pre-war years, and he became an equally significant businessman, after the war was over.
The letter reads, as follows:
“Fort Wagner, Morris Island
July 14, 63
My Dear Wife
Since reaching this place I have been able to write you but once, though I have sent you two telegrams and hope that you rec’d them. I keep perfectly well, dashing, and have not been touched by any of the missiles of the enemy. Thanks to the protecting care of Almighty God. After the assault on Saturday morning (an account of which I sent you) the Yankees gave us a few hours rest and then three of their monitors came up to within 600 to 700 yards of the fort and opened a terrific fire upon us. The wooden gun boats stood off at longer distance joining the fire however. This lasted until fully near dark and resulted in only a few holes in our sand works which were filled up the same night and in wounding a few men slightly. On Sunday, the firing continued but one of the monitors coming up, the one was I think injured by the fire of our 10 inch gun for the one hit repeatedly fired but two shots herself and evidently moved off with difficulty. In fact, it is reported that two of our men were killed this day and a few wounded. None from my immediate command. Yesterday the wooden gun boats alone bombarded hurting no body or nothing. The men are in excellent spirits but nearly worn out with constant watching and working. They had little or not sleep from the time we left Camp Ripley until last night.
You must try to keep up a brave head, my own darling. Remember that God is as much protection here amidst the actual horrors of war, as in times of profound peace and that nothing can happen to me except it be his will. Affairs will probably be settle in one way or another before many days and I hope soon to be with you again.
Meantime, I will write and telegraph whenever an opportunity offers. Give my very much love to mother. My letters are intended for both for I know she must be very uneasy. Kiss our little one for me and receive a world of love for yourself.
Your affectionate husband
I learned that Charlie May is over on James Island. In that case we will not be likely to meet.”
Charles H. Olmstead
|Residence Savannah GA; 24 years old. Enlisted on 5/27/1861 at Savannah, GA as a Major. On 5/27/1861 he was commissioned into Field & Staff GA 1st Infantry He was Surrendered on 4/26/1865 at Greensboro, NC He was listed as: * POW 4/11/1862 Fort Pulaski, GA * Received 9/20/1862 Vicksburg, MS (On board steamer John H. Done) * Exchanged 11/10/1862 Aiken’s Landing, VA Promotions: * Colonel 4/16/1862 Other Information: born 4/21/1837 (Alive in 1923) After the War he lived in Savannah, GA
1st GA Infantry
|Charles Hart Olmstead|
Col. Charles H. Olmstead
|Born||April 2, 1837
|Died||August 17, 1926 (aged 89)
|Buried||Laurel Grove Cemetery,
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/branch||Confederate States Army|
|Years of service||1861-1865 (CSA)|
|Commands held||1st Georgia Infantry
|Battles/wars||American Civil War:|
Olmstead was appointed major of the 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment on May 27, 1861. During this time the colonel of his regiment was Hugh W. Mercer. He was placed in command of Fort Pulaski, after Georgia militia captured the fort on January 6, 1861. In November 1861, Olmstead had an estimated 385 men and 48 cannons to protect it. After a siege and bombardment, Olmstead surrendered the fortress on April 11, 1862 and was a prisoner for several months. Afterwards, Olmstead continued to lead his regiment along the Carolina and Georgia Coast. He participated in the Siege of Battery Wagner while commanding a mixed force from his own 1st (Mercer-Olmstead) Georgia Infantry and the 12th Georgia Artillery Battalion. He then returned to Savannah until the Atlanta Campaign. He and his regiment were sent north to Atlanta as part of Mercer’s Brigade and participated in the Battle of Atlanta. He soon found himself and his regiment under the command of Brigadier General James Argyle Smith in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. At times during this campaign he commanded the whole brigade. He then fought at the Battle of Franklin and the Battle of Nashville. Afterwards he participated in the Carolinas Campaign and fought at the Battle of Bentonville before surrendering at Bennet’s Place.
After the war, at the age of 29, he married Florence Williams. Together they raised three daughters: Susan, Sarah, and Florence. He had a successful career in life insurance, shipping, and banking. Afterwards in New York City, he worked in the statistical department of Wanamaker’s. In 1912 he wrote his Memoirs. He was 89 years old when he died in Savannah on August 17, 1926. Before his death he had written “I gratefully acknowledge that ‘goodness and mercy’ have followed me ‘all the days of my life'”.
Operations Against Fort Pulaski
0 total (US 0; CS 0;)
2 total (US 1; CS 1;)
Fort Pulaski, built by the U.S. Army before the war, is located near the mouth of the Savannah River, blocking upriver access to Savannah. Fortifications such as Pulaski, called third system forts, were considered invincible, but the new technology of rifled artillery changed that. On February 19, 1862, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman ordered Captain Quincy A. Gillmore, an engineer officer, to take charge of the investment force and begin the bombardment and capture of the fort. Gillmore emplaced artillery on the mainland southeast of the fort and began the bombardment on April 10 after Colonel Charles H. Olmstead refused to surrender the fort. Within hours, Gillmore’s rifled artillery had breached the southeast scarp of the fort, and he continued to exploit it. Some of his shells began to damage the traverse shielding the magazine in the northwest bastion. Realizing that if the magazine exploded the fort would be seriously damaged and the garrison would suffer severe casualties, Olmstead surrendered after 2:00 pm on April 11.
|NAME:||Charles H Olmstead|
|BIRTH DATE:||21 Apr 1837|
|ENLISTMENT DATE:||27 May 1861|
|ENLISTMENT PLACE:||Savannah, Georgia|
|MUSTER DATE:||27 May 1861|
|MUSTER REGIMENT:||1st Infantry|
|MUSTER REGIMENT TYPE:||Infantry|
|RANK CHANGE DATE:||16 Apr 1862|
|RANK CHANGE RANK:||Colonel|
|IMPRISONMENT DATE:||11 Apr 1862|
|IMPRISONMENT PLACE:||Fort Pulaski, Georgia|
|MUSTER OUT DATE:||26 Apr 1865|
|MUSTER OUT PLACE:||Greensboro, North Carolina|
|MUSTER OUT INFORMATION:||Surrendered|
|SIDE OF WAR:||Confederacy|
|RESIDENCE PLACE:||Savannah, Georgia|
|LAST KNOWN RESIDENCE PLACE:||Savannah, Georgia|
|NOTES:||1862-09-20 Received, (Vicksburg, MS), On board steamer John H. Done; 1862-11-10 Exchanged, (Aiken’s Landing, VA)|
|ADDITIONAL NOTES:||Alive in 1923|
Col Charles Hart Olmstead
|BIRTH||2 Apr 1837
Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA
|ATH||17 Aug 1926 (aged 89)
Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA
Charles Hart OLMSTEAD, “Charlie,” was the son of Jonathan OLMSTEAD & Eliza HART.
Southern Recorder (Milledgeville, Baldwin County), issue of the 25th of January, 1859, 3:5 – Married, In Milledgeville, January 20th, 1859, by Rev. Wm. FLINN, Mr. Chas. H. OLMSTEAD and Miss Florence L. WILLIAMS.
Charles married Florence Lucinda WILLIAMS, and they were the parents of six children, born 1862-1875:
• Sarah Morris OLMSTEAD (1862-1950), the wife of Alexander Pratt ADAMS (1852-1892),
• Charles Williams OLMSTEAD (1864-1865),
• Florence Neely OLMSTEAD (1867-1868),
• Susan Jones OLMSTEAD, “Susie” (1869-1960),
• John Hopkins OLMSTEAD (1872-1880), and
• Florence Williams OLMSTEAD (1875-1955).
As the year 1880 drew to a close, Charlie, Florence and their three surviving daughters grieved the loss of a son and brother.
Georgia Death Certificate: Charles Hart OLMSTEAD was born in Savannah on the 2nd of April, 1837; his mother, Eliza HART was also born in Savannah; his father, Jonathan OLMSTEAD, was born in Connecticut. He was retired and the widower of Florence WILLIAMS OLMSTEAD. He died at his home, 305 East Gwinnett Street, in Savannah, on the 17th of August, 1926, at the age of 89 years, 4 months and 15 days, with burial in Laurel Grove Cemetery.
Abstract from Laurel Grove Cemetery Keepers Book: Charles H. OLMSTEAD died the 17th of August, 1926, and was buried the following day in Lot 135. He was a native of Georgia, aged 89 years, 4 months and 15 days, and a resident of 305 East Gwinnett Street.
Collection Number: 01856
Collection Title: Charles H. Olmstead Papers, 1860-1865.
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|Abstract||Charles H. Olmstead (1837-1926), was a Confederate Army officer and member of the 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment. The collection contains military papers including orders, circulars, communications and telegrams, reports, and some correspondence about military matters, sent and received by Charles H. Olmstead at Fort Pulaski, Ga., from 1861 until its surrender in 1862; at Morris Island and Fort Johnson on James Island, S.C., in 1863; and in the vicinity of Savannah and Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia in 1864-1865. Olmstead was imprisoned at Fort Columbus after the surrender of Fort Pulaski and wrote a letter, 10 June 1862, to United States Secretary of War Stanton complaining about the treatment of the Confederate sick and wounded in a manner in violation of the surrender terms. In addition, there are twenty-four letters, 1861-1864, from Olmstead to his wife at Savannah and Milledgeville, Ga., describing camp life; military activities at various locations, including, in addition to places previously mentioned, Tybee Island, Ga., and Hilton Head, S.C.; his estimation of the military situation; and speculation about the future.|
|Creator||Olmstead, Charles H.|
Fort Wagner or Battery Wagner was a beachhead fortification on Morris Island, South Carolina, that covered the southern approach to Charleston Harbor. It was the site of two American Civil War battles in the campaign known as Operations Against the Defenses of Charleston in 1863, and it is considered one of the toughest beachhead defenses constructed by the Confederate Army.
Named for deceased Lt. Col. Thomas M. Wagner, Fort Wagner measured 250 by 100 yards (91 m), and spanned an area between the Atlantic on the east and an impassable swamp on the west. Its walls, composed of sand and earth, rose 30 feet (9.1 m) above the level beach and were supported by palmetto logs and sandbags. The fort’s arsenal included fourteen cannons, the largest a 10-inch (250 mm) Columbiad that fired a 128-pound shell. It was a large structure capable of sheltering nearly 1,000 of the fort’s 1,700-man garrison and provided substantial protection against naval shelling. The fort’s land face was protected by a water-filled trench, 10 feet (3.0 m) wide and 5 feet (1.5 m) deep, surrounded by buried land mines and sharpened palmetto stakes. The fort itself was supported by defenses throughout Morris Island.
The Second Battle of Fort Wagner, a week later, is better known. It was the Union attack on July 18, 1863, led by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first major American military units made up of black soldiers. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw led the 54th Massachusetts on foot while they charged, and was killed in the assault.
Although a tactical defeat, the publicity of the battle of Fort Wagner led to further action for black U.S. troops in the Civil War, and it spurred additional recruitment that gave the Union Army a further numerical advantage in troops over the South.
Union forces besieged the fort after the unsuccessful assault. By August 25, Union entrenchments were close enough to attempt an assault on the Advanced Rifle Pits, 240 yards in front of the Battery, but the attempt was defeated. A second attempt, by the 24th Massachusetts Infantry, on August 26 was successful. After enduring almost 60 days of heavy U.S. shelling, the Confederates abandoned it on the night of September 6–7, 1863, withdrawing all operable cannons and the garrison.
The main reason the fort was abandoned was a concern about the loss of the garrison due to artillery fire and the threat of imminent assault. On September 6, the garrison commander, Colonel Keitt, wrote to his superiors, “The garrison must be taken away immediately after dark, or it will be destroyed or captured. It is idle to deny that the heavy Parrott shells have breached the walls and are knocking away the bomb-proofs. Pray have boats immediately after dark at Cummings Point to take away the men. I say deliberately that this must be done or the garrison will be sacrificed. I am sending the wounded and sick now to Cummings Point, and will continue to do so, if possible, until all are gone. I have a number of them now there. I have not in the garrison 400 effective men, including artillery. The engineers agree in opinion with me, or, rather, shape my opinion. I shall say no more.” A council of war in Charleston on the 4th had already reached the same conclusion, and the evacuation was carried out as planned.
After the war a “Lost Cause” revisionist story arose concerning access to fresh water. The claim was made that bodies of the Union troops (54th Massachusetts and many white troops) were buried close to the fort and the decomposition of the bodies poisoned the fresh water well within the fort. Continuing bombardment and interception of food/water supplies by boat from Charleston made holding the fort difficult. This version of the story is directly contradicted by official Confederate correspondence at the time of the evacuation.
Within twenty years of the Civil War, the remnants of the fort had been washed away by erosion on Morris Island. A group of three ex-servicemen traveled to the fort in May 1885 and reported that the entire fort and approaches to it had washed away into the ocean.
The fall of Battery Wagner would have considerable strategic significance. With its loss and that of Fort Gregg, Morris Island too fell to the United States. Although Charleston remained in the hands of the rebels its port was effectively closed. At the end of the year Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles could report that “the commerce of Charleston has ceased.” The impact also showed directly in rebel customs receipts, which fell drastically from 1863 to 1864. The labors and sacrifices of the United States forces during the storms and siege had in the end shut down a vital lifeline to the rebellion.
The most famous regiment that fought for the Union in the battle of Fort Wagner was the 54th regiment, which was one of the first African-American regiments in the war. The 54th was controversial in the North, where many people supported the abolition of slavery but still treated African Americans as lesser or inferior to whites. Though some claimed blacks could not fight as well as whites, the actions of the 54th Massachusetts demonstrated once again the fallacy in that argument, as this was not the first time blacks ever fought in war or even for the United States.
William Carney, an African American and a sergeant with the 54th, is considered the first black recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Wagner in recovering and returning the unit’s American flag to Union lines. After the battle, the Confederates buried the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Shaw, in an unmarked mass grave with the African-American soldiers of his regiment as an insult to him. Instead, his family considered it an honor that Shaw was buried with his men.
Morris Island is smaller than 1,000 acres and is subject to extensive erosion by storm and sea. Much of the site of Fort Wagner has been eroded away, including the place where the Union soldiers were buried. However, by the time that happened, the soldiers’ remains were no longer there because soon after the end of the Civil War, the Army disinterred and reburied all the remains, including presumably those of Shaw, at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina, where their gravestones were marked as “unknown”.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment
The second Battle of Fort Wagner, on the night of 18 July 1863, has become famous because of the part played by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first African American unit raised in the North during the Civil War. The extraordinary courage shown by the 54th Regiment vindicated the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union cause and encouraged the recruitment of more than 150 other African American units. In Boston, the 54th is commemorated by the Shaw Memorial on Boston Common where sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicted Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who died on the parapet of Fort Wagner, with men of his regiment. The battle also was popularized by the 1989 film Glory, where fact and fiction are woven together in the service of movie making. Ironically, the role of the 54th Regiment often is all that is remembered of the 18 July battle which was–in spite of the extreme bravery shown by the 54th and other Union regiments–a bloody fiasco in which more than 1,500 of 5,000 attackers were killed, wounded, or captured. The failure of direct frontal attacks on Fort Wagner was only the beginning of a terrible siege that would continue for eight more weeks.
Fort Wagner or Battery Wagner—what is in a name?
During the Civil War, the North and South often adopted different names for the same places, events, or battles, focusing on the names of topographical features or local cities and towns: the Battle of Bull Run (in the North) was referred to as “Manassas” in the South; “Antietam” for Union soldiers was “Sharpsburg” for their Confederate opponents. Sometimes differences in names reflect more subtle distinctions. During the siege of Charleston, Confederates almost always described the 1100-foot-long earthworks that guarded the southern flank of their artillery positions on Morris Island as Battery Wagner—implying in the name its purpose as one of a series of outlying positions that protected the city’s inner harbor and the approaches to Fort Sumter. Northern soldiers tended to refer to this outer work as Fort Wagner, giving it a name that reflected its great defensive strength.
Fort/Battery Wagner had been constructed during the summer of 1862 to guard the main ship channel at the entrance of Charleston Harbor and block the threat of a Union advance from the south along Morris Island that would bring Fort Sumter within the range of Northern siege artillery. The fort was located very close to the site where on 8 January 1861, South Carolina forces fired the first shots of the Civil War when they turned back the Star of the West, a chartered vessel that was attempting to reinforce the federal garrison at Fort Sumter. It was named for Lt. Col. Thomas M. Wagner, a Confederate artillery officer who had been killed in an accidental explosion shortly before construction began.
Modern siege warfare comes to Morris Island
In the aftermath of the 18 July attack, the Union army began a systematic siege of what soldiers on both sides had begun to refer to simply as “Wagner.” Zigzagging lines of trenches approached the fort, while batteries of modern heavy artillery, including the super-heavy gun known as the “Swamp Angel,” were emplaced to bombard Wagner, the Confederate batteries north of it on Morris Island, and the more distant Fort Sumter. In turn, Confederate artillery at Fort Sumter dropped shells at fifteen-minute intervals into the Union lines.
The siege took on aspects of modern warfare that usually are associated with the First World War. The attackers used precursors of machine guns—multi-barrel “Requa” guns. They illuminated the Confederate positions with calcium lights to reveal night movements and experimented with incendiary (”Greek Fire”) artillery shells. Their opponents fought back with sniper rifles equipped with telescopic sights; “torpedoes”—land mines—buried in front of their redoubts; and torpedo boat attacks on the Union fleet. The Fish Boat, the submarine which would be renamed the CSS Hunley, arrived in Charleston during the Morris Island siege, but did not have an impact until it attacked the USS Housatonic the following winter, an attack which also proved fatal for the Hunley and all aboard her.
Having demonstrated their raw courage in the charge on 18 July, the survivors of the 54th Regiment proved themselves again, wielding shovels as well as rifles and working side-by-side with white soldiers in the trenches before Wagner, where they found themselves with the ghastly duty of digging their way through the remains of the Union and Confederate dead who had been buried in mass graves in front of the Confederate bastion. African American military service quickly became more than an experiment. By September, the Union army before Charleston included men from seven black regiments.
Having battered Wagner into a ruin and turned their large cannon on Fort Sumter and the city of Charleston, the besiegers prepared for a final assault on Morris Island, only to have the defenders escape during the course of the night of 6-7 September 1863. Union commanders believed that they had captured the key to Fort Sumter and therefore to Charleston—to many Northerners the symbol of Southern resistance—but the long battle for the “Holy City” of the Confederacy had just begun.
Weehawken resumed operations against Confederate strongholds in and around Charleston harbor. On 10–11 July, Union ironclads Catskill, Montauk, Nahant, and Weehawken shelled Confederate batteries at Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina, to cover an Army amphibious landing under Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore. Despite additional bombardments on 18 and 24 July, the monitors failed to silence the fort, leaving General Gillmore’s troops pinned down on the beach caught between a murderous hail of cross fire. Fort Wagner was finally reduced during a naval bombardment of Forts Gregg, Sumter, and Moultrie on 17 August.