A small redbird was found at the close of the bombardment with a wing torn from its body as it flew across the terreplein of the fort, and again three men who volunteered to draw a bucket of water from a shallow well, not more than twenty feet distance from the entrance of the bombproof of the fort, were all killed before they reached the well.
Part One of
The Daring Exploits of H. D. D. Twiggs and His Confederate Compatriots in the War Between the States
Maj. H. D. D. Twiggs at Battery Wagner
by Col. Henry D. Capers, Twelfth Battalion Georgia Artillery from Confederate Veteran, Vol. X, No. 1, January, 1902.
[From] Col. Henry D. Capers, who commanded the Twelfth Battalion Georgia Artillery:
The memorable siege and defense of Charleston, S. C. , from its commencement in June, 1863, to the evacuation of that city by the Confederate forces in February, 1865, presents one of the most interesting records in the annals of war. In all the details of this heroic defense, in all that fully illustrates the devotion of the patriot garrison, in the many incidents of superb courage, heroic discharge of duty, manly endurance, and personal gallantry, there can be found no record superior to that made in the defense of Forts Wagner and Sumter, the outposts of the devoted city.
Permit me to describe a single incident which will, in a measure, give some idea of the endurance, courage, and soldierly bearing which made every day and every hour of the siege of Fort Wagner one of the most brilliant, as it certainly was one of the most terrific, experiences of the "war between the States."
In the month of August I received orders at my camp, near Savannah, Ga., to report without delay to Gen. Beauregard at Charleston with my gallant comrades of the Twelfth Georgia Battalion of Artillery. On reaching the city we were ordered to report to the officer commanding at Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, the extreme outpost on the sea front of the city and six miles therefrom.
The incident referred to will illustrate the ordeal the garrison at Fort Wagner passed through and endured for more than a year. At the time of this occurrence the fort was in command of Brig. Gen. W. B. Taliaferro, a typical Virginia knight "Sans peur et sans reproche."
July 18, 1863, will long be remembered as one of the most noted and terrible bombardments known to history. It was followed by an assault at sunset, unsurpassed for its gallantry and fury.
With the first dawn of day the large fleet of the enemy's monitors, battle ships, and their Ajax of floating batteries, the renowned Ironsides, steamed close in and took position in the sea front of Wagner. Before the sun had sent one cheering beam to brighten the gloom of this foggy morning, there came an eleven-inch shell from the Ironsides, the signal shot for the terrific bombardments referred to.
Think of the guns from five monitors, guns of the heaviest caliber, whose fifteen-inch shells were exploding every few seconds over, against, and within the parapet walls of a bastioned earthwork that did not occupy the area of two acres; add to this the steady fire of the Ironsides, with her immense batteries of eleven-inch guns, six on each side, and one each in the bow and stern; to this add the accurate fire from two sloops, carrying batteries of two hundred pound rifle guns, and of five land batteries constructed on the island, with the heaviest modern armaments, within seventeen hundred yards of Wagner, and the reader may have some idea of the infernal rain of death-dealing shot and shell that fell upon the fort on that long and memorable day.
There were some vivid illustrations. A small redbird was found at the close of the bombardment with a wing torn from its body as it flew across the terreplein of the fort, and again three men who volunteered to draw a bucket of water from a shallow well, not more than twenty feet distance from the entrance of the bombproof of the fort, were all killed before they reached the well.
Late in the afternoon, in the midst of this terrific fire, it became necessary to ascertain the movement of the Federal troops in front of the fort and within the enemy's fortifications. A large body of their infantry, who were known to be formed behind the hills, had been ordered to assault Wagner as soon as the bombardment ceased, and, as the Federal general supposed, the fort would be practically dismantled, and what was left of the garrison demoralized by the bombardment.
As it was growing late, and the critical time approaching for the deadly assault, which was afterwards made, it became necessary (for the safety of the garrison) to learn whether the forward movement on the part of the assaulting column had commenced. Gen. Taliaferro communicated his anxiety to the members of his staff grouped about him in the bombproof, but hesitated to designate an officer to discharge this perilous duty.
Maj. H. D. D. Twiggs, then attached to the general's staff as inspector general (afterwards lieutenant colonel of his regiment, and now Judge Twiggs, of Savannah), a handsome and gallant representative of a chivalrous family, quietly stepped in front of his chief, volunteered to leave the bombproof, to ascend the parapet, and make the necessary observation.
I saw him when he left us, and I felt then, as did others, that it would be the last service that Twiggs would render for his country. I noticed Gen. Taliaferro standing near the entrance of the bombproof with the greatest solicitude depicted on his face, and could see from the movement of his lips that he was asking the intervention of Divine Providence in behalf of his gallant staff officer.
With the utmost coolness Maj. Twiggs passed out into the exposed and open area, heedless of the storm of death falling all around him, reached the parapet of the fort, ascended it to its very summit, and standing there midst the bursting shells, flashing and thundering above and around him, he deliberately raised his field glasses and surveyed the enemy's batteries and surrounding sand hills, with apparently as much self-possession as if he were in an opera house and looking at the form and features of a prima donna.
He had not remained in that position more than one minute when a fifteen-inch shell descended almost vertically, striking the parapet within two feet in front of him, and, burying itself in the earth, exploded with terrific force. Instantly, with a great cloud of earth and sand, Maj. Twiggs was thrown up into the air six or eight feet, and fell back from the parapet down upon the terreplein of the fort, completely covered with sand, and to all appearances dead.
Several of us watching him immediately rushed to where he was lying, and bore his apparently lifeless body into the bombproof. To our surprise he opened his eyes and made his report to Gen. Taliaferro. "General," he said, "the enemy are moving to the assault." He then became unconscious, but after the application of such restoratives as were at command the surgeon exclaimed: "He is not dead, General!"
The next day Maj. Twiggs was fast recovering from a severe concussion of the brain, and in a short time rejoined his regiment in Virginia, from which he had been temporarily detached for staff duty.
While I was an eyewitness to many "close calls" during the civil war, and had a few myself, I have always regarded the heroism of Maj. Twiggs as not only unsurpassed during the war, but his escape from death at Fort Wagner was most remarkable.