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Siege of Charleston Harbor
Part of the American Civil War
Photo taken of eastern barracks and bake-oven during the bombardment of Fort Sumter on Sept. 8, 1863.
Date August 17 – September 8, 1863
Location Morris Island, South Carolina & Fort Sumter, South Carolina
Result Inconclusive[1]
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Quincy Gillmore
John A. Dahlgren
P.G.T. Beauregard
X Corps Forts Wagner & Sumter garrisons
Casualties and losses
859 816

The Second Battle of Charleston Harbor (a.k.a. the Siege of Charleston Harbor, Siege of Fort Wagner, or Battle of Morris Island) took place during the American Civil War in the late summer of 1863 between a combined Union Army/Navy force and the Confederate defenses of Charleston, South Carolina.


After being repulsed twice trying to take Fort Wagner by storm, Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore decided on a less costly approach and began laying siege to the fort. In the ensuing days, Union forces besieged the Confederate works on Morris Island with an array of military novelties. Union gunners made use of a new piece of artillery known as the Requa gun – 25 rifle barrels mounted on a field carriage. While sappers dug zig-zag trenches toward Fort Wagner a second novelty was used – the calcium floodlight. Bright lights were flashed upon the defenders blinding them enough to decrease accurate return fire while the Union gunners fired safely behind the lights.[2]

The Confederate defenders had advantages also. The ground the Union sappers were digging through was shallow sand with a muddy base. The trenching efforts also began to accidentally uncover Union dead from the previous assaults on Fort Wagner. Despite this, by mid-August Gillmore had his siege guns within range of Fort Sumter. On August 17, he opened fire and during the first day of the bombardment nearly 1,000 shells were fired. By August 23, the masonry had been turned to rubble and General Pierre Beauregard removed as many of the fort's guns as possible. Gillmore wired the War Department that "Fort Sumter is a shapeless and harmless mass of ruin".[3]


A shell lobbed into Fort Sumter from the stranded Union monitor USS Weehawken exploding on the parade ground

Gillmore's attention returned to Fort Wagner. Despite the marshy conditions on Morris Island, Union forces had constructed powerful batteries to combat Fort Wagner. One such battery officially known as the Marsh Battery, was dubbed the "Swamp Angel". This 200-pound parrott rifle hurled 35 shots into the city of Charleston itself, but on the 36th shot the gun exploded. On September 5, Gillmore and Dahlgren attacked with an intense bombing of Fort Wagner for 36 hours killing 100 of the remaining defenders. Gillmore's soldiers seized the rifle pits just outside the fort walls. [4] Conditions within the fort were becoming intolerable, and the garrison commander, Colonel Lawrence M. Keitt, informed General Beauregard that he now had only 400 men capable of defending the fort. Therefore on the evening of September 6–7, Beauregard ordered Confederate forces to abandon their positions on Morris Island. On September 7, Union troops occupied Fort Wagner.

Fort Wagner had withstood 60 days of constant bombing and held off a much larger Union army. Yet the Union army and navy had captured an important position at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and reduced its most formidable fortress to rubble. Despite this, the city of Charleston and Fort Sumter itself would remain in Confederate control until William T. Sherman's armies marched through South Carolina in 1865.

Opposing Forces[]


Union ironclads bombarding Fort Moultrie


Dept. of the South – Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore

  • Morris Island – Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry
    • 1st Brigade – Col. Henry R. Guss
    • 2nd Brigade – Col. Joshua B. Howell
    • 3rd Brigade – Brig. Gen. Thomas G. Stevenson
    • 4th Brigade – Col. James Montgomery
    • 5th Brigade – Col. William W. H. Davis
  • North End of Folly Island – Brig. Gen. Israel Vogdes
    • African Brigade – Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild
    • Foster's Brigade – Brig. Gen. Robert S. Foster
    • Alford's Brigade – Col. Samuel M. Alford


Dept. of South Carolina, Georgia & Florida – General P.G.T. Beauregard
First Military District – Brig. Gen. Roswell S. Ripley

  • 1st Sub-division – Brig. Gen. William B. Taliaferro
  • 2nd Sub-division – Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman
  • 3rd Sub-division (incomplete)
    • Morris Island – Brig. Gen. Alfred Colquitt
  • 4th Sub-division (incomplete)
    • Fort Sumter – Col. Alfred Rhett
  • 5th Sub-division – Brig. Gen. W. G. DeSaussure


  • PD-icon This article incorporates public domain material from the National Park Service document "[1]".
  • Chaitin, Peter M., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande, Time-Life Books, 1984
  • Kennedy, Frances H., ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
  1. NPS
  2. Chaitin p.128-129
  3. Chaitin p.130-131
  4. Kennedy p.193

See also[]

nl:Tweede slag bij Charleston Harbor