Storming Fort Wagner with the 67th Ohio
My interest in the Civil War was sparked by several events during my younger years, but one of the key triggers was seeing the movie Glory back in 1990. It was a superb film telling a remarkable story of courage and really kindled the fire of my interest in the Civil War; the opening scene of then Captain Robert Gould Shaw going into action at Antietam in particular left me spellbound.
Among the more poignant scenes in the film was at the end after the 54th Massachusetts made the assault on Fort Wagner and suffered severe casualties; the film mentioned that the white regiments that followed the 54th against Wagner were unable to exploit the breech and that the assault failed. What I didn't know at the time was the one of those supporting regiments, the 67th Ohio Infantry, was from my own hometown of Toledo. And as I learned much later, Major Lewis Butler, the last standing field officer of the regiment after the assault, would probably have leaped out of his seat had he seen the accolades heaped upon the 54th Massachusetts for Fort Wagner.
"The report that the 54th Massachusetts did more than any other regiment upon that occasion is, in my opinion, a base fabrication," he wrote in 1864. "That they were in the fort I positively deny. I found but few of them in the fort and none that appeared to be under the control of any officer of the regiment. There were in that regiment, as every other, individual instances of personal courage that deserve credit, but as a regiment I claim that a great deal more is awarded it than was its just due."
Regardless of credit, no one can deny that the 67th Ohio suffered mightily in its assault on Fort Wagner. As reported by Major Butler, the regiment took 241 men into the fight and lost 126; that casualty count actually ended up climbing to 142 men killed, wounded, or missing, or 59% of the men who went into action. The command of the regiment was shot to pieces- the colonel, lieutenant colonel, adjutant, and sergeant major all going down with wounds while a number of company commanders were also lost. Of all the battles in which the 67th Ohio engaged during its four years of service in the eastern theater, the assault on Fort Wagner was the bloodiest by a large margin.
Today's post features two accounts penned by Major Butler about the assault; one was a private letter he wrote home to the Toledo Blade just a few days after the battle while the second account was the official report he wrote the following February. Following both accounts is a detailed casualty list along with some images of those killed or wounded.
Morris Island, South Carolina, July 21, 1863
Enclosed you will find a list of the killed and wounded in the attack of the 18th inst. upon Fort Wagner, in which the 67th O.V.I. took a conspicuous part as the list of casualties will fully testify. Co. I, Captain Charles P. Schaefer and First Lieutenant George Ballard, were on picket duty and therefore were not in the fight. The regiment numbered 241 officers and men, of whom you will perceive by the list that 126 were either killed, wounded, or missing. Colonel Alvin C. Voris was wounded early in the attack and Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Commager soon after, and both before reaching the fort. Captain John C. Albert (Co. H) also fell before reaching the fort. Second Lieutenant James H. Baxter (Co. A) and Second Lieutenant Florence J. O’Sullivan (Co. E) fell at the foot of the Rebel parapet and are supposed to be killed, as we cannot learn anything further from them.
It is impossible to conceive of anything more terrific than the fire sustained by our regiment in marching up to the fort, and although we started seventh in the column, we were the third to scale the parapet, closely followed by the 62nd Ohio. Amid all of the confusion occasioned by other regiments breaking and running back through our ranks, the 67th as if impelled forward by the same unconquerable spirit which it has ever shown upon every battlefield heretofore, never wavered a moment, yet our ranks were rapidly thinned by the showers of grape and canister. With fixed bayonets, steady nerve and cool hearts, they moved on as through their destiny was ever forward and onward, no matter what obstructions were before them.
Among the commissioned officers who lived to get into the fort and rendered efficient aid in rallying the men to maintain our position, which was truly a perilous one, were Captain Lewis C. Hunt (Co. A), Captain Alfred P. Girty (Co. G), First Lieutenant John C. Cochrane (Co. K), Captain George B. Emmerson (Co. F), Second Lieutenant Rodney J. Hathaway (Co. G), Second Lieutenant Peter Bell (Co. H), Lieutenant Franklin Briggs (Co. K), Second Lieutenant Thomas M. Ward (Co. F), and Second Lieutenant William H. Kief (Co. F), all men of unflinching courage and coolness, for never were men more severely tried.
I must mention here than after one of our brigade commanders was killed and the other wounded, and every field officer except myself either killed or wounded, I sent Lieutenant Cochrane out to the General with a statement of our position and a request that reinforcements be sent us immediately, which mission was faithfully and quickly performed, amid a galling fire, requiring as much courage as it did to face the storm in the first place.
|Captain John C. Albert, Co. H|
Killed in action
After keeping up the unequal contest for an hour and a half, during which time we were compelled to act on the defensive, as I found it impossible to advance any farther into the fort with the small force at my command, the fire upon us being very destructive and having held the fort double the length of time which would be required to move a brigade to our support, which I knew to be lying in line just out of range. In order to save as many of our heroes as possible, I reluctantly gave the order to retire, knowing that an attempt to hold out during the night would result in the annihilation of all the brave band, which at this time consisted of about 100 of the 67th, about the same of the 62nd, about 50 of the 48th New York, and several small detachments of other regiments, some with, some without officers.
Thus, ended as severe a contest as ever was waged upon the parapets of any fort in this war. With heaving hearts for the loss of our brave companions, we marched out after holding a portion of the fort two hours and a half. The most painful duty of all was to leave so many of our dead and wounded in the hands of the rebels, but without the reinforcements I knew the inevitable result would be more in their hands instead of less, and of the two evils, I chose what I conceived to be the least.
There were many instances of great personal courage shown by our non-commissioned officers and privates, which I should like to mention, but for want of time and space I shall omit for the present, save one. Sergeant. Charles E. Minor of Co. G, whom I placed with a squad of men in the embrasure of a large gun to keep the rebels from using the piece, where the sergeant received three wounds, all more or less severe, yet he remained true to his post to the last and was loathe to leave it when ordered to retire.
In conclusion, let me say that the conduct of both officers and men during the entire engagement was beyond reproach. To the honor of Ohio, the guard stationed in the rear to keep stragglers from leaving reported that they did not see a man from either of the Ohio regiments retiring from the scene of conflict until the fort was evacuated. Had we been promptly sustained, the key to Charleston would have been in our hands.
Truce for one day was granted to bury the dead and the bombardment is again going on. The fate of the city is inevitable, but time and many valuable lives will be required to reduce the stronghold. With the firm belief that ere long we shall be able to date our communications from the city itself.
Major Lewis Butler, commanding 67th Regt., O.V.I.
Major Butler’s official report of the assault on Fort Wagner is as follows:
Report of Major Lewis Butler, 67th Ohio Infantry, of second assault on Battery Wagner, July 18.
HDQRS. 67th Regiment OHIO VOL. INFANTY, Hilton Head, S. C., February 2, 1864
GENERAL: Agreeable to your request I have the honor to report that on the evening of July 18, 1863, in the charge on Wagner, my regiment, the 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, went into the charge third in line of Putnam's brigade in the following order, in deployed column: First, 7th New Hampshire; second, 100th New York; third, 67th Ohio; fourth, 62nd Ohio, Lieutenant Colonel Steele; our brigade preceded by Strong's brigade. For some reason unknown to me our brigade was halted near the beacon-house, and Strong's brigade allowed to proceed on toward the fort.
After remaining some 20 minutes we were ordered forward under a most galling fire. When about the fifth parallel our columns were very much disturbed by stragglers from Strong's brigade and the breaking of the 100th New York. It was here that we met the 3rd New Hampshire and 9th Maine moving back by the flank. Upon arriving near the glacis the balance of Strong's brigade were lying down. Upon our brigade coming up they arose and the final assault was made. Of the number gained the fort from each regiment, I am not able to say, but this I will state, that the only regiments that showed anything approaching an organization at this time were the 48th New York, 6th Connecticut, 7th New Hampshire, 67th and 62nd Ohio. A few men of the 54th Massachusetts (colored) and a few of the 100th New York were in the fort, but upon calling for the officers none reported to me do me from either of those regiments. I believe that in all there were not more than between 400 and 500 men in the fort from both brigades.
|Lieutenant Colonel Henry Steele Commager, 67th Ohio was wounded in the right arm and left side, the ball penetrating to his lung. He survived but returned home to his family in Delaware, Ohio to recover.|
Upon my reaching the parapet of the fort, seeing the confusion, I ordered the firing to cease. Called for Colonel Haldeman Putnam. Getting no response, I called for Colonel Dandy. No response from him. I immediately reconnoitered our position. Finding that we had driven them from the south bastion and a portion of the sea front, and finding the force so disorganized that it was impossible to make a farther advance into the fort, I immediately distributed the force at my command so as to hold what we had already gained. After making this disposition of the men I again renewed my calls for other field officers, and at this time Colonel Putnam came upon the parapet. I learned from him that he had been outside the ditch, endeavoring to keep the men from going to the rear. I asked the colonel what he was going to do. He replied that he did not know what to do. Question: "Is Stevenson's brigade coming to our support?" He replied that he did not know. Question by him: "What do you think best? My reply was: "We cannot advance any farther with what force we have in its present disorganized state, and that I deemed it insufficient under any circumstances. That the best we could do was to hold our position until we got reinforcements, and that with the help of another brigade we could take the fort or at least hold it until we got our dead and wounded off, and that we had better send for reinforcements."
|Colonel Haldeman S. Putnam, 7th New Hampshire Infantry|
Killed at Fort Wagner
Question by him: "Have you got a trusty lieutenant that you can send to the rear?" I replied that I had, and called Lieutenant Rodney J. Hathaway. No reply. I then called Lieutenant John C. Cochrane, who commanded Company K of the 67th Ohio. Told him to go to the rear and say to the general that we held a portion of the fort, and if he would send Stevenson's brigade that we could take the fort, or at least hold it until our dead and wounded were taken from the field. This conversation took place between us on top of the parapet, both standing erect.
As Lieutenant Cochrane went out of the Fort I was watching to see him cross the ditch, which was enfiladed by the guns on the sea bastion, and while he was in the ditch Colonel Putnam turned to me and remarked, "Major, we had better get out of this," and fell dead with the last word on his lips. I called his adjutant and Lieutenant Cate, his aide, who were in the fort, to carry him off. As they were approaching him Lieutenant Cate also fell, and the adjutant, after examining him, left the fort. The fight was now raging severe. There was yet a hand to-hand contest at the entrance to the bastion from the main body of the fort.
|An interior view of Fort Wagner from 1865 after it was turned into a Union encampment.|
I then called a council of the officers in the fort, not wishing to hazard anything further without their co-operation. All agreed to hold out until we could hear from the rear. After waiting twice the length of time which I knew it would require to move Stevenson's brigade to our support, at about 10:30 o'clock, observing that the rebels were being re-enforced and we making preparations for a sally upon both flanks, I gave the order to retire. Ordering Captain Coan, of the 48th New York, to go down into the bastion and get all of the men that were able to get out without disturbing those who were engaged with the enemy, he soon reported to me that all had left that would leave or could leave. I then went around the fort, relieved the men engaged, a few at a time, so that the rebels did not know when we did leave. To this course I attribute our getting away at all.
Now for personalities. Among the most prominent officers in the fort that night who did their duty in a cool, deliberate manner, were Captain Coan, now major-of the 48th New York; Captain Klein, now major of 6th Connecticut; Captain Taylor and Captain Kahler, of the 62nd Ohio. Of those prominent in the fort of my own officers every one that was wounded went into the fort, and as readily obeyed commands as on parade. These were Captain Lewis C. Hunt, Captain Alfred P. Girty, Lieutenants Cochrane, Hathaway, Kief, Bell, Ward, and Briggs. There might have been other officers in the fort, but those whom I have mentioned were officers who came under my personal notice.
|Adjutant Rodney J. Hathaway, 67th O.V.I.|
The report that the 54th Massachusetts (colored) did more that any other regiment upon that occasion is, in my opinion, a base fabrication. That they were in the fort as an organization I positively deny. I found but few of them in the fort and none that appeared to be under the control of any officer of the regiment. There were in that regiment, as every other, individual instances of personal courage that deserve credit, but as a regiment I claim that a great deal more is awarded it than was its just due. The officers whom I have specified, the men of the organization to which they belong, were the men who were in the fort and did all that possible for men to do under the circumstances.
The 3rd New Hampshire and 9th Maine Regiments had no men in the fort that I know of; the 100th New York had but very few. About the time that we were entering the fort Captain John B. Chapman, of our regiment, who was wounded and going to the rear, saw Colonel Dandy just above the battery inquiring for his regiment, and was informed by him that he would find it in the rear. My firm belief is that there were more men in the fort from the two Ohio regiments than from any others. I do not say this through any partiality for the Ohio boys, but perhaps from the fact that I was known to the officers and men of those regiments and they more readily obeyed my commands. Great credit is due Captain Coan, of the 48th New York, and Captain Klein, of the 6th Connecticut. They appeared to be the only officers of their regiments in the fort who were laboring to rally their men, standing firm themselves at exposed points.
In conclusion let me say that the repulse we suffered was entirely owing to our not being promptly sustained, and the consequence the numerous loss of life and expenditure of money which had to be incurred to regain the position which we had gained at so fearful a loss of life, and might have been held at a light expense to what it eventually cost. In this report I have not attempted to give anything a coloring which did not belong to it, but as nearly as possible give you a plain statement of facts which came under my notice. Of the scenes of carnage, of the determined valor of the troops, I need not speak, but the fact that they gained the fort amid the darkness of the night and under as withering a fire as any troops were ever exposed, and held it near three hours against fearful odds, speaks a volume for the personal courage of the men which cannot be written.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Commanding U. S. Forces, Hilton Head.
12 died of wounds
8 wounded and captured
2 wounded and missing
Field and Staff (4 wounded)
Colonel Alvin C. Voris, wounded in abdominal wall
Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Commager- wounded in both arms and left lung
Adjutant George L. Childs- slightly wounded in leg
Sergeant Major Emil Rampano- slightly wounded in leg
|Lt. Harvey L. Aldrich, Co. A|
Company A (1 killed, 2 died of wounds, 13 wounded, 1 wounded and captured, 1 wounded and missing, 4 missing, 3 captured) Total: 25
First Lieutenant Charles L. Stevens- wounded in thigh
Second Lieutenant James H. Baxter- missing
First Sergeant Harvey L. Aldrich- slightly wounded in head
Sergeant John T. Bailey- leg shot off and captured, died of wounds July 27, 1863
Corporal Henry A. Hampson- seriously wounded in head and leg
Corporal Joseph Hughes- slightly wounded
Corporal Jacob Merbach- wounded in hip
Private Henry Bailey- missing
Private Peter Brady- seriously wounded in body and leg
Private John Connell- captured and died while POW
Private Edson Edwards- wounded in shoulder
Private Frederick Foster- slightly wounded in back and arm
Private George Gillford (Guilford)- wounded in ankle
Private Thomas Girdham- captured
Private Samuel Green- killed in action
Private George Guilbach- captured
Private Sanford P. Hayes- slightly wounded in shoulder
Private Munson Keith- wounded in leg
Private George Libec- wounded and missing
Private John W. McDonald- missing
Private James Ross- seriously wounded in breast, died of wounds February 22, 1864
Private Edward Roth- seriously wounded in leg
Private Samuel Sheffer (Schafer)- slightly wounded in head
Private George Sibel- wounded and captured
Private John A. Smith- missing
|Stereoview of the regiment's 1878 reunion in Toledo, Ohio|
Company B (2 killed, 12 wounded) Total: 14
Captain Henry J. Crane- wounded in thigh
Second Lieutenant Elijah Whitmore- wounded in thigh
Sergeant Isaac G. Rideout- wounded in thigh
Sergeant Samuel McDonald (color bearer)- wounded in side
Corporal Samuel Farsht- killed in action
Corporal Frank Godi- killed in action
Private William Bokey- wounded in face
Private Francis Burnham- slightly wounded in leg
Private Christopher DeLucia- wounded in face
Private Vetiella LaPoint- wounded in face and leg
Private Frank O’Callahan- seriously wounded in neck
Private Solomon Raighard- wounded in arm
Private George H. Raker- slightly wounded in side
Private William Raker- wounded
|Ohio Veterans' Medal belonging to Private Jacob Hiller of Co. C, a survivor of Fort Wagner|
Company C (4 killed, 1 died of wounds, 8 wounded, 2 wounded and captured) Total: 15
Captain John B. Chapman- slightly wounded in arm
Sergeant Christian Getz- wounded in arm, broken
Sergeant William Snyder- wounded and captured
Corporal Edward Hillman- died of wounds July 27, 1863
Corporal Tobias J. Miller- killed in action
Corporal Emanuel B. Rowe- slightly wounded in hip
Corporal Christian Swartz- wounded in arm
Corporal Alonzo L. Treat- wounded in foot
Private Nicholas Andres- killed in action
Private John Frankhauser- wounded and captured, died while POW March 20, 1864
Private William A. Markley- wounded in side
Private Frederick Michel- wounded in arm
Private Stephen J. Miller- killed in action
Private Christopher Schneider- seriously wounded in arm, broken
Private William Strahm- killed in action
Company D (1 killed, 1 died of wounds, 4 wounded, 2 wounded and captured, 1 captured) Total: 9
Second Lieutenant George N. Parsons- seriously wounded in right arm
First Sergeant George W. Russell- wounded in abdomen, died of wounds July 27, 1863
Private James DeLantry (DeLantz)- seriously wounded in thigh
Private James Leary- killed in action
Private John Magrath- captured
Private Matthias Mahan- wounded in shoulder
Private James McManis- slightly wounded in head
Private Michael O’Neill- wounded and captured
Private Barney Tierman- wounded and captured
Company E (3 killed, 5 wounded, 3 captured) Total: 11
First Lieutenant William Nixon- slightly wounded in leg
Second Lieutenant Florence J. O’Sullivan- captured
Sergeant James Bowersock- shot through both legs, killed in action
Sergeant Samuel Bowers- wounded in thigh
Corporal John Kinney- captured, died while POW
Private Harvey Adams- slightly wounded in hand
Private William Hielman- killed in action
Private John W. Miller- captured
Private David Moran- wounded in knee
Private James A. Mularkey- wounded in head
Private Michael A. Sullivan- killed in action
Company F (1 died of wounds, 9 wounded, 1 wounded and captured, 1 wounded and missing, 2 missing, 1 captured) Total: 15
First Lieutenant George Emmerson- slightly wounded in head
Corporal Peter Colton- slightly wounded in foot
Corporal Datus M. Conklin- captured
Corporal George G. Tappin- seriously wounded in thigh
Private Samuel Blain- severely wounded in head, missing
Private Frank Colton- missing
Private William Devlin- severely wounded in side
Private Samuel Duncan- severely wounded in shoulder
Private James T. Grant- wounded and captured, died of wounds July 22, 1863
Private Daniel Hallett- slightly wounded in hand
Private Frederick Hedsig- severely wounded in hip
Private John H. Kaley- missing
Private William H. Sindle- slightly wounded in foot
Private Francis M. White- severely wounded in hand
| Sidney J. Varney, Co. G|
Wounded three times at Ft. Wagner
Company G (2 killed, 1 died of wounds, 13 wounded) Total: 16
Sergeant Alexander Gordon- wounded in right arm
Sergeant Charles E. Minor- slightly wounded in head
Sergeant Oscar Nicholas- wounded in wrist
Sergeant William Sorge- wounded in shoulder
Corporal Orlando B. Adams- died of wounds July 18, 1863
Corporal David Boyd- wounded in hand
Corporal Hiram Henry- killed in action
Corporal Christian Wagoner- killed in action
Private William Donahue- wounded in shoulder
Private John Gais- severely wounded in head
Private John Grobb- severely wounded in head
Private James O’Brien- slightly wounded
Private Samuel Reed- slightly wounded
Private John Scully- wounded in hand and foot
Private Sidney J. Varney- wounded in thigh, hand, and foot
Private Augustine Winters- severely wounded in neck
Company H (4 killed, 2 died of wounds, 7 wounded) Total: 13
Captain John C. Albert- killed in action
Sergeant Henry J. Carter- slightly wounded in ankle
Sergeant Jacob D. Minton- seriously wounded in thigh, died of wounds August 11, 1863
Sergeant John H. Whitehead- wounded
Private James W. Callem- seriously wounded in thigh
Private Robert S. Davidson- seriously wounded in arm
Private Sylvester Ellsworth- died of wounds July 31, 1863
Private Albert Griffin- killed in action
Private Frederick Hartman- slightly wounded in hand
Private Mathias Lay- killed in action
Private David Maginnis- slightly wounded in hand
Private Joseph Shepherd- slightly wounded in foot
Private Charles B. Tod- killed in action
Company I (1 died of wounds, 1 wounded, 1 wounded and captured) Total: 3
Corporal James Egnew- wounded and died of wounds July 18, 1863
Private Edgar H. Clark- slightly wounded in leg
Private Isaac Eckley- wounded and captured
Company K (2 killed, 3 died of wounds, 11 wounded, 1 wounded and captured) Total: 17
Sergeant Louis W. Hebenthal- slightly wounded in arm
Sergeant John P. Owen- wounded in hand
Sergeant James Shoemaker- severely wounded in shoulder
Corporal Andrew J. Kline- wounded in elbow
Corporal James Whitton- wounded in arm
Private Daniel C. Bliss- wounded in hip
Private George J. Brewster- wounded in leg, killed in action
Private Alonzo H. Hopkins- wounded in shoulder, died of wounds September 3, 1863
Private Rudolph Howery- severely wounded in head
Private Marvin Jeffries- killed in action
Private Hiram Murdock- wounded and captured, died of wounds July 23, 1863
Private Harrison North- wounded and captured
Private Edwin Russell- wounded in thigh
Private William H. Stebbins- wounded in leg, died of wounds August 22, 1863
Private William Wesley Turk- slightly wounded
Private Philo B. Weaver- wounded and captured
Private James Young- wounded in arm, broken
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