Confederate Compatriots in the War Between the States 2

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Posted : July 9, 2021

Our Confederate Ancestors: Part Two of The Daring Exploits of H. D. D. Twiggs and His Confederate Compatriots in the War Between the States

A Series on the Daring Exploits of Our Confederate Ancestors in the War Between the States.

We were enjoying, as only ravenous soldiers could, the delicious viands which tender hands at home had stored away in this precious box, and had nearly finished our meal, when one of Tutt’s men came in hurriedly and reported, with a voice quivering with emotion, that a well-known comrade of his command (whose name the writer has forgotten) had just been shot dead in the open fort by one of the enemy’s sharpshooters from the house referred to.

Tutt sprang from his seat, his dark eyes flashing fire, with a strange light gleaming from their depths, and, looking into our faces said, with his own set hard with determination and with fury written in every line: “Boys, let us get a rifle apiece and drive the d____d rascals from that house and burn it, or perish in the attempt.”

Part Two of
The Daring Exploits of H. D. D. Twiggs and His Confederate Compatriots in the War Between the States
Perilous Adventure at Battery Wagner

by Judge H. D. D. Twiggs from Confederate Veteran, Volume XII, No. 3, March, 1904

[Publisher’s Note, by Gene Kizer, Jr. : This is one of the most exciting stories I have ever read. The unbelievable daring of this handful of Confederates is so typical, which is why we celebrate them as the truest heroes of American history. Their cause of Southern independence in 1861 was identical to the cause of the Patriots of 1776, which is why George Washington in military uniform on his horse is front and center on the great seal of the Confederacy.

It is also why the most widely quoted phrase in the secession debate in the South the year before the Cotton States seceded came from the Declaration of Independence:

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This article is dedicated, with great love and respect, to Lieut. Thomas Tutt, of Augusta, Georgia, and Sergt. Hopps, of Missouri, two of the five Confederates who carried out this daring raid but were killed later in the war.]

Perilous Adventure at Battery Wagner
by Judge H. D. D. Twiggs

The incident above referred to took place during the siege of Battery Wagner, S. C. , a short time prior to the bombardment and assault upon that historic fortress, which occurred on the 18th of July, 1863 resulting in the complete repulse of the Federal forces and one of the most signal defeats of the war, the numbers engaged considered.

Although the writer has heretofore given a very full account of this great siege, bombardment, and assault in several addresses which have been printed, no reference was made to the episode hereinafter described, for the reason that he was one of the participants in the same. At the special request, however, of some of his comrades in arms, he has consented to send it to the Confederate Veteran, being largely induced to do this because of the pleasure it gives him to make public the conduct of his gallant associates upon the occasion referred to.

Battery Wagner was situated on Morris Island about six miles from Charleston. Its guns commanded the channel approach to that city and the possession of the island was considered the key to the city. The enemy had affected a landing on the southern end of the island, and, moving up their forces, had erected heavy batteries about sixteen hundred yards in front of Wagner.

Harper's Weekly, Sept. 26, 1863, caption: ". . . View from the sea-face of Fort Wagner. . ."
Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 26, 1863, caption: “. . . View from the sea-face of Fort Wagner. . .”

The latter, which was occupied by our troops, was a large bastioned earthwork inclosed (sic) on all sides and situated upon a neck of the island, so narrow that the battery (more properly fort) extended across its full width two hundred and fifty yards at that point from the sea or ship channel on one side to Vincent Creek, a deep and narrow salt water creek, on the other. This island was a long, low, sandy, sea island, almost denuded of growth, save a few palmetto trees, a number of which grew along the banks of Vincent Creek.

There was situated near the banks of this creek an abandoned two-story wooden house, much nearer the enemy’s works than ours, of which a small body of the enemy took possession; in fact, it was the headquarters of their night outpost picket.

From the upper windows of this house a band of sharpshooters had been constantly harassing the garrison at Wagner by firing plunging shots in their elevated positions from their long-range rifles, and scarcely a day passed without some soldier in the open parade of the fort being killed or wounded. Of course, the troops could not perpetually remain under cover in the stifling bomb proofs, and they were necessarily exposed to the rifle fire of this unseen, pitiless foe, who were dealing death day after day in their ranks.

They could not be dislodged by infantry, as they had the near support of ten thousand troops in their own works (our force in the fort being less than fifteen hundred men). They could not be shelled by artillery, because we were day and night strengthening our works, and any artillery demonstrations from our fort would have resulted in drawing upon us the concentrated fire of all the enemy’s siege guns, which were of the heaviest caliber.

In the daytime the enemy’s pickets were withdrawn from the house, leaving only the sharpshooters to do their daily, deadly work. No feasible expedient could be adopted to burn this house and abate this intolerable nuisance, and night only brought relief to the harassed garrison.

It was possible for a very few men, under the shelter of the creek bank in places, and the scant growth of shrubbery, to approach the house in the daytime, but no considerable number could do so without being seen at once, and it was, of course, impracticable to do so at night.

At the time mentioned I was a captain of infantry, but detached from my regiment in Virginia, and was temporarily assigned to staff duty as inspector general with Gen. William B. Taliaferro, who commanded Fort Wagner.

Judge Twiggs, 1904, 41 years after destroying a nest of Yankee sharpshooters with four others.
Judge Twiggs, 1904, 41 years after destroying a nest of Yankee sharpshooters with four others.

One morning in July, 1863, about a week or ten days before the bombardment and assault on the 18th of July, described in my address, Lieut. J. J. Doughty, of Augusta, Ga., who is still living in that city, received a box of eatables from home, and invited the writer, Lieut. W. M. Hitt, and Lieut. Thomas Tutt, also of Augusta at that time, and Sergt. Hopps, from Missouri, to dine with him in his quarters in the fort.

Around 1904.
Around 1904.
Around 1904.
Around 1904.

We were enjoying, as only ravenous soldiers could, the delicious viands which tender hands at home had stored away in this precious box, and had nearly finished our meal, when one of Tutt’s men came in hurriedly and reported, with a voice quivering with emotion, that a well-known comrade of his command (whose name the writer has forgotten) had just been shot dead in the open fort by one of the enemy’s sharpshooters from the house referred to.

Tutt sprang from his seat, his dark eyes flashing fire, with a strange light gleaming from their depths, and, looking into our faces said, with his own set hard with determination and with fury written in every line: “Boys, let us get a rifle apiece and drive the d____d rascals from that house and burn it, or perish in the attempt.”

There were five of us present—Tutt, Doughty, Hitt, Hopps, and myself in the party. We were all quite young, and the strange magnetism of Tutt, who was our senior by several years, and his determined bearing immediately fired us all with an enthusiasm which I will never forget, and, without taking time to reflect upon the peril or the consequences of the enterprise, we agreed, and at once formed our plan of action. Gen. Taliaferro had gone that day to the city of Charleston, and, in his absence, the command of the fort devolved upon Col. Charles H. Olmstead, formerly of this city, but now living in New York.

We quickly made our plans, and, each procuring a rifle and ammunition, we secretly left the fort about 3 p.m. on the perilous expedition. Being a staff officer, I was enabled to pass the party out at the sally port, and, crouching low and stealthily, in Indian file, Tutt being in the lead, we glided slowly up the creek, taking advantage of its banks, the palmetto trees, and occasional sand dunes to hide us from view (which we found it to be a very difficult matter to do).

The house was about fifty yards from the creek, and, when we had reached a point about one hundred yards from it, we halted, and, lying down together behind some stunted shrubbery, held a council of war. It was impossible to retreat then, because the sharpshooters had evidently seen some movement, and, with their rifles in hand, we could see them at the windows, looking intently in our direction.

The space between us and the house was a perfectly open sand area, without the slightest shelter or protection. There was not a moment to lose, as the enemy was growing more and more suspicious. There were eight sharpshooters in the house, but at the time we did not know the number. There were only five of us.

We at once concluded to make a dash for the house. The enemy were at the windows on the side of the house looking toward our fort. We had crept to a point nearly opposite the end, so that they could only get a few oblique shots at us from the windows before we could pass the line of fire, the end of the house interposing its friendly shelter after passing this line.

At a signal from Tutt (who, by common consent, became our leader), and on the full run we rushed for the building, a scattering volley being fired at us, providentially without effect. Meeting together on the opposite side of the house, we ran pellmell into the building through the open door in the back of the same.

The enemy seemed stunned by the suddenness of the attack, and we were fairly in the hall before they were enabled to start down the narrow stairway to meet us. A general fusillade followed. The vivid flashes of the rifles lighting up the hall, which was soon filled with dense smoke, caused them to retreat to their former position, and Tutt, raving like a demon, started upstairs alone, but we pulled him back.

He then, in a loud voice, ordered the house set on fire, which we at once did, retiring to the open area in the rear after the fire had made considerable headway, which we started immediately under the stairsteps. The building was old and dry, and burnt like tinder, and it was a case of the enemy being cremated or leaving the house. Some of them ran out of the doors, and others jumped from the windows. We stood around with our rifles cocked, firing at them as they appeared. They made a feeble resistance, shooting wildly, and the survivors took to their heels. Several of them were shot and the others made good their escape.

By this time the musketry and the burning building had aroused the respective garrisons of the two forts, which swarmed in masses on their parapets; we were at easy rifle range of the Yankee garrison, and if we attempted to retreat across the open area of sand, death to us would have been the inevitable result. The only way back by the creek margin was already swept by a hurricane of bullets, the enemy evidently supposing that there was a large body of us concealed in the shrubbery near the now consumed house. We realized too late that we were caught like rats in a trap.

In front of us, two hundred yards nearer the enemy’s works, was a little hillock or sand dune on this open area of sand, and, although it brought us much nearer the Federal works, we made a dash for it in order to shelter ourselves from the terrific fire which was now concentrated upon us by the thoroughly aroused Yankee garrison. With only a slight wound received by Hopps, though some of us had our clothing torn by bullets, we providentially gained the sand hill, which was only a few feet higher than the surrounding plane, and each of us sank down at full length behind it, and for the time being were comparatively safe from the enemy’s leaden missiles, which sung around us, intermixed with that ominous sound of the bullet—-s—t, s—t, s—t—-familiar to all soldiers who saw service in that war.

It was our purpose in seeking this shelter to remain there until night had set in then slip back to Wagner under cover of darkness, but it was not so ordered. After lying in the position described, under the pitiless rays of a scorching July sun for some little time, the enemy’s fire greatly slackened and I stealthily peeped over the sand dune to take an observation, when, to my horror, I saw a full company of Yankee infantry, which had silently moved out of their works, rapidly approaching us, the sunlight flashing from their bright bayonets as they marched.

Turning to my companions, I said: “Boys, look yonder; it’s all up with us now.” Certain death or capture indeed seemed inevitable, and we each realized it.

The invincible Tutt, however, swore that he would not be taken alive and seemed inexorable in this determination, although we assured him that any resistance we might then make would be unavailing against such a body of men, numbering thirty of forty rifles, and would end in our butchery by an exasperated foe.

Tutt persisted, however, and, indignantly scorning the idea of surrender, without further parley discharged his rifle full at the approaching enemy. This, of course, settled the question, as nothing was then left to us but to stand by our reckless and intrepid comrade, which we did for all we were worth.

With elbow touching elbow, and our heads alone visible above the sand bank, we kept up a steady fire upon the line of blue rapidly nearing us. At the first volley they halted, returned the fire, and then with huzzas came for us on the full run. The situation was appalling, but we continued to pour our fire into them.

Occupying a position prone on the sand, and our vision obscured by the smoke of the guns, we did not see the effect of our shots, and did not know until afterwards informed by Col. Olmstead, who watched the scene closely with his field glass, that several of the enemy were carried off by their comrades.

What was it, then, that shook the island from center to circumference? Turning our heads in the direction of the sound, we witnessed a sight which sent the blood tingling in our veins. The entire face of Wagner were suddenly opened upon the approaching Federal infantry. Charlie Olmstead, my old schoolmate, who was commanding in the absence of Gen. Taliaferro, had come to the rescue.

The artillery fire, conducted by that accomplished and gallant soldier, Lieut. Col. J. C. Simpkins, of South Carolina, and chief of artillery, was directed with wonderful precision, and the shells passing over our heads and bursting beyond us uncomfortably close, in the very face of the enemy, scattered them like chaff before the wind.

But something we had not counted on followed. The Yankee fort immediately opened their batteries of heavy guns upon Wagner, and one of the most terrific artillery duels I ever witnessed during the war was thus precipitated between the respective forts, and all stirred up by our little band.

The scene was grand and awe-inspiring, both sides shelling furiously over our heads at each other. Of course all the infantry on both sides were driven from the parapets by this terrific artillery fire. It was plain that this demonstration on the part of Col. Olmstead was made to safely cover our retreat, and we rapidly raced for our works through the heavy sand and under the rays of the hottest sun I ever felt. We arrived safely, completely winded and exhausted.

Once in the fort we separated, and silently crept to our respective quarters. Col. Olmstead soon made his appearance and placed the writer under arrest. The Colonel had, without orders, assumed a grave responsibility in the prompt and gallant action he had taken to save us, and save us he did, as but for his conduct not one of us would have been left to tell the tale.

The heavy firing on the island had greatly excited the people in Charleston, and Gen. Taliaferro hurried back to the fort, reaching it a little after dark. Olmstead met him at this boat landing at Cummings Point and related to this grim old soldier all that had passed. They then came together into my quarters (also the quarters of the General), and, feigning sleep, I overheard their conversation.

“Well,” said the General, “the boys destroyed that infernal nuisance, the house, did they?”

“Yes,” responded Olmstead.

“Good,” grunted the old General. Then, nodding toward me as I lay on the floor, “Release him from arrest when he wakes up,” which Charlie was only too glad, of course, to do.

Tutt and Hopps not long afterwards joined the ranks of that great army underground—they were spared the great sorrow of the final disaster, when the sun of the Confederacy went down at Appomattox. They were both killed. Three of us survive—J. J. Doughty, of Augusta, Ga.; William M. Hitt, now of Atlanta, Ga.; and the writer. “May both these boys be spared for many years to come, for truer soldiers and more gallant men never faced a foe!”

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