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    Graphic account of the Battle of Battery Wagner: 18-page letter written by Lieut. Benjamin T. Wright, 10th Conn. Infantry. 54th Mass. Black Regiment content.
    Benjamin T. Wright was a resident of Greenwich, Conn. He enlisted as September 1861 as a Sergeant and promoted to 2nd Lieut. in January of 1863. This 18 page letter is in pencil but comes with its original envelope addressed to his wife in ink. Since it was so long he had to use two stamps! The letter is headed, "Head Quarters in the field, James Island S.C. July 16th, 1863". It's difficult to pick out the "best" parts as the whole letter has tremendous content, in part:

    "My Dear Abbie, Today has been a day of excitement with us. We were on picket yesterday and last night. The Rebs attacked us at day light this morning with Artillery and Infantry and for the first time since we entered service, we had to get up and leave double quick in order to save our bacon. We done it with the skin of our teeth. Our pickets entered from a road near the Stow River, the greater part of the way around to the creek that separated James Island from Coles Island. On our right towards Coles Island the picket duty was done by some Co's of the 54th Mass colored. Our left was protected by the gunboats in the Stony."

    "The cavalry and infantry immediately opened on the right of the line where the 54th were doing duty. It was just coming light so that we could begin to see. We saw at a glance their object was to get in on the right and flank us. This cutting off our retreat before we could fall back to camp or to our brigade line. We saw at a glance the force on the right was so strong that they driving in the pickets and the only thing for us to do was to fall back as soon as possible to the regimental reserves."

    "The Artillery on our left instead of opening on us as we supposed they would, opened on the gunboats, which lay but a very short distance below. They commenced a very rapid fire at short range which sounded as though they took effect on the boat."

    "The gunboats lay so close that at first they dropped down to the river so as to get range and then opened. Before we got down we saw the Rebs were drawn up in line of battle ahead of us. It looked as though we would have to cut our way through or be captured. We had no idea of that however. We had a causeway to cross but a short distance ahead were the Rebs. As we crossed the causeway we filed to the right down a ditch through a little piece of woods which brought us out to the left of our Brigade. There by foiling the Rebs we found the Regts all in position."

    "We could see Rebs drawn up in line of battle in front of us. At their left they had their pieces of Artillery which were playing lively down the road past the Gen. quarters. At the right of our Brigade was the 1st Conn. Artillery which was doing some good firing. As soon as we got in, Co. A was ordered to the left as skirmishes to feel the position of the enemy. The contest was kept up for some time when the Rebs made up their minds they were getting the worst of it, concluded they had better get out of the way."

    "We were in a position where we could see them move off. The Conn. Battery did splendid execution. After they moved off, we skirmished up to our old line. We got in about ten o'clock pretty well tired and almighty hungry. The rest of the Regts were all in before us. The Gen. sent his compliments to the 10th Conn. and said the Col. could dismiss the Regts. I think the Rebs got the worst of it, lost quite heavily. We had one man of the 24th wounded, six of the 54th were killed and quite a number wounded."

    "They fought like tigers with a perfect desperation. They would not leave their posts until over powered by superior numbers. One Sergt. stood his post until he had killed five Rebs. They would not give up at all. If they had not made such a stubborn stand the Rebs would have been in a good ways ahead of us. u I would a great deal sooner trust the 54th than the 24th. They will do good service."

    "We can't tell how much the loss of the Rebs were, but I think it quite heavy. They lost several officers: killed a Col., a Major & a good many Privates. We took six prisoners from them."

    "Morris Island 20th 3 p.m. Since I last wrote any we had quite changed our position. We have had it pretty rough and passed through a great deal of danger, but we have great reason to be thankful that while hundreds of our fellow soldiers in other Regts, around us have been called to suffer and die, our lives have been spared. Last night is the first night in five that we have been permitted to lay down and rest in quiet."

    "About 12 o'clock we were started out and in a few moments we were under motion most of the Regts had started before us. Some went to the dock and took the steamers, our Regt went over the bridge to Coles Island from there down Coles Island to the lower and opposite Folly. The three left Co's. were left on Coles Island opposite the bridge to see that the Rebs did not come down and attempt to repair the bridge and follow our folks, Co's A. B. & I were left for that purpose. We stayed until 10 o'clock saw but four Rebs who came down to a house above. Before we left I took a few men and fired the bridge so that I could get across and went over. It looked over there as though we had been compelled to get up and leave in a hurry."

    "If I had thought soon enough, I would have run the risk and destroyed the whole that was near where we went over. When we left, we left 10 men and a Sergt. to remain until 6 in the evening and then come after us and destroy all the bridges. Shortly after we left, the Rebs came down in quite large force, they having ascertained we had left Infantry, Cavalry and one piece of Artillery. Our ten men who lay just across the creek on Cole Island could lay off in the bushes and see all their movements. They were in good rifle shot. They appeared to be delighted over the stuff our men had left behind. Scraped up the coffee off the ground, probably it was quite a treat for them."

    "We had about four or five miles to march. We got down between twelve and one. We were tired out. We got what rest we could through the afternoon and tried to find something to eat but it was a hard matter. We thought probably we should have that night to rest, but just before dark we had orders to fall in. It was said the Gen. had orders to have his command on Morris Island at 12 o'clock that night. We were to go on board an old scow and be towed three or four miles and then march four or five miles."

    "When we got aboard the scow was high aground with no prospect of getting away before after say light in the morning. We were crowded aboard so that we could not lay or sit down. The rain poured down all night. The men got completely drenched. About nine o'clock a steamer took us in tow and towed us half way up the Island, from there we had to march to the upper end and then cross over to Morris Island on a steamer."

    "We got on Morris Island a little after noon, the men completely wore out. We were in hope we should be allowed a little time to rest, but we were mistaken. Just before we had orders to fall in, there was to be a grand charge on Fort Wagner. All the troops were to go up."

    "They had been bombarding the Fort most of the afternoon. They had poured in a desperate fire on them and it was hoped the Garrison was pretty well tired out and a charge might be made successfully."

    "The 54th Mass. was to lead the charge. It was a wrong idea to put them ahead. The charge was to be made just at dark, which was another wrong idea. There was three Brigades ahead of us and one behind us."

    "...Regt after Regt charged and were in turn cut to pieces. It was a perfect butchery. I have not heard the exact loss but I hardly think it will fall much short of 1,500 killed, wounded, missing."

    "22nd. Some Regts are left without a field officer and but few line officers. Gens. STRONG & SEYMOUR were both wounded. Some Regts lost half the men they took in. I think probably half was killed and wounded by our own men. It was dark and they got excited and fired into each other. If the charge had been made in day light, I believe the works might have been carried with half the loss."

    "As it was some of the Regts went in the works and were there some time but had to fall back at last. We expected every moment to be ordered forward but fortunately we were not. During the time of the charge we were up within short range of the enemy's guns. The way the shot and shell fell around us was not slow. Nothing but the hand of God kept us from being all cut to pieces."

    "We were never under such a shower of shot and shell before, but none was hurt. After the engagement was over some Brigade that went in with a full complement of officers were commanded by a Major. The whole concern has been reorganized since that night."

    "After the engagement was over we remained at the front, within a short distance of Fort Wagner close by one of the Mortar Batteries. Although so soon after so desperate a fight had just been going on, on this same ground as soon as the firing ceased or in fact before it was over, fatigue men were to work digging rifle pits and getting the siege train in position for a further attack, while just over to the front of the rifle pits, wagons were carrying off the dead and wounded."

    "When day light came we found our men had also been engaged putting up a stockade to prevent the Rebs from making a charge on us in the morning. Occasionally through the night Fort Sumter would drop a shot over by us, which would make the men in the rifle pits drop. I did not like it much and while some of the men dropped to sleep, I kept watch to cover."

    "I expected at day light Sumter would open on us heavy but she did not. Not a shot was fired from neither side all the day. If it had been, it was out of respect for the Sabbath. I should have said it was better observed then I had seen it before in the service, but it was an armistice for the burying of the dead on the front between us and the Fort."

    " Our men and the Rebs freely intermingled. Several came over and gave themselves up."

    "Just towards night our Chaplain [Henry Trumbull] and Adjutant [Major Henry W. Camp] went out to the front. Probably got over the lines after sundown and were picked up. We have heard nothing from them since. They have probably gone up to Charleston to take a view of the Rebel works. I think they will learn a lesson."

    "I hardly think there will be anymore charging's on the Fort, but there maybe. I hope there will not be. It is nothing but MURDER. We can see the Rebs making preparations to try and shell out our Siege and drive us off the Island. But I hardly think they will make it out, but we have got to work fast, they can make it pretty warm for us. We have never had to do duty in such a place before. This is war in earnest. Our Sharpshooters lay right up by their works. We keep getting more pieces in position every night, and throw a few shells occasionally."

    "The MONITORS and IRONSIDES go up most every day and fire a few shots so as to bother them. I think the Siege will be opened in earnest again in a few days. If we can only reduce Wagner, there will be but little trouble in taking Sumter."

    "With our TWO HUNDRED LB PARROT GUNS we can soon bore it through and through. I hardly think the works will be assaulted again. We cannot afford it we have too few men. I don't think we have all told 10,000 men."

    "At the front we are in plain view of Charleston. A balloon was sent up from there this morning, probably to ascertain the position of our Siege guns and the number of our forces."

    "The sand blows enough today to almost blind one, makes it dreadfully dirty to say the least. What a disgraceful affair that in New York was just now to when our arms are so successful."

    "May God bless you and Bennie. If I never live to return to you he will take care of and support you. Ever your Affectionate husband, Benjamin"

    Fortunately, Benjamin was able to return to his wife, Abbie, being discharged in October of the following year. The letter and cover are in good condition. From the Calvin Packard Civil War Battlefield Letter Collection.


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