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April 15, 2007

The Gate of Hell

Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863
Stephen R. Wise – ISBN – 9780872499850

For you Civil War buffs, this is a sleeper. Shortly after watching the movie Glory, for the umpteenth time, I was motivated to read more about that particular battle. Several reviews indicate that this is the best book on the subject. While little more than a minor skirmish during the war, it was important because of the participation of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment (though regiments from CT, NY and NH were also involved!).

The book is intensive and extensive, dealing with fortifications, the use of artillery, the construction of berms and battlements, the iron-clad battleships (the first of their kind) and of the strategy and uses of coastal warfare during the “War for Independence” of the South. This was a battle of engineering and tactics. Not incidentally, and despite heavy losses by the North, Wagner was never taken and Charleston Harbor was never subdued. The 54th alone lost more than forty percent of its men and fourteen of its twenty-two officers.

Well written, and impeccably researched and reported, it is worth the time to read if this falls within your interest genre. Specifically, it deals with the battle for “Fort” Wagner (actually only a battery). While hardly the first time that black soldiers were used in an initial assault, it is historically accepted as the time they proved themselves mightily. Not altogether unlike the Tuskegee Airmen—nearly 80 years later in another war.

The training, treatment, ultimate acceptance of the black soldier is chronicled well. Amongst the things I found most interesting, though of no historic significance, is the fact that most of the sandy island upon which Battery Wagner was situated has now been claimed by the sea, along with—one supposes—the graves of the combatants who were simply piled into mass graves.

The 54th Massachusetts, its commanding officers, and the line infantry acquitted themselves grandly, heroically, and a black soldier named Carney became the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor.

Posted by respeto at April 15, 2007 11:59 AM