This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 14: `Glory': African-American regiment assaults Fort Wagner.
After one recent failed attempt to take Fort Wagner on Morris Island on South Carolina's coast, an all-black regiment formed as the 54th Massachusetts Infantry launched an all-out attack on July 18, 1863, that would inspire the 1989 movie "Glory." Vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensued, with many left dead and wounded as Confederates holding the fort fought back from a fort bristling with artillery. Black troops bravely headed up the parapets, even as many were mowed down by artillery and gunfire. It was one of the prominent moments when African-Americans played a major role in Civil War combat. After the bloodied, tattered regiment was turned back, other Union units also tried to take the fort and failed. Once the fighting subsided, far heavier losses were counted on the Union side with about 1,515 casualties to about 174 Confederates defending the fort. The 54th's colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, was among the dead. Soon afterward, Federal forces would besiege Fort Wagner and force it to be abandoned by the Confederate defenders in September 1863, far later than Union generals had hoped at that point 150 years ago in the Civil War.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 21: Union pursuit of Lee's retreating fighters into Virginia.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, his bloodied forces still retreating after their defeat at Gettysburg, was confronted by harassing Union forces that followed his columns in pursuit this July week in 1863. Now some weeks after failure to carry out his second invasion of the North, Lee's fighters have returned back over the Potomac River, withdrawing into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. There, a group of Union fighters under Maj. Gen. William H. French began attacking Confederate columns near Manassas Gap – at Wapping Heights – as they withdrew into the Virginia countryside on July 23, 1863. The Union onslaught opened robustly but Confederate artillery pulled up and began firing back, hindering the federal fighters. The Union's badly organized attacks had to be halted by nightfall and Confederate fighters move safely beyond the reach of their Union pursuers during the early morning hours of July 24, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln had urged Union forces to urgently pursue and destroy the enemy after the federal victory at Gettysburg. But because Confederate fighters were able to escape to safety, they would be able to reorganize and fight another day – setting the stage for many more months of combat ahead.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 28: Confederates regroup after Gettysburg.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee wrote this week 150 years ago in the Civil War to the president of the Confederacy as his battered army continued its recovery from defeat at Gettysburg. Both North and South had experienced heavy bloodletting in the fight and were bidding to regroup after what would turn out to be the pivotal battle of the war. In a letter dated July 31, 1863, Lee told Confederate President Jefferson Davis that the adverse turn of events at Gettysburg for the South cannot be blamed on anyone but himself. "No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me, nor should it be censured for the unreasonable expectations of the public. I am alone to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess & valour," Lee wrote Davis. In the same letter, Lee added: "Our loss has been heavy, that of the enemy's proportionally so." And he concluded that his plan could have worked if all the elements of his war strategy had come together as expected: I still think if all things could have worked together it would have been accomplished." Many letters were going back and forth between Davis and Lee at this point in the war, with Davis at the time promising to rapidly furnish more fighters for the badly depleted Army of Northern Virginia.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 4: Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee offers to resign.
Barely a month after his army's defeat at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee offered to resign 150 years ago this week in the Civil War. Lee, whose military leadership was being questioned after the heavy casualties at Gettysburg, was under the spotlight of trenchant criticism in Southern newspapers. Lee only recently had said he alone shouldered any blame for the defeat – that in a letter days earlier to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. On Aug. 8, 1863, Lee again wrote Davis, this time offering to resign. "I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army ... I, therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place." Davis declined to accept the offer. In fact, Davis responded that he could find no other "more fit to command" and a general who also had the confidence of his troops.