Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Fort Moultrie
By George Bancroft (1800–1891)
 
[From History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent. The Author’s Last Revision. 1882–85.]

THE PEOPLE of Charleston, as they looked from the battery with senses quickened by the nearness of danger, beheld the Sphinx, the Acteon, and the Syren, each of twenty-eight guns, sailing as if to get between Haddrell’s point and the fort, so as to enfilade the works, and, when the rebels should be driven from them, to cut off their retreat. It was a moment of danger, for the fort on that side was unfinished; but the pilots, keeping too far to the south, ran all the three upon a bank of sand, known as the Lower Middle Ground. Seeing the frigates thus entangled, the beholders in the town were swayed alternately by fears and hopes; the armed inhabitants stood every one at his post, uncertain but that they might be called to immediate action, hardly daring to believe that Moultrie’s small and ill-furnished garrison could beat off the squadron, when behold! his flag disappears. Fearing that his colors had been struck, they prepared to meet the invaders at the water’s edge.
  1
  In the fort, William Jasper, a sergeant, perceived that the flag had been cut down by a ball from the enemy, and had fallen over the ramparts. “Colonel,” said he to Moultrie, “don’t let us fight without a flag.”  2
  “What can you do?” asked Moultrie; “the staff is broken off.”  3
  “Then,” said Jasper, “I’ll fix it to a halberd, and place it on the merlon of the bastion next the enemy;” and, leaping through an embrasure, and braving the thickest fire from the ship, he took up the flag, returned with it safely, and planted it, as he had promised, on the summit of the merlon.  4
  The sea gleamed with light; the almost vertical sun of midsummer glared from a cloudless sky; and the intense heat was increased by the blaze from the cannon on the platform. All of the garrison were without coats during the action, and some were nearly naked; Moultrie and several of the officers smoked their pipes as they gave their orders. They knew that their movements were observed from the house-tops of Charleston; by the veteran Armstrong and the little army at Haddrell’s point; by Gadsden, who at Fort Johnson was chafing with discontent at not being in the centre of danger. Exposed to an incessant cannonade, which seemed sufficient to daunt the bravest veterans, they stuck to their guns with the greatest constancy.  5
  Hit by a ball which entered through an embrasure, Macdaniel cried out to his brother soldiers: “I am dying, but don’t let the cause of liberty expire with me this day.” Jasper removed the mangled corpse from the sight of his comrades, and cried aloud: “Let us revenge that brave man’s death!”  6
  The slow and skilfully directed fire against the Bristol shattered that ship, and carried wounds and death. Neither the tide nor the wind suffered the British squadron to retire. Once the springs on the cables of the Bristol were swept away; as she swung round with her stern toward the fort, she drew upon herself the fire of every gun that could be brought to bear upon her. Of all who in the beginning of the action were stationed on her quarter-deck, not one escaped being killed or wounded. For a moment, it is said, the commodore stood alone. Morris, his captain, having the fore-arm shattered by a chain-shot, and receiving a wound in the neck, was taken into the cockpit; but, after submitting to amputation, he insisted on being carried on the quarter-deck once more, where he resumed command till he was shot through the body, when, feeling dissolution near, he commended his family to the providence of God and the generosity of his country. Meantime, the eyes of the commodore and of all on board his fleet were “frequently and impatiently” and vainly turned toward the army. If the troops would but coöperate, he was sure of gaining the island; for at about one o’clock he believed that he had silenced the guns of the rebels, and that the fort was on the point of being evacuated. But the pause was owing to the scarcity of powder, of which the little that remained to Moultrie was reserved for the musketry, as a defence against an expected attack from the land forces. Lee should of himself have replenished his stock; Moultrie had seasonably requested it, but in the heat of the action he received from Lee this answer: “If you should unfortunately expend your ammunition without beating off the enemy or driving them on ground, spike your guns and retreat.”  7
  A little later a better message came from Rutledge, at Charleston: “I send you five hundred pounds of powder. You know our collection is not very great. Honor and victory to you and our worthy countrymen with you. Do not make too free with your cannon. Be cool and do mischief.” These five hundred pounds of powder, with two hundred pounds from a schooner lying at the back of the fort, were all the supplies that Moultrie received. At three in the afternoon, Lee, on a report from his aide-de-camp, Byrd, sent Muhlenberg’s Virginia riflemen to re-enforce Thomson. A little before five, Moultrie was able to renew his fire. At about five, the marines in the ships’ tops, seeing a lieutenant with eight or ten men remove the heavy barricade from the gateway of the fort, thought that Moultrie and his party were about to retreat; but the gateway was unbarred to receive a visit from Lee. The officers, half naked, and begrimed with the hot day’s work, respectfully laid down their pipes as he drew near. The general himself pointed two or three guns, after which he said to Moultrie: “Colonel, I see you are doing very well here; you have no occasion for me; I will go up to town again;” and thus he left the fort.  8
  When, at a few minutes past seven, the sun went down in a blaze of light, the battle was still raging, though the British showed signs of weariness. The inhabitants of Charleston, whom the evening sea-breeze collected on the battery, could behold the flag of liberty still proudly waving; and they continued gazing anxiously, till the short twilight was suddenly merged in the deep darkness of a southern night, when nothing was seen but continual flashes, followed by peals as it were of thunder coming out from a heavy cloud. Many thousand shot were fired from the shipping, and hardly a hut or a tree on the island remained unhurt; but the works were very little damaged, and only one gun was silenced. The firing from the fort continued slowly; and the few shot they were able to send were heard to strike against the ships’ timbers. Just after nine o’clock, a great part of his ammunition being expended in a cannonade of about ten hours, his people fatigued, the Bristol and the Experiment made nearly wrecks, the tide of ebb almost done, with no prospect of help from the army, Sir Peter Parker resolved to withdraw. At half-past nine his ships slipped their cables, and dropped down with the tide to their previous moorings.  9
  Of the four hundred and thirty-five Americans in the fort who took part in this action, all but eleven remained alive, and but twenty-six were wounded. At so small a cost of life had Charleston been defended, and the colony saved.  10
 
 
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