August 10, 1863
Sabine Emery, 26, was a teacher in Eastport when he was commissioned as a captain in the 9th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment in September, 1861. Two years later, Emery, now a Colonel, was leading that regiment as part of the Department of the South.
The Union Army had captured Fort Pulaski, at the mouth of the Savannah River in Georgia, in April, 1862, and now began similar preparations with the U. S. Navy to gain control of the barrier islands in and around Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
From there, Union artillery, placed properly, could bombard Fort Sumter, whose guns were preventing the Navy from entering the harbor.
Emery and the 9th Maine were assigned to General Truman Seymour, who was ordered to capture Morris Island, and parts of James Island, at the southern approach to the harbor. Fort Wagner, on James Island, boasted a 1,700 man garrison, 12 cannon, and a 10-inch "Columbiad" that fired 128-pound shells.
The fort, surrounded by beaches and marshes, was difficult to attack using infantry. Nevertheless, Seymour attempted it twice.
Emery, 26, was wounded in the first attack on the fort.
On convalescent leave in Maine, he writes to Governor Abner Coburn.
"I have to speak in the highest terms of both officers and men of my Regiment in the various engagements on Morris Island. At the capture of the southern portion of it, two companies of the 9th drove the 21st South Carolina from their rifle pits – taking a number of prisoners and capturing their colors – the only stand of colors taken on the Island," Emery writes.
"The colors were taken by Company I under command of Lieut. Brastow," he adds, crediting Lieutenant Billings Brastow, of Brewer.
That 9th Maine’s accomplishment came at a steep cost, however. "The entire loss to the Regiment in killed and wounded in the capture of the Island and the assaults on Wagner will not be far from two hundred," Emery writes.
Emery tries to have the colors sent to Gov. Coburn for display in Maine. Seymour, however, insisted that they remain at his headquarters.
In attacking Fort Wagner, some troops succeeded in reaching its parapet before being forced back. Among them were members of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit, whose Colonel, Robert Shaw, had asked that his soldiers be allowed to lead the assault. Emery fails to mention the 54th Massachusetts’ role, even though the unit was placed before the 9th Maine in the attack.
The Army did not capture Fort Wagner. Within eight weeks, however, the Confederates abandoned it after supplies of food and water ran out.
- Have you ever played "capture the flag?"
- Did you know that the game derives from serious military antecedents?
- Why might Emery have not mentioned the Massachusetts regiment?