Monday, January 6, 2014

January 7, 1864 (Wednesday): Friendly Fire at Fort Sumter

Fort Johnson (Harper's Weekly)

Fort Johnson, January 7, 1864.
Lieutenant C. S. FINDLAY,
Acting Adjutant of Post:
    SIR: I have the honor to forward the report of Lieutenant Halsey, Company A, Second Regiment Artillery, who was in charge of the battery on the night of the 3rd instant, explaining why he opened fire on Fort Sumter.
    I would most respectfully state, in addition to Lieutenant Halsey's explanation, that positive instructions on that night were given by the commanding officer of artillery not to fire unless the signals were made from Sumter, but it appears by his action that he could not fully have understood the orders issued. It probably may be a palliating circumstances that this company to which this officer is attached had just reported to take the place of Captain Mathewes' artillery, and had not become familiarized with the duties and orders of the post.
    I would also state that, however erroneous may have been the officer's judgment in the case, yet I believe his action was prompted by the best motives, and although under a wrong impression, he thought that he was performing his duty.
    The sentinel who made the false report was punished and the officer would have been arrested, but an order was received on the morning of the 4th instant rendering it necessary to send a portion of his company to take charge of Battery Cheves, as Captain Billopp had been ordered away. There being but 2 officers with Company A, Lieutenant Halsey was obliged to be kept on duty.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

     D. G. FLEMING,
     Captain, Commanding Artillery.

James Island, January 7, 1864.
Assistant Adjutant-General:
    MAJOR: I respectfully beg leave to report that I was in charge of the battery at Fort Johnson on the night of the 3rd instant which opened upon Sumter. My reasons for opening were that I firmly believed the fort was attacked by the enemy. I was aware that our boats were at the fort, and trailed my guns to the right to avoid striking them.
    I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

    M. P. HALSEY,
    Second Lieutenant Company A, Second Artillery.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 35, Part 1, Pages 511-512.

The Confederates still controlled Charleston harbor, despite the powerful Union naval force besieging it.  A small boat attack on Fort Sumter was always a possibility.  On the night in question Confederate boats were operating near the fort.  In this instance a sentinel thought the boats were a Union attack on the fort and a battery commander, new to his assignment, opened fire from Fort Johnson.  Three shots were fired wide and to the right of Fort Sumter, before Fleming (in charge at Fort Johnson) stopped the fire.  No trace remains of Fort Johnson, which was located at Windmill Point on James Island.

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