The Battle of Fort Wagner – 18 July1863

Charleston Harbor


Map by [HWK]TimGrayson and [HWK]Stone

Image:The Storming of Ft. Wagner-lithograph by Kurz and Allison, 1890.jpeg

Fort Wagner (also called Battery Wagner) was a fortification on Morris Island, South Carolina, that covered the southern approach to Charleston harbor. It was the site of two American Civil War battles in the campaign known as Operations Against the Defenses of Charleston in 1863.

The first engagement, the Battle of Fort Wagner or the First Assault on Morris Island, occurred on July 11, 1863. Only 12 Confederate soldiers were killed, as opposed to the Union's 330 losses. The second engagement is better known. The Battle of Fort Wagner, Morris Island, was the Union attack on July 18, 1863.

The approach to the fort was constricted to a strip of beach 60 yards (55 m) wide. After a bombardment from both land and sea, the Union infantry moved in. The assault force was led by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment, the first major American military unit made up of black soldiers. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw led the 54th Massachusetts on foot while they charged and was killed in the assault. The total assault force included five other brigades, around 5,000 men in total. Unfortunately for the assault force, the prior bombardment failed to seriously damage the fighting power of the fort. Consequently, the Union infantry suffered considerable casualties in the rush towards the fort.

As the Union troops reached the parapets, the fighting proved intense. Three brigades managed to occupy a portion of the walls, but they were forced to withdraw after an hour of fierce hand-to-hand combat where almost every officer was killed. The Union forces suffered around 1,500 casualties and the Confederate garrison under 200.

Although a tactical defeat, the battle proved to be a political victory for the Union since the valor of the 54th against hopeless odds proved the worth of black soldiers. It spurred additional recruitment that gave the Union Army a further numerical advantage in troops over the South.

The Map (see tile map)

The map presents the battle at the point where the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the (Union) Department of the South – as famously led by the 54th Massachusetts - is about to launch its assault on Fort Wagner. The 2nd brigade, which also participated in this assault, albeit delayed from joining the 1st Brigade, is not deployed on this map. Thus, this map captures the tension of the initial assault made on Fort Wagner on 18 July 1863.

Note that, the Confederate defenders, while having numerically inferior forces to those of the Union, do have superiority in artillery. The Union forces also have access to support from a gunboat and two ironclads in this battle.

Victory Conditions


The Union forces (blue) must attack the Confederate forces (red) defending Fort Wagner, overwhelm them and take the fort.


Battle of Fort (Battery) Wagner (Second Assault)

Charleston Harbor South Carolina

18 July 1863




Department of the South - MAJOR GENERAL QUINCY A. GILLMORE


1st Division - Brigadier General Truman Seymour


1st Brigade - Brigadier General George C. Strong



2nd Brigade - Colonel Haldimand S. Putnam




Artillery - Lieutenant Colonel Richard W. Jackson



STRENGTH = 5,000




Department Of South Carolina, Georgia, & Florida - GENERAL PIERRE GUSTAVE TOUTANT BEAUREGARD


Battery Wagner Garrison - Brigadier General William Booth Taliaferro 



Artillery - Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Simkins



STRENGTH = 1,800


Casualties: Total – 1689 (USA = 1,515; CSA = 174)