Thursday, July 18, 2013


July 18, 2013


Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50)  The 54th Massachusetts Regiment, made up of African-American soldiers, failed in a valiant effort 150 years ago today, July 18, 1863, to take Fort Wagner* near Charleston, South Carolina.

Fort Wagner, located on Morris Island, was a Confederate earth work 600 feet wide and 30 feet high.  It was "a more formidable installation than it appeared," with a core of sandbags and timber which could absorb direct hits by Union artillery shells.

                    Union Battery 1865
                         Morris Island
                        Charleston, SC
             Library of Congress Photo

Originally a single battery, Fort Wagner was expanded into an enclosed fortification by order of General Pierre T. Beauregard.

*Fort Wagner, named in honor of Lt. Col. Thomas M. Wagner,  was a Confederate fortification located between the Atlantic Ocean and an impassable swamp.  It was protected by a water-filled trench 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep and by land mines and sharpened palmetto stakes.  By 1885, the entire fort had been washed into the ocean.

Having been unsuccessful in reducing Ft. Wagner and Ft. Sumter by ironclad assault, the US turned to direct infantry assault.

The first attack on Ft. Wagner on June 11, 1863, led by Brigadier General George C. Strong, was a costly failure with 339 Union losses to only 12 Confederate.

The second assault, which was preceded by intensive artillery bombardment, was led by the 54th Massachusetts commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw**.

**Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863) was born in Boston to a prominent abolitionist family.  Having attended Harvard University, he joined the US Army in 1861, first with the 7th New York militia and later the 2nd Massachusetts infantry.  He was promoted to major and then colonel in the Spring of 1863.

                     Robert Gould Shaw
                              May 1863

Colonel Shaw addressed his men before sending them into battle...

"I want you to prove yourselves.  The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight."

It was a massacre.  The 54th suffered 1515 casualties including Colonel Shaw, who was shot in the heart atop the parapet, and General Strong.  The Confederates lost 174.

At one point in the battle, with the flag of the United States in peril, Sgt. William H. Carney***, despite having been wounded, saved it and later would become the 1st black soldier to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

***William Harvey Carney (1840-1908) was born into slavery at Norfolk, Virginia.  He escaped by the underground railroad to Massachusetts where he joined his father.  Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900.

                       William Harvey Carney
            Library of Congress Photo (1900)

The Union dead, including Shaw, were buried in mass graves at the fort after the battle.

The United States did not give up its effort to take Wagner.  A bombardment was ordered on both Forts Wagner and Sumter and although Sumter was reduced to ruins by August 24, 1863, the Confederacy held.

General Beauregard ordered the evacuation of Ft. Wagner on the night of September 6th.  His armies there had held off Union forces 10 times their number for almost two months.

Fort Wagner and Fort Sumter were considered essential to the defense of Charleston, but even after Wagner was evacuated, Charleston persevered.

In January 1864, 1500 Union shells hit the city, but she wouldn't give in.

It was not until February 17, 1865, with the army of General William Tecumseh Sherman heading northward from Georgia, that Confederate forces evacuated "The Holy City."   

The story of the 54th Massachusetts is presented in the Academy Award winning 1990 film "Glory" starring Mathew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. 

                   "The Old Flag Never 
                   Touches the Ground"
                  by Rick Reeves (2004)


"The Civil War:  The Coastal War," by Peter M. Caitin and Editors, Time-Life Books, Inc., 1984.


Edgartown, Massachusetts (JFK+50) Massachusetts Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge and his Oldsmobile submerged into the water 44 years ago this evening, July 18, 1969.

While the Senator was able to escape, his passenger, 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne, a Kennedy campaign worker, drowned.

The incident happened just after 11 p.m. Eastern time.*

*On July 25, Senator Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.  He received a 2 month suspended sentence and had his driver's license suspended for one year.  Ted said that his repeated efforts to save Mary Jo failed.

            Dike Bridge at Chappaquiddick
                 Photo by Arwcheek (2008)


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) President Harry S Truman signed into law 66 years ago today, on July 18th, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 for which he had lobbied since taking over for FDR on April 12, 1945.

The act reinstated the order of Presidential succession which had 1st been established by Congress in 1792, but moved the Speaker of the House to next in line for the Presidency behind the Vice-President with the President of the Senate following.

The Presidential cabinet, in order of departmental creation (except Secretary of Defense), follows.


Chicago, Illinois (JFK+50) Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated 73 years ago this evening, July 18, 1940, by the delegates of the Democratic National Convention for an unprecedented third term as President of the United States.

                  "We Stand With Roosevelt"
                         Mast General Store
                       Knoxville, Tennessee
                Photo by John White (2013)

While there was no law on the books at that time prohibiting a US President from serving more than two terms, no president had ever sought or been elected to a third term.

George Washington set the precedent of limiting service as President of the United States to two terms.

By the 22nd Amendment (1947), no President may serve more than 2 terms of office.  Congressman John F. Kennedy voted for the proposal.

 In 1962, JFK was asked if he would still support the restriction.  His answer was "YES, TWO TERMS ARE ENOUGH!"