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Rear Admiral John Dahlgren Describes Destruction of Fort Sumter by Union Navy
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Perhaps you might like to see what is before my eyes,—Sumter crumbling away before our cannon....

JOHN A. DAHLGREN. Autograph Note Signed, to Unknown Correspondent, November 5, 1863. 1 p. Possibly the final page of a longer letter.

Inventory #24533       Price: $1,900

Complete Transcript

I wish I had the time, my young friend to write you, as you ask a short letter,—but every moment is engrossed.  Perhaps you might like to see what is before my eyes,—Sumter crumbling away before our cannon, which sound incessantly.

                                                                        With my best wishes / Yours

                                                                        Jno A Dahlgren

                                                                        R. Admiral, comng / off Charleston

                                                                        Nov. 5th 1863

Historical Background

Early in April 1863, a flotilla of nine ironclad warships, including seven monitors, under the command of Admiral Samuel Du Pont, attacked Confederate defenses in Charleston harbor. Land-based cannon damaged all of the ships and forced their withdrawal. In the wake of this failure, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles recalled Du Pont and replaced him with Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. 

During July, an army force under General Quincy A. Gillmore made two assaults on Fort Wagner on Morris Island south of the harbor. The second assault included the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an African-American regiment led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Both failed, and Gillmore settled into a siege of the fort that forced Confederates to abandon the fort in September 1863.

North of the harbor, Confederates maintained several batteries on Sullivan’s Island. After the fall of Fort Wagner and Fort Gregg, Union forces were able to shell Fort Sumter directly. Although Union rifled cannon literally reduced the masonry fort to rubble, as reflected in Dahlgren’s note, Confederates maintained control of the fort and Sullivan’s Island until February 1865. With General William T. Sherman and his army marching through South Carolina to their rear, Confederates abandoned Fort Sumter, the forts on Sullivan’s Island, and the city they protected, and Union troops occupied the forts and the city.

John A. Dahlgren (1809-1870) founded the U.S. Navy’s ordnance department and made major advances in gunnery from his position at the Washington Navy Yard, beginning in 1847. Born in Philadelphia to the Swedish consul in the city, Dahlgren joined the U.S. Navy in 1826. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Dahlgren to captain and made him chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. Promoted to Rear Admiral in February 1863, Dahlgren took command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, where he worked with General Quincy A. Gillmore on the siege of Charleston and with General William T. Sherman on the capture of Savannah in December 1864.


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