Sesquicentennial: The Second Battle of Fort Wagner

July 22, 2013

The Second Battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina occurred on July 18, 1863.  It was a decisive Confederate victory in which the Union had 1,515 total casualties (246 killed, 880 wounded, 389 captured).  Three of those killed in action are memorialized at Mount Auburn: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and Captain Cabot Jackson Russell, both of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and Private James Dana Meserve of the 7th New Hampshire Regiment. Four others survived the battle and the war.

Robert Gould Shaw (1837 – 1863)
Lot 1286 Pine Avenue

Colonel Shaw was the noted officer who led the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War.  Black men were initially denied the right to enlist in the military, and the Massachusetts 54th was one of the most notable Black regiments of free Blacks to fight in the battle. “You know how many eminent men consider a negro army of the greatest importance to our country at this time,” Shaw wrote. “How fully repaid the pioneers in the movement will be, for what they may have to go through!” On July 18, 1863 Shaw led 600 men towards a Confederate fortification at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, a critical defense for Charleston. Shot through the heart, Shaw lost his life. Nearly half his soldiers were wounded, killed, or captured. The Colonel’s body was laid to rest with his fallen men in a mass grave at Fort Wagner.  A bronze plaque remembering him was added to his family’s lot at Mount Auburn.

Edward Needles Hallowell (1836 – 1871)
Lot 4124 Indian Ridge Path

Edward Needles Hallowell was an abolitionist and a Brevet Brigadier General in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He was raised with a Quaker upbringing in Pennsylvania in a family of ardent abolitionists. During the Civil War he served under Col. Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.  After Shaw and many members of the troop were killed in action at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, Hallowell took command of the remaining members of the regiment.  After the war, Hallowell was a successful Boston stockbroker.

Norwood Penrose Hallowell (1839-1914)
Lot 4124 Indian Ridge Path

Norwood Penrose Hallowell was a Union Army officer during the Civil War.  Hallowell was born in Philadelphia and raised in the tradition of the Quakers, with a strong anti-slavery sentiment.  Hallowell attended Harvard and was chosen as the orator of the class of 1861.  On April 1, 1861 he entered the Union Army serving in the New England Guards and then First Lieutenant in the Massachusetts 20th Regiment.  After being named Captain in 1862, Hallowell was wounded at Glendale and then more severely at Antietam.  In April of 1863, Hallowell was made Lieutenant-Colonel of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the African American troop led by Robert Gould Shaw (Lot #1206, Pine Avenue).  Hallowell was then made Colonel of the Massachusetts 55th, the second African American troop, on May 30 of 1863.  His brother Edward Needles Hallowell (same lot) was second-in-command of the Massachusetts 54th.

Hallowell and the 55th Regiment remained in Massachusetts after the 54th departed for duty in South Carolina.  Soon after the 54th came under siege at Fort Wagner, the 55th Regiment departed for South Carolina to aid its sister troop.  The troop reported to the trenches on Morris Island where their duty led to the evacuation and eventual shelling of the City of Charleston.

In September of 1863 Hallowell returned North to get treatment for the wound in his arm he received during the battle of Antietam.  He did not return to active duty and resigned his commission in November of that year.  After the war, Hallowell worked as a wool commission merchant and bank president.

John W. M. Appleton (1832 – 1913)
Lot 3926 Indian Ridge Path

Appleton was a Captain at the time of the Assault on Fort Wagner.  He was wounded.

Francis Lee Higginson (1841 – 1925)
Lot 6876 Fountain Avenue

Lieut. Higginson’s unit had gotten badly battered a couple of days earlier during an attack on James Island and was in charge of a “fatigue” detail of 80 men who did not participate in the July 18th assault.  He was promoted to Captain on July 19.  Later he served in the 5th Massachusetts Calvary Regiment.

Cabot Jackson Russell (1845 – 1863)
Lot 2149 Lime Avenue

Cabot Jackson Russell was shot and mortally wounded on the parapet of Fort Wagner on July 18th, three days shy of his 19th birthday on July 21.  His body was never recovered and it is believed he was buried in the trench with Shaw, Capt. William Harris Simpkins, and the 27 enlisted men who were also killed in the assault.

Russell’s flush stone memorial is located in front of the first row of upright stones on the right side of the Jackson lot on Lime Avenue, opposite Oliver Wendell Holmes on the left side.  Russell was a cousin of Charles Russell and James Jackson Lowell and second cousin of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

James Dana Meserve (1842 -1863)
Lot 5018 Vesper Avenue

James Dana Meserve served as a private in the 7th Regiment New Hampshire Infantry, which had been fighting at Ft. Wagner the day before the deadly assault. Meserve’s remains were buried at Fort Wagner where he fell. A memorial is in his family’s lot on Vesper Avenue.  He was only 20 years old.

James Dana Meserve was from Pittsfield in Merrimack County.  His parents were Ira Dana and Sarah Chase (Garland) Meserve.  Ira the father appears to have died during the 1850s, and the family split up.  In 1860, James was working on a farm in New Hampshire, and his mother and younger sister had moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  After the war, his mom was awarded a pension as James’s dependent.  In 1866, she married Samuel H. Hall, a painter from Newton.  James’ brother Jared Meserve lived in Watertown.

Research for the post was contributed by Volunteer Docents William McEvoy, Jr. and Stephen Pinkerton.


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