Main content

Title: John Thompson, New York to Robert Thompson, Co. Londonderry
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileThompson, John/11
SenderThompson, John
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationarmy officer (private)
Sender Religionunknown
OriginFort Hamilton, New York, USA
DestinationCo. Derry, N.Ireland
RecipientThompson, Robert
Recipient Gendermale
SourceT1585/2: Presented by Mrs Hawthorne, Co. Tyrone
ArchiveThe Public Record Office, Northern Ireland
Doc. No.9502245
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 23:02:1995.
Word Count1568
TranscriptMy Dear Father,
I have just received your welcome letter and am exceedingly
glad to hear of your welfare. Since I last wrote I have passed
through not a few exciting scenes. In my last letter I brought the
history of our present difficulties down to our safe arrival in Fort
Sumter. Well as time wore on the clouds of disunion thickened around
us and we were being gradually hemmed in by formidable batteries
erected under our very noses. Our Government suffered matters to go
so far that the re-enforcement or relief of Sumter was declared an
impossibility to any force under twenty thousand men. Thus we were
left at the mercy of the rebels, dependent on them for supplies and
completely surrounded by their hostile batteries. They no doubt
expected that we would surrender without a blow, but they were never
more mistaken in their lives. Our supply of breadstuffs was fast
giving out and the Carolinians knew it. They had cut off all
communication with the shore, and starvation was staring us in the
face. We had been on 3/4 rations for a long time and on the 8th of
April a reduction to half rations was made and cheerfully submitted
to, the hope of being reinforced or withdrawn having not yet
entirely left us. On the eleventh one biscuit was our allowance, and
matters seemed rapidly coming to a crisis. The rebels had doubled
their watchfulness and we were certain that something was in the
wind. On the afternoon of the 11th about 4 0'clock, three officers
from the rebel army made their appearance under a flag of truce, and
formally summoned our gallant Major to surrender. This of course he
refused to do. About one o'clock on the morning of the 12th another
messenger notified us that Genl. Beauregard, the rebel commander
would open fire on us immediately. This message found our little
garrison, only 71 enjoying their usual repose, but they had taken
the precaution of moving their blankets under the bombproof in
anticipation of a bloody melee before morning. The word was quietly
circulated through the men that it was time to be up and get ready.
At 3 o'clock we hoisted our colors the glorious "Star Spangled
Banner" and quietly awaited the enemies fire. Long before daylight,
at 4 1/2 a.m. the first shell came hissing through the air and burst
right over our heads. The thrill that ran through our veins at this
time was indescribable, none were afraid, the stern defiant look on
each man's countenance plainly told that fear was no part of his
constitution, but something like an expression of awe crept over the
features of everyone, as battery after battery opened fire and the
hissing shot came plowing [ploughing?] along leaving wreck and ruin
in their path. The rebels for some time had all the play to
themselves as our batteries were not opened until six and a half in
the morning. It would be useless for me to attempt to describe the
scene for the next four hours. If viewed from a distance it must
have been grand. The men were eager for the work, and soon had
become perfectly familiarized to the bursting of bombshell, not that
they had forgotten the destructiveness of these customers, the
numbleness [nimbleness?] with which they dodged into the safest
corner on the approach of one of these messengers put that question
beyond doubt. The battle raged on both sides for about two hours,
when the fire from Fort Moultrie began to slacken, this, added to
the fact that we had nobody hurt on our sides raised a cheer from
our begrimed cannoneers, and the bombardment continued. We had been
playing on the magazine of Moultrie with considerable effect, for
the Carolinians admitted that they left the Fort entirely for some
time thinking we were using red hot shot. The batteries doing us
most damage were on Morris Island, distant about 1400 yards mounting
heavy 8 inch Columbiad guns, and what was worse for us a 24 pounder
Rifled Cannon throwing shaft and shell similar to those used with
the Armstrong gun. This shot with astonishing precision. Almost
every second shot would come in through the embrasure, and those who
failed to come in had struck all round the embrasure knocking it
completely out of shape and endangering the men's lives inside from
the shower of broken brick knocked loose at every shot. Here we had
three men lightly wounded in the face not so severely as to require
the services of a surgeon. Towards mid-day we could destinctly
[distinctly?] see a fleet of war vessels off the bay, and we were
certain they were an expedition fitted out to relieve us, and the
hopes of speedily getting assistance compensated for the lack of
anything in the shape of dinner. The action continued without any
unusual occurrence until dark when the word was given cease firing
for the night. After loading our guns with grape and cannister
[canister?] and posting a sufficient guard we went to sleep by our
guns in the safest places we could get. So ended the first days
bombardment, with none injured on our side, it was something
miraculous, and as our Commander said, certainly, "Providence was on
our side." The damage done to our Fort however was considerable. Our
quarters especially the officers were knocked into a cocked hat and
had been three times on fire from the bursting of shell. The enemy
kept up a slow but steady fire on us during the entire night, to
prevent our getting any rest, but they failed in their object, for I
for one slept all night as sound as ever I did in my life. We
confidently expected the fleet to make some attempt to land supplies
and re-enforcements [reinforcements?] during the night, it being as
dark as pitch and raining, but we were disappointed. Morning dawned
and with appetites unappeased and haggard look, although determined
and confident all took their positions for the days work. The second
day opened on us with a fair prospect for us, we could distinctly
see the destruction our first days fire had worked, and our guns
were all just as we wanted them, so we anticipated a good days work.
But alas, shortly after we had got everything in full blast, the
quarters were again observed to be on fire. The enemy seeing this
cheered and doubled their fire with red hot shot, and it very soon
became apparent that the quarters must be allowed to burn. Our
magazine was becoming enveloped in flames, and our own shell were
constantly bursting around us and the increased fire of the enemy
made our position at this moment not to be envied. 40 barrels of
powder taken from the magazine for convenience had to be thrown into
the sea to prevent an explosion, and the fire from our guns for the
time being ceased, we only returning a shot every two or three
minutes to let then know we were not giving up yet. The heat and
smoke inside was awful. The only way to breathe was to lay flat on
the ground and keep your face covered with a handkerchief. About
this time we had our first man seriously but not fatally wounded. A
large piece of shell tearing some frightened flesh wounds in his
legs. He is now doing well. As the smoke began to clear away a
little and our batteries about to be opened more generally some
excitement caused our cannoneers to congregate on the left where I
was stationed. All were armed with their muskets. It turned out to
be Col. Wigfall with a white flag. Myself and another countryman
were at the embrasure when the individual above mentioned made his
appearance, and we stubbornly refused him admittance for a while,
but he begged so hard, exhibited the flag he carried and even
surrendered his sword, that at last we helped him in. He begged us
to stop firing. An officer answered "We obey no orders here but
those of Major Anderson". He then desired to be shown to the Major
who at this moment made his appearance. He begged the Major "For
God's sake to stop firing and they would grant any terms". This the
Major after a little deliberation deemed satisfactory and the word
was passed "cease firing". Previous to this however Wigfall had been
waving his handkerchief from an embrasure, but the smoke was so
thick that it could not be seen, and the batteries who were not
aware of Wigfalls presence still kept firing. At the rebel
gentleman's request the white flag was shown from our ramparts, and
the firing ceased. As soon as all was quiet the flag of truce was
hauled down, and our Commander submitted or rather dictated his
terms; which were that we should leave with the honors of War,
salute our flag, and be furnished with transportation anywhere North
we desired. Thus ended the fight and here I am without a scratch, no
one being wounded in the fight but the men above aluded [alluded?]
to. I forgot to mention that during the fire on the second day our
flag was shot down, but it only remained down a few moments when it
again floated from our ramparts nailed with tenpenny nails to a new
Your affectionate son

John Thompson