Thursday, July 18, marks the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Wagner— a Civil War battle in the Charleston Harbor portrayed by the 1989 film “Glory.”
The battle itself was a relatively minor chapter in the war’s history. That night in 1863, Union troops attacked a Confederate fort guarding Morris Island in an attempt to tighten their blockade of Charleston. However, their assault was eventually repulsed, leading to nearly 1,600 casualties between both sides.
But the engagement has since gained much attention due to the valiant performance of the 54th Massachusetts, an African-American regiment composed mostly of free blacks. While it wasn’t the first time that an African-American unit fought in the Civil War, it was arguably the first that received public attention (and was the most famous) for the performance of those troops.
Although the site of the battle is now underwater, the National Park Service is planning to honor those who fought there with four days of events at Fort Moultrie National Monument on Sullivan’s Island. The programs will be held July 18-21 and will such programs as history demonstrations by re-enactors, musket firings, lectures and heavy artillery drills.
The park’s chief of interpretive programs Dawn Davis said close to 100 re-enactors will camp at Fort Moultrie over the course of the weekend. They will represent the 54th Massachusetts, the 7th South Carolina Battalion, and a few other units present at the time.
“It adds a little bit more to the experience and it helps bring history alive,” Davis said.
At 3 p.m., the re-enactors will leave Fort Moultrie and head to Morris Island, where a memorial service will be held for the men who fought and died at Battery Wagner
Thursday evening from 6:30-7:30 p.m., the 246th Army National Guard Band will present an outdoor concert of period music. At 7:45 p.m. a commemorative program will commence at the same hour as the 1863 assault began. South Carolina Lt Gov. Glenn McConnell will deliver the keynote address. 294 luminaries will be lit in the field in front of Fort Moultrie, overlooking Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter and Morris Island. The luminaries represent those Union and Confederate soldiers killed on Morris Island during the July 18th battle. Of the 600 black troops who charged the battery, 218 were killed, wounded or captured.
On Saturday, the Fort Sumter – Fort Moultrie Historical Trust will host a free event featuring five distinguished scholars and authors who will talk about the 54th in a program entitled “Toward ‘A New Birth of Freedom'” at the Dock Street Theatre from 9:00am -12:30pm. Each speaker will present a different aspect of the campaign and its impacts.
On Sunday night, a new monument dedicated to the 54th Massachusetts will be unveiled in White Point Garden on the present-day Charleston Battery.