Major General Quincy A. Gillmore won military acclaim for his use of rifled artillery during the reduction of Fort Pulaski in 1862.
Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore was born on February 28, 1825, in Lorain County, Ohio. Named after President John Quincy Adams, he was one of eight children born to Quartus and Elizabeth Smith Gillmore. His grandfather, Edmund Gillmore, was a founder of Black River, present-day Lorain, Ohio, just east of Cleveland.
When not working on his father’s farm, young Quincy attended the Norwalk Academy and Elyria High School. On July 1, 1845, Gillmore entered the U.S. Military Academy, where he graduated first in his class of forty-three cadets four years later.
Early Military Career
Following his graduation on July 1, 1849, army officials brevetted Gillmore to the rank of second lieutenant and assigned him to the Army Corps of Engineers. Stationed at Hampton Roads, Virginia, for the next three years, he served as an assistant engineer during the construction of Fort Collins and Fort Calhoun. From 1852 to 1856, Gillmore returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of practical military engineering. During that assignment, he advanced to the rank of second lieutenant on September 5, 1853. Three years later, army officials promoted Gillmore to first lieutenant on July 1, 1856, and returned him to Virginia where he assisted in the construction of Fort Monroe. Later that year, Gillmore transferred to New York where he served as a purchasing agent for the army until 1858.
Shortly after graduating from the military academy, Gillmore wed Mary Isabella O’Maher in 1850. Their marriage produced four sons and one daughter before Mary died in 1861. The children’s maternal grandparents subsequently raised them near West Point. Gillmore later married Laura Merrifield at an undetermined time. Historians know little about her.
After the Civil War erupted, army officials promoted Gillmore to captain on August 6, 1861, and deployed him to Hilton Head Island as the chief engineer of the Port Royal Expeditionary Corps. Serving on the staff of Brigadier General Thomas W. Sherman, Gillmore’s responsibilities included constructing fortifications on the island, preparing for the occupation of Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River, and the eventual blockade of the Georgia port city of Savannah.
Following a prolonged naval bombardment, Gillmore led Union forces ashore and occupied Tybee Island on November 29, 1861. By December 20, the Yankees had established permanent fortifications on the island.
Sherman’s next objective was the reduction of Fort Pulaski, which protected the mouth of the Savannah River. Assisted by naval forces, in February 1862, Sherman cut off all transportation and communication between Confederate forces on the mainland and the garrison at Fort Pulaski. Still, it historians believe that the Rebels holding the fort had enough provisions to withstand the Union siege until late summer. Under pressure to capture Savannah sooner, Sherman placed Gillmore in charge of the Union forces on Tybee Island and charged him with creating a plan to reduce Fort Pulaski.
Many experts on both sides, including General Robert E. Lee who commanded Confederate coastal defenses in the Carolinas, considered Fort Pulaski to be impregnable due to its seven-and-one-half-foot thick mortar walls. Gillmore believed otherwise. After careful consideration, he convinced Sherman that he could reduce the Confederate installation with a bombardment including mortars and experimental rifled artillery. Sherman was skeptical of the plan, but he trusted his chief engineer and approved it in the face of conventional wisdom. Gillmore spent the next few months preparing for the onslaught.
By the time Gillmore was prepared to implement his plan, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 26, on March 15, 1862, announcing the creation of the Department of the South, which included Sherman’s expeditionary forces. Officials relieved Sherman and Major General David Hunter replaced him as commander of the forces preparing for the assault on Fort Pulaski.
On April 10, Hunter sent a demand for “immediate surrender and restoration of Fort Pulaski to the authority and possession of the United States.” Not unexpectedly, the Confederate commander of the fort, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, replied, “I am here to defend the fort, not to surrender it.” With that, Gillmore ordered the bombardment to begin. Possibly to everyone’s amazement (except for Gillmore) the seemingly invincible structure lasted only two days. The rifled artillery was an unparalleled success. By noon on April 11, the Union shells had opened two great holes in Pulaski’s walls and silenced nearly all the Rebel guns. As the Federals prepared to storm the fort, Colonel Olmsted ran up the white flag and surrendered.
The capture of Fort Pulaski catapulted Gillmore’s career and his reputation. Military experts at home and abroad soon hailed him as the first officer to use rifled artillery to reduce masonry fortresses, which were formerly thought to be impregnable. Shortly after Gillmore’s success, the army promoted him to brigadier general in the volunteer army on April 28, 1862.
During the campaign against Fort Pulaski, Gillmore contracted malaria. Later that summer, he took a leave of absence to recuperate. After a brief stint assisting the Governor of New York with troop assignments in August and September, the army transferred Gillmore to the Western Theater, where he served in Kentucky. Although he was an artillery expert, Gillmore led a mixed force of cavalry and mounted infantry to victory at the Battle of Somerset on March 31, 1863. Afterward, officials brevetted him to colonel in the regular army for his “Gallant and Meritorious Services.”
Department of the South and Fort Wagner
After another brief leave of absence, army officials promoted Gillmore to major with the Corps of Engineers on June 1, 1863. Two days later, the War Department issued Special Orders, No. 24 announcing that Gillmore was returning to Hilton Head to replace Hunter as commander of the Department of the South.
On June 12, 1863, Gillmore arrived at Hilton Head and Hunter issued General Orders, No. 46 (Department of the South) announcing that the War Department had temporarily relieved him of command. On the same day, Gillmore issued General Orders, No. 47 (Department of the South) announcing that he was assuming command.
Shortly afterward, the U.S. Senate confirmed Gillmore’s promotion to major general of volunteers on July 2, 1863. The government formally announced the bump in grade (effective July 10, 1863) over a year later when the War Department issued General Orders, No. 256 on September 15, 1864.
The War Department completed the transfer of command from Hunter to Gillmore on July 16, 1863, by issuing General Orders, No. 218 stating that “Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore is appointed to command the Tenth Army Corps, in place of Major General David Hunter, to date from June 12, 1863.”
Almost immediately after assuming command of the Department of the South and the 10th Army Corps, Gillmore began developing plans to capture the City of Charleston, South Carolina, the cradle of the southern rebellion. His primary obstacle was Fort Sumter, which the Confederates had seized on April 14, 1861, touching off the war. Gillmore meant to regain Union control of the stronghold guarding the mouth of Charleston Harbor using the same methods that he used to subdue Fort Pulaski a year earlier. To do so, he needed first to eliminate Fort Wagner — also known as Battery Wagner — near the northern end of Morris Island at the mouth of the harbor.
Following four weeks of preparation, Gillmore launched an amphibious assault on Morris Island on July 10, 1863. Although the attack failed, Gillmore’s troops successfully established a beachhead on the southern end of the island. Another unsuccessful strike on July 18, known as the Battle of Fort Wagner, was even more catastrophic. Spearheaded by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the volunteer army’s first colored units, the assault resulted in 1,515 Federal casualties, compared to just 174 losses for the Confederacy. The 1989 award-winning Hollywood film Glory later immortalized the gallantry of the 54th Massachusetts during the bloody battle.
The Confederate victory at the Battle of Fort Wagner did not curb Gillmore’s quest to subdue the Rebel stronghold and subsequently capture Charleston. Following eight more weeks of Union shelling the Confederates abandoned the battery on September 6, 1863, leaving Morris Island to the Yankees. The capture of Fort Wagner and Morris Island enabled Union artillerists to bombard Fort Sumter and Charleston in the fall of 1863.
Despite reducing Fort Sumter to a pile of rubble, Gillmore never succeeded in re-occupying the stronghold. Likewise, the City of Charleston withstood the Federal shelling for more than a year, despite significant damage, and did not surrender until February. 18, 1865 faced with Major General William T. Sherman’s advance through Georgia and South Carolina. Although Gillmore’s bombardment of Charleston failed to subdue the city, it earned him the dubious distinction of being one of the first military commanders to inflict artillery fire on civilians.
Bermuda Hundred Campaign
On April 4, 1864, Army Chief-of-Staff Henry W. Halleck wrote to Gillmore informing him that “Lieutenant-General Grant directs that you move, with all possible dispatch, so much of your forces as in your judgment can be safely spared from the Department of the South to Fort Monroe, Va., and report to Major General B. F. Butler . . . ”
Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Butler had developed plans to move against Richmond from the southeast in concert with Grant’s Overland Campaign against General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in May. Their strategy included merging Gillmore’s 10th Corps with Major General William F. Smith’s 18th Corps to conduct a major push up the James River toward the Confederate capital. The unified force was known as the Army of the James and the offensive was known as the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.
Gillmore arrived at Fort Monroe in early May, just in time for the operation to begin. By May 5, 1864, (the same day that the Battle of the Wilderness began) a flotilla of naval vessels started moving the roughly 39,000 troops Butler commanded up the James River. In broad strokes, Butler’s orders were to move his army up the James River to its confluence with the Appomattox River. After securing the village of City Point, Virginia, the bulk of his army was to disembark farther upstream at the fishing village of Bermuda Hundred. Butler’s two main objectives were to sever the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad and to threaten Richmond from the east, forcing Lee to divert troops away from Meade’s main thrust.
The campaign which lasted throughout May, was a dismal failure, primarily because of Butler’s indecisiveness, but also because of discord between Butler and his subordinate officers, Gillmore and Smith. Events turned sour on May 9, 1864, when Butler deployed a large task force comprising five brigades from the 18th Corps and two brigades from the 10th Corps to confront the Rebels at Swift Run Creek. Perhaps overestimating the strength of the Rebel defensive lines, Butler’s corps commanders, Gillmore and Smith, proposed an alternative plan to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. They suggested bypassing the Confederate defenders and attacking Petersburg, which they believed was lightly defended. Butler, however, rejected their proposal, thereby missing an opportunity to isolate Richmond by severing ties with the capital’s main supply center about twenty-five miles to the south.
By early June, according to Smith, Butler “had begun to realize the importance of the suggestion that he should attack Petersburg, which he had rejected with scorn on the 9th of May.” On June 9, 1864, Butler dispatched Gillmore with, in Smith’s words, “a small and inadequate force to attack Petersburg.” After the attack, known as the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, failed, a furious Butler blamed Gillmore. Following a war of words, on June 14, 1864 Butler issued a special order relieving Gillmore of his command and ordered him to report to Fortress Monroe. At that point, General Grant interceded.
After reviewing the events, on June 17 Grant wrote to Butler asking him to withdraw his special order relieving Gillmore of his command under conditions that Grant would relieve Gillmore “at his own request.” Grant reasoned that Butler’s sacking of Gillmore was “a severe punishment to General Gillmore, even if a court of inquiry should hereafter acquit him.”
On the same date, Butler responded to Grant, agreeing to rescind “so much of my special order as relieves Major-General Gillmore, according to your request.” Butler followed up by issuing another special order, dated June 17, stating, “So much of special orders from these headquarters as relieved Major-General Gillmore of the command of the troops of the Tenth Army Corps, serving in this department, is withdrawn as of the date of its issue, to wit, June 14, 1864.”
Butler’s retraction gave Grant the latitude he needed to afford Gillmore some dignity in losing his command. Bringing an end to the flurry of missives on June 17, Grant issued Special Orders, No 36 stating that “Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, U.S. Volunteers, is, at his own request, hereby relieved from command of the Tenth Army Corps, serving in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, to take effect and date from June 14 instant, and will proceed to Washington, D.C., and report to the Adjutant-General of the Army for orders.” Thus ended Gillmore’s service with the Army of the James and his contentious relationship with Benjamin Butler.
Early’s Valley Campaign
Events dictated that Gillmore did not have to wait long for a new assignment after returning to Washington. In early July 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early marched his 14,000-man Army of the Valley past the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland at Shepherdstown. Desperate to halt a possible Confederate assault on Washington, Federal leaders hastily assembled a small army commanded by Major General Lew Wallace to delay Early until Grant could send reinforcements to protect the capital.
On July 9, Early’s army defeated Wallace’s 5,800 soldiers at the Battle of Monocacy near Frederick, Maryland. On July 11, Early’s army advanced on weakly defended Fort Stevens near the outskirts of Washington. On the same day, the adjutant general’s office issued General Orders, No. 228 announcing that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had assigned Gillmore “to the temporary command of the part of the Nineteenth Corps in the Department of Washington.” For the next two days, Gillmore commanded the northeast line of fortifications surrounding Washington (Fort Lincoln to Fort Totten), during the Union victory at the Battle of Fort Stevens (July 11–12, 1864), which drove Early away from the nation’s capital.
Return to the Department of the South
Gillmore’s new command was short-lived. On July 14, 1864, he fell from his horse and sustained serious injuries to his foot and ankle, taking him out of commission. After recuperating for roughly a month, Gillmore served on several boards and commissions into the next year. On January 30, 1865, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wrote to Gillmore informing him that Secretary of War Stanton had ordered him to South Carolina to resume command of the Department of the South. Gillmore arrived in Hilton Head and assumed command on February 9, 1865.
Five days later, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, who had also returned to South Carolina, ordered the evacuation of Charleston as Major General William T. Sherman campaigned through the Carolinas. On February 17, Confederate troops abandoned Fort Sumter. The next morning, Union troops under Gillmore’s command occupied the fort uncontested.
During Gillmore’s tenure as commander of the Department of the South, he received brevet promotions to brigadier general and major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865, for “Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Capture of Ft. Wagner, S. C.” and “in the Assault on Morris Island, S. C., July 10, 1863, and the Bombardment and Demolition of Ft. Sumter.”
On April 14, 1865, General Robert Anderson, the commander who surrendered Fort Sumter to Confederate forces exactly four years earlier, joined Gillmore in raising the American flag over the cradle of the insurrection. On the same day, Gillmore issued General Orders, No. 44 (Department of the South) announcing that “Until further orders, the headquarters of the department will be at Fort Sumter.” Tragically, the celebration was cut short when John Wilkes Booth murdered President Abraham Lincoln that evening in Washington.
Gillmore remained in command of the Department of the South until November 17, 1865. Afterward, he returned to Washington and mustered out of the volunteer army on December 5, 1865. Following the Civil War, Gillmore remained in the regular army serving with the Corps of Engineers. The army promoted him to lieutenant colonel on June 3, 1864, and to colonel on February 20, 1883.
Gillmore died on April 7, 1888, in Brooklyn, New York, leaving behind his second wife, Laura Merrifield, and four sons from his first marriage to Mary Isabella O’Maher. Gillmore’s children and his widow subsequently became embroiled in a bitter dispute regarding the terms of the general’s will after his burial at West Point Cemetery on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy.
One of Gilmore’s sons and grandsons, also named Quincy Gillmore, became Generals in the U.S. Army.