“The Hero of Battery Wagner…”

July 18, 1863

 

“…I desire to bring most conspicuously to the notice of the brigadier-general commanding the name of Lieutenant [J.H.] Powe, whose coolness, skill, and gallantry were unsurpassed.  I regret to say he was severely wounded…”

                                                        Report of William B. Taliaferro, Brigadier-General,

                                                        July 21, 1863.  [O.R. Vol. XXVIII, page 420.]

                                                                                             

--melainotype of Captain James Harrington Powe (1835-1898), in brooch,

--ambrotype of Josephine Robbins Powe (1837-1917), his wife,

--daguerreotype of Charlotte Harrington Powe (1809-1859), his mother,

--Palmetto Guard button, from his uniform.

 

Dr. James Harrington Powe was educated in Cheraw, South Carolina schools and at the South Carolina College.  He attended West Point for two years, but did not complete the course of study.  Instead, he returned home and studied medicine, graduating at the Charleston Medical College.  He started his practice at Cheraw, but in February, 1861 he was appointed by Governor Pickens as a Lieutenant in Company D, 1st Regiment of South Carolina Infantry, stationed at Sullivan’s Island.  That regiment acted as heavy artillery at Fort Moultrie.  He was sent to Battery Wagner on Morris Island, where on July 18, 1863 he was hit by a Union cannon shell fragment.  Powe was taken to his home in Cheraw.  He was promoted to Captain and retired with full pay.  He was partially paralyzed for eight to ten years.  After his recovery he commenced farming, doing so for 20 years.  After 1885 he rented his lands and, for a while, was engaged in the weather bureau service.  He also devoted considerable time to preparing articles for the instruction of the young. 

 

In 1909, Harriet Powe Lynch published her father’s reminiscences of the war, appropriately titled Reminiscences and Sketches of Confederate Times.  This little book, 44 pages in length, included articles written by Powe about his memories of the Battles of Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner.   The latter action of July 18, 1863, which is known to history as the battle in which the Union Negro regiment, 54th Massachusetts charged the works in a night attack, which was also remembered as the subject of the recent movie “Glory.”  Captain Powe describes his own memories of that day, events in which a man named Madison Levy took a prominent role.  These are his words, from a paper read before Camp Kershaw, U.C.V., February, 1894:

 

“…such a tempest, such a terrible cannonade could not continue much longer without further injury to ourselves, so, as I was aiming my gun (3:30 p.m.) there came a shell which gave me my quietus and I was thrown some way in the rear of my gun.  I was taken into the bomb-proof and received what treatment could be given me…it is thought that more than nine thousand shot and shell were thrown into or at Wagner on that occasion…”

 

“There is one short episode of this period I would relate, and then I am done.  This has reference to the devotion and kindly feeling existing between master and servant during those troublous times…”

 

“I had with me a very faithful and efficient servant in whose charge I placed my wife and child, sending them to Mt. Pleasant across the bridge, thence to Charleston by steamer, and so home by rail...I saw my servant on the steamboat.  He had been quite sick.  I told him not to accompany me, but to return to his quarters and take care of himself.  He left me, as I thought, but had really hidden himself.  The first person that I saw on reaching Morris Island was this same man.  Of course he could not be sent back.  He served me in every way that he could during the 16th and 17th.

 

“Very early on the 18th, the officers, seeing how affairs were tending as to the enemy, called their servants and sent them off by steamer to Charleston.  I told mine to go also.  He positively refused to leave me.  He took up a position in the bomb-proof, where he could see me, and there remained.

 

“When I was shot and thrown off into the parade, he saw me fall and urged one of my own soldiers to go for me.  This soldier lost his life in the attempt; another succeeded, and with the aid of my servant, carried me into the dead room.  He then searched around until he found one of the busy surgeons, who after examining me closely, pronounced me dead and left me, to attend to the many wounded.  My man begged him for some stimulant with which to work over me.  He gave him a bottle of spirits and a paper of cayenne pepper.  I had on only one sleeve of my coat, and my trousers, the rest of my clothing having been torn off me by a shell.  He rid me of this clothing, wetting me with the spirits and sprinkling the pepper.  After rubbing me seven and a half hours I began to show signs of life.  At dawn the next morning he and a soldier had me on a stretcher, conveying me to the steamboat landing.  When half-way down, the soldier refused to go any farther, for it was dangerous in the extreme, so this faithful man carried me alone on his shoulders. 

 

“Several days after, when on my way home, I asked him why he would not go with the other servants on the 18th.  He said, “Marse, when I carried Miss Josie (my wife) over to Charleston on the 10th, she told me not to leave you and if you were killed to bring your body to her; that was the reason I would not leave you.”

 

“This man was well known to you all; his name was Madison Levy.