Charleston needs more troops: the fifth point considered by Beauregard’s Board

Continuing with a point-by-point analysis of the board of general officers convened on March 16, 1863, the fifth point of consideration was that of troop strength:

What additional force of artillery and infantry respectively is required for the proper defense of Charleston and the approaches thereto, including a movable reserve column, the effective strength of each arm at present available being reported.

The board recalled estimates made in October 1862, which concluded the defense of Charleston required 21,561 troops in addition to the 6,500 or so already there. That force, of just over 30,000, was deemed sufficient to defend against like sized Federal force. So in the previous fall, the Confederate defenders possessed just over a quarter of the strength they estimated was required.

The board justified these numbers citing geography and the nature of the Federal threat:

The numerous approaches to the city of Charleston and the absolute necessity of holding certain points requiring strong garrisons will account for the strength of the estimate.

While the board consider the force necessary in case the attack is made by the enemy in the strength estimated, they are of opinion that it would also suffice if it were made in stronger force, for the reason that the advantages which he possesses in his facilities for transportation would not obtain to a great extent in moving a force much exceeding 30,000 men…

Although in greater numbers since the previous October, Charleston’s defenders remained far below that which the board required. Returns posted just before the board convened indicated the First Military District defending Charleston had 2,062 heavy artillery, 779 light artillery, 1,101 cavalry, and 6,551 infantry for a total of 10,493 effective strength. This still left a shortfall of over 16,500 (according to the report, by my figuring the shortage is 17,500) against the required numbers.

The board further pointed out that while some of the increased numbers came from recruiting activities, a significant increase was due to the recall of a brigade from Wilmington, North Carolina. The board urged a permanent increase in the Charleston garrison.

… in view of the still existing deficiency and the probability that a considerable length of time must elapse after the congency arises before this point could be re-enforced to the extent required, the board consider it of the utmost importance that two strong brigades should be added to the permanent strength of the department without delay. This would give force to check an enemy until the larger re-enforcements could arrive, and would make the strength of the whole command nearly that under General R. E. Lee when the vicinity was threatened by General Sherman’s army, from 12,000 to 20,000 strong, and the fleet of Admiral DuPont, without monitors or iron-clad floating batteries.

That last sentence, I believe, was aimed towards an audience in Richmond. Correspondence from several officers, to include General P.G.T. Beauregard, mentioned the strength and state of affairs when General Lee was in command of the department. Certainly those numbers were offered as a frame of reference as Charleston’s defenders called for more resources. And, yes, I think one can read some jealousy into the situation. The board further pressed that the situation in March 1863 was far worse than what faced Lee the previous year. “The force as reported under Generals Hunter or Burnside at Port Royal now is from 35,000 to 40,000, and Admiral DuPont’s fleet has six monitors and one iron-clad battery of which we know.” Facing this increased threat, Charleston’s defenders numbered a third of what the board deemed

The board did have one more point to consider. In the first post in this series I briefly mentioned the conclusions reached about the number of negro laborers supplied. Suffice to say the numbers were far below that required and expected.

In his endorsement of the board report, Beauregard did address the deficiencies in troop strength.

The general commanding is of opinion that, with due regard for the safety of Savannah and other important points, the total re-enforcements he could collect in about one week’s time for the defense of Charleston could not possibly exceed 10,000 men of all arms, thus leaving still required, according to the estimate of the board, 6,563, or about three brigades, which would be located at present as follows, if they could be had, to wit: One brigade between the Edisto (Pon Pon) and Combahee; another in Saint Andrew’s Parish, and the third to be used as a movable column, to re-enforce any point suddenly threatened by the enemy.

Of note, Beauregard’s headquarters posted an overall report of troop strength for the entire department a few days after the board concluded:

DeptSC_GA_FL_Str_Mar63

Just looking at the bottom line, Beauregard barely had enough men in the department to exceed the strength required by the board for Charleston. The line, attributed to General U.S. Grant, comes to mind here – they have not army enough.

Beauregard concluded his endorsement by further lamenting the shortage of labor. “The want of a sufficient number of negroes has been long felt, and has materially crippled the artificial defenses of Charleston.”

On the eve of spring campaigns, Charleston’s defenders rated themselves at a disadvantage. The board detailed deficiencies in guns, fortifications, and personnel. Time would show concerns over the ironclad threat to be overestimated. But at the same time, fears of a large Federal land force proved valid and actually played directly against the weaknesses recorded by the board.

(The board report and Beauregard’s endorsement appear in OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 829-833. The troop strength table is from page 840 of the same volume. )

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One response to “Charleston needs more troops: the fifth point considered by Beauregard’s Board

  1. Pingback: Guns covering the harbor: Charleston’s inner ring of defenses | To the Sound of the Guns

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