A bold plan against the Confederate railroads: Seymour looks towards Branchville

When South Carolina seceded, Truman Seymour was a thirty-seven year old captain at the start of the war, stationed at Fort Moultrie.  He was among those who manned Fort Sumter during the opening battle of the war.  In the fall of 1862, he returned to serve as Major-General David Hunter’s Chief of Staff.  He’d taken field command and lead troops during the initial assaults on Battery Wagner in July 1863.  So you might say, for a Vermonter, he was very familiar with the area around Charleston.

In the last days of October, Seymour assumed temporary command of the troops on Morris Island, as Brigadier General Alfred Terry took leave.  Seymour took that opportunity to advance an idea about where to strike next in a memorandum addressed on October 31, 1863:

The Southern Confederacy consists of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, forming a line from Richmond to Mobile. Originally there were three great lines of communication through these States, but one has been lost by the permanent occupation of Chattanooga, and the value of the two remaining is, necessarily, greatly enhanced. Our permanent seizure of them would severely paralyze the Confederacy.

Now, attacks upon the flanks or extremities of this line, from Rich-mend to Mobile, even if perfectly successful, must be indecisive, if not futile, since the defeated armies are driven upon the center of this line, where they would concentrate their strength and avail themselves of interior lines.

Offensive movements, therefore, that can give us this advantage are greatly to be preferred, particularly if they place our armies upon the enemy’s communications.

Such movements cannot advantageously be made from Chattanooga. An advance from that point involves a march of 120 miles to Atlanta, and thence 80 more to Macon, in the face of a powerful army, holding strong defensive positions, by roads almost impracticable during winter, and with lines of supply so extended that even now they cannot be considered as perfectly secure. But these two routes approach very closely to the Atlantic coast between Charleston and Savannah.

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The occupation of Charleston is, however, unessential, since it still leaves open the route by Kingsville, Branchville, and Augusta, and the swampy defiles in rear of Charleston would not easily be forced.

Between Charleston and Savannah are several excellent harbors from which deep streams penetrate far inland, and numerous “sea islands” that would serve as depots and bases. The Edisto, Ashepoo, Combahee, and Broad Rivers are navigable up to the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. A force suddenly thrown upon this road–which is rather watched than guarded–would appear to be with a view to an attack upon one or both the cities named. An advance of two days would suffice to reach Branchville. This point fortified, with communications protected by the Edisto and Combahee (or Savannah) Rivers, with the Ashepoo between navigable nearly to Walterborough, based upon the railroad from Jacksonborough to Coosawhatchie and the islands already in our possession, and all free communication ceases between the extreme States of the Confederacy.

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Forty or fifty thousand men should commence such a movement, and as many more rapidly support it. The northern armies could supply that force as soon as winter forbids active operations. Volunteer and drafted troops would defend the Potomac meantime. If necessary, such detachments could return in the spring, although in all probability the battle would be fought entirely in South Carolina, and Lee’s army, if not a portion of Bragg’s, would be immediately withdrawn to oppose such permanent occupation of these vital lines of communication.

Large numbers of blacks would be enabled to enter our lines, and the country is at all seasons of the year exceedingly healthy, being “pine land,” and the roads excellent winter and summer, so that operations need never be hindered by the seasons.

These suggestions, affecting a projected theater of operations within this department, are therefore respectfully submitted.

Major-General Quincy Gillmore enthusiastically indorsed Seymour’s proposal, forwarding it along to Major-General Henry Halleck for consideration.

Halleck, however, had to consider other theaters and their pressing requests at the time Seymour’s suggestion arrived.  The situation at Chattanooga remained a tense knot.  The Army of the Potomac faced its traditional foe across the Rappahannock, and would within a few days cross and launch a short campaign of its own.  And General Nathaniel Banks had something up in Louisiana.  The Department of the South was, in the fall of 1863, returning to its place as a less active theater, with a commensurate reduction in forces due before the winter was over.

But Seymour’s proposal is good fodder for a game of “what if?”  Worth noting, the proposal did point to some of the same weaknesses considered by Confederates earlier in the month.

(Seymour’s memorandum is from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 112-115.)

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4 responses to “A bold plan against the Confederate railroads: Seymour looks towards Branchville

  1. Seymour apparently had a very clear concept of the value of “interior lines” that modern military strategists so often talked about in the twentieth century. Halleck, the archetype of the “Red Tab,” should certainly have seen the value of such a plan, even given the mess that had transpired at Chickamauga–and we all know the outcome of Fredericksburg. It would have eviscerated the Confederacy without the tremendous loss of life and two more years of war that did transpire.

  2. Pingback: Another “Truman Seymour plan”: Close Cape Fear soon! | To the Sound of the Guns

  3. I think initially the plan may had some success, but it would have been very difficult to hold such a position. The idea isn’t a bad one, but its execution would have been difficult to carry out.

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