The Military Districts of South Carolina

Call this a resource post – the boring administrative details behind the other stories and threads.  For the Federals operating in the Department of the South, organization is relatively straight forward.  Both the Army and the Navy forces operated, generally speaking, across the same set of boundaries.  A close relation exists for the main elements of the Tenth Corps and South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  While divisions operated in front of Charleston, supported by major fleet elements, brigades garrisoned other locations supported by gunboats.

General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida matched that of the Federal department, for the most part, in terms of geography. But let’s just say the organization of Confederate forces in the department continually required adjustment.  Particularly within South Carolina.  In April 1863, when the ironclads first attacked Fort Sumter, Beauregard had three military districts within South Carolina:

  • First Military District under Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley covering from the Stono River, at Rantowles Creek, north to North Carolina.
  • Second Military District under Brigadier-General Johnson Hagood, with the land between the Stono and Ashepoo River under charge.
  • Third Military District under Brigadier-General W.S. Walker with everything between the Ashepoo and Savannah Rivers.

Earlier in February, Beauregard consolidated the Fourth Military District, which had covered the coast between the Santee River and North Carolina, including the small port of Georgetown, into the First Military District.  As such, the defense of South Carolina’s coast, from an administrative standpoint, looked liked this:

SCMilitaryDistrictsAPR63

The largest of these districts, the first, included several subordinate commands (dashed lines) including James Island and St. Andrew’s Parish, Sullivan’s Island and Christ Church Parish, Morris Island, Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney and Fort Ripley, Georgetown and vicinity, and the City of Charleston itself.  While the First District contained about a division’s strength of troops, the other two districts were at best reinforced brigades.

This arrangement remained in place through July. At that point, the Federal operations necessitated some changes. The Second and Third Military Districts remained unchanged in terms of geographic coverage, but with with much reduced troop strength.  With much of the infantry reallocated to defend the outer Charleston defenses, neither district retained more than a regiment strength overall, and most of that was cavalry and artillery.  Beauregard reconstituted the Fourth Military District.  The Fourth, likewise, was assigned mostly cavalry and artillery.

SCMilitaryDistrictsJuly63

The First Military District reorganized to include five sub-divisions. On July 30 the organization was:

  • First Sub-Division on James Island and including St. Andrew’s Parrish.
  • Second Sub-Division on Sullivan’s Island and including Christ Church Parrish.
  • Third Sub-Division on Morris Island.
  • Fourth Sub-Division at Fort Sumter and including Castle Pinckney and Fort Ripley.
  • Fifth Sub-Division garrisoning the inner defenses of Charleston itself and including the upper reaches of Charleston Neck.

The fall of Batteries Wagner and Gregg brought on the need to re-arrange this organization.  Special Orders No. 218, issued on October 22, reduced Ripley’s First Military Division in size, though not in importance.  The orders carved out three new districts from the old First:

1. Fort Sumter, Sullivan’s and Long Island, and the parishes of Christ Church and Saint Thomas, under Brigadier-General Ripley, will be designated as the First Military District.

2. The city, to include the lines on the Neck, Fort Ripley, and Castle Pinckney, under Colonel [Alfred] Rhett, will be designated as the Fifth Military District.

3. The parish of Saint Andrew’s will be divided into two districts; the first, commanded by Brigadier-General [Henry] Wise, to embrace all that part south of the Ashley River and west of Wappoo Cut, and to include the têtes-de-pont at Rantowles Station and the work at Church Flats, will be designated as the Sixth Military District; the second, to include James Island, under Brigadier-General [William] Taliaferro, will be designated as the Seventh Military District.

The new arrangements looked as thus on the map:

SCMilitaryDistrictsOct63

The orders stipulated that the commanders of those three new districts would report directly to the department headquarters.  Thus for the first time in the year a significant portion of the defense of Charleston lay outside the command of Ripley.

Threats to the Charleston and Savannah Railroad prompted another change in early December.  Under Special Orders No. 257, the boundaries of the Second, Third, and Sixth Military Districts were adjusted to provide better defense of that valuable line:

1. The Sixth Military District, Brigadier-General Wise commanding, will extend to embrace all the country to the east bank of the North Edisto, from the mouth to Gioham’s Ferry.  The headquarters of this district will be at or near Adams Run.

2. The Second Military District, brigadier-General [Beverly] Robinson commanding, will include all of the country between the western limit of the Sixth Military District and the Combahee and the Little Salkehatchie Rivers, and the southern boundary of Barnwell district to the Edisto River.  Headquarters at or near the Ashepoo Railroad Bridge.

3. The Third Military District will include all between the western limits of the Second Military District an the Savannah River.  Brigadier-General Walker will transfer, if necessary, his headquarters to such a point in his district as he may find best suited for the discharge of his duties.

As depicted on the map, this new arrangement, spread responsibilities for the defense of the railroad more equitably between the three districts:

SCMilitaryDistrictsDec63

An organizational report posted for December 31, 1863 indicated the following strengths within the districts:

  • First – 4,541 man effective strength, with fourteen field artillery pieces, and heavy artillery in the forts.
  • Second – 1,799 man effective strength and four pieces of artillery.
  • Third – 4,140 man effective strength and twenty-one artillery pieces.
  • Fourth – 1,186 man effective strength and six artillery pieces.
  • Fifth – 1,611 man effective strength with heavy guns posted in the batteries along Charleston’s waterfront.
  • Sixth – 2,842  man effective strength and sixteen artillery pieces.
  • Seventh – 6,007  man effective strength, eight field pieces, plus heavy guns in Fort Johnson and other fortifications on James Island.

The arrangement of December 2nd put Legareville within the zone controlled by the Sixth Military District.  Thus the orders issued to General Wise on December 17, instead of to General Hagood, who commanded troops on nearby James Island.  Importantly, Ripley, who had played a very prominent role in operations up to this time, was excluded from the activities in that critical sector.

The evolution of organization within the forces defending South Carolina begs for a more detailed treatment, down to the individual regiments, battalion, company, and battery.  That should also include examination of the command assignments.  But with so many changes through the year, I struggle to find a good method depicting such on a web-based platform.  A challenge!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 441 and 538-9.)

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2 responses to “The Military Districts of South Carolina

  1. Pingback: “The position itself is a strong one…”: A call to improve the defenses of Georgetown, SC | To the Sound of the Guns

  2. Pingback: “Two-thirds of my brigade are dismounted….”: The South Carolina cavalry swap | To the Sound of the Guns

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