Credited with the reduction of Fort Puaski in April 1862, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore carried the reputation as both a master and pioneer of siege warfare, using techniques based on new technology. During the operations at Fort Pulaski, Gillmore contracted malaria and took sick leave through the summer of 1862. When Confederate advances threatened the Ohio Valley, Gillmore returned to field duty in Kentucky. After putting his engineering skills to use improving fortifications, Gillmore took command of a division defending central Kentucky. Gillmore did manage to defeat Confederate raiders in the Battle of Somerset, March 31, 1863. Otherwise his command was a quiet backwater of the war.
But events would bring Gillmore back to the southern coasts. Advance notice of the transfer reached Gillmore after mid-May. To General George W. Cullum, the Army’s Chief of Staff in Washington, Gillmore wrote, rather bluntly, on May 23, 1863:
General: It has come to my knowledge that my name has been mentioned to the Secretary of War in connection with the reduction of the forts in Charleston Harbor, and it has been urgently suggested to place me in a position where I could direct and control the operations of the land forces against that place. Two or three communications from prominent men here have been sent to the Secretary.
It is not necessary to inform you, who are so well acquainted with me, that I am not in the habit of pushing myself forward or thrusting my professional opinion unasked upon the notice of those in authority. In my daily intercourse with gentlemen of my acquaintance I am, however, always free to answer questions and I have at sundry times and in sundry places expressed the opinion that the forts in Charleston Harbor could be reduced by the means (naval and military combined) now available in the Department of the South, increased by a suitable number of the best heavy rifled guns, provided these have not been sent there since I left that department one year ago.
I have also said that I am willing to risk my own reputation upon the attempt, as I did at Pulaski, provided I could be allowed the untrammeled execution of my own plans (as at Pulaski), except so far as they involved co-operation from the Navy.
You are at liberty to show this letter to the general-in-chief or any one else.
I expect to remain here until the evening of the 27th instant, and then go directly to Cincinnati.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Q. A. Gillmore, Brigadier-General.
There are two errors often cited with respect to Gillmore’s return to the Department of the South. Some sources credit Gillmore as Major-General Ormsby Mitchel’s replacement to head the Tenth Corps. With the Tenth Corps being the main field element of the Department of the South, the two commands were for the most part one and the same. However, Mitchel died of yellow fever in October 1862 after having just assumed command of the corps. Temporarily, Brigadier-General John M. Brannan commanded the corps and the department. Under orders posted on January 20, 1863, Major-General David Hunter assumed command. With the Tenth Corps and parts of the Eighteenth Corps assigned to the Department of the South, Hunter could have designated subordinate commands. However disagreements with Major-General John Foster and operational needs must have precluded such organizational changes. Instead Hunter commanded, on paper, both the department and corps, with individual divisions and brigades reporting to headquarters at Hilton Head. So…with that long explanation in place … Gillmore was not sent to replace Mitchel.
But that leads to the other error often made about Gillmore’s arrival. It is often said that Hunter was relieved in reaction to the burning of Darien, Georgia. Under that line of reasoning, Gillmore went to the department as the “ringer” to deal with Fort Sumter, then found himself elevated to command the department after Hunter’s relief. This is simply not true. Special Orders No. 249 from Army Headquarters in Washington make this clear:
By direction of the President, Major-General Hunter is temporarily relieved from command of the Department of the South ,and will report to the Adjutant-General for special duty in Washington. Brig. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore is assigned by the President to the temporary command of the Department of the South.
Date on the orders – June 3, 1863.
Date of the burning of Darien – June 11, 1863.
Date Gillmore officially arrived and assumed command – June 12, 1863.
Do the math.
The last week of May through the first half of June was an interesting period of activity along the South Carolina-Florida coast. Federal raids along the coastline (not just Darien) soon dispelled the belief summer would bring inactivity. Confederates would soon find themselves less one ironclad (and a good one at that). And in addition to the replacement of Hunter, the Navy had already cut orders to bring Admiral Andrew H. Foote down to replace Admiral Samuel DuPont. (But fate would have it that Foote would die before assuming command, which would bring another actor to the stage – John Dahlgren.)
Things were heating up along the southern coast… meteorologically and operationally.
(Gilmore’s letter is from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 459. Special Orders No. 249 is on page 464.)