Author Archives: Craig Swain

October 27, 1864: “Thursday morning the bombardment of the city was renewed.” Charleston remained under siege

Reporting on Thursday, October 27, 1864, the Charleston Mercury ran this account of operations around the city:

Siege of Charleston.

Four Hundred and Seventy-sixth Day.

Forty shots were fired at the city Tuesday night.  The firing on the city ceased about daylight Wednesday morning. The firing on Wednesday was confined to a few scattering shots at the wreck of the Flora and at James Island. The enemy were engaged Wednesday mounting a new gun at Battery Wagner.

Wednesday morning a fatal explosion of a two hundred pounder Parrott shell took place, resulting in the melancholy death of Lieut. L.P. Mays, Lieut. John Dardon and Private Smannon, of Company E, 32d Georgia Regiment, and severely wounding Lieut. David E. Willis, of the same company and regiment.  Captain Moblay had a very narrow escape, being in the same room but remaining untouched.

Their remains were forwarded Wednesday to their friends in Georgia.

There was no change of importance in the fleet.

The paper also carried news from other fronts.  With respect to operations nearer Atlanta, “The army movements in Georgia are puzzling many readers…” owing to a lack of information.  And the puzzle would remain for a few weeks.  From Richmond came news that President Jefferson Davis called for November 16 as a day of prayer for “deliverance and peace.”  And form elsewhere in Virginia, General Jubal Early provided an assessment of the recent defeat at Cedar Creek, “attributing their recent defeat to a disgraceful propensity to plunder and panic….”

The paper also mentioned the sale act auction, by Mr. James L. Gantt, of some 10 slaves.  “A woman – cook and washer, 22 years old, with a child 4 years old, $8000…. Man, 19 years old, field hand, $6000….”  In the wartime economy, the price of slaves had increased considerably – something on the order of a ten-fold increase.  And slavery continued to thrive in spite of that inflation.

For the next day, the Charleston Mercury related the actions which took place 150 years ago today (October 27, 1864):

 Siege of Charleston

Four Hundred and Seventy-seventh Day.

There was no firing Wednesday night, the enemy batteries remaining silent. Thursday morning the bombardment of the city was renewed, and towards evening became quite brisk, the enemy firing from three guns in rapid succession. Up to six o’clock P.M., thirty-nine shots had been fired.

The enemy were again busily employed hauling ammunition during the day to Battery Gregg and the Middle Battery.

A monitor was towed from inside the bar Thursday forenoon and went South.

There was no other change of importance.

The monitor seen going south was likely the USS Nantucket, headed for Hilton Head for repairs.  Such details, which match well with operational records, indicate how closely the newspaper, and thus the civilian population, followed the military situation at Charleston.  And, as the headline read, the people of Charleston felt themselves under the guns for over a year by that time.  Count back 477 days from October 28, 1864 and the product is July 10, 1863, when the Federals assaulted Morris Island. By the fall of 1864, canons were background noise in many places throughout the South.  No more so than Charleston.


Ripley’s Plan to recapture Morris Island

In October 1864, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley was beyond “fallen into disfavor.” Even General P.G.T. Beauregard recommended his relief.  But Ripley was not one to sit aside waiting for letters in the mail.  Perhaps looking for a way out of the “dog house,” on October 25, 1864, Ripley send forward a memorandum outlining a plan to retake Morris Island:

To recapture and occupy Morris Island the operation must take the nature of a surprise. The mechanical appliances of the enemy, his means of transportation, and vigilance, as well as the nature of the position, forbid any attempt at regular attack. The latter would certainly involve a greater loss of life and expenditure of material, even if successful, than a surprise would risk, and the chances of success are much in favor of the latter method. I would propose that in a period when high water is, at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, after the setting of the moon, the attempt should be made. A few days previous to it a demonstration of collecting troops at Bluffton should take place and strong reconnaissance of the vicinity of Hilton Head and Port Royal should be made by boats and any means in our power. The effect of this movement could be ascertained by watching the enemy’s fleet off Charleston; probably by his signals and the movements of the garrison of Morris Island. It would probably attract his attention, for the passage of Scull Creek from the main is quite easy, and the positions at Hilton Head and Beaufort, under present circumstances, are quite weakly garrisoned, and must remain so until the main operations in the field are over, or their localities changed.

For a conceptual plan, this is not too much of a reach – catch the tides right and make a diversionary move.  As for the Federal defenses, Ripley figured a garrison of only 2,500 on Morris Island, with Fort Shaw and the works on Cumming’s Point being the main strong points.

The main force called for in Ripley’s plan was some 3,000 men loaded on board “three light-draught and tolerably swift-running steamers from the blockade-runners….” These would carry boat howitzers, gang-planks, and other equipments to facilitate rapid debarkation.  Ripley wanted these vessels staged behind Battery Marshall on the northern end of Sullivan’s Island.  And…

On each boat there should be a naval detachment of sailors, under competent and cool officers, for handling the rigging of the planks and other duties of seamanship, and the captains, and engineers and pilots should be selected for their skill, coolness, and intrepidity.

Supporting the main effort would be several diversionary forces.  From Secessionville and Battery Haskell, detachments of 100 to 150 men in boats would mount demonstrations against Black Island.  Another force of 500 troops on boats at Charleston or staged behind Fort Johnson to appear poised in an attack on Cumming’s Point.  A cavalry force would appear on John’s Island to threaten the Stono Inlet anchorage.  And in the harbor, the gunboats and ironclads would make their presence known.    To facilitate coordination, Ripley wanted a telegraph run as a “hot loop” putting all commanders in direct contact.

On the appointed evening, two hours before the steamers left Breach Inlet, the boat forces would demonstrate against Black Island followed shortly after with actions towards Cummng’s Point.  All the batteries around the harbor would also open up on Morris Island.  The object was to draw forces away from Fort Shaw and the garrison camps to the north end of Morris Island and Black Island.  Ripley felt this would also pull the inner blockaders towards Cumming’s Point and open a path for his three steamers.

The two first steamers to run nearly together and to make with all speed for the southern extremity of Morris Island and run stem on shore, high and dry if possible. Gang-planks to be dropped at once and the men, rushing ashore over the bows, deploy forward advancing and move at a charging pace against Fort Shaw, which is about 100 yards from the shore and easily accessible. Axes and hatchets must be carried to cut away chevaux-de-frise if met with, but it is believed that this fort is unprovided. This fact can easily be ascertained. The fort being once occupied the boat howitzers must be brought in to increase the armament, cover taken against Folly Island, fire opened upon transports in the inlet, and a party sent down to drive the guard from the battery at Oyster Point. These duties will occupy at least half the force. The garrison of Fort Shaw is not very large, the main body being encamped to its north. The remainder of the troops must form across the island and advance at once toward Wagner, driving any troops which may be in the camp before them or taking them prisoners. While this progresses the commander of the third steamer diverges from the two first and runs his vessel on shore at Battery Wagner, striving to strike at the southeast angle, lands as at Battery Shaw, and storms the work while attention of the enemy is directed to Gregg. The party from Shaw re-enforces him, the guns of Wagner are opened upon the fleet and on the middle battery and Gregg. Our fleet and boats retire while all our batteries keep up their fire on Gregg, the middle battery and Black Island.

Ripley expected the Federals on Black Island and any isolated pockets on Morris Island to surrender.  Furthermore, the blockaders would have to pull back outside the bar.  Such would roll the situation at Charleston back and erase fifteen months of Federal progress.

A very complicated plan to say the least.  Just to give you a visual, I’ve dropped my interpretation of Ripley’s plan on a map of the Charleston area:


I’ve given my best guess as to the route for Ripley’s steamers to take.  I figure the steamers had to use dangerous Maffitt’s Channel for the move.  Otherwise the shoals required a long transit out and back through the outer blockade. And for all of this to work the Federals had to act in a very predictable pattern responding to the demonstrations.

Recognizing the complication and risk, Ripley submitted:

This appears, somewhat complicated as a measure of attack, but after a full consideration, I do not think any other promises so well. It depends upon secrecy and boldness of execution as well as careful judgment on such information as we can obtain. It ruins three steam-boats certainly, and if it fails, loses some 3,000 men. The advantages of success it is hardly necessary to speak of. We have often risked more on quite as hazardous expeditions, where less was to have been gained.

Considering Ripley’s plan, keep in mind three were only around 4,800 Confederates in the vicinity of Charleston.  Lieutenant-General William Hardee could call upon 12,446 effectives in all of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.  So to implement Ripley’s plan, reinforcements were needed.  And if successful, and the odds were long on that, the Confederates would only succeed in making Charleston a little more open to blockade runners.  By October 1864, 3,000 men was a rather large portion of the remaining chips to bet on a long shot.

On the other had, if this plan received at least some consideration, it would serve the purpose intended – giving Ripley some favorable attention.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 640-643.)

October 25, 1864: “The morale of the army runined” and Price soundly defeated

After the defeat at Westport on October 23, 1864, Major-General Sterling Price was able to extract his Army of Missouri and begin a retreat southward.  The Federals pursued, of course.  Unlike some campaigns of the Civil War, the pursuit was aggressive and actually landed some blows on the retreating enemy.  Three in fact came in a series of engagement on October 25.

Price had in mind the capture of Fort Scott, Kansas (correctly re-capture as Price had captured the post in 1861), which promised more supplies to add to his take from Missouri.  So heading south from the Kansas City area, Price turned his forces south-westerly across the state line.


This course took Price over several tributaries to the Osage River, each high from recent rains.  To move his wagon train, Price had to carefully move across fords on those watercourses while fending off the Federal pursuit.  That need to protect the wagons lead to a series of engagements which were among the war’s largest cavalry battles.

Major-General Alfred Pleasonton’s provisional cavalry division pressed south after the battle of Westport.  On the morning of October 25, Pleasonton attacked Price’ rear guard, under Major-General James Fagan, at the crossings over Marais des Cygens.  With artillery support, Pleasonton’s lead brigades drove the Confederates away from their camps.   Pleasonton then pushed out Colonel John Philips’ brigade in pursuit.  Philips caught up with Fagan’s division, now reinforced with Major-General John Marmaduke’s division, six miles south protecting the crossing over Mine Creek.  Though outnumbered and facing a line reinforced with artillery, Philips had one great advantage – his force was organized.  With that, Philips held his ground and triggered one of the largest cavalry engagements of the war at just before 11:00 a.m.:

It was manifest that the enemy was preparing to charge by advancing in double column from his right and left center. At this juncture Benteen’s brigade came up on my left,, and as soon as his advance regiment got into position I began the attack. Everything depended on striking the enemy before his dispositions for a charge were completed. [Colonel Frederick] Benteen’s brigade came down on the enemy’s right handsomely and fiercely. Two pieces of our artillery came up and opened fire. My brigade was precipitated on the enemy’s center and left with tremendous energy, when the fighting became general and terrific. The impetuosity of the onset surprised and confounded the enemy. He trembled and wavered and the wild shouts of our soldiers rising above the din of battle told that he gave way. With pistol we dashed into his disorganized ranks and the scenes of death was as terrible as the victory was speedy and glorious. Major-General Marmaduke, Brigadier-General Cabell, some colonels, several line officers, four guns, one stand of colors, and a large number of prisoner were captured by this brigade. The ground in our front was strewn with the enemy’s dead, dying, and wounded. Every gun the enemy pointed at us fell into our hands. Our advantage was followed up as energetically as possible, making the rout complete. This successful charge produced great consternation and demoralization among the enemy, as evidenced by his rapid flight, the destruction of much of his train, the disgorging and scattering of his ill-gotten plunder.

Some attribute the success of Philips and Benteen to their trooper’s armament – carbines compared to the Confederate muzzle-loaders.  I would submit, while firepower was important, the key to this engagement was leadership from the regimental level up.  While Federal officers were conspicuous and successful in their efforts to urge the troops forward, the Confederate officers were unable to do so with their commands.  Price observed,

… I met the divisions of Major-Generals Fagan and Marmaduke retreating in utter and indescribable confusion, many of them having thrown away their arms.  They were deaf to all entreaties or commands, and in vain were all efforts to rally them.


In the confusion, the Federals captured Marmaduke and two of Fagan’s brigade commanders.  They also picked up almost all of the Confederate artillery.  Price now faced a situation beyond just “deteriorated.”  His command had collapsed. The only element left to throw into the fray was Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division.  With two of his brigades, Shelby put up a delaying action then fell back to the Little Osage River.  There, in position on high banks, managed to parry the Federal thrust for the moment.  As he later wrote, “All that men could do had been done.” After an hour fight there, Shelby fell back.

Now Pleasonton brought up two fresh brigades under Brigadier-General John McNeil to pick up the pursuit. But the aggressive pattern that carried the morning did pass forward with McNeil.  He followed the routed Confederates for several miles.  Colonel Sidney Jackman’s brigade, the only fresh (relatively speaking) Confederate force, made a charge to by valuable time.  Finally at the crossing of Marmiton River (Marmeton River today), McNeil confronted what he thought was a rallied Confederate line.   It was the remains of Shelby’s and Fagan’s divisions, bolstered by unarmed men to make an appearance of strength.   McNeil was content to shell the Confederate line from across the river until nightfall.


For the day, Pleasonton’s cavalrymen harried Price’s column over four crossings.  The action at every point was fought mostly by cavalry, with a handful of artillery pieces playing in.  Summarizing the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Lauchlan MacLean, providing Price’s itinerary, wrote:

Marmaduke, Cabell, and Slemons taken prisoners; 5 pieces of artillery captured, and the morale of the army ruined.  Everything hurried on, a mass of confusion, from which it took every exertion to redeem it… twenty-eight miles.

As many of the wagon teams were broken down from two days hard marching, that night Price burned what he could not move further.  By crossing the Marmiton River, Price had returned to Missouri.  But he was in the southwestern part of the state where forage was short.  The loss of supplies meant the army had to take a round about march to return south.

Pleasonton reported 1,000 prisoners including the senior officers mentioned above.  But for all that, the victory was not complete.  And nor could the Federal cavalry follow up the next day.  As Pleasonton reported,

The exhausted condition of my men and horses, having marched near 100 miles in two days and a night, and fighting the last thirty miles, required that I should proceed to the vicinity of Fort Scott for forage and subsistence.

Pleasonton would complain that Major-General Samuel Curtis failed to follow up the advance, or else Price’s command would have ended right there.  However, Brigadier-General James Blunt was still in pursuit and have one more go at Price before all was said and done.

Price’s Army of Missouri was, for all practical purposes, broken on October 25, 1864.  But it still existed as an organization.  Perhaps that was the biggest outcome of the campaign from a military standpoint.  In Price’s ragged ranks were former guerrilla fighters who’d flocked to the army in the early days of the campaign.  Now those men were making their way south and out of Missouri.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 341, 352, 637, and 646.)