Category Archives: Charleston SC

Removed to Fort Pulaski: The Immortal 600 depart Morris Island

On October 20, 1864, Major-General John Foster reported a change with the 600 prisoners held on Morris Island:

I have the honor to report that since my communication of the 13th instant nothing of note has transpired in this department except the removal of the rebel prisoners of war from Morris Island, S.C., to Fort Pulaski, Ga., of which I have given full particulars in another communication.

Removed from the open stockade on Morris Island, the “Immortal 600″ would spend the winter in the casemates of Fort Pulaski.  Recall this was long planned by Foster, but he held off implementation to make a point to the Confederate command.

Fort Pulaski 5 May 10 224

Concurrent with the move, the Federals lifted the “Andersonville rations” imposed on the Confederates.  However several logistical issues meant the food provided would improve very little.  By early December the prisoners exhibited symptoms of scurvy.  Arguably, the open air of Morris Island was healthier – even if the things flying through the air made life dangerous – than the stuffy casemates of Fort Pulaski.  Although only three died on Morris Island, thirteen would die at Fort Pulaski through March 1865.  Another 25 died after the prisoners returned north to Fort Delaware.  Such figures point to a gradual breakdown in the health of the prisoners, more so than the relative danger of each locality.

I wouldn’t say we should “close” the story of the Immortal 600 at Fort Pulaski.  Indeed, not until the end of the war did their story come full circle.  And, as I said in a presentation given on the subject last week for a Roundtable, the story the Immortal 600 is in many ways just the “well known” episode representing several similar incidents during the war.  For instance, around this same time, Major-General Benjamin Butler was holding Confederate prisoners at Dutch Gap for reasons similar to Foster’s.

Beyond just the “tit-for-tat” retaliations that used prisoners as pawns, the story of the 600 prisoners is also representative of the overall problems with prisoner handling in the Civil War.  To really come to grips with the issues, we have to step beyond our 21st and 20th century opinions about how prisoners are handled to examine the 19th century conventions… or lack thereof.  And at the same time, we have to look closely at the decisions which lead to a breakdown with the exchange system.  In that light, I content the prisoner issues of 1864 are partly, if not completely, a by-product of the Emancipation Proclamation.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 26.)

“Ninety-eight of these shells struck the vessel”: Destruction of the blockade runner Flora

At least four different blockade runners used the name “Flora.”  The third of these was an iron steamer owned by the Importing and Exporting Company of Georgia, associated with the Lamars of that state.  On October 18, the Flora left Nassau for her maiden run through the blockade, heading for Charleston.  Bad luck dogged the vessel, as while passing Elbow Key, one of the north-most in the Bahamas chain, a Federal vessel spotted her.  After a chase, which prompted the blockade-runner to drop her cargo, she shook off pursuit.

On the evening of October 22, the Flora neared the South Carolina coast, but again was spotted.  But for the moment, her luck turned good, as Commander Thomas H. Patterson, senior officer off Charleston that evening, reported:

… about 9 p.m. of the 22d instant the Wamsutta discovered a blockade runner going inward. She immediately slipped, fired at her, and made the signal indicating a vessel going outward, which, though very soon rectified by her picket boat, created some confusion and uncertainty as to the course of the stranger….

The Mingoe, the next vessel to the westward, saw but did not fire at the strange steamer, and Commander Creighton says in his report, “She passed in so quickly inshore that before I could slip or get my broadside to bear she was out of sight.”

In turn, the Flora passed the USS Laburnum, USS Geranium, USS Sonoma, USS Acacia, and USS Azalea, none getting off more than couple shots at the blockade-runner.  Remarkably, the Sonoma, standing south of Breach Inlet, did not see the Flora at all.  But those shots, and the movements of the vessels to intercept, forced the Flora to maneuver in the tricky Maffitt’s Channel.  And that’s where her luck ran out – or to be specific, running up on Drunken Dick’s Shoal.

The monitor USS Patapsco was notified of this grounded blockade runner, but did not venture closer in the darkness.  At dawn, she and the other monitors moved up to gain the range on the Flora.  At the same time, the batteries on Morris Island opened on the stranded runner.  Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames provided a detailed report of the destruction of the vessel:

I have the honor to report that at daylight on October 23 a large side-wheel iron steamer with two smoke-stacks was discovered ashore opposite Battery Rutledge, Sullivan’s Island, she having run on a shoal at that point during the night. This vessel was painted lead color, was very long, and appeared to be of light draught. She is probably of about 700 tons burden. The first shot fired at her was from the picket monitor: Fort Putnam opened at the same time with two 30-pounder Parrotts, striking her on the quarter at the second shot. This was the first shot that struck the blockade-runner from either army or navy. Battery Chatfield opened with a 300-pounder Parrott; the third shell from this gun passed through the starboard wheel-house into the vessel and exploded, tearing the wheel and wheel-house all away and breaking up a large portion of her works amidships. Fort Strong opened with three 100-pounders, striking her many times in the hull and on her decks. The navy also kept up a fire upon the vessel from two monitors, doing the steamer much damage.

The name of this vessel was the Flora* ; she was no doubt running into Charleston at the time of getting aground. She now lies a complete wreck. This vessel was distant from Fort Putnam 2,700 yards, from Battery Chatfield 2,600 yards, and from Fort Strong 3,500 yards.

The following amount of ammunition was expended in destroying this steamer: Fort Putnam, 30-pounder shell, 38; 24-pounder shell, 22. Battery Chatfield, 300-pounder shell, 7. Fort Strong, 100-pounder shell, 77. Total, 144. Ninety-eight of these shells struck the vessel.

Thus a brand-new blockade runner met her end in the waters off Charleston.  The sailors of the blockade had some explaining to do, as this was another near-miss indicating not all was air-tight at the entrance to Charleston.  But the Army got in some good target practice.

  • NOTE:  In the printed Army Official Reports, Ames identified the vessel as the Flamingo.  However, in the Navy Official Reports, Ames’ report is printed with the vessel identified as Flora.  There was some confusion between the Army and Navy as to what to call the vessel.  The Charleston Mercury clearly indicates the name was indeed Flora, running mention of the vessel from October 24 through 27, 1864.  The confusion even caught underwater archaeologist and author E. Lee Spence in his book Treasures of the Confederate Coast, where he lists both the Flora and Flamingo as separate wrecks in the area.  Belated apology for not chiming in on the comments when Andy Hall worked through this misidentification some time back while discussing the wrecks off Sullivan’s Island.  I really should follow comments better!

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 30-32.)

“We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded sea-parts”: Estmating the good of blocakde-runners

Yesterday I put emphasis on Secretary of War James Seddon’s words stressing the importance of the blockade-runners in October 1864 – “It is impossible to calculate the good that has resulted to the armies of the Confederacy from the successful blockade-running vessels.”  Well, let me offer some measure of that value deemed “impossible to calculate.”  In December 1864, Brigadier-General Josiah Gorgas provided a report to Seddon detailing the material status of the commodities of war – guns, powder, iron, nitre, and certain other raw materials.  As for small arms, Gorgas wrote:

Sir: In reply to your inquiry for information as to the means of supplying munitions of war, “confining the answer to the munitions” furnished by this Bureau to the cis-Mississippi, I have the honor to state, first, as to arms: There are enough arms on hand of a mixed character–that is, arms most of which are not as good as those now in the hands of troops in the field–to arm and equip some additional force. The returns of November, 1864, showed on hand at the various arsenals and depots:

  • Rifles of caliber .58 – 3,882
  • Rifles of caliber .54 – 2,759
  • Smooth-bore muskets .69 – 3,564
  • Smooth-bore muskets .75 – 636
  • All other infantry arms – 10,504
  • Carbines – 2,596

This amount can be probably increased by 10,000 or 12,000 by a vigorous system of collecting the arms scattered about through the country.

So that was what was in the depots – at most 36,000 small arms, give or take.  That is only counting what was sitting in the depots or otherwise unissued weapons.  Gorgas cited returns current at the start of December to indicate nearly 200,000 Confederates present for duty with the armies.  Presumably most of those were armed.  So do the math for a ball park total of small arms.

Where was the Confederacy obtaining weapons at this late stage of the war?  Gorgas continued:

We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded sea-parts. The total importations for the year have been:

  • Rifles – 39,798
  • Pistols – 1,716

The want of funds necessary to purchase has greatly limited the importations of the expiring year. There are probably not more than 10,000 or 12,000 on the islands awaiting shipment.

As for domestic production:

The number of arms manufactured and made up of parts derived from capture and other sources for the year ending November 30, 1864, were:

  • Rifles, caliber .58 – 12,778
  • Carbines – 5,354
  • Pistols – 2,353

So for the year of 1864, three of every four new rifle acquired by the Confederacy came through the blockade.  The figures on pistols and carbines were to the advantage of domestic sources. But still the disparity in rifles indicated that if any new weapon arrived in a Confederate soldier’s hands, it was likely to be of foreign (European) origin.

About the manufacture of weapons, Gorgas indicated the Confederacy had the capacity to do more:

There is machinery enough under the control of this Bureau to manufacture 55,000 rifles and carbines per annum, provided a sufficient mechanical force be employed as follows:

  • Richmond – 25,000 rifles, 450 workmen
  • Fayetteville – 10,000 rifles, 250 workmen
  • Columbia, S.C. – 4,000 rifles, 125 workmen
  • Athens, Ga. – 10,000 rifles, 250 workmen
  • Tallassee, Ala. – 6,000 rifles, 150 workmen
  • Total – 55,000 rifles, 1,225 workmen.

The proviso is the workmen, and these must be permanently attached to those establishments and excused from the performance of all military duties, except perhaps local guard duty. The number actually employed is about 425, about 300 less than were employed, say twelve months since. Defection from service in the local forces and losses on the battle-field have thus greatly reduced our force of workmen.

By General Orders, No. 89, over 700 men were placed in the ranks; of these perhaps one-half were competent mechanics, many of them valuable for the service of the armories. The product could not at once be raised to the maximum figures above indicated, but could, with the 800 additional workmen, be so raised, allowing for the time it would take to teach and organize them.

For our cavalry arms we have chiefly to rely on importations, although pistols are being made at several points with success. Want of workmen alone prevents additional results. Sabers can be produced in sufficient numbers, and of pretty good quality, by the detail of a very few workmen from the field.

Follow the numbers here. The Confederacy had 200,000 men present for duty (and another 200,000 not present for various reasons).  On hand were around 236,000 small arms, give or take.  Gorgas does not indicate the number of weapons issued, to replace those lost or damaged.  And maybe that isn’t the important issue towards sustaining the army.  The Confederacy could produce 55,000 rifles, but had instead produced only 12,778.  The balance of what was needed came in the form of 39,798 imported rifles.  Total “new” weapons in 1864 was 52,576.  Just shy of the maximum potential domestic output, as cited by Gorgas.  And that would allow the Confederacy to replace one of every four weapons in use, give or take.

So, does this champion Confederate domestic manufacturing? Or show it as deficient?   Neither.  Gorgas’ explanation points to another conclusion – the blockade-runners allowed the Confederacy to take men out of the factories for service in the ranks. Gorgas counts 800 workers, but I would submit that was just the surface figure.   Maybe two regiments… maybe more.

And that is only taking into account small arms production.  Would not be hard to carry that figure forward in regard to other war-critical industries and say supplies arriving through the blockade freed up a body of manpower equal to a brigade.

Oh, but one more point – blockade running also carried with it an intangible worth more than guns or gold.  So long as ships could transit to Charleston, even with hazard, the Confederacy still “existed” and had contact with the outside world.  But ports like Charleston – were supplies could land on Confederate soil – were becoming scarce by the fall of 1864.  Within a few months, the number would be zero.

(Citation from OR, Series IV, Volume 3, Serial 129, pages 986-7.)