Category Archives: Charleston SC

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:

Ripley_Plan_Oct64

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.)

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.)