Batteries in the City: Charleston’s last line of defense

Before continuing with the review of Charleston’s defenses, there are two small notes about Battery Ripley I left out of yesterday’s post on the inner ring of defenses.

Battery Ripley had a connection to Robert Smalls and the steamer Planter.  The time of Smalls’ escape, the Planter supported the work at Battery Ripley and had on board the original armament intended for that post.  So one might say Beauregard felt the effects of Smalls’ action a year later (and then some).

Another interesting connection with Battery Ripley is with the remains of the work that still appear at very low tides.  In order to protect the wood cribs from erosion (and Federal gunfire), the Confederates piled debris around Middle Ground shoal.  Some of that debris, bricks and cut stones, came from the area of Charleston gutted by a fire in December 1861.

Charleston map showing burnt district (black swath)

So while I have your attention on downtown Charleston, let’s pick up with the review of the fortifications.  The batteries placed in the city itself were intended as last ditch defenses should the Federals work past all those guns at the harbor entrance and the crossfire of the harbor channel.  Given limited ranges and fields of fire, these guns could not easily work with the guns of the outer ring of defenses.  Since the priority of work, almost from the start of the war until mid-March, weighed heavier on the outer lines, the city batteries lacked long range guns… and in some cases lacked labor for completion.

Charleston 4 May 10 038
View from White Point looking at Castle Pinckney and Patriots Point

I’ve depicted the general arrangement of those batteries, circa March 1863, on the map below:


The batteries at White Point (or simply… well.. THE Battery) were the centerpiece of these works.  Several names applied to these works, but at this time two separate works existed, with Battery Ramsey appearing on several official reports.  A year earlier the battery contained three 32-pdr guns, at least one of which was rifled.  In March 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard wanted larger guns, particularly 10-inch columbiads, to cover the gaps behind Castle Pinckney and Battery Ripley.  And in April he would get a couple of heavy guns for that post.  Not from Richmond, by the way.  But that’s a story for another post.  King Street Battery supplemented Battery Ramsey, but with smaller caliber guns covering the mouth of the Ashley River.

Charleston 4 May 10 060
Yes… let’s not get too far ahead…

The defenders intended for Battery Waring to work with Battery Means on James Island to close access to the Ashley River.  Although Battery Waring would evolve into an impressive work with two 10-inch columbiads by war’s end, at this time it mounted only light guns.

Battery Gadberry covered the bridge of the Savannah Road crossing to St. Andrews Parish.  However, with a couple of old carronades, the defense was suited only to keep the bridge clear.  Beauregard wanted some rifled guns there and in St. Andrews Parrish to best defend the bridge (roughly where modern US Highway 17 crosses the Ashley River today).

On the Cooper River side, earthworks stood at Frazier’s Wharf and Vanderhorst Wharf.  Like Battery Waring, these would contain formidable heavy guns by war’s end, but in March 1863 these contained light guns.  Batteries along East Bay Street at the base of Calhoun and Laurens Streets remained unfinished that spring.

The two Half Moon Batteries covered Town Creek.  One of these was complete and the other neared completion that March.  They featured seven gun positions between them.  But only field guns and a rifled 12-pdr gun were spared from other points.  Later, the first of the Half Moon Batteries became Battery Aiken.  The other became Battery James.  These were part of the upper Cooper River defenses, along with a battery on Hobcaw Point.  But with much space between that sector was never sufficiently covered.

Charleston 4 Aug 11 1481
Site of Half Moon Batteries today

Lastly a land facing defenses covered the neck of the Charleston peninsula.  Those works took on the same function as Revolutionary War defenses, though further north on the neck than the 18th century line.  The line contained two main redoubts and positions for twenty-five guns.   Though only four 8-inch siege howitzers appeared in the armament listed in October 1862.  Beauregard feared the neck line was vulnerable to flanking fire should the Federals gain either the Ashley or Cooper Rivers, and thus directed stronger traverses and protection from the rear.   (Though one would have to wonder, should Federal gunboats gain those rivers, what good was the neck line anyway?)

Extending north and west of Charleston were defenses covering St. Andrews Parish.  Those covered not only the land approaches to the city but also the rail and road connections to Savannah.  Although part of the First District defending Charleston, those are more properly assessed as part of the chain of fortifications defending the line between the two major cities in Beauregard’s department.

When he took command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, Beauregard lamented that, “Adaptation of ‘means to an end’ has not always been consulted in the works around [Charleston] and Savannah.  Much unnecessary work has been bestowed upon many of them.”  In due fairness to Generals Robert E. Lee and John Pemberton who had charge of the defenses, there were different approaches to the mission at play.  And of course situation evolved through the first half of the war.  But there is a sting of validity to Beauregard’s criticism.  One has to wonder, given the near constant shortfall of resources, what better prioritization might have accomplished.