Federals on Folly, Confederates on Morris, and a blockade runner between

A sad photo of wreckage on the beach.

The Library of Congress caption indicates the pieces in the photo are all that remained of the blockade runner Ruby, which ran aground off Lighthouse Inlet on the night of June 10-11, 1863. The Ruby had been a regular with Charleston to Nassau runs.

The New York Times carried a report, from the Wilmington (North Carolina) Journal, describing Ruby‘s demise:

We regret to say that the steamer Ruby, Capt. Peat, from Nassau, got ashore on Folly Island breakers, near this bar, on Wednesday night. A large portion of the cargo was thrown overboard, and everything possible done to get her off, but without success. The Yankees on Folly Island having discovered her early on Thursday, opened on her from a battery. Capt. Peat was then compelled to set her on fire and abandon her, and she afterwards blew up. While Capt. Peat and his crew were coming ashore to Morris Island, they were shot at by the Yankees with cannon and small arms, and the balls came dropping around them in every direction.

The report went on to say the Ruby attempted to slip into Lighthouse Inlet, but was confused by a light on Folly Island. The captain reported one dead and one missing from the crew. Federal artillery from the Folly Island garrison deployed and fired a few rounds at the crew as they escaped to Morris Island.

The map below shows the Ruby’s location on the breakers along with the locations of the Federal and Confederate positions.


Simply put, the Ruby lay between the lines.

With the guns already deployed, Federal artillerists started shelling the wreck the morning of June 11. In response Captain John C. Mitchel, commanding the Confederate batteries on the south end of Morris Island, threw a few shells towards the Federals, “silencing them at the second shot.”

The next day, Confederates again noticed Federal activity on Folly Island and opened fire. The engagement soon widened to include heavy Federal batteries further south on Folly Island and gunboats. Again on June 13, Confederates fired on Federals digging on Folly Island. Reporting these activities, General Roswell Ripley, in overall command of the district defending Charleston, noted the need to improve the defenses of Morris Island.

But the Ruby remained there between combatants on the barrier islands. Although the newspaper account indicated the Ruby had burned, apparently something remained for salvage. Later in the month the Federal Navy reported Confederate activity on the wreck. In one of his last actions before leaving command, Admiral Samuel Du Pont directed Commander George Balch to investigate. Balch Consulted his fellow naval officers and General Israel Vogdes on Folly Island. While the Navy felt the Ruby should be destroyed to deprive the Confederates of any profit, the Army thought otherwise. Vogdes was at that time building works to support forty-six guns and mortars, and

… it was considered of vital importance that the troops should not be disturbed in their labors, and the general was of the opinion that it would be better to forego any small advantage that might be gained by offensive operations against the wreck for the infinitely greater advantage to be gained if the enemy were in ignorance of our designs, and thereby enable us to work without annoyance on our batteries.

To Balch, this made sense. The Army was planning an offensive along the barrier islands outside Charleston. Newly arrived Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore was not wasting any time. He arrived outside Charleston with a plan to get in.

(In addition to the New York Times article, citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 319, and ORN, Series I, Volume 14, page 302.)