“A demonstration in force on James Island” : Terry’s Division distracts the Confederates

I’ve discussed Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore’s main attack on Morris Island and the expedition to the Edisto River.  Now to look at Brigadier-General Alfred H. Terry’s division on James Island.


Terry’s division had orders to mount “A demonstration in force on James Island, by way of the Stono River, designed to prevent re-enforcements to the enemy on Morris Island from that quarter, and, if possible, draw a portion of the Morris Island garrison in that direction.”

Terry’s division, which was First Division, Tenth Corps, included three brigades:

  • First brigade – Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson with the 10th Connecticut, 97th Pennsylvania, 24th Massachusetts, 4th New Hampshire.
  • Second brigade – Colonel William W.H. Davis with the 52nd Pennsylvania and 104th Pennsylvania.*
  • Third brigade – Colonel James Montgomery with the 2nd South Carolina and 54th Massachusetts.

In addition, Terry had a detachment of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and the 1st Connecticut Artillery assigned.  All told, Terry’s force, at the start of operations, numbered around 3,200 men (and would later grow to 3,600).

The Navy supported this effort with the USS Pawnee, USS Nantucket, USS Commodore McDonough, and USS C.P. Williams (a mortar schooner).  Commander George Balch, of the Pawnee and a veteran of many trips on the Stono, led the naval forces.  Balch’s gunboats escorted several Army steamers carrying troops upriver, provided artillery support, and protected the left flank of Terry’s force.

Under the original plans, Terry’s force was to start on July 9, 1863.  Although operations at Morris Island were delayed another day, Terry began the demonstration.  Only a year earlier Federals landed a division of troops in that vicinity in an operation that lead up to the battle of James Island (or Secessionville if you prefer).  Federal reports refereed to “Stevens’ Landing” and “Wright’s Landing” alluding to that earlier operation.


Davis’s Second Brigade landed at  “Stevens’ Landing”, near the west end of Sol Legare Island on the evening of July 9.  While the Army landed, Balch engaged Confederate batteries at Secessionville, targeting the Confederate observation tower there, with long range fire at around 7 p.m.  Davis deployed quickly and secured the causeway leading to Sol Legare.

The next day, while fighting commenced at Light House Inlet, Davis’ brigade moved onto Sol Legare and proceeded to secure Grimball’s and Rivers’ Causeways leading to the main part of James Island.  Other than shots exchanged with the retreating Confederate pickets, the Federals met no resistance.  That evening Stevenson’s brigade moved up to replace Davis in the lead.  Davis then moved his two regiments back to Sol Legare Island, joining Montgomery’s third brigade.  Commander Balch moved his gunboats upriver to support Terry’s troops, anchoring at “Wright’s Landing” or Grimball’s Landing.  As night fell on July 10, the Federals had a lodgement of sorts on James Island, in addition to possessing tw0-thirds of Morris Island.

Confederate reaction was quick.  On July 9, General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered the siege train “in readiness to move at a moment’s notice.”  Likewise, reserve troops across South Carolina were alerted for quick movement to Charleston.  All actions made before the attacks at Light House Inlet.  Gillmore’s demonstration was bearing fruit.  Beauregard also requested Brigadier-General Thomas Clingman’s brigade from Wilmington.  However that request was formally made on July 10, and one might debate if made in response to the demonstration or the main effort.  Regardless, Clingman’s troops first went to James Island.

A Federal force of over 3,500 men, supported by gunboats, on the southwest corner of James Island represented a significant threat to Charleston.  While Terry was not about to pull a “Benham,” and instead was content to keep a strong picket line, the Confederates had to juggle forces between James and Morris Islands.  Unfortunate for Terry’s troops, Beauregard could get at them easier than those on the barrier island. The Confederate counter-attack would thus fall on James Island instead of Morris.

* Davis’s Second Brigade amounted to 600 men at the start of this operation.  Three companies of the 52nd Pennsylvania and four companies of the 140th Pennsylvania were detailed on picket duty around Folly Island.  The 56th New York did not arrive from Hilton Head until July 13.  And the 100th New York was detached to support the landings on Morris Island.


2 thoughts on ““A demonstration in force on James Island” : Terry’s Division distracts the Confederates

  1. […] In July, troop transports and gunboats advanced up the Stono River as part of a diversionary effort covering the attack on Morris Island.   But after that, the Stono became a quiet sector while the main focus was on Battery Wagner.  On September 7, 1863, a Confederate force attacked Federal pickets on Battery Island in an effort to distract from the withdrawal from Morris Island. […]

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