Strengthening the James Island line to defend Charleston

Charleston became a “hot spot” for the Confederacy during the week following Federal landings on Morris Island (July 10, 1863). Reinforcements and material funneled into the city’s defenses, although at a smaller scale seen on other fronts. But along the barrier islands and low-country marshes, the terrain might make a regiment worth a division. But with the appearance of very heavy ordnance on the Federal batteries brought on an arms race of sorts where big guns were in high demand.

Thus far the defenses of James Island were oriented to serve as barriers to an Federal approach to Charleston. But those works were not laid out to support operations on Morris Island. Big guns at Fort Pemberton faced the Stono River while those at Fort Johnson covered the inner harbor. Other works provided defenses against infantry advances. Beginning on July 13, General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered a new battery, along with changes to existing batteries, to face the new threat.

Lieutenant-Colonel D.B. Harris received orders to build a two gun battery at Shell Point, “with utmost celerity,” positioned to “sweep the front of Battery Wagner.” The battery’s intended armament included one 10-inch columbiad and one 6.4-inch Brooke Rifle, along with three 10-inch mortars. The orders specified the guns would “be arranged on traversing carriages, and the work must be carefully protected from enfilade from Morris and Black Island.” This work would later receive one more heavy gun.

In the same set of orders, Beauregard called for repositioning a 10-inch columbiad in Fort Johnson to bear upon Morris Island. He directed two 10-inch columbiads added to the armament of Fort Moultrie. And at the same time, Beauregard ordered guns shifted from Fort Sumter and replaced by dummy guns. All indicated a shift of priorities in the outer defenses of Charleston. As time passed, Sumter was more of a symbol of defiance and less so a practical seacoast defense.

Beauregard intended to resume work on the Vincent’s Creek Battery, under the cover provided from Shell Point. But that proved impossible due to the proximity of Federal batteries. It was hoped that a 24-pdr rifled gun, relocated from Fort Pemberton to Fort Lamar, could prevent Federal fortification of Black Island.

On July 16 came orders for additional batteries. These would fill a gap in the lines between Legare’s and Shell Point:

The commanding general directs me to say that he wishes the batteries on James Island (about Legare’s) bearing on Black Island to be increased by at least twenty guns on siege carriages. This work should be pushed forward night and day, as, indeed, at Shell Point and all other works under construction about the harbor, so soon as the force of negro labor may be sufficient.

Then on July 19 came details of the intended armament of those works:

The commanding general desires the following rearrangement of certain guns on James Island, to provide for the armament of the new batteries in the direction of Secessionville from Legare’s Point.

Transfer to Legare’s Point, with all their implements and ammunition, one 12-pounder rifled gun and one 8-inch sea-coast howitzer, now at Royal’s; one 20 and one 10 pounder Parrott gun of the Georgia Siege Train; one 12-pounder rifled bronze gun, of Company A, South Carolina Siege Train; one 24-pounder smooth-bore, now on eastern lines and mounted on a siege-carriage; and one 24-pounder rifled siege gun and one 4-inch Blakely, both of which are at present in the hands of the chief of ordnance.

These guns would bear on Black Island, hopefully to prevent the Federals from using that location to flank Battery Wagner. Lots of rifled guns, but none of the large weapons that might seriously damage the siege lines on Morris Island. Another work to the right of Shell Point, mounting two 6.4-inch Brooke Rifles, would strengthen the weight of iron bearing on Morris Island. Within a few days that battery was expanded to include six 8-inch naval guns.

By the time of the second Federal assault on Battery Wagner on July 18, one 10-inch columbiad was in place on Shell Point. The mortars positions were nearly complete. The Brooke gun placement was delayed a few more days. Work parties toiled day and night to get the remaining batteries ready for the guns.

On July 24, these batteries received names:

The commanding general further instructs me to inform you that hereafter Shell Point Battery will be known as Battery Simkins; battery half way between Johnson and Legare’s, as Battery Cheves; battery at Legare’s, as Battery Haskell; and the battery at Mellichamp’s, near lines, as Battery Ryan.

Those are depicted on the map below:

JamesIslandImprovements

One additional work on James Island, though not bearing on Morris Island, was Battery Wampler. This work went up near an old Martello Tower behind Fort Johnson. Laid out for five heavy guns, that work would not be completed until August.

While these batteries were mostly armed with guns reallocated from other positions, Beauregard kept up calls for more guns from Richmond. A few heavy guns and mortars arrived in response to those pleas. He also pulled guns from Savannah.

Through late July and into August, pieces fell into place for a grand display of heavy artillery. Two of the best practitioners of the employment of such weapons – Beauregard and Gillmore – would direct this display.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 197, 203-4, 211, and 224.)

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