150 years ago: Reinforcements for Gillmore

F0llowing the failed assault against Battery Wagner on July 18, 1863, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore made a request to Army Headquarters in Washington for “8,000 to 1000” troops. Gillmore hoped that success along the Mississippi might free up reinforcements for his efforts outside Charleston. After all a siege is manpower intensive. Major-General Henry Halleck responded to Gillmore’s request on this day (July 28), 150 years ago:

General: Your letters of the 21st instant are received, and cause much embarrassment. It was known when you proposed to resume the operations against Charleston that, in addition to the ordinary casualties of battle, sickness, &c., our armies would in the months of June, July, and August be reduced some 75,000 or 80,000 men. For this reason I had strongly opposed the undertaking of any new operations, and had refused to send any re-enforcements to your predecessor. You were distinctly informed that you could not have any additional troops, and it was only on the understanding that none would be required that I consented to your undertaking operations on Morris Island. Had it been supposed that you would require more troops, the operations would not have been attempted with my consent or that of the Secretary of War.

It would not be safe for me to give you more fully the present condition of our forces. Every man that we could possibly rake amid scrape together is in the field in face of the enemy. To withdraw troops from General Meade would endanger the safety of his army, and open the North to another raid. To take any troops from New York, Philadelphia, and the east, would be the giving up of the draft.

General Banks’ army is so reduced that he cannot recover the territory lost during the siege of Port Hudson without re-enforcements. He asks them from the north; but there is not a man to send him from here, and we are obliged to detach from General Grant’s army. Missouri was stripped to re-enforce Grant, and we are now obliged to send back these troops to oppose a column of 15,000 men under Price, who are now advancing toward the Missouri border. Moreover, Grant’s army is greatly reduced by sickness and casualties. By detaching more troops from him now, we should lose most of the fruits of his victories. Burnside and Rosecrans are hesitating to advance till they can be re-enforced, and I have no reenforcements to give them. General Dix reports that he must be re-enforced by 15,000 men to enable him to enforce the draft. And now, at this critical juncture, comes your urgent but unexpected application for 8,000 additional troops for Morris Island. It is, to say the least, seriously embarrassing. I deeply regret that its occupation was attempted until the draft had furnished more troops.

I have telegraphed to General Foster to send you every man he can spare from his department, and will send you drafted men as rapidly as we can get them. I cannot take troops from the Mississippi River without seriously interfering with operations of the greatest importance.

Why can you not employ negroes from the plantations as laborers in moving ordnance and matériel, and in digging trenches, throwing up batteries, &c., and thus save your men?

Draw from other posts in your department every man that can possibly be spared. I will do all I can for you, but you must not expect impossibilities.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. Halleck,

Halleck’s response was well short of a rebuke. After all, Gillmore had taken the offensive. Halleck couldn’t find fault while at the same time suffering other subordinates who just couldn’t get started. But Halleck was compelled to send reinforcements to Gillmore. Mostly due to pressure from the Navy.

Major-General John Foster, commanding the Department of North Carolina, promptly responded to Halleck’s suggesting. Brigadier-General Edward Wild’s brigade, consisting of the 55th Massachusetts, 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, and detachments from the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Colored Infantry, started south to Folly Island. Wild’s brigade arrived around August 2nd. Concurrently, Foster sent two more brigades, both consisting of white volunteer regiments. So an infantry division, minus artillery, came from North Carolina.

Another division came from the Army of the Potomac, despite Halleck’s initial reservations. Brigadier-General George Gordon’s 1st Division, Eleventh Corps started movement from Warrenton Junction on August 1 and arrived at Folly island on August 14-15.

All told, these reinforcements amounted to about 9,750 men. Add to that total the 3rd US Colored Troops, assigned to Colonel James Montgomery’s brigade, which arrived from Philadelphia in the later half of August. So by the end of August, Gillmore received a little more than the requested 10,000. That brought the number of Federal troops on Folly and Morris Islands to nearly 23,000 men, up from around 12,300 reported at the end of July.

On the other side of the lines, at the end of July Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley reported 10,254 men ready for duty (out of 12,130 present) in the First Military District at Charleston. By August 31, 1863, Ripley’s command increased to 13,352 effectives, out of 16,336 present.

While not in numbers seen in the major theaters of operation, 150 years ago the fighting outside Charleston was drawing in men and resources.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 29-30.)


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