“Ideas of advance from North Edisto”: Confederates strengthen Saint Andrew’s Parish

Back in the spring, while going “round the horn” examining the Charleston defenses, I held off discussing the defenses to the west of Charleston in Saint Andrew’s Parish.  Two very important transportation links to Savannah passed through the Parish – The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Charleston-Savannah Turnpike.  To the south of the mainland part of Saint Andrew’s, the Stono River turned west and then back south. Further south, the North Edisto River meandered through the backwater to join the Stono and form a channel leading towards Charleston.  These rivers ran dangerously close to the railroad and turnpike.  From the time of the Federal capture of Port Royal, small garrisons screened the transportation lines in small, light batteries.

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Prior to the Morris Island Campaign, the threat to St. Andrews was mostly from Federal raids.  But with a large infantry force just marking time on the barrier islands, Confederate authorities assessed the risk of a little more than a raid.  In early October, 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard called upon Brigadier-General Johnson Hagood to assess that risk, in particular a Federal advance up the North Edisto River.  Hagood felt such a Federal offensive might resemble that seen on Morris Island:

The enemy’s object in selecting this line would be to obtain a pointd’appui from which a sap could be pushed with decisive results against the body of the place, and at the same time to effect a practical investment of the town. Charleston Neck would be the point aimed at. In reaching this point, he would probably adopt the plan of pushing a strong column of light troops at once for a point above Bee’s Ferry, on the Ashley, where the river may be pontooned or is fordable, and effecting the investment of the town, while he would, for the purpose of securing his communications, primarily direct his main operations against our defenses in Saint Andrew’s Parish. Under the difficulties he would have to encounter in field transportation, I take it that water transportation to a point on the main in Saint Andrew’s east of Rantowles would be of the highest consequence with him.

Hagood felt the most likely line of advance would cross from Seabrook Island on the coast, up the North Edisto River, onto John’s Island.  A small force could delay the advance.  And a strong line of defense would use the marshes to constrain the Federals.

However, Hagood pointed out that if the Federals allocated sufficient strength, they could bypass Saint Andrew’s entirely and move around to Charleston Neck directly. But he turned that into a stratagem, “for the cardinal idea in our defense should be to compel the enemy, in his efforts get on the Neck, to swing round with as long a radius as possible, Charleston being the center.” Hagood felt the longer that line was drawn out, the more vulnerable any Federal operations.  Hagood proceeded to outline three separate lines of resistance across St. Andrew’s Parrish to contest such a sweeping advance.

But in summation, Hagood complained that the command assigned to protect Saint Andrew’s Parrish – called the Second Military District in his report, but after October 22nd the Sixth Military District – lacked the resources to conduct the defensive operations he mentioned.  However through October the Confederates did improve the works defending the important railroad line and approaches from the Stono River.

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The same board that recommended the improved lines on James Island also called for improvements in the batteries along the Upper Stono and in Saint Andrew’s Parish.  These included:

  • Battery Wilkes with one 24-pdr siege gun and one 18-pdr siege gun (to be rifled).
  • Battery Haig with two 24-pdr rifles (which needed banding).
  • Battery Geddes with one 24-pdr smoothbore and one 12-pdr rifle.
  • Turnpike “Line of Inundation” with one 32-pdr navy gun, one 24-pdr smoothbore, one 18-pdr smoothbore, and one 12-pdr smoothbore.

In addition, Battery Palmer, off my map to the west, had one 8-inch Shell Gun, two 32-pdr seacoast guns, two 24-pdr siege guns, and one 12-pdr rifle. On the inland side of these works were a set of battery positions for field pieces.  The largest of these was called Fort Bull and covered a bridge over the Ashley River.

These works were sufficient to deflect a Federal raiding party.  But in the face of a major offensive, would need reinforcement.  While the defenses of Saint Andrew’s was never directly tested by the Federals, as we consider the plans and possibilities at Charleston the inadequacies of these works must factor in.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 393-395.)

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