Back in September 1863, the Confederates guarding the Charleston & Savannah Railroad foiled a Federal attempt to tap into telegraph lines. Attempts to “hack” communications were not limited to the boys in blue. The journal entry from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters for December 4, 1863 notes Captain J.J. Magee of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry (the Rutledge Mounted Rifles) suggested the Rebels might “steal” messages too:
Capt. J.J. Magee reports having made a reconnaissance of Morgan’s Island, passing through Coosa River from Chisolm’s Island to Saint Helena Sound. He landed on Morgan’s Island after daylight of the 23d ultimo, and remained until the 24th. Only negroes on this island. Next visited Pine Island, where he found a line blazed out – probably for extension of telegraph. On other island is a very high observatory – for signals, probably – and Captain Magee thinks that messages may be intercepted from Thickety Island, distant about 1,000 yards.
I’ve highlighted some of the placenames mentioned on the map below, centered on St. Helena Sound:
The signal station mentioned likely was the Federal tower on Otter Island. Colonel Edward Serrell provided a drawing of that 142 foot tall tower in a report from January, 1864 (which will be the subject of an upcoming post).
The tower there linked to one on St. Helena Island, at a distance of 8 ½ miles across St. Helena Sound. To the north was another signal station five miles away on Bay Point Island. All part of a chain of towers and telegraph lines linking the headquarters on Hilton Head Island to that on Morris Island. So Magee’s suggestion made a lot of sense.
Magee’s reconnaissance was one of many such conducted in the marshes that lay between the picket lines across the coast of South Carolina. On December 5, the headquarters’s journal recorded another foray. Three scouts probed Kiawah Island and brought back three prisoners. “In recognition of the gallantry of the men who captured the prisoners, the commanding general was pleased to direct that the prisoners’ horses, &c., should be turned over to the captors.” That’s one way to get volunteers for the next dangerous scouting expedition.
Captain Magee continued to render excellent service scouting the marshes. But in May 1864, his service came to an end. By that time the 7th South Carolina Cavalry was serving in Virginia. I have not found the particulars, but Magee was mortally wounded in the battle of Old Church, fought on May 30.
Magee, like many other soldiers Federal and Confederate in South Carolina, was just months away from being pulled into the vortex of war that was Virginia.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 174-5.)