An expedition to destroy U.S. steamers near Legareville: Beauregard Plans an ambush

On this day (December 17) in 1863, Headquarters Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, General P.G.T. Beauregard commanding, issued Special Orders No. 276.  Those orders read:

I. Lieut. Col. Del. Kemper will take command of and organize an expedition for the destruction of the U.S. steamers Pawnee and Marblehead in the Stono River, near Legateville, to which end

First. Brigadier-General Wise will place at his disposition at least 500 infantry, under competent field officers junior to Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper, as well as one company of his reserve cavalry from Adams Run, and the following batteries:

1. Schulz’s battery as temporarily organized.
2. Charles’ battery.
3. One section (two 12-pounder Napoleon guns) of Marion Artillery, Captain Smith’s company of siege train (four 8-inch howitzers), and Captain Webb’s company, siege train (two 30-pounder Parrotts), will also report to Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper forthwith at Church Flats, with one week’s rations and forage.

Second. General Wise will also direct Major Jenkins with his command to report to Colonel Kemper, temporarily, at or about Legareville, to be employed to the best advantage in guarding the approaches to his position near that point.

II. The verbal instructions already given by the commanding general must be carried out with the utmost secrecy and with dispatch.

III. The labor of throwing up the three batteries near Legareville will be executed by the troops at night only where exposed to view, care being taken to conceal the work done, with bushes, from observation of the enemy during the day.

IV. Special precaution will be observed not to expose the troops to the view of the enemy’s lookouts while marching toward Legareville or to and from their work.

V. The three batteries thrown up for this operation will be armed each with four pieces, as follows, to wit:
1. Upper Battery: One section of Marion Artillery, one 8-inch siege howitzer, and one rifled gun of Schulz’s battery.
2. Middle Battery: Two 30-pounder Parrott guns and two 8-inch howitzers of siege train.
3. Lower Battery: Three 10-pounder Parrotts (Schulz’s battery) and one 8-inch siege howitzer.

VI. The guns of these batteries will be placed in position at night, and must open at daylight Christmas morning, if practicable, and will endeavor to destroy or capture the two steamers in the Stono.

VII. The reserve infantry with Charles’ battery will be stationed behind the hedge running across the peninsula of Legareville, and will open fire upon that place simultaneously with the batteries, and, if possible, must capture the enemy’s force stationed there, after which, will burn what is left of that village.

VIII. After the accomplishment of these objects, as far as practicable, the troops under Colonel Kemper will return, respectively, to their present position.

IX. A sufficient number of ambulances will accompany the expedition.

X. Chiefs of staff, corps, or departments, will give all necessary aid required for the prompt execution of these important orders.

(I’ve cited more of the orders than probably necessary for this post, as I think my pal XBradTC would enjoy comparing this into the “five paragraph” standard used in today’s Army.)

Beauregard issued these orders with a mind to take advantage of the lax security observed by the Federals operating in the Stono River around Legareville.  For about three weeks, Confederate observers noted the activity.  At first the steamers supported a pile-driver obstructing the channel.  The ships remained as Federal troops dismantled buildings in Legareville, to obtain wood for use in the barrier island garrisons.


The artillery organization was a loose task organization.  Schulz’s Battery (Battery F, Palmetto Artillery – or 3rd Battalion South Carolina Light Artillery) brought two 10-pdr Parrotts and two rifled field guns.  Charles’ Battery (Battery 2, 2nd South Carolina Heavy Artillery) manned two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles and two 12-pdr howitzers for this operation.  The remainder of the guns came from the department’s siege train – two Napoleons, two 30-pdr Parrotts, and four 8-inch siege howitzers.

The infantry force, as described, came from Brigadier General Henry Wise’s Sixth Military District.  Wise communicated that formation’s organization in separate correspondence with headquarters.  Wise had some concerns with command assignments:

I am glad to inform you that I can send five companies from Colonel [P.R.] Page’s (Twenty-sixth Virginia) regiment and (with the two already on John’s Island) five from Colonel [William] Tabb’s (Fifty-ninth Virginia) regiment, the first to move from John’s Island Ferry, the second from Church Flats, to meet by any given hour at Dr. Curtis’ or Roper’s. This will be a full regiment, composed of battalions from two. This infantry had better be commanded by their own officers. I therefore venture to ask, as well as suggest, that Colonel Page or Lieutenant-Colonel [J.C.] Councill, from the Twenty-sixth, and Colonel Tabb, from the Fifty-ninth, be ordered to command the infantry; Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper, the artillery; and Major Jenkins, the cavalry; the whole to be under the orders of Colonel Page or of Colonel Tabb, and to follow the guidance of Major Jenkins.

Wise added, “This Colonel Page is an educated soldier, a man of sense and discipline.”  With respect to Wise’s request, headquarters gave Page overall command of the expedition.

So with the mission, time, and place set, the Confederates aimed to embarrass the Federals in the Stono for a second time in 1863.  I’ve discussed that ambush in a post several years back.  So you sorta know how it ends.  At that time, my focus was discussing the surviving artifacts of the action.

8-inch Siege Howitzer, Model 1841 Captured at Legareville

This time around, I’ll provide more details of the action… but we have eight days until that sesquicentennial Christmas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 562-3.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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