“You let the old cuss go?”: Federal siege guns hold fire on Beauregard

Last week I related an incident from Morris Island in which Major-General Quincy Gillmore came under fire from Confederate mortars on Sullivan’s Island.  Not an out of the ordinary happening where both sides skirmishing with heavy artillery in front of Charleston.  A collection of officers standing at a prominent position would draw fire.  But on at least one occasion, the Federals held fire with General P.G.T. Beauregard in plain view.  From the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery regimental history:

Lieut. George W. Greene told of the excitement and disappointment in his battery, on a certain day, when promiscuous firing had been forbidden by a special order, and General Beauregard, distinctly seen by our glasses, on an inspecting tour, passed Fort Johnson, and then in plain view drove on to Battery Simkins, as a rebel deserter and Charleston paper had said he would. In hope that the order would be recalled, the Lieutenant commanded his men to “train a gun, grease down, draw her fine, and be ready,” sure of his game if allowed to fire.  All were eager for the final order to fire.  No order came, and the rebel magnate escaped. Shortly Colonel [Charles Ray] Brayton, Chief of Artillery, rode up to the battery, and, learning of the lost opportunity, said: “Good Heavens; and you let the old cuss go?”  The Lieutenant quoted the general order.  The Colonel answered: “General order be darned!  Never let anything as large as a wheelbarrow come down that road again.”

As the guns on Morris Island frequently fired upon Battery Simkins and vicinity, there’s little doubt Greene’s gun would find the range.  The mark, of course, would be another question.  Again, here’s Battery Simkins, as seen from Fort Putnam:


The dating of this episode is one I hope some day to trace down with some accuracy.  Brayton was lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Rhode Island during the summer operations on Morris Island.  From November 1863 until April 1864 he was the colonel of the regiment.  However during those periods he also served as Assistant Chief of Artillery in Brigadier-General Alfred Terry’s division and generally controlled the guns on Morris Island.  And from March 1864 on, he was the Chief of Artillery.  At the same time, Beauregard had himself transferred out of Charleston in April that year.

So if the regimental history is completely accurate with Brayton’s title at the time of the episode (which I submit it is probably not), this happened sometime in the early spring of 1864.  I’m not so sure that is a proper yardstick, however.  And, as mentioned in the lead, this sort of incident occurred frequently outside Charleston.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, pages 237.)