Schimmelfennig: “I shall be obliged to make a different disposition” outside Charleston

The spring of 1864 brought much change to the Department of the South.  Much of the Tenth Corps received orders to board transports bound for Fort Monroe, Virginia.  Those that remained might take comfort that the department was no longer an active front.  But the soldiering tasks required to maintain a garrison presence remained.   With most of his departing units dispatched, the commander of forces outside Charleston (the Northern District, officially), Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, passed along his status report:

Hdqrs. Northern District, Dept. of the South,
Folly Island, S.C., April 25, 1864.
Lieut. Col. E. W. Smith,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Dept. of the South:

Sir: I have the honor to report that all the troops ordered away from my command have left with the exception of a part of the Fifty-second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers and ten teams, which will be forwarded as soon as transportation can be obtained. This district is at present divided into three parts, garrisoned as follows, viz:

Folly Island, commanded by Col. L. von Gilsa, Forty-first New York Volunteers, and comprising the Forty-first and Fifty-fourth New York Volunteers and the Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Little Folly Island, commanded by Col. William Heine, One hundred and third New York Volunteers, comprising the One hundred and third New York Volunteers and the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts (colored).

Morris Island, commanded by Col. William Gurney, One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, comprising the One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (colored), Twenty-first and Thirty-fourth United States (colored), five companies of the Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, and two sections of Light Battery B, Third New York Artillery.

So generally, the Federals maintained brigade-strength garrisons across Folly-Little Folly Island and on Morris Island.  Schimmelfennig proceeded to describe how the reduction forces required a reduction of his perimeter, along with actions taken to mask this reduction:

I have given orders for the forts on Kiawah and Long Islands to be disarmed, and for the oyster-shell fort on Cole’s Island to be thoroughly repaired and armed.

I have deemed it wise, while this movement of troops was going on, to show to the enemy as bold a front and harass him as much as possible, and deserters inform me that it has had the effect of detaining in Charleston five battalions that were going north, and that they have been in nightly expectation of an attack on James Island.

On Morris Island I have forbidden the firing at small fatigue parties, and only allow a few shots to be fired into Charleston during each twenty-four hours into different parts of the city, to render their movement of troops insecure.
During the last week I have had 3 men (One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers) wounded by the explosion of a torpedo on Battery Island, and 1 man (Fifty-fourth Massachusetts) killed while on picket on Morris Island by the enemy’s shells.

Of the movements and dispositions of the enemy, I have reported in another letter.

I will pick up Schimmelfennig’s assessment of the Confederates… and a “snapshot” of the Confederate dispositions in a follow up post.

Closing, Schimmelfennig requested guidance as to what additional cuts he might make with the defenses.  Or in other words, what parts of the barrier islands he needed to hold and and what parts he might abandon to the Confederates:

I would respectfully beg to be definitely informed whether I am to receive more troops here, and, if so, in what number. If not, I shall be obliged to make a different disposition of my forces, holding only the main points and chief lines of communication, such as Morris Island, Light-House Inlet, the south end of Folly Island, and Stono Inlet, abandoning the middle of Folly Island and Pawnee Landing, and holding Long Island only as a post of observation.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. Schimmelfennig,
Brigadier-General, Commanding District.

We often read about field and garrison commands in inactive sectors being forced to reduce their complement.  Indeed, with Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant’s plan for spring 1864, many commanders were forced to stretch their manpower thin.  While not major decisions of the type showcased in thick campaign histories, the decisions about what would be garrisoned, patrolled, and protected were still decisions that had to be made.  As a military historian, I’ve always been fascinated with how such decisions rolled around the command before being implemented.

There was still a reason to keep men in blue sack coats on Morris Island.  The question was how those men might best be employed.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 69-70.)


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