I know it is all “Overland Campaign” and “Atlanta or Bust!” for the Sesquicentennial right now. But I cannot let a week go by without at least some mention of affairs at Charleston 150 years ago! On this day (May 8) in 1864, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig wrote to his new commander, Brigadier-General John Hatch, in regard to Hale’s Rockets. As mentioned earlier, Schimmelfennig employed them in the area around Morris and Folly Islands and found them quite useful. Indeed, with the reduced garrisons and need to keep pressure on the Confederates, Schimmelfennig stressed the importance of the weapon:
Hdqrs. Northern District, Dept. of the South,
Folly Island, S.C., May 8, 1864.
Capt. W. L. M. Burger,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Dept. of the South:
Captain: I have the honor to call your attention to the fact that I made application to Major-General Gillmore some weeks since to have an additional supply of Hale’s war rockets drawn from the North, a copy of which letter I herewith annex. I would respectfully inquire whether a requisition for them was forwarded by General Gillmore, and if not, beg that General Hatch would order such requisition to be made as soon as practicable. I consider it of the highest importance, indispensable in my present position here, that I should be supplied with this projectile. In no other way can I drive the enemy’s picket-boats off the creek and during the night out of the harbor. I need them further to drive the enemy out of various positions which I cannot approach with artillery. I am convinced that the surest and speediest way of obtaining the rockets, so as to have them here at the time they are needed, will be to send an officer for them. I would respectfully request that orders be issued for Capt. F. K. Smith, One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, one of my aides-de-camp, who is thoroughly acquainted with the different varieties of the projectile, to proceed North without delay for the purpose of obtaining them.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
The tactical consideration here is worthy of note. Schimmelfennig looked for a light-weight weapon that provided good effects on the receiving end. Conventional artillery and even boat howitzers weighed too much to employ on the marshes without a lot of time preparing supporting structures. Furthermore the guns were difficult to conceal while all that work was going in. These rockets, on the other hand, might go into place with little to no preparation. Granted, the rockets were inaccurate even by Civil War standards. But in a situation were a picket post might have no other supporting weapons, the rockets were a good substitute for proper artillery.
(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 87.)