“The result of gross carlessness”: Federals capture a picket post in front of James Island

Though relegated to a secondary theater, Charleston remained an active front through the spring of 1864.  A major reason for this was the Federal desire to offer a show of force, perhaps drawing the Confederate to retain troops at Charleston which were sorely needed elsewhere.  In the middle of May, the Federals were particularly aggressive.  On May 12, Colonel Leopold von Gilsa, commanding the garrison on Folly Island, received orders to cover a boat assault on the Confederate picket lines.  Specifically, the raiding force targeted a blockhouse between Long and Black Islands.  Von Gilsa’s instructions were:

… first, that you place a detachment of at least 20 men on Pine Island, who may from there be able to render assistance to our party in case of any accident happening to any one of the boats; second, that you keep a green lantern (and if that cannot be obtained, a white one) burning all night, suspended on the lookout on the right of Long Island.

In his orders, Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig added:

… to-morrow morning you have your pickets posted on Pine Island, as they were before. If the enemy opens fire on them you will have such instructions given that your batteries on Cole’s Island and Long Island will open on the enemy at the time of their relieving their outposts; the artillery with canister, and the rockets in one volley of twelve at a time, The troughs out of which the rockets are fired must be placed in position by daylight the day before. If you have not men properly instructed in the use of rockets on your lines please inform the general; he will order some men from the Rocket Battery.

The boat attack went forward as planned and captured the picket post.  My estimation of the route used by the boats is depicted in light blue on the map below:


What is somewhat confusing is the Federal description of the boat assault party’s route – using Light House Inlet to attack “the block-house situated between Long and Black Islands.”  However, in his journal, Major Edward Manigault recorded on May 13:

Five of our men on Picket at Post No. 5 (Yankee Battery from which Secessionville was Shelled in 1862) were Captured this Morning about 1 hour after sunrise.

Manigault’s description places the picket post on the southwest of Secessionville, and not to the southeast and closer to Light House Inlet.  Manigault added the Federal success was likely due to the laxness of the pickets:

This must have been the result of gross carelessness, they were probably all asleep.  Corporal Moorer was in charge.

Records from the 2nd South Carolina Artillery show a Corporal W.J.D. Moorer, of Company F, as captured on May 12, 1864.  I’ll give the date a plus-minus one there.  Moorer went to a Federal prison camp on Hilton Head, where his name was placed on a list endorsed:

Those captured by the colored soldiers will be exchanged for col’d soldiers.  Those who wish to take the Oath of Allegiance will be suffered to do so.  Aug. 1, ’64, J.G. Foster, Major-General, Commanding.

Page 20

Moorer, thus, became one of those subjected to Brigadier-General John Hatch’s preferred response to Confederate handling of captured USCT soldiers.

In May of that year, the 55th Massachusetts occupied Little Folly Island; the 54th Massachusetts stood guard on Block Island; and the 21st and 34th USCT (the latter formerly the 2nd South Carolina) were on Morris Island.  A sizable portion of the infantry defending the Federal purchase in front of Charleston.   And from the results of the boat raid, these USCT regiments had become very acquainted with the skills needed for warfare in the marshes.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 91; Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, page 140.)


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