“It is absolutely necessary at once to obtain full knowledge”: James Island Boat Raids

On May 21, 1864 a series of orders went out from Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig to his subordinates on Morris and Folly Islands.  These all aimed at further raids in front of James Island:

Outpost reports have been received from different points along the line indicative of movements of the troops on our front. It seems the enemy has considerably weakened his lines. It is absolutely necessary at once to obtain full knowledge of the facts, to what extent the enemy has weakened his lines, and what part of them is so affected. You are hereby instructed to send out reconnoitering parties, wherever you can, upon your front during the day, to keep a sharp watch from the lookouts, and make such arrangements as to insure the capture of some prisoners during this night. Prisoners can easily be made on John’s Island; as to James Island, if information cannot be otherwise obtained, the outposts should be attacked. You will request the co-operation of the commanding [officer] of the naval forces in Stono Inlet, and a landing should be effected on the right bank of Stono River, on John’s Island, above Legareville. If the gun-boats do not like to go as far up the river as Captain Gibson did last time, rocket-boats must go up and cover the landing, setting the farm on fire….

Schimmelfennig also sent separate requests for support to the naval forces in the Stono River and operating in Light House Inlet.  In addition to cooperation and support, the army leaders wanted to prevent any fratricide incidents in the dark.

To Colonel Leopold von Gilsa, Schimmelfennig issued an admonishment of sorts, through his adjutant-general Lieutenant W.B. Dean:

The general commanding has learned that bodies of the enemy’s troops have been moving within range of our batteries, and that they have not been fired upon. The general commanding therefore directs that whenever any movements of the enemy in force occur within range of our batteries they shall be fired upon day or night. This to be the general rule for the future.

Additional instructions later that day called for von Gilsa to provide two additional boats from Broad Island to aid any men from the raiding party  that might be separated or trapped.

A very elaborate operation.  What we’d call today an inshore, riverine operation.  This included army troops on boats supported by distant artillery in the fortifications, rockets and naval gunfire.  All with an aim to gain the “full knowledge of the facts.”  But why?  Brigadier-General John Hatch had already ruled out an offensive, and even complained he lacked the troops to garrison what was held at that time.

Think big picture here.  The generals on the South Carolina coast knew some troops were departing the theater for Virginia and Georgia.  And with the intensity on those fronts growing by the day, more would follow.  Schimmelfennig and Hatch wanted to know just how thin their opponent had stripped in the effort to keep Richmond and Atlanta defended.  Not so much for an opportunity to dash at Charleston.  Rather to report the full nature of the Confederate reinforcements sent to Richmond… and possibly to delay the dispatch of more forces.  The campaigns of 1864 were far more interconnected than those of previous years.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, pages 98-99.)


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