While the Overland and Atlanta Campaigns ground on, demonstrations and presentations at Charleston

I’m not trying to “over hype” the activity around Charleston, South Carolina in 1864.  Truly, Virginia and Georgia were the important theaters of war 150 years ago.  But I’ve grown to enjoy explaining the role played by forces – both Confederate and Federal – in the “sideshow” theater played in the larger efforts.   One example came on May 22, 1864, when Major-General Samuel Jones passed some very explicit orders to Brigadier-General William Taliaferro, commanding Confederate forces on James Island:

Charleston, S. C., May 22, 1864.
Brig. Gen. William B. Taliaferro,
Royall’s House, James Island:

Send back the troops forwarded you as you can spare them. It is important that they leave for Virginia as soon as practicable. Advise the quartermaster here of transportation needed. Display them as conspicuously as you can to the enemy before leaving. A little theatrical arrangement may double the number.

Sam. Jones,
Major-General.

With the fighting in Virginia chewing up infantry a a rate not seen before in the war, every spare infantryman in South Carolina was ordered onto trains heading north.  Some of the troops recently dispatched were the 12th and 18th Georgia Battalions and the 12th South Carolina Infantry Regiment. Departure of some troops was delayed in reaction to Federal probes towards the James Island picket line.   And before those troops went forward on their journey north, Jones wanted to ensure the Federals received a show of force, presenting a false strength in that sector.

The delay of troops was miniscule in comparison to the larger war effort.  But an extra hour in Charleston might mean the difference between a position held, up north in Virginia, and one lost for want of reinforcement. And more importantly, the Federal strategy was one of putting pressure at all possible points.  The more Confederate troops drawn towards Charleston, the less troops were available elsewhere.

Towards that end, Brigadier-General John Hatch, commanding the Department of the South, ordered more demonstrations from the garrisons on Folly and Morris Island.  Orders went down through Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig to Colonel Leopold von Gilsa on Folly Island… detailed orders:

Colonel: I have received orders this a.m. to make such demon-stations in this district as to cause the enemy to concentrate his forces in Charleston. These demonstrations must be made at once in order to have the desired effect. You will therefore–

First. Order the commanding officer of Long Island to show a number of men in his front, and with unusual life to cross over troops ostensibly, say about 2 o’clock this p.m., to Tiger Island, where they should hide away. He should, however, not send such numbers ever as to make the enemy’s fire on Tiger Island effective. The troops must remain there until late at night; must not return before 12. He should show his boat howitzer up the creek. Should fire from the fort at the enemy’s outposts toward the chimneys at 2 o’clock this p.m.

Second. You will order a strong patrol over to Broad Island. The men should show themselves and remain there until 12 to-night.

Third. You will order the commanding officer of Cole’s Island to cross over at once with a force of, say, at least 60 men, to Battery Island. They should hide away as though taking a position as skirmishers. The howitzer should be taken at once to the fort on the right. A rocket volley should be prepared at the bridge on the right, and at least 30 rockets should be fired away in three volleys. Planks should be ostensibly brought to the bridge on the right, and the bridge on the left should be ostensibly fixed so as to alarm the enemy. The firing from Cole’s Island should commence with the rockets and howitzer at 4 this p.m., and at 6 o’clock musketry fire should commence along the whole line.

Fourth. You will have the troops of the Thirty-second U.S. Colored Regiment ready at the wharf at 2 o’clock and embark them on the steamers ordered there for that purpose. Besides those of the Thirty-second you should have at least 60 veterans on these steamers. Three rocket-boats will be ready at the same time, and the men will report to you.

If the gun-boats should not go up, which they will be requested to do, the expedition will go without them, and start at 2.30 up Stono River. The boats will halt in the neighborhood of Battery Island, and land a small part of these troops there, but on the whole take such a position as to leave the enemy in an uncertainty whether we will land on James or John’s Island.

They will take shelter behind the piles and will lie in the river until late at night, not to leave before 12. The rocket-boat will advance further. You will furnish Captain Jungblut with 40 men, which he will command besides his company. They will attack the farm on the right bank of the Stono River, about 2 miles above Legareville. Captain Jungblut will receive his instructions direct from the general commanding.

Notice the times offered for each phase of this operation.  This was no minor boat raid.  Schimmelfennig’s orders called for an orchestrated and coordinated effort, pretending to be a strong force moving on either James or Johns Island.  On the map, this demonstration appeared roughly as such:

May23-64Demonstrations

The numbered yellow circles correspond to the points given in the orders.  Unfortunately for the 32nd USCT regiment working up the Stono River, the Navy was unable to provide gunboats for support.  Though the force would still continue up the river, remaining in the relatively secure waters near Battery Island.  Patrols, boat howitzers, rocket barrages, and feints… all “to cause the enemy to concentrate his forces in Charleston.”

While Jones presented and postured with forces he was sending away, Schimmelfennig was demonstrating with a force that Hatch felt was barely enough to hold the line.  All small parts of the greater efforts made in a war reaching a crescendo through the spring of 1864.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 101 and 497.)

 

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