Delays moving Keitt’s regiment to Virginia: May 23, 1864 demonstrations against James Island

In yesterday’s post, I cited Federal orders for demonstrations in front of James Island.  The purpose of these operations was to draw Confederate forces to Charleston.  Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig ordered four specific actions – I wouldn’t say columns – to demonstrate as if the Federals intended to press on the Confederate picket lines, and possibly move onto James Island itself.


Schimmelfennig called for close timing of these actions.  Specifically, he ordered rockets and howitzers to fire from Cole’s Island around 4 PM, then musketry at 6 PM.  By 4 PM, the boats carrying the 32nd USCT should arrive in the Stono River.  So did that timing come off?  Indeed, as observed by Major Edward Manigault in his journal:

About 4 P.M. two Gunboats came up Stono River and commenced furious shelling of our Pickets, at the same time Hale’s Rockets were thrown from Dixon’s Island and also a 12 Pndr. Boat Howitzer (probably) discharged from thence.  The 10 Pndr. Parrotts on Long Island shelled the Stone House….

After 6 P.M. (about) the Gunboats ceased shelling.  The Parrott Guns from Long Island continued shelling almost all night. Also there were repeated discharges of Canister from Boat Howitzers in the Creeks where they approached nearest the shore of James Island.

About 6 ½ P.M. the Enemy commenced a sharp Fusilade all along the front of Dickson’s Island and probably Battery Island; we could hear the balls strike the Overseer’s House at times. What was the object of this fusilading, except to show that they had a considerable force and wished to intimidate us, I cannot conceive. About dark it ceased.

Please note, Dixon’s, Dickson’s, and Battery Island are all high points in the marsh in front of James Island.  Confederate and Federal accounts offer different names for these.  Often the Federals referred to “Cole’s Island” encompassing all of these high spots.  Regardless of the placenames, Manigault’s record indicates the Federals executed properly, and in accordance with Schimmelfennig’s orders.

All this movement and noise had the desired affect. Among other units, several companies of the 20th South Carolina Volunteers, under Colonel Laurence Keitt, reinforced James Island.  The 20th, and Colonel Keitt, were supposed to be heading north to Virginia.  But their journey was thus delayed for about two days in response to the show of force on the marshes.  To further draw this point out, consider Keitt’s 900-man regiment would not arrive in Richmond until May 29.  Days later, Keitt lead Brigadier-General Joseph Kershaw’s old brigade into action at Cold Harbor.  And he was mortally wounded on June 1.   Just one of many examples showing the tight connection between these theaters of war in the spring of 1864.  We might raise the question, with justification – did the demonstrations at James Island have some impact, even small, on the Overland Campaign?  What could have changed had Keitt’s regiment arrived in Virginia two days earlier?

Assessing the impact of these demonstrations, Schimmelfennig later reported:

I am satisfied that the sham attack of the 22d, on James Island, and the demonstration of the 23d, have produced the desired result, viz, to oblige the enemy to keep a larger force than my own on my front. Their pickets have in some cases been observed to be materially strengthened; more tents are visible on James Island than before, and a greater number of bathers and strollers are to be seen around Fort Johnson and at other points. Our batteries on Morris Island have thrown the usual number of shells into the city and Fort Sumter. The firing into the city has been made more lively during business hours, some 30 shots being thrown in between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Federal government was indeed getting their money’s worth out of the garrisons on Morris and Folly Islands.  If for nothing more than forcing the Confederates to pause on their troop redeployments.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 60; 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 162-3.)

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