“The contingency is too gloomy to think about”: Resources strained between Virginia and South Carolina

On this day (June 2) in 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered a reconnaissance to determine the extent of Federal dispositions on Bermuda Hundred.  Colonel Olin M. Dantzler lead the 22nd South Carolina on this endeavor.   Dantzler used a ravine to conceal his approach, but that came to a head a few hundred yards short of the Federal works.  And there his men stood face to face with the guns of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery : two 32-pdr howitzers, a 24-pdr howitzers, a 20-pdr Parrott, and two 30-pdr Parrotts.  The howitzers did the most damage.  Canister claimed Dantzler and sixteen of his men.

I’ve mentioned that action a time or two before, as it is one of the few instances where 32-pdr field howitzers were used in combat.  But looking beyond that tactical setting, there is an interesting “big picture” angle to consider with this action.  When Dantzler fell, his body was retrieved by the Federals.  And on his body was a letter relating some intelligence of note.  Major-General Benjamin Butler quickly passed an extract of the letter along to Washington:

No news; all very quiet here. We are very short-handed now. The Twentieth [South Carolina Infantry] was positively ordered, and was ready to go, but the order was countermanded and it is now the only infantry left nearer Charleston than Savannah. If we are allowed to remain quiet, all this is well enough, but if we should be attacked by any of the approaches to the city, I fear the consequences.

The contingency is too gloomy to think about.

I’ve often wondered if the letter, or at least word of the letter, passed through Major-General Quincy Gillmore’s headquarters.  The men of the Tenth Corps, veterans of the Morris Island campaign the previous summer, were familiar with Dantzler.  Recall that a counterattack led by Dantzler on the night of August 21, 1863 which significantly delayed the Federal approach to Battery Wagner.  And Gillmore would instantly understand the implications of Dantzler’s South Carolinians presence in Virginia.

The intelligence gleaned from Dantzler’s letter demonstrated, if there was any lingering doubt, the “they have not army enough” strategy was working.  The down side, of course, to implement such the Federals had to spread themselves very thin in places.  One place being Charleston, and thus negated any opportunity to exploit the Confederate weakness.

And this incident demonstrated again just how interconnected the different theaters had become by this stage of the war – familiar adversaries fighting in different venue, with implications reaching far afield.  The stakes were much higher in the spring of 1864.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 110.)




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