June 23, 1864: New fortifications or rice? Sam Jones addresses conflicting needs and labor assignments

Much of the labor force employed around Charleston and Savannah came from slave labor, by calling upon the slave owners (be that a direct draft, impressment, or voluntary). During his tenure in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, General P.G.T. Beauregard found the need to balance work on fortifications with other needs.  In particular, Beauregard considered the need to tend crops in the field.  Coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia were still major producers of rice.   With other grain producing regions pressed by Federal advances, the rice from those coastal counties was more important than ever to the Confederacy.

In the summer of 1864, Major-General Samuel Jones, then commanding the department, saw the same conflicting requirements as Beauregard the year before.  He addressed the issue, somewhat, in orders to Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley, commanding the First Military District of South Carolina, on June 23, 1864:

General: As it is of great importance, in the present state of our forces, to cause the defensive works of our most important points to be finished without delay, and of but little less to effect this object with as little interference with the agricultural labor of the country as possible, I desire that you will take steps to obtain from the rice planters in this vicinity the services of as many hands as can be spared during the coming period when their crop is laid by, and make such preparation as will insure that this labor shall be expended to the best advantage, and that proper care and attention is given to the negroes.

It is my wish that under no circumstances shall the negroes be retained when their services are required for gathering in the crop. The usual pay will be allowed and the labor furnished by each planter reported to the State agent to be credited him in future calls.

The priority, set by Jones, was to the crops first and then to the defenses.  Ripley could, however, contact the slave-owners directly, so long as the state-level agents were informed.

Ripley’s command included Sullivan’s Island, where Federals had often cast an eye as to the next move against Charleston.  So Jones must have considered the prioritization with deliberation.    This was yet another aspect of the pressure placed upon Charleston by Major-General John Foster’s Federals.  Measuring the number of troops retained at Charleston who could have fought in Virginia (which by June 1864 was arguably small) is easy.  Measuring the day’s worth of rations that Foster could, by exerting more pressure, deprive the Confederate field armies is a bit harder to calculate.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 537.)