“… for the purpose of destroying our Davids”: Federal actions to block the Stono River, June 1864

I pass this particular episode along, not as it is an important event in the siege of Charleston, but as a good demonstration of how different first-hand accounts work in conjunction for the historian.

In his journal for June 25, 1864, Major Edward Manigault, in charge of the South Carolina siege train artillery and a portion of the James Island defenses, described at length some Federal activity which he observed occurring on the Stono River that day:

About 10 O’Clock A.M. rode down to the Front.  Got up into an Oak Tree to observe any Movements of the enemy which might take place. About 11:30 a large Yawl or Ship’s boat with 6 Men in it came sailing up the Stono and landed on Horse Island to S.W. of the Battery.

About 12 M. She Commenced towing a floating object about 100 yards. long towards the piles which are driven below Battery Island. At the end of this object was a barrel and the intermediate points were supported by floats.  A large Skiff, probably 30 ft. long, Came to their assistance (Containing 8 men).  Apparently they made their Tow fast to the piles and then hauled back a Cable to Horse Island near the Battery.

I could not of course tell the object or purpose of their movements, but thought it possible that they might be attaching Torpedoes to the Row of piles, for the purpose of destroying our “Davids” should they venture down. I got back to Camp at 3 P.M. quite fatigued, as remaining for 3 or 3½ hours in a Constrained position in a Tree top is very trying.

Indeed, though it sounds fun to the inner-boy in me, I can sympathize with Manigault in regard to remaining atop a tree for extended periods of time.  But what he observed was not distinctly clear to him at the time.  And his mention of torpedoes is just speculation.  Clearly the Federals were doing some work at the pilings (those placed in December the previous year).

StonoPilings1

What were the Federals doing on the Stono?  In his regular report of the week’s activity posted on June 28, 1864, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig included one short paragraph which describes those activities:

The boom across Stono River was laid, but sunk, through miscalculations on the part of the captain of engineers; it will be relaid by to-morrow night.

So, it was not torpedoes, as Manigualt speculated, but rather a boom in front of the pilings.  Though a boom at that location would effectively serve the same purpose – keeping the Davids bottled up – and additionally work to defeat any floating torpedoes sent down by the Confederates.  Likely what Manigault saw were the Federals working on the boom (on June 25), then calling on additional assistance when things failed.  And later on June 29, Manigualt noted a lot of activity on Horse Island (which the Federals labeled “Dog Island” on their maps).  Apparently the boom recovery operation went forward as planned.

Looking at the two reports, a better, if not perfectly clear, accounting for events emerge – the Federals were indeed improving the obstacles on the Stono River, but not with torpedoes.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 67; 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 186.)