July 4, 1864: “The intense heat of the day prevented a longer march” by Hatch on John’s Island

By the Fourth of July, 1864, Major-General John Foster’s operations had met with, at best, marginal success.  A raid by Brigadier-General William Birney ended before it started.  Brigadier-General John Hatch’s advance on John’s Island got off to a sluggish start.  On James Island, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig had captured some Confederate earthworks and demonstrated in front of their main line of resistance, but a July 3 morning assault on Fort Johnson was little short of a disaster (only because the loss of life was not higher).  Still, Foster was not ready to throw in the towel.

On the morning of July 3, Hatch continued his march inland on John’s Island.  After completing landings his force at around 10 a.m.,  Hatch pushed out Colonel W. W. H. Davis’ brigade:

Davis’ brigade, the [4th Massachusetts] cavalry, and a piece of artillery marched to Jenkins’ house, on Bohicket Creek, 4 miles in advance of the cut, on the morning of the 3d, and the whole command was consolidated at that point on the evening of the same day. From the moment of landing a small force of the enemy’s cavalry hovered around the advance, occasionally firing upon us, but rapidly falling back when pursued by our cavalry.

On July 4, Hatch continued the march, but ever slowly:

The command moved to a point on the Aberpoolie Creek, 3 miles from Legareville, where a detachment of 25 of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry and Wildt’s battery of the Third New York Artillery joined.  The intense heat of the day prevented a longer march that day, a large number of the command becoming exhausted.

While slow, this did put Hatch in a position to threaten several sensitive points on the Confederate line.  Foster deemed it best to have Hatch threaten the Confederate lines along the Stono River.  So marching orders for July 5 would put the column opposite Battery Pringle.

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Along the Stono River, the Navy had moved up additional gunboats and monitors to support the line held on the west end of James Island.  USS Lehigh, USS Montauk, USS Pawnee, and USS McDonough, along with mortar schooners USS Para and USS Racer now all clustered in the narrow Stono River.  This force provided excellent cover for the infantry.  July 3rd passed relatively quietly compared to the previous day.  On July 4th, the navy dueled with Battery Pringle before a “refreshing rain with strong wind came in the afternoon.” After that rain, the Federals advanced a skirmish line from the 54th New York Infantry Battalion.  After meeting stiff musketry, the skirmishers fell back with two killed and six wounded.  One of the later lay between the lines, as witnessed by Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts:

After our force fell back, we could see a man of the Fifty-fourth New York lying on the open ground between the lines.  He was alive, for he would occasionally raise himself.  The enemy would not permit him to be brought in.  A gallant officer of the staff essayed the dangerous task, but was fired upon.  Our officers and men of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts were exasperated at this firing on men engaged in a humane act, and sharply replied to the enemy for an hour.  At dark a field-piece was brought near, and under cover of grape, a party of eight men from Company E with a stretcher went out to bring the poor fellow in.  He was found dead.

Along the remainder of the Charleston front, heavy guns skirmished, as was the usual practice, with batteries on Morris Island exchanging shots with Confederate gunners on Sullivan’s and James Island.  One burst Parrott cost a Rhode Island artillerist his sight.

This effort of July 2-4 had some effect on the Confederates.  Major-General Samuel Jones had already shifted around 500 men from Sullivan’s Island to shore up James Island.  He also pulled a battalion of cavalry and three more companies of dismounted cavalry to Charleston to reinforce the lines.  Even the cadets of the Citadel were called upon to guard Federal prisoners.  Jones requested troops from Major-General W.H.C. Whiting in Wilmington, North Carolina and General J.E. Johnston in northern Georgia.   Johnston, having just fallen back from the Kennesaw Line, now occupied another line (of less formidable nature) near Smyrna.  Jones desperately repeated his requests on July 4:

Have you received my telegram of the 2d instant asking for reinforcements.  The movements of the enemy in last three days place this city in great danger.  I think 3,000 additional men would make it secure against the force now operating against it. Can you send them to me for temporary service?

Johnston, of course, was not in a position to spare even a fraction of that number.  But he did respond, sending the 5th and 57th Georgia Infantry regiments – with a total strength of around 520 men.  Not the numbers Jones needed.

Likewise not exactly the great numbers Foster wanted to see diverted.  But Foster still had cards to play outside Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 84; Luis Fenollosa Emilio, History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894, pages 210.)

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