“The city batteries were not manned”: Jones asks for the 18th Georgia to defend Charleston

Yesterday I made note of transferred troops from the Federal Department of the South, calling it an indication of the tight connection between theaters of war during the summer of 1864.  Let me turn now to a similar example from the Confederate side of Charleston harbor… and sort of the inverse of that of the Federals.

On August 19, 1864, Major-General Samuel Jones, commanding the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, wrote to General Braxton Bragg, serving as an adviser to President Jefferson Davis:

You no doubt remember that when you were here I brought to your notice the fact that the city batteries in Charleston were not manned, the outer batteries and lines requiring all my force. I have not heretofore urged the Department to send me re-enforcements because I knew, to some extent at least, the pressing demand for troops in Virginia and North Georgia, and appreciated the importance of successfully resisting the two chief armies of the enemy. But I have constantly felt and still feel the greatest anxiety for the safety of this place and Savannah. By the gallantry and good conduct of the officers, this place, under Providence, was successfully defended in the first ten days of July against an attack much more formidable than is generally supposed. The enemy’s plans were good, and if they had been carried out with more spirit and determination might well have resulted in serious disaster to us. The facilities for water transportation enabled the enemy, in a few hours, to concentrate his troops, without my knowledge, either to renew the attack on this place or attempt one on Savannah. I am, therefore, exceedingly anxious to have re-enforcements as soon as any can be sent.

Jones didn’t just need some unit, he preferred a unit that could handle the heavy artillery that was the main defense of Charleston.  And he had a specific unit in mind:

I desire, however, at present to bring to your especial attention the great need for instructed artillerists to man the city batteries here. The recent success of the enemy’s navy in Mobile Bay may encourage them to attempt to run past our outer batteries and take position in the Cooper or Ashley Rivers or both. They probably have information of the condition of our city batteries; and, if so, it will of course encourage them to make the attempt. I have, therefore, to ask if Major Basinger’s battalion, the Eighteenth Georgia, now I believe stationed at Mattoax, on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, can be sent to this place. That battalion is well instructed in the use of heavy guns, and has had much experience in that service both here and at Savannah. With it here to man the city batteries I do not think the enemy’s vessels could pass those batteries. Can you not supply its place at Mattoax by a force capable of using the small guns there and guarding the bridge as well as the Eighteenth Georgia? When we have so few men well instructed in the use of heavy artillery it seems like an injudicious use of good and scarce material to keep that battalion where it is when it is so much needed  here. I hope it may be found consistent with the public interest to send me Basinger’s battalion without delay, and if it cannot be sent now that it be sent as soon as it can be.

So was the 18th Georgia up for a return south?

Bragg circulated this request through offices in Richmond.  From the Inspector General’s Office came the reply, “The Eighteenth Georgia Battalion is in the Army of Northern Virginia and now at Petersburg.”  Secretary of War James Seddon added, “I am at a loss to afford re-enforcements unless from the reserves. Major Basinger’s battalion might, on need, be substituted.”

The fate of Charleston was now directly tied to the fate of Richmond, Petersburg, and Atlanta.  Another way to look at this – the Confederacy lost strategic mobility in the summer of 1864.  All marks were posted.  There were no more to call in.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 612-3.)

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