A shot into Charleston every 15 minutes: Foster’s orders to Morris Island, September 12, 1864

On September 12, 1864, Major-General John Foster issued a lengthy order to Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, commanding the Northern District (Morris and Folly Islands) of the Department of the South.  These orders began with a set of instructions about ongoing bombardments of Confederate positions, to include the city of Charleston:

I send you a recapitulation of the verbal orders you received when I was at Morris Island, with a few additions. You will cause a shot to be fired into the city of Charleston every fifteen minutes, each one carefully pointed so as not to endanger our prisoners, say at the middle steeple, and elevated and charged so as to range to the upper part of the city. An occasional shot will be fired at Sumter from our batteries on Cumming’s Point. The Swamp Angel will be fired at night in order to prevent the discharge of supply vessels or steamers at Sumter. The other batteries will regulate their fire by the enemy, generally answering all their shots, gun for gun…. The columbiads should be removed from Cole’s Island to Fort Delafield, and the 30-pounder Parrotts from Long Island to Morris or Folly Island. Light guns should be substituted for the columbiads on Cole’s Island and for those taken from Long Island.

Foster continued with detailed instructions to improve the works on Morris Island by repairing the palisading and stockades.  He also changed the steamers assigned to support the Northern District, replacing deep draft ships with those able to “go either outside or inside” the inland passages and shoals.

The second half of these orders focused on how to manage the 600 Confederate prisoners of war on Morris Island:

Your particular attention will be given to the care of the prisoners of war on Morris Island, and the utmost vigilance exercised on the part of the guards.

I desire that detailed orders may be given to every regiment and detachment in your command as to their rallying points and their duties, in case of an attack by a party of the enemy in boats with the design of liberating the rebel prisoners. These detailed orders should be concise and clear, and be thoroughly understood by every officer and man. Very little dependence must be placed upon the firing from Fort Strong on parties of men while on the island; all such must be attended to by infantry and light artillery. The rations of our officers, prisoners of war in Charleston, have been ascertained to be as follows: Fresh meat, three-quarters of a pound, or one,half pound of salt meat; rice, one-fifth pint; one-half pound hard-bread or one-half pint of meal: beans, one-fifth pint. I desire that in rationing the prisoners of war now in your hands you be governed accordingly, making sure that they receive no more than the above except what salt or vinegar may be necessary for them. You may, whenever it is deemed advisable, issue molasses to them in lieu of any of the articles mentioned. Our officers confined in Charleston are obliged to cook their own food, and I desire that the prisoners in our hands be made to do the same, unless you consider it more convenient or safe to do their cooking by soldiers detailed for the purpose. If you conclude to have the prisoners do their own cooking, details must be made from each detachment for the purpose, and the cooking must be done within the limits of the prison camp, and care must be taken to see that the cooking places are thoroughly cleansed after each meal. The printed orders issued by Colonel Gurney for the government of the camp must be modified accordingly.

Foster was determined to match, as closely as possible, the conditions of the Federals in Charleston, right down to the food preparation.  But at the same time, he was concerned for the sanitary conditions in the prison camp.

These orders set the tone and the focus for Foster’s command through the next weeks.  Bombardment of Charleston would continue, even if the bombardment of Fort Sumter and other points slackened.  The “prisoner issue” which started earlier in the summer, now reached a standoff. The “Immortal 600” were in their prison at the front lines.  For the first time, both sides held “hostages” under the guns.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 284-5.)


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