September 28, 1864: Beauregard heading back to Charleston

On September 28, 1864, Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton passed along two intercepted messages from the Confederate lines at Charleston.  The second of these, from Beach Inlet to Battery Bee, read:

Captain Smith requests that you will let us know when General Beauregard crossed the bridge.

With this bit of information, Saxton asked his superior, Major-General John Foster, for a special liberty:

I propose to give General Beauregard a salute in Charleston this evening from my 200-pounders.

Was General P.G.T. Beauregard returning to command at Charleston?  No, but in a round-about… sort of.  After serving through the summer months in command at Petersburg, Beauregard grew tired of living in General Robert E. Lee’s shadow. And at the same time, the creole’s performance in August left authorities in the War Department looking for a way to ease him out of Virginia.

The visit to Charleston was not, however, a move to resume his old command.  Rather he arrived to investigate the conduct of Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley and to handle some administrative tasks, as Beauregard related to Major-General Samuel Jones on September 25:

The president has ordered me (verbally) to repair to Charleston and await further orders, meanwhile to inquire into the difficulty between yourself and Brigadier-General Ripley, and to examine the condition of the defenses and troops at and about Charleston, assisted by my chief engineer, Col. D.B. Harris, and chief inspector, Lieut. Col. A. Roman.  The former is then to remain on duty with you until further orders as inspector of fortifications and adviser in that branch of the service.

The problems with Ripley came to a head during the long summer months.  And these problems came out of a bottle.  During one of the general alarms sounded in July, in response to Federal activity, aides suspected he was drunk.  Then on September 17, he had a loud argument with the department quartermaster, in which several witnesses claimed he was drunk.  After just a day investigating the matter, Beauregard reached a conclusion:

It is evident from the within communications that Brig. Gen. R.S. Ripley cannot be intrusted at this critical time with so important a command as the First Military District of this department (comprising of the city and harbor of Charleston), which offers such great temptations and facilities for indulging in his irregular habits.  The past efficient services of Brigadier-General Ripley may entitle him still to some consideration at your hands. I therefore respectfully recommend that he may be ordered to active service in the field where time, reflection, and a stricter discipline may have their favorable influences over him.

Everyone from Charleston to Richmond agreed that Ripley should be relieved.  But none outside of Beauregard felt Ripley needed a second chance, especially at Petersburg.  But with all the other concerns of the time, Ripley remained in command pending further deliberation, though reassigned to Sullivan’s Island by the end of the month.  On balance, perhaps the return of Harris to his engineering duties was a fair trade?

September 28 saw another Confederate general receive orders to make way to Charleston.  General John B. Hood’s Special Orders No. 5 as commander of the Department of Tennessee and Georgia:

By direction of the President, Lieut. Gen. W. J. Hardee is relieved from duty in the Army of Tennessee, and will proceed at once to Charleston, S.C., and assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

With this, Brigadier-General Samuel Jones stepped down from department command and assumed command of the District of South Carolina (the state minus the Third Military District).

For what it was worth, Beauregard was heading the opposite direction after his stay in Charleston.  He’d accepted a command in charge of the “west,” where his responsibilities were largely administrative, though including those areas where Hood and Hardee now operated.

Thus the Confederate command responsible for the defenses of Savannah and Charleston shuffled around in the early fall of 1864.  Before the winter season arrived, those commands would face a Federal threat unlike that seen earlier in the war.   A storm was coming to the coast.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Serial 66, pages 304, 630, 632-3, and 635.)

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