“I desire to call your attention to the following points”: Foster’s instructions to Scammon, October 1864

When he first took command of the Department of the South in the spring of 1864, Major-General John Foster inherited the veteran Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig in command of Federal forces on Folly and Morris Islands – officially the Northern District, but the Charleston Front, if I may.  When Schimmelfenning departed on leave, for health reasons, Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton filled in for the month of September.  On October 3, 1864, Brigadier-General Eliakim P. Scammon received orders to replace Saxton in command of the Northern District.  Previous to this assignment, Scammon had served mostly in West Virginia, but had led a brigade at Antietam in 1862 as part of the Ninth Corps.  He fell into Confederate hands in February 1864 and was was among the fifty officers held in Charleston later that year. After his exchange and brief leave, he was assigned to the Department of the South.

On the day he assigned Scammon to command, Foster provided a set of detailed instructions in regard to operations against Charleston.  Those  instructions offer insight into Foster’s intent for operations in the theater.  Prefacing the message, Foster asked Scammon to visit each battery in the Federal defenses and consult with the officers then serving in the sector.  Scammon was “to obtain a perfect knowledge of their condition and position.”  After that, he was to follow Foster’s instructions, arranged in six points:

 First. To build a new palisading all around Fort Putnam, including the recent addition of the six-gun naval battery; to complete this battery and to provide proper flanking defense for its face, bomb-proofs, &c. The reverse of this battery is to have a stockade with loop-holes for infantry. As many more 200-pounders as room can be found for will also be placed in this battery, for the treble object of firing on the city, Fort Sumter, and Sullivan’s Island.

Attention to the palisading was with the aim to improve defenses against Confederates raids.  And the 200-pdr (8-inch) Parrotts were the preferred weapons for work against Fort Sumter or Charleston.  As a refresher, to support the details of this “point” and those that follow, recall the locations of these Federal batteries:


Second. To renew or repair the palisading around Batteries Chatfield and Seymour so as to connect the two. More guns and mortars are also to be placed in these batteries where room can be found by connecting the two. The most important part in regard to these batteries at present is to have the palisading around them made so strong and perfect as to prevent the possibility of the enemy taking these batteries by a surprise or boat attack. The objects of the fire of these batteries at the front are, generally, Fort Sumter, the channel, or rather such blockade-runners which may attempt to run hi or out, and the city. Occasionally a few shots will be fired at the enemy’s batteries on Sullivan’s Island, when the fire of the enemy’s batteries becomes too annoying. Generally, however, these batteries at the extreme front are to be husbanded for future work, and therefore placed and maintained in perfect repair and efficiency. Generally, Fort Strong will return the fire from the enemy, gun for gun, from 100-pounder Parrotts.

Third. Fort Strong. This is regarded as the citadel of the works on the upper end of Morris Island. It is strongly armed and will be so maintained and also strongly manned. Care must always be taken that its palisading round it is kept in perfect repair, and that its garrison is good, well instructed, and vigilant.

Again, Foster placed emphasis on physical security of the batteries and attention to the palisading around the works. The batteries mentioned here, those behind Fort Putnam, were a reserve of sort.  But were to be maintained and ready for action.  Fort Strong, formerly Confederate Battery Wagner, occupied a key position on the island and thus received due attention in Foster’s instructions.

As to the other batteries:

Fourth. The remaining batteries on Morris Island and the other islands have all peculiar duties, but do not require general directions except the general one that the garrisons must be kept in good condition and well instructed. The forts at Light-House Inlet have orders to return the fire from the forts of Secessionville gun for gun. Here it is necessary to make a general remark. The forts and batteries must have as experienced artillerists as it is possible to obtain, but as the artillery force proper is very small and diminishing very fast by the expiration of the term of enlistments of the men it is necessary to use infantry for this duty. Great care must be taken to select the best regiments and best men and officers for this duty, and when infantry thus selected become good artillerists they must be continued on that duty as long as their conduct is satisfactory.

Vigilance and proficiency were needed in those batteries.

Scammon, having spent time as a prisoner in Charleston, had a personal knowledge of the prisoner issue as it related to the command.  Perhaps Foster felt that was sufficient in regard to care of the 600 Confederate prisoners, so he focused his instructions on one particular concern:

Fifth. The rebel prisoners of war in the palisades will require the utmost care and attention as regards their security; the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers are now guarding them and I recommend that they be retained on that duty so long as their conduct is satisfactory. I have written General Saxton full instructions as to the necessity of having detailed instructions given as to the duties of each regiment and detachment in case an attempt be made by the enemy to escape, or by their friends to rescue them. I believe General Saxton has given all the orders necessary for the present, but constant vigilance will be necessary on your part to see that they are obeyed. Modifications will be necessary from time to time in accordance with the circumstances. In order to give all opportunity to have the camps searched from time to time two schooners are anchored in Light-House Inlet, to which the prisoners may be moved when necessary. While upon these schooners increased vigilance should be used to prevent the escape of the men by their jumping overboard and swimming to the shore. For this purpose, in addition to the guards on board, boats well armed must row guard all night long around the vessels. A vigilant guard will be kept on each shore near the vessels, and a good watch kept from the fort on each side the anchorage, and the guns kept charged with grape. A cable must be kept on each vessel, and all the steamers in the inlet must have a sufficient guard on board to prevent any possibility of their being captured by a boat attack by the enemy having for its object the rescue of the prisoners. All row-boats not needed by the boat infantry for night service as picket-boats or ferriage across the inlet must be taken to the lower end of Folly Island and placed in a secure position, if it has not already been done. In fine, every means must be taken to provide for every emergency and to insure perfect safety.

Yes, more than half of this paragraph related details about handling prisoners between the camp and temporary holding on schooners.

In his last point of instruction, Foster turned at last to the offensive operations:

Sixth. As to the rate of firing, that upon the city is usually on an average of I every fifteen minutes, but this maybe varied according to circumstances. The firing on Fort Sumter is very slow at present, owing to a want of ammunition, but when a sufficient supply arrives, a slow fire, principally shells from mortars, will be kept up whenever there is an appearance of working parties being engaged. The Marsh Angel will fire dark nights all night long at irregular intervals, and upon light nights sufficiently to prevent their landing supplies on the dock on the left flank. All details connected with your command will be obtained from the file of orders from these headquarters in the adjutant-general’s office of the Northern District. Soon as you send a list of maps in the office the duplicates of those we have will be sent you to complete your list. The commanding general, having great confidence in your judgment and ability, leaves much to your discretion, feeling confident that everything will receive your prompt and careful consideration.

The ammunition shortage continued to restrain Foster’s operations.  But the City of Charleston was not spared.

Scammon went about his duties that October.  But he was not long for the post.  By the end of the month he was ill and replaced.  Yes, it seemed disease loomed as the greater threat around Charleston than those large caliber cannons in the fall of 1864.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 308-10.)



Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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