“The treatment of the citizens was respectful”: Transfer of Savannah’s refugees at Charleston

After taking several days to organize and transport the refugees requesting relocation from Savannah, Captain Joseph Audenried arrived at Charleston to conduct the transfer.  The procedural details of this transfer were much like those of the prisoner exchanges conducted in December at Charleston.  The most important detail of this procedure was, of course, the cessation of fires from the batteries that ringed the harbor.  Here, Audenried met a snag in the execution of his appointed task.  When the steamer J.R. Spaulding, with the refugees, approached Morris Island, signals went up to halt the ship.  Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, commanding the forces on the island, reported later:

At 9 a.m. I received a signal dispatch from Captain [Gustavus] Scott, the commanding officer of the fleet, stating that a Captain Audenried was at the fleet with some citizens of Savannah to be sent through our lines by a flag of truce at Cole’s Island.  He reported to me that my signal sergeant had made an error in the dispatch, which should have read Charleston Harbor instead of Cole’s Island; that Captain Audenried represented himself as being one of General Sherman’s staff, and that he was sent here for the above-mentioned business by the order of General Sherman. Captain Scott was unable to inform me whether the officer had any written authority or instructions, but suffered the steamer to pass the picket monitor to the rendezvous of exchange.  As I had received no instructions from Major-General [John] Foster in regard to the truce I acted on my previous orders, and at once stopped the steamer in its progress before it had communicated with the rebel tug.

I like this reaction from Schimmelfennig.  He didn’t care who Audenried represented.  Without something in writing, the cease fire was not going to happen. Well, that something in writing came down shortly.  Schimmelfennig dutifully sent his aide to confer with Audenried, “to discover whether he was clothed with any written authority.”  Audenried had no written orders in this regard.  His orders were verbal.  Likely, within the scope of the armies that Sherman directly operated for the previous year, Audenried was familiar enough that his word was easily interpreted as the word of his boss.  But Schimmelfennig was outside of that familiarity and didn’t know Audenried from Adam, and “Upon such authority I told him I could not permit it….”

But, shortly after Audenried arrived at Fort Strong to confer with Schimmelfennig, enlightening orders arrived…

…while conversing with him I unexpectedly received the desired instructions from Major-General Foster, and at once allowed him to proceed.  I regret to say that the dispatch referred to was culpably delayed in being forwarded to me by some now unknown parties, who, when discovered, will be severely punished.  The unfortunate delay caused by this neglect of the quartermaster or captain of the steamer lasted about one hour.

Woe to the man who caused this delay and incurred the wrath of Schimmelfennig!

With that, the transfer went about without incident.  The Confederate steamer Chesterfield met the Spaulding, and the refugees passed the lines. The following day, the Charleston Courier ran a report of the transaction:

The approach of the “Chesterfield” was greeted by a rush of the lady refugees to the side of the “Spaulding,” waving their handkerehiefs with every exhibition of delight at the prospect of so soon being restored to their own people and Southern homes. As the “Chesterfield” ranged alongside, the meeting of friends and acquaintances, the many happy recognitions and pleasing countenances, presented an intensely interesting scene.

Of note, as the Courier continued with the story, was the treatment of the refugees while in Federal hands.  The experienced was at the same time pleasant and distressing:

The refugees state that the treatment of the citizens was respectful. Sentinels were posted with orders to shoot down without taking him to the Guard House any soldier found molesting citizens or forcing an entrance into any house.  Many families, formerly in good circumstances, were obliged to take in sewing and work hard to procure the necessities of life.

The Courier did not state the total number of refugees exchanged, simply saying “A large number were distributed round among our citizens.”  The paper listed 23 individuals and families who were taken to the Wayside Home.

From Audenried’s perspective, as a staff officer, he’d completed the task.  He’d taken this refugee issue off his general’s list of chores.  And he had done so without incident.  Tag this as “good staff work.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 45; Charleston Courier, Friday, January 13, 1865, Page 1, Column 1.)

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