While Major-General William T. Sherman’s two wings maneuvered deeper into South Carolina, along the coast the Department of the South and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron made several demonstrations and probes around Charleston. As mentioned before, Sherman had no intentions to attack Charleston directly. Such an effort, he feared, might bog down the campaign and add unnecessary delays. So Sherman suggested and authorized operations around Charleston to distract and pin down Confederate forces that would otherwise move to oppose Sherman. And if the big prize – Charleston itself – could fall by way of circumstances, there were several key Federal leaders waiting to grab that ring.
To demonstrate how wide-ranging these operations were, I must go to a large scale map of the Charleston area:
I’ve noted the main operations on the map with lettered boxes. These are:
- Point A – Naval operations to clear Togodo Creek, February 9, 1864.
- Point B – Joint demonstration against James Island, February 10-11.
- Point C – Army demonstration against Fort Johnson, February 11.
- Point D – Joint demonstration at Bull’s Bay, starting February 13.
- And… another demonstration against James Island to distract Confederates from the demonstration at Bull’s Bay (yes!)
There were several smaller operations, including a foray onto John’s Island, during this period. And off the map to the southwest, Brigadier-General John Hatch’s forces were told to push the Confederates back to the Edisto. But that operation never really gathered steam. Hatch spent several days waiting for the Confederates to leave the fortifications behind Combahee Ferry. On February 12, Hatch announced the Confederates had abandoned the Combahee and he was following up… cautiously. “I should have more troops to make this demonstration effective,” he complained.
Closer to Charleston, on the morning of February 9, Commander George Balch lead a force consisting of the USS Sonoma, USS Pawnee, and USS Daffodil up the North Edisto River to Togodo Creek. The Federal gunboats had made forays up the river throughout February. As with previous trips, boats and the tug Daffodil cleared the way checking for torpedoes. At 9:50 a.m., the Pawnee and Sonoma opened fire on Confederate batteries further upstream on the Wadmelaw River. While the gunboats found it hard to range the batteries, there was no return fire. That changed at 2:40 p.m. when six Confederate field guns opened a cross fire upon the gunboats. Balch reported, “The rebel batteries, connected by rifle pits, were at distances varying from 1,000 to 2,000 yards.” These were some of the many prepared positions the Confederates constructed earlier in the war.
The Pawnee was struck ten times, the Sonoma and Daffodil twice, respectively; nobody hurt on either vessel. A shot struck on the deck of the Pawnee, passing through an arms chest, setting it on fire, and going out the ship’s side….
At 5:20 p.m., [the Pawnee] and the Sonoma being afloat, we got underway and stood down the creek, but, owing to the extreme narrowness of it we grounded, were towed off by the Daffodil, and at 7:30 p.m. anchored off White Point, our usual station.
Both the Pawnee and Sonoma suffered minor damages, mostly to the masts and smokestack. In return the Pawnee fired 382 rounds. Sonoma fired 256 rounds. And Daffodil contributed 30 rounds. Other than the large ammunition expenditure, the affair on the Togodo was simply another loud diversion.
I’ll break for the moment there and pick up the story of these demonstrations in part 2 of this set.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 402, ; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 225-7.)