April 30, 1865: Gillmore to Potter – “proceed to Orangeburg” with a new sort of mission

On April 30, 1865, Major-General Quincy Gillmore issued a new mission to Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter and his “provisional” division.  Recall that Potter’s force spent most of April on a very successful and destructive raid, reaching Camden.  But five days after completing that raid, Potter’s new mission reflected the events which had transpired – a pole shift, if I may write with over-abundance – in the last April of the war.  These orders would send Potter and his men on a march out of Charleston, South Carolina.

Gillmore’s orders were, as issued through Colonel Stewart Woodford, his Chief of Staff:

The major-general commanding directs that you proceed to Orangeburg, S.C., with the forces hitherto under your command, excepting the garrison left at Georgetown. The One hundred and second U.S. Colored Troops, heretofore ordered to the Santee railroad bridge, will accompany you. You will move as soon as you have collected 1,000 men of your command; the balance will follow as rapidly as possible. You will rebuild the bridge over the Edisto at Orangeburg, making requisition for all necessary material. You will guard your communications with Charleston as far back as Summerville. General Hatch will protect the road to that point. I inclose an official copy of General Sherman’s convention with General Johnston, approved by Lieutenant-General Grant; also copies of General Orders, No. 52, of this date, from these headquarters, republishing General Sherman’s order for carrying the convention into effect.

Grasp the fine details in this order.  First off, Potter’s force was explicitly ordered to go forth and repair – REPAIR – a bridge. That was, recall, a bridge destroyed in February by Confederates to block movements of Seventeenth Corps.  Which brings up the second fine detail of the April 30 order – Potter’s force was not there to raid or damage… or even to fight.  They were there to occupy.  Orangeburg was to be a base from which the Federal forces projected deeper into South Carolina, using the railroad, which was also to be reconstructed, to bring control over the state.

So let us look to the map to see how that looked:

Potter_April30_Objectives

As I pointed out earlier this week, something often overlooked in the discussion of Reconstruction are the operational aspects, militarily speaking.  In this case, consider the South Carolina government, still somewhat between “Confederate” and “restored” in matter of fact, was seated in Columbia, South Carolina.  That city – shell that it may have been – was the heart of the state.  In order to effectively “reconstruct” South Carolina, the Federals had to wield some force from that point on the map.  “Boots on the ground” as we say from our 21st century view.

But, as we look at that map, clearly Columbia was outside the reach, much less grasp, of Gillmore or Potter as things stood on April 30, 1865.  Not to diminish the important political and social factors involved as the nation transition post-war and Reconstruction took relevance.  But what I am pointing out is that when considering the woulda/coulda/shoulda of Reconstruction, there is the question of how far the military force allocated to support the task could reach.  And… this “reach” would not simply get better as railroad were rebuilt… after April 1865 and the return to peace, the Army no longer had the blank check with respect to operational expenses.

Another point, that deserves belaboring, as we consider the details of this order is the reference to Gillmore’s General Orders No. 52.  That order in tern referenced Major-General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 65, issued on April 27.   I discussed that order in a lengthy post in context with others issued the same day.  But let us recall the “heart” of that order again:

The general commanding announces a further suspension of hostilities and a final agreement with General Johnston which terminates the war as to the armies under his command and the country east of the Chattahoochee. … and great care must be taken that all the terms and stipulations on our parts be fulfilled with the most scrupulous fidelity, whilst those imposed on our hitherto enemies be received in a spirit becoming a brave and generous army. Army commanders may at once loan to the inhabitants such of the captured mules, horses, wagons, and vehicles as can be spared from immediate use, and the commanding generals of armies may issue provisions, animals, or any public supplies that can be spared, to relieve present wants and to encourage the inhabitants to renew their peaceful pursuits and to restore the relations of friendship among our fellow-citizens and countrymen. Foraging will forthwith cease, and when necessity or long marches compel the taking of forage, provisions, or any kind of private property, compensation will be made on the spot, or, when the disbursing officers are not provided with funds, vouchers will be given in proper form, payable at the nearest military depot.

This order backed a policy set forward by the civilian leaders in Washington.  This was the “first draft” Reconstruction as it applied on “the street.”

So men, who had engaged in destroying Confederate infrastructure and seizing anything that might support the Confederate war effort just a week earlier, were dispatched on April 30, 1865 to rebuild some of that infrastructure and facilitate production of subsistence for the population.  Yes, there was a change in focus.  It was less because of any change of heart among the Federal leaders, but more so because, after April 26, the infrastructure and civilian population was American again.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Serial 100, pages 332 and 359.)

 

“Portion of this island will be required hereafter for permanent fortifications”: War transforms Hilton Head

In 1860, as the secession crisis began, Hilton Head Island, just as most of the barrier islands from the Chesapeake to the toe of Florida, lacked any military presence. The infrastructure on the island differed little from that depicted on an 1825 map:

HiltonHeadIsland1830s

Although Port Royal offered good anchorage, the lack of major port facilities diminished its importance to military authorities who had prioritized coastal defense projects.  Instead Charleston received the lion’s share of the attention… and funding.

At the start of the war, the Federals needed anchorages in order to maintain the blockade.  Thus Port Royal was posted high on the list of objectives. And at the same time the Confederates recognized the vulnerability of Port Royal and fortified Hilton Head and Phillip’s Island across the sound.

HiltonHead1862

In November 1862, Federal actions demonstrated those defenses were not complete, especially against steam powered navies.  With Port Royal in Federal hands, Hilton Head became an important base.  The island became a sprawling “city” within the span of a year.  By mid-war, outposts and fortifications extended out from Hilton Head to protect Port Royal and approaches.

HiltonHeadDistrictApril64

But with the close of the war, the military would not need Port Royal, and thereby Hilton Head would fall back down the list of priorities for post-war coastal defense appropriations.  However, military minds had reason to rethink that prioritization given the experience of the Civil War.  If the Federals could use Port Royal as a base and lodgement, then a foreign power might also.  That in mind, On April 29, 1865, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent a letter to the Army’s Adjutant-General, Brigadier-General Lorenzo Thomas, in Washington:

General: I have the honor to call your attention to the following statement in relation to the north end of Hilton Head Island, S. C., bordering upon Port Royal Harbor. This, in common with some other portions of the island, has been reserved by the United States Government for military purposes during the war. The fact that it is the headquarters of the department, and its occupation by troops, has drawn thither a large number of sutlers, army followers, and others, until quite a city has grown up. Most of the buildings erected thus far are owned and occupied by the parties above mentioned and have been put up only on condition of their removal at any time when, in the judgment of the military authorities, the interests of the public service demand it. But the impression is gaining ground that after the war this property will no longer be needed for public purposes and that a city will be located here. In my opinion this portion of the island will be required hereafter for permanent fortifications. Therefore, that this may be understood, I desire the authority of the War Department to announce officially that all the lands now reserved at this post for military purposes will be permanently occupied by the Government. Such announcement will remove all grounds for damages in case at any time it should become necessary to require the removal of the buildings. I have the honor to request that this matter may receive your early attention.

Some of the buildings in question were quarters inhabited by former contrabands… a term being discarded in the correspondence with “refugee” or “freedmen.”

Despite Gillmore’s urgings, the War Department would make no significant efforts to maintain or improve the fortifications left behind on Hilton Head.  In the decades that followed, one experimental battery was placed on Hilton Head Island.  But that was more so to provide trials for new weapons than any scheme of defense.  Changes in military technology allowed for different arrangements than that employed during the Civil War.  In 1898, construction began on Fort Fremont featuring a battery of 10-inch disappearing guns on Saint Helena Island.  Those heavy guns could cover the sound, entrance channel, and Hilton Head with ease.  (Earlier in that decade, a coaling station was established on Paris Island.  And that post eventually grew into a substantial military presence around Port Royal by the early 20th century.)

But the US Government retained control of significant portions of Hilton Head Island after the Civil War.  Some of the pre-war plantation owners returned and reclaimed property.  Portions of the lands held by the Government were passed to the freedmen or sold to speculators.  But the War Department still held significant holdings on the island as the century closed.  And those holdings were used again during World War I and World War II as the military again saw the need to garrison Hilton Head.

However, the most significant change would occur in the decades after World War II.  A highway bridge and other improvements transformed the once sparsely populated island where Gullah lived, and occasionally the military garrisoned, into a resort community.  In the span of 100 years, Hilton Head went from being a major military base, to a small community living on the margins of the land and society, and then finally to a place of leisure and luxury.

Such is the passing of history.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 351.)

 

Thank you Samuel Cooper, Henry Halleck, and Morris Runyan. We have our Official Records!

On April 27, 1865, General Samuel Cooper was stranded in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Cooper was the highest ranking Confederate officer and served as Adjutant General and Inspector General.  Though not a field commander, Cooper was a central figure in the Confederacy throughout the war.  A long serving officer in the pre-war U.S. Army, Cooper called the Army his home. And as events unfolded in April 1865, Cooper was becoming a man without a home. When President Jefferson F. Davis rode out of Charlotte, heading south through South Carolina, Cooper remained behind.  He was not fit to make a long, cross-country journey.  Furthermore, he had far too much baggage in his charge:

 A telegram received from Brigadier-General [Thomas] Jordan by Colonel [John] Riely, of my staff, who had telegraphed, by my direction, to ascertain what had transpired from the military convention, states that it had terminated, resulting in a cessation of war by all embraced, private property respected, and transportation home given.  I was left here within the territorial limits of your command by the President, from physical dis-qualification to follow the Government any longer, and I therefore desire to know if I and the staff officer left with me can be included in the arrangement upon the same terms, as I cannot from my situation belong to any other command.  It is not practicable for me to reach Greensborough immediately.

Later Cooper elaborated on the baggage which kept him in Charlotte:

It was found impracticable to transfer the records of the War Department further than this place, and they remain here under my charge.  The President and Secretary of War impressed me with the necessity of their preservation in our own hands, if possible; if not, then by the enemy, as essential to the history of the struggle.  On account of your superior knowledge of the condition of affairs, I desire to have your advice as to the disposition that shall be made of them.

Johnston replied on April 28, informing, “You are entitled to accept the terms of the convention.  I do not know what to advise about the records.”  Later, Johnston sent word that Cooper should, if possible, travel to Greensborough.  Instead, Cooper arranged to have Colonel Riely make that trip as his representative for formal surrender.

But what of the records? On May 7, Captain Morris C. Runyan led a detachment of the 9th New Jersey into Charlotte.  There, among other stores and items, Runyan found,

… a number of boxes said to contain the records of the rebel War Department and all the archives of the so-called Southern Confederacy; also, boxes said to contain all the colors and battle-flags captured from the National forces since the beginning of the war….

(Runyan later wrote an account of the occupation of Charlotte and capture of the records.  But, I find his official report filed at the time somewhat more precise than the post war account.)

Word of this quickly passed up the chain of command to Major-General John Schofield.  On May 16, Schofield inquired to Army Chief of Staff, Major-General Henry Halleck, as to what disposition should be made in regard to the records.  Halleck responded promptly:

Box up all captured Confederate papers, flags, &c., and send them to C. A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, Washington. Preserve every paper, however unimportant it may appear. We have the key to their ciphers. Important links of testimony have thus been discovered here of the Canadian plot.

And please note here, Halleck was just as concerned about the preservation of the Confederate war records as Cooper was.  And we might say that Halleck’s motives were just as Cooper’s.  Above all, Halleck wanted the Confederate words to speak directly to their actions.

The next day, Schofield reported that the records, archives, and flags were being sent to Washington.  He included a detailed invoice for the “eighty-one boxes, weighing ten tons“:

 Invoice of the archives of the late Confederate War Department, as received from General Johnston at Charlotte, N. C., on the 13th day of May, 1865: Five boxes, marked Letters received; 3 boxes, marked Certificates of disability; 13 boxes, marked Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office; 5 boxes, marked Captured flags; 1 box, marked Books and papers, General Lee’s headquarters; 1 box, marked Official reports of battles; 1 box, marked Provost-marshal; 1 box, marked Lieutenant Blackford, C. S. Engineers; 1 box, marked Col. John Withers, C. S. Army; 3 boxes, marked Dept. Office; 7 boxes, contents unknown; 11 boxes, marked War Department, C. S. A.; 21 boxes, marked Regimental rolls; 1 box, marked Signal glasses; 6 boxes, marked Miscellaneous papers.

Thus the Federals took possession of a substantial number of official Confederate documents, if not a complete set.  Similar efforts by Federal commanders elsewhere in the south would bring in official correspondence, reports, and rolls from the scattered Confederate departments.  Of course that net missed many records, falling well short of a complete haul.  Doubtless you know well the story of records destroyed by the fires when Richmond fell.  And other records were destroyed before reaching Federal hands.

But all things considered, what was preserved included a remarkable set of artifacts.  Many of those artifacts were later included in the “Official Records of the War of the Rebellion” in the same binding with Federal accounts of the same time periods.  And those compiled records were published and made accessible to libraries around the country.  Today, those same records are just a browser window away at all times, anywhere you chose to study them.

We might recall many other “Civil Wars” in which historians lament the loss of vital accounts due to records destroyed in the end.  Such is, on whole, not the case with the American Civil War. You see, the history of the Civil War was not simply “written by the victors” as some partisans contend.  Rather it was written by those who could consult the words of the participants… thanks to the efforts by both sides to preserve those words.

So, next time you chase down a footnote and see “OR” followed by volume and serial notations, pause to thank old Samuel Cooper… and Henry Halleck… and Morris Runyan… who had a hand in preserving those.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 491, 510-1, 842, 848,