April 9-13, 1865: Hartwell’s Expedition complete; Missed opportunity to aid Potter

At this time (April 13) 150 years ago, Brigadier-General Edward Potter was waiting the return of his supply trains from Wright’s Bluff.  Downstream from that point on the Santee River, Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell continued his expedition out of Charleston.  As of April 8, Hartwell had made no contact with Potter, and apparently had made no effort to do so despite the close proximity of forces at that time.

HartwellApril13a

On April 9, Hartwell moved his force, consisting of the 54th New York Infantry, the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, and a section of artillery, to Eutaw Creek, near Eutaw Springs (a site of significance, if you know your Revolutionary War history).  “Some skirmishing occurred; but dispersed the enemy with a few shells.” At that point, Hartwell sent two companies to Nelson’s Ferry in an attempt to reach Potter.  Aside from burning fifty bales of cotton, the detachment found that Potter was past that point and on the way to Sumter.

While waiting the return of the detachment, Hartwell held a parlay with a Confederate cavalry officer:

A certain Lieutenant Pettus, commanding some rebel cavalry in our vicinity, came in on a flag of truce at my request.  I told this officer that he would not quarter in or near houses, or fire from houses, if he cared to save them from destruction. I also sent this officer a note to General Ferguson, suggesting the propriety of his recalling his scouts from attempting to coerce the slaves to labor.

Again, we see the damage wrought on South Carolina is not as clear cut to say the Federals just burned everything.  Furthermore, emancipation was, even at its arrival, not translated to complete freedom.

Hartwell remained at Eutaw Creek on the morning of the 10th, sending a party to Vance’s Ferry to gather corn and rice.  At 5 p.m., he resumed the march.  Along the way to the State Road, the column encountered a party of Confederate cavalry, dispersing them with no casualties.  Hartwell camped at midnight on the State Road.

The next day, Hartwell took up the march back to Charleston.  After a pause to repair the causeway over Cypress Swamp, the column reached Twenty-Five Mile House on the evening of the 11th.  On the 12th, Hartwell marched to Goose Creek.  There he left two companies with the refugees trailing the column.  The rest of the force marched to Four-Mile Tavern to close the expedition.

But there was another Federal column operating out of Charleston at the same time.  And remarkably, this column, ordered to link up with Hartwell and direct the whole on to support Potter, completely missed contact with Hartwell’s force. This was a column commanded by Colonel Henry Chipman and consisting of the right wing from the 102nd USCT.  Recall a detachment of that regiment was already with Potter.

Chipman came up from Savannah with the rest of the regiment and received orders on April 8 to proceed out of Charleston.  His orders were to reach Hartwell.  From there, Chipman was to communicate with Potter as to further movement.  Specifically, the orders, as communicated through Brigadier-General John Hatch, stressed that Major-General Quincy Gillmore, “thinks it desirable that General Potter’s force be increased by this addition, and desires to impress upon you the necessity of a prompt and hearty cooperation by General Hartwell with General Potter, in case the latter is pressed and compelled to fall back toward the Santee.”  This intent nearly led to a disaster for Chipman.

Chipman departed Charleston on April 11 and took the road towards Monk’s Corner, reaching that point on April 12. Let me overlay the general route taken by Chipman (in light blue) onto the map of Hartwell’s movements to illustrate just how close these columns would have been on April 12:

HartwellApril13

Chipman continued his march towards Nelson’s Ferry, presuming the boats supporting Potter’s column were there.  After skirmishing sharply throughout April 13th, Chipman arrived at the ferry that afternoon only to learn Hartwell had returned to Charleston.  Keeping with the intent of his mission. Chipman sent a messenger to Potter then in Manchester.  Potter called for Chipman to join his force “without delay at Statesburg or beyond.”

This sent Chipman and his portion of the 102nd USCT, unsupported, on a trip up the Santee:

ChipmanApril13

The first order of business was to cross the Santee.  By chance, the long-serving tug USS Daffodil, under Lieutenant James O’Kane, appeared coming down the Santee at just the right time.  O’Kane transported Chipman’s force to Wright’s Bluff, where they arrived at 8:30 p.m. on April 15. Along the way, Chipman reported Confederate “guerrilla parties” fired on the tug.

Chipman marched the 102nd USCT to Manning on April 16 and thence to Stateburg on April 17. But he arrived behind Potter’s advance to Camden and was all alone, deep in Confederate territory.  I’ll pick up that part of the story in relation to Potter’s movements and the Battle of Boykin’s Mill.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1040 and 1043; Part III, Serial 100, page 138.)

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Potter’s Raid, April 8, 1865: “The Clarendon Banner of Freedom”

After seeing to the bridges at Kingstree on April 7, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter continued the advance toward Sumter (as Sumterville was shortened to in 1855) on the 8th.  Potter planned to remain on the south side of the Black River for the march to that place.  But to do so, he had to cross the Pocotaligo River, a tributary to the Black River (not to be confused with a river by the same name which flows into the Broad River and Port Royal Sound).  This would prove troublesome for Potter on April 8.

PotterRaidApr8

Potter’s division was on the road that morning at 6:30 a.m.  Reaching Brewington, Potter’s advance marched north only to find the bridge over the Pocotaligo destroyed. “As reconstruction of the bridge, which was 120 feet in length, would have consumed the day,” Potter recalled, “I moved on to Manning, ten miles further west, keeping the south side of the Pocotaligo River, a branch of the Black.”  Along the way to Manning, a report arrived that the bridge over Ox Swamp was destroyed.  This prompted a five mile detour to the south.

Upon reaching Manning, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry skirmished briefly with Confederates.  And… for those following closely the route of Lee’s Retreat, remember the element accompanying Potter was 2nd Battalion of the regiment – Companies A, B, C, and D, under Major Moses Webster.  While that battalion plodded along through South Carolina, the 1st and 3rd Battalion of the regiment were engaged at places such as High Bridge while chasing Confederates across Virginia.

As they left Manning, the Confederates set fire to the causeway over Pocotaligo Swamp, forcing Potter to halt for the day.  This causeway was a mile in length.  That evening, Potter had Major James Place, 1st New York Engineers, work to repair the causeway.  During the night, detachments of Colonel Edward Hallowell’s brigade crossed on the stringers to establish a bridgehead by midnight.  The causeway itself was repaired by the next morning.

For the night, the men of the 54th Massachusetts established camp around Manning, as Captain Luis Emilio recorded:

Manning, a town of a few hundred inhabitants, was occupied at dark, after an eighteen-mile march that day. General Potter established himself at Dr. Hagen’s house.  Major Culp, Twenty-fifth Ohio, Colonel Cooper, One Hundred and Sevent Ohio, and some soldier-printers took possession of “The Clarendon Banner” newspaper office, and changing the title to read “The Clarendon Banner of Freedom,” issued an edition which was distributed.

While Potter cleared the last natural obstacle between him and Sumter, to the south, Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell’s expedition continued their “patrol” up to the Santee River.

HartwellApril8

Hartwell resumed his march at 7 a.m. on the morning of April 8.  His column halted at Pineville around mid-day. From there, he marched to a point he identified as “Mexico,” after a march of some 20 miles.  At Pineville, Hartwell was very close to Potter’s supply base at Murray’s Ferry.  But Hartwell made no effort to coordinate there, as he was not expected to.  Nor did Hartwell spend any time on the railroad (which had already been disabled in February) or Santee Canal infrastructure. Rather Hartwell’s mission was more akin to a “police patrol.”  So his report reflects the nature of that mission:

The people in Pineville implored our protection from the negroes, who were arming themselves and threatening the lives of their masters.  Mr. Reno Ravenel requested me to take him with me to save his life.  The negroes flocked in from all sides. At Mexico I found that Mr. Mazyck Porcher had made his house the headquarters of the rebels in the vicinity. While I was on his grounds his property was protected, but was burned to the ground immediately on my leaving, I think, by his field hands.

Such is a brief window in time to the lawlessness that followed in the wake of Confederate withdrawals at several places throughout South Carolina.  As these regions had, for all practical purposes, been under martial law, the departure of organized military forces left a void which the Federals were unable (and somewhat unwilling) to fill.  As result, people like Mazyck Porcher lost property… perhaps ironically, by the hands of individuals who had formerly BEEN property.  You see, stories of damage and destruction across South Carolina in 1865 are far more complex than a simple discussion of Sherman’s bummers.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1028 and 1042-3; Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 293.)

Potter’s Raid, April 6-7, 1865: Close enough “to give them a bit of my Yankee eloquence”

After a strong march of nineteen miles on April 5, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter continued to move his two brigade division to the south of Black River.

PotterRaidApr6

On April 6, the detachment from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, under Major Moses Webster lead the march at 6:30 a.m.  Following was the Second Brigade under Colonel Edward Hallowell, including the USCT regiments.  Hallowell summarized the day’s march, “… country more open and rolling. Marched nineteen miles and camped near Thorntree swamp.”  Captain Luis Emilio, in the 54th Massachusetts added, “The column entered a better region with rolling ground, where foraging parties found good supplies and draught animals.”  Towards the end of the day’s march, the cavalry skirmished briefly with mounted Confederates at Seven Mile Bridge.  Otherwise the day simply marked another march.

The column resumed the march at 6:30 a.m. on the 7th.  Nearing Kingstree, Emilio recalled the Federals moved “… through a more open and settled country, containing still more abundant supplies, which our foragers secured, but, by orders, burned all cotton and mills.”

PotterRaidApr7

Upon reaching the Northeastern Railroad, Potter dispatched two side columns.  Webster and the 4th Massachusetts dashed for Murray’s Ferry to link up with the boats on the Santee River.  Potter wanted those boats to proceed, if possible, up the Santee to the railroad bridge near Manchester.

The 102nd USCT, the other side column, marched north on the railroad to reach the bridge over Black River.  The troops briefly engaged Confederates guarding the bridge.  The bridge was soon destroyed, either by the retreating Confederates or by the advancing Federals.

Advancing further on the main road, Potter’s column crossed Keele’s Swamp and continued on towards Mill Branch.  Opposite Kingstree around 3 p.m., Potter dispatched Companies A and H of the 54th Massachusetts, under Captain Charles E. Tucker, to destroy the Eppes Bridge over the Black River to Kingstree.   Emilio later recalled Tucker’s account of the foray:

Leaving the main column, we filed to the right, marching by that flank nearly or quite a mile.  I had previously mounted old Cyclops (a horse of Lieutenant Richie’s, who was not on the raid), and put on as many ‘general’ airs as my general health and anatomy would endure. Great clouds of smoke were now coming up over the woods directly in our front. [Lieutenant Edward] Stevens deployed one platoon on the left of the road, holding the other for support. [Lieutenant F.E.] Rogers disposed of his company on the right in the same way.  Advancing, we were wading knee-deep. We had not gone far before we received fire from the enemy. The fire was returned. We advanced in sight of the bridge and easy musket-range, when the enemy abandoned the temporary works they had improvised from the flooring of the bridge on the opposite side of the river, making quick their retreat and leaving behind the heavy timbering of the work in flames.  During the interchange of shots Rogers and two men of his company were wounded. We did not or could not cross the river. I remember well of being sufficiently near to give them a bit of my Yankee eloquence and calling attention to their nervousness in not being able to shoot even old ‘Cyclops.’  Our object being accomplished, we started for and joined the regiment at Mill Branch about two o’clock next morning.  My impression is that the force opposed to me was a company, or part of a company, of dismounted cavalry.

With the bridges over Black River destroyed, Potter’s right flank was secure.  After a march of fifteen miles, he went into camp near Mill Branch.  Three days out of Georgetown, Potter had encountered only light resistance and was half way to his objective.

There was one other Federal column moving up from the coast of South Carolina that April.  For sake of complete coverage, let me briefly discuss the composition, mission, and progress of that force.  On April 5, Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell assembled a force consisting of the 54th New York, 55th Massachusetts, and a section from Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery.  Hartwell was to clear out Confederate forces and lawless bands encountered south of the Santee River.

HartwellApril7

Starting from Four-Mile Tavern, north of Charleston, on April 6, Hartwell’s command marched to Goose Creek.  Receiving information from escaped slaves that Confederate cavalry were assembling nearby at Dean Hall, Hartwell sent two companies on an overnight march to intercept.  This force failed to locate the Confederates, being “misled by the guide,” but reached Twenty-five Mile House on the State Road.

Hartwell resumed the march at 7 a.m. on April 7 and advanced along the Santee Canal in the direction of Black Oak.  Along the way, he dispatched a detachment to Biggins’ Bridge.  Hartwell’s main force proceeded to the house of a Mr. Cain, some twenty-two miles distant.  Cain was reported as supporting the Confederates operating in the area.   There, Hartwell chanced upon the cavalry missed the night before.

I sent two companies to deploy and surround the house in which they were reported to be, and surprised them.  The enemy, however, got notice of our approach in season to escape, leaving several blankets and guns, and their supper ready cooked.  Mr. Cain had several sons in the rebel army; he had entertained those who had just gone, and had recently given them a grand dinner; his barn, accidentally or by some unknown incendiary, was burned.

Though Hartwell’s column but a few dozen miles from Potter’s force, he was not coordinating movements or objectives.  Over the days which followed, Hartwell would spend more time attempting to restore order over a lawless land.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1036 and 1042; Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 291-3.)

Sherman’s March, March 19, 1865: A battle begins at Bentonville

For the Federals on the march, the Carolinas Campaign had, by the second half of March 1865, taken on a daily cycle.  Between major objectives – Columbia, Cheraw, Fayetteville – the days started with foragers departing to both scout ahead and gather supplies.  The designated lead division for the day would form and march out of camp.  Usual procession was the trail division from the day before would pass through camp to assume the lead.  That division might, at some point in the day, face a Confederate picket or other force.  But more likely the greater effort would be to repair a crossing point over some creek, river, or swamp.  If any sizable Confederate force appeared in front of the march, that lead division would “develop” the situation by forming at first the lead regiment.  If needed, a brigade to form.  But likely by the time a second brigade formed, this “development” would locate the Confederate flanks.  At that point the Rebels would depart, having accomplished their requirement to delay the march.

This pattern, generally speaking, was repeated so often that Federals became complacent.  With the exception of Averasborough on March 16, 1865, no large Confederate force had made a stand.  And even at Averasborough, one might argue that the “development” tactic worked… just that it required more than a corps to “develop” the Confederates out of their works.

For March 19, 1865, the lead division for the Fourteenth Corps, and thus the Left Wing, was the First Division of Brigadier-General William Carlin.  The lead brigade was that of Brigadier-General Harrison Hobart.  Days after the battle, Hobart described the start of the day:

On the morning of the 19th, at 7 o’clock, the brigade marched from camp in advance of the division on the Goldsborough road, and at 10 a.m. we met the enemy posted behind a line of rail-works which extended for some distance on each side of the road on which we were moving.

Ahead of Hobart, foragers sparred with Confederate cavalry, screening that first line of works.  And, true to habit, Hobart did what the Federals had done at dozens of other points along the march – deployed to develop the position.  Except that this time, the position was too large to develop with just a brigade… a division… or even an entire corps.  The Confederates were arriving, just that morning, in front of Hobart’s advance in greater numbers than seen anywhere else on the campaign.  The Battle of Bentonville commenced.

I could try to break down this battle in a phase-by-phase format.  But I don’t think that would do justice to the action.  Bentonville should be the subject for someone’s “Battle Blog,” akin to Harry’s Bull Runnings or Bret’s Beyond the Crater.  Until someone takes up that row, I think the Bentonville Historic Site’s website is the best resource page for the battle on the internet.  The site includes an excellent set of maps, drawn by Mark Moore.  You might start with the map covering those initial stages of the battle, while Carlin developed the Confederate line.

There are three other phases of the fighting on the 19th that draw me in as I consider the battle.  How can one NOT be attracted to the last great charge of the Army of Tennessee?  Perhaps it is the “westerner” in me, but the thought of men who’d charged from Shiloh to Franklin, through three years of war, making one last go… well it brings up a lot of sentimental thoughts.  When this assault started in mid-afternoon, Lieutenant-General William Hardee in front, so many proud, yet depleted, legions marched forward.

The Confederate attack swept away Carlin’s division (and Carlin would spend the rest of his life trying to shift blame, though nobody seemed to blame him).  And the Rebel wave isolated the division of Brigadier-General James D. Morgan on the Federal right.  Morgan’s stand is worth a thousand words by itself, as it is somewhat a “stand” reminiscent of those made by the Army of the Cumberland at points like Stones River and Chickamauga.

But where my sentimental thoughts take root again is on the left flank of this line.   The Twentieth Corps arrived as the Army of Tennessee’s charge ran out of momentum.  As any Gettysburg student knows, the Twentieth was made up of the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps.  So arriving on the field that afternoon, looking into the aftermath of a route, were men who’d experienced their own disasters at earlier points in the war.  And this time, they formed and stood ground.  The 26th Wisconsin was swept off the field by “Stonewall” Jackson at Chancellorsville.  And that regiment could not hold back the Confederate tide on July 1, 1863 that rolled up the Federal lines north of Gettysburg.  But on March 19, 1865, the 26th was part of Brigadier-General William Cogswell’s brigade that counterattacked, most capably, to stabilize the Federal lines and aid Morgan’s cut off division.  Just one regiment I could call out with similar stories to tell. If we say the Army of Tennessee made its last charge only hours earlier in the day, then might we also say the Army of the Potomac (in the form of the Twentieth Corps) made its final holding action as result?

Major-General Henry Slocum deserves some criticism for decisions, or indecisions, made on March 19th (and similar criticism should be heaped on Sherman to be fair).  But Slocum did make several good, sound decisions that day, particularly in the later phases.  Slocum’s Left Wing took heavy blows that day, but did not break.  Late in the afternoon, the last Confederate attacks of the day went up against the Twentieth Corps line.  In front of the Morris Farm, on some of the only suitable ground for artillery, four Federal batteries… again, units with storied war records by this point … deflected the Confederate attacks.  The last attacks were met with double canister.   Once again, as had occurred at many battlefields during the Civil War, a Federal artillery concentration had thwarted a Confederate advance.  This was among the last of such (arguably the last).

At any rate, those are the points that I move to when thinking about Bentonville.  Not saying those are the key points on which the battle turned, rather the “thinking points” that I wonder through when considering the battle.   I’ll follow up later today with a look at the operational movements off the battlefield as the campaign unfolded.

February 12-17, 1865: Federal attempts at Bull’s Bay…. foiled by shallow water and storms

Often in the study of amphibious operations, we read about the difficulties gaining the last thousand yards or so where the ocean transitions to the land.  Natural obstacles often pose more problems than anything man can devise.  And thus much of the complication to simply landing a military force on a hostile shore.  In February 1865, there were no “how to land on a barrier island” texts to study.  The Federals, both the Army and the Navy, had gotten along with experiences – good and bad – through the war.  What would happen at Bull’s Bay from February 12 to 18, 1865 would fit into the latter.  At Bull’s Bay, those last thousand yards would prove rather difficult to gain, even with little to no opposition.

Bull’s Bay came up in several schemes to reach Charleston during the war.  None of which acted out.  The problem was the distance of approach to Charleston and the shallow draft of the bay.  But despite that the Confederates were sensitive to the sector.  Thus it made a good place to stage a diversion in February 1865.  A little orientation:

BullsBayFeb12_17

Bull’s Bay is approximately twenty miles northeast of Fort Moultrie.  The bay is a wide, but shallow, inlet between Bull’s Island, Cape Roman, and the mainland.  The map above only shows the western half of the bay, which happens to be the part we are concerned with in regard to the operations in question here.  A lighthouse stood on Bull’s Island to guide passing ships, but that was extinguished during the war.  At the top of the bay, over quite a distance of flats, was Owendaw Creek.   To the eastern side of the bay were several creeks running through the marshes.  The largest of these were Van Ross, Sewee, and Bull Creeks.  All lead into a “back bay” by the name Sewee Bay.  At Sewee Bay, Vanderhorst’s Wharf, known as Andersonville in Confederate and US Navy dispatches, had a road leading into Christ Church Parrish and the mainland.

For much of the war, Confederates maintained only picket posts around Bull’s Bay.  The main line of defense was across Christ Church, behind Sullivan’s Island.  The positions at Bulls Bay included a picket post on Bull’s Island and a position for artillery at Andersonville.  In that regard, Bull’s Bay made an inviting target for Federal operations.

After deciding to close the James Island demonstrations on February 10, Major-General Quincy Gillmore put Brigadier-General Edward Potter in charge of an expedition to Bull’s Bay.  Potter’s force was Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell’s Brigade, consisting of the 144th New York, 32nd USCT, and 55th Massachusetts – all units just engaged on James Island.  The intent was to put a force ashore at Owendaw Creek, and from there outflank any defenses.  The aim, again, was a demonstration, and there appears to have been no serious thought as to reinforcing this brigade.   There simply were no spare forces in theater to add to the meager force. The troops were transported on a set of Army transports.  Potter referred to these as “tin-clads” indicating some additional bracing and hardening short of armor.  These transports drew four feet of water.

The Navy added nine gunboats and four armed tugs. Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren hoped the light-draft gunboats could operate in the shallows of Bull’s Bay.  However, of the ships assigned, only the USS Pawnee, USS Sonoma, USS Ottawa, USS Winona, USS Potomska, USS J.S. Chambers, and USS Wando, and three tugs were able to move into Bull’s Bay.  Commander Fabus Stanly commanded the force.

Though it is rather hard to believe, given the intensity of operations around Charleston during the war, but up to February 12 there had been no detailed surveys of Bull’s Bay.  Arriving that morning, Potter found “that nothing was known about the landing places or the best spots for disembarkation.”  As luck turned, the tug with the topographical engineer was delayed due to a grounding. Potter made a reconnaissance by boat and quickly determined Owendaw Creek was not the prefect location for a landing.  He considered passing up Sewee’s Creek to the Bay and thence onto Andersonville.  But he had to wait until Stanly set buoys in the channels.

On the afternoon of the 12th, the Federal’s luck continued to trend bad.  A storm blew up and made the surf too choppy for any landings on the 13th.  The storm grew in intensity on the 14th.  But Potter managed to land many of his troops on Bull’s Island to avoid keeping them on crowded transports another day (the Confederate pickets had cleared on the approach of the gunboats).  The storm subsided on the 15th, and Potter once again tried the channel to Sewee Bay.  “This attempt will be attended with considerable risk, and if the weather becomes bad or the boats get aground,” Potter cautioned, “it will be an unfortunate business.”  He further added, “The great trouble has been the entire want of information with regard to this bay, its creeks and shores.”

But the force managed to gain entry into Sewee Bay.  Stanly, who’d managed to get the Ottawa and Wando through the creeks, attempted to get in position to shell the Confederate batteries.  “Finding it impossible to approach Andersonville in front, I left a strong force there, and half the army to keep up appearances, and dashed off with General Potter to the northwest shore of this (Bull’s) bay….”  Stanly and Potter determined that from Sewee’s Bay the light draft transports and even the boats would have trouble passing over the oyster beds and flats to reach Andersonville.  They looked again to Owendaw Creek.

So on February 17, they once gain made their way into Bull’s Bay to seek landing.  As Potter recorded:

The spot selected for a landing was a sandy strip lying between Owendaw Creek and its branch on the left, which is known as Graham’s Creek. The enemy’s works and men could be seen at Buck Hall. The launches, six in number, went ahead, opening fire as they neared the beach, and the boats with troops followed. The boats were headed for Buck Hall and the direction afterward changed. The One hundred and forty-fourth New York, Colonel Lewis, landed on the beach without opposition, and marched across the marsh toward Graham’s Creek, while the launches went up the same stream.

At last ashore, Potter kept pressing forward.  The advance ran into a line of earthworks and a battery position just past the mouth of the creek.  The New Yorkers chased off a small Confederate force from the works and, after occupying, reformed the facings.  By noon, Potter had the remainder of the infantry and a battery of boat howitzers in the perimeter.  The Federals managed to destroy a salt-work and a bridge over the Owendaw as they felt out the position.

Potter’s plan for February 18 was to continue his advance and gain Andersonville.  From there he could further threaten the Christ Church line.  But events occurring in Charleston that day would change the nature of that proposed advance.  The pickets driven off at Owendaw Creek were the rear guard of a withdrawal.  By morning, Charleston was an open city.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1021-24; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, page 240.)

 

July 2, 1864: “At Daylight the Yankees appeared suddenly…” – Federal demonstration on James Island

Continuing on with Major-General John Foster’s July 1864 operations in front of Charleston, having discussed Foster’s plan, coordination with the Navy, and the failures with columns striking for the Charleston & Savannah Railroad, let me turn to the concurrent actions on James Island.  I’m a bit out of the 150th time line here.  The actions described below occurred “yesterday 150 years ago” from this posting.

Under Foster’s plan, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig was to press a demonstration in front of James Island for the purpose of drawing troops there.  Foster hoped this would distract from the other, main effort, operations against the railroad and possibly uncover some of the Confederate defenses elsewhere.  Schimmelfennig put Colonel Alfred Hartwell in charge of the demonstration, consisting of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, 103rd New York, and 33rd USCT.  The infantry were supported by  This force moved in two columns.  One column including the 54th Massachusetts moved by way of the repaired causeway from Cole’s Island, through Battery Island, to Sol Legare.  The other, led by the 103rd New York, crossed over from Long Island to Sol Legare from the east.  From there the two columns would merge and move over to James Island by way of Rivers’ Causeway.

July1864Hartwell1

For the men of the 54th Massachusetts, this was familiar ground where they had fought just over a year earlier.  Furthermore the Federals conducted numerous patrols in the area over the winter and spring months.  The crossing points and landing areas were well known.  But the Federals had failed to appreciate the  Confederate units posted, in rotations, at the crossing points from Sol Legare.

As with the other Federal operations, this movement was scheduled for the morning of July 1.  The 24-hour delay meant Major Joseph Morrison’s men of the 103rd New York spent much time counter-marching and rowing.  Likewise the men of the other column, moving by the causeway, spent considerable time exposed to the heat in light marching order.  But despite the fatigue, both columns went forward on the morning of July 2.

In his journal, Confederate Major Edward Manigault wrote:

At daylight the Yankees appeared suddenly at the East End of James Island.  Lieut. [Thomas] DeLorme, who had his horses all hitched in, gallopped down to River’s Causeway. The Enemy advanced at first in Column (or probably by a flank 4 deep) along the back beach of James Island from the East.  Lieut. DeLorme immediately opened fire upon them at first with Shell & Case Shot and afterwards with Canister.

DeLorme had with him a section of Battery A, 1st South Carolina (Blake’s Battery), consisting of two 12-pdr Napoleons.  They were reinforcing the fifteen man picket normally stationed at the crossing.  In the action, DeLorme’s gunners would fire 54 rounds.  And with telling effect, as Morrison recounted:

The first fire of the enemy killed 7 of my men and wounded many others, and as my regiment was taken completely by surprise and in no position to charge the battery, I was compelled to fall back a few rods and reform behind a strong rifle-pit, running in front of the enemy’s works.

Eventually, though, the Federal numbers pressed the Confederate defense.  The 33rd USCT were able to provide covering fire as the 55th Massachusetts moved forward to occupy the earthworks defending the crossing.  The 55th captured the guns, though at a cost of seven killed and 21 wounded.  The road was now open, but the Confederates were well alarmed to the Federal advance.

Hartwell now ordered a general advance onto James Island and formed a battle line from near Grimball’s Landing over to the approaches to Secessionville.

Moving up to support Hartwell’s four regiments were the Rocket Battery and a section of Battery B, 3rd New York Artillery.  The gunboat USS Commodore McDonough moved up the Stono River to cover the Federal left flank.  Opposing the advance, Manigault had only 449 men.  But the Confederates were behind works with heavy artillery commanding the approaches.

JamesIslandLinesMay64West

They threw a picket line forward of the defenses to keep the Federals at arms length.

July1864Hartwell2

Furthermore, the heat of the day began to take a toll heavier than bullets and shells on both sides.  Manigault wrote, “In some of the Commands nearly one fourth were reported incapacitated.”  He also added, “I remember my intense Thurst.”  On the other side of the line, Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts later recalled:

Throughout that whole day, with a temperature at 110º, offices and men on James Island, both Union and Confederate, were succumbing to the heat of the sun.  More than fifty men of the Fifty-fourth were affected to a greater or lesser degree…. Captain Jones, commanding the skirmishers, was compelled to retire, and was taken to the rear delirious.  He suffered all his life thereafter in head and brain, and died from the effects in 1886.  Lieut. Chas. Jewett, Jr., was seriously injured from the same cause, and died from it in 1890…. It was not possible to send a relieving force without sustaining heavy casualties, so stretchers were taken out, and upon them a number of men were brought back.

As the day wore on, both sides continued to spar between picket lines.  The Federals began constructing breastworks behind their advanced lines, in many cases converting captured Confederate works. Their presence and indications they intended to stay cause great alarm in Charleston.  Over 500 men shifted from other points around the harbor to reinforce James Island.  And within the James Island garrison, Brigadier-General William Taliaferro shifted troops out of Fort Johnson and surrounding works to help hold the west end of his line.

By nightfall, the Federals quietly retired to that new line and prepared for the next day.  The demonstration, costly in lives and fatiguing many more, did serve its purpose.  In reaction to this strong show of force, the Confederates had weakened a significant portion of their lines.  The Federals knew this and were prepared to exploit.

(Sources and citations from: OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 76-7; Luis Fenollosa Emilio, History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894, pages 199-206; Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 191-5.)