Summary Statement, 3rd Quarter, 1863 – Connecticut

Connecticut provided three light batteries to the Union cause during the Civil War.  Of those, only two were in service at the end of September 1863.  And that is what we see on the summary lines for the state in the third quarter, 1863:

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This is half the story, but let us start with these lines:

  • 1st Connecticut Light Artillery Battery: Reporting at Folly Island, South Carolina with six 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain Alfred P. Rockwell remained in command, with the battery still assigned to Tenth Corps, Department of the South.  The battery  supported Colonel Thomas W. Higginson’s Edisto Expedition, aimed to divert Confederate attention from Morris Island.  The 1st Connecticut lost two guns, on board tug Governor Milton when that vessel ran aground and was burned.  The guns were recovered by Confederates.  With the four remaining guns, Rockwell’s Battery went to Folly Island, where they replaced a set of Quaker Guns covering Lighthouse Inlet.  The battery received replacements for the lost cannon.  The battery history insists, “They were of the latest pattern and much praised by the comrades.”  But the battery went on reporting six James rifles into the spring of 1864.  In November, Rockwell took a brief leave and Lieutenant George Metcalf, to the dismay of the men, held temporary charge of the battery.
  • 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery Battery: Reporting from New York City with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Still under Captain John W. Sterling and part of the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve, the battery was among the forces dispatched north in response to the New York Draft Riots.  Sterling’s battery supported Brigadier-General Thomas Ruger’s brigade in August.  In October, the battery returned to duty at Washington, D.C.

However, there were two other batteries we should mention here.  Batteries B and M, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery served the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.  Under Captains Albert F. Booker and Franklin A. Pratt, respectively, each was armed with four 4.5-inch siege rifles.  And they would haul those guns up and down central Virginia during the Bristoe Campaign.  Pratt would put his guns to good use on November 7, 1863 at Kelly’s Ford.  We can understand the omission from the summaries, as these were “heavy” batteries with “siege guns.”

Moving down to the ammunition, the two howitzers of Sterling’s battery had rounds on hand:

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  • 2nd Battery: 120 shell, 160 case, and 32 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.

It’s over on the columns for rifled projectiles we find all the activity.  First the Hotchkiss types:

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  • 1st Battery: 190 shot, 50 percussion shell, 80 fuse shell, and 360 bullet shell for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 136 percussion shell and 240 bullet shell for 3.80-inch rifles.

There is one more Hotchkiss entry on the next page:

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  • 2nd Battery: 24 canister for 3.80-inch rifles.

To the right are columns for James’ patent projectiles:

  • 1st Battery: 132 canister for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 28 shell and 56 canister for 3.80-inch rifles.

Lastly, both batteries reported Schenkl shells:

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  • 1st Battery: 458(?) shell for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 156 shell for 3.80-inch rifles.

Overall, a good quantity of rifled projectiles on hand.  Even if for the less desired James rifles.

Lastly, we have the small arms reported:

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By battery:

  • 1st Battery:  Seventy-nine Navy revolvers, thirteen cavalry sabers, and forty-six horse artillery sabers.
  • 2nd Battery: Eighteen Navy revolvers and fifteen horse artillery sabers.

Summaries posted later in the war were less particular about the distinction of “light” or “heavy” duties.  So all four Connecticut batteries would appear together.  But for the third quarter of 1863, we have to pretend there are two more lines on the form.  The odd twist here was the two “heavy” batteries were serving with a field army.  All the while, the two “light” batteries, for all practical purposes, were serving garrison roles!

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Sherman’s March, February 13, 1865: Federals advancing towards the Congaree

Having gained bridgeheads over the North Fork of the Edisto River on February 12, 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman’s orders for February 13 were to complete crossing of that stream and push on towards the Congaree River.

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For the Right Wing, Major-General Oliver O. Howard tasked the Seventeenth Corps with destruction of the Columbia (or Orangeburg) Branch Railroad up to the State Road, about a dozen miles north of Orangeburg.  Mounted infantry struck further out to Motte’s Fort (a colonial and Revolutionary War placename), near the Congaree bottoms.  There they encountered Confederate pickets prepared to burn the railroad trestle over the swamps.

The Fifteenth Corps moved astride the Caw Caw Swamp. The Second and Third Divisions advanced on a road to the east side.  The First and Fourth moved by way of a plantation road on the west side.  The two columns aimed to concentrate at Sandy Run Post-Office the next day.

The Twentieth Corps, with once again Major-General John Geary’s division in the lead, likewise advanced out of the Edisto bottoms.  First priority of the day was repairing Jeffcoat’s Bridge.  That accomplished, the advance met some resistance as Geary recalled:

February 13, by 1 a.m. the bridge was repaired. I immediately sent forward skirmishers and found that the enemy had retired from their position of last night. By daylight my First and Second Brigades had crossed and my Third Brigade followed closely. My skirmishers met those of the enemy intrenched at a bridge across a mill stream three-quarters of a mile from the river, and after a sharp encounter drove them and captured their works. At a fork of the road just beyond the enemy attempted to stand behind rail barricades, but were quickly driven from them. Here I halted and gave my troops an opportunity to breakfast, having received orders to allow the Third and First Divisions to pass me, and with my division to bring forward the rear of the train from this point to the encampment four miles ahead on the direct Columbia road. I reached the camp with the rear of the train at 11 p.m. The country north of the North Edisto becomes more rolling, with many quite steep hills. The soil continues sandy, and is poorly cultivated; weather cold; distance, six miles.

Actions of February 12-13 cost Geary 13 casualties.

The Fourteenth Corps and the Cavalry Division remained the only forces south of the Edisto that day.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick maintained a protective picket line running from Johnson’s Station to Kitching’s Mills.  This allowed Major-General Absalom Baird’s Third Division, Fifteenth Corps to improve on the railroad damage out to that point.  The other two divisions of the Fifteenth Corps proceeded over the Edisto and camped near Dean’s Swamp that evening.

Preparing for the next day’s advance, Kilpatrick dispatched Colonel Thomas J. Jordan’s First Brigade towards the North Edisto.  At Gunter’s Bridge, Jordan’s men sparred with Confederate pickets.  But no serious resistance lay between the forks of the Edisto.

We might summarize the activities of February 13 as simply a lot of movement, some railroad wrecking, and some minor skirmishes.  One side note is worthy of mention here.  For the day’s activity, Major-General Frank Blair noted, “The Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, having returned from Pocotaligo, took the advance.”  Recall the 9th Illinois was sent as escort back to the Right Wing’s supply base on February 4.  The wagons and escort returned to the wing on February 12.

The column, consisting of more than fifty wagons, had traversed through the area behind the Federal advance with no recorded molestation.  No running battles with Confederate cavalrymen.  No contested passage of the numerous swamps.  The Confederate leaders were far more concerned about getting in front of Sherman’s advance to worry about making trouble behind him.  There is an implication here which takes some time to develop.  But consider earlier stages of the war, during Federal advances through Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi.  In each there were significant partisan activity which cause worry to the Federal commands.  Such was not the case in the first two weeks into South Carolina.  I’d ask the reader to consider why that might be the case.

The other aspect of the ride to Pocotaligo and back that feeds in here is a queue to me!  I’ve neglected discussion of events along the coast which happened in conjunction with Sherman’s advance.  I shall move now to correct that deficiency!  The story of Charleston’s fall is directly linked to events on the Congaree in place and time.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 378 and 685.)

 

Sherman’s March, February 12, 1865: Three bridgeheads on the North Edisto River

As the middle of February 1865 came, Major-General William T. Sherman’s columns were well into South Carolina.  The Federals were reaching out towards Columbia.  To counter that reach, the Confederates needed time to concentrate forces.  Two corps… in name at least… were at or nearing Augusta.  Geography favored the Confederates in that regard.  The roads from Augusta were good, with only a couple important river crossings.  On the other hand, for Sherman’s troops to reach Columbia, they had two rivers to cross.  The first of those, the North Fork of the Edisto River, offered a a chance to delay Sherman.  Maybe one day.  Maybe more.   Sherman needed troops over that river on February 12.

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On the left of Sherman’s advance, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick spent a relatively quiet “day after.”  His troopers did some railroad wrecking.  At night, the division pulled out of Johnson’s Station and proceeded towards Guignard’s Bridge.

Elements of the Fourteenth Corps did their turn on the South Carolina Railroad on February 12.  But most of their columns continued up the road to Guignard’s Bridge, as they were nearly up with the lead of the advance.

For the other three corps of Sherman’s forces, the objective of the day lay on the north bank of the North Fork of the Edisto River.

Major-General John Geary’s Second Division, Twentieth Corps had the lead that morning.  Having crossed Duncan’s Bridge the day before, Geary cut across to Jeffcoat’s Bridge on the North Fork:

Near the crossing of the Ninety-six road we met a small force of the enemy’s cavalry and exchanged shots with them. On reaching Jeffcoat’s Bridge we found it burned, and the enemy holding the north bank of the North Edisto. The only approach to the bridge, except on the road, was through swamp, covered with a dense tangled growth of bushes, vines, and briers. I deployed skirmishers on each flank, from the Fifth Ohio Veteran Volunteers and One hundred and forty-seventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, who made their way with great difficulty through these swampy thickets, and drove the enemy from the opposite bank. The main channel here was very deep and the bridge of heavy timbers was effectually destroyed. On the opposite side was another extensive swamp, through which the road was built in form of a causeway. The farther end of this causeway the enemy held and from their position swept the road and bridge with discharges of shell and canister from two pieces of artillery. On each side of the causeway the swamp was too deep to be waded. My troops held both ends of the bridge and a small earth-work was thrown up.

The descriptions of rivers and swamps are almost cliche in the Federal reports.  I dare say no Federal discharged a musket in South Carolina unless he was chest deep in stagnant water and afforded only a dozen yards visibility.  Kidding aside, Geary was able to isolate and turn out the Confederate position, thus gaining the far shore.

Major-General John Logan’s Fifteenth Corps had Major-General William Hazen’s Second Division in the lead that morning, marching towards Shilling’s Bridge.  Reaching that point and finding a well entrenched Confederate force, Hazen deployed skirmishers to develop the line.  Two regiments at the bridge kept the Confederates busy while Hazen sent troops to find alternate ways through the swamp.  Logan reported:

A crossing below the bridge having been first effected General Hazen moved the First and Third Brigades of his division to that point and threw them across the river on a hastily constructed bridge of rafts fastened together, but found a dense and tangled swamp still in his front, through which he pushed his command, however, reaching the mainland without encountering resistance. In the meanwhile [Second Brigade] had been equally successful in effecting a crossing above the bridge, and, with the Thirty-seventh Ohio Infantry, pushed down on the left bank of the river, taking the enemy’s position at the bridge in flank and reverse. The moment the enemy discovered our forces on their side of the river they broke and ran from their works, throwing aside arms and accouterments in their flight. The enemy was driven from his works at 2.30 p.m.

Logan reported capturing eighty prisoners and finding three dead Confederates.  His own casualties were one killed and five wounded.  With that, Fifteenth Corps was across the river and soon had two divisions on the north side.

On the far right, the Seventeenth Corps had, thanks to the efforts of Brigadier-General Manning Force on the 11th, a secure crossing point and a foothold.  Major-General Frank Blair, commanding the corps, sent a pontoon bridge to Force that morning.

On the morning of the 12th, being ordered to cross at the lowest point, the laying of pontoons was begun at 11 a.m. In three hours the division was on the farther side in lines; the front line advanced half a mile. The enemy shelled my skirmish line with one field piece and feeble musketry I advanced the First Brigade, Col. C. Fairchild, Sixteenth Wisconsin, upon the enemy’s position, and through Orangeburg to the railroad. The skirmish line fired upon a train of cars loaded with soldiers, and upon the rear of their columns, retreating toward Columbia.

Having crossed unopposed, Force rolled up the Confederate defenses.  The division immediately went to work on the railroad.  Meanwhile Fourth Division, with the withdrawal of the defenders, Major-General Giles Smith’s Fourth Division repaired the road bridge into Orangeburg that afternoon.

As the Seventeenth Corps entered Orangeburg, men noticed fires already burning in the town.  Major-General Oliver O. Howard, in charge of the Right Wing, reported:

Soon after entering the town of Orangeburg a fire broke out in the upper story of a store building.  The incendiary work was reported to have been done by a Jew, who was angry because the rebel cavalry had burned his cotton.  The wind was high and the fire spread rapidly, consuming the poorer part of the town before its progress could be arrested.  Sour soldiers finally got it under control and prevented its spreading farther.  Some 200 bales of cotton that the rebels had spared were carefully burned by our troops.

Doesn’t really matter who started the fire.  The end result was the same.  Nobody’s cotton was safe in South Carolina that winter.

By the evening of February 12, the Federals had three bridgeheads, each at least two divisions in strength, over the North Fork of the Edisto River.  The Columbia Branch Railroad was broken.  The only natural obstacle between Sherman and Columbia was the Congaree River.  And the only major Confederate formation in position, Major-General Carter Stevenson’s, was falling back from Orangeburg that evening.

Allow me to close today and belabor the main point from yesterday’s post.  All three of these crossings were accomplished by infantry forces which probed and maneuvered against isolated guard forces.  With very few mounted men to delay the Federal advance, report the progress, and picket the rivers outside of the main crossing points, the Confederate defenders were blind.  Sherman’s three bridgeheads on the 12th were a direct result of the cavalry fight on the 11th.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 196, 225, 406, and 684-5.)

Sherman’s March, February 10, 1865: “No better opportunity ever offered to break Wheeler up”

February 10, 1865 was not a day of great advances for Major-General William T. Sherman’s command.  The armies closed up, completed destruction of a railroad, and positioned for the next phase of the march.  From the perspective of 150 years, the activities of this day well demonstrate against the myths of Sherman’s passage through the Palmetto State – it was not simply a string of destructive marches, but rather a series of smart operational movements that both gained objectives and avoided major engagements; and the march was not unopposed… rather, it was opposed with a decentralized, disorganized response.

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The longest march for the day was by elements of the Fourteenth Corps as they caught up. Major-General Absalom Baird’s Third Division reached Barnwell that day.  After posting a guard “keeping order and guarding the families that remain,” Baird reported “All is very quiet and orderly.”  Baird also began reviewing the line of march for the next day, in the direction of Williston.  Behind Baird, Brigadier-General James Morgan’s Second Division reached a point eight miles from Barnwell.  Traveling another road, Brigadier-General William Carlin’s First Division, along with most of the trains for the Corps, reached Fiddle Pond.  The Major-General Jefferson C. Davis could report the marches were easier, having finally left the swamps behind.  But Sherman was still governing the advance to allow the trailing corps to catch up.

Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps could say they re-joined the Fifteenth Corps on February 10.  That evening, the troops arrived at what had been Graham’s Turnout on the South Carolina Railroad. They prepared to cross the South Edisto as the rear guard of the corps on the 11th.

Both the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps spent the day completing their railroad destruction tasks and moving to new camps astride the Edisto.  Second Division, Fifteenth Corps (Brigadier-General William Hazen) completed crossing that day.  Third Division (Brigadier-General Manning Force) of the Seventeenth Corps joined First Division (Major-General Joseph Mower) across the river.  The other divisions of the Right Wing (except Corse’s) went into camps near the crossing points and prepared to march the next day.

The previous day, Sherman complained to Major-General Henry Slocum that the Twentieth Corps work on the railroad was insufficient.  “Tell Williams I have inspected his work [at Blackville], and the bars are not twisted; better do half the quantity, but do it thoroughly; unless there be a warp, the bar can be straightened.” So Major-General Alpheus S. Williams and his corps spent the morning focused on railroads.

At 1 p.m. orders came to move the Twentieth off to two crossing points of the Edisto.  Third Division, Major-General William T. Ward’s, marched towards Guignard’s Bridge, but found it undefended but burned.  Most of Ward’s division remained at Williston while engineers repaired the bridge.  Major-General John Geary’s Second Division, taking the lead for the first time in South Carolina, advanced on Duncan’s Bridge with the First Division following.  Geary started the eight mile march at 2 p.m.  He also found no Confederates but a damaged bridge:

With my infantry I crossed before dark and encamped on the north side, on the plantation of Mr. Winningham.  Neither my artillery nor any of our horses could be taken over until the bridge was repaired.  Duncan’s Bridge (better known among the inhabitants as New Bridge) comprises six bridges, with causeways connecting them, the entire crossing being about one mile in length.  Three of these bridges, including those across the two main channels of the South Edisto, had been burned by the enemy, and required much work to repair them.

Geary also noted, “The country along the Edisto is a rich one, and the resources for subsistence and forage were abundant.”

Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division also focused on railroad wrecking that day… along with patrols to feel out the Confederate forces.  Around mid-day, Kilpatrick reported, from Johnson’s Turnout, his progress and described Confederate activity:

Have just driven out a brigade of rebel cavalry, and find that Wheeler has concentrated the majority of his troops at Aiken, and is now in line of battle, barricading his position two miles this side of Aiken. We have had considerable skirmishing, but nothing more. This is a splendid country; plenty of forage and supplies. The enemy now believe that we are marching on Augusta; such, at least, is the impression among the citizens. Anderson’s division crossed Cook’s Bridge last evening, and passed this point. Wheeler’s command is at this moment passing up from the direction of the river to my front and forming lines at a trot. I will not attack until I hear further from you.

To this, Kilpatrick offered a suggestion:

No better opportunity ever offered to break Wheeler up; but as he may have supports of infantry I do not consider it prudent to attack. Could he now be driven back and Aiken captured we could secure a large amount of provisions, needed by my command, and I think a wrong [impression] be produced upon the minds of the enemy which he could not correct until it would be entirely too late. If you will send me a brigade of infantry from the Twentieth Army Corps, which must now be this side of Blackville and consequently less than a day’s march from this point, I will render Wheeler powerless to even annoy your flank or wagon trains again during the campaign. … I hope, general, that the suggestion in this communication contained will meet with your approval, and that you will give me an opportunity of disposing of Wheeler’s command. I will break road until I am attacked, in which case you can rest easy as to the result.

Kilpatrick seemed perpetually placing himself upon a faltering pillar.  Insistent on setting up his own fall.  Sherman, however, could not afford some repeat of February-March 1864 in South Carolina:

I cannot change my plans now, as they are in progress. I don’t care about Aiken, unless you can take it by a dash, and as Wheeler’s attention is drawn to that quarter you can let it work. … t won’t pay to have infantry chasing Wheeler’s cavalry; it is always a bad plan, and is injurious to detach infantry, save for a day or a single occasion.

Aiken was a diversion, and not an objective.  And demonstrations don’t get more resources than absolutely needed.  (Keep this in mind for tomorrow’s post… and the battle of Aiken.)

The Confederate command made adjustments to Kilpatrick’s presence, threatening Aiken and thus the outskirts of Augusta, Georgia.  Fearing a Federal strike back into Georgia, Major-General Daniel H. Hill called for reinforcements.  Major-General Benjamin Cheatham’s Corps, just arriving from the west, was dispatched across the Savannah River.  Hill urged “The preservation of the factory at Graniteville” just west of Aiken, asking Cheatham to dispatch 500 men to that point on the railroad. The factory was a textile mill owned by William Gregg, engaged in making uniforms for the Confederate Army.

In response to the Federal cavalry, Major-General Joseph Wheeler began shifting his cavalry off the South Edisto towards Aiken, just as Kilpatrick reported. This uncovered the area between the forks of the Edisto, which caused Major-General Carter L. Stevenson no small worry.  To Major-General Lafayette McLaws, Stevenson urged, “Send some cavalry to guard the North Edisto. From Rowe’s Bridge to its mouth it is uncovered.” Exacerbating the situation, the forces Stevenson detailed to guard the approaches to the North Edisto, in front of the Federal bridgeheads, withdrew before orders pinned them to their posts. Slow dispatches and Wheeler’s shift worked to remove most opposition in the way of Sherman’s planned movements for February 11.

The problem for the Confederate commands here was lack of unity.  Matching Hill’s worries about Augusta’s safety, Lieutenant-General William Hardee was concerned about Charleston.  The Confederates were willing to give up the port, but were not quite ready to leave at that time.  Detachments from the Army of Tennessee (Stevenson and Cheatham) did not directly fit under either of those commands. General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was responsible for coordinating these actions, was in Columbia that day.  But he might as well been on the moon, as he offered little clarity or guidance.  The situation was foggy at best.  Where was Sherman heading?

To be fair, Sherman himself was in a fog.  For several days he had acted in belief that only Wheeler and detachments from McLaws command opposed his movements.  The reports about troops from the Army of Tennessee were discounted as simply vanguard elements of small strength. That is until the 9th with prisoners brought in from Stevenson’s command (and other contact).  This caused a little pause from Sherman as he quickly recalculated the situation.  That evening, amended orders went out:

 I want to have the road broken up good from about Orangeburg up above the State road, Mathews’ Post-Office, but would prefer that one corps should do the work, leaving the Fifteenth to follow a course more to the west in support of the Left Wing, in the event of Dick Taylor having got to Augusta with Hood’s old army. Slocum’s orders will take him by the most direct road possible to Columbia, but making to his left about the Sand Hills in case he comes in contact with one of your columns.

Orangeburg and the railroad were still objectives.  But Sherman would proceed with a little more caution.  One can see some of this caution in the response to Kilpatrick, regarding Wheeler and Aiken.  There was as stark difference in the “active” response to Sherman as opposed to the “inactive” stance of Beauregard on the evening of February 10.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 684; Part II, Serial 99, pages 364, 373, 381, 382-3, 1144, and 1146.)

Sherman’s March, February 7, 1865: The South Carolina Railroad falls to Sherman

Thus far into the narrative discussing Major-General William T. Sherman’s march into South Carolina, one major factor which played into the Savannah Campaign had not been much importance.  That would be the railroads.  Other than the Charleston & Savannah Railroad along the coast, the Federal advance encountered no lines. That is until February 7, 1865.  On that day, Sherman directed his leading columns at the South Carolina Railroad.  The aim was to cut the line providing direct connection between Charleston and Augusta.

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Most of the laurels that day fell again to the Right Wing of Major-General Oliver O. Howard.  Marching orders for the 7th had the Fifteenth moving to Bamberg and the Seventeenth towards Midway.  Because he was traveling with Fifteenth Corps, Sherman gave direct instructions to Major-General John Logan.  Other than suggesting leading the march with two divisions in light marching order, Sherman directed that once upon the railroad “every rail must be twisted.” Other than suggesting leading with two divisions in light marching order, he left the details to the corps commander:

I will be with you, but want you to fight your own battles, as I am a non-combatant.  The enemy ought to fight us, but I don’t believe he will.

Sherman was correct. The Confederates did not contest the movement.  Logan recorded for the march:

The advance was unopposed, and with the exception of felled timber in the crossing of Lemon Swamp, which delayed the column a short time, the march was made with ease and celerity, my mounted infantry striking the railroad at Bamberg, or Lowry’s Station, by 9.30 a.m., and by 12 m. I had two brigades at work tearing up the track and piling up ties and rails preparatory to burning and twisting the same.

That evening, Logan deployed the divisions in a strong perimeter around the town.  On Logan’s right, Major-General Frank Blair’s Seventeenth Corps likewise met no formal resistance, but had a tough time crossing the creeks and swamps:

… the command moved forward through a drenching rain and over almost impassable roads toward Midway Station, on South Carolina Railroad. We rebuilt three bridges at Lemon’s Swamp, and succeeded in getting the Fourth Division and one brigade of the First Division into position covering the station.

To feel out the Confederate dispositions beyond to the Edisto River, mounted patrols fanned out to Holman’s Bridge, Binnaker’s Bridge, Cannon’s Bridge, the Edisto Railroad Bridge, and Walker’s Bridge (smaller blue dashed lines on my map).  Most of the bridges were already destroyed.  The patrols fought brief skirmishes at the Railroad Bridge and Cannon’s Bridge.  But this confirmed no Confederate force waited on the east side of the Edisto.

To the left of the Fifteenth Corps, Major-General Alpheus S. Williams moved two divisions of Twentieth Corps towards Graham’s Station.  At 2 p.m., Williams reported his progress:

My advance is within two miles of the railroad.  My column is badly stretched out, owing to the swollen condition of the streams.  I have three brigades in hand and shall move on the railroad at once, and shall bring up my whole command to that point to-night. I am satisfied from the report of prisoners that there is nothing but one brigade of cavalry (perhaps more) in my front. They are withdrawing.

By nightfall, Williams had the two divisions in camp along the railroad.

Further to the left of the advance, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry advanced on Blackville.  After skirmishing with some of Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, the Federals gained the town and the railroad there. With that, nearly twenty-five miles of the railroad line were in Federal hands by nightfall.

Boasting of his success thus far, Kilpatrick wrote to Sherman, “At any moment you desire I can drive Wheeler into the Edisto, and think save any bridge you may name.”  But Sherman was not concerned with the Edisto for the moment, and directed the cavalryman to focus on the railroad for the moment.  Any crossing of the Edisto (technically the South Fork of the Edisto) would be further upstream.  “Don’t risk much, but keep your horses and men well in hand.”

Further south, five divisions in the “second wave” were still struggling with the swamps.  Major-General John Geary’s Second Division, Twentieth Corps had trouble crossing the Coosawhatchie Swamp.  Spending most of the day cordurying and bridging, not until 4 p.m. could the men begin crossing.  Behind them, the First Division, Fourteenth Corps made an equally difficult march, only gaining nine miles using the road up from Brighton.  The other two divisions of the Fourteenth Corps did little movement on the 7th, as they replenished supplies and did improvements to the roads.

However Major-General John Corse did make significant progress in his march to rejoin the Fifteenth Corps.  From his camp that evening at Hickory Hill, reporting to Sherman he wrote:

I know not how anxious you may be to have me with you, but I assure you not more so than I am. Our roads have proven execrable. I worked all one day on a swamp about three and a half miles long. If I can get this bridge done to-day I will move heaven and earth to join you day after to-morrow, if you are not too far from me. Please let me know of your whereabouts as soon as practicable after the reception of this. Slocum is to-day about Duck Branch Post-Office with Geary; Davis is–God knows where, for the roads are such I have no doubt he is nearer the infernal regions than he ever was before. I hope you have a few green leaves of all the fresh wreaths you are winning left for.

At least past the Coosawhatchie, Corse and the others could expect to find corduroyed roads and intact bridges in the wake of the earlier marches.

Along the coast, Brigadier-General John Hatch’s men advanced, somewhat tentatively, along the railroad.  By day’s end they could report three miles gained.  But knowing veteran troops opposed them, Hatch ordered his men to entrench for the night.  Discretion was the better part of valor for a column engaged in a demonstration.

That evening, Sherman sent a note to Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren indicating his progress and directing future movements.  Sherman’s message indicated he was keeping a lot of options open:

We are on the South Carolina road, at Midway, and will break fifty miles, from Edisto toward Augusta, and then cross toward Columbia. Weather is bad and country full of water. This cause may force me to turn against Charleston. I have ordered Foster to move Hatch up to the Edisto, about Jacksonborough and Willstown. Also to make that lodgment about Bull’s Bay. Watch Charleston close. I think Davis will order it to be abandoned, lest he lose its garrison as well as guns. We are all well and the enemy retreats before us. Send word to New Berne that you have heard from me, and the probabilities are that high waters may force me to the coast before I reach North Carolina, but to keep Wilmington busy.

An interesting observation made by Dahglren with respect to Sherman was, “I notice that all these letters he writes himself.”  And the message of February 7 was one asking for specific actions.  Unfortunately, due to the distances involved, the message was not in Dahlgren’s hands until February 14.  By that time, the situation had changed considerably.  Instead, the operation at Bull’s Bay had assumed the higher priority.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 224 and 377 ; Part II, Serial 99, pages 321, 328, 336, and 338. )

“A good effect in worrying the enemy”: Demonstrations on the Stono and Edisto Rivers, January 1865

Earlier this week I mentioned several demonstrations that took place along the coast of South Carolina in the last days of January 1865.  One of these demonstrations lead to the loss of the USS Dai Ching.  Less costly, and more important to the overall Federal efforts, were two demonstrations which for all practical purposes were “showings.”  The operations on the Stono and Edisto Rivers were indeed “demonstrations” in every sense of the word.

The Stono River demonstration evolved from a request by Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig.  Throughout January the Federal outposts behind Morris Island reported increased Confederate activity.  The fear was the Confederates were setting up new batteries on James Island.  Due to Schimmelfennig’s reduced garrison manpower, he requested a gunboat venture up the Stono River.  The first attempt, on January 24, failed outright, as “the permission to do so having been sent by Admiral [John] Dahlgren through the signal corps in the common code, the enemy was informed of our intention….” Though enough information was gleaned to verify no new batteries were in place, the Federals felt the need to put more pressure on the Confederates on James Island.

Jan65Stono

On January 28, the gunboat USS Commodore McDonough tried the Stono again.  Lieutenant-Commander Alex F. Crosman, commanding, reported:

… I went up the river as far as the point of woods about 3,000 yards from Fort Pringle, with which work I exchanged numerous shots.

Most of my shell fell inside of the work, and Pringle replied with but two heavy guns, which I am confident were smoothbore.  Not a shell exploded near me, but though some of the enemy’s shot were very fairly directed. They were all, I think, solid shot.

Feeling the woods occasionally as I moved up with shell and grape, I sent the boat’s crew ashore and burned successively the Legaré’s house and the house and outbuildings on the wooded points in whose vicinity the Pawnee lay last July.

Crosman remained at arm’s length from the Confederate batteries.  The houses on James Island again suffered (nearby Legareville being burnt the previous summer).  He reported expending twelve IX-inch shells, thirteen 6.4-inch Parrott rounds (shell and case shot), twenty-four 50-pdr Dahlgren shells, two stands of IX-inch grapeshot, one 6.4-inch canister, and one 24-pdr howitzer canister.  The use of grape, canister, and case shot to “feel” the woods near the shore was a standard tactic for the gunboats when in close proximity to Confederate lines.  Summing up his activities, Crosman noted:

I am convinced there are no new works on John’s Island, and also that Fort Pringle is not so formidable as it was in July last.  No torpedoes are in the river yet, as I went up purposely at dead low water to endeavor to discover them.

While Crosman probed the Stono, further to the west on Edisto Island, another expedition, this one a joint Army-Navy operation, tested Confederate defenses in that sector.  Major-General John Foster ordered Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter “… to proceed to Edisto Island, and with the Thirty-second U.S. Colored Troops, already landed there, to make a strong demonstration towards Willstown, on the South Edisto River….”   Knowing the Confederates retained significant garrisons guarding the railroad and roads between Willstown and Adams’ Run, Foster hoped this would distract from the Salkehatchie.  Major-General William T. Sherman would approve and add that the demonstration should look as “a lodgement seemingly to cover the disembarkation of a large body.”

Unlike the demonstration mounted in July 1864 in the same area, Potter was directed to move by way of Jehossee Island.

Jan65Edisto

However, when he arrived at Edisto Island, Potter had second thoughts about that route.  Instead, after conferring with Commander George B. Balch, commanding the naval forces operating in the North Edisto, Potter decided to move by way of White Point Landing. This, of course, put Potter’s force directly against some of the Confederate defenses which stalled Federal advances the previous July.  So on the evening of January 29, the 32nd USCT moved up river to that place under cover of the USS Sonoma, USS Pawnee, and USS Daffodil.  Reporting on January 30, Balch wrote:

At 8 a.m. this morning, at General Potter’s request, we opened fire for an hour, at the expiration of which time his troops advanced, accompanied by a light 12-pounder of the Sonoma.  There has been occasional firing from the howitzer and the infantry, but not heavy enough to lead one to suppose that the enemy is in strong force.

Potter simply intended to get the attention of the Confederates then fall back to White Point.  After advancing a short distance, they ran up against a well positioned battery.  By 7 p.m. the force was back at the landing and embarking back on the ships.  To cover the activity on land, Balch sent the tug Daffodil up Dawho Creek.  He’d also posted the Sonoma upriver.   “I believe this movement of General Potter will have a good effect in worrying the enemy,” Balch reported.

Potter’s force remained on Edisto Island the next few days.  A provisional brigade of around 1,400 in number formed under Potter.  Two other regiments, the 55th Massachusetts and 144th New York, joined  the 32nd USCT.  Over the next few days these troops would make the impression desired – of an advanced covering force preceding a landing.

But for all the fluster, these demonstrations appear to have little impact on the Confederates.  Instead it was the crossing of the Savannah River at Sister’s Ferry that had their attention.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1013; Part II, Serial 99, pages 140 and 151; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 204 and 206.)

January 24 – 26, 1865: Gunboats probe along the South Carolina coast

While Major-General William T. Sherman worked his wide-spaced wings into position to start the invasion of South Carolina during the latter half of January 1865, the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron launched several forays up the rivers along the South Carolina coast.  In part these were to test the Confederate defenses.  But Sherman and Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren, commanding the squadron, hoped these efforts would convince the Confederates that Charleston remained the next objective.  For the most convincing act, Sherman requested a move on the Edisto or Stono Rivers.

Writing to authorities in Washington on January 24, 1865, Dahlgren summed up the dispositions for these operations:

I have the Dai Ching and a tug in the Combahee to assist the move at that ferry.

The Sonoma is in the North Edisto, and the Pawnee leaves at early light with a tug for the Ashepoo, where a battery and obstructions are reported.

The orders of all are to drive the rebel pickets and knock down his batteries where they an be reached.

The Tuscarora, Mingoe, State of Georgia, and Nipsic are at Georgetown, with orders to prevent the erection there of any batteries.

The Pontiac is in the Savannah River, at Purysburg, advancing with General Sherman’s extreme left.  The demonstration desired by General Sherman at Charleston may be said to be begun by the collection there of so many ironclads.

In addition to simply letting the monitors, including those recently arrived, Dahlgren prepared a demonstration on the Stono River.  The USS St. Louis  sent launches up the North Edisto River, reaching Togodo Creek, to map any obstructions and torpedoes.   Later the USS Sonoma made her way up the North Edisto.  The USS Wissahickon and USS Commodore McDonough let themselves be seen in the familiar waterways of the Stono River.

I’ve already discussed the operations of the USS Pontiac on the Savannah River.  And operations closer to Charleston were more of “motions” to be seen.  The interesting operations were on the Combahee and Ashepoo Rivers.

DiaChingPt1

The USS Pawnee and tug USS Daffodil drew the assignment on the Ashepoo River.  Although Federal patrols had probed the river on several occasions, the channel was far too shallow for any extensive operations.   A small fort guarded the Ashepoo.  But the Confederates either had already abandoned the work or remained quiet when the Daffodil fired “some twenty or thirty rounds” on January 26.

The USS Dai Ching and the tug USS Clover were to work up the Combahee River.  Earlier the Dai Ching was operating in support of the Right Wing’s movements from Port Royal Island.  On January 22, after a conference with Major-General Oliver O. Howard, the gunboat moved over to the Combahee.   Acting Ensign Walter Walton recalled that Howard,

… informed me that the Dai Ching could not be of any possible service to him at Port Royal Ferry, but would be a great protection to his right flank, if the Dai Ching ascended the Combahee River as far as Combahee Ferry, as he intended sending troops there to prevent the rebels from crossing at that point.

At other places and times during the war, Dahlgren was somewhat sensitive about any army officer prompting changes to the dispositions of his ships.  In this case, either the admiral acquiesced based on prior agreements, or was simply too involved with other matters to worry.  No records of official requests to Dahlgren survive. However, as the message to Washington cited above implies, on January 24, Dahlgren was on board with the movement of the Dai Ching.    In addition, at 4 p.m. on January 24, Dahlgren wrote to Sherman to verify, “The Dai Ching in the Combahee, with orders to annoy the rebels as much as possible, to land and drive in their pickets.”   Yet, it is important to note that at no time leading up to the posting of the Dai Ching did Sherman or any other army officer give any indication of advancing across the Combahee or Salkehatchie until the Left Wing was in position.

The aggressive posting of the Dai Ching would lead to a setback for the Federals on January 26.

(ORN, Series I, Volume 16, page 187, 188, 195, and 196.)