Tag Archives: Fort Sumter

February 18, 1865: “The City of Charleston and its defenses came into our possession this morning”

While Federal attention was focused on attracting Confederate attention to Bull’s Bay, on Morris Island, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig remained alert to the possibility that the Confederates would, as many assumed, slip out of Charleston. As had been the case since 1863, the Federal signal officers on Morris Island were watching, transcribing, and deciphering messages sent to Confederate posts around Charleston.  On February 16, 1865, those messages gave indication that something was in the air with respect to an evacuation –   “Be ready to move at a moments notice. Save all the most valuable Government property. Orders and messages burnt.”

I will focus on the details of the Confederate evacuation of Charleston in a separate post (when my hurried schedule allows!).  But I will point out the Confederates practiced some good and bad operations security.  While intercepted messages and other indicators pointed to a withdrawal, the Confederates maintained the lines up to the end.  The rear guard departed Charleston during the night of February 17.

At daybreak on February 18, there was no Confederate flag flying from the staff over Fort Sumter.  The monitor USS Canonicus fired two rounds at Fort Sumter to ensure this was not a trick.  Those were the last shots fired at Fort Sumter, of so many fired during the war.

Federals on Morris Island immediately took note.  Several officers prepared boats to investigate the situation.  Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus G. Bennett, 21st USCT and commanding forces on the north end of Morris Island, directed Captain Samuel Cuskaden, one of Bennett’s staff, to secure a US flag and proceed to Fort Sumter.  At the same time Major John A. Hennessy, 52nd Pennsylvania, lead a boat out to the fort.  Captain R. M. Bannatyne, of the 52nd, later recalled the event:

The 52d Pa. at this time was doing duty as boat infantry, and had 41 or 42 boats of all kinds and descriptions, and the camp was on the west or harbor side of the island. There were no boats on our side of the island except our own.

Col. Bennett says that the regiments were under orders to be ready, but the first order we received was after we were marching to the boats.  When the men took their places we were soon going toward the harbor, with Major Hennessy ahead.  Coming out of the narrow channel into the harbor at what was then known as Paine’s dock, our course would bring us to the north point of the island, at Fort Gregg, where we were ordered to report; but part of the boats did not report there.

The last of the regiment was passing Paine’s dock not later than 9:50 a.m., and Major Hennessy was then going directly past Fort Gregg to Fort Sumter, 1440 yards distant, and his was the first boat to reach that fort and display the flag of the regiment on its parapet.

Corporal Johnson, Co. G, was the first man to land, followed by Major Hennessy and Lieut. Burr….

Thus, the 52nd Pennsylvania, veterans of the long campaign on Morris Island, were the first into Fort Sumter.

JohnAHennessy

While Hennessy took possession of Fort Sumter, other boats moved toward Sullivan’s Island and other points.  While passing Fort Sumter, Bennett encountered a boat full of Confederate musicians, who’d been left behind as their armies abandoned the city.  Hennessy, who’d returned to his boat, and others joined Bennett moving into the harbor.   One by one, small detachments took control of batteries and forts.  Bennett and Hennessy proceeded to downtown Charleston, with Bannatyne indicating the latter was again the first ashore.

But not all the Confederate forces had left Charleston, as Bannatyne noted:

Just as we landed several of the Confederate ironclads in the harbor were blown up, with loud reports.  The streets were crowded with contrabands anxious to see the army.  We stayed at the citadel but a short time, and were ordered to the armory, which was reported on fire, but this proved to be a false alarm.  We saw no men in the city except Col. Bennett and staff and Major Hennessy… and detachments of the 3d R.I.

Flags went up all around Charleston.  Bennett was most concerned about security of the city and reports of Confederate rear guards:

I landed at Mills’ Wharf, Charleston, at 10 a.m., where I learned that a part of the enemy’s troops yet remained in the city, while mounted patrols were out in every direction applying the torch and driving the inhabitants before them.  I at once addressed the mayor of the city….

Bennett’s message to Mayor Charles Macbeth was to the point:

In the name of the United States Government I demand a surrender of the city of which you are the executive officer.  Until further orders all citizens will remain within their houses.

With the small force at his disposal, Bennett could not secure the city and would wait reinforcements.  While waiting, several explosions rocked the city.  At least two were from the Confederate rams being destroyed.  A magazine on Sullivan’s Island went up.  But the most disruptive was an explosion at the Northeastern Railroad depot.  There civilians were gathering food from abandoned Confederate commissary stores.  Children found quantities of gunpowder stored in nearby warehouses, and began playing with it in the smoldering cotton fires.  After a while, the children had left a perfect “train” back to the gunpowder stocks, with disastrous results.  As Bennett reported, “… not less than 200 human beings, most of whom were women and children, were blown to atoms.”  That one accident claimed more civilian lives than all the Federal bombardments of the city combined.

Mayor Macbeth readily surrendered the city and only expressed concern about maintaining law and order.  By afternoon, reinforcements from Morris Island arrived and Bennett’s focus was assisting the city’s fire companies attempting to keep the flames from spreading.  Fortunately, there was no repeat of Columbia in Charleston that evening.

That afternoon, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent a dispatch north to Major-General Henry Halleck:

The city of Charleston and its defenses came into our possession this morning, with over 200 pieces of good artillery and a supply of fine ammunition.  The enemy commenced evacuating all the works last night, and Mayor Macbeth surrendered the city to the troops of General Schimmelfennig at 9 o’clock [sic] this morning, at which time it was occupied by our forces….

The last major port city of the Confederacy was in Federal hands.  And the place where the crisis which lead to the war had started was now firmly in Federal hands. Three years, ten months, and five days after it had been taken down, the United States flag flew over Fort Sumter at nightfall, February 18, 1865.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1019; Part II, Serial 99, pages 469 and 483; The Campaigns of the Fifty-second Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, compiled by Smith B. Mott, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1911, pages 170-2.)

Operations against Charleston, February 9-13, 1865, Part 2: The Last Battles about Charleston

While Major-General William T. Sherman’s forces in the interior of South Carolina were working across the South Fork of the Edisto River on February 10, 1865, outside Charleston, a small Federal force was mounting one of the many demonstrations directed to keep Confederate forces pinned to the coast.  The demonstration was, to say the least, uninspired.

Almost like a thread that keeps being pulled, the operation called for a Federal force to work its way across Sol Legare against Confederate pickets on the southwestern end of James Island.  This approach was used before the battle of Grimball’s Landing in July 1863, then again during the operations of July 1864, and also for several minor operations conducted during the second half of the war.

The approach put Federal troops in front of a well designed belt of defensive works, which could be held by a small Confederate force.  Out in front of the line of works was a picket line, with its own earthworks, covering Grimball’s and Rivers’ Causeways leading off Sol Legare.  Since the Federals had often used those causeways to threaten James Island, the Confederates had fully developed the positions to allow a small force to defend against a much larger force.  And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the Battle of Grimball’s Causeway.

On the night of February 9, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig had a small brigade, roughly 1,200 men, move onto Sol Legare, by way of landing on Front Cole’s Island.  The force consisted of the 54th and 144th New York Infantry, 32nd and 33rd USCT, and the 55th Massachusetts.  Supporting this movement, the Navy provided two gunboats, a tug, and two mortar schooners to support the demonstration.  On the Stono River, Lieutenant-Commander A.W. Johnson lead the USS Wissahickon and mortar schooner USS C.P. Williams.  On the Folly River, the USS Commodore McDonough and mortar schooner USS Dan Smith, under Lieutenant-Commander A.F. Crosman, covered the right flank of the Federal advance. At the Army’s request, two monitors came over the bar into the Stono.  Only the USS Lehigh moved up the river to engage, however.  Lieutenant-Commander Alexander A. Semmes, on the Lehigh, was in overall command of the naval forces.

The landings went off well on the morning of the 10th.  At around 9 a.m. the mortar schooners commenced firing on the Confederate picket line.  The gunboats and monitor joined in with direct fire.  This had the desired effect of getting the attention of the Confederate pickets.  Meanwhile Hartwell had the two New York regiments maneuver and counter-march on Sol Legare to directly threaten the pickets.

On the Confederate lines, Major Edward Manigault, commanding the right end of the Confederate line on James Island, came up to the picket line in response to reports of activity.  On the line were, according to Manigault’s recollections, 100 men of the 2nd South Carolina Heavy Artillery and 20 cavalrymen.  Reinforcements came in the form of a three companies from the Palmetto Guards and a detachment of dismounted cavalry, amounting to 188 men.  Distributing this force, Manigault had 160 men at Grimball’s Causeway and 48 at River’s Causeway.  The remainder were held in reserve or on the picket line between those two points.

The demonstration remained distant gunboat fire and show until around 5 p.m.  Hartwell pressed the two New York regiments against Grimball’s Causeway with rush.  This pushed in the Confederate skirmishers and might have dislodged the position if continued.  Having gained the outer rifle pits, however, the Federals were content to hold what they had.

Among the casualties on the Confederate side was Manigault himself.  Struck near the spine with a wound considered mortal, he lay in the line of rifle pits overtaken by the Federals along with a soldier from the Palmetto Guard who stayed, tending to the officer.  Manigault later recalled:

Immediately after, 6 men of the 54th N.Y. (with unmistakable brogue) came up and took [the soldier] prisoner, and then took me.  I was in a moment despoiled of my watch, sword, pistol, and field glass and, shortly after, taken on a blanket to Grimball’s Causeway where Capt. [Gustav] Blau, 54th New York, was in command of our men’s rifle pits, or earthwork, which we had just abandoned.

Manigault survived the wound and the war.  Writing in 1902, he recalled the South Carolinians lost seven or eight killed or wounded, with 17 captured.  Other sources put the number at 20 killed and 70 wounded.  The Federals suffered a like number of casualties.

For the Navy, the only tense moment came in regard to the gunboat McDonough, which suffered boiler trouble.  While never under fire, the vessel had to wait until a tow could be arranged to get to safety downriver.

With darkness, both sides settled in.  The Navy continued firing through the night at fifteen minute intervals.  Batteries on Morris Island resumed bombarding Charleston.  The Federals retained their lodgement until the night of February 11.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore had decided to switch the focus of demonstrations to Bull’s Bay.  So the forces on Sol Legare were needed elsewhere.

To keep up the “show” and maintain pressure on James Island, Schimmelfennig mounted a feint against Battery Simkins and Fort Sumter on the night of February 11.  Major John A. Hennessy, 52nd Pennsylvania, lead a boat demonstration out into Charleston Harbor.  “The enemy opened a lively artillery fire from Simkins and Sullivan’s Island and a musketry fire from Simkins and Sumter,” reported Schimmelfennig. The actions of February 10-11 did force the Confederates to reallocate troops from Sullivan’s Island to James Island.  Otherwise, the demonstrations had little effect on events to follow.

One more operation was mounted in front of James Island before Charleston fell.  Sensing from intercepted dispatches that the Confederates were shifting troops back to Sullivan’s Island, and wishing to keep those troops distracted from the landings at Bull’s Bay, Schimmelfennig moved a force under Colonel Eugene Kozlay, 54th New York, onto Sol Legare (again!) on February 13-14.  Covering the maneuvers, the Navy’s gunboats fired a few more shots into the Confederate lines… perhaps the last such fired at James Island during the war.  The Federal force retired on the night of February 14.

Designed to keep the Confederates distracted and focused on James Island, these operations were more like a soft punch landed against a recoiling opponent.  Even as Schimmelfennig made his last demonstration, the Confederates had orders cut for the evacuation of Charleston.   Gillmore, content to make a demonstration at Bull’s Bay, which he hoped might catch the Confederates off guard.  But before I move to the discussion of Bull’s Bay and pesky issues like tides and the draft of ships, allow me to review the particulars of the Confederate withdrawal from Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1017; Manigault’s, and much of the information accounting for the battle of Grimball’s Landing, from 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 243-7.)

“I then allowed the Patapsco to drift up with the tide”: The loss of the Patapsco, Part 1

From the Navy’s perspective, Major-General William T. Sherman’s plans for South Carolina were somewhat mundane.  As Sherman plotted a line of march toward the center of the state, bypassing Charleston.  For Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren, this meant the prize which he’d been assigned when assuming command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1863, was not on the list of objectives.  However, Sherman did ask Dahlgren and the Army troops on Morris Island to help the advance by mounting demonstrations against Charleston to distract the Confederates.

On January 15, 1865, Dahlgren arrived off Charleston on his flagship USS Harvest Moon just before 8 a.m.  After breakfast, he summoned his senior commanders for a conference.  Dahlgren explained the situation to his subordinates then opened for a frank discussion:

The question was, How and when?  I observed that it might be done in three ways: 1. Attack Sullivan’s Island.  2. Pass in and attack [Fort] Johnson. 3. Run all the way up and attack the city.  They were not inclined to go beyond the first step – attack Sullivan’s Island.  After a full and unreserved discussion, I decided that the obstructions near Sumter should be examined by boats under the supervision of the captains of monitors for each night.

Before the meeting was concluded, news came in that Federal troops were shore and attacking Fort Fisher, North Carolina.  While great general “war news” for Dahlgren that meant he could expect reinforcements in short order.  Rear-Admiral David D. Porter was to dispatch the monitors from the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron after the fort fell. Of course, this also meant Porter would be looking for more tasks to take on. To be brief, Dahlgren must have felt some pressure to begin his operations against Charleston – be that a demonstration or full assault – before any hint of “idleness” came to the lips of those in Washington.

For any course of action, Dahlgren’s squadron needed to clear the torpedoes around Fort Sumter.  From this meeting, Dahlgren issued a set of instructions to the force off Charleston… eleven points in all.  For the tactical examination, which became very important later in the day, points 6 to 9 were most important:

6th. This, then, will be the period of preparation, and the first measure will be to examine the channel and make sure of the obstructions, their nature and position.

7th. As the impression of the commanders of monitors is that a range of obstructions extends from Sumter, these will be the first object, and the commanders of the advance monitors of the 15th, Patapsco and Lehigh, are charged with this duty for the night, and so on, in succession.  The scouts, all boats, tugs, etc., will report to them to assist.

8th. The preliminary to removal will be by explosion.  Torpedoes may be used and boats filled with powder floated up with the tide.

Floats with grapnels or hooks attached may be floated up to catch and mark objects below water.

9th. To protect against floating torpedoes long, slender pine poles, 30 to 50 feet, may be lashed in pairs in the middle, so as to form an X, into which enters the bow at one end, heels secured, and from the other depends a net, the whole to float.

Following the issue of these instructions, Dahlgren proceeded ashore to consult with Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig and make full observations of the Confederate defenses.  All seemed in hand.  The squadron off Charleston had conducted similar operations near Fort Sumter for well over a year.  While risky and well within range of the Confederate guns, the proposed actions were somewhat routine for the sailors and their officers.

The orders placed Lieutenant-Commander Stephen P. Quackenbush, on the Patapsco at the fore.  That monitor was assigned duty as the forward picket monitor for the night.  To accomplish the task, Quackenbush planned to move up past the normal picket station.  As he later related in his report:

We rounded to, and I immediately called alongside the officers in charge of picket and scout boats.  I directed them to select as many boats as had grapnels and to push them up the harbor, using every effort to discover torpedoes or obstructions; the remaining boats to take position on our beams and quarters, keeping within 100 or 200 yards of the vessel.  The commanding officers of the tugboats were ordered to keep about the same distance ahead and on each bow.  The object in assigning these positions was to avoid observation by the enemy and drawing their fire.  I then allowed the Patapsco to drift up with the tide until nearly in a line from Sumter to Moultrie, the boats and tugs keeping in their respective positions.  From this point, which was the highest point attaned, we steamed down to within a few yards of the Lehigh buoy; then stooped and allowed the vessel to drift up, keeping in sight of the before-mentioned buoy.

Quackenbush’s references the “Lehigh bouy” which marked the location where the USS Lehigh grounded on the night of November 15-16, 1863:

Lehigh1

You’ll also see on that naval chart a mark labeled “Wreck of Patapsco.” Such gives good measure of the distance that Quackenbush allowed the monitor to drift in obedience of his orders on January 15, 1865.  And that also leads to my next post and the end of the Patapsco.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 169, 175, and 365. )