Christmas Morning ambush at Legareville, Part 1

Ever since Federals began building river obstructions in the Stono River at the end of November, General P.G.T. Beauregard saw an opportunity to repeat the insult inflicted earlier in the year with the ambush of the USS Isaac Smith.   Orders cut on December 17 sent several batteries of artillery, about a regiment’s worth of infantry, and cavalry scouts to enact just such an ambush.

As instructed, the Confederates completed preparations for the ambush to include a series of concealed battery positions on the island overlooking the marshes south of Legareville.  Major Edward Manigault, commanding the South Carolina Siege Train batteries (but was not actually on James Island himself), provided the most detailed descriptions of the battery positions.  There were five distinct positions, as indicated here:


Manigault’s description varies slightly from the orders issued for the operation, so I’ll run through those details:

  • Upper Battery (1) was a sunken work on the peninsula about ¾ a mile southwest of Legareville.   Captain Benjamin C. Webb, Company A, South Carolina Siege Trains, commanded two 30-pdr Parrotts here, to target the steamers.
  • Upper Battery (2) was another sunken work about 50 to 75 yards to the right of the first battery.  Lieutenant Ralph Nesbit, Company B of the siege trains, had two 8-inch siege howitzers positioned to fire on the steamers.
  • The Lower Battery on a raised platform about 250 to 300 yards on another peninsula further southwest.  Captain Frederick C. Schultz, Company F, Palmetto Artillery, commanded two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles, one 10-pdr Parrott, along with an 8-inch howitzer from Nesbit’s Battery targeted the steamers.
  • A battery platform on the road leading to Legareville.  There Lieutenant John P. Strohecker of the Marion Light Artillery lead a section of two Napoleons reinforced with the fourth of Nesbit’s 8-inch howitzers.  These cannons were aimed at the infantry in Legareville.
  • A position between the Upper Battery and Legareville for Captain William E. Charles’ Battery D, 2nd South Carolina Artillery with two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles in position to fire on the town or the steamers as needed.  Charles’ two 12-pdr howitzers stood ready to advance with the infantry towards Legareville.  (This position is referred to as the “Hedge Battery” by some accounts.)

Because of the elevated and exposed positions of the Lower Battery and Charles’s Battery, those positions were not completed, with the guns in position, until the night of December 24.

Colonel P.R. Page commanded two companies of his own 26th Virginia Infantry and five from the 59th Virginia, constituting the infantry force to move down the road to Legareville and capture the Federals there.  While Page technically had overall command of the operation, he was not in a position to direct the guns of the Upper and Lower battery positions under Lieutenant-Colonel Del. Kemper.  This proved to be a gap in control which hindered the Confederates when the ambush sprang.

A detachment of infantry, roughly 200 in number, from Brigadier-General George Gordon’s division occupied a small spit just outside of Legareville on the night of December 24.  The USS Marblehead, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Richard Meade (yes nephew of Major General George Meade), was laying in the Stono River, anchored just south of the town.  This 90-day gunboat mounted a XI-inch Dahlgren guns, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and one 20-pdr rifle.

Down closer to Stono Inlet the USS Pawnee lay in the Kiawah River, with Commander George Balch in charge.  Balch was a veteran of these waters, seeing earlier actions on the Stono with the Pawnee.  The Pawnee mounted eight IX-inch Dahlgens, one 100-pdr Parrott Rifle, one 50-pdr Dahlgren Rifle, and two 12-pdr boat howitzers.  Further downstream the mortar schooner USS C.P. Williams lay off Cole’s Island.

Confederate scouts reported these dispositions on Christmas Eve, though did not detail the exact locations of the Pawnee and Williams.  Around that time, Page opted for a slight modification in plans.  He would open the engagement with fire from the Upper Battery (2) and the Lower Battery against the Marblehead.  The other batteries would fire on the Federals near Legaresville.  While this gave plenty of firepower to cover the infantry advance, it pitted 8-inch howitzers and field gun caliber rifles against the gunboat.  But, as Page would later report, the intent was for the siege guns to distract and destroy the Marblehead while the infantry rushed into Legareville.  Kemper, on the other hand, felt the plan was for the infantry to distract the Marblehead, leaving his guns to destroy the gunboat.   And neither officer mentioned any plans to deal with the other Federal ships laying nearby (possibly because of the limited information about those vessels).

So as Christmas morning dawned at Charleston, a brisk bombardment was already underway.  On the Stono River, the action was just about to start.

On that note, please allow me to pause for the moment, and pick up the narrative later today. There are a lot of connections and cross connections to discuss.  Not the least of which involves this man:

And of course an inscription on the back of a cannon:

WNY 10 Apr 10 543

Just a couple of many stories from 150 years ago this Christmas Day.

(Sources:  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 100-102; OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 747-50; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 188-209.)

150 years ago: Reinforcements for Gillmore

F0llowing the failed assault against Battery Wagner on July 18, 1863, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore made a request to Army Headquarters in Washington for “8,000 to 1000” troops. Gillmore hoped that success along the Mississippi might free up reinforcements for his efforts outside Charleston. After all a siege is manpower intensive. Major-General Henry Halleck responded to Gillmore’s request on this day (July 28), 150 years ago:

General: Your letters of the 21st instant are received, and cause much embarrassment. It was known when you proposed to resume the operations against Charleston that, in addition to the ordinary casualties of battle, sickness, &c., our armies would in the months of June, July, and August be reduced some 75,000 or 80,000 men. For this reason I had strongly opposed the undertaking of any new operations, and had refused to send any re-enforcements to your predecessor. You were distinctly informed that you could not have any additional troops, and it was only on the understanding that none would be required that I consented to your undertaking operations on Morris Island. Had it been supposed that you would require more troops, the operations would not have been attempted with my consent or that of the Secretary of War.

It would not be safe for me to give you more fully the present condition of our forces. Every man that we could possibly rake amid scrape together is in the field in face of the enemy. To withdraw troops from General Meade would endanger the safety of his army, and open the North to another raid. To take any troops from New York, Philadelphia, and the east, would be the giving up of the draft.

General Banks’ army is so reduced that he cannot recover the territory lost during the siege of Port Hudson without re-enforcements. He asks them from the north; but there is not a man to send him from here, and we are obliged to detach from General Grant’s army. Missouri was stripped to re-enforce Grant, and we are now obliged to send back these troops to oppose a column of 15,000 men under Price, who are now advancing toward the Missouri border. Moreover, Grant’s army is greatly reduced by sickness and casualties. By detaching more troops from him now, we should lose most of the fruits of his victories. Burnside and Rosecrans are hesitating to advance till they can be re-enforced, and I have no reenforcements to give them. General Dix reports that he must be re-enforced by 15,000 men to enable him to enforce the draft. And now, at this critical juncture, comes your urgent but unexpected application for 8,000 additional troops for Morris Island. It is, to say the least, seriously embarrassing. I deeply regret that its occupation was attempted until the draft had furnished more troops.

I have telegraphed to General Foster to send you every man he can spare from his department, and will send you drafted men as rapidly as we can get them. I cannot take troops from the Mississippi River without seriously interfering with operations of the greatest importance.

Why can you not employ negroes from the plantations as laborers in moving ordnance and matériel, and in digging trenches, throwing up batteries, &c., and thus save your men?

Draw from other posts in your department every man that can possibly be spared. I will do all I can for you, but you must not expect impossibilities.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. Halleck,

Halleck’s response was well short of a rebuke. After all, Gillmore had taken the offensive. Halleck couldn’t find fault while at the same time suffering other subordinates who just couldn’t get started. But Halleck was compelled to send reinforcements to Gillmore. Mostly due to pressure from the Navy.

Major-General John Foster, commanding the Department of North Carolina, promptly responded to Halleck’s suggesting. Brigadier-General Edward Wild’s brigade, consisting of the 55th Massachusetts, 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, and detachments from the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Colored Infantry, started south to Folly Island. Wild’s brigade arrived around August 2nd. Concurrently, Foster sent two more brigades, both consisting of white volunteer regiments. So an infantry division, minus artillery, came from North Carolina.

Another division came from the Army of the Potomac, despite Halleck’s initial reservations. Brigadier-General George Gordon’s 1st Division, Eleventh Corps started movement from Warrenton Junction on August 1 and arrived at Folly island on August 14-15.

All told, these reinforcements amounted to about 9,750 men. Add to that total the 3rd US Colored Troops, assigned to Colonel James Montgomery’s brigade, which arrived from Philadelphia in the later half of August. So by the end of August, Gillmore received a little more than the requested 10,000. That brought the number of Federal troops on Folly and Morris Islands to nearly 23,000 men, up from around 12,300 reported at the end of July.

On the other side of the lines, at the end of July Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley reported 10,254 men ready for duty (out of 12,130 present) in the First Military District at Charleston. By August 31, 1863, Ripley’s command increased to 13,352 effectives, out of 16,336 present.

While not in numbers seen in the major theaters of operation, 150 years ago the fighting outside Charleston was drawing in men and resources.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 29-30.)