Sherman’s March, February 2, 1865: Skirmishing everywhere!

Yesterday I put some of the geographic and “demographic” aspects of the first days of Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance into South Carolina.  Today, let me focus on more of the martial aspects.   Lots of skirmishes broke out across the line of advance on February 2, 1865.  Some of those are depicted on the map below with yellow stars:

SCMarch_Feb2

As mentioned earlier, the level of skirmishing in South Carolina is in contrast to that in Georgia the previous fall.  While contact with Confederate forces of some sort happened every day in Georgia, often days would pass with a column encountering no organized resistance.  Such was not the case in South Carolina.  Every day of the march, some Confederates formation was there to contest the advance.

Specific to February 2nd, Major-General Lafayette McLaws’ division manned a line along the Combahee River, upstream to the mouth of the Salkehatchie River.  The extension of this line was a brigade under Colonel George P. Harrison covering the bridges over the Salkehatchie.  Harrison’s command included three regular Georgia regiments, two Georgia reserve regiments, detachments of South Carolina cavalry, and a battery of artillery.  All told, just over 2,000 effectives.  From there, the division of Brigadier-General William Y.C. Humes, from Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, covered the area between the Salkehatchie and Savannah Rivers.  (Not depicted on the map, the division of Major-General Alfred Iverson covered the Georgia side of the Savannah River… to the displeasure of Major-General D.H. Hill.)

The advance of the Right Wing had to cross the lines defended by Humes and Harrison.  Reacting to the advances on February 1, McLaws sent a request for Humes to “cross the Salkehatchie with the greater portion of your command and assist in guarding the crossings of that stream from Rivers’ Bridge to Buford’s and above as far as possible.”  Later in the day Humes reported falling back to cover Barker’s and Buford’s Bridges, though he kept his headquarters near Angley’s Post-Office, south of the Salkehatchie.  Harrison posted his troops to cover Rivers’ and Broxton’s Bridges (not labeled on the original map, but with a gold box on my overlay above).

Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s original orders for February 2 had the Seventeenth Corps, of Major-General Frank P. Blair, continuing the line of march on the roads paralleling the Salkehatchie with the aim of securing Rivers’ Bridge and a lodgement on the other side.  The Fifteenth Corps, under Major-General John A. Logan,  was to move on their left to Angley’s Post-Office.  But in the evening of February 1, Sherman asked Howard to amend those orders:

Slocum is a little behind.  I don’t want Logan to get farther to-morrow than the place marked “Store” near Duck Branch Post-Office. I want to make show marches till Slocum gets up, or nearly so.  Please make your orders accordingly.

We need to consider the maps as primary sources here.  There are plenty of “stores” around South Carolina.  The one in question is indeed simply marked “store” on the military map (a gold colored box on my map above).  Logan complied with the amended orders:

 … the Second Division having the advance, moved to Loper’s Cross-Roads. Our advance was contested by the enemy’s cavalry at the crossing of all the streams and creeks, in which timber had been felled, with the same pertinacity as on the previous day, but with the same result, and our mounted infantry found no difficulty pushing them back across Duck Branch.

Logan kept his Second Division at Duck Branch, but turned First Division towards Angley’s.  The Third Division followed but remained within supporting distance of both divisions when going to camp that night.

On the right, Blair sent forward the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, followed by the Third Division, on a road to the left to reach Whippy Swamp Post-Office.  Along the main road, First Division, under Major-General Joseph Mower, assumed the vanguard.  Mower first moved up to Broxton’s Bridge, which was burned by the time of his arrival.  Leaving one regiment posted to keep the Confederates in place, he moved the rest of the division forward to Rivers’ Bridge:

I took the balance of my command on the Rivers’ Bridge road and ordered the Twenty-fifth Wisconsin, Colonel Rusk commanding, forward as skirmishers; they gallantly charged up toward the enemy’s works, and drove them so rapidly that they had no time to burn the bridges, sixteen in number, over the causeway leading to the other side of the Salkehatchie River. Having saved the bridges I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Rusk to deploy his regiment on the right and left of the road and drive the enemy’s skirmishers (if he had any) from this side of the river. The next regiment, the Forty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Swayne commanding, I ordered to move in and take position on the right of the road. While showing him his position a piece of shell struck him in the leg, rendering amputation necessary, which deprived me of the services of a very brave and valuable officer.

Harrison brought up his only artillery at that time, and swept the Federals back away from the bridge itself.  Mower’s direct action had saved the crossing, but effecting a crossing was another matter.  Towards that end, Mower deployed the remainder of his division to threaten a crossing and started looking about:

After reconnoitering the enemy’s position I found his works too strong to assault them in front, so I ordered all the troops out of the swamp, which was about one mile long, only leaving a very strong skirmish line, and placed my command on high ground; I then put all my pioneers to work felling trees and constructing a road through the swamp, the water in most places being from one to eight feet deep. I reported the condition of affairs in the swamp to Major-General Blair that evening, who ordered me to go on constructing bridges and to cross, if possible, the next day.

A note here to any aspirant armchair generals… this is what you do when confronted with an “impossible” situation.  You look for openings and try to make something happen.

Elsewhere, the Left Wing continued its efforts to get out of the Savannah River bottom lands.  To close some of the gap developing between the wings, Major-General Henry Slocum directed the two divisions of the Twentieth Corps already over the river to push out towards Lawtonville.  Major-General Alpheus Williams left one brigade to protect Robertsville.  Major-General William T. Ward’s division lead the advance:

Marched for Lawtonville upon the 2d of February, meeting the enemy about one mile from town, barricaded in a dense swamp, with artillery. I deployed two brigades, and pressing forward two regiments, One hundred and fifth and One hundred and twenty-ninth Illinois Volunteers, and four companies of Seventieth Indiana, dislodged the enemy, losing 2 killed and 12 wounded; enemy’s loss, 8 killed, 30 or 40 wounded.

In addition to these movements, Brigadier-General John Hatch started a demonstration towards Combahee Ferry.  With one regiment and two Napoleon guns, Colonel Edward Hallowell’s objective was simply a reconnaissance, but “If you are confident that you can carry the work without serious loss you will do so.”   That move would develop over the following days.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 222, 387, and 782; Part II, Serial 99, pages 194, 203, and 1053.)

 

 

Overwhelming the Ridge: The fifth parallel at 240 yards from Battery Wagner

The failure to establish a line on “the ridge” did not set well among the Federals directing the siege lines on Morris Island on August 25, 1863.  On the barrier island a sand dune which might be inconsequential on any other battlefields now took on the prominence of a major mountain.  Without the ridge, the siege lines were stalled.  Again, turning to the map provided by Colonel Edward Serrell, the ridge was at a particular point where the marsh cut into the island and constricted any forward movement.

FourthParallel

After being pushed back from the ridge on August 21, Major Thomas Brooks directed his subordinates to construct a redan on the left end of the fourth parallel, where the ruins of the McMillian house stood on a rise of sand.  The Federals began conversion of the cistern found in the ruins into a bombproof.  The redan on the left included a Billinghurst-Requa gun. That was one of three moved up to the fourth parallel.  Lieutenant J.S. Baldwin built a parapet of gabions over a dike leading to St. Vincent’s Creek, to provide some security for the exposed Federal left.  The profile of that work follows the line r-r’ on the map.

FourthParallelProf_rr

Early attempts to advance the sap roller met grapeshot and canister from Battery Wagner.  That line terminated not far from where it started near the redan.

On August 25, the Federals attempted to blast the Confederates off the ridge.  The engineers built positions for three Coehorn mortars and a bombproof and a boat howitzer, labeled a 30-pdr but likely a 24-pdr.  Ensign James Wallace of the Navy commanded the boat howitzer, giving this operation “joint” credit, for those of you operating under the Goldwater-Nichols Act.  The positions of the mortars and the howitzer actually enfiladed the ridge.  Supporting this small bombardment, compared to others on Morris Island, were four 8-inch mortars from the third parallel.

FourthParallel3

The bombardment started at 5:30 p.m. but did not deliver any significant gains.  Confederate counter-battery fire from Battery Wagner and all the way from James Island proved formidable.  A planned infantry assault to follow the barrage failed to move.  Confederate reinforcements to the ridge strengthened their hold after dusk.

After these failures, on August 26 Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore turned to the infantry.  Over some of the same ground which the July 11 and July 18 assaults had crossed in their race for Battery Wagner, he ordered General Alfred Terry, commanding the division on Morris Island, to send in another attack.  This time the objective was closer, with limited expectations.  Preceding the infantry assault, a concentrated bombardment kept the guns in Wagner silent and the heads of Confederate sharpshooters down. Brooks recorded the results:

The general commanding ordered General Terry to take and hold the ridge, and placed the resources of the command at his disposal for that purpose. It was accomplished at 6.30 p.m., by a brilliant charge of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. Francis A. Osborn commanding, supported by the Third New Hampshire Volunteers, Captain Randlett commanding. Sixty-seven prisoners were captured. They were afraid to retire on account of their own torpedoes, as they informed us, and had too little time, even if there had been no torpedoes. No works, excepting rude rifle-pits in the excellent natural cover afforded by the ridge, were found. Sand-bags of a superior quality had been freely used for loop-holes and traverses.

From the Confederate perspective Colonel George Harrison, commanding Battery Wagner, related:

About the middle of this afternoon, the enemy’s fire on this place and Battery Gregg became quite warm, and about an hour before sunset they concentrated their whole fire on this work and our rifle-pits in front. This fire was not only exceedingly rapid, but very accurate, the enemy using every variety of projectiles. This fire continued about half an hour, when I discovered that my pickets had opened from the rifle-pits. This was immediately followed by volley after volley of musketry for about five minutes, when it partially ceased. As soon as it commenced, however, I ordered the night pickets, consisting of 175 men, to form immediately to march to the support of the pits (this picket generally relieves and supports the pits at dark, it was then not yet sundown). I soon discovered that the partial cessation of musketry above alluded to was owing to the fact that the enemy had overwhelmed and captured a portion of our pits to the right, being distant from theirs only about 30 yards. Our pits on the left held out but a few moments longer; in fact, in ten minutes from the fire of the first musketry the enemy were in possession of our pits. From two officers and a number of men who escaped from the rifle-pits, I ascertained that the enemy’s attacking party were at least 1,500 men, while our picket consisted of 86 men from the Sixty-first North Carolina Troops, under command of First Lieut. William Ramsey, who was among those who made their escape.

The volleys reported by Colonel Harrison were actually the Billinghurst-Requa guns opening up to cover the assault.  The action was certainly not a textbook affair.  Hardee’s Tactics, nor Scott’s for what it is worth, provided a “school” for such maneuvers.

The Federals immediately started building a trench line across the ridge to form the fifth parallel.  The line ran 140 yards from the beach to the marsh.  “In this work, the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers proved themselves as efficient in the use of the shovel as they had in that of the bayonet a few moments before,” wrote Brooks.  Even captured Confederates were ordered to help dig out the line. Improvements started that night included Requa positions on both ends of the line.  The following day came approval to construct siege mortar positions in the fifth parallel so as to avoid needless firing over the heads of the advanced parties.  A bombproof for those mortars was recorded with profile s-s’ on Brooks’ map.

FourthParallelProf_ss

The engineers also built approaches connecting the fourth and fifth parallels using the flying sap method that night.  Much of this work, under the direction of Lieutenant Charles Wilcken, was done by the 3rd USCT.  One boyaux from started from the redan on the left of the fourth parallel.  The profile of that trench was recorded along the line of t-t’ on Brooks’ map:

FourthParallelProf_tt

Note the banquette step in the trench. Like others in the advanced works, this was a “keep.”

The other boyaux extending from the right of the fourth parallel contended with water from the tides.  It’s profile was the line of o-o’ on the map.

FourthParallelProf_oo

This trench used a ditch on the right side of the advance.  Its angle, as it approached the ridge, avoided any enfilading from both Battery Wagner or James Island.

The evening assault and night work established the last parallel the Federals would need on the approach to Battery Wagner.  Mortars now lay within easy reach of the Confederate works.  The Federal siege lines were accomplishing what two open assaults had not – push the Confederates off Morris Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 296-7 and 499-500.)