“The plan is well worth considering”: Another Dahlgren plan to take Charleston

The summer months of 1864 marked a full year for Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  Originally his assignment was to command the monitors operating against Charleston, with the objective to redeem some of the Navy’s prestige lost with the failed ironclad attack on Fort Sumter (in April 1863).  With the death of Rear-Admiral Andrew H. Foote, before either man arrived in the department, Dahlgren instead took command of the squadron. But Dahlgren’s objective remained – Fort Sumter thence Charleston.

Through the long summer campaign that followed and the fall bombardments, Dahlgren’s objective stared back defiantly.  Through the winter months, around the interruption due to his son’s death, Dahlgren offered several plans to gain Charleston, to no avail.  To gain Charleston either Dahlgren had to risk the monitors or support an Army offensive to bypass the Confederate harbor defenses.  He avoided the former, but continued to propose the later.  And in the Army’s view, the route to Charleston promised to be a risky and prolonged campaign.  So every time Dahlgren proposed an advance across James Island, the Army’s response relied on the Army’s information on the subject.  Dahlgren could not offer a rebuttal.   That changed in July 1864, as Dahlgren went ashore on James Island during Major-General John Foster’s operations there.  And he came back with what he felt was proof his plan would work.  In a report to the Secretary of Navy, Guideon Wells, he put down details of this plan on August 1, 1864.  This report was, in part, a summary of operations in July to include naval support of Foster’s operations.  But most of the text focused on this plan to turn the Confederates out of Charleston.

On further consideration, I believe that with 10,000 good soldiers added to the present force we could turn the rebel defense on James Island and reach Charleston, and I observe from the rebel papers that the idea was apprehended by them.

If, during the lull before Richmond, General Grant could spare the men for three weeks, I feel sure that the rebels could be so disturbed here as to assist him and General Sherman by dragging off force from Richmond.

This sketch will explain: “P-S” is the rebel line of works extending from the Stono River to the marsh separating James Island from Folly Island.  Battery Pringle (“P”) is a regular earthwork of 8 guns, with bombproofs and full traverses.  A little farther is battery Tynes, with 5 guns, both carefully built.  Secessionville is on the left; its strength was tried by General Benham in 1862; there are intermediate works.  “A” is our advanced position from Folly Island. The ground between is controlled and picketed by the rebels, but not held in force, and they (on it) fall back to the lines when pushed vigorously. “B” was the position of our left under General Hatch.

DahlgrenPlanAug64

The fleet held the river and connected our right and left; it was in fact the center of operation; the channel is very narrow and has just water to pass a monitor.

“C” is the extreme of a narrow belt of woods extending from Mr. Paul Grimball’s house below the bend.  Here I offered to plant a battery of ten 100-pounders or XI-inch guns, which could be done unperceived under cover of the woods, and silence Pringle and Tynes (distant 1,700 yards); this done two monitors would move up and enfilade the line.

It was indispensable, however, that the position at “B” should be held securely, or the naval battery at “C” would be lost; the monitors once above Pringle would sweep the ground in front of “B.”

Ten thousand men could be moved without baggage in three days by water from Fortress Monroe, and the blow struck quick as lightning.

Pringle and Tynes once treated as designed, the troops could cross from “B” to their rear and render the rebel lines useless.

I have seen nothing that promises so well with so small a force, and the rebels are unprepared for such an exigency; they certainly were so when we held the ground as indicated.  As it was, General Hatch did actually reach “B,” but as he moved obliquely across John’s Island from the Edisto, the rebels used the time to collect and were in force, so that after two or three conflicts it was deemed best to retire, which was done to an engineer’s wharf in the rear of the fleet; the men were embarked without a shot fired at them. I held position until the next day. General Schimmelfennig had advanced from “A” and drove the rebels vigorously before him, seizing two cannon; the ground between his front and the rebel line being swept continually by the guns of the fleet, he was not disturbed.

The land movements proposed were largely repeats of previous operations on John’s Island.  The geography of that island made direct movements exposed to Confederate flank attacks, while constraining Federal movements to narrow corridors.

The plan is well worth considering, and if undertaken by a column of good troops, will, I feel sure, endanger Charleston and produce corresponding effect. General Foster does not consider it feasible with the small force he has.  I feel sure of my part.

By the time this report reached Washington, D.C. the Army was in the process of reducing the troops in the department, not increasing.  The presence of Confederates in the lower Shenandoah was at that moment in time the pressing concern.  As Chambersburg burned, Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant was less interested in opportunities – fleeting opportunities – outside Charleston.  Grant had already weighed in on the issue months before.  Foster was to demonstrate and remain active, but not take up major offensive operations.

And for what it was worth, Foster did not share Dahlgren’s optimism for operations on John’s Island.  Very unlikely for the Confederate batteries to fall after a short siege.  Nor for the Confederates to simply give up the approaches to Charleston.  There were, of course, a couple more belts of defenses between the lines mentioned by Dahlgren and the city.  If the plan were to go forward, Foster would need to feel sure of his part.  Clearly Foster had a better grasp of the situation.

(Citation from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 591-2.)

“The troops behaved very handsomely”: John’s Island Operations – July 3-11, 1864

At this time 150 years ago, as I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, Major-General John Foster’s July operations in the field fizzled as he refocused his attention on Fort Sumter in the form of a heavy bombardment.  One might say Foster’s offensive was a flat failure.  But on the other hand, his stated objective – at least the one he related to his superiors – was simply to demonstrate in front of Charleston.  Before I discuss and assess Foster’s offensive, I must briefly summarize the operations on John’s Island, having neglected those somewhat.  Brigadier-General John Hatch’s command there operated on the west side of the Stono River with the original objective of the railroad bridge at Rantowles.  Generally the advance would have looked something like this:

JohnsIslandOrigPlan

But from the start, Hatch ran into delays just getting men ashore.  Then his advance slowed due to the heat and rains.  With reinforcements, Hatch’s command now numbered over 5,000 men.  On July 5, Hatch’s lead elements moved up from Huntscum’s corner (where a roads connected Legareville with the main part of John’s Island) and advanced in the direction of the Stono River.  Opposing this advance was Major John Jenkins, 3rd South Carolina Cavalry, with small force of cavalry and a battery of artillery.   At first Jenkins attempted to cut behind Hatch.  But seeing that as futile, he then moved on a parallel road, moving some eleven miles, to get in front of the Federals.  (The map below generally summarizes the movements from July 5 to 9, 1864)

JohnsIslandJuly1864

Jenkins was unable to prevent Hatch from securing passage to a plantation home known as Waterloo Place, owned by J. Grimball, but he had prevented any further movement towards Rantowles.

On July 6, both sides skirmished around Waterloo Place.  The Federals attempted to gain ground to fire in flank on Battery Pringle, but found no suitable location for artillery.  Foster, who had moved onto John’s Island to direct operations, put Hatch temporarily in overall command of operations against Charleston on that day.  In turn Hatch elevated Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton to command the operations on John’s Island.

Saxton, now charged with finding some means to flank Battery Pringle, looked down the road for a good artillery position.  Although north of Waterloo Place the ground was predominately marsh, just past, on the Grevias’ plantation was a spot of high ground which might serve the purpose.  To reach that position, the Federals had to pass a causeway leading to the Burden plantation.  On July 7th, Saxton pushed out to occupy that ground, as reported later by Hatch:

General Saxton this day attacked the enemy’s line of rifle-pits with the Twenty-sixth U.S. Colored Troops.  The troops behaved very handsomely, advancing steadily in open ground, under a heavy fire, and driving the enemy from the line.  Had the advance been supported, the enemy’s artillery would have been captured; as it was, both artillery and infantry were driven from the field.

The 26th USCT captured several buildings on the Grevais’ plantation that morning, but were driven back.  Later that day, the Federals again pressed forward, gaining some ground.  But the steady work of Confederate field artillery kept them in check.  Fire from Battery Pringle’s heavy guns seemed to have drawn Federal attention away from the action at Grevais’ and, as Hatch mentioned, left the USCT unsupported in their advance.

Showing that the Federals were not alone with respect to slow advances, Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson moved from Adams’ Run on the afternoon of July 7 with the intent of driving back Hatch’s force.  Robertson intended to attack at Grevais’ by morning of July 8, but miss routed supply wagons prevented an attack that day.  Not until the morning of July 9 was Robertson in position.  The force consisted of the 1st Georgia Regulars Battalion, a dismounted detachment from the 4th Georgia Cavalry, and three companies of the 32nd Georgia Infantry.  An attack at 5:45 a.m. succeeded in driving in Federal pickets, but little else.  A second attack roughly an hour later gained more ground.  But six well placed Federal Napoleon guns blocked any further advance.  Roberston was able to report, however, “Our occupation of his front line completely thwarted the enemy’s plans, as it secured to us the elevated ground between Burden’s Causeway and Grevais’ house….”  From the open ground there, the Federals could have enfiladed Battery Pringle (though there is little indication that was a properly developed scheme on the part of the Federals).

That evening, sensing little else could be accomplished on John’s Island without applying more resources than Foster was willing to commit, preparations began for a withdrawal.  The Federals left John’s Island by way of Legareville.  Thus ended Hatch’s portion of Foster’s July opertions.  The actions at Waterloo Place and Burden’s Causeway (Grevias’ Plantation) were but small skirmishes in context of other major battles occurring in other theaters.  Hatch reported the loss of 11 killed and 71 wounded during the entire time on John’s Island (but alluded to a small number of missing, presumed captured).  Robertson reported 37 killed and 91 wounded.

Perhaps, with a bit more drive and support, the Federals might have gained a significant lodgement on John’s Island.  At the same time, the Confederates demonstrated the ability to hamper any advance up the narrow corridors in the marshes and swamps of John’s Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 85 and 142-3.)

July 4, 1864: “The intense heat of the day prevented a longer march” by Hatch on John’s Island

By the Fourth of July, 1864, Major-General John Foster’s operations had met with, at best, marginal success.  A raid by Brigadier-General William Birney ended before it started.  Brigadier-General John Hatch’s advance on John’s Island got off to a sluggish start.  On James Island, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig had captured some Confederate earthworks and demonstrated in front of their main line of resistance, but a July 3 morning assault on Fort Johnson was little short of a disaster (only because the loss of life was not higher).  Still, Foster was not ready to throw in the towel.

On the morning of July 3, Hatch continued his march inland on John’s Island.  After completing landings his force at around 10 a.m.,  Hatch pushed out Colonel W. W. H. Davis’ brigade:

Davis’ brigade, the [4th Massachusetts] cavalry, and a piece of artillery marched to Jenkins’ house, on Bohicket Creek, 4 miles in advance of the cut, on the morning of the 3d, and the whole command was consolidated at that point on the evening of the same day. From the moment of landing a small force of the enemy’s cavalry hovered around the advance, occasionally firing upon us, but rapidly falling back when pursued by our cavalry.

On July 4, Hatch continued the march, but ever slowly:

The command moved to a point on the Aberpoolie Creek, 3 miles from Legareville, where a detachment of 25 of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry and Wildt’s battery of the Third New York Artillery joined.  The intense heat of the day prevented a longer march that day, a large number of the command becoming exhausted.

While slow, this did put Hatch in a position to threaten several sensitive points on the Confederate line.  Foster deemed it best to have Hatch threaten the Confederate lines along the Stono River.  So marching orders for July 5 would put the column opposite Battery Pringle.

July1864Hatch1

Along the Stono River, the Navy had moved up additional gunboats and monitors to support the line held on the west end of James Island.  USS Lehigh, USS Montauk, USS Pawnee, and USS McDonough, along with mortar schooners USS Para and USS Racer now all clustered in the narrow Stono River.  This force provided excellent cover for the infantry.  July 3rd passed relatively quietly compared to the previous day.  On July 4th, the navy dueled with Battery Pringle before a “refreshing rain with strong wind came in the afternoon.” After that rain, the Federals advanced a skirmish line from the 54th New York Infantry Battalion.  After meeting stiff musketry, the skirmishers fell back with two killed and six wounded.  One of the later lay between the lines, as witnessed by Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts:

After our force fell back, we could see a man of the Fifty-fourth New York lying on the open ground between the lines.  He was alive, for he would occasionally raise himself.  The enemy would not permit him to be brought in.  A gallant officer of the staff essayed the dangerous task, but was fired upon.  Our officers and men of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts were exasperated at this firing on men engaged in a humane act, and sharply replied to the enemy for an hour.  At dark a field-piece was brought near, and under cover of grape, a party of eight men from Company E with a stretcher went out to bring the poor fellow in.  He was found dead.

Along the remainder of the Charleston front, heavy guns skirmished, as was the usual practice, with batteries on Morris Island exchanging shots with Confederate gunners on Sullivan’s and James Island.  One burst Parrott cost a Rhode Island artillerist his sight.

This effort of July 2-4 had some effect on the Confederates.  Major-General Samuel Jones had already shifted around 500 men from Sullivan’s Island to shore up James Island.  He also pulled a battalion of cavalry and three more companies of dismounted cavalry to Charleston to reinforce the lines.  Even the cadets of the Citadel were called upon to guard Federal prisoners.  Jones requested troops from Major-General W.H.C. Whiting in Wilmington, North Carolina and General J.E. Johnston in northern Georgia.   Johnston, having just fallen back from the Kennesaw Line, now occupied another line (of less formidable nature) near Smyrna.  Jones desperately repeated his requests on July 4:

Have you received my telegram of the 2d instant asking for reinforcements.  The movements of the enemy in last three days place this city in great danger.  I think 3,000 additional men would make it secure against the force now operating against it. Can you send them to me for temporary service?

Johnston, of course, was not in a position to spare even a fraction of that number.  But he did respond, sending the 5th and 57th Georgia Infantry regiments – with a total strength of around 520 men.  Not the numbers Jones needed.

Likewise not exactly the great numbers Foster wanted to see diverted.  But Foster still had cards to play outside Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 84; Luis Fenollosa Emilio, History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894, pages 210.)

July 2, 1864: Birney and Hatch stall, Foster’s plan stumbles

At dawn on July 2, 1864, Major-General John Foster’s July offensive was well under way.  A force of 5,000 infantry, 100 cavalry, and two sections of artillery afloat on transports, personally directed by Foster, entered the North Edisto River as the sun rose over the South Carolina coast.  Foster first saw to putting Brigadier-General John Hatch’s forces ashore at Seabrook Island.  With the transports secure and the landings beginning, Foster proceeded further up the river with Brigadier-General William Birney’s column.  Originally Foster intended to land Birney on the Ashepoo River, further down the coast.  But modifications to his plan had Birney leading 1,200 men landing at White Point on the North Edisto.

Birney’s infantry consisted of 532 men of the 7th USCT, 370 men from the 34th USCT, 241 men from the 35th USCT, and 35 men from the 75th Ohio.  A supporting detachment of thirty marines with two boat howitzers accompanied the column.  In addition a company of engineers were attached.

Birney’s were to march inland towards Jacksonboro, destroy the railroad bridge there, and, if the situation allowed, continue down the railroad to Ashepoo Ferry, likewise destroying the railroad bridge there.

July1864BirneyColumn

Plan looked fairly sound on the map until considering the Confederate defenses.  Birney’s march took his column directly into the Sixth Military District of South Carolina, under the command of Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson.  Earlier that winter, Robertson’s predecessor, Brigadier-General Henry Wise, had voiced concern about Federal approaches on that particular line of march.  In January, Wise proposed to construct a line of works:

… north of the Wadmalaw and Edisto from Meggett’s to Young’s Island; thence,to Torgoodoo Neck; thence to forks of Torgoodoo; thence to Ashe’s; thence to Little Brittain, to Tom’s Point, to Slann’s Island Creek defile, to Pineberry, at the house point and in the marshes, and thence to Willstown, where I would recommend strong combined field and heavy works.

Generally (very, generally due to the map scale), those lines appear in dashed red, with key points as red boxes, on the map.  The terrain in that area features several natural causeways, and Wise recognized if well positioned even a small force could block a major advance.  Wise was able to construct some of the proposed works, in particular a work near the Slann’s (sometimes Slan’s) Island Creek defile.

Marching up from White Point, Birney’s column had to cross Slann’s Island and run up against the Confederate defenses mentioned in Wise’s plans.

At 5.15 a.m., we began our march.  We had gone about half a mile when our scouts were fired upon by the rebel skirmishers. Our skirmishers advanced steadily, supported by the column, and drove before them the small rebel force for about 3 miles, when it passed over a creek, taking up the bridge behind it.  A rebel battery opened immediately.  Knowing they would shell the main road, I moved my command to the right and continued my advance under cover of the woods. The road we had  left was shelled with great precision.

At around that time, Robertson reported the Federal advance. Down the telegraph from Charleston came the reply:

No troops can be sent to re-enforce you, as the enemy is making a heavy demonstration on James Island.  Must drive them off first.

Foster’s scheme to press the Confederates at several points appeared to be working.  But confronted by a creek, well positioned artillery, and Confederate skirmishers, Birney’s part in the plan stalled.

I reconnoitered the creek and swamp on both sides of the bridge and found them impassable. The swamp was miry and deep, and swept by the guns of a rebel fort near the Dawho, and also by the guns of the battery and earth-works. The creek was a salt-water one, deep, and bordered by a miry marsh on each side. The narrowest water I could find, except at the bridge, was about 37 yards, running between marshy borders, each about 50 yards wide. The place where the bridge had been was narrower, but was swept by both a raking and flanking fire of the enemy’s cannon.

Foster brought up two gunboats up to provide flanking fire on the Confederate position and ordered Birney to attempt crossing in a boat.  But Birney reported he was unable to make the crossing.  With that, Birney withdrew, putting a good spin on the failure, recording “The affair was an excellent drill for them preparatory to real fighting.”   He recorded six wounded in the “drill.”

On Seabrook Island, Hatch was likewise having problems. His command consisted of three regiments Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton’s brigade of three regiments, Colonel W. W. H. Davis’ brigade also with three regiments, and two companies of the 4th Massachusetts.  Since their area of operations was the same as the February 1864 demonstration, I’ll reuse a map depicting the key places:

FebDemonstrationBase

The lead regiment in the landing was Colonel W.J. Slidell’s 144th New York, of Davis’ brigade.  Although Slidell managed to cross Seabrook Island and gain Haulover Cut, the rest of Hatch’s force was slow to follow.  Hatch explained:

Owing to the shallowness of water at the dock and unexpected difficulties in landing, we were unable to complete the disembarkation until the morning of the 3d instant…. The remainder of Davis’ brigade, with a few cavalry, were sent to [Slidell’s] support as soon as possible, and a good bridge over the cut, capable of passing artillery, completed before night.  As soon as landed Saxton’s command and the cavalry were pushed forward to Haulover Cut, where the last of the command arrived about 10 a.m. on the 3d.

So Hatch’s movements would be a full day behind schedule.

With those two setbacks, both the primary and secondary aims of Foster’s offensive were stymied.  Any hope of reaching the railroad was gone.  And with the railroad secure, Confederates retained the ability to shift troops from Savannah to reinforce threatened points.  Success of the operation now fell to Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig and the forces operating in front of James Island.  His morning movements had actually produced meager results… for a demonstration.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 84, 408-9, 528; Part II, Serial 66, page 551.)

Schimmelfennig’s report on Confederate dispositions at Charleston

Earlier I posted a report from Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig detailing the Federal dispositions outside Charleston on April 25, 1864. On the same day, he also passed an assessment of the Confederate dispositions facing his command.  That separate report went forward, with endorsement by Major-General Quincy Gillmore, to Major-General Henry Halleck and ultimately to Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant.  The report read:

Hdqrs. Northern District, Dept. of the South,
Folly Island, S. C., April 25, 1864.
Brig. Gen. J. W. Turner,
Chief of Staff, Hdqrs. Department of the South:

General: I have the honor to report the following information, obtained from deserters who have recently come on board the fleet, of the movements of the enemy and changes of their force upon my front. It is partly confirmed by the reports of reconnoitering parties sent out by me on James and John’s Islands.

General Beauregard and staff, having returned from Florida, left Charleston for Virginia last week. Troops are constantly passing through Charleston from Florida and Columbia to the north. On John’s Island and the mainland in its neighborhood, the force, instead of being as formerly (four regiments of infantry–Wise’s brigade– and one regiment of cavalry), now consists of two regiments of infantry, one near Church Flats and one at Adams’ Run; five companies of cavalry and one light battery. Two regiments of Wise’s brigade are on their way north from Florida, and the remaining two are daily expecting orders to leave. The enemy have lately completed a new work on the mainland, to cover the ferry from John’s Island and east of Rantowles Station. It mounts six guns and is garrisoned by one company of heavy artillery. A bridge across the Stono River, from John’s Island to James, skirting the latter between Batteries Pringle and Tynes, is being built. It is a heavy bridge and the work progresses slowly. It is beyond the range of our guns.

On James Island there are now but two regiments of infantry, the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-seventh South Carolina. The artillery force remaining unchanged (one regiment of five or six companies), but the cavalry (four companies Fifth South Carolina) and the Siege Train have gone to Virginia. Earth-works are being thrown up south of Fort Johnson on the beach. In the city of Charleston there is but one regiment of infantry and five or six companies of artillery, besides which the cadets do duty. At Fort Ripley the garrison is, as formerly, one company of artillery. The palmetto logs having given way in some places, the foundation of the work is being strengthened by filling in stone, &c. At Fort Sumter the garrison remains unchanged; the fort is being constantly repaired.

On Sullivan’s Island heavy rifle-pits have been thrown up, connecting some of the batteries. Besides the heavy artillery, there is still one light battery on the island; one light battery is also reported as being at Mount Pleasant.

I am badly informed as to the infantry force in this neighborhood, but have understood that Evans’ brigade has lately left the vicinity for Virginia. I have considered it my duty of late to harass the enemy on my front as much as possible, in order to interfere with his movements. From information received from a deserter, I understand General Beauregard recently kept five regiments who were on their way north in Charleston for some days in apprehension of an attack on James Island, and the artillery on the island were kept at their guns during the night. A reconnoitering party sent to John’s Island the latter part of last week met with infantry, cavalry, and artillery, but in small force.

The enemy fires very seldom from his batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands, and at Fort Putnam only. On the night of the 21st-22d he opened very briskly and fired 50 shots in quick succession at Fort Putnam, killing 1 man of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, who was on outpost duty.

It seems that the enemy did not know what to make of the many steamers coming and going last week; was constantly in expectation of an attack and became nervous.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. Schimmelfennig,
Brigadier-General, Commanding District.

Mostly I pass this along to “move the runners up” for several follow on posts.  The angle to appreciate is what the Federals thought the Confederates had on hand.  Likewise, we should keep in mind what the Confederates estimated the Federal strength to be.

Both sides drew down the forces at Charleston.  Yet both sides still had reason to hold a line.  I would say Schimmelfennig’s report was not wide of the mark, for that day in April.  And the Confederate numbers, particularly infantry regiments, would continue to drop over the next two months.

(Citation from OR Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 72-3.)

“I at once determined not to follow them”: John’s Island demonstration, Part 3

Though he probably didn’t know it, as the sun rose on February 11, 1864 Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig’s demonstration on John’s Island had achieved its goal.  After sharp fighting through the previous day, both sides had retired to positions roughly three miles apart.  The Federals maintained a “bridgehead” with parts of three brigades on the John’s Island side of Overhaul Cut.  The Confederates concentrated most of Brigadier-General Henry Wise’s brigade at a crossroads further inland, awaiting the arrival of Brigadier-General Alfred Colquitt’s brigade.  The presence of Colquitt on the island, instead of making way to Savannah, meant that Schimmelfennig had indeed distracted the Confederates, at least temporarily, from Federal operations in Florida.

Both sides skirmished and probed through the morning and into the afternoon.  But just after noon, the Federals once again pushed out from their bridgehead.  Colonel Philip Brown, 157th New York, recorded his regiment was ordered,

… with the One hundred and seventh Ohio Volunteers and Seventy-fifth Ohio, to advance in support of columns already advanced.  Marching by the flank, this force, under the direction of General [Adelbert] Ames, proceeded along the left of the forest to within supporting distance of the skirmishers and batteries previously sent out.

This move by the Federals caught Wise realigning his lines just after the arrival of Colquitt’s Brigade.

I placed my right on the Bohicket River, across the Bohicket road, and extended my line across the open field on a ditch back to the woods on my left, and through them to the Legareville road. I gave the command of the right to Colonel Page, with portions of the Twenty-sixth, Forty-sixth, Fifty-ninth, and Fourth Virginia Volunteers, and the left to General Colquitt, with his regiment of 900 Georgians. Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper commanded the artillery. I placed one section of Charles’ battery on the right between the Bohicket road and river, the Marion Battery in front immediately on the left of the road, and the other section of Charles’ battery to protect the rear and left flank.

Wise’s position sealed off any line of advance for the Federals.  But there’s no indication Ames intended to press the matter beyond just the prescribed demonstration.

FebDemonstrationFeb11

Wise’s report of the action indicates his artillery was heavily engaged in this action:

… the Marion Battery at 3.20 p.m. opened upon them at about 1,200 yards distance, when they fell back to the woods, at about 1,500 yards distance. The artillery practice was very efficient in everything except the friction primers. Three-fourths of them at first failed. The enemy soon replied with (I thought) three pieces only, but one of their positions was concealed by a hedge-row, and after their retreat I found they had two positions for field pieces-one on the right and the other on the left of the road. A section of Charles’ battery also opened from our right, and was very effectively served.

All this activity kept General P.G.T. Beauregard focused on John’s Island.  He ordered another battery from the South Carolina Siege Trains to prepare for movement to John’s Island.

And he also worked out plans for a demonstration of his own – to distract the Federals from the distraction.  To Wise, he wrote, “All the guns on James and Sullivan’s Islands will open at 2 o’clock tonight on Morris Island to create a diversion in your front.” Orders went out to all commanders in the defenses around Charleston.  Additional instructions called for signal rockets to coordinate the start of firing. The guns on James Island were later directed to focus on the Black Island batteries to their front.

But while Beauregard planned, the Federals were again moving.  Wise noted the slackening of fires by mid-afternoon.  “By 5 p.m. their fire ceased.”  By dusk, the Federals pulled back and established a line of pickets around their original bridgehead.  Brown recorded, “This was executed as speedily as possible, a line of about forty-five posts of 3 men each being established at intervals of 15 paces in favorable positions, and a reserve of 30 kept in the rear.”

Wise, however, failed to offer pursuit.  “We were 4 miles from the haulover.  They had about 1 ½ miles the start of us, and i at once determined not to follow them….”  Wise offered no fewer than twelve (!) justifications for the decision not to pursue.  These ranged from a shortage of artillery ammunition (a claim that was later in dispute) to the need to get Colquitt’s brigade back on the trains.

The Federals withdrew completely across Overhaul Cut that night.  The USS Nipsic and USS Iris provided cover for the movement. By the following afternoon, they were back in the camps on Morris Island.  Wise did not detect the withdrawal until the next morning. He reported seventeen casualties from incomplete reports. Federal casualties were not reported in detail, but were likely just as light.

With that, the demonstration was over.  And a successful demonstration it was, from the standpoint of delaying the movement of Colquitt’s brigade and distracting Beauregard’s attention.  However, any gain achieved by blood and sweat on John’s Island was forfeited over the following week.  Instead of pressing forward on the Florida expedition, Major-General Quincy Gillmore and Brigadier-General Truman Seymour debated over their options.  That allowed time for Colquitt to complete his assigned movement.  Had there been unity of minds, perhaps Olustee would have occurred with one less Confederate brigade on the field.

On a broader scale, the similarity of objectives, proximity in time, and, to a lesser extent, the level of effort expended offer an opportunity to compare two “demonstrations” conducted in February 1864 – Morton’s Ford and John’s Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Part I, Serial 65, pages 107, 144-5 and 599.)

150 years ago: Beauregard tries another ploy to snare a gunboat

General P.G.T. Beauregard long sought to repeat the success achieved with the ambush of the USS Isaac Smith in January 1863.  Various schemes, such as the Christmas Day ambush at Legareville, to capture or destroy a gunboat in the waters around Charleston came to naught.  Up January 1864, the promising torpedo boats had not brought success.  But the setbacks didn’t keep the Confederates from trying other schemes.  One of those played out, quietly, through the later half of January 1864.

The plan was to draw a gunboat up the Stono River to her doom by way of a field of torpedoes.   Normally, the gunboats remained well downstream of Battery Island, where the Federals placed obstructions in late November.  The Confederate plan was to lure the gunboat upstream with a false battery constructed on John’s Island.  The presence of such a battery would indicate the Confederates were pushing out their defensive line, thus sure to draw a Federal response.  Torpedoes, laid in the channel, would then sink the gunboats sent out to reconnoiter the new battery. All of the activity to produce this trap was, of course, conducted in secrecy.  While not stated definitively, I believe the false battery stood upstream of Battery Island on the opposite bank of the Stono River.

StonoFlank

The task of building the false battery went to Captain John B.L. Walpole, of the Stono Scouts operating at that time on John’s Island.  On January 20, Walpole reported his project:

I applied, as per confidential correspondence, to Lieutenant-Colonel Jones for men and tools, and received a detail of 90 men, under charge of Lieutenants Talley and Moore, and 45 shovels, but there having been some delay for want of transportation for the tools and scarcity of rations for the men, we did not arrive at our destination until late last evening. The men being weary, I allowed them to rest until 4 o’clock this morning, when I commenced operations, and at sundown this evening M. A. Moore, a private of my company, acting engineer, reports the battery nearly completed; it is about 100 feet long, including the curtins on each end, and 30 feet deep. W.E. Fripp, another private of the scouts, has already constructed four Quaker guns with carriages, ready for mounting. They will be painted, &c. The battery was partially unmasked to-day to allow the enemy a glimpse of it, but they have not up to sunset taken any notice of it. The Pawnee came up as far as our batteries at Ladies Island, but did not proceed any farther up the river. I would respectfully suggest that the battery be allowed to remain in barbette until we ascertain that they have noticed us, and let them see the wheels of our Quakers. I will then slowly convert it into an embrasure battery to-morrow. I will mount a sentinel on the parapet who may attract attention by the glitter of his gun. Should that fail, with your permission I will take down one of the field pieces, put her in position between the Quakers, and open fire on the pickets at the point of Horse Island. The battery is built so as to be of actual use if necessary.

The problem was, as Walpole indicated, the Federals just didn’t appear to take the bait.  The following day the USS Pawnee made what appeared to be a routine patrol.  However, as Walpole reported, the Federals cast out some barges:

The Pawnee came up the Stono early this morning and anchored off the Battery at Lady’s Island where she remained until about sunset, firing two shells on the Legareville Peninsula and then returned to the usual position.  Two barges were sent up the river from the Pawnee which returned to the vessel in about two hours…

Walpole Page 236

So why didn’t the Federals take the bait?   A deserter from the Confederate side tipped off the Federals.  Brigadier-General Alfred H. Colquitt reported on January 22:

The work on sham battery was continued for several days. The object being merely to make a show of work to entice the enemy up the river it was deemed a compliance with orders to discontinue it after a fair experiment had been made.

A deserter, too, who was with the party that placed the torpedoes escaped from Battery Pringle by boat to the enemy, and it was supposed would give information that would defeat our object. This, too, was the opinion of the engineer who had the work in charge, and first suggested to me its discontinuance.

Commander George Balch of the USS Pawnee corroborated Colquitt’s supposition in a report to Rear-Admiral Dahlgren on the same day:

I have the honor to report that the ship has in the last two days fished up two more torpedoes in the Stono River.  They were anchored directly in the channel, and from their position I think it very probable that this ship passed over them during her last reconoissance, as also the Cimarron. Although ingeniously made, they were found to have the powder injured by letting in water through the packing of the plungers.  The report in relation to the torpedoes by the three deserters which I took up to you a few days since was exact, and I have no doubt of their good faith.

Likely the barges that Walpole reported were used to retrieve the torpedoes mentioned by Balch.  Brigadier-General Thomas Jordon, Beauregard’s Chief of Staff, summarized the result succinctly: “These traitorous scoundrels defeat the best of schemes.”

With this plan to capture or destroy a gunboat foiled, Confederate officers turned again to consider torpedo boats or floating torpedoes to damage the blockading fleet off Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 535 and 538-9; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 249-50.)