Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery

Readers will be familiar with the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery due to their service along the South Carolina coast.  Hardly a month passes without mention of that unit here on this blog.  Though the main story-line in the 3rd’s service was operations against Charleston, batteries from the regiment served at times in Florida and Virginia.  And their service often defied the label of “heavy” artillery, as often the gunners served in the field as field artillery proper.

A bit of background on this regiment is in order.  The 3rd Rhode Island Volunteers first mustered as an infantry formation in August 1861.  As they prepared for their first major operation, as part of Brigadier-General Thomas W. Sherman’s expedition to Port Royal, they camped at Fort Hamilton, New York.  While there, under orders from Sherman, the regiment drilled on both heavy and light artillery.  By the time the regiment arrived at Hilton Head, it was for all practical purposes an artillery regiment.  Though the formal change did not occur until December of that year.

Over the months that followed, the 3rd Rhode Island served by batteries and detachments as garrison artillery, field artillery, infantry, and even ship’s complement as needs of the particular moment called.  In the winter of 1863, Battery C was designated a light battery in light of its habitual service.  We’ve seen that reflected in returns from the fourth quarter, 1862 and first quarter, 1863. However, the battery seemed to change armament with each quarter.  I believe this reflects more the “ad hoc” nature of tasking in the theater at that time.  For the second quarter, 1863, we find the guns reported on hand again changed:


At the end of June, Battery C had just returned from the raid on Darien, Georgia.  They were at Hilton Head on June 30, preparing for transit to Folly Island.  So this tally of two 12-pdr field howitzers may reflect a status as of January 1864, when the return was received in Washington.

This brief line, along with “clerical” lines for Batteries A and B, brings up a couple of facets to the summaries as they relate to the “real” operational situations.  First off, we know, based on official records and other accounts, not to mention photographs, the 3rd Rhode Island had more than just a couple of howitzers.  We must also consider the property management within the military and how that was reflected in the reports. The military in general tends to be very anal about tracking property.  For any given item, someone, somewhere is on the hook as the “owner” of said item.  Doesn’t matter if that item is a belt buckle or a cannon.  The “owner” might be a specific unit or could be a facility.  So, in the Civil War and specific to the context of this discussion, that “owner” could be a battery in the 3rd Rhode Island… or it could be the garrison commander at Hilton Head.  However, we rarely, if ever, see those garrison commands reflected in the summaries.  A significant blank that we cannot resolve with satisfaction.

What we can do, in the case of the 3rd Rhode Island, is use primary and secondary sources to provide a glimpse into that blank.  Let’s consider the 3rd Rhode Island by battery at this point in time of the war.  Recall, the 3rd and other units were, at the end of June, preparing for an assault from Folly Island onto Morris Island. Colonel Edwin Metcalf was in command of the regiment, with his headquarters on Hilton Head:

  • Battery A:  On Port Royal Island, under command of Lieutenant Edward F. Curtis (in absence of Captain William H. Hammer), serving as garrison artillery.
  • Battery B:  On Folly Island under Captain Albert E. Greene, having moved from Hilton Head at the end of June.  The battery manned six 10-inch siege mortars.
  • Battery C: Transferring from St. Helena Island to Hilton Head, and thence to Folly Island in the first week of July.  Commanded by Captain Charles R. Brayton.  The battery would man two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles and four 30-pdr Parrotts (along with a detachment from Battery C, 1st US Artillery).  Likely the reported howitzers were in reserve.
  • Battery D: Part of the original garrison sent to Folly Island in April.  Under the command of Captain Robert G. Shaw and manning eight 30-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery E: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Peter J. Turner (who was serving as a staff officer, thus one of his lieutenants was in temporary command).
  • Battery F: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain David B. Churchill.
  • Battery G: Stationed at Fort Pulaski and under Captain John H. Gould.
  • Battery H: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Augustus W. Colwell.  Would deploy to Morris Island in July.
  • Battery I:  On Folly Island under Captain Charles G. Strahan.  The battery manned four 20-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery K: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Lieutenant Horatio N. Perry.
  • Battery L: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Jeremiah Lanhan.
  • Battery M:  Part of the force on Folly island, under Captain Joseph J. Comstock.  They manned four 10-inch siege mortars and five 8-inch siege mortars.

Thus we see the 3rd Rhode Island was spread between garrison duties and advanced batteries preparing for a major offensive from Folly Island.  Those on the north end of Folly Island, overlooking Light House Creek, were armed with a variety of field guns, heavy Parrotts, and mortars.  Only the former category would have been covered by the summaries, as they existed in June 1863.  And what we have to work with is, based on official reports at the time, inaccurate.

But that’s what we must work with!  Turning to the smoothbore ammunition:


  • Battery C: 156 shell, 214 case, and 132 canister for 12-pdr field howitzer.

One might think no rifled projectiles would be on hand… but perhaps related to the two 3-inch rifles reported on Folly Island and manned by Battery C, we find some Hotchkiss projectiles on hand:



  • Battery C: 48 canister and 108 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

No ammunition reported on the next page, of Dyer’s, James, or Parrott patents:


But some Schenkl on hand:


  • Battery C: 100 shell for 3-inch rifles.

As for small arms:


  • Battery C: Forty-eight Army revolvers and 102 cavalry sabers.

I suspect, given the varied nature of the 3rd Rhode Island’s duties, the other batteries had a large number of small arms on hand also.  But because of the selective record, we don’t have the details.

Just to say we discussed ALL the Rhode Island artillery, let me mention two other heavy artillery regiments.  The 5th Rhode Island Infantry was reorganized as the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery on May 27, 1863.  Stationed at New Berne, North Carolina, Colonel George W. Tew commanded the reorganized regiment.

Though not organized, we can trace the story of another heavy artillery regiment back to June 1863.  In response to the emergency developing in Pennsylvania, the governor of Rhode Island authorized Colonel Nelson Viall (formerly of the 1st Rhode Island Infantry) to form a six-month regiment.  Designated the 13th Rhode Island, recruitment was slow due to the war situation, small bounties, and the draft.  By July, the War Department decided no more six-month regiments would be accepted and insisted on a three-year enlistment standard.  With that, the 13th was disbanded and in its place the 14th Rhode Island was authorized.  That formation, which began organization in August, was a US Colored Troops Regiment of heavy artillery.


May 4, 1865: “The rebel ram Stonewall” on the loose

On May 4, 1865, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren forwarded a copy of orders, posted the previous day to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, to Major-General Quincy Gillmore.  The copy was in part a courtesy to the Army commander, to let him know of the Navy’s operational matters.  But at the same time was a warning that despite the surrender of Confederate forces, there were many loose ends left untied… and one of those was a rather important, advanced warship sailing on the high seas – the CSS Stonewall.

The Stonewall was an advanced vessel for her time.  And she entered the stage from a backdrop of intrigue and secrecy… of the type novelists love to use.  The ship was laid down at Bordeaux, France in 1863.  Designed by Lucien Arman as an ocean-going ironclad, the Stonewall boasted a 4 ½ inch armor belt along the waterline and a 5 ½ armored pilot’s compartment.  Her offensive power was one 300-pdr (10-inch) and two 150-pdr (8-inch) Armstrong rifles (and there is some indication that at least one 70-pdr (6.4-inch) rifle was also on board when she sailed from Europe).  Add to that firepower the “ram bow” for use in close combat.  And to make that ram even more useful, the Stonewall featured twin screws and rudders, affording greater maneuverability than most vessels of her time.

The Stonewall was one of five “blue water” ironclads ordered from European shipyards by Confederate agents. Two “Laird Rams” were built in England under the cover of an Egyptian customer name.  But those were seized by the British government in the fall of 1863 and then served for the Royal Navy as coast defense vessels.  An armored frigate named Santa Maria, with an impressive twelve 8-inch rifles, was started in the yards of J.L. Thompson and Sons in 1863.  But once the true nature of the work was discovered, the Santa Maria became the Danish Danmark.

In France, Confederate agents contracted for the Stonewall and a sister ship under the cover names Sphinx and Cheops, respectively.  Despite the legal setbacks in England, the work in France continued into 1864.  The intrigue pitted the French Emperor, Napoleon III, against his own government in an effort to see the vessels delivered to the Confederates.  But that was foiled by a leak of information to the US consulate.  As result, the Sphinx was sold to Denmark as the Stærkodder, and her incomplete sister ship to Prussia as the SMS Prinz Adalbert.  Though the Stærkodder received a Danish crew, the shipbuilder and the Danes failed to finalize the deal.  In the confusion, Arman completed a deal with the Confederates.  On January 6, 1865, a Confederate crew went on board the ironclad then in Copenhagen.

With several US cruisers keeping pace, the Stonewall went to sea only to spring a leak and seek a Spanish port.  After repairs, Captain T.J. Page took the Stonewall to sea, only to watch the Federal cruisers run off instead of offering battle.  Page then put in to Lisbon for provisions and fuel in preparation for a trans-Atlantic run.  Not until late April was she ready for sea.  But when she put to sea, the Federals still lacked a vessel capable of intercepting and engaging the Stonewall.  So she posed a significant threat on the high seas during the opening days of May, 1865.

Dahlgren’s copy of General Orders No. 48, forwarded to Gillmore, carried this cover:

General: I am informed by the Navy Department that the rebel ram Stonewall has left Teneriffe, and “her destination is believed to be some point on our coast.” Several vessels of the squadron are cruising along this coast and other orders have been issued.

The referenced orders included notices from the Navy Department, which not only called attention to the movements of the Stonewall, but also the flight of President Jefferson F. Davis. The two seemed connected at the time.  And was not far out of the question for Davis to flee to Cuba using the Stonewall as some executive escape vessel.  Dahlgren’s standing orders were:

The commanders of vessels stationed along the coast will use every means in their power to communicate to the iron-clads at Port Royal and Charleston the earliest intelligence of any vessel approaching the coast resembling the Stonewall, and to prevent the escape of the rebel leader and his accomplices. It is difficult to fix upon any precise point where this vessel might be expected; but once seen every effort should be made to spread the information among the squadron, and to bring the monitors within range of her, particularly to keep sight of her, so as to retain a knowledge of her locality. The Canonicus and Nantucket are at Port Royal: the Passaic and Catskill at Charleston.

At the same time 150 years ago, the Stonewall was nearing Nassau.  She would reach that port on May 6.  Unsure of the situation, Page would then make for Havana, Cuba.  There word of the Confederate surrenders caught up with the Stonewall.  Page opted to “sell” his vessel to Spanish authorities there.  Weeks later, US officials purchased the Stonewall from the Spanish and sailed her to the Washington Navy Yard.  There she studied in detail but generally found to be unsuitable to the needs of the post-war navy. But this did allow for some interesting photos with the Stonewall anchored near some of the Federal monitors for comparison.

The Stonewall‘s mission, when the Confederates first took possession of the ship, was to break the blockade.  She might have raided Port Royal and disrupted the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  Had she arrived in late January, Page might have even stalled Sherman’s march through South Carolina for a while.  But by itself, the Stonewall was simply not enough to do more than play the fly to the Federal elephant’s advance.  She might have made headlines, but could not have done anything substantial  (as by that time the Confederates had no ports to open!).  As events unfolded, the legal and logistic snags ensured the Stonewall was late even for that minor role.

But the “What if” question remains for us to play around with.  Was the Stonewall, on paper a superior ship to the monitors, a potential game changer?  Well, speaking to the negative of that question, her sister ship in Prussian service was found to leak badly and was deemed a poor handling ship on the seaways.  The Prussians refitted the ship, adding better structures, armor, and Krupp cannons.  Still she was destined to play no role in two wars (Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian) fought during her service period.  The Prinz Adalbert was broken up in 1878.

However, on the positive side of that question, the Stonewall herself went on to a successful career, of sorts, under a different flag in a different kind of civil war.  In 1867, the Stonewall was sold to the Tokugawa Shogunate (for a substantial profit, by the way) and sent off for Japan.  Before arriving, the Shogunate lost ground and the Americans took control of the vessel when it arrived in Yokahama (April 24, 1868).   A deal with the Meiji government delivered the ironclad, then renamed Kōtetsu.  Over the following years, the Kōtetsu fought in several engagements as part of the Boshin War between Shogunate and the Imperial Court.   The most important of which was the battle of Hakodate in May 1869 (but four years removed from her last Confederate days).

There, the Kōtetsu dominated a force of unarmored ships.  That episode might provide some insight into what “might have been” at Port Royal.  Though the Kōtetsu appears to have remained in the coastal waters of Japan throughout these operations, never testing her ability to fight on ocean waters.

The French built ex-Danish, ex-Confederate, ex-American, ex-Shogunate Japanese ironclad was renamed Azuma in 1871 and rated coast-defense battleship.  She was finally stricken in 1888 and used as an accommodation hulk.  But, looking many decades into the future at that time, the former CSS Stonewall was the first rated “battleship” used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Many decades later the Azuma‘s descendants would contest an ocean with the descendants of the American monitors, in some of history’s largest naval battles.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 299-300.)

Distribution of Vessels, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, January 1, 1865

During the war the commanders of the Navy’s operating squadrons provided periodic reports on the assignments of vessels in their respective commands.  Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren did so twice a month (with some variance, but more or less on the 1st and 15th of each month).  As was the practice, he submitted a report on January 1, 1865.  The report was the first since the fall of Savannah.  So there were adjustments due to the changing situation and mission.  Obviously, with no need to blockade Savannah and no threat from rams from that port, Dahlgren could reallocate his forces.  Considering the operations that followed in the first months of 1865, it’s worth a look at the Navy’s dispositions on the first day of the year.

The first grouping to look at is the area from the South Carolina border to Charleston:


As of January 1, no vessel patrolled Murrell’s Inlet.  The furthest north assignment was the steamer USS Canadaigua covering Winyah Bay, approaches to Georgetown, and Cape Romain.  The sailing vessels USS George Mangham and USS James S. Chambers covered Bull’s Bay.  Of course, north of the state line was the jurisdiction of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  There was a significant naval force operating off Cape Fear against the Confederate defenses there.  But that falls outside the scope of my post.

Laying outside the bar of Charleston, the blockade consisted of the steamers USS James Adger, USS Wamsutta, USS Nipsic, USS Mary Sanford, USS South Carolina, USS Flambeau, USS Memphis, and USS Potomska.  The tugs USS Laburnum, USS Azalea, and USS Sweet Brier also operated outside the bar.  These vessels formed the primary force to intercept blockade runners inbound to Charleston.

Inside the bar, with the mission to block either runners or rams from exiting the harbor, was the strongest elements of the squadron.  This force included seven monitors – USS Patapsco, USS Montauk, USS Nahant, USS Passaic, USS Nantucket, USS Lehigh, and USS Catskill (under repairs).   The tugs USS Gladiolus, USS Catalpa, USS Hydrangea, USS Jonquil, USS Geranium, and USS Oleander supported the monitors and patrolled the ship channels.  Other vessels inside the bar off Charleston were the sailing vessels USS John Adams, USS Orvetta, USS Sarah Bruen, and USS Sea Foam.  The tender USS Home was also in the waters off Morris Island.

Also off Morris Island, but operating in support of the Army, were the gunboats USS Wissahickon and USS Commodore McDonough, along with the mortar schooners (abbreviated M.S. for my map) USS T.A. Ward, USS Dan Smith, and USS C.P. Williams.:


South of Charleston, several vessels covered the waterways of South Carolina.  The sailing ship USS St. Louis covered the North Edisto.  The gunboat USS Stettin and schooner USS Norfolk Packet covered St. Helena Sound.

At Port Royal were the steamers USS Philadelphia and USS Pawnee; the tugs USS Arethusa, USS Carnation, USS Larkspur, and USS O.M. Pettit; and the sailing vessel USS Houghton.  In addition the steamers USS Mingoe and USS Pontiac, along with tugs USS Daffodil and USS Dandelion, were operating up the Broad River in direct support of Army operations there.  Other vessels listed at Port Royal were tenders and hulks, which included the old ship of the line USS New Hampshire and the old blockade runner USS Chatham.

Also at Port Royal, but not available due to servicing and repairs (and thus not tallied on my maps), were the monitor USS Sangamon; steamers USS Cimarron, USS Ottawa, and USS Winona; tugs USS Acacia, USS Amaranthus, USS Iris, USS Camelia, and USS Clover;  and the sailing ships USS Braziliera and USS George W. Rogers.

Covering the coast of Georgia, the squadron was now able to spread itself thin:


Posted to the Savannah River was the steamer USS Sonoma and mortar schooner USS Racer.   The mortar schooner USS John Griffin was posted to Wassaw Sound.  The steamer USS Flag and mortar schooner USS Para policed the waters of Ossabow Sound.  The bark USS Fernandina covered St. Catherine’s Sound.  The steamer USS Lodona‘s assignment was Sapelo Sound.  The USS Saratoga was in Doboy Sound.   The bark USS Ethan Allen plyed the waters off St. Simon’s Island.  And the USS Dai Ching covered St. Andrew’s Sound.  The latter vessel, one of Dahlgren’s light draft steamers, was due to move north and cover South Carolina waters.

The brig USS Perry provided support to Army posts at Fernandina, Florida.  further south in Florida (and off my map), the steamers USS Norwich and USS E.B. Hale operated in the St. Johns River.

Add to these forces the various armed transports operated by the Army, for whom there is scant accounting in the official records.  All considered, a formidable force ranging from ironclads to armed tugs confronted the Confederate forces along the southern Atlantic coastline.

NOTE: Several of the sailing vessels had been rated as mortar schooners earlier in the war.  In some cases, with the mortars removed, those vessels served as blockaders.  I’ve tallied those former mortar schooners as sailing blockaders for this post.  So if you sense there is some mis-match of the ratings, keep that in mind.

(The Distribution of vessels of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, January 1, 1865, is recorded in ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 154-5.)

Savannah’s Siege, December 20, 1864: “The noise of the retreating enemy could plainly be heard”

For Lieutenant-General William Hardee, December 20, 1864 was a day of anticipation.  Had the pontoon bridge across the Savannah River been ready before dusk the day before, he would have started the evacuation of Savannah.  Instead, he looked to keep up the appearances of holding the city for just one more day and then evacuate under the cover of darkness.  For his plan to work, he had to keep open the one corridor out of Savannah.  To Major-General Joseph Wheeler, who’s men were protecting the bridge and causeway on the South Carolina side, Hardee implored, “The road to Hardeeville must be kept open at all hazards; it is my only line of retreat.”

Most of the Federals, however, were focused on other things than the road to Hardeeville.  Major-General William T. Sherman arrived in Port Royal Sound early on December 20.  Meeting most of the day with Major-General John Foster, the two looked for ways to break the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  Brigadier-General John Hatch, in command of the force on Deveaux’s Neck opposing the railroad near Coosawhatchie, reported his progress that day:

Yesterday morning I put three rifled guns in the marsh, 900 yards from the small railroad bridge, and damaged it so much that no trains have passed since.  The ground is so bad that I can not get the 30-pounders there. I have a platform laid down for one 30-pounder that will reach the railroad at a range of 1,300 yards. Am not firing now, as we are out of all kinds of ammunition, except that for our muskets; have sent to [Hilton Head] for more, but no attention is paid to our requisitions, or no transportation is furnished to bring it up.

Hatch indicated he was going to stage a feint at a point closer to Hilton Head and then attempt to flank the Confederates with a move across the Coosawhatchie River.  Likely Sherman reviewed this report while with Foster.  Before departing, Sherman promised to transfer some of his veteran troops to aid Hatch.  But that would take some time, and the first “allotment” of that would be the time required for Sherman to transit back to his headquarters to cut the orders.  As he left Hilton Head that afternoon, bad weather was brewing up causing even more delays.  The delayed transit, as we shall see, would have an important effect on events at Savannah.

Along the siege lines outside Savannah, the primary task was completing preparations for an assault on the Confederate works.  Major-General Oliver O. Howard had selected Brigadier-General Giles Smith’s division of Seventeenth Corps to force a lodgement, once Sherman gave the order to commence.  On the far right, Howard also ordered up a brigade from Brigadier-General William Hazen’s division, who were returning to camps at Fort McAllister, to reinforce their fellow Fifteenth Corps troops.  Everything pointed to a grant assault at some point in the near future.

Aside from this, Howard had time to deal with an administrative request.  To Major-General Peter Osterhaus, he responded:

General Corse requested the privilege of raising a negro regiment for his division for the purpose of pioneer duty, details for work in the quartermaster’s and commissary departments, &c. I will approve the raising of two negro regiments, one for each army corps, for the purposes above specified, and give the provisional appointments of such officers as the corps commanders may recommend, subject to the approval of the War Department. Each regiment must be denominated Pioneer Battalion, in conformity with Special Field Orders, No. 120, Military Division of the Mississippi, and must be paid as pioneers are now paid, should the War Department fail to approve my action.

On the Right Wing, Major-General Henry Slocum was likewise busy preparing for the anticipated assault.  Keeping Sherman’s headquarters informed, at 8 a.m. that day he wrote, “I am now fully prepared to execute any orders the general-in-chief may issue. All our batteries are finished, but the six 20-pounder guns have not yet come.”

Slocum’s subordinates examined the potential assault routes that day.  Brigadier-General James Morgan, commanding Second Division, Fourteenth Corps, provided an assessment of the ground in front of his line, prefacing, “I am sorry to say that I have no place from which one could be made with any reasonable hope of success.” Morgan continued on to say the roads leading up to the Confederate works were,

… commanded by a well-constructed fort, with abatis and other obstructions in front, the water of the swamp over and across the road for some eighty yards, depth not known. To advance a column by the flank upon this road without any ground for deployment, under a heavy fire, would be a useless destruction of life, without a corresponding advantage.

To deal with the canal, which crossed his sector, Morgan had foot bridges and fascines constructed.

On the Twentieth Corps sector, scouts from the 33rd Massachusetts sent forward scouts to assess the ground.  Corporal Robert Black reported back:

After arriving at the picket-line he started to about forty paces to the left of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad; advanced some seventy paces on clear ground without discovering any obstructions and no impediments, after which encountered large pine trees felled, ground uneven and no water; with some difficulty climbed over the felled trees and came to swampy ground, and still further on came to a pond varying from six to twelve feet in width, tried the depth of the pond by means of a pole and judged it to be some five feet deep with soft spongy ground, after which moved further to the left by creeping under and climbing over the fallen trees and found tolerable good ground, no water, but fallen timber, and as far as he could see it was all fallen timber–not trimmed.

Black estimated he reached a point 200 yards from the Confederate works before turning back.  Clearly those making the planned assault would have their work cut out for them.

Brigadier-General John Geary’s men improved the fortifications in their sector on the 20th.  Late in the evening the 30-pounder Parrotts arrived and were placed in position.  But while this was going on, Geary reported Confederate activity of note:

I ascertained this morning that the enemy had completed a pontoon bridge from Savannah across to the South Carolina shore, and notified the commanding general corps of the discovery.  This bridge was about two miles and a half from my left.

Wary of any Confederate withdrawal attempt, Geary asked his outposts to keep the bridge under observation.  But no significant activity was reported before nightfall.

Closing his 8 a.m. report, Slocum added, “I have a brigade on the South Carolina shore.” This was, of course that of Colonel Ezra Carman who’d turned a “lodgement” into a full on brigade perimeter in the rice fields.  Further advance was blocked by Wheeler’s men:

December 20, in obedience to orders from the brigadier-general commanding division to determine the position of Clydesdale Creek with reference to my line, I detailed twelve companies of the brigade, under immediate command of Colonel Hawley, Third Wisconsin Volunteers, and accompanied them myself. The force succeeded in reaching Clydesdale Creek with the loss of one man killed, and after erecting works for one regiment and posting therein two companies of Thirteenth New Jersey Volunteers, an effort was made to strike the Savannah and Hardeeville road, but the enemy, anticipating the movement, had thrown a strong force in our front. Having a canal to cross under their fire if we advanced I ordered the detachment to withdraw.

Carman, like Geary, noticed signs the Confederates were withdrawing:

During the day a great number of vehicles of all descriptions were seen passing our front, moving from Savannah toward Hardeeville, which fact was reported to the headquarters of the division.

Later that afternoon, a Confederate gunboat shelled Carman’s position.  After firing some thirty rounds and killing one man, the gunboat fell back due to the tides. Nearing dusk, Carman reported clear indications the Confederates were pulling out:

At 4 p.m. the enemy were re-enforced by three regiments of infantry from Savannah. From 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. the noise of the retreating enemy could plainly be heard as they crossed the bridges from Savannah to the South Carolina shore.

The Confederate withdrawal was underway, with several keen observers on the Federal lines reporting the movement of wagons.  But the army’s chief was not in contact at that moment.  Nor was anyone looking forward to the prospect of fighting through the swamps, ponds, and abitis to get at the departing Confederates.   I’ll turn to the particulars of the Confederate withdrawal… or retreat if you prefer… in the next post.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 237, 279, 766, 769, 770-1 and 968.)

Supplies for Sherman’s Armies … to include whippletrees! Meigs’ unheralded role in the Savannah Campaign

Everybody is familiar with the cliche about amateurs studying tactics while the professional focus on logistics.  Sort of a quaint way of splitting off the conversation, as I can attest that professional military types tend to focus on all of the above.  With respect to the March to the Sea, there is again somewhat a series of ellipses in play – “Fort McAllister fell …  … Sherman was resupplied.”  And again, a lot had to happen in the middle of those ellipses.  The most prominent figure in that “middle” was this fellow:

Major-General Montgomery Meigs role as the Army’s Quartermaster-General is well known to Civil War enthusiasts.  But the nuts-and-bolts of his work is often overlooked as we delve into battles and campaigns.  Of course, none of those battles and campaigns would have been successful without his guiding hand to get supplies to the troops.  None was more apparent than the Savannah Campaign.

At the commencement of the campaign, Sherman’s intended endpoint was still up in the air.  Meigs met this with contingency planning.  He responded by staging supplies at Pensacola and Port Royal.  But as it became apparent Savannah was the destination, Meigs devoted transportation towards Port Royal, coordinating with Major-General John Foster in that regard.  Furthermore, Meigs initial estimates were based on 30,000 men.  By December 6, he’d increased that factor to 60,000.  He ordered forage sent in daily increments to support 30,000 animals.  And anticipating the need to re-equip the force, he forwarded a substantial amount of clothing and equipment:

Clothing.—30,000 sack coats; 30,000 trowsers; 60,000 shirts; 60,000 pairs drawers; 60,000 pairs socks; 100,000 pairs shoes and boots; 20,000 forage caps; 10,000 greatcoats; 20,000 blankets, unless this number has already been shipped; 10,000 waterproof blankets.

Equipage.–10,000 shelter-tents; 100 hospital tents; 10,000 knapsacks; 20,000 haversacks; 10,000 canteens; 2,000 camp kettles; 5,000 mess pans; 5,000 felling axes, two handles each; 1,000 hatchets, handled; 2,000 spades; 2,000 picks.

You will also send the following quartermaster’s stores:
Transportation.–Wheel harness for 400 mules; lead harness for 800 mules; 10,000 pounds bar-iron, assorted; 5,000 pounds steel; 1,000 pounds harness leather; 40 sets shoeing tools and 40 extra hammers; thread, wax, needles, awls, &c., for repairing harness; 500 pounds wrought nails; 20 buttresses; 200 horse rasps; 100 large files, assorted; 50 shoeing knives, extra; 4,000 pounds manilla rope, assorted; 15,000 bushels smith’s coal (this coal will be ordered from Washington); 200 extra wagon wheels; 50 extra ambulance wheels; 100,000 pounds horse and mule shoes; 10,000 pounds horse and mule shoe-nails.

If Sherman’s march failed, it would not be for want of a nail!  No detail escaped Meigs’ eye.  To Colonel Herman Biggs, Quartermaster in Philadelphia, he directed:

You will send to Port Royal, to Maj. C. W. Thomas, the following quartermaster’s stores (probably they can be taken on board one of the light-draught steamers built by Messrs. Cramp & Sons, which I suppose to be ready to sail): 50 extra king bolts; 500 linch pins; 200 wagon tongues; 400 extra whippletrees; 50 double trees, ironed ready for use; 100 coupling poles; 200 front hounds for wagons; 100 hind hounds for wagons; 200 mule hames, ironed ready for use; 200 mule collars; 500 wagon bows; 100 wagon whips; 1,000 open links, for repairing trace chains; 500 open rings; 100 water buckets.

Everything, to include those Whippletrees, if the need arose to move these supplies over rough roads and long distances.

On December 15, Meigs sent a message to Sherman, starting:

I congratulate you on your successful march. You have made the greatest and most remarkable marches of the war, and have demonstrated several times that an army can move more than twenty-five miles from a navigable river or railroad without perishing. We have been shipping supplies for you, and I hope that you will have abundance of all necessaries, though I have been somewhat uncertain as to your numbers.

After explaining the supplies stocked at Port Royal, Meigs went on to point out a deficiency which could not be resolved:

I presume that you have more animals now than when you started, and I desire to call your attention to the difficulty, as well as the expense, of furnishing a large army with forage on the Atlantic coast. With all the exertions of the forage officer of this department, with a practically unlimited command of money, he has not been able to accumulate at Washington and at City Point enough long forage for the armies in Virginia to meet a few days’ interruption by storm or ice. We can supply grain enough, but there is always a short supply of hay. … Still the armies complain of short allowance of hay. If you have more animals than you need for intended operations they should be sent off to some point where the country can subsist them, or else you will, I fear, lose many by the diseases resulting from constant feeding on grain without enough long forage.

Forage was already a concern outside Savannah, and opening the supply lines would not address the full need.

Another issue arose with the transportation between Port Royal and the Ogeechee.  Once teams cleared the obstructions and torpedoes (no small task, and one I’ll touch upon later), the Ogeechee was open for ships of light draft.  But for some time Foster had complained about lacking sufficient numbers of vessels of that type.  Until Savannah itself, or another deep water port were opened, Meigs prepared six steamers then on the Chesapeake for movement to Hilton Head. But those would not arrive for a week or more.  In the mean time, the existing fleet, in small numbers, was pressed into service.  For every load of rations, the steamers traveled down from Hilton Head to the Ogeechee, thence up the river.  From King’s Bridge, the supplies were transferred to wagons or barges for distribution throughout the line.  A time consuming task.

Yes, Sherman had established his “cracker line” of supply from the sea.  And, yes, Meigs had staged ample quantities of those supplies (save fodder) to support the force.  But there were still issues to resolve, as of December 15, 1864.  Many of these, of course, could be resolved much easier if the Federals had possession of Savannah and those fine, deep-water docks.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 637-8 and 715-6.)

“If General Sherman comes from inland…”: Department of the South plans for Sherman’s arrival

One of the things I like about discussing the March to the Sea is how the discussion leads into the Charleston-Savannah front… which if you haven’t noticed is sort of a favorite of mine.  For example, while the troops of Sherman’s armies were making their way to Milledgeville on November 21, 1864, several senior commanders on the coast of South Carolina were already proposing operations to complement those marching through Georgia.

Writing to Washington, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren offered a summary of the tactical situation on the coast.  Quoting Major-General John Foster’s estimate of the Confederate force, he reported 4,000 defending Savannah and 5,000 at Charleston.  Then Dahlgren recited details about the defenses around Savannah, reminding the Secretary of the Navy that the ironclads had tested Fort McAllister during the winter months of 1863.  But the bottom line was these defenses were built to deter an attack from the ocean’s direction.  Lacking forces, there was little Foster’s command could do.  But the arrival of troops from the inland side would, of course, change that equation.  Dahlgren thus concluded:

The true attack is upon Savannah or Charleston, in force, while a column severs the communication connecting them by passing up any of the streams which run up from the sea and intersects the railroad.

If General Sherman comes from inland and follows this plan he will certainly take both cities with little effort, and a force from the seaboard could do this for him as he approaches.

That thought had occurred to others.  Writing the same day, Brigadier-General John Hatch, who’d just been reassigned back to command the Northern District (Folly and Morris Islands) outside Charleston, offered his suggestion to Foster:

You were kind enough to ask me for my views relating to the cutting of the railroad between Savannah and Charleston. In my letter of yesterday I stated that I thought it would be best to strike the road from Broad River. The more I examine it the better satisfied I am that that is the true point of operations. By landing where the road from Grahamville strikes the river, opposite Whale Island, a march of less than twenty miles puts you on the road at Gopher Hill. One regiment, with a battery detached, should take the road to the right and throw up intrenchments on the bank of the creek where the road from the Coosawhatchie divides. The main force would throw up a strong fort at Gopher Hill, which is probably a commanding position; a detachment could then be sent to Ferebeeville, to fortify there.

Hatch had served for some time in the department, and knew the area well.  Looking first to Port Royal Sound and the Broad River:


His proposed operations looked something like this on the map:


Once in place, Hatch felt the force could defend that lodgement and then some:

The line from Gopher Hill to Broad River would then be entirely free from molestation, and constant communication could be kept up with Hilton Head, and supplies furnished Sherman’s army, if Lee, abandoning Richmond, should come down to protect Charleston. I would not injure the road, as Sherman may desire to use it. I would get up to Hilton Head the two locomotives from Jacksonville, and have them put in repair, if they need it; also, all the cars and extra pairs of wheels. Of these latter, there is quite a number at Jacksonville and some at Fernandina. There are also at Fernandina spare parts of locomotives that may be found useful.

He even thought of the trains to run supplies!

Hatch figured to pull from the garrisons of Hilton Head, Beaufort, and other points to constitute the force needed for the operation. However there was one significant factor Hatch overlooked.  The Confederates considered that sector a “sensitive” spot. Particularly since just two years before the Federals attempted a similar operation in the same area.  Routes through the marshes were narrow and a small force could easily block a larger force moving inland.

But Hatch’s plan had merit.  As with many of the coastal operations, a strong force could accomplish a lot with surprise and fast movement.  Standing on that merit, the plan would, in a few day’s time, form the basis for the next major operation for the Department of the South.  The next day Foster issued orders for Hatch to proceed.  Unfortunately, it would not turn out to be an easy operation by any measure.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 517-8; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 56-7.)


Repairing Monitors at Port Royal

On November 30, 1863, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren provided a status report to the Navy Department covering the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron’s activities at the close of the month.  A substantial portion of that report – two paragraphs out of a total of seven – centered upon repairs to the ironclads of the squadron.In addition, Dahlgren also alluded to repairs needed on the USS New Ironsides.  After five continuous months of activity around Charleston, including several sustained engagements with shore batteries, the ironclads were showing from wear and damage.

The value of Port Royal with its secure harbor came into play here.  During operations at Charleston, the squadron established a rotation by which monitors were serviced and repaired at Port Royal.  Dahlgren’s report mentioned ships going through those rotations at the end of November:

The Patapsco and Catskill are not yet finished, but soon will be; the Lehigh has gone down to Port Royal to have some damages by shot repaired, the bottom cleaned, and a new 8-inch rifle, the present one having been expended on Sumter.  It is not yet reported whether the leak that occurred lately was caused by shot or not.

Recall the USS Lehigh suffered damage while aground on November 15 and sitting under the Confederate guns the next day.  The USS Patapsco was a frequent visitor to Port Royal, it would seem.  She’d been in port for servicing through the last half of September.   Then the ironclad returned briefly after her Parrott rifle cracked and fouling had accumulated on her hull.    And now again, she was in Port Royal.  Clearly the barnacles and oysters liked the Patapsco. A report from Patrick Hughes, inspector and supervisor of the operations, described the fouling in response to inquiries in a report dated December 4:

The bottom of the monitors is covered with a thick coating of oyster shells and grass.  The grass grows to a considerable length; I have a sample here of what came off the bottom of the Catskill.  It seems to be grass coralized.  It resembles strong brook corn, and is 12 inches long.

This growth on the hulls slowed the already sedate monitors – in some cases to half the designed speed. One way to clean the accumulated sea-life off the monitors was to beach them. Hughes described that operation in his December 4 response:

The monitors are put broadside on the beach without any shoring.  When the monitors are properly beached there is no danger whatever of straining any part of the vessel or having any injurious effect on machinery or turret.

The flat bottom of the monitors allowed the breaching, in broadside.  But Hughes continued on to state there were risks involved with beaching a monitor.

The Catskill lay on the beach in a very bad position for one tide.  She lay stern on, and there was a difference of 8 feet of water between bow and stern.

While she lay in this position some parts of the machinery had to be unfastened, and there was a perceptible alteration in the fire-room floor plates.  When she floated the parts went back to their places.  The vessel does not appear to have sustained any injury.

A report from Hughes posted on November 29 offers mentions additional hazards of such beaching operations:

In my report of the 22d instant I informed you that the Catskill came off the beach that morning, and I expected she would leave here in a few days.

This vessel went on the beach again that same evening and remained there until the morning of the 28th instant, getting off at 10 o’clock.  In trying to get the vessel off on the morning of the 27th they carried away the anchor gear, breaking one tooth in each of the pinion wheels and bending the shaft. It will take three days to repair.  On the morning of the 28th instant one of the towboats struck the plating on the bow and started the fastenings, breaking some of the blunt boltheads off.  To fasten this plating properly it will take about three days.  I will have all the damages to this vessel repaired by Thursday morning, December 3.

And while beaching allowed workers access to the sides of the ship, particularly to address damage to the armor plating, the position did not allow workers to clean the bottoms.  For that, the Navy employed divers.  And those were best, and safely, used at Port Royal’s quiet waters.

Hughes wanted to apply zinc paint to the undersides of the monitors to prevent the encrustation.  But when applied while beached, tidal actions prevented the paint from drying.  Clearly a proper dry-dock facility was needed.  And Port Royal had none.

Unlike the monitors, the New Ironsides could not be beached at Port Royal.  Normal wear in addition to damage sustained from Confederate guns and the spar torpedo attack had tested seams, planking, and cross beams.  The ship’s carpenter reported, “The spar deck, gun and berth decks leak so badly that it is necessary to calk them fore and aft.” Captain Stephen Rowan estimated the repairs required three weeks attention at Port Royal.  He also forwarded a requisition for 3,000 sand bags, as existing sandbags on deck had to be removed for the calking.

While the refit activities at Port Royal were sufficient to sustain the ironclads, the port lacked the shipyard facilities needed to fully repair and improve the ships.  One does wonder, given the frequency of such refits, if photograph, even grainy, exists somewhere of a monitor laying upon the South Carolina beach.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 142-3, 145, and 151-2.)