The Christmas Bombardment of Charleston

The Christmas of 1863 will long be remembered by those who passed the day in the City of Charleston….” said the writer at the Charleston Mercury.  Reporting on the Christmas Morning bombardment of the city, the Mercury reporter detailed:

For hours before the eastern sky was streaked with the first grey tints of morning, the cold night air was rent by other sounds than the joyous peals from the belfry and the exploding crackers of exhilarated boys.

At one o’clock, a.m., the enemy opened fire upon the city.  Fast and furiously were the shells rained upon the city from five guns – three at Battery Gregg, one at Cummings’ Point, and one at the Mortar Battery.  The shelling was more severe than upon any former occasion, the enemy generally throwing from three to five shells almost simultaneously.  Our batteries promptly and vigorously replied to the fire, but without their usual effect in checking the bombardment, which was steadily maintained by the Yankees during the remainder of the night and all the following morning, until about half-past twelve o’clock.  Up to that hour no less than 134 shells had been hurled against the city. – There was no more firing until about five o’clock in the afternoon, when one more shell was fired.  On Sunday [December 27] morning about three o’clock, four shells were thrown in quick succession.  There had been no further firing up to a late hour last night.

Remarkably, the Mercury and the Charleston Daily Courier declined to portray the bombardment in sensational… or dare I say horrific, terror-stricken… terms.  While a detestable disturbance on a day designated for peaceful reflection, there was no outright condemnation.  Perhaps that was due to the Confederate ambush of the USS Marblehead occurring the same “peaceful” morning.  Neither side designed a peaceful Christmas that year.

From the Federal side, the regimental history of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery looked back at the episode years later:

Dec. 24. “Twas the night before Christmas,” but all in the house was stirring as lively as a cat for a mouse.  We were hurling shell and our Yankee sort of Greek fire into the city of Charleston.  We sent a shell every five minutes from our 200-pounder Parrotts in Fort Chatfield.  This music kept up an animated dance among the rebels, and they answered us to the best of their ability. About midnight we could see three fires in the city; two of them quite close together, and within the range of our pieces.  We inferred, what we afterwards learned, that our shells had occasioned the conflagration, at least in part, and the Charlestonians had a sever task in subduing the flames.  This loss to the city was a very heavy one.

The Confederate military records don’t record the caliber of projectiles fired at Charleston.  But those records do offer a good tally of the shots fired.  Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the 5th Military District, including Charleston, reported 150 shots fired at the city on Christmas Day.  134 of those reached the city.  And 16 fell short.  There is no indication how many or what percentage of those landing in the city were duds.  Other Confederate authorities placed the number of shells failing to explode between 40% and 50%.   Given the number of unexploded shells found in Charleston in the 150 years since the war, those estimates were probably not far off.

Charleston 4 May 10 115

The shell in the photo above was found on Broad Street in Charleston.  The street seemed to be in the “beaten zone” where a majority of Federal projectiles landed.

Charleston was on the receiving end of Federal artillery fire starting the previous August.  After the Swamp Angel burst, Federal fired occasional shots into Charleston through September and October.  More so to test ranges than for any specific objective.  In November a total of 77 shots reached the city, with another ten falling short according to Confederate observers.  Those were spread out between November 16 and 27, with no more than twenty in any one given day.

But in December, the Federals increased the firing on Charleston, with activity almost every day:

  • December 1: 8 shots.
  • December 2: 19 shots.
  • December 3: 32 shots.
  • December 5: 8 shots.
  • December 8: 6 shots.
  • December 11: 8 shots.
  • December 12: 4 shots.
  • December 14: 7 shots.
  • December 15: 10 shots.
  • December 16: 1 shot (with one more missing).
  • December 20: 20 shots reaching and 11 falling short.

Certainly the Federals had found the range.  Keep in context this attention on Charleston came as the Second Major Bombardment came to a close.

Major Henry Bryan, Assistant Inspector-General on General P.G.T. Beauregard’s staff, completed a detailed examination of all bombardments of Charleston through the end of 1863, submitting his findings on January 6, 1864.  In that report, Bryan noted the Christmas Day bombardment was responsible for, “the burning of six buildings and a cotton press…, by a fire originating from the explosion of a shell, and the destruction of some medical stores….”  Bryan added, referring generally to all bombardments of the city up to that time, “It has further caused considerable social distress by obliging thousands of persons in the lower part of the city, in order to avoid danger, to leave their homes and close their hotels, and seek refuge in the upper portion of the city or the interior of the state.”   And those abandoned properties were exposed to vandalism and theft.

Lieutenant George Walker, Confederate Engineers, assisted Bryan in the report and produced a map showing where each shell had landed in Charleston, “designated roughly by specks of red paint the locality where each shell fell, the extreme points where shells struck being connected by straight red-ink lines.”  Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a copy of that map in any archives or other collections.  If it is out there, I’d love to examine those “specks of red paint.”  However, even without seeing Walker’s map, we can surmise the captain’s work was good, given the level of detail and precision of Bryan’s reporting.

There are several threads to follow in regard to the bombardment of Charleston.  First off, Bryan’s report deserves a close look.  And I intend to give it due space in follow up blog posts.

Another thread to follow is how the effects of these bombardments were reported in Confederate papers.  In correspondence to authorities in Richmond, Beauregard clearly reports fires, damage, and causalities due to Federal bombardments.  Though he shrugs them off.  To the public, however, the newspapers arranged the news to keep the Federal bombardment separate from the fires caused.  Censorship?  Perhaps, as the Federals were seeking out Charleston papers for intelligence.  Spin control?  Very likely….

We should also consider how these bombardments, including Christmas Day, were justified and accepted from the military side.  Beauregard wasted no time protesting the bombardments.  And Gillmore rested his actions on justifications agreed upon in earlier correspondence.  It seems both sides agreed, mutually, that Charleston was a fair target.  After the fact, 150 years later, many will cry the bombardment broke the rules of war… and might even level allegations of war crimes.  But at the time, such talk was not in the air.  How did that come about?  It’s a long line of logic, deserving fuller discussion.

Lastly, as this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and we talk about what wonderful things artillery can do on the battlefield, we should also discuss how these Parrott rifles were able to fire on targets 8000 to 9000 yards distant.

So more to follow.

(Citations from Charleston Mercury, December 28, 1863, page 2 column 1; Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, pages 206-7;  and OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 682-3.)

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Fortification Friday: Abattis and Slashings, let us get a clear VIEW these OBSTACLES

Last Friday we considered Abattis (Mahan’s spelling, which I’ll honor in this discussion) and how those obstacles were placed to enhance the defense.  We also considered descriptions offered by Colonel Junius Brutus Wheeler in his 1882 edition of the West Point curriculum on field fortifications.  The material used to construct an abattis was, of course, felled trees.  But we also should considered there were many applications for felled trees beyond just abattis.  This week, let’s look at another section of Wheeler’s instruction:

Slashing. – In compliance with the principle that all houses, trees, brushwood, etc. within range of the work, which could be used as a shelter and a place of concealment by the enemy’s sharpshooters, should be removed, it is essential that the trees within six hundred yards of the work should be cut down.

So we have “slashing” as a verb here… meaning to clear the field of fire and/or field of view. But note that Wheeler does not describe the process of slashing as one designed specifically to create an obstacle.  Thus we have some semantics in play:

As it is not practical to remove immediately the trees from the spot, it is custom to cut them down so that they shall form, while laying on the ground, and obstacle which may be used in the defense of the work.

Trees cut down so as to fall in all directions, form what is known as a slashing.  It is better, where the trees are intended to be used as an obstacle, that they be cut so as to fall towards the enemy; and, in the case of the smaller trees, which might be moved by a few men, the trunks should not be cut entirely through, but only enough to allow the trees to fall.

A thick and well arranged slashing forms an excellent obstruction to an enemy’s free movements. It has the serious defect of being easily burned when dry.

Wheeler offered Figure 72 for this method:

WheelerFig72

There’s a play of words here, which I will stress.  Slashing, as a verb, was the act of felling the trees for the purpose of improving the field of fire/view from a fortification. The defender may leave those felled trees in place was to create a slashing, used as a noun, that could – stress could – be utilized as an obstacle.

For what it is worth, Mahan did not mention slashings as an obstacle.  But circle back to his discussion of an abattis.  He did offer the defender might “…fell the trees so that their branches will interlace, cutting the trunk in such a way that the tree will hang to the stump by a portion uncut.”  That sounds like, though no figures were offered to illustrate, like Wheeler’s slashing.  However, we must keep in frame Mahan’s definition of the abattis included these instructions, “The smaller branches are chopped off, and the ends, pointed and interlaced with some care, are presented towards the enemy.”  Such implies deliberate preparation of the trees, be those simply felled and left in place… or those moved to a necessary location to create an obstacle.  Wheeler’s description of slashing does not include instructions to clear off smaller branches or leave ends pointed.  And there in lay one difference between an abattis and a slashing (where used as a noun).

Another difference, as we saw above, was the intent of the work.  A commander, if he was using the book definition, would order a slashing (verb) to clear trees at an undesirable location.  He might then order the felled trees left in place, to save labor, which would create a slashing (noun), which simply leave the ground cluttered but not necessarily obstructed.  However, he might order the felled trees arranged to obstruct enemy movements, which Wheeler still called a slashing (noun).  And the commander might order more work to transform those felled trees into what Mahan considered a form of abattis.  You see, by the book the words were used for specific intents.

Oh, but that only applies where the commander knew what the words meant and actually used the words in accordance with the teachings.  How often does that happen?  Well, for the Civil War, perhaps often enough.  First, consider a quote from Major-General John Peck, describing work to be done at Washington, North Carolina, in August 1863 (emphasis mine):

At Washington I examined the old and new lines, both of which are well arranged. The second or interior line has many advantages over the exterior, especially in its command and the requiring of a lesser force for its defense. Some guns should be added, and some slashing done for the better protection of the artillerists against riflemen.

Peck used slashing as a verb here specifically to indicate he recommended moving the tree line back in order to afford a better field of view.  Later, in March 1864, Peck used slashing as a noun when describing works at another point in North Carolina (again, my emphasis here):

The slashing between Fort Jack and the river adds materially to your strength by enabling your flank works to cover that side of the river.

There is no mention of how that slashing might obstruct the Confederates.  The importance of the referenced slashing was to allow the defenders to see the ground and fire upon it.

Later in the war, we see more references to field works and thus slashing (be that as a noun or verb) comes into play more often.  One might say that 1864 was a “golden age” for slashing.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore reported, during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, on May 21, 1864:

As the woods are now being cut in the ravine on my right, I would recommend not to build the parapet for the 30-pounders until we ascertain the best position for it. The slashing may open out our view considerably.

Slashing, as a noun, to describe an area of felled trees which would be done specifically to clear the view… and allow 30-pdr Parrotts to do what they do so well.  So understanding the difference between a slashing and an abattis provides us some insight into the commander’s intent.

But we find other references where slashings was done with a mind to obstruct. Maybe not the primary purpose, but at least with some intent to obstruct.  Colonel Ario Pardee, in the later stages of the Atlanta Campaign, reported the activity of the 147th Pennsylvania:

Each regiment this day and the days following until the 2d of September were engaged in fortifying their positions and slashing the timber in their front, so as to make the position held by the troops as nearly inaccessible as possible.

Pardee’s intent, apparently, was to create a clear area filled with obstacles in front of his works, thus to make his position “nearly inaccessible as possible.”  Really good obstacles!

I should point out that Peck and Gillmore benefited from a military education.  And Pardee, as best I can tell, learned the trade in the field.  So we should consider that while casting interpretations.  But before we start drawing distinctions here, there’s Brigadier-General John Geary, not a West Pointer but somewhat versed in military affairs, whose writing indicates he knew the difference, describing the activity of his command after the fall of Atlanta:

Our corps, being left to hold Atlanta, we commenced the construction of an inner line of forts and rifle-pits, our camp still remaining near the old outer line, which we had strengthened and improved by slashing and abatis.

Sure, he didn’t like Mahan’s double “t”, but he reported two different types of constructions  – slashings and abattis.  Similarly, Colonel (later Brigadier-General) John Hartranft, with a background in civil engineering but not military engineering, related the activity of his command in July 1864, during the “Fifth Epoch” of the Overland Campaign:

Continued slashing and building abatis until the evening of the 23d, when I was relieved by part of the Tenth Corps.

Here we have two verbs – slashing and building – which indicate the command considered those distinct activities performed during the period.  So knowing the difference between slashings and abattis is important when interpreting a unit’s reported activity.

Though you might be saying that it is a trivial matter to worry if the soldiers cut the trees, then moved them… or just left them hanging from the stumps.  A fair criticism, I concede. Knowing a commander’s intent and the unit’s activity are nice to know, though not always vital in context. But consider the report of Major-General Winfield S. Hancock describing the Confederate positions encountered at Spotsylvania:

 The enemy held a strong line of intrenchments about one-half mile in front of and parallel to the works we had stormed on the 12th. His position was concealed by the forest and protected by heavy slashing and abatis.

Hancock was describing what he was up against.  Those words paint a picture for us, 150 years later, to understand what those Confederate works looked like.  And we have a West Point trained officer, who studied Mahan’s text, clearly indicating there were two sort of obstacles in place that used felled trees.  Thus, by weighing the subtle difference between the two terms, we have a sharper view of just what those obstacles were.  Not only allowing us to share Hancock’s view, but also to consider the level of effort undertaken by the Confederates to construct those defenses.

Now this is not to say everyone who ever used the terms slashing or abattis were employing Mahan’s or Wheeler’s definition of those terms. But it is to say that we should weigh the context of the use of those terms when we encounter them.  As someone famous is reported to have said… a noun is the name of a thing.  It is important, more often than not, that we identify the right thing.

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 177-8; OR, Series I, Volume XXIX, Part 2, Serial 49, page 81; Volume XXXIII, Serial 60, page 768;  Volume XXXVI, Part 1, Serial 67, page 338; Volume XXXVI, Part 3, Serial 69, page 69; Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, Serial 73, page 159; .Volume XXXIX, Part 1, Serial 77, pag 668; Volume XL, Part 1, Serial 80, page 578.)

 

April 1862… a pivotal month of the war

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, generally called the “start” of the American Civil War.  I don’t know what to call the 155th other than just “155th.”  Likewise, I have no smart name for the 151st anniversaries of the surrender at Appomattox (last Saturday) or Lincoln’s assassination (coming Thursday).  Having just experienced the sesquicentennial years, I trust we are all aware that April 1861 and April 1865 serve as convenient bookends of the Civil War.  And thus we see a number of good, scholarly works aimed to explain the events from those months. That is, in my opinion, a focus well spent.  Yet, there is a lot of “in between” laying between those two Aprils which is also due focus.

One “in between” that has always struck my fancy is April 1862.  Just a lot of moving parts in that spring month.  Consider –

  • April 4- Major-General George McClellan lead the Army of the Potomac up the Peninsula toward Confederate defenses at Yorktown.
  • April 6 – General Albert Sidney Johnston’s army struck Major-General U.S. Grant’s force camped around Pittsburg Landing.
  • April 7- Major-General John Pope landed a force at Watson’s Landing, on the Tennessee shore below New Madrid, Missouri, and behind Island No. 10.
  • April 10 – Federal batteries directed by (then) Captain Quincy Gillmore opened fire on Fort Pulaski.
  • April 12 – James Andrews hijacked the locomotive General at Big Shanty, Georgia.
  • April 17 – Major-General Nathaniel Banks occupied New Market, Virginia, with Major-General Thomas Jackson’s command falling back to the vicinity of Harrisonburg.
  • April 18 – Federal fleet under Commodore David Farragut began bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip downstream from New Orleans. Days later the fleet would run past those forts.
  • April 26 – After a month long siege, Confederates surrendered Fort Macon on the North Carolina coast.

Those being, mostly, start or end points of longer campaigns or operations.  The conclusions seen were:

  • A prolonged siege at Yorktown.
  • Over 23,000 casualties and a major Confederate reverse at Shiloh.
  • Some 7,000 Confederates captured at Island No. 10 and the Mississippi laid open south nearly (Fort Pillow) to Memphis.
  • New Orleans lost to the Confederacy – both as a port and manufacturing center.
  • Savannah mostly closed as a port.
  • The coast of North Carolina, save Wilmington, under Federal control.  As were large portions of the Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

I added the Great Locomotive Chase entry as it had some impact on the Confederate logistic system at the time.

Furthermore, in a era without the benefit (or handicap) of the 24-hour news cycle, the timing of that raid reminds us how these events were connected in time. Imagine the newspaper headlines each morning, as the events unfolded.  In learning about the war, we approached the initial study by chapters… nicely defined chapters covering specific campaigns.

But unfortunately a format that failed to give us that appreciation for how those events were experienced – real time.  Those of us who waded into the sesquicentennial gained much from “real time, 150 years after the fact” following.  And I do hope that added to the perspective of many.  However I think in general that historians have not done enough to demonstrate the connection between these events and how such factored into the course of the war.  Nor have us students done enough to bring out those connections in our studies.  Thus several logical, time-line groupings of events have not received due attention.  There were several pivotal weeks and months in which the course of the war turned.

April 1862 was one of them.  The war entered its first mature campaign season… from the plains of Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean (and beyond).  And given the victories cited above, April 1862 might have been a turning point sending the Confederacy to an early end.  As a “western theater guy” I am fond of saying the Confederates lost the war at Shiloh on the night of April 6, 1862 and the Federals won the war atop Missionary Ridge on November 24, 1863.  Easterners will disagree, but the fact is defeat at Shiloh broke the back of the Confederate army in the west.  Shiloh set-up Vicksburg.  Vicksburg set-up Chattanooga and that Missionary Ridge thing.  Missionary Ridge set-up Atlanta.  And from Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Columbia, and Fayetteville … and set-up Appomattox. The long way around, to be sure.  But that’s how my “western-centered” perspective views it… feel free to disagree.

Yet from the opposite side of the coin, April 1862 was also an important set-up for the Confederacy. Consider the closures… or results… from some of those Federal actions:

  • The Army of the Potomac invested Yorktown, not taking that place until the first days of May.
  • Major-General Henry Halleck took direct control of the advance toward Corinth, Mississippi, concentrating forces across the western theater for a slow pursuit.  The Crossroads of the Confederacy would not be in Federal hands until the end of May.
  • Major-General Samuel Curtiss, due to logistic constraints and in spite of a victory at Pea Ridge in March, fell back into Missouri.

This turn of events, again happening concurrently, gave openings and created angles which the Confederates could exploit. One of those, of course, being Jackson’s Valley Campaign.  That campaign, and actions on other fronts, setup six months in which the Confederacy would reach its zenith… and take the war onto northern soil.

Maybe April 1862 was not the turning point it could have been.  And maybe it was not the most important thirty days of the Civil War.  But I submit it was a pivotal month in the course of the war.

April 30, 1865: Gillmore to Potter – “proceed to Orangeburg” with a new sort of mission

On April 30, 1865, Major-General Quincy Gillmore issued a new mission to Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter and his “provisional” division.  Recall that Potter’s force spent most of April on a very successful and destructive raid, reaching Camden.  But five days after completing that raid, Potter’s new mission reflected the events which had transpired – a pole shift, if I may write with over-abundance – in the last April of the war.  These orders would send Potter and his men on a march out of Charleston, South Carolina.

Gillmore’s orders were, as issued through Colonel Stewart Woodford, his Chief of Staff:

The major-general commanding directs that you proceed to Orangeburg, S.C., with the forces hitherto under your command, excepting the garrison left at Georgetown. The One hundred and second U.S. Colored Troops, heretofore ordered to the Santee railroad bridge, will accompany you. You will move as soon as you have collected 1,000 men of your command; the balance will follow as rapidly as possible. You will rebuild the bridge over the Edisto at Orangeburg, making requisition for all necessary material. You will guard your communications with Charleston as far back as Summerville. General Hatch will protect the road to that point. I inclose an official copy of General Sherman’s convention with General Johnston, approved by Lieutenant-General Grant; also copies of General Orders, No. 52, of this date, from these headquarters, republishing General Sherman’s order for carrying the convention into effect.

Grasp the fine details in this order.  First off, Potter’s force was explicitly ordered to go forth and repair – REPAIR – a bridge. That was, recall, a bridge destroyed in February by Confederates to block movements of Seventeenth Corps.  Which brings up the second fine detail of the April 30 order – Potter’s force was not there to raid or damage… or even to fight.  They were there to occupy.  Orangeburg was to be a base from which the Federal forces projected deeper into South Carolina, using the railroad, which was also to be reconstructed, to bring control over the state.

So let us look to the map to see how that looked:

Potter_April30_Objectives

As I pointed out earlier this week, something often overlooked in the discussion of Reconstruction are the operational aspects, militarily speaking.  In this case, consider the South Carolina government, still somewhat between “Confederate” and “restored” in matter of fact, was seated in Columbia, South Carolina.  That city – shell that it may have been – was the heart of the state.  In order to effectively “reconstruct” South Carolina, the Federals had to wield some force from that point on the map.  “Boots on the ground” as we say from our 21st century view.

But, as we look at that map, clearly Columbia was outside the reach, much less grasp, of Gillmore or Potter as things stood on April 30, 1865.  Not to diminish the important political and social factors involved as the nation transition post-war and Reconstruction took relevance.  But what I am pointing out is that when considering the woulda/coulda/shoulda of Reconstruction, there is the question of how far the military force allocated to support the task could reach.  And… this “reach” would not simply get better as railroad were rebuilt… after April 1865 and the return to peace, the Army no longer had the blank check with respect to operational expenses.

Another point, that deserves belaboring, as we consider the details of this order is the reference to Gillmore’s General Orders No. 52.  That order in tern referenced Major-General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 65, issued on April 27.   I discussed that order in a lengthy post in context with others issued the same day.  But let us recall the “heart” of that order again:

The general commanding announces a further suspension of hostilities and a final agreement with General Johnston which terminates the war as to the armies under his command and the country east of the Chattahoochee. … and great care must be taken that all the terms and stipulations on our parts be fulfilled with the most scrupulous fidelity, whilst those imposed on our hitherto enemies be received in a spirit becoming a brave and generous army. Army commanders may at once loan to the inhabitants such of the captured mules, horses, wagons, and vehicles as can be spared from immediate use, and the commanding generals of armies may issue provisions, animals, or any public supplies that can be spared, to relieve present wants and to encourage the inhabitants to renew their peaceful pursuits and to restore the relations of friendship among our fellow-citizens and countrymen. Foraging will forthwith cease, and when necessity or long marches compel the taking of forage, provisions, or any kind of private property, compensation will be made on the spot, or, when the disbursing officers are not provided with funds, vouchers will be given in proper form, payable at the nearest military depot.

This order backed a policy set forward by the civilian leaders in Washington.  This was the “first draft” Reconstruction as it applied on “the street.”

So men, who had engaged in destroying Confederate infrastructure and seizing anything that might support the Confederate war effort just a week earlier, were dispatched on April 30, 1865 to rebuild some of that infrastructure and facilitate production of subsistence for the population.  Yes, there was a change in focus.  It was less because of any change of heart among the Federal leaders, but more so because, after April 26, the infrastructure and civilian population was American again.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Serial 100, pages 332 and 359.)

 

“Portion of this island will be required hereafter for permanent fortifications”: War transforms Hilton Head

In 1860, as the secession crisis began, Hilton Head Island, just as most of the barrier islands from the Chesapeake to the toe of Florida, lacked any military presence. The infrastructure on the island differed little from that depicted on an 1825 map:

HiltonHeadIsland1830s

Although Port Royal offered good anchorage, the lack of major port facilities diminished its importance to military authorities who had prioritized coastal defense projects.  Instead Charleston received the lion’s share of the attention… and funding.

At the start of the war, the Federals needed anchorages in order to maintain the blockade.  Thus Port Royal was posted high on the list of objectives. And at the same time the Confederates recognized the vulnerability of Port Royal and fortified Hilton Head and Phillip’s Island across the sound.

HiltonHead1862

In November 1862, Federal actions demonstrated those defenses were not complete, especially against steam powered navies.  With Port Royal in Federal hands, Hilton Head became an important base.  The island became a sprawling “city” within the span of a year.  By mid-war, outposts and fortifications extended out from Hilton Head to protect Port Royal and approaches.

HiltonHeadDistrictApril64

But with the close of the war, the military would not need Port Royal, and thereby Hilton Head would fall back down the list of priorities for post-war coastal defense appropriations.  However, military minds had reason to rethink that prioritization given the experience of the Civil War.  If the Federals could use Port Royal as a base and lodgement, then a foreign power might also.  That in mind, On April 29, 1865, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent a letter to the Army’s Adjutant-General, Brigadier-General Lorenzo Thomas, in Washington:

General: I have the honor to call your attention to the following statement in relation to the north end of Hilton Head Island, S. C., bordering upon Port Royal Harbor. This, in common with some other portions of the island, has been reserved by the United States Government for military purposes during the war. The fact that it is the headquarters of the department, and its occupation by troops, has drawn thither a large number of sutlers, army followers, and others, until quite a city has grown up. Most of the buildings erected thus far are owned and occupied by the parties above mentioned and have been put up only on condition of their removal at any time when, in the judgment of the military authorities, the interests of the public service demand it. But the impression is gaining ground that after the war this property will no longer be needed for public purposes and that a city will be located here. In my opinion this portion of the island will be required hereafter for permanent fortifications. Therefore, that this may be understood, I desire the authority of the War Department to announce officially that all the lands now reserved at this post for military purposes will be permanently occupied by the Government. Such announcement will remove all grounds for damages in case at any time it should become necessary to require the removal of the buildings. I have the honor to request that this matter may receive your early attention.

Some of the buildings in question were quarters inhabited by former contrabands… a term being discarded in the correspondence with “refugee” or “freedmen.”

Despite Gillmore’s urgings, the War Department would make no significant efforts to maintain or improve the fortifications left behind on Hilton Head.  In the decades that followed, one experimental battery was placed on Hilton Head Island.  But that was more so to provide trials for new weapons than any scheme of defense.  Changes in military technology allowed for different arrangements than that employed during the Civil War.  In 1898, construction began on Fort Fremont featuring a battery of 10-inch disappearing guns on Saint Helena Island.  Those heavy guns could cover the sound, entrance channel, and Hilton Head with ease.  (Earlier in that decade, a coaling station was established on Paris Island.  And that post eventually grew into a substantial military presence around Port Royal by the early 20th century.)

But the US Government retained control of significant portions of Hilton Head Island after the Civil War.  Some of the pre-war plantation owners returned and reclaimed property.  Portions of the lands held by the Government were passed to the freedmen or sold to speculators.  But the War Department still held significant holdings on the island as the century closed.  And those holdings were used again during World War I and World War II as the military again saw the need to garrison Hilton Head.

However, the most significant change would occur in the decades after World War II.  A highway bridge and other improvements transformed the once sparsely populated island where Gullah lived, and occasionally the military garrisoned, into a resort community.  In the span of 100 years, Hilton Head went from being a major military base, to a small community living on the margins of the land and society, and then finally to a place of leisure and luxury.

Such is the passing of history.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 351.)

 

Sherman’s March, April 27, 1865: Facilitating the surrender; Planning the march north

With dawn on April 27, 1865, the ink was hardly dry on the “final-final” surrender agreement between Major-General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston.  But Sherman was already looking to the next leg of the Great March.  So a flurry of orders went out from Sherman’s headquarters down to the brigade level.  The group of armies was about to move once again – starting the last series of marches of their war.

Before any movement orders were issued, there were a few loose ends to attend in regard to the surrender terms.  Supplementary terms included eight points:

First. The Confederate troops to retain their transportation.

Second. Each brigade or separate body to retain a number of arms equal to one-fifth of its effective total, which, when the troops reach their homes, will be received by the local authorities for public purposes.

Third. Officers and men to be released from their obligation at the same time with those of the Army of Virginia.

Fourth. Artillery horses to be used for field transportation when necessary.

Fifth. The horses and other private property of officers and men to be retained by them.

Sixth. Troops from Arkansas and Texas to be transported by water from Mobile or New Orleans to their homes by the United States.

Seventh. The obligations of private soldiers to be signed by their company officers.

Eighth. Naval officers within the limits of General Johnston’s command to have the benefit of the stipulations of this convention.

Beyond those terms, Sherman would offer assistance to Johnston.  But Sherman charged Major-General John Schofield with the responsibility of implementation in North Carolina with respect to Johnston’s force.  And that charge was spelled out in a pair of orders – Special Field Orders No. 65 and 66.

Orders No. 65 outlined the administrative handling and mechanisms of the surrender.  The order gave Schofield, Major-General Quincy Gillmore, and Major-General James Wilson the responsibility to manage the surrender process within their respective areas of control.  The orders assigned an ordnance officer to manage surrendered weapons for Johnston’s command.  And Sherman directed that paper paroles, similar to those used at Appomattox earlier in the month, be printed for issue to all surrendered Confederates (securing the proper equipment and supplies to print these was somewhat a task in and of itself, but eventually worked out).  To this Sherman added,

… great care must be taken that all the terms and stipulations on our parts be fulfilled with the most scrupulous fidelity, whilst those imposed on our hitherto enemies be received in a spirit becoming a brave and generous army.

In addition Sherman directed some allowances beyond the surrender terms and directed toward reconciliation of the population:

Army commanders may at once loan to the inhabitants such of the captured mules, horses, wagons, and vehicles as can be spared from immediate use, and the commanding generals of armies may issue provisions, animals, or any public supplies that can be spared, to relieve present wants and to encourage the inhabitants to renew their peaceful pursuits and to restore the relations of friendship among our fellow-citizens and countrymen.

And, with respect to foraging:

Foraging will forthwith cease, and when necessity or long marches compel the taking of forage, provisions, or any kind of private property, compensation will be made on the spot, or, when the disbursing officers are not provided with funds, vouchers will be given in proper form, payable at the nearest military depot.

Adding to this, Sherman directed rations be issued to Johnston’s troops – “ten day’s rations for 25,000 men.”  That is, depending on the repair of railroad lines to allow movement to Greensborough.

Orders No. 66 were more specific to movements of the Federal armies:

Hostilities having ceased, the following changes and dispositions of troops in the field will be made with as little delay as practicable:

I. The Tenth and Twenty-third Corps will remain in the Department of North Carolina, and Maj. Gen. J. M. Schofield will transfer back to Major-General Gillmore, commanding Department of the South, the two brigades formerly belonging to the division of Brevet Major General Grover at Savannah. The Third Division, Cavalry Corps, Bvt. Maj. Gen. J. Kilpatrick commanding, is hereby transferred to the Department of North Carolina, and General Kilpatrick will report in person to Major-General Schofield for orders.

II. The cavalry command of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman will return to East Tennessee, and that of Bvt. Maj. Gen. J. H. Wilson will be conducted back to the Tennessee River in the neighborhood of Decatur, Ala.

This order effectively split Sherman’s “army group” as hit had existed for over a month.  The core elements from the day of the march out of Atlanta – the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia – marched on.  But the Army of the Ohio and Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry would remain in North Carolina.  Of note, the withdrawal of Stoneman’s and Wilson’s commands to points in Tennessee would leave many sections of the south “unoccupied.”  Sherman’s aim, derived from the instructions from the War Department, were not to “occupy” per say, but to facilitate a surrender of military forces… at least as things stood on April 27, 1865.

The last two paragraphs of the order gave the line of march for those corps moving north:

III. Major-General Howard will conduct the Army of the Tennessee to Richmond, Va., following roads substantially by Louisburg, Warrenton, Lawrenceville, and Petersburg, or to the right of that line. Major-General Slocum will conduct the Army of Georgia to Richmond by roads to the left of the one indicated for General Howard, viz, by Oxford, Boydton, and Nottoway Court-House. These armies will turn in at this point the contents of their ordnance trains, and use the wagons for extra forage and provisions. These columns will be conducted slowly and in the best of order, and will aim to be at Richmond ready to resume the march by the middle of May.

IV. The chief quartermaster and commissary of this military division, Generals Easton and Beckwith, after making the proper dispositions of their departments here, will proceed to Richmond and make suitable preparations to receive these columns and to provide for their further journey.

Maybe it would have saved a lot of shoe leather and spared the soldiers some blisters to have moved the force by rail and ship to Washington.  But with shipping capacity on the Atlantic seaboard already taxed just to keep the military in supply, any “boat ride” for the hard marching troops was difficult to arrange.  And why Washington?  Well, they were needed for a victory parade.  And beyond that, there was a growing desire, particularly from Congress, to start demobilizing the forces.  After all, those were “voting constituents” in uniform… and until they were mustered out, the government was paying and feeding them.

The route of the march home was designated on April 27.  Movement would start two days later.  The war was over for these men… all except for the memories and legacy they would carry north and into their post-war lives.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 321-325.)

April 21, 1865: “… making fair contracts in writing with the people to cultivate the land…” in South Carolina

On April 21, 1865, there were several matters competing for Major-General Quincy Gillmore’s attention. The day before Gillmore received word of Major-General William T. Sherman’s truce with General Joseph E. Johnston, which thus governed operations in the Department of the South.  Also arriving was news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  The former prompted adjustments to Gillmore’s active field operations.  The latter prompted General Orders No. 48 informing the command of Lincoln’s death.

Gillmore had many active field operations, the most important of which was Brigadier-General Edward Potter’s expedition.  Potter’s instructions were to march to Georgetown or Charleston, as best accommodated the situation.  Sherman’s latest correspondence put on hold a planned follow-on expedition to Augusta, Georgia.  Instead, Gillmore was content to detail Colonel Henry Chipman’s 102nd USCT to guard the railroad bridge over the Santee River, and serve as an advanced force protecting the area north of Charleston.

Gillmore updated instructions for interacting with the civilian population, given the arrival of news.  Colonel Stewart Woodford, Gillmore’s Chief of Staff, provided those in writing to General John Hatch on April 21 (and thus the third person “he” in the instructions):

[Gillmore] directs that our forces in this department cease all further destruction of public and private property. While you are to execute this order literally, still the major-general commanding directs that you suppress every manifestation of rebellious or disloyal feeling within your command. He has learned, unofficially, that there are some expressions of gratification in Charleston at the cruel murder of our late President, and that you summarily arrested the offending parties. He commends this action and desires you to compel a decent and quiet behavior on the part of all residing within your lines.

But that area north of Charleston – specifically that of Charleston County between the Cooper and Wando Rivers in St. Thomas’ Parish – was of keen interest to Gillmore and Hatch.  St. Thomas’, and in general the area north of Charleston, contained several large plantations and thus now had a large recently emancipated population.  Hatch wrote to Gillmore about this two days earlier asking for instructions to deal with the issues arising:

The immense number of negroes flocking into the city threaten us with a pestilence and them with starvation. No adequate steps are taken by General [Rufus] Saxton for their removal and establishment. He complains of want of transportation. Something should be done without delay. I propose to issue a letter to the planters on Cooper and Wando Rivers–in it to state that slavery being extinguished, all who desire to be loyal citizens and to reside on their plantations will be allowed to do so, making fair contracts in writing with the people to cultivate the lands in shares for this season. Those who do so will be encouraged and protected as far as military necessity will allow. I do not care about taking this step without the approval of the general, but I think if something is not done, and that immediately, we will have starvation among the freedmen.

Saxton was at that time charged with managing resettlement of emancipated slaves onto confiscated lands in accordance with Sherman’s Field Order No. 15, as issued in January of that year. But Saxton faced some serious logistical problems, given the limited amount of shipping and other transportation, moving the former slaves to the designated areas.  Furthermore, Saxton was running out of “40 acres” to provide for all those now free, given the spectacular success of Federal operations.

On April 21, Woodford forwarded Gillmore’s response to the crisis Hatch identified:

I am directed by the major-general commanding to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of April 19, 1865. He desires me to inform you that the steamer Canonicus, after having returned from Darien, Ga., will be at the disposal of Brevet Major-General Saxton, and sent to him with the least possible delay. I am furthermore directed to inform you that you are authorized to issue a letter to the planters on Cooper and Wando Rivers, north of Charleston City, for the purpose and according to the tenor mentioned in your communication of the 19th instant. You will be careful not to act upon the question of the settlement of the freedmen within the territorial limits prescribed in General Sherman’s Special Field Orders, No. 15, dated headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, in the Field, at Savannah, Ga., January 16, 1865, that matter within these limits having been by this order specially placed under General Saxton’s charge.

Thus, the military policy for the moment, given the lack of direction from Washington on the issue, allowed for two systems.  Saxton’s, operating under Sherman’s “40 acres and a mule” policy, continued for the selected confiscated lands, mostly on barrier islands.  And with Gillmore’s consent, Hatch would allow any planter, who took the oath of allegiance, to offer “fair contracts” to freedmen for their labor.  Woodford elaborated on that second system in a message to Saxton, just to make sure nobody’s toes were stepped on:

The major-general commanding directs me to inform you that he has received a letter from Brigadier-General Hatch, commanding the Northern District of the department, in which he states that he proposes to issue a letter to the planters on the Cooper and Wando Rivers, and to state therein that slavery being extinguished, all who desire to be loyal citizens and to reside on their plantations will be allowed to do so, making fair contracts in writing with the people to cultivate the land on shares this season, and that those who do so will be encouraged and protected so far as military necessity will allow.

Woodford added, for clear delineation, that the lands designated by Gillmore for Hatch’s purview were beyond those designated by Field Orders No. 15.

Certainly these two concurrent policies were not the “end state” that would apply to the question of freedmen and lands.  That would take us into a discussion of the post-war period and bring in the Freedmen’s Bureau.  My point in mentioning these orders issued on April 21, 1865 is to call out what would become a major issue during the Reconstruction period, as it was being evolved as part of a military operation.

Step back a bit further for a moment.  One of the considerations when assessing Reconstruction from the historian’s perspective is the nature of how the policies set forth by leaders – be they Lincoln, Johnson, or Grant – were implemented at the ground level.  We can all point to current events where that same factor holds play.  In the case of Reconstruction, much of that policy, at least for the initial phases, was implemented as part of a military operation.  A fascinating military operation, in context with American military operations since World War II, I would add.  Yet, I sense that in our rush to provide a simple description for the period, while rushing off to things like the Gilded Age, Robber Barons, and the run-up to World War I, that appreciation for the military aspects of Reconstruction is lost.

And with Reconstruction having a military component in play, there must be analysis of what could and could not be accomplished… operationally, in military terms.   You know, some of those “reach and grasp” discussions which often boil down to practical application of arithmetic and logistics.  Yes, there is a military history component… a very important military history component… to reconstruction.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 256, 273, 274.)