Tag Archives: Roswell Ripley

Does Roswell Ripley deserve a marker?

I’ve mentioned Confederate Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley on a number of occasions during the sesquicentennial.  I’m tracing the story of things that happened around Charleston, South Carolina.  And Ripley was an important part of those events.  But to most Civil War students, Ripley is best known as one of thirty-three northern-born Confederate generals.   If you visit the town of Worthington, Ohio, you’ll find a state marker making note of that fact:

Brigadier General Roswell Sabin Ripley, CSA Marker

And that marker has caused a bit of a stir of late, at least in the local news.  On January 3 this year, Orin Hollander wrote a letter to the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, urging “the Worthington authorities to reconsider its continuation at that site.”  Hollander explained his objection:

I was outraged by the sign, as were a number of passersby who stopped to look at it. Ripley was a traitor to his country. He graduated from West Point and was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. That means that on multiple occasions, he took the solemn oath prescribed in Article VI of the Constitution to support the Constitution.

Of course, Mr. Hollander’s letter sparked a few comments in response.  And a Mr. C.A. Bennett opted to send in a letter of his own, insisting Ripley “deserves a plaque” (though I am sure readers would agree the item in question, pictured above, is definitely a historical marker and not a plaque).  Mr. Bennett provided a short biography of Ripley in defense of the marker’s presence I might quibble over some of the details. But for a short “street” version, it is not bad.  I think Mr. Bennett is the same individual who provided a longer biography of Ripley for Camp Ripley Sons of Confederate Veteran webpage. So if you want a longer, more detailed version, I direct you there.

What is important from Bennett’s response is in the opening paragraphs:

The Ripley plaque is actually an official Ohio Historical Marker erected in 2004. The text was submitted to the Ohio Historical Society for consideration, and approved on its historical, not political, merit.

It is on private property, approved by the owner of the building, which is Confederate Brig. Gen. Roswell Ripley’s birthplace.

In my opinion, Bennett’s letter could have stopped right there.  This marker stands in front of a structure worthy of notice, with a tie to historic events.  Plain and simple – the marker is there to relate facts.  And if you read the text (full text is transcribed on the HMDB entry), you see nothing but the basic facts of Ripley’s life – highlighting service in two armies.  Nothing there, at least to me, that glorifies any cause that Ripley served for.

Indeed, to cast a parallel here, there are numerous historical markers that feature events from Benedict Arnold’s life to include the place where he betrayed secrets to the British.  I think we can all agree those places are worth marking. Not to say Ripley should be assessed to the same level as Arnold, but if the worst one can say about Ripley is “he was a traitor” I don’t see that disqualifies him as a subject for a historical marker.  Quite the contrary!

As I read through the comments, I am reminded of why we cannot have any “general public” discussions about the Civil War… all those crazy, half-baked notions spring up as Johnson Grass after a week of rain.  And just like Johnson Grass, the crazy chokes out the good fodder that might otherwise thrive.  A lot of it is, as I would agree with Andy Hall, Heritage™ stuff.  What is driven off, in the case, is the history.  Why can’t we just study the history and not waste time trying to spin the heritage?

(Photo curtsey of Historical Marker Database, taken by J. J. Prats, August 12, 2007.)

Ripley’s Plan to recapture Morris Island

In October 1864, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley was beyond “fallen into disfavor.” Even General P.G.T. Beauregard recommended his relief.  But Ripley was not one to sit aside waiting for letters in the mail.  Perhaps looking for a way out of the “dog house,” on October 25, 1864, Ripley send forward a memorandum outlining a plan to retake Morris Island:

To recapture and occupy Morris Island the operation must take the nature of a surprise. The mechanical appliances of the enemy, his means of transportation, and vigilance, as well as the nature of the position, forbid any attempt at regular attack. The latter would certainly involve a greater loss of life and expenditure of material, even if successful, than a surprise would risk, and the chances of success are much in favor of the latter method. I would propose that in a period when high water is, at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, after the setting of the moon, the attempt should be made. A few days previous to it a demonstration of collecting troops at Bluffton should take place and strong reconnaissance of the vicinity of Hilton Head and Port Royal should be made by boats and any means in our power. The effect of this movement could be ascertained by watching the enemy’s fleet off Charleston; probably by his signals and the movements of the garrison of Morris Island. It would probably attract his attention, for the passage of Scull Creek from the main is quite easy, and the positions at Hilton Head and Beaufort, under present circumstances, are quite weakly garrisoned, and must remain so until the main operations in the field are over, or their localities changed.

For a conceptual plan, this is not too much of a reach – catch the tides right and make a diversionary move.  As for the Federal defenses, Ripley figured a garrison of only 2,500 on Morris Island, with Fort Shaw and the works on Cumming’s Point being the main strong points.

The main force called for in Ripley’s plan was some 3,000 men loaded on board “three light-draught and tolerably swift-running steamers from the blockade-runners….” These would carry boat howitzers, gang-planks, and other equipments to facilitate rapid debarkation.  Ripley wanted these vessels staged behind Battery Marshall on the northern end of Sullivan’s Island.  And…

On each boat there should be a naval detachment of sailors, under competent and cool officers, for handling the rigging of the planks and other duties of seamanship, and the captains, and engineers and pilots should be selected for their skill, coolness, and intrepidity.

Supporting the main effort would be several diversionary forces.  From Secessionville and Battery Haskell, detachments of 100 to 150 men in boats would mount demonstrations against Black Island.  Another force of 500 troops on boats at Charleston or staged behind Fort Johnson to appear poised in an attack on Cumming’s Point.  A cavalry force would appear on John’s Island to threaten the Stono Inlet anchorage.  And in the harbor, the gunboats and ironclads would make their presence known.    To facilitate coordination, Ripley wanted a telegraph run as a “hot loop” putting all commanders in direct contact.

On the appointed evening, two hours before the steamers left Breach Inlet, the boat forces would demonstrate against Black Island followed shortly after with actions towards Cummng’s Point.  All the batteries around the harbor would also open up on Morris Island.  The object was to draw forces away from Fort Shaw and the garrison camps to the north end of Morris Island and Black Island.  Ripley felt this would also pull the inner blockaders towards Cumming’s Point and open a path for his three steamers.

The two first steamers to run nearly together and to make with all speed for the southern extremity of Morris Island and run stem on shore, high and dry if possible. Gang-planks to be dropped at once and the men, rushing ashore over the bows, deploy forward advancing and move at a charging pace against Fort Shaw, which is about 100 yards from the shore and easily accessible. Axes and hatchets must be carried to cut away chevaux-de-frise if met with, but it is believed that this fort is unprovided. This fact can easily be ascertained. The fort being once occupied the boat howitzers must be brought in to increase the armament, cover taken against Folly Island, fire opened upon transports in the inlet, and a party sent down to drive the guard from the battery at Oyster Point. These duties will occupy at least half the force. The garrison of Fort Shaw is not very large, the main body being encamped to its north. The remainder of the troops must form across the island and advance at once toward Wagner, driving any troops which may be in the camp before them or taking them prisoners. While this progresses the commander of the third steamer diverges from the two first and runs his vessel on shore at Battery Wagner, striving to strike at the southeast angle, lands as at Battery Shaw, and storms the work while attention of the enemy is directed to Gregg. The party from Shaw re-enforces him, the guns of Wagner are opened upon the fleet and on the middle battery and Gregg. Our fleet and boats retire while all our batteries keep up their fire on Gregg, the middle battery and Black Island.

Ripley expected the Federals on Black Island and any isolated pockets on Morris Island to surrender.  Furthermore, the blockaders would have to pull back outside the bar.  Such would roll the situation at Charleston back and erase fifteen months of Federal progress.

A very complicated plan to say the least.  Just to give you a visual, I’ve dropped my interpretation of Ripley’s plan on a map of the Charleston area:


I’ve given my best guess as to the route for Ripley’s steamers to take.  I figure the steamers had to use dangerous Maffitt’s Channel for the move.  Otherwise the shoals required a long transit out and back through the outer blockade. And for all of this to work the Federals had to act in a very predictable pattern responding to the demonstrations.

Recognizing the complication and risk, Ripley submitted:

This appears, somewhat complicated as a measure of attack, but after a full consideration, I do not think any other promises so well. It depends upon secrecy and boldness of execution as well as careful judgment on such information as we can obtain. It ruins three steam-boats certainly, and if it fails, loses some 3,000 men. The advantages of success it is hardly necessary to speak of. We have often risked more on quite as hazardous expeditions, where less was to have been gained.

Considering Ripley’s plan, keep in mind three were only around 4,800 Confederates in the vicinity of Charleston.  Lieutenant-General William Hardee could call upon 12,446 effectives in all of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.  So to implement Ripley’s plan, reinforcements were needed.  And if successful, and the odds were long on that, the Confederates would only succeed in making Charleston a little more open to blockade runners.  By October 1864, 3,000 men was a rather large portion of the remaining chips to bet on a long shot.

On the other had, if this plan received at least some consideration, it would serve the purpose intended – giving Ripley some favorable attention.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 640-643.)

150 years ago: Captains Mitchel and Johnson recommended for promotion for service at Fort Sumter

The names of John Mitchel and John Johnson are as closely associated with Fort Sumter as Major Robert Anderson.  Mitchel spent much of his Civil War at Fort Sumter and by July 1864 was the garrison’s commander.  Johnson played an important role as the fort’s engineer, and post-war recalling details of the siege.  At this time 150 years ago the good work of these two captains attracted the attention of their superiors.  On July 16, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley wrote Confederate authorities in Richmond to recommend promotions:

I have the honor respectfully to request that Capt. John C. Mitchel, First South Carolina Artillery (enlisted), be appointed a major of artillery in the Provisional Army; also, that Capt. John Johnson, Engineers, be appointed a major of engineers in the same service.

Captain Mitchel has served with energy and fidelity since the war commenced. He is now and has been for some months commander of Fort Sumter, for which position his experience and qualifications peculiarly fit him, he having been on duty in that fort for most of the time since its capture, in April, 1861. He was second in command for most of the term of service of Lieutenant-Colonel (now Brigadier-General) Elliott as its commanding officer, and throughout his service has so conducted himself as to command the respect and commendation of every officer with whom he has been associated. It is proper that this important position should be commanded by a field officer, and I think that Captain Mitchel, by months of ceaseless vigilance and activity therein, as well as previous service, has fairly earned his promotion.

Ripley went on to also recommend and laud Captain John Johnson for service at Fort Sumter:

Captain Johnson has been the engineer officer of the fort since the 7th of April, 1863, and his activity, energy, and skill have principally contributed to the material preparation and repair which have thus far enabled the garrison to withstand the unprecedented cannonade and bombardment to which the work has been subjected.

His services in this position are eminently entitled to recognition, and his general qualifications are such as would enable him to perform the duties of a higher rank than that for which he is recommended.

Ripley closed noting the importance of Fort Sumter, should those in Richmond be distracted by the current situation miles outside the city:

The possession of Fort Sumter, besides its material necessity, has become a point of honor, and I think there can be no doubt of the propriety of fully recognizing the services of those who are engaged in its gallant defense.

Endorsing these requests, Major-General Samuel Jones added the promotions would “stimulate others to emulate their example.”

There’s a old superstition about promotions in the field.  Some consider it a bad omen.  In the cases of Mitchel and Johnson, even a recommendation for promotion might be considered a bad omen.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 589-90.)

July 18, 1864: “I am greatly in want of baskets and gabions.”: Engineers work to repair Fort Sumter amid bombardment

On July 18, 1864, the messages intercepted and decoded by Federal signal troops included this request from Fort Sumter, addressed to Lieutenant W.G. Young:

Remember, I am greatly in want of baskets and gabions.  The barges failed last night; the excuse given was the weather, which was no obstacle at all.  I think they should be reported; it was neither rough nor blowing, and the rain was not hard.  Send the plank, but not the heavy timber.

Readers will be familiar with the author of the message – Captain John Johnson, engineer working in Fort Sumter.  The gabions he requested were similar to these seen in photos taken at the end of the war:

In fact, that photo shows Johnson’s handiwork along with the gabions.  And a few of the heavy timbers that he didn’t need on July 18. He was working against the destruction done by Federal guns, which rendered portions of the fort little more than rubble piles.

Earlier bombardments of Fort Sumter focused on reducing the armament or certain defensive structures in the fort. The aim of the Third Great Bombardment was to physically reduce the fort.  The intent was to continue  “until the walls are demolished,” in Foster’s words.

Johnson’s task, on the other hand, was to shore up the fort’s walls so the Confederates retained at least a post, and limited artillery platform, at the harbor entrance.  Writing after the war, Johnson admitted some “anxiety” over the situation.  Not in all due to the effectiveness of the Federal efforts, but more so due to the shortage of hands to do the work. The labor force allocated to the fort was cut at the end of spring, due to pressing requirements elsewhere.  Now Johnson renewed requests for more labor in order to repair the damage being done.

On July 7, Captain John Mitchel, commanding the fort, pressed Johnson’s request for more laborers up the chain.  In reply, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley indicated neither laborers or troops were available on July 10.   Only as Federal pressure eased on James Island were resources released for work at Fort Sumter.  In Johnson’s words, “… with a hundred and fifty workmen and mechanics the anxieties of the situation were soon allayed.”

In the interim, the fort suffered substantial damage:

At first the fire, directed at the gorge, left its marks there in deep furrows, flattening the already practicable slope and wasting away much of its substance.  Within a week the crest was breached in three places and reduced at one point, the gap previously mentioned, to a height of only twenty feet above the water; a chamber of the abandoned magazine at the eastern end of the gorge was also breached; and the boom, anchored off the south-eastern angle, was broken so as to show an opening of about twenty feet in width.

This was the result of a heavy and constant bombardment.  From Confederate roll-up report comparing the daily tally*, the numbers were:

  • July 11 – 172 hits in the day, 51 at night, 16 missed.  Total – 239.
  • July 12 – 157 hits in the day, 31 at night, 14 missed. Total – 202.
  • July 13 – 202 hits in the day, 45 at night, 51 missed. Total – 298.
  • July 14 – 279 hits in the day, 73 at night, 42 missed. Total – 394.
  • July 15 – 219 hits in the day, 141 at night, 71 missed. Total – 404.
  • July 16 – 166 hits in the day, 62 at night, 55 missed. Total – 283.
  • July 17 – 166 hits in the day, 44 at night, 70 missed. Total – 280.
  • July 18 – 109 hits in the day, 93 at night, 62 missed. Total – 264.
  • July 19 – 327 hits in the day, 174 at night, 193 missed. Total 694.
  • July 20 – 310 hits in the day, 194 at night, 202 missed. Total 706.

Through this mid-July period, the Federals expended over 3,700 rounds.  An average of over 375 per day… or just over fifteen every hour.  One every four minutes, give or take.  And this was an “backwater” theater, mind you!  Often Federal fires came from a handful of guns, being worked specifically against particular sections of Fort Sumter.

Over the same period, Mitchel reported five killed and fifteen wounded in the Fort’s Garrison.  Relatively light considering the amount of projectiles fired.

One other consideration in regard to Johnson’s message of July 18.  The message was one of many observed by Federals on Morris Island then decoded thanks to the work of Sergeant John Colvin.  This was a wig-wag message.  A telegraph system connected Fort Sumter to Fort Johnson, and was used for communications.  There is no reference to problems with the telegraph at that time.  Perhaps there were issues with the telegraph that day.  Or perhaps the telegraph was busy with other messages of higher priority.  Regardless, this was a communications “leak” to which the Federals were privy.

  • These figures come from a roll-up provided by Captain Thomas Huguenin on August 1, 1864, and do not often match those reported daily by Captain Mitchel in the same period.  A discrepancy I will look at in a subsequent post.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 591; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, pages 225.)

June 23, 1864: New fortifications or rice? Sam Jones addresses conflicting needs and labor assignments

Much of the labor force employed around Charleston and Savannah came from slave labor, by calling upon the slave owners (be that a direct draft, impressment, or voluntary). During his tenure in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, General P.G.T. Beauregard found the need to balance work on fortifications with other needs.  In particular, Beauregard considered the need to tend crops in the field.  Coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia were still major producers of rice.   With other grain producing regions pressed by Federal advances, the rice from those coastal counties was more important than ever to the Confederacy.

In the summer of 1864, Major-General Samuel Jones, then commanding the department, saw the same conflicting requirements as Beauregard the year before.  He addressed the issue, somewhat, in orders to Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley, commanding the First Military District of South Carolina, on June 23, 1864:

General: As it is of great importance, in the present state of our forces, to cause the defensive works of our most important points to be finished without delay, and of but little less to effect this object with as little interference with the agricultural labor of the country as possible, I desire that you will take steps to obtain from the rice planters in this vicinity the services of as many hands as can be spared during the coming period when their crop is laid by, and make such preparation as will insure that this labor shall be expended to the best advantage, and that proper care and attention is given to the negroes.

It is my wish that under no circumstances shall the negroes be retained when their services are required for gathering in the crop. The usual pay will be allowed and the labor furnished by each planter reported to the State agent to be credited him in future calls.

The priority, set by Jones, was to the crops first and then to the defenses.  Ripley could, however, contact the slave-owners directly, so long as the state-level agents were informed.

Ripley’s command included Sullivan’s Island, where Federals had often cast an eye as to the next move against Charleston.  So Jones must have considered the prioritization with deliberation.    This was yet another aspect of the pressure placed upon Charleston by Major-General John Foster’s Federals.  Measuring the number of troops retained at Charleston who could have fought in Virginia (which by June 1864 was arguably small) is easy.  Measuring the day’s worth of rations that Foster could, by exerting more pressure, deprive the Confederate field armies is a bit harder to calculate.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 537.)


Battery Glover: “This work is intended for five guns”

The subject for the second installment of “Fortifications around Charleston in Detail” is Battery Glover.  I discussed this battery last year when detailing the fortifications around Charleston as they existed in the spring of 1863.  So Battery Glover should be no stranger here.  However the battery is one of the more obscure in the defenses, having saw no substantial action during the war.

Name:  Originally referenced as “Lawton Battery.”  Renamed Battery Glover in November 4, 1862, under General Orders #88 (OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, Page 666).  A couple of secondary sources mention “Battery Styles” at this location.  But that designation is tenuous, in my opinion.

Named for:  There is no official notice on the naming of this fort.  The most likely is Colonel Thomas J. Glover, Colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, who was killed at Second Manassas in late August 1862 (from what I understand, on Chinn Ridge).

Location: James Island, facing Charleston Harbor’s south channel.


Description: A battery fronting the inner portion of Charleston Harbor.  Four or five gun positions (the fifth may not have been completed).  Frontage of approximately 110 yards.  Height of parapet was about 10 feet above ground level.  Ditch in front of works roughly three feet deep.  Depth of works, including magazine, was 70 yards.  Internal dimensions of magazine approximately 75 by 25 feet.

Purpose: According to a circular from Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley, from December 1862, Battery Glover was part of the inner circle (or third) of fire designed to protect Charleston Harbor.  “Should any vessel succeed in passing the second circle of fire the third will be formed and put into action by the guns of White Point Battery and Battery Glover, with such guns of Forts Johnson and Ripley and Castle Pinckney as will bear.” (OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, Page 734).

Captain John Johnson’s map demonstrates how Battery Glover covered the Ashley River channel in conjunction with those other fortifications.


Established:  Prior to the fall of 1862.

Plans, photographs and other depictions:   There may be at least one wartime photograph of Battery Glover from the harbor, but I don’t have a copy to post. Federal engineers made detailed diagrams of the battery after the fall of Charleston, providing a plan of the battery:


The profile on section 1 showed three guns in position, with a fourth position left empty.  This matched Confederate descriptions of the armament in January 1865 (see below).


Section 2 profile demonstrated the ditch in front of the works and the height of the walls.


The central magazine extended well back of the gun platforms.


Armament:  Varied during the war:

  • March 3, 1863 – One rifled 32-pdr and three smoothbore 32-pdr guns, with an unmounted 8-inch shell gun.   Brigadier-General S.R. Gist wrote, “This work is intended for five guns, some of which are now in position, viz: One rifled 32-pounder and three smoothbore 32-pounders on barbette carriages; the fifth gun, an 8-inch shell gun (navy), is awaiting its carriage. This gun, not being intended for solid shot, would be more serviceable if placed in the front battery at Secessionville in lieu of the rifled 24-pounder now in that battery, and its position filled by a gun of long range and one capable of projecting heavy solid shot or bolts.”  (OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 605.).
  • August 1863 – The 8-inch shell gun went to Redoubt No. 1 on the James Island line (OR, Series I, Volume 28, Serial 47, page 256).  Orders passed down to prepare two 10-inch columbiad platforms in the battery (Ibid, page 286).
  • October 21, 1863 – armament reduced to three rifled 32-pdr guns (OR Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 148).    However, in a report on the defenses, “It is advisable to place a heavier armament in Battery Glover, when it can be obtained, and the present armament should then be sent to localities better suited for it” (Ibid, page 433).
  • May 25, 1864 – Inventory by Major George Upshur Mayo states the battery had two 42-pdr rifled, single banded guns, with 151 bolts, 100 shells, and 110 pounds of cannon powder (OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 505-9).
  • January 1865 – Three 8-inch columbiads (OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 1025).

Significant actions and activity:  The battery was not involved with any major actions, as the Federals never tested the inner defenses.  In May 1864, Mayo reported “This battery is not in order. The eccentrics of the carriages require adjusting. The magazines are good.”

Units assigned and commanders:  In March 1863, the battery had 75 personnel assigned.  In June 1863, Company G, 2nd South Carolina Volunteer (Heavy) Artillery garrisoned the fort (OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, page 162).  Mayo’s report of May 25, 1864 indicated “Captain [John] D. Johnson commanding; Lieut. R.M. Anderson sick since May 8; Lieut W.D. Scarborough sick in camp about six weeks.”  These officers were part of Company E, Palmetto Battalion, South Carolina Artillery (3rd Battalion, Light Artillery).

Status today:  In the mid-1990s, I visited this site and noted a slight trace of remains.  But I don’t know if those are extant today.  The site is on private property.  I don’t know who the owner is now, and out of respect for that won’t  post the exact location here.

Mystery night balloons from Capers’ Island: An odd Confederate report

It’s Friday and I’m feeling in a lighter mood with respect to blogging.  So here’s a bit of a mystery from the Civil War records – a report from Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley, sent to General Beauregard’s headquarters in Charleston, one day shy of 150 years ago:

Mount Pleasant, January 25, 1864.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Jordan:

I have information that balloons have gone up for the last three nights from Capers’ Island; they have not gone up in the daytime. The object must have been to discover camp-fires. I have given directions to insure their seeing a number of them after to-night, and shall commence rocket practice. Shall also send a reconnoitering party in that direction.

R. S. Ripley,

Balloons?  Night balloons at that!

Capers’ Island is northeast of Sullivan’s Island, specifically between Long Island and Bull’s Island as part of the chain of barrier islands on the coast.


During the war, activity there was limited to patrols and soundings.  No record of any large Federal landings… or specific to this report, balloon operations.  In order for the Federals to operate a balloon there, the Army would need the Navy’s support and a whole lot of “stuff” landed on Capers’ Island (or some naval ship serving as balloon-carrier, which did exist at the time BTW).  More to the point, there’s no official records pointing to Federal balloon activity anywhere in the Department of the South in January 1864.

So if we rule out an Army balloon team operating on Capers’ Island, what did Ripley’s observers see?  If we can rule out Federal balloon activity, likewise we can dismiss Confederate balloons.   Perhaps observers were witnessing some natural phenomenon – temperature inversions, Venus or other planet from an unusual viewing angle, or “swamp gas.”  Or….


Should we be suspicious this report came from Roswell Ripley????

Another possibility to consider – Ripley might have exaggerated (I won’t say “fabricated” or “lied” unless other information comes to light) the observations to catch the attention of his commander.  The message carried a postscript, “Forward to Savannah if General Jordan is there.”  At the time General Beauregard was in Savannah.  He was partly there to inspect the defenses, as Federal activity was expected.  He was also there to consult with local commanders about a recent attempt at mutiny at one of the fortifications.  Coincidentally, there had been a threat of mutiny from the ranks in Ripley’s command on Sullivan’s Island.  Maybe Ripley wanted to shift his commander’s attention back to Charleston’s main defenses.

Setting aside the balloon question, this report offers some fodder for sidebar discussions.  Ripley indicated his troops were taking what we’d call today counter-intelligence measures – lighting up more campfires to confuse any Federal observer.  And secondly, he planed to “commence rocket practice.”  Both sides used signal rockets throughout the war.  These were generally pyrotechnic devices, or in plain speak – fireworks.  While I cannot rule out the notion Ripley would fire a rocket AT a balloon to shoot it down, more likely the “practice” was simply another measure to confuse enemy observers.

Ripley’s half dozen lines are the only mention of balloons operating on that sector of the South Carolina coast.  Official records are silent on any other activity, save routine patrols.  At any rate, if you see Charleston mentioned on some future History Channel program, you heard it here first.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 543.)