“I am strictly on the defensive”: Hardee and Davis consider arrangements to defend South Carolina

For Major-General William J. Hardee, commanding the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the conclusion of the Savannah Campaign in December 1864 left one redeeming positive result – his field army escaped largely intact.  Granted, that “army” was little more than a corps in terms of manpower. But having at least a force in the field was better than nothing.  With the likelihood of Major-General William T. Sherman’s next campaign venturing into South Carolina, that force was Hardee’s main bulwark against the Federals.

In a letter to Confederate President Jefferson C. Davis on January 8, 1865, Hardee outlined his dispositions and plans for the defense of South Carolina. Hardee opened discussing the former:

I am holding the line of railroad from the Savannah River to [Charleston]. The principal force on this line is at Pocotaligo, under Major-General McLaws, who when compelled to retire will take up the line of the Combahee, which I am actively engaged in fortifying. Major-General Wright’s division is stationed in the Fourth Sub-District principally to protect the approaches from John’s Island to the lower Combahee, inclusive. Brigadier-General Taliaferro’s division is distributed in the Second and Third Sub-Districts, principally on James and Sullivan’s Islands and in Christ Church Parish. Conner’s brigade when it arrives will be stationed near Charleston, whence it can re-enforce the Second, Third, or Fourth Sub-Districts. I have armed the heavy artillery as infantry, brigaded the entire command, and hope soon to provide it with field transportation. Of the force above mentioned. McLaws’ is the only command I regard as movable. The remainder is needed for the defense of Charleston.

Conner’s brigade, mentioned by Hardee, was that of Brigadier-General James Conner, formerly the South Carolina Brigade of Major-General John Kershaw.  Recall that South Carolina Governor Andrew G. MacGrath requested these men, and Kershaw, by name at the end of December.  That brigade, worn down in numbers after fighting in three major campaigns during 1864, was due for a refit.  It would not constitute a major reinforcement for Hardee.

Hardee’s dispositions were oriented on Charleston, considering that the main objective. Here’s how those looked on the map:


You may want to open this in Flickr and use the full screen option (set of arrows on the upper right of the page) to better read this broad scope map.  The map also shows the militia dispositions mentioned later in Hardee’s letter.  For simplicity I’ve depicted the divisional sectors as one solid line.  These were, of course, more or less lines of outposts.  Notice on the map where McLaw’s second line was drawn along the Combahee-Salkehatchie River.  This position gave up a significant portion of South Carolina, as a contingency to the Federal advance.  And as mentioned before, the plan was to leave nothing behind in that strip as the Confederate fell back.  This plan kept Charleston covered, but did little to protect the center of South Carolina.

Continuing, Hardee touched upon his plans in the event – somewhat inevitable – that Sherman advance into South Carolina:

I am acting strictly on the defensive, and unless heavily re-enforced must continue to do so. In case of a movement upon Charleston similar to that on Savannah, a movable force of 15,000 additional men operating outside of the city defenses will be required to oppose the enemy. If this force cannot be furnished, 5,000 regular troops will still be required for the present defensive line.

Success depended upon reinforcements.  But other than Conner’s brigade, what could Hardee call upon?  At hand was the state militia, or at least the promise of the state militia:

Governor Magrath promises to put in the field 5,000 militia, but I much question his ability to do so. I have requested him to place 1,500 militia at Barnwell, and a like number at Branchville, which with Wheeler’s cavalry will make the railroad from Augusta to Branchville secure. I have no reason to expect re-enforcements from Georgia other than Maj. Gen. G. W. Smith’s force of militia, now at Augusta, which is rapidly diminishing by desertion, and numbers less than 1,500 muskets.

The evaporation of the Georgia militia had to be considered in light of what had happened during the previous months.  With Georgia reeling from the campaigns from Atlanta to Savannah, the state was hurting.

Looking further afield, Hardee mentioned General John B. Hood’s command:

I have no information whatever from Hood, and have no reason to expect re-en-forcements from that quarter. My effective force in Carolina, exclusive of Conner’s brigade, is as follows: 3,500 regular infantry, 3,000 reserves, 1,100 militia, 3,100 heavy artillerists, 1,700 light artillery, and 6,100 cavalry.

The total, without Conner, without MacGrath’s “new” militia, and without Hood was only 18,500 men.  Sherman had some 58,500 men in the two wings of his command, not counting those in the Department of the South and others he could call upon.

To this plan, Davis responded on January 11:

Your plan seems to me judicious and I hope may, with Divine favor, prove successful. General Beauregard is probably by this time at Hood’s headquarters, and if troops have not already started to aid you he will, I am assured, make every exertion to re-enforce you from that army as rapidly as possible. You must use all means to obtain men from Georgia, either reserves, militia, or recruits. General Cobb can more effectually aid you by having his headquarters at Augusta. If your relations to Governor Brown enable you to influence him that is the means to be employed.

Clearly Davis had no better ideas to deal with the anticipated crisis.  As he wrote, Governor MacGrath initiated a series of correspondence with fellow governors.  Writing to Governor Zebulon Vance of North Carolina, MacGrath proposed, among other things, placing General Joseph E. Johnson in overall command of the forces facing Sherman and bringing Hood’s troops east to defend the Carolinas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 999 and 1003.)



A bold plan against the Confederate railroads: Seymour looks towards Branchville

When South Carolina seceded, Truman Seymour was a thirty-seven year old captain at the start of the war, stationed at Fort Moultrie.  He was among those who manned Fort Sumter during the opening battle of the war.  In the fall of 1862, he returned to serve as Major-General David Hunter’s Chief of Staff.  He’d taken field command and lead troops during the initial assaults on Battery Wagner in July 1863.  So you might say, for a Vermonter, he was very familiar with the area around Charleston.

In the last days of October, Seymour assumed temporary command of the troops on Morris Island, as Brigadier General Alfred Terry took leave.  Seymour took that opportunity to advance an idea about where to strike next in a memorandum addressed on October 31, 1863:

The Southern Confederacy consists of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, forming a line from Richmond to Mobile. Originally there were three great lines of communication through these States, but one has been lost by the permanent occupation of Chattanooga, and the value of the two remaining is, necessarily, greatly enhanced. Our permanent seizure of them would severely paralyze the Confederacy.

Now, attacks upon the flanks or extremities of this line, from Rich-mend to Mobile, even if perfectly successful, must be indecisive, if not futile, since the defeated armies are driven upon the center of this line, where they would concentrate their strength and avail themselves of interior lines.

Offensive movements, therefore, that can give us this advantage are greatly to be preferred, particularly if they place our armies upon the enemy’s communications.

Such movements cannot advantageously be made from Chattanooga. An advance from that point involves a march of 120 miles to Atlanta, and thence 80 more to Macon, in the face of a powerful army, holding strong defensive positions, by roads almost impracticable during winter, and with lines of supply so extended that even now they cannot be considered as perfectly secure. But these two routes approach very closely to the Atlantic coast between Charleston and Savannah.


The occupation of Charleston is, however, unessential, since it still leaves open the route by Kingsville, Branchville, and Augusta, and the swampy defiles in rear of Charleston would not easily be forced.

Between Charleston and Savannah are several excellent harbors from which deep streams penetrate far inland, and numerous “sea islands” that would serve as depots and bases. The Edisto, Ashepoo, Combahee, and Broad Rivers are navigable up to the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. A force suddenly thrown upon this road–which is rather watched than guarded–would appear to be with a view to an attack upon one or both the cities named. An advance of two days would suffice to reach Branchville. This point fortified, with communications protected by the Edisto and Combahee (or Savannah) Rivers, with the Ashepoo between navigable nearly to Walterborough, based upon the railroad from Jacksonborough to Coosawhatchie and the islands already in our possession, and all free communication ceases between the extreme States of the Confederacy.


Forty or fifty thousand men should commence such a movement, and as many more rapidly support it. The northern armies could supply that force as soon as winter forbids active operations. Volunteer and drafted troops would defend the Potomac meantime. If necessary, such detachments could return in the spring, although in all probability the battle would be fought entirely in South Carolina, and Lee’s army, if not a portion of Bragg’s, would be immediately withdrawn to oppose such permanent occupation of these vital lines of communication.

Large numbers of blacks would be enabled to enter our lines, and the country is at all seasons of the year exceedingly healthy, being “pine land,” and the roads excellent winter and summer, so that operations need never be hindered by the seasons.

These suggestions, affecting a projected theater of operations within this department, are therefore respectfully submitted.

Major-General Quincy Gillmore enthusiastically indorsed Seymour’s proposal, forwarding it along to Major-General Henry Halleck for consideration.

Halleck, however, had to consider other theaters and their pressing requests at the time Seymour’s suggestion arrived.  The situation at Chattanooga remained a tense knot.  The Army of the Potomac faced its traditional foe across the Rappahannock, and would within a few days cross and launch a short campaign of its own.  And General Nathaniel Banks had something up in Louisiana.  The Department of the South was, in the fall of 1863, returning to its place as a less active theater, with a commensurate reduction in forces due before the winter was over.

But Seymour’s proposal is good fodder for a game of “what if?”  Worth noting, the proposal did point to some of the same weaknesses considered by Confederates earlier in the month.

(Seymour’s memorandum is from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 112-115.)

Castle Pinckney Sold for $10!

You read that right!  Ten dollars!

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney as it Appeared in the Civil War

The current owner, the South Carolina State Ports Authority, agreed to sell the fort and grounds to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Camp 1269 for what you must agree is a very, very fair price.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney Today

The Ports Authority acquired Shutes’ Folly  back in the 1950s when the site fell off the list of sites under consideration for national monument status.  Facing budget concerns, the Ports Authority agreed to transfer the property to the SCV camp.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Wartime Photo Showing Troops in Formation at Castle Pinckney

I’ve visited Shute’s Folly many years back.  Certainly the remotest site of the Charleston, South Carolina forts.  Although the brickwork has crumbled and deteriorated, I was able to learn a great deal about the architectural aspects of the fort despite the overgrowth.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
Exterior of Castle Pinckney Today

At one time the Ports Authority used the island as a dredging spoil site, but I don’t think any of the historical structures were affected.  Over the years I’ve heard a number of attempts by the Ports Authority to introduce preservation efforts.  But none seemed to take root.  Hopefully this time the SCV’s efforts will bear fruit.

Speaking to the Charleston Post and Courier the SCV Camp’s commander Philip Middleton stated, “We didn’t want to see something out there like a sports bar, with neon lights.”

Another camp member, Bill Snow, added, “Our ultimate aim is to preserve this facility in a respectful and dignified way, to provide a visible link to the past for future generations in the Charleston area.  The fort is a part of our Lowcountry heritage and will be honored as such by the Fort Sumter Camp of the SCV.”

The fort was the first such installation occupied by South Carolina troops, and a significant event in the road to war.  And at the end of the war, it was among the installations in Charleston manned by US Colored Troops.  Those are a couple of reasons I’ve always considered the photo below among the most telling from the war period:

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney
African-American outside Castle Pinckney

I do hope the SCV is able to stabilize the site.  However I think restoration of the fort is out of the question for now.  But even in the current condition, the location might make an interesting “extended stop” for those on Fort Sumter tours.  Heck, I’d pay an extra $5 on the normal boat tour price for that stop.  Get one more of you to join with me, and the SCV camp breaks even!

(Photos and illustrations courtesy of Henry de Saussure Copeland, linked from a Flickr collection.)