Summary Statement, 3rd Quarter, 1863 – Connecticut

Connecticut provided three light batteries to the Union cause during the Civil War.  Of those, only two were in service at the end of September 1863.  And that is what we see on the summary lines for the state in the third quarter, 1863:

0241_1_Snip_CT

This is half the story, but let us start with these lines:

  • 1st Connecticut Light Artillery Battery: Reporting at Folly Island, South Carolina with six 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain Alfred P. Rockwell remained in command, with the battery still assigned to Tenth Corps, Department of the South.  The battery  supported Colonel Thomas W. Higginson’s Edisto Expedition, aimed to divert Confederate attention from Morris Island.  The 1st Connecticut lost two guns, on board tug Governor Milton when that vessel ran aground and was burned.  The guns were recovered by Confederates.  With the four remaining guns, Rockwell’s Battery went to Folly Island, where they replaced a set of Quaker Guns covering Lighthouse Inlet.  The battery received replacements for the lost cannon.  The battery history insists, “They were of the latest pattern and much praised by the comrades.”  But the battery went on reporting six James rifles into the spring of 1864.  In November, Rockwell took a brief leave and Lieutenant George Metcalf, to the dismay of the men, held temporary charge of the battery.
  • 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery Battery: Reporting from New York City with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Still under Captain John W. Sterling and part of the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve, the battery was among the forces dispatched north in response to the New York Draft Riots.  Sterling’s battery supported Brigadier-General Thomas Ruger’s brigade in August.  In October, the battery returned to duty at Washington, D.C.

However, there were two other batteries we should mention here.  Batteries B and M, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery served the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.  Under Captains Albert F. Booker and Franklin A. Pratt, respectively, each was armed with four 4.5-inch siege rifles.  And they would haul those guns up and down central Virginia during the Bristoe Campaign.  Pratt would put his guns to good use on November 7, 1863 at Kelly’s Ford.  We can understand the omission from the summaries, as these were “heavy” batteries with “siege guns.”

Moving down to the ammunition, the two howitzers of Sterling’s battery had rounds on hand:

0243_1_Snip_CT

  • 2nd Battery: 120 shell, 160 case, and 32 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.

It’s over on the columns for rifled projectiles we find all the activity.  First the Hotchkiss types:

0243_2_Snip_CT

  • 1st Battery: 190 shot, 50 percussion shell, 80 fuse shell, and 360 bullet shell for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 136 percussion shell and 240 bullet shell for 3.80-inch rifles.

There is one more Hotchkiss entry on the next page:

0244_1_Snip_CT

  • 2nd Battery: 24 canister for 3.80-inch rifles.

To the right are columns for James’ patent projectiles:

  • 1st Battery: 132 canister for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 28 shell and 56 canister for 3.80-inch rifles.

Lastly, both batteries reported Schenkl shells:

0244_2_Snip_CT

  • 1st Battery: 458(?) shell for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 156 shell for 3.80-inch rifles.

Overall, a good quantity of rifled projectiles on hand.  Even if for the less desired James rifles.

Lastly, we have the small arms reported:

0244_3_Snip_CT

By battery:

  • 1st Battery:  Seventy-nine Navy revolvers, thirteen cavalry sabers, and forty-six horse artillery sabers.
  • 2nd Battery: Eighteen Navy revolvers and fifteen horse artillery sabers.

Summaries posted later in the war were less particular about the distinction of “light” or “heavy” duties.  So all four Connecticut batteries would appear together.  But for the third quarter of 1863, we have to pretend there are two more lines on the form.  The odd twist here was the two “heavy” batteries were serving with a field army.  All the while, the two “light” batteries, for all practical purposes, were serving garrison roles!

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“To those who doubt whether the negro soldiers will fight…”: Skirmish on the Pocotaligo

Raids from Port Royal into the coastal plantations of South Carolina and Georgia were commonplace by the fall of 1863.  Starting early that year, these raids focused on something more than simple harassment of Confederate posts.  As seen with the St. Mary’s River expedition,the Combahee Raid, and later Edisto River operation, Federal forces engaged in what I’d cite as the active component of the Emancipation Proclamation.   Another of those type operations took place on November 23-24, 1863.

Tipped that a group of thirty slaves were gathering in the vicinity of Pocotalio, South Carolina, Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton in Port Royal dispatched a small force to that vicinity.  Captain John E. Bryant, of the 8th Maine Infantry, lead this force, consisting of sixty men of Companies E and K, 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (soon to be the 33rd US Colored Troops).  Bryant had already established a reputation as a scout in the swamps and marshes.  Captain Alexander Heasley, of Company E, and Captain Henry Whitney, of Company K, commanded their respective detachments under Bryant.

CunninghamsBluff

The raiders would advance by way of ships up the Broad River to the Pocotalio River. There they would move by boats through the marshes to a landing and proceed on foot to the designated rendezvous point. Along the way, they had to capture a known Confederate picket post along the Broad River in order to keep the movement secret.

Execution of the first phases of the raid fell not to a white officer, but to a black sergeant in the ranks of Company K, as Saxton reported:

The pickets, 2 in number, with their horses, were captured. Sergt. Harry Williams, of Company K, went with a party and liberated 27 slaves on the Heyward plantation, 6 miles in advance of our force and within 4 miles of the enemy’s headquarters. Great credit is due this dusky warrior for the skill with which he managed his part of the affair.

HarryWilliams
Sergeant Harry Williams

Coming back with the freed slaves, the party ran into fog that prevented their return to the boats. The raiding party, escaped slaves, and Heasley’s covering force waited in the fog for the boats. Meanwhile, according to a report filed by Brigadier General William S. Walker, Confederate commander of the Third Military District, a rebel detachment responded to alarms sent from Heyward’s plantation.

They were closely pursued by Captain [J. T.] Foster, with 25 men of Rutledge’s regiment of cavalry. The negroes took shelter in a very dense thicket near Cunningham’s Bluff (opposite Hall’s Island). Captain Foster dismounted his command and charged them, in skirmishing order.

In Foster’s party were a group of men in charge of bloodhounds.  Walker described the pursuit as a “fox chase.” Heasley waited until the dogs were practically upon the force before ordering bayonets against the dogs, followed by a volley against the Confederates. This killed three of the dogs and drove off Foster’s men for the moment.   Other Confederate forces under Colonel B.H. Rutledge arrived, but were unable to get at the Federal party due to the marshes.

As the Federal force withdrew further, the Confederates continued to press them.  Whitney’s detachment, which was positioned to guard the bluffs, then ambushed the pursuers. Saxton wrote, “he opened fire upon them, killing, among others, the commander of the company and the remaining bloodhounds.”  Saxton added:

To those who doubt whether the negro soldiers will fight, this daring act of Captain Whitney and his little band of 10, opening fire unhesitatingly upon a full company, not less than 100 of the enemy’s cavalry, and repulsing them, this will be a startling fact.

With that, the raiding force returned to the boats and departed for Port Royal Sound.

Federal reports mentioned seven wounded, though none seriously.  But Rufus claimed five Confederate killed and many more wounded, out of an estimated 1,000 (!) sent in pursuit.  On the other hand, Walker reported only three wounded, none seriously.  One of the two captured pickets later escaped.  Walker added, “this is the first time the men of this portion of the command have been under fire.”

Both accounts emphasized the employment of the dogs in the pursuit.  In Army Life in a Black Regiment, Colonel Thomas Higginson added some perspective:

The whole command was attacked by a rebel force, which turned out to be what was called in those regions a “dog-company,” consisting of mounted riflemen with half a dozen trained bloodhounds.  The men met these dogs with their bayonets, killed four or five of their old tormentors with great relish, and brought away the carcass of one.  I had the creature skinned, and sent the skin to New York to be stuffed and mounted, meaning to exhibit it at the Sanitary Commission Fair in Boston; but it spoiled on the passage. These quadruped allies were not originally intended as “dogs of war,” but simply to detect fugitive slaves, and the men were delighted at this confirmation of their tales of dog-companies, which some of the officers had always disbelieved.

To some degree these raiding actions were simply wide scale slave escapes, now encouraged by forces which only years earlier had been legally bound against such activity.  However, in the broader context of the Civil War, these raids were sapping away the labor force on which the Confederacy depended.  At the same time, raids such as that conducted on the Pocotaligo 150 years ago were manifestations of a war policy set forward with the Emancipation Proclamation, and reiterated only days earlier at Gettysburg.  The best counter to the “dog-companies” was an armed U.S Colored Troops detachment.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 745-6; Thomas W. Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment, Oxford University, 1870, pages 230-1.)

“No private property… was burned or pillaged.”: Higginson’s Edisto expedition

Thus far in discussing Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore’s campaign against Charleston, I’ve focused on Morris Island. Recall a few days ago the mention of two diversions launched at the same time – one up the Stono River to James Island and another expedition up the Edisto River (or as it is known to some, the Pon-Pon River). Working somewhat from left to right, let me turn to the Edisto River expedition.

GillmorePlan1

Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (or Colored Troops, as it is also called in the reports), commanded that expedition. Higginson and his regiment were no strangers to such operations, being active since the first of the year. Their objective was the railroad bridge over the Edisto at Jacksonborough.

Higginson left Hilton Head on the afternoon of July 9 with 250 men of his regiment along with a section from the 1st Connecticut Battery. The force used the Army steamer John Adams, the transport Enoch Dean, and a tug named Governor Milton. At night, the expedition entered the St. Helena Sound and then the South Edisto River.

By 4 a.m. the next morning, Higginson’s force reached the village of Willstown, just past the split of the North and South Edisto. As the sun rose, Higginson sent a landing party of 30 men under Lieutenant James B. West to secure the town and nearby bluffs. He also prepared to clear obstacles in the river that blocked the course upstream. On the shore were some 200 slaves who’d gotten word of the expedition, by way of Harriet Tubman’s network, and now waited their passage to freedom.

EdistoExpd

A two gun section of the Chesnut Artillery under Lieutenant Thomas G. White guarded Willston. White sent one of his guns out to fire on the Federals. (Marked as position 1 on the map.) Opening at 4:45, White fired only a few rounds before a broken friction-primer disabled the gun. His other gun was likewise disabled when the crew shoved a ball into the bore without a cartridge! Without infantry or cavalry support, White withdrew his section for repairs.

Clearing a path through the river obstacles took three hours. And then Higginson waited until noon for the tide to run up the Edisto. Even then the Milton briefly ran aground.

While the Federals struggled in the river, Colonel H.K. Aiken, 6th South Carolina Cavalry, with 100 troopers arrived to command the Confederate reaction. He sent troopers to regain Willstown and directed White’s battery to the river (generally at position 2 on the map). The cavalry ran into West’s men, starting a brisk skirmish that continued most of the day. White arrived at about the same time the Milton came off her first grounding. Federal fire kept White’s guns out of range and the expedition passed beyond Morris’ Mill. But not too far before the boats again ran aground. After waiting another hour for the rising tide current, the boats proceeded further upriver.

About three miles from their objective, the Dean ran aground. The Milton proceeded further, but was soon stopped by heavy fire from a section of the Washington (South Carolina) Artillery under Captain George Walter, posted near the Dr. Glover Plantation (position 3 on the map). After an hour spent exchanging shots, the Federals retired downstream.

As the Federals retired, they ran into White’s gunners (still around position 2 on the map) and reinforcements in the form of a section from the Marion Artillery under Lieutenant Robert Murdoch. The Confederate gunners scored hits on the Federals and hastened the withdrawal to Willstown. While attempting passage back through the river obstacles, the Milton ran afoul them. All attempts to pull the tug off failed. So the Federals set the vessel on fire before abandoning her. Left in the burning hulk were two bronze 6-pdr guns James Rifles of the 1st Connecticut Battery.

Meanwhile Aiken, attempting to catch the Federals before they could get away, sent his troopers into Willstown only to find the Federal pickets withdrawn and the gunboats passing downriver. Save a few shots at the boats, the expedition was over.

Gillmore considered the expedition a failure. The raid did not distract Confederates from Charleston, nor did it break the railroad to Savannah. Higginson recorded capture of two prisoners, freeing 200 contrabands, and making off with 6 bales of “cotton of the best quality.” His losses were two killed. Not often you can show some record of all those killed in a particular action. But here I can. Matching Higginson’s report are the certificates for Private July Green…

July Green2

… and Private William S. Verdier.

William Verdier

On the Confederate side, Aiken reported only one wounded. However he was most angered by the damage left behind:

The enemy burned the mill of Colonel Morris, and in their despoliation upon the residences at Willstown left unmistakable evidences of their despicable character as a set of thieves and marauders. They took off about 120 to 130 negroes, all of whom evidently had been informed of this intended raid, as the sound of the first gun seemed a signal for them to assemble on board of the transport, where they were taken soon after daylight, and moved down South Edisto.

However, Higginson insisted otherwise:

For what of transportation, we left behind a number of fine horses; we destroyed large quantities of rice by burning the houses, and cut the dams of the rice-fields. No private property, not amenable to military rules, was burned or pillaged, though there was abundant opportunity for so doing.

There you have, 150 years ago, contrasting versions of the actions that echo through our collective memories of the events today. Were these despoliations on the Edisto? Or simply destruction of legitimate military targets?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 195 and 186.)

“… a surprise in order to insure success.”: Gillmore’s Plan for Morris Island

Since taking command of the Department of the South, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore worked with a single focus in mind – Morris Island. That barrier island was the first advance, he thought, toward Charleston. And Charleston was his objective. Having taken stock of the situation, and consulted his subordinates, Gillmore decided to use the foothold which Brigadier-General Israel Vogdes built on Folly Island as a spring-board onto Morris Island. There Gillmore would practice the art of siege, in which he’d earned a great reputation the year before, and destroy Fort Sumter.

Gillmore’s naval counterpart, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren, arrived to assume command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron on July 4, 1863. In conference with Gillmore, Dahlgren agreed to support the plan. If successful, the Army would open the door to Charleston for the Navy to follow through.

On the surface, the plan was complex but played directly against Confederate weaknesses and sensitivities:

The project for obtaining a lodgment on Morris Island comprised three distinct operations.

First. The real attack from Folly Island to partake of the nature of a surprise.

Second. A demonstration in force on James Island, by way of the Stono River, designed to prevent re-enforcements to the enemy on Morris Island from that quarter, and, if possible, draw a portion of the Morris Island garrison in that direction.

Third. The cutting of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad at Jacks[on]borough by ascending the South Edisto River, in order to delay re-enforcements from Savannah, should the real attack be temporarily checked or prematurely divulged.

I’ve depicted these three operations in light blue on the map below (with dashed blue indicating the Federal lines and solid green line depicting the railroad):

GillmorePlan1

In addition to interdicting reinforcements, the move against Jacksonborough touched General P.G.T. Beauregard’s very sensitive nerve on the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. Colonel Thomas Higginson and the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (later the 33rd USCT) received that mission.

Likewise, the feint against James Island touched another sensitive spot – a potential “back door” to Charleston. Brigadier-General Alfred Terry commanded a division (which dressed out more as a reinforced brigade with about 3,800 men) for this assignment. Troops in this expedition included the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. The force moved with support of two navy gunboats and a mortar schooner. If successful, this feint would pin down significant Confederate forces that otherwise might shift to Morris Island.

But the main effort fell on Morris Island. Gillmore took stock of the difficulties of such an assault across open water. So to improve the odds, he took great pains to conceal the buildup of forces. “It was necessary that the attack on Morris Island should be a surprise to insure success. Secrecy was, therefore, an essential element in the preparations.” This not only included concealment of troops and artillery, but also timing of the arrival of transport ships from Hilton Head. As set forth on July 8, the plan looked as such (my most colorful map yet!):

GillmorePlan2

Command of the assault fell to Brigadier-General George Strong. As a precursor to the main assault, a small force to exit Folly Island Creek, then across Light House Inlet, to “enter the creek to the west of Morris Island, and will land just north of the old light house, seize the batteries there, and, if possible, turn them upon the enemy’s encampment north of them.” This force was to start movement on the evening of July 8.

The main force, roughly four regiments in size, would “land from Light-House Inlet, carry the batteries on the south end of Morris Island, and advance to the support of the detachment above mentioned.” This force would launch its crossing before daybreak on July 9.

Supporting this crossing, the thirty-two rifled pieces and fifteen mortars in Federal batteries on Folly Island would open fire at daybreak on July 9. A force of four boats armed with boat howitzers would work down the inlet to suppress the Confederate defenders. Moving up the ocean side of Morris Island, four monitors would fire shot, shell, and, if in range, grapeshot. Gillmore held two additional regiments and a force of artillery in reserve on Folly Island.

To support exit of Folly Island Creek, Gillmore ordered Colonel Edward Serrell, 1st New York Engineers, to remove pilings erected earlier by Federals to obstruct that waterway (depicted in yellow on the map above). Serrell employed a floating saw similar to that used along the Mississippi a year earlier to clear river snags and trees.

PlateII

Serrell’s engineers began this work on the evening of July 8, eventually clearing a path 32 feet wide. Serrell reported “a pile 10 or 12 inches in diameter was cut off in an average length of time of from six to seven minutes.” After clearing the pilings, Serrell turned his attention to preparing a bridge to span the inlet. He’d constructed what we’d call today a pre-fabricated bridge at Hilton Head.

PlateI

The plan was to lay that bridge on the morning of July 9.

Gillmore posted orders for all these moves to start on the evening of July 8, 1863. But bad weather caused a postponement until the evening of July 9. The delay necessitated modifications to the plan. Terry’s feint had already sailed up the Stono River by this time and was not recalled. But the main assault force received orders dictating a new arrangement for crossing:

I. The attack on Morris Island, ordered for this morning but postponed in consequence of the inclemency of the weather and other unfavorable circumstances, will take place to-morrow morning at break of day by opening our batteries at the north end of Folly Island. General Strong’s brigade, or so much of it as the small beats can accommodate, will embark to-night, and hold itself in Folly Island Creek, ready to move forward, and at the proper time occupy the south end of Morris Island.

II. Lieut. Commander Francis W. Bunce, U.S. Navy, with four navy howitzer launches, will approach Light-House Inlet at daybreak, by way of Folly Island Creek, and engage the enemy’s rifle-pits and batteries on Morns Island in flank and reverse, choosing his own position. He will cover General Strong’s landing.

III. Two regiments of infantry, a battery of light artillery, and five Requa rifle batteries will be held in readiness to re-enforce General Strong promptly. Brigadier-General Seymour will arrange and order all details….

Thus simplified, the plan looked like this:

GillmorePlan3

Thus ordered, the attack would take place on July 10. Let’s call it what it is – a shore-to-shore amphibious operation. Tally up the “interesting” facets to the operation: counter-battery bombardment, engineer obstacle clearing, amphibious landings, escorting gunboats (with howitzers), and ship-to-shore bombardment. Add in the use of the Civil War equivalents of a Bailey Bridge and machine gun. Littoral operations are never simple affairs!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 6-11 and 226.)