Operations against Charleston, February 9-13, 1865, Part 2: The Last Battles about Charleston

While Major-General William T. Sherman’s forces in the interior of South Carolina were working across the South Fork of the Edisto River on February 10, 1865, outside Charleston, a small Federal force was mounting one of the many demonstrations directed to keep Confederate forces pinned to the coast.  The demonstration was, to say the least, uninspired.

Almost like a thread that keeps being pulled, the operation called for a Federal force to work its way across Sol Legare against Confederate pickets on the southwestern end of James Island.  This approach was used before the battle of Grimball’s Landing in July 1863, then again during the operations of July 1864, and also for several minor operations conducted during the second half of the war.

The approach put Federal troops in front of a well designed belt of defensive works, which could be held by a small Confederate force.  Out in front of the line of works was a picket line, with its own earthworks, covering Grimball’s and Rivers’ Causeways leading off Sol Legare.  Since the Federals had often used those causeways to threaten James Island, the Confederates had fully developed the positions to allow a small force to defend against a much larger force.  And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the Battle of Grimball’s Causeway.

On the night of February 9, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig had a small brigade, roughly 1,200 men, move onto Sol Legare, by way of landing on Front Cole’s Island.  The force consisted of the 54th and 144th New York Infantry, 32nd and 33rd USCT, and the 55th Massachusetts.  Supporting this movement, the Navy provided two gunboats, a tug, and two mortar schooners to support the demonstration.  On the Stono River, Lieutenant-Commander A.W. Johnson lead the USS Wissahickon and mortar schooner USS C.P. Williams.  On the Folly River, the USS Commodore McDonough and mortar schooner USS Dan Smith, under Lieutenant-Commander A.F. Crosman, covered the right flank of the Federal advance. At the Army’s request, two monitors came over the bar into the Stono.  Only the USS Lehigh moved up the river to engage, however.  Lieutenant-Commander Alexander A. Semmes, on the Lehigh, was in overall command of the naval forces.

The landings went off well on the morning of the 10th.  At around 9 a.m. the mortar schooners commenced firing on the Confederate picket line.  The gunboats and monitor joined in with direct fire.  This had the desired effect of getting the attention of the Confederate pickets.  Meanwhile Hartwell had the two New York regiments maneuver and counter-march on Sol Legare to directly threaten the pickets.

On the Confederate lines, Major Edward Manigault, commanding the right end of the Confederate line on James Island, came up to the picket line in response to reports of activity.  On the line were, according to Manigault’s recollections, 100 men of the 2nd South Carolina Heavy Artillery and 20 cavalrymen.  Reinforcements came in the form of a three companies from the Palmetto Guards and a detachment of dismounted cavalry, amounting to 188 men.  Distributing this force, Manigault had 160 men at Grimball’s Causeway and 48 at River’s Causeway.  The remainder were held in reserve or on the picket line between those two points.

The demonstration remained distant gunboat fire and show until around 5 p.m.  Hartwell pressed the two New York regiments against Grimball’s Causeway with rush.  This pushed in the Confederate skirmishers and might have dislodged the position if continued.  Having gained the outer rifle pits, however, the Federals were content to hold what they had.

Among the casualties on the Confederate side was Manigault himself.  Struck near the spine with a wound considered mortal, he lay in the line of rifle pits overtaken by the Federals along with a soldier from the Palmetto Guard who stayed, tending to the officer.  Manigault later recalled:

Immediately after, 6 men of the 54th N.Y. (with unmistakable brogue) came up and took [the soldier] prisoner, and then took me.  I was in a moment despoiled of my watch, sword, pistol, and field glass and, shortly after, taken on a blanket to Grimball’s Causeway where Capt. [Gustav] Blau, 54th New York, was in command of our men’s rifle pits, or earthwork, which we had just abandoned.

Manigault survived the wound and the war.  Writing in 1902, he recalled the South Carolinians lost seven or eight killed or wounded, with 17 captured.  Other sources put the number at 20 killed and 70 wounded.  The Federals suffered a like number of casualties.

For the Navy, the only tense moment came in regard to the gunboat McDonough, which suffered boiler trouble.  While never under fire, the vessel had to wait until a tow could be arranged to get to safety downriver.

With darkness, both sides settled in.  The Navy continued firing through the night at fifteen minute intervals.  Batteries on Morris Island resumed bombarding Charleston.  The Federals retained their lodgement until the night of February 11.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore had decided to switch the focus of demonstrations to Bull’s Bay.  So the forces on Sol Legare were needed elsewhere.

To keep up the “show” and maintain pressure on James Island, Schimmelfennig mounted a feint against Battery Simkins and Fort Sumter on the night of February 11.  Major John A. Hennessy, 52nd Pennsylvania, lead a boat demonstration out into Charleston Harbor.  “The enemy opened a lively artillery fire from Simkins and Sullivan’s Island and a musketry fire from Simkins and Sumter,” reported Schimmelfennig. The actions of February 10-11 did force the Confederates to reallocate troops from Sullivan’s Island to James Island.  Otherwise, the demonstrations had little effect on events to follow.

One more operation was mounted in front of James Island before Charleston fell.  Sensing from intercepted dispatches that the Confederates were shifting troops back to Sullivan’s Island, and wishing to keep those troops distracted from the landings at Bull’s Bay, Schimmelfennig moved a force under Colonel Eugene Kozlay, 54th New York, onto Sol Legare (again!) on February 13-14.  Covering the maneuvers, the Navy’s gunboats fired a few more shots into the Confederate lines… perhaps the last such fired at James Island during the war.  The Federal force retired on the night of February 14.

Designed to keep the Confederates distracted and focused on James Island, these operations were more like a soft punch landed against a recoiling opponent.  Even as Schimmelfennig made his last demonstration, the Confederates had orders cut for the evacuation of Charleston.   Gillmore, content to make a demonstration at Bull’s Bay, which he hoped might catch the Confederates off guard.  But before I move to the discussion of Bull’s Bay and pesky issues like tides and the draft of ships, allow me to review the particulars of the Confederate withdrawal from Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1017; Manigault’s, and much of the information accounting for the battle of Grimball’s Landing, from Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 243-7.)

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

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

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

NavalStationsJan1_SC1

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

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

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

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

NavalStationsJan1_SC2

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

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

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

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

NavalStationsJan1_GA

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Morning ambush at Legareville, Part 2

In part one of this set, I discussed the lead-up to the Christmas Day ambush on the Stono River, December 25, 1863.  With the guns in place, and the USS Marblehead in their sights, the Confederates planned to start the action at dawn.

LegarevilleDec25

Shortly after 6 a.m. in the gathering light of Christmas morning, Lieutenant-Colonel Del Kemper opened the engagement with shots from Lieutenant Ralph Nesbit’s howitzers, in what I earlier identified as the Upper Battery (2) position.  The guns of the Lower Battery soon joined in.  But their fires were ineffective.  The range reported at the time was around 1,200 yards.  Nesbit reported starting with 8-second fuses then moving to 5-second fuses.  He claimed to have hit the Marblehead on several occasions, but without effect.  Confederate observers at the time contended the gunners failed to hit their target.

On the Marblehead, Lieutenant-Commander Richard W. Meade came on deck wearing his night clothes, ordering his men to respond.

nh-79920

At the time the Confederates opened fire, the Marblehead had steam in one of two boilers.  However, with a falling tide, Meade ordered the anchor slipped so the gunboat could maneuver downstream.  While the ship turned, Meade – still in his robe – ordered his gunners to return fire on the Confederate batteries.  Despite the Confederate fire and casualties among the gun crew, Boatswain’s Mate William Farley, captain of the XI-inch pivot gun, got off the Marblehead‘s response.  Acting Ensign George F. Winslow rallied the ship’s crew to the to her guns.

Meade’s servant, Robert Blake, rushed on deck to offer his commander a coat and uniform more befitting the action.  But when he saw one of the crew struck down, Blake began running powder between the magazine and the guns.

One Confederate shell burst and threw fragments hitting landsman Charles Moore.  Though bleeding profusely, Moore resumed his duties until forced below to see the surgeon.  Yet, Moore slipped back on deck and again resumed his duties until growing faint from the loss of blood.

While the ship maneuvered, Quartermaster James Miller stepped up to the foredeck and cast the lead to determine the depth of the channel.  Miller sat at an exposed position, but was performing a task more vital as the gunners.  Had the Marblehead run aground at that time, the situation might have turned in favor of the Confederates.  However, with room to maneuver, the Marblehead closed the range to the Confederate batteries and began firing shell, grape and canister.

When the howitzers and field guns opened fire on the Marblehead, the remaining guns in the Upper Battery and those of Charles’ Battery opened on Legareville.  Colonel P.R. Page did not advance his infantry, and instead waited to see the gunboat disabled.  He intended to advance a couple of 12-pdr howitzers to induce the Federal detachment to surrender.  But with the Marblehead remaining in action, Page suspended all movements.

LegarevilleDec25_2

Meanwhile, further downstream Commander George Balch brought the USS Pawnee into action.  By 6:35 a.m. that sloop was in position to fire across the marshes and enfilade the Confederate batteries.  By 7 a.m. Acting Master S.N. Freeman skippered the USS C.P. Williams, under sail, up the Stono to a position to engage.  The weight of this fire completely disrupted the Confederate gunners.  Kemper decided to withdraw just as the Williams opened fire.  Likewise, Page ordered a general withdrawal of the force.  Around 7:30 a.m., the Confederates ceased all firing.  The Federals likewise stopped shortly afterwards.

In the action, the Confederates suffered three killed and eight wounded.  They also had a dozen horses killed and lost five sets of harnesses.  This lost mobility forced Kemper to leave behind two 8-inch howitzers and an ammunition chest.  After withdrawing behind Abbapoola Creek, running north of Legareville, the Confederates setup a defensive position and waited for an opportunity to recover the lost material.  However, through the remainder of the morning, the C.P. Williams fired some twenty 13-inch mortar shells in that direction to keep the Confederates at bay.

Assessing the failure, Page cited the poor gunnery and execution by the siege howitzers.  Defending his men, Kemper countered that the howitzers were ill-suited for work at the range the Marblehead was engaged. He also voiced concern the infantry never advanced, and his guns thus received all the Federal attention.  General P.G.T. Beauregard took into account both accounts within his endorsement of reports:

The failure to destroy or drive away the Marblehead is due to the inefficiency of the artillery through bad ammunition, fuzes, and primers, and bad service of the guns.  The 8-inch howitzers, objected to by Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper, were intended to be employed in case the enemy’s gunboats took position to throw grape and to shoot our gunners with Enfield rifles.

Yes, those 30-pdr Parrotts were supposed to fire upon the gunboat, supported by the howitzers.  Not the other way around.  Beauregard went on to say the enfilading fire from the Pawnee should not have had a great effect on the Confederate gunners.

Unknown to the Confederates at the time, their gunners had fired with some degree of accuracy.  The Marblehead recorded 30 hits. “We have one 30-pounder shell which lodged in the steerage and did not explode….”  Meade recorded two other unexploded shells lodged in the ship.  Overall Meade reported extensive, but largely superficial, damage. The Marblehead suffered three killed and four wounded.

Charleston 4 May 10 264
Stono River, near the site of the engagement, in 2010

Closing his report of the action, Meade lauded the behavior of Winslow, Farley, Miller, and Blake – going as far to recommend Farley for the Medal of Honor. Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren responded:

It is not in my power to promote Acting Ensign Winslow… but if you consider Farley and Miller suitable for appointments as master’s mates, I will transmit them.  Blake may be rated as seaman.

Dahlgren would go on to recommend to the Department of the Navy that Winslow and Acting Ensign George Harriman be promoted to acting masters for their conduct.   Eventually, Farley, Miller, Blake, and Moore (who was not mentioned in Meade’s recommendations) received the Medal of Honor for their actions on Christmas Day 1863.

(Sources:  Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 100-102; Walter F. Beyer, Volume 2 of Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor, Detroit: The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1902, pages 50-52; OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 747-50; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 188-209.)

“A demonstration in force on James Island” : Terry’s Division distracts the Confederates

I’ve discussed Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore’s main attack on Morris Island and the expedition to the Edisto River.  Now to look at Brigadier-General Alfred H. Terry’s division on James Island.

GillmorePlan1

Terry’s division had orders to mount “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.”

Terry’s division, which was First Division, Tenth Corps, included three brigades:

  • First brigade – Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson with the 10th Connecticut, 97th Pennsylvania, 24th Massachusetts, 4th New Hampshire.
  • Second brigade – Colonel William W.H. Davis with the 52nd Pennsylvania and 104th Pennsylvania.*
  • Third brigade – Colonel James Montgomery with the 2nd South Carolina and 54th Massachusetts.

In addition, Terry had a detachment of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and the 1st Connecticut Artillery assigned.  All told, Terry’s force, at the start of operations, numbered around 3,200 men (and would later grow to 3,600).

The Navy supported this effort with the USS Pawnee, USS Nantucket, USS Commodore McDonough, and USS C.P. Williams (a mortar schooner).  Commander George Balch, of the Pawnee and a veteran of many trips on the Stono, led the naval forces.  Balch’s gunboats escorted several Army steamers carrying troops upriver, provided artillery support, and protected the left flank of Terry’s force.

Under the original plans, Terry’s force was to start on July 9, 1863.  Although operations at Morris Island were delayed another day, Terry began the demonstration.  Only a year earlier Federals landed a division of troops in that vicinity in an operation that lead up to the battle of James Island (or Secessionville if you prefer).  Federal reports refereed to “Stevens’ Landing” and “Wright’s Landing” alluding to that earlier operation.

JamesIslandExpd1

Davis’s Second Brigade landed at  “Stevens’ Landing”, near the west end of Sol Legare Island on the evening of July 9.  While the Army landed, Balch engaged Confederate batteries at Secessionville, targeting the Confederate observation tower there, with long range fire at around 7 p.m.  Davis deployed quickly and secured the causeway leading to Sol Legare.

The next day, while fighting commenced at Light House Inlet, Davis’ brigade moved onto Sol Legare and proceeded to secure Grimball’s and Rivers’ Causeways leading to the main part of James Island.  Other than shots exchanged with the retreating Confederate pickets, the Federals met no resistance.  That evening Stevenson’s brigade moved up to replace Davis in the lead.  Davis then moved his two regiments back to Sol Legare Island, joining Montgomery’s third brigade.  Commander Balch moved his gunboats upriver to support Terry’s troops, anchoring at “Wright’s Landing” or Grimball’s Landing.  As night fell on July 10, the Federals had a lodgement of sorts on James Island, in addition to possessing tw0-thirds of Morris Island.

Confederate reaction was quick.  On July 9, General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered the siege train “in readiness to move at a moment’s notice.”  Likewise, reserve troops across South Carolina were alerted for quick movement to Charleston.  All actions made before the attacks at Light House Inlet.  Gillmore’s demonstration was bearing fruit.  Beauregard also requested Brigadier-General Thomas Clingman’s brigade from Wilmington.  However that request was formally made on July 10, and one might debate if made in response to the demonstration or the main effort.  Regardless, Clingman’s troops first went to James Island.

A Federal force of over 3,500 men, supported by gunboats, on the southwest corner of James Island represented a significant threat to Charleston.  While Terry was not about to pull a “Benham,” and instead was content to keep a strong picket line, the Confederates had to juggle forces between James and Morris Islands.  Unfortunate for Terry’s troops, Beauregard could get at them easier than those on the barrier island. The Confederate counter-attack would thus fall on James Island instead of Morris.

* Davis’s Second Brigade amounted to 600 men at the start of this operation.  Three companies of the 52nd Pennsylvania and four companies of the 140th Pennsylvania were detailed on picket duty around Folly Island.  The 56th New York did not arrive from Hilton Head until July 13.  And the 100th New York was detached to support the landings on Morris Island.

150 years ago: Fort McAllister again! Why was that post so important?

On this day (March 3) in 1863, once again the Navy sortied to pester the Confederates at Fort McAllister.  Yes, the sixth time in just under a year.  This time the Navy brought forward three of its monitors new monitors to test the fort – USS Passaic, USS Nahant, and USS Patapsco. The USS Montauk, still being repaired from the torpedo encounter of February 28, also provided support from a fair distance.  These four monitors, all of the Passaic-class which would eventually grow to ten in number, represented the largest concentration of the type to date.

In addition to the monitors, the mortar schooners USS C.P. Williams, USS Norfolk Packet, and USS Para, towed by the steamers USS Seneca, USS Dawn, and USS Wissahickon respectively, supported the attack.  Captain Percival Drayton commanded this force.

As morning came to the salt marshes along the Ogeechee River, the Passaic pressed upstream to within 1,200 yards of Fort McAllister.  The Nahant and Patapsco stopped just behind the lead monitor. The mortar schooners laid back with the Montauk. At around 9 A.M. Drayton gave the order to commence firing.  The force kept up a steady fire for eight hours.   And of course the fort returned fire.  For all the expended shot and shell, casualties were limited to a few wounded.  The Confederate fort reported damage to carriages and displaced sand, but that was easily repaired.  The monitors suffered some bent plates and popped rivets, but all else was in order.  In short, a somewhat anti-climatic and inconclusive affair.  (Rob provided a more detailed account of the action on the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial blog.)

Both sides digested lessons from this concentrated attack.  The Navy noted more deficiencies with armament but remained confident in the invulnerability of the monitors to shore fire.  The Confederates, while somewhat frustrated at the ineffectiveness of their shot to penetrate, were content that monitors could not reduce earthwork forts.  The Navy’s practice of spinning turrets aft to load, then forward to fire, allowed the defenders a predictable interval between incoming rounds.  This accounted for the low casualties.

Each side offered a wealth of details in these after-action reports relating to ordnance, armor, and fortifications.  Such are the details I love to weigh, and you’ll likely read about them in other posts.  But today I am thinking more to the broader aspects of the actions at Fort McAllister, in these first three months of 1863.

No doubt the Federal operations against the fort were a function of the disruption of trade caused by Confederate privateers.  With the likes of the CSS Florida and Alabama already on the loose, the Navy did not wish for the Nashville-Rattlesnake to pile on more woes.  But of course the railroad crossing upstream was an alluring target.  Yet the Federal activity was not directed towards a strategic objective, but rather operational – to seal off one more inlet for the blockade.

In other posts I have discussed the undermanned and under-equipped defense established by General P.G.T. Beauregard across South Carolina and Georgia, and for good measure covering Florida. Likewise, departments adjacent to Beauregard’s prepared to meet a growing Federal Army-Navy threat from the Atlantic with meager resources.  To the north Brigadier-General W.H.C. Whiting also felt the pressure while arranging the defense of his charge – Wilmington and the Fear River.  In correspondence with Beauregard in January, Whiting said:

I have just received your telegrams relative to strategic matters. I do not think Raleigh enters into the matter for the present, nor do I regard either of them in the light of cities; that is to say, so much property. The enemy having already possession of Tybee and Pulaski, I cannot regard Savannah as of any strategic importance. It is a place, to be sure, and one which we hope to hold; but it is an extremity, not an artery (emphasis added). To me it appears plain that for the winter the main operations of the enemy will take place in North Carolina, whether their object be Richmond or Charleston. The enemy will not divide his attack on all three of the places you suggest; he will take one or the other…. Look at the map.

Whiting again dismissed Savannah’s importance in the aftermath of the January 27 – February 1 attacks on Fort McAllister:

The movements of the enemy puzzle me. Unless they are gone mad they cannot mean to attack Savannah. It could have no possible effect on the war if they were to take it. Wilmington, Charleston, or Mobile is worth forty Savannahs to us and to them. They may mean to try and withdraw troops from here and North Carolina for they still have a very heavy force at Beaufort; but that should be resisted. I fear Beauregard will take alarm and recall his troops from here.

And indeed Beauregard did take alarm, sensing the Fort McAllister attacks as a precursor to a heavy assault on Charleston.  On February 12, he not only recalled troops temporally posted to Wilmington, but also asked for the return of a rifled 42-pdr gun (and a 10-inch columbiad redirected in shipment originally intended for Charleston).   Two brigades of troops then shifted back to Charleston (although small brigades in terms of overall strength).

Consider the shifting of forces in context.  Beauregard pulled two brigades.  That gave Whiting less to confront threats.  So he fired off requests to his superiors.  That of course was the “new,” although temporary, command of Lieutenant-General James Longstreet – the Department of Virginia and North Carolina.  On March 15, Longstreet’s answer to Whiting’s request was less than hoped for:

… You will need more troops for the defense of Wilmington when there is a probability of attack there, but I do not agree with you in your desire to mass troops there in order to have them for the attack.  On the contrary, I think that every soldier should be kept busy.  If the troops at Wilmington are not constantly employed there they should be in the field, annoying the enemy whenever and wherever it may be done…. If we hold isolated positions by detachments the enemy will at his pleasure move upon the different points and take them in detail….

In perspective, two different approaches to defending the coastline.  Both at odds due to the shifting of troops.

I won’t go as far to say the Navy’s persistent ironclad attacks on Fort McAllister was the sole reason for these troop shifts, and straining of the Confederate defenses.   But with nearly every week another visible threat to the far left anchor of his defensive line, Beauregard remained very sensitive.  If nothing else, the Navy’s operational concern on the Ogeechee had a ripple effect at a higher level on the Confederate side.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 18, Serial 26, pages 830, 868 and 920.)

150 Years Ago: “the 15-inch shell a partial failure” at Fort McAllister

One-hundred and fifty years ago today (February 1) once again elements of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron entered battle. This time activity took place in the Ogeechee River south of Savannah, Georgia. After an ineffective bombardment of Fort McAllister on January 27, 1863 Commander John Worden withdrew the monitor USS Montauk to resupply ammunition. On the morning of February 1, he again lead a force comprised of the gunboats USS Seneca and USS Wissahickon, with the mortar schooner USS C.P. Williams towed by the USS Dawn. By 7:30 a.m. the Montauk anchored some 600 yards below the fort with the gunboats positioned downstream to support. Fifteen minutes later, Worden ordered his ironclad to resume firing on Fort McAllister.

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 068
View from Fort McAllister, looking downriver

About forty-five minutes into the bombardment, the Montauk scored a hit. A shot passed through an embrasure, disabling a 32-pdr gun and killing Major John B. Gallie, commander of the fort. Captain George Anderson replaced him and continued to direct fires against the Federal ships. The Confederates concentrated fire upon the Montauk, claiming to hit the ironclad at least eighteen times. Shortly after noon, by Anderson’s report, the Federals slipped downstream, opening the range. Later the Montauk’s turret ceased revolving, leading to speculation that one of those hits had scored a critical hit on the ironclad. Fort McAllister’s guns could not range the other vessels downriver. Furthermore, Anderson complained “Our rifle projectiles are miserable.”

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 053
Reproduction 32-pdr at Fort McAllister

On the receiving end of these Confederate shots, Worden reported, “We were struck by projectiles forty-eight times, to wit, sixteen times on turret, three times on pilot house, seven times on smokestack, seven times on side armor, eight times on deck armor, once in gig, once in cutter, twice on boat’s spars, once on spare anchor, and had two flagstaffs shot away.” As the tide ebbed, Worden wisely let the Montauk slip downriver to avoid grounding. By mid-day, he was out of range and ceased fire.

FortMcAllister

Assessing the damage to the Montauk, Worden’s engineer reported dents but no fractures. “No effect was perceptible inside except in one instance, when two X-inch shot struck in rapid succession within 6 or 8 inches of each other near the base of the turret, immediately after which it was found difficult to revolve the turret until it was raised by driving in the key three-fourths of an inch, when it again revolved quite freely.” In short, the ironclad stood up well to anything the Confederates threw her way.

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 072
Replica Columbiad at Fort McAllister

On the other side, the Confederates seemed likewise unimpressed with the monitor’s capabilities. Inspector General Major Henry Bryan reported:

The iron-clad seems to have fired principally 15-inch shell, one of which went directly through the parapet (17 feet thick) in front of a 32-pounder on the left. At this point the parapet was mostly built of marsh mud, which I infer cannot offer sufficient resistance to these missiles. Two shells seem to have struck near the same point on the parapet (made of sand) in front of the columbiad and tore away about a third of it, covering several men with sand; one or two were dug out. The resisting power of sand is very great, and after thick iron it makes probably the protection most desirable. So far as demolishing earthwork goes I am inclined to think the 15-inch shell a partial failure. I think a concentrated fire of smaller guns would have been more destructive to us. Had they burst better, however, the result might have been different.

Heavy Confederate guns could not seriously damage the monitors. And the monitors could not reduce earthwork forts. In the waterways around Savannah that translated to stalemate.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 212-216 and ORN, Series I, Volume 13, pages 627-32.)