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.)