Chapter 52: operations about Charleston, 1865.--fall of Charleston, Savannah, etc.
- Formation of the naval brigade. -- operations of Generals Sherman and Foster in the vicinity of Savannah. -- expedition up Broad River and Boyd's Creek. -- Savannah invested. -- evacuation of Savannah and its defences by the Confederates. -- the naval vessels again in Charleston harbor. -- movements of Army around Charleston. -- naval pickets captured. -- Landing of naval forces at Bull's Bay. -- gun-boats and batteries open a terrific fire on Fort Moultrie and works on Sullivan's Island. -- Charleston evacuated. -- Isolation of the Confederacy. -- naval officers commended. -- Confederate vessels captured. -- ingenious methods used by Confederates to prevent Union vessels from penetrating the inner harbor. -- plans of forts along the rivers. -- Georgetown, S. C., occupied. -- the flag-ship Harvest Moon sunk by torpedoes. -- Admiral Dahlgren relieved. -- complimentary letter from Secretary of the Navy, -- list of vessels and officers of South Atlantic Squadron, 1865.
In the latter part of November, 1864, Rear-Admiral Dahlgren received information that General Sherman had reached Milledgeville and was about to march upon Savannah. He accordingly entered into an arrangement with General Foster to co-operate with Sherman in case the latter might require assistance. It was decided to form a naval brigade, to be furnished with two field-howitzer batteries of four guns each. All the forces that could be spared from the vessels on blockade were withdrawn, and the night of November 28th was appointed for proceeding up the Broad River and into Boyd's Creek, one of its branches, whence a short march only was necessary to reach the railroad connecting Savannah with Charleston. The vessels of the Navy selected for this service were the Pawnee, Commander Balch; Mingoe, Commander Creighton; Pontiac, Lieutenant-Commander Luce; Winona, Lieutenant-Commander Dana; Wissahickon, Lieutenant-Commander McGlensey; Sonoma, Lieutenant-Commander Scott; all carrying heavy guns. There were four half-companies of welldrilled seamen under Lieutenant James O'Kane; Lieutenant-Commander E. O. Mathews commanded the Navy artillery, and the marines from the different vessels were under the command of First-Lieutenant George G. Stoddard. After a harassing progress of twenty miles through a thick fog, Admiral Dahlgren had the satisfaction of reaching the appointed landing with five of the six vessels with which he had started, for the Wissahickon had grounded near the entrance of the river and did not succeed in joining the other gun-boats. The troops were somewhat later in arriving, but finally the transports were seen coming up the river, and in half an hour afterwards two batteries of naval howitzers and nine companies of seamen and marines were landed under Commander Preble, and advanced in skirmishing order, to cover the landing of the troops, Admiral Dahlgren returning to his duty afloat. After General Foster had landed all his soldiers, an advance was made towards the railroad above Grahamsville. The Confederates had assembled in considerable force, and did all they could to impede the march of the Union forces by a fire of musketry  and field-pieces, and at length the Federal forces came to a halt before a strong earthwork commanding the road, and flanked by a heavy growth of timber and other obstructions. The troops under General Hatch assaulted the works, but were repulsed with heavy loss, while the men from the fleet did their duty with boat-howitzers and musketry. Skirmishing and reconnaissances went on for several days, the Federals slowly advancing towards their objective point, the railroad. This was a new experience for the seamen and marines, but their spirited conduct won for them the applause of the soldiers. On the 6th of December the Army and Navy forces proceeded up the Tulfiny River, and at about 8 A. M. landed on an island. The Confederates sent troops to meet them, and for a time it looked as if the Federals would get the worst of the encounter; but the naval contingent coming rapidly on the field, and opening a heavy fire with howitzers and musketry, the enemy finally gave way, retreating in good order. This skirmishing lasted all day through a heavy rain, the seamen and marines behaving like veteran soldiers in an experience entirely new to the greater portion of their number. The object of the expedition was effected in spite of all opposition, and on the 12th of December Rear-Admiral Dahlgren opened communication with General Sherman, who was then near Savannah. The news of Sherman's arrival in the vicinity of Savannah gave great satisfaction to the people of the North, who had begun to feel uneasy in regard to him, owing to the exaggerated reports from Confederate sources. Prompt steps were taken to place vessels-of-war at every point on the coast where the General was likely to appear, and on the 18th of December Sherman in person presented himself on board Admiral Dahlgren's flag-ship, and was warmly greeted by officers and men, who held this gallant commander in the highest respect. Arrangements were made by General Sherman with Admiral Dahlgren, that, while the former should invest Savannah on the land side, the latter should hold every avenue by water; and when it was considered that the investment was complete. Sherman summoned General Hardee, the Confederate commander, to surrender, which request being declined Sherman prepared to attack the enemy's works. The Federal army was gradually drawing down to the Savannah River, and, in order to cut off the escape of the Confederates, it was concluded to reinforce the troops under General Foster on Broad River, and make a demonstration in the direction of the railroad, while that on Beaulieu would be limited to the naval cannonade, which was begun and continued by Lieutenant-Commander Scott in the Sonoma, assisted by the schooner Griffith, Acting-Master James Ogilvie. In order to complete the arrangements for cutting off the escape of the enemy and to insure the co-operation of all the Federal forces in the vicinity, General Sherman visited Hilton Head in company with Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, to communicate with General Foster, and make the latter acquainted with his plans; but on his return he was overtaken by a tug, with the following telegram:
To General Sherman: General Howard reports one of General Legget's brigades near Savannah, and no enemy. Prisoners say the city is abandoned and enemy gone to Hardeesville. From Station, near Headquarters.On receipt of this dispatch General Sherman hastened to his headquarters, and the Admiral to the division of vessels lying in front of Beaulieu, when the facts of the case became apparent. Lieutenant-Commander Scott, of the Sonoma, was in possession of Forts Beaulieu and Rose Dew, and all the other fortifications had been evacuated, leaving Sherman master of Savannah and its defences. Although, no doubt, the Army would have captured Savannah unaided, yet the Navy was of great assistance in blocking up the rivers and preventing the Confederates from sending reinforcements to General Hardee. The Navy visited many points inaccessible to the Army, and secured a large quantity of guns, ammunition and stores which the Confederates had not time to destroy. General Hardee's boast, that he held two lines of intrenchments and was in communication with superior authority, did not prevent him from beating a speedy retreat as soon as Sherman's advance-guard hove in sight of his outposts. In all these affairs the brigade from the fleet, composed of seamen and marines, remained with General Foster's command, and the officers and men were transferred to their respective vessels only when Savannah and all the points around it were garrisoned by Sherman's troops. As it was General Sherman's intention to move northward as soon as he had secured Savannah against any attempts on the part of the Confederates to repossess it, he requested such co-operation on the part of the Navy as could be extended; and while his army was apparently advancing on Charleston, Rear-Admiral Dahlgren determined on making further attacks on the works within the harbor of that place, which with the assistance of the army he had some hope of reducing. Sherman, however, did not favor this plan, being satisfied that  Charleston would necessarily fall, owing to his own interior movements. Admiral Dahlgren now collected all his vessels near Charleston, ready to co-operate with Sherman as he approached, and to keep the rivers clear of torpedoes and light batteries, so that the Federal transports could reach certain points and supply the wants of the Union army. In order to deceive the Confederates with regard to the point for which he was aiming in his march to the northward, General Sherman requested that the Navy would make such demonstrations as would draw the attentions of the Confederates from his operations. The gun-boat Dai Ching and a tug were placed in the Ossabaw River, the Sonoma was sent out to the North Edisto and the Pawnee to the Ashepoo River, with orders to drive off the enemy's troops and knock down his batteries wherever they could be reached. The Tuscarora, Mingoe, State of Georgia and Nipsic were stationed at Georgetown, S. C., to prevent the enemy from erecting batteries at that point, and the Pontiac was in the Savannah, advancing with General Sherman's extreme left. Nearly all the Monitors of the squadron were collected at Charleston. On the 24th of January, 1865, General Sherman marched on Pocotaligo and the Coosawatchee, and the next day made a demonstration on Salkahatchee, while the gun-boats went up the Edisto and Stono Rivers to ascertain whether the enemy intended to hold Charleston or retreat to Columbia. It would require General Slocum at least five days to get his troops clear of the swamps near Savannah, and in the meantime General Howard was, apparently, moving directly on Charleston, although with no intention of going beyond Salkahatchee. The enemy had still a considerable force near Savannah, and his cavalry, under General Wheeler, was exceedingly active in watching the movements of the Federal army and picking up stragglers. The Pontiac, Lieutenant-Commander Luce, was left with Slocum's command, and on the 24th anchored off Merrill's Landing or the Three Sisters, forty miles above Savannah, to cover the crossing of the river by a portion of the 20th Corps. Lieutenant-Commander Luce threw out pickets to see that the enemy did not bring guns to bear on the Pontiac from the high bluffs, which could not be reached by the ship's battery. This party had been warned against scouting too far from the ship, but in spite of this they were captured by a squad of Confederate cavalry. On the evening of the 27th the scouts of General Davis' column reached the point where the Pontiac was lying at anchor; and, soon after, the remainder of the 14th Corps appeared, after a most arduous march over corduroy roads which had to be constructed in advance of the forces. Here the soldiers took some needed rest, with the knowledge that they were not likely to be disturbed while the Pontiac lay in their vicinity, although there were reported to be two Confederate gun-boats about eighty miles up the river. Meanwhile the Pawnee and Sonoma were making their way up the North Edisto, in company with transports conveying troops under the command of General Potter, which troops were landed at a place called White Point. Some few of the enemy were seen and shelled by the gun-boats, but the Confederates were not in force, and their guns had mostly disappeared from the river banks. Thus, while Sherman was advancing through the enemy's country, everything was done by the Navy that could disconcert the Confederates and prevent them from annoying the Union army. At this time, owing to heavy rains, the freshets had swept away most of the bridges along the line of Sherman's march, and the movements of the gun-boats were in every respect desirable to cover the advance of the army. Almost every stream where a gunboat could float was guarded by the Navy; their good services enabled General Sherman to reach midway on the South Carolina road by the 7th of February without molestation. The fate of Charleston was now sealed, and the only thing left the garrison to avoid capture was to evacuate the place. On the 11th of February a movement was made by the army contingent under General Potter, and a considerable naval force under Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, consisting of the Shenandoah, Juniata, Canandaigua, State of Georgia, Pawnee. Sonoma, Ottawa, Winona, Wando, Geranium and Iris, with launches in which to land troops at Bull's Bay. Great difficulty was experienced in finding a channel into the harbor, but a, landing was finally effected; after which, the Pawnee and Winona was sent to South Edisto River to assist General Hatch, who was moving on Wellstown with his division. On the 17th a movement was made from Stono River on the Confederates, while the iron-clads Lehigh, the Wissahickon and a mortar schooner were sent up the Stono to press the right flank of the enemy, while the gun-boat McDonough was sent with a mortar schooner up the Filly branch to bear on his left flank. General Schimmelfennig, in command of the troops before Charleston, moved on the enemy's  front from Cole's Island. Admiral Dahlgren also sent orders to Lieutenant Hayward, commanding the battery of 11-inch guns on Cummings' Point, to open on Sullivan's Island and fire continuously through the night. The contiguous batteries were also put in operation by General Schimmelfennig, and the advance Monitors were ordered to open fire on Fort Moultrie. The cannonading during the night was sharp and continuous; the Confederates replied with a few guns from Fort Moultrie, but as the night wore on their fire entirely ceased. In fact, the main body of the enemy's troops had evacuated Sullivan's Island at about 8 P. M., leaving about one hundred and fifty men to keep up a fire and delay the knowledge of the evacuation. On the morning of the 18th the anticipations of the Union forces that the Confederates were retreating from Charleston were confirmed. Acting-Master Gifford entered the harbor in a tug, and at Mount Pleasant met the Mayor of the city, who tendered the submission of the civil authorities to the Federal Government, and requested protection for the citizens and their property. Rear-Admiral Dahlgren was up the Stono River when he received a message that there were indications that the Confederates were retreating from Charleston, and he immediately proceeded in his flagship to the city which for four years had resisted the continued attacks of the Army and Navy, for the reason that its strength had been underrated by the Federal Government and a sufficient force had not been sent against it. The place only fell because of the advance of General Sherman, and the fear of the garrison that they would be cut off and captured. The powerful defences on Sullivan's Island, the shapeless but still formidable ruins of Sumter, the numerous great earth-works clustered around Fort Johnson, Castle Pinckney and the heavy water batteries that lined the wharves, looked grim and terrible, though deserted. They were a monument to the zeal, ability and gallantry of those who had to the last defied the power of the Federal forces. Charleston, the city that struck the keynote of the rebellion, now lay helpless in the power of the Federal Government; its citizens, worn out and impoverished by the long war which they had themselves inaugurated, now seemed willing to return to the shelter of the flag, since it was evident that the secession cause could not prevail. The officers of the fleet walked through the streets of the city whose outworks had so long defied them. All the houses were closed, and few of the citizens appeared. But for the presence of the negroes, it might have passed for a city stricken with the pestilence. Notwithstanding the great outcry that had been made by some of the Confederate officers against General Gillmore's barbarity in firing front the Swamp Angel into the town, the place gave little indication of having suffered from an enemy's guns. Here and there the ground was plowed up by a rifle-shell, or the front of a house was scarred by the fragments; but it is pleasant to be informed that the women and children received no injury. The fall of Charleston was of course an important event at any time, since it was the Mecca of the Confederacy, on which the eyes of every Southern enthusiast were fixed. The courage and determination of its garrison inspired those who were inclined to waver in their allegiance to the Confederacy, and, while Charleston held out the cause could not be considered altogether desperate. The heroic example set by the besieged was telegraphed daily all over the South, and the name Charleston was a watchword everywhere. Even the most radical and uncompromising Unionists could not help admiring the courage and devotion shown by the defenders of Charleston, and the city escaped any injury from the Union forces, except such as naturally follows the occupation by troops of a place lately in hostility, where vacant houses are taken possession of and their contents not too scrupulously respected. There was considerable disappointment expressed in the South because Charleston was so suddenly abandoned on the approach of General Sherman's army; but the Confederates in the city did not know what Sherman's intentions might be, and they very naturally thought it best to evacuate the place before the Union General should envelope them and compel their surrender. But General Sherman was anxious to join General Grant before Richmond as soon as possible and get out of the lowlands of the coast, where his soldiers were worn out with building corduroy roads through swamps, bridging the countless streams, and living in a malarious country. The capture of Fort Fisher and other defences of Wilmington had doubtless a considerable effect on the fall of Charleston; for, now that the stronghold on Cape Fear River was taken, a small garrison could hold it, and the Union forces employed in the reduction of those works could, if necessary, march on Charleston. Whatever claims may have been advanced that the final result was brought about by the movements of the Navy in co-operation with the Army under General Foster, we can only say that the attempt to invest Charleston by Bull's Bay and the  Stono River was bravely undertaken, although it would have probably experienced a severe repulse but for the position held by Sherman at Columbia. The fall of Charleston was in every aspect a great success for the Union cause. Although it had long been nearly impossible for a blockade-runner to land her cargo inside the harbor, yet, even with the close watch constantly maintained, cotton could be sent out. When the city was taken this traffic was at an end, and the credit of the Confederate States in England sank to a low ebb. Henceforth the Confederate armies would be obliged to depend on the scanty supplies obtained at home, and their surrender was now considered only a matter of time. Owing to the fall of Charleston, the Navy Department was enabled to greatly deplete the naval forces hitherto employed in that vicinity, and, although the saving thus effected was but a trifle compared with the large sums expended upon the army, yet it was a change in the right direction, as the country was beginning to feel uneasy at the vast sums daily paid from the treasury to maintain the military and naval forces. The Confederacy was now isolated from the outer world by way of the sea, and there could no longer be a pretext for the interference of foreign powers, the trouble being at this time purely domestic. Now, also, was ended that fiction of belligerent rights which excluded United States vessels-of-war from the customary hospitalities of foreign ports. What was left of our mercantile marine could pursue its avocations without fear of molestation by Confederate cruisers, which so lately roamed the ocean at their will. Much credit is due to the commanding naval officers at Bull's Bay for the management of their vessels, and tie energy with which they responded to the Confederate batteries which were striving to prevent a landing of the troops. So effective was the fire of the gun-boats that the Confederates were soon driven away and the vessels suffered little damage. The officers particularly commended by Rear-Admiral Dahlgren were: Captain D. B. Ridgely, Commander F. Stanly, Commander G. B. Balch, Lieutenant-Commander T. S. Fillebrown, Lieutenant-Commander A. A. Semmes, Lieutenant-Commander A. W. Johnson, Lieutenant-Commander S. B. Luce, Acting-Master W. H. Mallard and Acting-Master G. W. Parker At the fall of Charleston the following Confederate vessels fell into the hands of the Navy: Iron-clad ram Columbia, steamer-transport Lady Davis, a cigarshaped steamer 160 feet long, two side-wheeled steamers and three torpedo-boats. As everything relating to the defence of Charleston has a historic interest, we insert the report of Rear-Admiral Dahlgren in regard to the instructions issued by the Confederates to prevent the Union vessels from penetrating the inner harbor. At the present day these arrangements seem rather primitive, but they exhibit skill and ingenuity on the part of the Confederate engineers, and they completely answered their intended purpose, by preventing the Union vessels from proceeding to Charleston:
The best illustration that can be given of the strength of Charleston is this notice of the obstructions added to an account of its fortifications. The strong positions in which the latter were placed, and the skill displayed in their construction, show what obstacles had to be overcome by the Federal Army and Navy. Anew era in military engineering had commenced on the outbreak of the civil war; and although the Confederates made use of the forts within their territory constructed of masonry, these were either strengthened by sand-bags or supported by earth-works of the most formidable description. Most of these fortifications were ultimately mounted with foreign guns of the largest size and most approved pattern; and, while we render due credit to those who overcame such gigantic obstacles, we should not fail to acknowledge the ability and energy of those who created them. The old-fashioned system of forts was necessarily ignored by the Confederates from the first. It was impossible to build fortifications of masonry in time to meet the crisis which followed the attack on Sumter, and in the sand of the Southern coast nature had supplied an excellent material for rapidly building, at smaller expense, the military works required. We were taught by the civil war that, instead of expending millions of dollars on fortifications of masonry, we could secure the same or better results at comparatively little expense of time or labor, and have our money to spend on guns and torpedoes. The best way to understand these matters is to examine the plans of fortifications built along the Southern coast. Nothing was ever before constructed of sand-bags so formidable as Fort Fisher and the other defences of Cape Fear River, and the works at Charleston and Savannah. They were masterpieces of military engineering. In order to show the difficulties to be encountered at Charleston, we append the general plan of the Confederate works. When the Union forces took possession of Charleston, they were rather surprised to find but one hundred and forty-nine heavy guns in all the forts. This, however, was quite sufficient to secure the place against a naval attack, while the army-contingent was never sufficient by many thousand men to make much impression on  the land defences. At the same time the troops were useful in co-operating with the Navy to annoy the garrison. The duty of the army was harassing beyond description, and the privations of the soldiers were many. The enemy generally outnumbered the attacking force two to one, so that if Charleston could be called “in a state of siege” it was a most incomplete investment. As for naval success in an attack on Charleston, it was out of the question. The force supplied the naval commanders-in-chief was so small, and the obstructions, torpedoes and forts so numerous, that it would have been little less than a miracle for a hostile fleet to reach the city. Had there been any doubt on this subject, it would be removed by the evidence given after the fall of Charleston by persons who had charge of the obstructions. That every effort was made to overcome the difficulties of the situation by Rear-Admiral Dahlgren and his gallant officers and men is certain. They were always ready for any adventure, no matter how hazardous. Many acts of gallantry were performed by the Army and Navy; but, take it altogether, the siege of Charleston was in the highest degree harassing and unsatisfactory to both the Army and Navy of the Union. General Hardee evacuated Charleston to enable him to get in the advance of General Sherman and reach Raleigh and join his forces to those of General Beauregard, and with the garrison at Augusta, who were aiming to reach the same point. This left the coast of South Carolina comparatively free of Confederate troops; yet there were still points that required attention. Fortifications along the rivers had to be destroyed. In the panic at the movements of Sherman's army most of these places had been hurriedly evacuated without injuring them, and the enemy might again occupy them. On the 25th of February, 1865, Georgetown, S. C., was occupied by the naval forces, in view of the movements of General Sherman, who might desire to be placed in communication with it before entering North Carolina. There were at this point well-constructed works, mounting sixteen guns, two of them 10-inch columbiads. but no resistance was made, the garrison having departed. Acting-Ensign A. K. Noyes, commanding U. S. S. Catalpa, was sent to the city of Georgetown to hoist the Union flag, the municipal authorities having offered submission, and some of the seamen climbed the dome of the town hall and ran up the Stars and Stripes. As soon as the flag was raised, a party of Confederate horseman made a dash into the town; but as soon as the alarm was given the seamen from the Mingoe and Catalpa were landed and drove off the enemy. Gun-boats were sent as far as they could go — about forty miles--up the Cooper River, to co-operate with an army force under General Schimmelfennig, to break up any parties of Confederate troops that might still linger in the vicinity; but it was found that the enemy's forces had all crossed the Santee, burning the bridges behind them. These movements of the gun-boats involved great care to avoid the sunken torpedoes known to exist in all the rivers. Even the Harvest Moon, the flag ship of Admiral Dahlgren, did not escape unscathed. While proceeding down to a point two or three miles below Georgetown, this vessel, with the Admiral on board, was blown up by coming in contact with a torpedo. The shock was tremendous, the vessel shivered in every timber, bulkheads were driven in, and it seemed as if the boilers had burst and the magazine exploded. Before any one could fairly realize the situation, the Harvest Moon had sunk to the bottom. Had the torpedo struck the vessel a little further forward or aft there would have been great loss of life, but, as it was, only one life was lost. These infernal machines were met with when least expected, and with the greatest care in dragging for them were often overlooked. By the end of March, 1865, the coast of South Carolina and Georgia may be said to have been free from Confederate raiders, and the inhabitants were rather glad to see the boat expedition sent out by Admiral Dahlgren. These were a check upon the parties of deserters from General Johnston's army who were trying to reach their homes, and were rendered indifferent, by poverty and suffering, on whom they subsisted. The condition of affairs all along the coast was deplorable, owing to the disasters of the civil war, and the strong hand of power was necessary to put an end to it. By the last of May there was nothing left for Rear-Admiral Dahlgren to accomplish, and he was quite ready to be relieved from a command that had brought upon him so much labor and care, without his having accomplished what the Navy Department desired, the capture of Charleston by the fleet, a thing which under the circumstances was almost, if not quite, impossible. On the 23d of June, 1865, the Admiral was relieved from his command, and received the following complimentary letter from the Secretary of the Navy: