after the fall of Fort Pulaski
, in April, 1862, for the rest of the month it appeared impossible to effect any thing against the enemy with the few troops then available in this district, stretching along nearly two hundred miles of coast, from St. Augustine, Florida
, to North-Edisto River, South-Carolina
These troops did not consist of more than about fifteen thousand effective men.
At the close of April, the barge crew of General Ripley
escaped from Charleston
and were brought to Port Royal
They represented the troops and defences of Charleston
to be very weak, comprising not more than five or six thousand men altogether, and those for a large portion raw troops or boys; so that General Benham
then conceived a plan for attacking that city, which was at once informally laid before General Hunter
, Commodore Du Pont
, and others, and appeared to meet their cordial concurrence.
This plan was to add to the force of some three thousand five hundred men, then at North-Edisto
, by a well-concerted and simultaneous movement of our steamers, all the other disposable force in the district, to make some ten thousand in all; and by rapidly ferrying them across the North
, to John's and Wadnelow Island, to march them in two columns, one on each side the Bohickee Creek
to the dry landings at the Grimballs on either side of the Stono River
, to take the rebel batteries at its mouth in the rear; and after thus opening the river to our gunboats, to dash across the lower part of James Island
to Fort Johnson
, from which point or from Lanton's Place, one or two miles west, Charleston
could be shelled at short-range, and Cummings Point
, on the right, could afterward be secured for breaching Fort Sumter
This plan General Hunter
delayed from day to day, not authorizing its execution, although at first he told General Benham
“to get ready for it.”
But when General Benham
proposed to send, as part of the preparation, the cavalry and artillery horses to Edisto
, (the great cause of delay at any time,) General Hunter
would not consent to it, and the proposition was still left in abeyance, with this obstacle existing whenever it should be determined upon.
For which latter object, if found practicable, Morris Island
was to be seized by a dash with two or three regiments and a battery of field-artillery under the fire of our gunboats.
About the thirteenth of May, the steamer Planter
, seized by slaves, came from Charleston
They brought the news that the Stono River
was open and the rebel batteries dismantled there, and corroborated the previous information.
And on the sixteenth, five deserters from Fort Sumter
, by way of Morris Island
, corroborated the above, with the further statement that they could see no batteries in passing the length of Morris Island
With all these facts before General Hunter
, which showed him that had he authorized General Benham
at first, it would have been met by a most fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, such as would probably have insured its easy accomplishment, the General
finally concluded, on the evening of the sixteenth, to let General Benham make preparations
for carrying out his plan for the occupation of James Island
But he directed him, at the same time, to inform the junior Generals
, that while pushing forward every thing to be ready for the march at the earliest day possible, they were to be ready
to he held up or countermanded at an hour's notice
. By this time, however, of the eight
ocean steamers that we had had, and could have relied upon, up to the tenth of May, the six largest (one only being wrecked) had been discharged or detained by the Quartermaster's Department at the North
; and but two or three of the smallest, one only of them efficiently managed, remained to transport the one thousand horses--seventy to eighty at a time only
--the ten guns, and the six to seven thousand men, to the Edisto
and the Stono River
These boats were, however, pushed to the uttermost; one of them making daily trips for several days to the Edisto
, unloading at night upon a muffled wharf, for secrecy from the pickets of the enemy within rifle range opposite; precautions ordered by General Benham
, and which effectually concealed the massing of these troops, horses, and guns, at the Edisto
, up to the latest moment, as was eventually shown.
This force which General Wright
had stated he expected to be able to ferry across the Edisto
in twenty-four hours, was intended to move thence by one night's march, (some twelve to fifteen miles,) on the east side of Bohickee Creek, across John's Island
, and there meet the balance of the available force, (all that there were vessels to move at once,) which was to arrive at the Stono
by starting some twenty-four hours after the orders to move had been sent to General Wright
It being a part of General Benham
's plan to divert the attention of the enemy, and obstruct the railroad between Savannah
, he had previously arranged with General Stevens
stated that it could be done at any time when ordered.
This was ordered on the twenty-ninth, and although General Stevens
sent out about eight hundred infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and two pieces of artillery, to cut the railroad about fifteen miles above Beaufort
, from the Salkehatchie
to the Coosahatchie Rivers
, the whole movement proved a miserable failure, without cooperation of the different arms; and after being kept at bay for two or three hours, as the rebel accounts state, (and we have no knowledge to the contrary,) by ninety cavalry only, the expedition returned to Beaufort
without having effected any thing, though it approached, as was stated, within one fourth of a mile
of the railroad.
At length, on May thirty-first, General Hunter
authorized the starting of the expedition with the object of entering the Stono
, and then acting as might seem best under the circumstances ; either by moving toward Fort Johnson
, attempting to seize Morris Island
, or simply holding the firm landing on James Island
for future use against Charleston
The rear column of the expedition with one field-battery and over three thousand men, except some thirteen companies in the present sent by mistake to Edisto
, left Hilton Head
on the morning of the second of June, General Wright
's orders having been duly despatched to him the previous day.
As the flag-boat, with Generals Hunter
on board, was passing the Edisto
, about noon of the second, a steamer came out with a letter from General Wright
, saying that he expected to be coming in to Legareville
, on the Stono
, soon after light on the following morning.
The troops on the transports continued on to the Stono
, and entering that river, the greater portion landed that afternoon, Monday, June second, at the lower old battery landing, and in placing their pickets about one mile in advance, were at once engaged with the enemy in a smart skirmish, where some six or eight men were killed and wounded.
During this skirmish General Benham
placed some two hundred and fifty men at Legareville
to protect the buildings for Wright
's column from their destruction, as feared by the rebels; instructing the officers in person, in order to avoid collision with Wright
's forces, expected to arrive early next morning.
The rear of the transport ships from Hilton Head
arrived, and the troops were discharged on James Island
on Tuesday, and another skirmish occurred in which we lost twenty-two prisoners, and two or three more severely wounded; capturing, however, a battery of three or four navy guns, taking one wounded lieutenant as prisoner.
Yet although we learned on the next day that three thousand men could have swept James Island
to Fort Johnson
, still the column of General Wright
, nearly six thousand strong, did not make its appearance, and only began to come slowly into Legareville
on the afternoon of Thursday, the fifth, delayed by broken bridges and other impediments, and so worn out by marches in a violent rain for the greater part of the previous thirty-six hours, that it had not finally crossed over the Stono
's till Monday evening, the ninth of June.
On the tenth, immediately after the establishment of Wright
's camp at the best landing at Grimball
's, two miles above Stevens
, at the old battery, the enemy commenced a fire of shot and shell into, around, and over the camp and hospitals, and among our gunboats in the Stono
This at once showed that the main camp and landing would be untenable; and as there was not dry land enough on James Island
for the encampment of our troops, out of the range of this battery, it was evident that we should be driven from this island, the key to Charleston
, unless this battery was silenced or taken.
In consequence, after a consultation with General Hunter
, a strong reconnoitring or attacking force was arranged, to consist altogether of five regiments and four pieces of artillery, to start in the night or early morning of June eleventh.
The rough draft of the order was read to and approved by General Hunter
before it was copied for the other generals.
It states explicitly that, “It being deemed important that the batteries of the enemy which have borne upon our camp at Thomas Grimball
's to-day should be closely reconnoitred or broken up if possible at the earliest possible moment,” “a rush will be made upon and toward it between half-past 3 o'clock and the earliest daylight.”
And General Hunter
, who had ordered the steamer to leave at
sunrise of the eleventh, to take him to Hilton Head
, was requested by General Benham
to delay his departure for a few hours to hear the result of the reconnoissance, and, as is well known, General Hunter
delayed his departure until the twelfth.
During the evening of the tenth, General Hunter
prepared and furnished to General Benham
his final orders preparatory to leaving the Stono
, in which he stated: “I desire in any arrangement you may make
for the disposition of your forces in this vicinity, you will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson.
You will, however, provide for a secure intrenched encampment
Later in that evening a letter came from General Wright
to General Benham
, which stated that in consequence of the attack of the enemy upon his lines that afternoon, his men would be too much fatigued for the movement ordered next day. No attack was therefore made on the eleventh, during which day the shells still fell in our camps; and in the evening, in the latter part of the last interview with General Hunter
, General Benham
showed him a map with the line which he had drawn on it, from near a church on our left and front for about one and a half miles extending south-east to the front or beyond the battery
of the enemy at the Secessionville tower.
This line was about one mile in advance of our then line of pickets, and reduced our line of defence nearly one half in length, and secured our camps for a distance of full cannon-range from the enemy.
And General Benham
stated to General Hunter
, that he considered it indispensable
to hold it if we would not be driven from the Stono
, greatly to the satisfaction of General Benham
, fully assented to the proposition.
About this time General Stevens
reported to General Benham
that he had commenced a battery on the point beyond his camp to bear upon the rebel battery, although General Benham
had directed his engineer officer, Lieutenant O'Rourke
, to select the location, who had decided that it should be upon the extreme point.
, according to his own report, intrusted the fixing of the position to a volunteer officer, who placed it, as Lieutenant O'Rourke
reported, three eighths of a mile within that point, and at that much farther, or nearly a mile and three eighths distance altogether, from the rebel fort.
The best of the ordnance that battered the wall of Fort Pulaski
was then landed, and the heaviest guns placed in this battery, without much hope of its effectiveness against the earth-works of the enemy, as the whole power of the twenty to thirty heavy guns of Fort Pulaski
within one mile or less of distance did not have the slightest effect upon our parapets of earth, while our guns there, the same now used
, were hourly breaching its walls of masonry.
After two days ineffectual firing upon this fort, two deserters came in on the fourteenth, who reported being at the Secessionville fort on the twelfth.
They stated what was afterward confirmed by prisoners and our own officers, that the Fort
had six large, mounted guns, and that it was a common earth-work, without stockade or abattis, and with only two battalions as its garrison; also that the enemy had seven other heavy guns ready to mount upon the fort.
To this was added the knowledge of our own observation, that the enemy were at work night and day to strengthen this work, the possession or destruction of which was of vital importance to us, to enable us to hold this key to Charleston
, placed as it was one and a half miles or more in front of the other works of the rebels, and covering nearly all our possible camping-ground.
In accordance, therefore, with the previous order of reconnoissance approved by General Hunter
, with the line proposed as “indispensable,” and approved by him on the eleventh, as also with his written order, “to provide a secure intrenched encampment,” General Benham
decided that it was necessary to seize this fort by a night assault at the earliest possible moment, and arranged it for the morning of the sixteenth.
On the evening of the fifteenth, General Benham
called the principal officers together, Generals Wright
, and Colonel Williams
, Captain Drayton, senior
naval officer, also present, explained his plan for the attack, and the reasons which made it important that it should be done without delay.
This plan was, that General Stevens
, with nearly all his force, which was over four thousand men, should be in position at our outer pickets within one and a quarter miles of the Fort
, at between two and three o'clock A. M., and at half-past 3 o'clock, or the earliest daylight, to rush upon and seize the Fort
by storm or assault, the men to have their muskets loaded, but not capped
. That Generals Benham
, and Colonel Williams
, with about three thousand men, should advance on Stevens
's left from our outer pickets the moment his fire was heard, and be ready to guard against a main attack from our left, or to assist, if the struggle was protracted, at the Fort
asked General Stevens
if the fire of his battery had any effect upon the Fort
, and if he expected it would have any. General Stevens
replied in the negative to both of these questions.
Not the slightest objection was made to the movement by any of the officers or the slightest doubt expressed as to its success, General Wright
even remarking: “We can take the Fort
This is proven by a letter of Captain Drayton
to General Benham
, where he states that if they were opposed to it, “no one said as much as this,” and that he “recollects no opposition to the plan,” except as to the time, which General Stevens
proposed to delay to afternoon.
This delay was positively negatived by General Benham
, who told General Stevens
that his “men would be cut to pieces if they went up in daylight ;” as was also General Stevens
's proposition to send his men to the assault with unloaded muskets.
in response to this, twice ordered General Stevens
to have his muskets loaded
, but for the night assault not capped
. The written orders of General Hunter
had been made known to both Generals Wright
neither of them referred to this movement as disobedience of those orders; in fact, on the day after the action, General Stevens
expressly stated to General Benham
that it was a movement to which he was perfectly competent, and in his power to direct.
It may be mentioned here, that some twenty or thirty steel spikes had been prepared and handed to Generals Wright
, by General Benham
's orders, expressly to disable the cannon if taken and we were temporarily repulsed.
On the morning of the sixteenth, in clouded moonlight, the supporting column was in its position before four o'clock, as directed, at our outer pickets, but it waited there over one hour
, till broad daylight and sunrise, or fully five o'clock, to the often expressed astonsihment of Generals Benham
, before the opening fire was heard from Stevens
's command, which was to start from a point scarcely half a mile distant.
When this fire was heard the rear column moved rapidly forward to Stevens
But, as all the after accounts showed, by the time this column could get into position, the main slaughter and repulse had occurred, as stated by General Stevens
to have happened within the first fifteen or twenty minutes. And all because General, Stevnes delayed until nearly daylight before he started.
, of the Eighth Michigan, his leading captain, stated that “it was good light to aim” when the first picket of the enemy was met; because, contrary to orders, the muskets of a part of his regiment at least were not loaded, and they were halted to load them under this terrible fire;
but principally because the regiments were not pushed forward by any officer to the support of the companies who had already gained and held the parapet of the fort.
Only the First and a part of the Fourth regiments reached the Fort
The Second, Third, Fifth, and Sixth appear by the reports to have wavered, or not to have gone beyond the point at which the severest fire of grape was felt.
The first despatch of General Stevens
to General Wright
written on the field, states: “You must push to my assistance.
I am close to the work, but can't get men up.”
was pushed forward.
The second despatch to General Benham
stated: “The advance company mounted the parapet, but the support did not follow close enough
The third says: “My troops cannot stand up to the terrible fire of the enemy; an entire brigade can alone secure the day.”
at once ordered Colonel Williams
with his brigade to report to General Stevens
; afterward one or two regiments of Wright
's command were sent; or fully two thirds of the supporting column which still had to guard our left in front and rear.
did not take the route to the right direct to General Stevens
, as was expected, and when this was discovered his men were too far advanced to recall.
And as General Stevens
afterward professed himself fully satisfied with the support thus rendered him by Colonel Williams
, the matter was not followed up by General Benham
After the engagement had continued at field, cannon, and rifle-range for an hour or more, General Stevens
sent to say that he was forming his men for a charge if he could be supported.
replied that if General Stevens
ceuld take his men up under cover or without being cut to pieces, he should be supported by the whole force except one or two regiments and two guns needed to guard our left, and General Stevens
was directed to reply whether or not he could make the charge safely.
It is certain that such a charge might have been attempted at that time with our whole force; although, considering the number lost or demoralized by the first repulse, it would scarcely have been stronger than the original column of attack.
It is possible that it might have succeeded, but it could only have been successful by immense additional loss in the more advanced daylight, and with the reinforcements the enemy must be supposed to have had. Further, such an advance against a fort in open daylight would have been in violation of General Benham
's own principles, and orders to General Stevens
, already disregarded once that morning.
And at this time it happened that our gunboats firing, by the direction given and the request of General Wright
, were not reaching the Fort
, but throwing their shells very thickly into our own regiments and artillery.
Upon this, the first retiring was ordered by General Benham
to avoid our own shells, when afterward, hearing no word from General Stevens
as to his proposed attack, and without a suspicion that our loss was one tenth of what it proved to be, he at length directed the withdrawal of all the troops, with the intention of another and different attack upon the Fort
After this return General Benham
at once made his preliminary report of this reconnaissance, the other commanders neglecting or avoiding to make their written reports until after General Benham
left the Stono
, at noon on the nineteenth of June.
This report, though correct and satisfactory to General Wright
and Colonel Williams
, appeared not to be so to General Stevens
, to whom it was also shown for further information.
And when General Benham
stated to General Stevens
how inexplicable his report and want of success with his large force had been, General Stevens
made certain explanations and statements verbally, but opposed the mention of his name as authority for them.
On which General Benham
in his report gave him the praise for good conduct which he had so much desired to do. One of these statements was, that the men had loaded muskets, as General Benham
Another, that his regiments were all well closed up; and another, as to the time and darkness at starting.
Of all of which General Benham
since had sufficient evidence from General Stevens
himself, and from other officers to believe them wholly incorrect.
He even has Captain Doyle
's testimony that General Stevens
neglected to give him the spikes, which, if they had been used, as the evidence shows there was opportunity, would have made the second attack quite safe.
And every thing tends to the irresistible conclusion that the neglect of duty of General Stevens
, (which was not
fully ascertained at first,) in carrying out, wilfully or otherwise, his original proposition in council, of an attack by daylight with unloaded muskets, (against the express orders of General Benham
,) caused the failure of this attack.
That our men were unnecessarily slaughtered in open daylight; and that by the consequent withdrawal of the troops from James Island
by General Hunter
, we have given up the only sure hold we had upon the city of Charleston
, and of which three times the number of men cannot now obtain possession.
It only remains to be seen, whether the unfounded assertion of General Hunter
, who acts from the impulse of the moment only, that his order had been disobeyed by an officer with whom he had the most cordial relations up to that moment, and who had concurred most fully in these orders, who claims a threefold previous approval of that movement by General Hunter
; or if the positive disobedience of that officer's orders of a junior, by which a well-laid plan for a vital object has miscarried; shall destroy an experienced officer who has commanded in the greater portion of five or six important actions, (beside many skirmishes,) and previously always successful; or whether all our other generals are to be warned by his fate, that they must always wait for the most positive orders, wait for an attack, and do the least possible with the troops that are intrusted to their command.
Or whether an enthusiastic, daring officer is to be encouraged in his earnest efforts to make the most efficient use of his troops toward the termination of this terrible war.