Doc. 150.-occupation of Coles's Island, S. C.
A National account.
Charleston, South-Carolina, has been commenced. The pioneer corps of the grand expedition — the One Hundredth New-York volunteers, Col. G. B. Dandy, (Brevet Major, United States army)--took undisputed possession of Coles's Island, nine miles from Charleston, this morning. I write this letter from their camp. There is no secrecy attached to this movement, and the facts I shall record cannot operate prejudicially to any subsequent movements. I presume the main facts of the movement will be chronicled in the rebel newspapers, and thoroughly discussed at rebel breakfast-tables several days ere this letter reaches New-York. The discovery of America by Columbus; the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, are prominent facts of American history; the initiatory movement of movements, and the grand movement of the great expedition which is to reduce the hotbed of secession, will be prominent facts of the contemporaneous history of the present rebellion, and will hereafter occupy a prominent part in the future standard history of the United States. The defeat or success of this expedition will have a preponderating influence, one way or the other, in the closing of the present war. The One Hundredth regiment, which came from North-Carolina in February last, is a portion of the Eighteenth army corps. From their arrival in the department of the South, until they embarked for the expedition to this place, they have been encamped at St. Helena Island, Port Royal harbor. Pursuant to orders from General Hunter, they embarked from that place on Monday, the twenty-fourth instant, on board the steamer Expounder, Captain Deering. As they marched from the camp to the vessel, they were the recipients of the cheers of their comrades in arms. The good-byes and God-speeds were hearty. The regiment, after its embarkation, was conveyed to Hilton Head, six smiles distant, where they disembarked, and exchanged their fire-arms for the new Austrian rifle. This work occupied nearly the entire day, and it was nearly dark before the regiment reembarked. The Expounder transport then returned to her anchorage off St. Helena Island, where she remained for the night. On Tuesday, the twenty-fifth instant, a southeast gale, accompanied by rain and fog, prevailed, so that it was injudicious to move on that day. At daylight on the morning of Wednesday, the twenty-sixth instant, the Expounder weighed anchor and started for her destination. The sky was clear, with a fresh north-east wind blowing. Leaving the anchorage off St. Helena, we steamed down Port Royal harbor seaward, passing en route the old line-of-battle ship Vemont, the frigate and flag-ship Wabash, the iron-clad fleet of gunboats, a half-a-dozen wooden ones, and hundreds of ammunition, store, and transport steam and sailing vessels. The scene, relieved by the rising sun crimsoning the sky, was one of peculiar interest and grandeur. At half-past 7 o'clock A. M. the Expounder passed the outer buoy of Port Royal harbor, was headed on a north-eastern course, (Charlestonward.) The distance from Port Royal to Coles's Island is estimated at forty-five miles. The steamer Belvidere, with stores and artillery for the expedition, followed in the rear of the Expounder. As the tide in Stono Inlet bar would not serve until noon, no attempt was made to put the Expounder at her full speed. She was therefore kept under easy steam. The course pursued was along the coast line of South-Carolina, in full sight of land, and six miles distant therefrom. A monotonous line of tall pines and palmetto trees was all that repaid the spectator. After getting well on our journey, the Expounder was the subject of a sea-swell, not violent, but it imparted such a motion to the vessel as would produce a nausea to those persons not accustomed to the sea. This number among the One Hundredth New-York was pretty large, and as a consequence there were not a few cases of “casting up Jonah” on tile Expounder. En route down the coast the steamships Ericsson and S. R. Spaulding, proceeding in opposite directions to us, were successively passed, the former from New-York bound for Port Royal towing a nondescript looking raft. The Spaulding had troops on board. At half-past 11 o'clock the Expounder and Belvidere arrived off Stono Inlet. From this point, looking landward, the gunboats Pawnee and Commodore McDonough, doing blockade duty there, were plainly seen. From the deck of the Expounder the spires of the churches in Charleston, and the Union blockading fleet off Charleston were distinctly seen. The magnetic bearing of Charleston from Stono Inlet is northeast by cast, twelve miles distant. By the time our mosquito expedition reached Stono, the wind had freshened and there was a brisk sea lowing. The breakers were dashing over the shoals at the mouth of the inlet. The Expounder had a government pilot on board who pretended to know the channel into Stono Inlet, but when his capacity was put to the test, as we approached the outer buoy, he displayed so much hesitation and nervousness that Captain Deering thought the risk too great, both to his vessel and those on board, to run the risk of intrusting his vessel in the hands of such a man. He therefore ordered the union-jack to be hoisted to the masthead, the usual signal for a pilot. This met a prompt response from the gunboat Pawnee in Stono River, and shortly afterward the gunboat Commodore McDonough was steaming down the harbor, coming to our assistance. She approached one point about half-way down the channel, within three miles of the Expounder, when she stopped. A small boat, manned by sailors and under a naval officer was sent from her to our assistance. They at first attempted to run their boat,  but the current was too strong for them, whereupon they set sail and beat out the channel. It seemed, as I watched the progress of the little boat, that she would be momentarily engulfed in the heavy sea-swell then prevailing. By the time the McDonough's boat reached us, the tide had been ebbing an hour and a half, and the stage of water there on Stono bar was so low as not to admit its crossing by either the Expounder or Belvidere. It was therefore deemed advisable by Captain Deering to postpone the attempt until high-water the next day. As the wind was blowing quite fresh, it was thought advisable to make a harbor for the night at Edisto Inlet, twelve miles distant, the entrance to which is practicable at all tides for vessels drawing less than twelve feet of water. This was accomplished by four P. M. As we entered Edisto Inlet we met, going in, a fleet of four iron-clad gunboats, and in tow of a steamer, namely, the United States, Locust Point, Cahawba, and the gunboat Connemaugh. In addition to these were several colliers and store vessels. Preceding this fleet in Edisto Inlet were the gunboats South-Carolina and Flambeau and three schooner mortar-boats. The consolidation of these two fleets made quite an imposing appearance, doubtless stimulating the nerves of the rebels in that vicinity, and particularly the rebel pickets on Botany Bay, Seabrook, and Edisto Islands, many of whom were in sight when the fleet entered the harbor. From the anchorage of the Expounder in Edisto Inlet, half-a-mile distant, on Bohicksett Creek, I could distinctly see the deserted but beautiful town, Rockville. Its inhabitants, being of the secession “persuasion,” had gone Dixieward. The town has a neat church, with an immense spire; a large cotton-ginning establishment, stores, postoffice, dwelling-houses, and the usual concomitants of a first-class town. Some of the dwelling-houses are neat, capacious, and apparently comfortable. The town in many respects wears the air of a Yankee town. The architecture of the buildings seems to indicate that at one time a live Yankee from Massachusetts had settled there. As I said before, the place is uninhabited, except by a few superannuated negroes, male and female. The rebels have a picket station there, and the town is frequently visited by rebel scouting-parties. The view of the surrounding country, from Edisto Inlet, is sublime. The soil is of unexampled natural fertility, out of which can be raised almost any kind of a crop. From Edisto, the eye can describe a semicircle of territory from twelve to fifteen miles in extent. The topography of the land is of an undulatory character. The arable cultivated lands bear such a harmonious proportion to the palmetto and pine woods, as to make the scenery preeminently interesting Through the opens on the small eminences, here and there are seen the palatial residences of the old planters. Many of these houses have observatories on them, which give them an unique and lofty appearance. Near the planters' houses are seen the negro villages. Most of these villages are now deserted, and the lands lying waste for want of cultivation. The landscape from Edisto Inlet, is one well worthy of the pencil and easel of the limner. At eight o'clock, on Thursday morning, the twenty-seventh instant, the Expounder and the Belvidere weighed anchor, took their departure from Edisto, and proceeded once more to Stono Inlet. The weather was delightful, and the heavy wind which prevailed the day previous, had subsided. Both vessels arrived at the inlet before high-water, and were obliged to lay off and on until the tide should serve. We were well repaid for the delay, as we had the gratification of seeing the iron ram Keokuk pass us, en route from Fortress Monroe for Hilton lead. This double-turreted monster looked formidable. While waiting for the tide to serve, the Government pilot on the Expounder made a small boat survey of Stono Bar. After he returned, which was about noon, the Expounder was got under weigh; but immediately after passing the first buoy, she grounded on a shoal, from which her motive power was unable to extricate her. Capt. Deering, of the Expounder, immediately ordered the ensign to be set, union down, as a signal of distress. This was answered promptly by the ranking naval officer in Stono River, who immediately sent the gunboat Commodore McDonough to our assistance. Soundings were taken, to ascertain the position of the Expounder, when it was discovered that the shoal was a fulcrum on which the steamer was resting, a position by no means safe nor desirable. As the tide receded, our position became more precarious, and the breakers by which we were surrounded were intense and dangerous. Before the arrival of succor from the navy, long hawsers of the Belvidere and Expounder were spliced, (the former vessel had not at this time attempted to cross the bar,) but the efforts of the former vessel to relieve the latter, were unavailing. The power of both was nil. The wind was freshening all the time, so that it blew a little gale; the Expounder was surrounded by a surf-swell, which seemed to threaten the lives of those on board, should the gale increase. The Expounder had boats enough only for a few hundred, so that our position was critical. The gunboat McDonough, having a distance of eight miles to come from her anchorage to where the Expounder was on shore, some time elapsed after the time we made our signal of distress, before she reached us. When she came to our assistance, she run a hawser to us, and attempted to pull the Expounder off the shoal. After tugging for an hour or two, and parting several hawsers, the McDonough herself went ashore on the edge of the channel. Shortly after this, a loud report was heard all over the Expounder. It was subsequently discovered that the hog-frame, or, to make it more plain to the reader, the large semicircular frame, seen over the decks of our large river steamers, had broken in twain. Captain Deering immediately ordered the troops to go aft, and the cargo, on the forward  part of the boat, to the same place. This was done to prevent the boat from straining. The Belvidere meanwhile had crossed the bar, and anchored in a position half a mile from the Expounder. The safety of the troops was now a matter of serious consideration. The captain of the steamboat, and Colonel Dandy, of the One Hundredth regiment, held a consultation, and at once determined to lower all the boats, and remove the troops forthwith to the Belvidere. In addition to boats' crews from the Expounder, several were made up from volunteers from among the troops. The Belvidere sent all her boats to assist in the rescue. In a short time, a dozen or more small life and surf-boats, were loading with troops. The work was conducted with coolness. The first boats that left the Expounder for the Belvidere, dashed through the surf boldly; but it seemed the white-capped waves would cover them at any moment. This perilous work was continued until dark. By this time, about three hundred soldiers had been removed from the Expounder to the Belvidere. While this work was going on, more assistance was sent to us by Commander Balch, of the Pawnee. He sent the ship's launch, manned by twenty gallant sailors. In the launch was a long rope cable and an anchor, with which to assist in heaving the stranded steamer off the shoal. The naval men worked like heroes, and succeeded in getting a hawser to the Expounder, and threw the anchor in a proper place to obtain the desired result. At eleven o'clock at night, the tide had risen to such an extent, as to warrant the attempt to rescue the steamer. A heavy strain was got on the cable referred to, and with the assistance of the engines, the Expounder got off the reef, after a trial of less than an hour from the time the tide served. The gunboat McDonough got off the place where she grounded an hour or so previous. These facts afforded a great relief to all on board the unfortunate steamer. We anchored for the night in the channel. During the day, the rebel batteries at Light-House Inlet, or Folly Island, four or five miles distant, tried the range of their guns upon us. The range was too long, and their shells exploded harmless on the beach, a mile or two short of us. At night, the rebel lookouts on Folly Island fired rockets, emitting red fire, at intervals. This appeared to be a signal of warning, either to Gen. Beauregard that the Yankees were approaching, or to warn off contraband blockade-runners. On Friday morning, the twenty-eighth instant, the Belvidere and Expounder steamed into Stono River, opposite Coles's Island. Under the direction of Commander Balch, of the Pawnee, they took anchorage within a few hundred yards of the centre of the island. The steamers' boats, with those from the gunboats, were all brought into use at eight o'clock A. M. The troops commenced disembarking. Major D. D. Nash, of the One Hundredth regiment, with three companies of that regiment, was the first to land. The movement was promptly made. The troops formed in line as they landed, with muskets loaded, ready for any attack from the enemy. The enemy did not come, and the regiment was safely landed, in one hour from the time the disembarkation commenced. While the troops were disembarking, Colonel Dandy, of the One Hundredth regiment, Commander Balch, of the Pawnee, and Capt. Rice, of the Seventy-sixth Pennsylvania volunteers, (on special duty on the Pawnee,) landed on the island, and reconnoitred in the vicinity. They discovered a rebel battery, situated near the end of the causeway that leads from Coles's to James Island, about one and three fourths miles from where the troops were making their camps. They also saw evidences of numerous concealed works on Folly and James Islands. The rebels are in force in this vicinity. We look for an attack at any moment. Coles's Island, now occupied by our troops, is at the confluence of the Stono and Folly Rivers. It is about two miles long, and one eighth of a mile wide. It might be considered a part of James Island, as the dividing line (if it may be so called) is a marsh. A causeway connects Coles's with James Island. The island is in proximity to Kiawah, John's and Folly Islands, and Stono, Folly, and Kiawah Rivers. The topography of the island is of an undulating character, and is covered with a sparse growth of pine and palmet-to-trees. The ground is covered with thick switch-grass, interspersed with cactus and semi-tropical wild plants. In the water-front, or rather, the sea-front of the island, there is the debris of a round fort, occupied by the rebels at the commencement of the war. There are two embrasures still visible, and portions of platforms for guns. In the rear of the work, is a large bombproof powder-magazine. On the east end of the island, there are a number of rifle-pits, close to which is a rebel graveyard, in which are ten or twelve graves. From the head-boards it is seen that the island was at one time garrisoned by the Fourteenth South-Carolina regiment. When our troops landed, they discovered water-wells were already dug for them. From the north side of Coles's Island, two miles distant, is the pretty town of Legareville. It is situated on the Stono River, and runs parallel with it. It has many large buildings of modern architecture, and appears to have been once, if not now, occupied by a pretty enterprising people. The houses are surrounded by large flower-gardens, and ornamented in front by shade-trees of various descriptions. The town has been deserted by its inhabitants, and is now occupied by the rebel soldiers. The rebels have three forts here, two of them of recent construction. The United States gunboat Isaac P. Smith, was captured by one of these forts several weeks ago. Since that time, the enemy have made accessions to these works, by the addition of the forts named, besides a line of rifle-pits, nearly half a mile long, on the south side of the town. In addition to these fortifications, the rebels have a mortar-battery on James Island, directly opposite the town.  Early in the afternoon, the One Hundredth had their camp established, their shelter-tents up, the artillery landed, and camp-fires in full blaze, the men in the best of spirits, with their eyes wide open for an attack from the rebels. In justice to the One Hundredth regiment, I must say, from the time they left Port Royal to the time they landed on Coles's Island, not a murmur was heard from the soldiers, although during the trip they were subject to many inconveniences and hardships. This speaks well for the discipline in its ranks. At night our pickets were thrown out at proper points, and the artillery placed in an eligible position. Camp-fires were extinguished, so as to obscure our exact position from the rebels. About midnight, the rebel pickets exhibited flash signal-lights, within three hundred yards of our picket-line. These signals were answered by the rebels at Legareville, two miles distant. The rebel pickets on Folly Island, were also employed during the night in signalizing by means of rockets, sometimes showing white and at others red rockets. The night passed away without any occurrence of importance.