previous next

Doc. 137 1/2. capture of Beaufort, S. C.

A correspondent of the New York Herald, gives the following account of this capture:--

Fort Walker, Port Royal harbor, S. C., November 11, 1861.
On Saturday noon last, in pursuance of the orders of Flag-officer Dupont, the gunboats Seneca, Lieutenant-Commanding David Ammen; Pembina, Lieutenant-Commanding John Bankhead, and the Curlew, Lieutenant Whortmough, proceeded up the Beaufort River to reconnoitre, and to take possession of two lightboats, which had been removed there early in the summer. The boats proceeded rapidly up the stream, cleared for action, and ready for any emergency; but the banks of the river were found deserted save by groups of negroes, who were observed to gaze upon the novel sight of three war vessels bearing the Stars and Stripes on South Carolina waters, with curiosity, if not with lively fear. No whites could be seen, and no defences of any kind could be described, beside a battery near Beaufort, where the guns had been taken out and transferred to Bay Point. On arriving at a point about half a mile distant from Beaufort quite a number of persons were observed to leave the village, and hastily take to the woods. Soon thereafter, on approaching the village a little nearer, Captain Ammen, of the Seneca, sent Lieutenant Sprotson in a boat to the shore, with a flag of truce, to communicate to the people and to assure them of perfect safety to their persons and property, and inviting them to return to their homes. On landing, Lieutenant Sprotson was met by a number of negroes, who seemed greatly rejoiced to see him, and who cheered lustily for the Stars and Stripes. They informed Lieutenant Sprotson that there were but two whites left in the village, and took him to one, who met the Lieutenant at the door of his store waving a flag of truce, and exhibiting in his manner every indication of deep fear. This man, a Northerner by birth, reported that the negroes were perfectly wild, and were plundering stores and dwellings, wantonly destroying property of every kind, and carrying off every thing of a portable character that they could lay their hands upon. They had been worked up to a pitch of frenzy by their masters, who had shot several negroes who refused to accompany them into the woods, and away from the village, to prevent them from communicating with the United States forces; and that the negroes were retaliating in this manner, and that the lives of the remaining whites and their property were horribly insecure. A perfect saturnalia had begun.

The negroes reported that the rebel force which lately occupied the fortifications on St. Philip's Island had, with the Beaufort artillery, retired in a hasty manner to Port Royal ferry, about ten miles distant, where there was a force of about a thousand men.

On these facts being known to Captain Ammen, he returned, and reported them to Commodore Dupont, who immediately ordered the Unadilla, Captain Collins, the senior officer of the gunboats, to proceed to Beaufort and suppress any excesses that the negroes might commit in their efforts to retaliate against their masters, and to take particular pains to assure the white inhabitants that we had no intention to disturb them in their rights or in the enjoyment of private property, and in the spirit of these instructions, and, in accordance with these principles, to use every effort to restore confidence, to bring the people back to their homes, when order should be reestablished and personal safety and the rights of private property secured to all. We have not heard from the Unadilla as yet, but there will be no more excesses committed if Commodore Dupont and the forces under his control can prevent it; and I am sure that General Sherman is controlled by the same sense of duty.

While the Seneca was returning a boat load of negroes came aboard the vessel, and they were distinctly informed by Captain Ammen that we had not come for the purpose of taking them away from their masters, nor of obliging them to continue in a state of slavery, and that they might go to Beaufort or to Hilton Head, as they pleased. They left, saying that they would return to Beaufort and make arrangements to remove, and they thought that all the slaves would come down to Hilton Head. Some of them have already arrived, and others will pour in here until we shall be overrun by them. Nearly two hundred contrabands have already arrived within our lines, and the accessions increase daily. And these fat, sleek, well-to-do darkies are the favorite slaves of the wealthiest and largest slave-owners in South Carolina, where the institution is said to assume its mildest form, and where, consequently, the slaves are more contented and happier than in any other part of the South. The negroes here would never leave their masters, they would fight and lay down their lives for them, if necessary, before they would allow “Lincoln's hirelings” to land upon the sacred soil. How correct they were in their estimate of the strength of these black scoundrels' love and affection for massa, and the “little log hut” may be easily appreciated when I state that one of the first negroes that came in was the driver on Mr. Seabury's plantation, and among others were body servants of General Drayton and Coatesworth Pinckney, whose plantations are within ten miles of us. These come, and go into ecstasies of joy, when they feel that they are safe. There are a good many cooks among them, who can get up a “hoecake” in a style quite gay and festive, and who know how to give that exact turn to bacon which is arrived at only by long experience, and a peculiar talent that rises to the height of the science, and embraces within its comprehensive grasp the coordinate branches of turkey roasting and [320] oyster-frying. Those there be among us to to-day.

These oleaginous darkies that come in are well cared for in every respect, and we expect at no distant day to see the results of their new freedom manifested in throwing up intrenchments and constructing fortifications. A couple of thousand negroes will be just the article we need in intrenching ourselves, and by the time we are ready every shovel, spade, and pick that we have will be in contrabands' hands, as they come in by fifties and hundreds.

But to return to the expedition up the Beaufort River.

It was ascertained that both of the lightboats for which the gunboats were sent, were burned by the rebels immediately after they had received intelligence of the capture of Fort Walker and battery Beauregard, on Bay Point. So one of the objects of the expedition was not attained. Lightboats will undoubtedly be sent down from Hatteras Inlet at an early day, so that one may be placed on Martin's Industry, and the other at another important point. The surveying steamer Vixen, with Captain Boutelle, is now engaged in laying out buoys at the entrance of, and in the harbor. This work will soon be completed, and no difficulty will be experienced by masters of vessels in getting into the harbor by aid of the chart, although there will be pilots to brings all vessels in.

The Ottawa, in command of Commander Stevens, is covering Scull Creek, and thus the water communication between Savannah and Charleston is effectually cut off. This will cause a great deal of trouble and annoyance to the rebels, as the railroad between the cities of Savannah and Charleston is miserable enough, and not capable of doing the business that will now be demanded of it.

Another account: by an officer of the frigate Pawnee.

steam-frigate Pawnee, Port Royal Bay, November 11, 1861.
Our gunboats went up to Beaufort yesterday, land found the town and the river banks deserted by the white residents. Parties of negroes were breaking open houses and plundering at leisure. The panic exceeds description.

We are informed that the families on the mainland as well as on this group of sea islands have fled to the interior, in some cases taking their negroes. These generally, however, remain, and some dozens have come into camp and have been set at work by the army.

Truly South Carolina's day of reckoning has come. She has sown the wind; she is reaping the whirlwind. There is a singular fitness in striking the effective blow at this bold iniquity here in its birthplace. In April last our flag was, for the first time, dishonored on her soil, that the palmetto might flaunt above it. On Thursday last it was raised again upon her soil, with such pealing shouts of triumph and such thundering salvos of artillery as made the whole State tremble. God grant that it may forever float there!

Hilton Head, upon which the south fort stands, is ten feet above high water. The parapet of the fort is some twenty feet higher. It is protected by a deep ditch with a stockade. It is constructed on approved scientific principles, with angles, traverses, a curtain, bombproofs, well-protected magazines, well supplied with ammunition and rifle-pits. Twenty-five guns were found in the fort, fifteen of which (with an equal number in the fort at Bay Point, on the north side) swept the channel of the entrance; of these the flanking guns were rifled pieces of the heaviest calibre, eighty-pounders; while an enormous ten-inch columbiad occupied the centre, with a nine-inch shell gun beside it. The remainder were forty-two-pounders and thirty-two-pounders, navy patterns, taken from the artillery park at Norfolk Navy Yard. There was a furnace for heating shot. The rifled guns were cast in the moulds of nine and ten-inch columbiads, and rifled with a six-inch bore. These and the columbiads are new, and bear the stamp of Anderson's Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond. Abundance of shot and shell, grape and canister, was left about all the guns. The scene on entering the fort was extremely interesting. Every thing bore testimony to the terrible effect of the “feu d'enfer” of the preceding four hours. The sand was strewed with. fragments of exploded shells, which had perforated the wood-work and torn up the turf from parapet and traverses everywhere. Five guns, of the fifteen just named, were dismounted, the ten-inch columbiad among them. Two thirty-two-pounders were thrown down, with their carriages in fragments lying upon them. Twenty-four bodies were left unburied in the enclosure, while others and many wounded have been found in the groves beyond the camp.

I was more than ever surprised and gratified with our success after my visit, and well appreciated the remark of a veteran officer, who exclaimed, after examining the position and force of the batteries, “How did we ever survive that fire and take these forts!” But the very boldness of the attack assured its success. Instead of fighting the forts at anchor, and exposed to their enfilading fire in the channel, Flag-officer Dupont steamed the entire squadron through the passage and attacked the batteries in flank from the inside of the bay, thus preventing half their guns from being brought to bear upon us, and keeping entirely out of range of one fort, while raining shells upon the other. The vessels followed each other in slow circles, the Wabash leading, each delivering its fire as the guns would bear, and as long as within range. As the tide rose the circles swept nearer to the shore, and the most effective firing was done at one thousand or twelve hundred yards.

The enemy stood gallantly to their guns, but their hopes sank when the boast of their officers, that they would sink our ships if they tried to [321] pass their line of fire, was falsified by our bold dash through. Our near approach saved us from being struck by most of their shot and shell, which were aimed high and whistled harmlessly over our heads. A movement of two gunboats up the bay, after their fire slackened, caused them to desert the forts and flee across the islands to avoid being cut off. Had we pilots for the creeks in which their steamers were concealed, the entire force of three thousand men might have been captured.

The fort on Bay Point is similar to the south fort, and as heavily armed. I have not visited it yet.

The bay is magnificent; it is as accessible as Hampton Roads, with as deep water, and our squadron rides as safely as there. We have heard but little of it, but there is not a better harbor on the coast.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
November 11th, 1861 AD (2)
April (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: