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Chapter 29:


Christmas week’ and the ‘holidays’ had come, were gone, and the Federal attack on Charleston had not taken place. The rumors circulated were generally well-founded, but the preparations necessary for the accomplishment of so formidable a project consumed more time than had been anticipated. The delay was of advantage to General Beauregard, as it gave him additional time for the completion of his various arrangements.

Foreseeing the eventual necessity of a rapid concentration of troops by rail at any threatened points, in or out of his Department, he caused an earnest request to be sent to the President of the Northeastern Railroad, for the adoption of more efficient measures on the line from Charleston to Wilmington; he drew attention to the necessity of accumulating wood at various stations, and of increasing the personnel required for swift and unencumbered running, under any emergency.

The Georgia troops sent back to Savannah were ordered to Charleston, so as to be ready, if necessary, to go again to Wilmington, where, it was reported on the 6th, the enemy might make [56] his first attempt. General Bonham, who had succeeded the Honorable F. W. Pickens as Governor of South Carolina, was urged to make all timely preparations for the impending Federal expedition, should Charleston, and not Wilmington and Weldon, become the point of attack.

General Beauregard had long studied the problem of how best to deal with the Federal monitors, in the event of their forcing a passage into the harbor of Charleston. The following letter gives one of the conclusions at which he had arrived:

Headquarters, Department, S. C., Ga., and Fla., Charleston, S. C., Jan. 15th, 1863.
Brig.-Genl. R. S. Ripley, Commanding First Military Dist., etc.:
General,—The Commanding General wishes you to organize and train at least six boarding boat parties, with a view to attacking, at night, any of the enemy's ironclads that may succeed in penetrating the harbor. The men should be armed with revolvers, if practicable, and provided with blankets, with which to close all apertures; also with iron wedges and sledges, to stop the tower from revolving; with bottles of burning-fluid, to throw into the tower; with leather bags of powder, to throw into the smoke-stack; and with ladders of about ten feet in length, to storm the tower in case of need. The boats should be provided with muffled oars, with water-tight casks secured under the seats, to give buoyancy, in case of injury to the boats from any cause. The men should each, likewise, be furnished with a life-preserver.

For such a service it will be best to call for volunteers.


Thomas Jordan, Chief of Staff.

The plan proposed and the details given for its execution might not have been successfully carried out, but the object in view was well worth the experiment. General Beauregard was of opinion that, in besieged places and while awaiting an attack, it is always judicious to keep the troops busy with or interested in some work or project, even should neither be of real importance. A spirit of cheerfulness is thus maintained, and no uneasiness or disaffection is allowed to grow among the men.

Another project upon which he was very much bent was, to induce Commodore Ingraham to test the efficiency of his two ironclad gunboat-rams, the Palmetto State and the Chicora, the first under Captain Rutledge, the second under Captain Tucker. There were also three small harbor steamers, the Governor Clinch, the Ettiwan, and the Chesterfield, which could be used as tenders in co-operation with the two former vessels. General Beauregard [57] advised a night attack by the Confederate rams against the wooden fleet of the enemy, and felt sure that the blockade might be raised, or, at any rate, that considerable damage could thus be effected.

Commodore Ingraham adopted the suggestion, and, having made all necessary preparations, on the 30th of January, at 11.30 P. M., left his anchorage on board the Palmetto State, in company with the Chicora, and steamed down to the bar; both vessels crossing it at about 4.30 A. M. on the 31st. The sea was smooth, the weather propitious; and the Federal fleet, resting, as usual, in complete security, it realized the danger threatening only when the two Confederate rains were already in its midst. The Palmetto State boldly gave out her name, and, making for a steamer immediately ahead—the Mercedita—struck and fired into her before she well knew what had befallen her. Disabled, and reported to be in a sinking condition, she called for relief, and instantly surrendered. A second and a third steamer were successively chased by the Palmetto State, but, taking advantage of their superior speed, steered to the southward, and soon ran out of range. Meanwhile, the Chicora, after setting fire to a schooner-rigged propeller, and engaging and crippling the Quaker City, ran into and fired a steamer supposed to be the Keystone State, forcing her to strike her flag. Say what the Federal reports may, it is none the less a fact that, before dawn of that day, the stampede of the blockaders was complete, and that, in the space of less than two hours time, not a sail of the entire Federal fleet was nearer than seven miles from its usual anchorage off the Charleston Harbor. After thus scattering and driving off their enemy, the two Confederate vessels quietly steamed towards the entrance of Beach Channel, where they finally anchored at 8.45 A. M. They remained there fully seven hours, waiting for the tide;1 and it must have been at least 3.30 P. M. when they recrossed the bar on their return to the city. Up to that time not a blockader—still less the entire fleet—had given sign of an intention to venture back to its former position. And this continued to be the case during the whole day and night of January 31st.

This easy dispersion of the blockading squadron and the [58] material injury inflicted upon it show how wise was General Beauregard's advice, and what might have been accomplished had a still bolder course and a less generous one been pursued by the flagofficer commanding. It would not be fair, however, to detract from the merits of an enterprise which, so far as it went, reflected honor on the officers and men engaged in it. It should not be forgotten that Commodore Ingraham had many serious obstacles to contend with: first, the weakness of the machinery of the two boats; second, their very heavy and objectionable draught; and, third, the fact that neither could be looked upon as altogether seaworthy. But, whatever may have been the causes that prevented a more brilliant result, the official statement, as made by General Beauregard, Commodore Ingraham, and the foreign consuls then on the spot, was true: the blockade of the port of Charleston, for the time being, had been raised, and the hostile fleet guarding its outer harbor had been unquestionably dispersed.

The reader is aware that the outer works planned, commenced, and partially completed, in 1861, by General Beauregard, at the entrance of the Stono, had been abandoned by General Pemberton for inner defences believed by him to afford better protection. He removed from Cole's Island, at the month of the Stono, eleven guns of large calibre which had protected the entrance. The river was immediately entered, and a permanent lodgment of Federal troops was made on the southeast end of James Island. This proved to be a serious error upon General Pemberton's part. The enemy's gunboats, now unhindered, went up the Stono as near Fort Pemberton as safety permitted, and were thus enabled to fire their long-range rifled guns upon our camps on James and John's islands, thereby causing much annoyance to our troops, and occasionally killing a few men.

It had been ascertained that one of these Federal gunboats— the Isaac Smith, carrying nine heavy guns—was the most enterprising of them all; that she approached nearest to the fort, and, under the shelter of a high bluff, with banked fires, often remained there the whole night, unconcerned as if afloat on Federal waters.

While the naval attack just described was being prepared General Beauregard determined to put a stop to the annoying and, thus far, unimpeded incursions of the Isaac Smith. He called the Commander of the First Military District to a conference at [59] Department Headquarters, and it was there agreed that masked batteries should be immediately erected on the banks of the Stono at points carefully selected, which the Federal gunboat was known to pass, and especially near the spot where she had been often seen to lie at anchor. She was to be allowed to ascend the river unmolested as far as she might see fit to go, when our batteries were to open upon her suddenly at short range, and, thus cutting off her retreat, compel her to surrender to our forces. The execution of the plan and its general outlines, with such modifications as circumstances might render necessary, was intrusted to Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph A. Yates, of the 1st South Carolina Artillery, stationed at Fort Sumter. We submit his official report, and thus acquaint the reader with the details of the engagement:

Headquarters, special expedition, Charleston, S. C., Feb. 1st, 1863.
Captain W. F. Nance, A. A. G.:
Captain,—I have the honor to report that, in obedience to instructions from District Headquarters, a secret expedition was organized for the purpose of attacking the enemy's gunboats in Stono River, consisting of the following troops: The siege-train, composed of Captain B. C. Webb's company (A), and Lieutenant S. W. Wilson, Jr., commanding Company B—commanded by Major Charles Allston, Jr.; Captain F. C. Schultz's company (F), Palmetto Light Artillery Battalion; light battery, manned by Captain F. H. Harleston's company (D), 1st South Carolina Artillery (regulars); one Parrott gun, in charge of Lieutenant T. E. Gregg; 3d Howitzers (siege-train). Captain John C. Mitchell's company (I), 1st South Carolina Artillery (regulars); Company H, Captain S. M. Roof; and Company I, Lieutenant M. Gunter commanding (20th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers), acted as sharp-shooters.

On the afternoon of January 30th, at 4.30 o'clock, the enemy's gunboat, Isaac Smith, mounting one 30-pounder Parrott gun and eight 8-inch heavy columbiads, came up the Stono River, passing our batteries (which were masked at Legare's Point Place and at Grimball's, on John's Island), and came to anchor a little above them. She was immediately fired upon from our guns posted at Grimball's, on John's Island, when she attempted to make good her escape, fighting our batteries (which had then opened) on John's Island as she passed. She succeeded in getting as far as Legare's Point Place, when she dropped anchor and unconditionally surrendered. We took prisoners her entire crew, consisting of eleven officers, one hundred and five men, and three negroes.

The enemy's loss was twenty-five killed and wounded; on our side one man wounded (since died).

Major Allston commanded the batteries at Grimball's, on John's Island; Captain Harleston those at Point Place. Captain Mitchell commanded the [60] sharp-shooters. Lieutenant Charles Inglesby, 1st South Carolina Artillery, acted as Adjutant.

The officers and men under my command behaved with great coolness and bravery, fighting their guns without breastworks, entirely exposed to the enemy's fire within two or three hundred yards.

The Smith has been towed up the Stono and put under the guns of Fort Pemberton.

In closing my report, I will not omit to mention the very signal service rendered by the Stono scouts, and also by Captain John (B. L.) Walpole.

The members of the Signal Corps detailed to accompany the expedition discharged their duties with great efficiency.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Joseph A. Yates, Lieut.-Colonel comdg. expedition.

The Isaac Smith had been but slightly damaged. She was speedily repaired, and, being now named the Stono, became a guard-boat in Charleston Harbor, under Captain W. J. Hartstein, C. S. N., of whom mention has already been made in one of the early chapters of this work.

The enemy was unfortunate at this time in General Beauregard's Department. To the precipitate flight of his blockading fleet, and to his loss in the Stono, was added a third and more significant reverse, which we are about briefly to describe.

In the early morning of the 1st of February appeared, opposite the battery at Genesis Point (Fort McAllister), in the Georgia District, a Federal ironclad of the monitor class, accompanied by three gunboats and a mortar-boat. They steamed up to within about one thousand yards of the work, dropped anchor, and soon began a heavy cannonade. The armament of the Genesis Point battery consisted of one 8-inch columbiad, one 42-pounder, five 32-pounders, and one 10-inch mortar. The chief aim of the ironclad (afterwards known to be the single-turreted monitor Montauk) was directed against the 8-inch columbiad, just abreast of which she had purposely taken position. She fired 11 and 15 inch shells. The parapet fronting the columbiad was breached, so as to leave the gun exposed; but the cannoneers remained at their post to the last, refusing to be relieved. The fight continued for more than four hours, and then suddenly ceased. The monitor slowly and silently retired, it was believed, in a damaged condition. This was an encouraging result, and showed that ironclads might not be so formidable as they were thought, against sand-batteries. [61]

Very little was known at that time of the capacity of the newly-built and so much talked — of Federal monitors and ironclads. Hence the importance of the result secured by this attack. General Beauregard had drawn his conclusions accordingly, and, in prevision of the danger threatening the works in front of Charleston, wrote the following letter to General Ripley:

Headquarters, Department S. C., Ga., and Fla., Charleston, S. C., Feb. 8th, 1863.
Brig.-Genl. R. S. Ripley, Commanding First Mil. Dist., Charleston, S. C.:
General,—The recent attack of the enemy's ironclad monitor Montauk on the battery at Genesis Point (the first day at about one mile, and the second at about eight hundred or one thousand yards) would seem to indicate that the enemy is not so confident of the invulnerability of this kind of naval vessels. But I consider also that the attack on Sumter, whenever it takes place, will probably be made at long range, with their heaviest guns and mortars. This being admitted, they will necessarily attack it where it is weakest—i. e., the gorge, southeast angle, and east face—taking their position close along the eastern shore of Morris Island, after silencing Battery Wagner. By adopting this plan their steamers, gunboats, etc., would be, moreover, farther removed from the batteries of Sullivan's Island.

The enemy may also establish land rifled and mortar batteries on the sandhills along the sea-shore of Morris Island, at the distance of from one to two miles from Sumter, as was done in the reduction of Fort Pulaski last year. He might possibly send one or more monitors during the night to take a position in the small channel north of Cummings's Point, within close range, to batter down the gorge of Sumter and endeavor to blow up the magazines.

That mode of attack, being the one most to be apprehended, should be guarded against as well as our limited means will permit—first, by transferring as many heavy rifled guns as can be spared from the other faces of the fort to the gorge-angle and face already referred to; and the Brooke's rifled gun now on its way here from Richmond must likewise be put there, substituting in its place at Fort Johnson the 10-inch now expected from that city, so locating it as to fire towards Morris Island when required; secondly, a strong fieldwork should be thrown up as soon as sufficient labor can be procured on Cummings's Point, open in the gorge towards Fort Sumter, to act besides as a kind of traverse to this work from the fire of the batteries located by the enemy along the sea-shore of Morris Island. The Cummings's Point Battery should be armed with the heaviest and longest ranged guns we may be able to obtain for that purpose.

The introduction of heavy rifled guns and ironclad steamers in the attack of masonry forts has greatly changed the condition of the problem applicable to Fort Sumter when it was built; and we must now use the few and imperfect means at our command to increase its defensive features as far as practicable. The Chief-Engineers of this Department and of the State will be ordered [62] to report to you at once, to confer with you, so as to carry out the views expressed by me in this letter.

Major Harris, Chief-Engineer, has received my instructions relative to locating some of Rain's torpedoes' about Cummings's Point and within the harbor, independently of the electrical torpedoes under the charge of Mr. Waldron.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

What General Beauregard apprehended most, however, was a night attack by the Federal monitors and ironclads. During a dark night nothing could prevent them from taking a position sufficiently near Fort Sumter, and there opening fire upon it, with almost certain impunity. By repeating the manoeuvre several nights in succession they might eventually batter down the walls of the fort and dismount most of its guns, or blow up its magazines. It was evident that Sumter, being a large object, could be seen well enough to be fired at with approximate precision even at night; while the monitors, being small, and lying low in the water, would hardly be discernible from the fort, and, if made to change their positions after each discharge, might render impossible any accuracy of aim on the part of our gunners, who would be left with nothing else to guide them but the flash of the enemy's pieces. And General Beauregard was of opinion that, by establishing floating lights of different colors at the entrance of the various channels leading into the inner harbor, and by frequent soundings, rendered easy by most excellent coast-survey maps in the possession of the Federal commanders, the plan of attack just described could have been carried out with no serious difficulty, and to the advantage of the enemy, especially if undertaken while the tides were stationary, or nearly so. Fortunately, however, Admiral Dupont, and the other naval commanders having charge of the hostile fleet, did not adopt this very simple mode of attack, against which the guns of Sumter, and of the works around the harbor, would have been almost powerless.

It was with a view to guard against this danger that the following communication was addressed to Commodore Ingraham:

Charleston, S. C., March 1st, 1863.
Sir,—The movements of the enemy in Port Royal Harbor yesterday looked suspicious, and have the appearance of an early movement of some sort. Thus forewarned, it will appear assuredly the part of prudence to be on the watch. I must therefore request that the Confederate steamer Stono should take her [63] position as a guard-boat, in advance of the forts, as far as practicable to-night, and thereafter every night, for the present.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Thinking also of the reinforcements he might have to order from General Walker's district, he, on the same day, instructed the President of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad to keep in readiness, at Pocotaligo Station, a train of cars capable of carrying a thousand men. On the 2d General Walker was written to, and advised as to the course he should pursue to protect the trestlework across the Savannah River and hold the railroad line to Charleston. ‘All your movements,’ he was told, ‘must look to the final defence of Charleston, where I shall concentrate all my troops when required.’

The enemy had evidently some design to accomplish up the Ogeechee River, for, on the 28th of February, he again attacked Fort McAllister, with an ironclad, three gunboats, and a mortarboat. The engagement was another disappointment to the naval officer commanding as, after two hours cannonading, which only resulted in the crippling of the Confederate steamer Rattlesnake, then aground a short distance off, the attacking vessels ceased firing and dropped down the river.2 The attempt was renewed on the 3d of March by three of the enemy's monitors—the Montauk being one of them—and was kept up for more than seven hours, but without damaging our battery, which, upon inspection by Major Harris, after the engagement, was found ‘in good condition in every respect.’3 Alluding to this affair, General Beauregard, from Charleston, March 4th, 1863, forwarded the following telegram to General Cooper:

Fort McAllister has again repulsed enemy's attack. Ironclads retired at 8 P. M. yesterday; mortar-boats shelled until 6 o'clock this morning. All damages repaired during night; 8-inch columbiads mounted, and fort good as ever. No casualties reported. Result is encouraging. Enemy's vessels still in sight.

Reduced as were General Beauregard's forces at that time, he was nevertheless called upon to reinforce other points of his Department. His letter of March 4th to Major H. C. Guerin, Chief [64] of Subsistence, through Captain John M. Otey, A. A. G., showed ‘that the aggregate, present and absent, of the troops in the State of South Carolina was 25,000.’ Major Guerin was directed to make his estimates accordingly, ‘adding fifty per cent. for emergencies, and 3000 negroes.’4 It was to guard against the apprehended result of such numerical weakness that General Beauregard had demanded additional State troops of Governor Bonham, who declined to accede to his request, on the ground that, should he do so, the planting interests of the State might be materially damaged. In his reply to the Governor, General Beauregard said he ‘was alive to the sacrifices and hardships which a call on the militia would entail,’ but considered that the occasion justified him in requiring the presence of ‘every arms-bearing man’ the State could raise. His letter ended thus:

In other words, my command is much smaller than the force under General Lee, a year ago, in this State, when the hostile force at Port Royal was not more than half the one now concentrated in that vicinity.

‘With what resources I have I shall make the best battle I can, conscious that I have done all I could to enlarge those resources in all practicable ways.’

In order to prevent night reconnoissances on Morris and Sullivan's islands, General Beauregard now ordered the Commander of the First Military District to patrol the beaches of those two islands with cavalry, to be sent for that purpose from the mainland, and to see to it that Morris Island, which he thought was the more exposed to hostile incursions, should be specially guarded in that way.5 And, with the fixed determination to give no respite to the enemy, wherever he could be attacked with apparent hope of success, he assigned Lieutenant-Colonel Yates to the command of another expedition against Federal steamers which were attempting to do in Winyaw Bay what the Isaac Smith had previously done in the Stono. General Beauregard was also very anxious to try there the merit of Captain Lee's torpedo-boats, which he was having prepared for that purpose.

The more threatening the movements of the enemy appeared, the more active were General Beauregard's preparations to meet his attack. On the 23d he instructed the Commander of the First Military District, first, to confer with Commodore Ingraham in [65] relation to a proposed night-attack on the monitors by the small boat flotilla, now thoroughly manned and ready for effective work; second, to get a sufficient supply of wood and coal for the steamer Stono, should she be returned to the land-forces by the Navy Department; third, vigilantly to guard the ‘New Bridge’ across the Ashley against accidental or intentional destruction by fire. On the same day Major Harris was directed to complete at once the obstructions on the Wappoo Cut; to visit Battery Wall, at White Point, and determine whether or not it was strong enough to resist such projectiles as the enemy might be provided with, should he attempt to push into Charleston Harbor. He was also requested to inspect the bridge over Rantowles Creek, and, if necessary, to repair it without loss of time.

Very shortly afterwards (on the 29th) General Beauregard ordered his Chief Quartermaster to have ready for use whatever rolling-stock might be required to transport rapidly to Charleston, by the Northeastern Railroad, say 6000 men, and, by the Savannah and Charleston Railroad, about 10,000. He was preparing all the means in his power to give the enemy as warm a reception as circumstances would allow. And, as usual with him, no detail, however insignificant in appearance, was neglected. He really saw to everything, and gave, himself, verbally or otherwise, all the instructions necessary to the full execution of his orders.

On the 31st the following instructions were forwarded to Brigadier-Generals Hagood and Walker:

All heavy baggage must be removed to some secure place for storage.

The troops must be held in light marching order, ready for any emergency and movements of the utmost celerity.

‘The planters must be warned of the impendency of invasion, and advised to remove their negroes to some more secure localities.’

And on the same day the following letter was addressed to General Mercer, commanding the District of Georgia:

I am instructed to direct you to organize and hold ready, in light marching order, a command of at least 2500 men, including three light batteries, to move on this place (Charleston), via Augusta, if necessary, at a moment's notice.

The cars need not be held in depot at present, but the presidents of railroads interested must be duly advised of the possible exigency.

Thomas Jordan, Chief of Staff.

1 Commodore Ingraham's report to Mr. Mallory, February 2d, 1863.

2 See Captain G. W. Anderson's report, in Appendix.

3 See also, in Appendix, Major Harris's report.

4 See letter, in Appendix.

5 See Appendix.

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