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Chapter 10: attack on James Island.

Admiral Dahlgren on June 20 received a letter from the Navy Department, informing him that the enemy was preparing to attack his fleet, inside and outside, to facilitate the shipment of a large amount of cotton from Charleston. He conferred with General Foster, and it was arranged to engage the enemy in maintaining his own lines by simultaneously attacking several points. It was hoped that the Charleston and Savannah Railroad might be cut, and a nearer and better position gained in front of the city. Brig.-Gen. Wm. Birney, ordered to Port Royal from Florida with a brigade of colored troops, was to ascend the North Edisto and destroy the railroad at Adam's Run. General Hatch with two brigades was to land at Seabrook Island, cross to John's Island, and be at the ferry near Rantowle's Bridge the succeeding night, to demonstrate against the city and Fort Pemberton from across the Stono. General Schimmelfennig's force, landing on James Island, was to front Secessionville; and he was also to send troops to John's Island to open communication with General Hatch. The navy was to assist at all these points, but more strongly in the Stono. Our batteries at Cumming's Point and on Lighthouse Inlet were to engage the enemy's attention.

July 1, at 6 P. M., the Fifty-fourth moved to the landing, crossed to Folly Island on pontoon-boats and scows, and [200] Companies E and F having joined, marched to Stono. Although the men were lightly equipped, it was warm and exhausting. Arriving at 2 A. M., the regiment embarked on the steamer Fraser; and after provoking delays, which enabled the other regiments to precede us, we landed on Cole's Island at 4 A. M., on the 2d. Marching just after daybreak, the Fifty-fourth crossed to James Island over the route traversed a year before in the opposite direction. As the road and bridges had been repaired, there was little to remind us of the old pathway. While advancing, skirmish firing and cannon-shots were heard in the front.

Colonel Hartwell, ordered to attack on the right, with his regiment,—the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts,—the Thirty-third United States Colored Troops, and the One Hundred and Third New York, passed from Long to Tiger Island in darkness, and at daylight on the 2d crossed the marsh to James Island and advanced to surprise Fort Lamar. His skirmishers received the fire of the enemy's vedettes, drove them, and captured some prisoners and horses. Unknown to us, a force of the enemy was stationed every night at Rivers's Causeway, which this morning was composed of two guns of Blake's Battery under Lieutenant De Lorme, posted in a small fieldwork and supported by fifteen men of the Palmetto Siege Train under Lieutenant Spivey, besides the picket reserves. Our force was received with an unexpected fire of grape-shot and musketry, which caused some losses and created confusion in the Thirty-third and One Hundred and Third. But Colonel Hartwell, promptly deploying the Fifty-fifth under Lieutenant-Colonel Fox, pushed it rapidly forward in spite of a severe fire, drove off the supports, and gallantly captured De Lorme's two twelvepounder Napoleons. In this charge the Fifty-fifth had seven [201] men killed, and Captains Thurber and Goodwin and nineteen men wounded. The guns were manned and fired at the retiring enemy. Colonel Hartwell moved beyond the fieldwork a short distance, and strengthening a hedgebank and ditch, held this position throughout the day under fire from Lamar and other works. As all hope of a surprise was over, orders were signalled to make no farther advance at that point.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett with his Twenty-first United States Colored Troops and two guns under Lieutenant Wildt, of Battery B, Third New York Artillery, landed on John's Island to open communication with General Hatch's force. Col. Wm. Heine (One Hundred and Third New York), with the Fifty-fourth New York, Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania, a section of Battery B, Third New York Artillery, and a rocket battery, moved from Cole's Island to James Island, driving the enemy's pickets under Major Managault. His force started at the same time as Colonel Hartwell's, and advanced to the lines of the previous year at the head of Grimball's Causeway. Only the gunboat McDonough was ready to co-operate, for the monitors were not on hand.

Even during these early hours the troops suffered greatly from the heat, and in moving over Cole's Island several men of the Fifty-fourth fell exhausted, and one dropped senseless. The bridge to James Island was crossed at 6 A. M., bringing us upon familiar ground. Captains Walton and Appleton, of General Schimmelfennig's staff, were greeted as they passed by the officers. Some prisoners were encountered going to the rear under guard. Passing our old camp-ground and bearing to the left, the Seventyfourth Pennsylvania (a German regiment, as was the [202] Fifty-fourth New York) was seen deployed as skirmishers. About a mile and a half from the bridge the low ground was crossed; and Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper deployed the regiment under artillery fire. The line was formed as below, with Company D on the right,—


and with the following officers present: Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper, commanding; Major Appleton; Adjutant Howard; Company D, Captain Jones and Lieutenant Swails; Company K, Lieutenant Leonard, commanding, and Lieutenant Chas. Jewett, Jr.; Company A, Lieutenant Knowles; Company E, Captain Emilio and Lieutenants Chipman and Cousens; Company B, Lieutenant Newell, commanding, and Lieutenant Hallett; Company G, Lieut. David Reid; Company F, Captain Bridge and Lieutenant Duren. Sergt. Chas. A. Lenox, of Company A, bore the national flag, and Corp. Jos. Stiles, of Company F, the State color, in the ranks of Company E. There were 363 enlisted men present. Quartermaster Ritchie was also on the island. Surgeon Briggs was detailed on Morris Island, and an assistant-surgeon (whose name is not known), was temporarily assigned to the regiment. All the horses had been left at Stono.

Though partially concealed by woods and irregularities of the ground, we of the Fifty-fourth knew the formidable character of the enemy's works in our front, for from the ‘Crow's Nest’ on Black Island we had seen in reverse the line constructed since the previous summer in advance of the older works. Fort Pemberton and Batteries Pringle and Tynes were on the Stono to our left front; and from [203] there to Fort Lamar and Secessionville were mutually supporting and detached fieldworks for artillery united by curtains for infantry. The enemy's force comprised some Georgia Volunteers, Lucas's battalion, the South Carolina Siege Train, detachments of the Second South Carolina Artillery, Blake's battery, and the Chatham Artillery. Brig.-Gen. Wm. B. Taliaferro, commanding James Island, made drafts on the garrisons of Fort Johnson, and Batteries Haskell and Tatom, to supplement the small force on the lines. He states that his available troops that day, other than artillerymen, did not exceed three hundred men.

Moving slowly, the Fifty-fourth advanced in line of battle over open and rising ground. Some distance to the right was another regiment and the rocket battery. Our movement caused the retirement of the enemy; but the Chatham Artillery in rear of their skirmish line fired briskly on the Fifty-fourth. We had no field-guns with which to reply; but the missiles from the rocket-stands on our right, while they did no damage, served to frighten the enemy's artillery horses. To avoid casualties from this artillery fire, Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper kept shifting the position of the Fifty-fourth as the enemy secured the range; and the necessary movements were effected with admirable precision and promptness, as on ordinary exercise. Progress forward was made to within some six hundred yards of the enemy, while solid shot came bounding and ricochetting over the intervening space toward the line. Some shells too from guns on our right front dropped unpleasantly near. The regiment in this advance passed to the right of a small fieldwork, or redoubt. A little distance beyond it the Fifty-fourth was halted and ordered to lie [204] down in perfectly open ground, exposed to the hot rays of the sun and the dropping fire of the enemy.

Though many solid shot fell about or passed through or over the line, only Private Cornelius Price, of Company A, was mortally, and Sergeant Palmer, of Company K, slightly wounded. There were many narrow escapes, however; among them, a corporal, of Company E, had his canteen struck from his side, and his musket doubled up. Colonel Heine, commanding at that portion of the field, was a large man, rendered more conspicuous by white clothes, and was noticeable the whole day for activity and personal gallantry. He came to our line and directed Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper to draw back the Fifty-fourth to the old fieldwork. Captain Jones, with Companies A, D, and K as skirmishers, advanced and took position well to the front of the work, and to the right and left of a hedge, where the men were ordered to lie down in the grass and weeds which grew waist high. This position the skirmish line kept till relieved, unmolested by the enemy's infantry, but subjected to cannon-shot whenever our men exposed themselves. No opposing skirmishers were seen. Our men held their fire so as not to disclose their location. Captain Jones's line did not immediately connect with any other; but some distance to the left were troops.

At the old redoubt the men were put to work with the tools they carried, extending the flanks of the intrenchment for better protection. With excessive heat during the morning hours, by midday it became almost unbearable to the skirmishers, stifled in the high grass on the line, who were compelled to maintain a prostrate and immovable position, and to the support at the fieldwork, obliged to sit crowded for space. Throughout that whole day, with a [205] temperature at 110°, officers and men on James Island, both Union and Confederate, were succumbing to the heat of the sun. More than fifty men of the Fifty-fourth were affected to a greater or lesser degree; and Private John Hale, of Company D, died at his post with the skirmishers. Major Appleton was completely prostrated, and while lying on the ground received a contusion from a solid shot which ultimately forced him to leave the service. Captain Jones, commanding the skirmishers, was compelled to retire, and was taken to the rear delirious. He suffered all his life thereafter in head and brain, and died from the effects in 1886. Lieut. Chas. Jewett, Jr., was seriously injured from the same cause, and died from it in 1890. Lieutenants Newell, Chipman, and David Reid were also badly affected. Most of those prostrated were on the skirmish line. So great were their sufferings that at last word was sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper that they could no longer endure it, and that many men were lying unconscious and helpless, for their stronger comrades could not leave their positions. It was not possible to send a relieving force without sustaining heavy casualties, so stretchers were taken out, and upon them a number of men were brought back.

Under such conditions hour after hour of that seemingly interminable day wore on. Our position was isolated; there appeared to be momentary probability of attack by an overwhelming force; but Colonel Heine's orders were that the position must be held at all hazards. The officers by confident bearing did their best to make light of the situation, and Colonel Heine's actions helped greatly. He was about the skirmish line and the fieldwork, and at one time mounted the parapet of the redoubt and therefrom facetiously [206] harangued the Rebels, to divert the men. Soon after dark the Chatham Artillery in our front withdrew to their lines, as General Taliaferro feared a sudden dash. There were no further infantry movements or fighting during the remainder of the day; but from the river the gunboat continued to fire, and receive shots from Battery Pringle. During these events a force of the First New York Engineers and civilian employees had thrown up a defensive line along our margin of the low ground; and to it General Schimmelfennig ordered all his troops in advance to retire after nightfall. It was not until 11 P. M., however, that the Fifty-fourth called in its skirmishers and silently withdrew to the main line. Bivouac was made in a cornfield just at the general's headquarters. Lieutenant Leonard and a large part of Company K were in the darkness inadvertently left on post until Lieutenant Swails, who was sent back with ten men, brought them in.

Thus ended a most memorable day for the regiment, not sanguinary, but full of trials requiring not only courage, but constancy to suffer and endure. Having drawn the enemy to the south lines of James Island, General Schimmelfennig prepared a daring attack on Fort Johnson. Colonel Gurney commanded; and his force was the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New York, and a detachment of the Third Rhode Island Artillery. It left Payne's Dock in twenty-eight barges at 2 A. M., July 3, but was delayed in crossing the harbor and bar. The boats were observed and fired upon. A portion, however, landed near Battery Simkins, and was at once repulsed. Colonel Hoyt, Fifty-second Pennsylvania, and a number of his officers and men, were not supported by their comrades, [207] but landing, captured the Brook's gun battery. They then pressed on toward Johnson under heavy fire, before which they were obliged to retire to the captured battery where they all surrendered. The retreating boats communicated their disorder to those carrying the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh; and they too fell back against the peremptory orders of Maj. Edward H. Little, commanding, and Captain Little and Lieutenants Little and Abercrombie, who brought their men of the One Hundred and Twentyseventh to land. This surprise, which, if successful, might have sealed the fate of Charleston soon after, thus failed. A military court, on Nov. 7, 1864, found that—

Colonel Gurney, One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New York Regiment, commanding Morris Island, who was charged with sending the expedition, did not accompany it, but remained at Payne's Dock. There seems to be no sufficient reason for this conduct.’

The report further says,—

‘The chief cause of failure was the lack of spirit, energy, and power of command on the part of subordinate officers.’

Captain Homans with the Fifty-fourth companies at Black Island was ordered to cross in boats to James Island, and attack toward Secessionville, to co-operate with the movement against Johnson. Preparations were made, and the boats transported across the island in accordance with specific instructions; but in transit, without proper means, they were so damaged as to make their use impracticable, and the expedition necessarily impossible.

At Port Royal three brigades of troops embarked on transports and sailed for the Edisto on the evening of July [208] 1, arriving early on the 2d. There General Hatch, with Saxton's and Davis's brigades, landing at Seabrook, crossed to John's Island at the Haulover Bridge, and bivouacked some distance beyond for the night. General Birney, with his brigade and a marine battery, went up the North Edisto and landed at White Point. He then moved toward Adam's Run, but meeting the enemy in small numbers, halted for the night, after marching but two miles. Resuming the advance early on the 3d, Birney drove the enemy's light troops some five miles to King's Creek, where on the opposite bank the Confederates under Gen. B. H. Robertson had a battery which opened on our force. General Foster, with two armed transports, ran up the Dawhoo River, and co-operated by throwing shells across the intervening ground. After two or three hours of cannonading and skirmishing, and as General Birney reported that it was expedient to withdraw, General Foster ordered a retirement to White Point, where the force took transports for James Island.

In response to General Jones' requests for reinforcements, the First Georgia (regulars) Fourth Georgia Cavalry, and three companies of the Third South Carolina Cavalry, all dismounted, were sent to John's Island from Savannah, for news had been received of the landing of Hatch's and Birney's forces. The enemy was apprehensive of attacks by way of the Stono, which was the route taken by the British in 1780. During the night of the 2d the Thirtysecond Georgia, Col. Geo. P. Harrison, reported to General Taliaferro; and every available man was taken from other points to reinforce the southern lines on James Island.

Supposing that we still held the positions of the previous day, Colonel Harrison, with several companies of his regiment [209] and two guns, was ordered to ascertain our strength. About 9 A. M. on the 3d, this force was discovered advancing, and our pickets retired before it. Then the monitors Montauk and ‘Lehigh’ and the gunboat Pawnee, having taken position in the Stono the previous evening, opened, preventing their farther advance, and causing a retirement at 11 A. M. But they manoeuvred in our front the whole day, with skirmishers established about the old fieldwork we held on the 2d. Our rifle trenches were strengthened with two guns posted on Colonel Heine's front; and Colonel Hartwell's captured pieces were also in position. The naval vessels slackened fire in the afternoon. Excessively warm weather continued. No service was required of the Fifty-fourth during that day. Surgeon Briggs reported for duty, and Lieutenant Newell was sent to hospital. At dark the Fifty-fourth relieved the Seventy-fourth, Pennsylvania. Our main body occupied the rifle trenches, with Captain Emilio and seventy-five men, supported by one gun thrown forward upon the causeway within three hundred yards of the enemy's line, and Lieutenant Cousens and twenty-five men still farther advanced. Our line was quiet, but on the right there were frequent shots, and a few rifleballs fired by our own troops in rear of our flank fell near. Our mortar schooner Racer kept firing slowly. So the night passed with but one man of another regiment killed. General Hatch on John's Island that day advanced on the road running parallel with Bohicket Creek and halted at Parker's, where a road branched to Stono on the right. The march, though short, was severe because of the heat.

Just at dawn on Independence Day, the Fifty-fourth was reduced one half for the day. We could see that the enemy had fortified their line at or about the old [210] redoubt. They occasionally showed themselves, and threw out a skirmish line whenever we advanced. In the Stono the naval vessels at 8 A. M. were dressed with flags at the signal given from the admiral's flagship, Philadelphia. Pringle opened immediately after, and some of our vessels replied, occasioning a lively duel. Birney's brigade, of the Seventh, Thirty-fourth, and Thirty-fifth United States Colored Troops, landed on James Island that day, occupying a second line in rear of our right. Two thirty-pounder Parrotts were placed on the lines. Refreshing rain with a strong wind came in the afternoon. At the rifle trench held by the Fifty-fourth, Captain Emilio in command advanced twelve men to draw the enemy's fire, which was done without casualty. Later two companies of the Fifty-fourth New York moved out, skirmishing, and being met by a strong fire from the enemy's pickets commanded by Captain Lewis, Thirty-second Georgia, retired with the loss of two killed and six wounded. Our naval vessels shelled the enemy whenever discovered, and soon forced them to cover. After our force fell back, we could see a man of the Fifty-fourth New York lying on the open ground between the lines. He was alive, for he would occasionally raise himself. The enemy would not permit him to be brought in. A gallant officer of the staff essayed the dangerous task, but was fired upon. Our officers and men of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts were exasperated at this firing on men engaged in a humane act, and sharply replied to the enemy for an hour. At dark a field-piece was brought near, and under cover of grape, a party of eight men from Company E with a stretcher went out to bring the poor fellow in. He was found dead. It was impossible to secure his body, as the enemy was rapidly advancing [211] with a company. Capt. Gustav Blau and his men of the Fifty-fourth New York relieved our force at 9 P. M.

Admiral Dahlgren records that on the 4th, with General Foster, he reconnoitred the enemy's position from a point on John's Island across the Stono, ‘right opposite Pringle, in full view seventeen or eighteen hundred yards off.’ He recommended that a heavy battery be there established to enfilade the James Island lines; but it was not done. Our naval vessels fired slowly all that night.

General Hatch, on the 4th, moved on the road toward the Stono, making but six miles. He rested at a plantation where the road from Legareville came into the one that he was following. It was a terribly hot forenoon; little water could be found, and scores of men were sunstruck or fainted from fatigue and thirst. At this halting-place the force from General Schimmelfennig joined General Hatch. As it was feared many musket-charges had been spoiled by the rain of the previous day, all the regiments on James Island were marched to the front at 9 A. M., on the 5th, and discharged their pieces at the enemy. There was some light skirmishing. A few shells came over the line from Secessionville without damage. Our foe was busy erecting an earthwork and extending his trenches, seriously interfered with by the huge eleven and fifteen-inch shells of the navy and the fire of twelve-pounders from the decks of the monitors.

On the 5th the position of the Fifty-fourth was changed to the centre of General Schimmelfennig's line, which it held with the Thirty-third United States Colored Troops, both regiments under Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper's command. [212]

General Hatch on the 5th moved forward some miles and took post at the ‘Huts.’ He occupied a good defensive line behind a creek, crossed at one point by a bridge. The failure to push on to the head of John's Island that day, before the enemy had concentrated there, was unfortunate, for they posted several guns of the Marion Artillery on a hill supported by infantry, and on the 6th shelled Hatch's lines.

All the day-hours of the 6th the Fifty-fourth was resting in bivouac. At 8 P. M., a picket of four officers and 132 men under Captain Bridge went out in front of the right. The weather was more comfortable. It was very apparent that the enemy was stronger. The succeeding day, on the lines, only an occasional shell from the enemy disturbed the quietness. A mail came in the afternoon. Supplies were more abundant; and from sutlers at Cole's Island some additions to the army fare were procured. In the morning the naval vessels shelled Pringle and the woods until later, when they concentrated upon the battery. During the ensuing evening Colonel Montgomery with Birney's brigade was sent to join General Hatch. General Birney had returned to Florida.

At John's Island on the 7th, Colonel Silliman, with his regiment, the Twenty-sixth United States Colored Troops, supported by Lieutenant Wildt's section of Battery B, Third New York, made a gallant but unsuccessful attempt to capture the enemy's field-guns on the hill beyond the lines. Some ninety-seven men were killed and wounded. General Jones was considerably reinforced by this date from Atlanta and Wilmington. He also stripped Sullivan's Island of troops to confront us.

Quietness reigned at James Island on the 8th during [213] the early hours, after a night disturbed only by the slow firing of the navy. As the day advanced, however, our vessels opened a terrific fire on Fort Pringle and Battery Tynes, which was continued for several hours, our fire overpowering that of the enemy and so exhausting the garrison of Pringle as to require its relief. There was a conference that afternoon between Generals Foster and Hatch and Admiral Dahlgren, when it was decided that the enemy's force, in connection with their works, was ‘too large to render further serious efforts profitable,’ and that General Hatch should withdraw from John's Island on the night of the 9th. The admiral records, ‘I am utterly disgusted,’ and in another place, speaking of General Foster, ‘The general remarked that he had done all he intended.’

In the afternoon a fire broke out in the hamlet of Legareville on John's Island. Lieutenant Spear, who came in a rowboat from Black Island, visited the regiment, and informed us that mortars were being planted there to fire upon James Island. At 7 P. M. Captain Emilio was placed in charge of a fatigue detail of two hundred men from the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and Thirty-third United States Colored Troops, and began work on a road from the left of our line toward a point of woods in our front, designed to facilitate the advance of infantry and artillery in the event of an assault.

Early on the morning of the 8th at John's Island, there was an artillery duel between our field-pieces and those of the enemy on the hill. From the tree-tops our lookouts there saw reinforcements crossing the Ashley River to join the enemy. An attack was fully expected the next day; and the troops slept in position on their arms [214] that night, their rest being broken by shells from Battery Tynes.

Gen. B. H. Robertson, the Confederate commander on John's Island, with four regiments, a battalion of Georgians, and two field batteries was ordered to attack General Hatch in his threatening position. Colonel Harrison led the advance at 4 A. M., on the 9th, covered by a fog, and surprised the One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York on picket beyond the bridge, driving it back. But the troops defending the lines received the enemy with a hot fire of musketry and canister, which forced them to a sheltered position and strewed the ground with dead and wounded. Bringing up artillery, the enemy made another attempt to carry the bridge at 6.30 A. M., with a similar result, after which their main body withdrew. This engagement is known as ‘Bloody Bridge.’ We lost some eighty-two killed and wounded, the enemy some seventeen killed and ninetythree wounded, according to their own account. That night, in pursuance of the prearranged plan, General Hatch withdrew from John's Island upon transports without molestation, Montgomery's brigade returning to James Island.

About daylight our troops on James Island heard the sounds of battle across the Stono. The day was close and sultry. There occurred the usual bombardment of Pringle, Tynes, and the enemy's lines. Replies from a Brook gun and a ten-inch Columbiad in Pringle were effective against our gunboats, but the monitors stood their ground. Late that day it was seen that we were to abandon James Island. A fatigue party of the Fifty-fourth was engaged constructing another bridge to Cole's Island; all the surplus stores were conveyed away, and the wharf repaired. When it was [215] dark the troops began to move over the bridges, the Fifty-fourth marching with other regiments, all in silence. Companies G and K were detailed to burn a house, the lookout, and one of the bridges. Our pickets were supported by the Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania until all the other troops were withdrawn, when they crossed to Cole's Island. Colonel Hartwell conducted the retreat and put out a picket line on Cole's Island. Our naval vessels kept up the usual nightshelling until daylight, when they got under way and ran down the river.

After a scanty breakfast the Fifty-fourth, at 9 A. M., marched to Stono, accomplishing the three miles in as many hours, for the day was hot and the men much exhausted. There a sutler was found, from whom some supplies were obtained. The regiment crossed the inlet on the steamer Golden Gate, whose captain kindly furnished refreshments for the officers. Our march to Lighthouse Inlet was equally severe, for the temperature was at 98°. Thence the companies repaired to their several stations, and welcomed the opportunity for rest, baths in the surf, and clean clothes.

Thus the combined movements, admirably planned, against a weaker enemy came to naught, for want of concerted action and persistence in attack. At every point we largely outnumbered the enemy. General Hatch's force, had it not been so delayed, might have found no enemy in its front capable of withstanding its advance. Many thought at the time that had Hatch's force been sent against the repulsed enemy after the action at Bloody Bridge, John's Island might have been swept of them, and the James Island lines thus flanked, Charleston would have fallen. Our total of losses in all the forces engaged [216] was perhaps three hundred men, including the one hundred and forty captured with Colonel Hoyt, and eighteen drowned by the capsizing of a boat in the Stono. That of the enemy must have equalled ours. Their accounts of our losses, exaggerated as usual, gave the number as seven hundred.

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