Battle of Secessionville Commemoration Address by Gene Kizer, Jr. on the battle site at Fort Lamar Heritage Preserve on James Island in Charleston, South Carolina June 15, 2019. This was a memorial service honoring the 157th anniversary of the brilliant Confederate victory of June 16, 1862. The Battle of Secessionville was an extremely important battle because, if the Confederates had lost, Charleston would have been lost early on, and hopes for Southern independence ended quickly. When the battle started at 4:30 a.m. it was 500 Confederates in Tower Battery against 7,000 Yankees. The fighting went on for two hours and included bloody hand-to-hand fighting on the parapet twice. There were approximately 700 Union casualties and 200 Confederate. After this battle, the Yankees left James Island and stuck to their gunboats in the Stono River. Of course, the next year there was bloody fighting on Morris Island at Battery Wagner, another Confederate victory. Lt. Col. Thomas M. Wagner, for whom Battery Wagner was named, was the third commander at the Battle of Secessionville after both Col. Thomas G. Lamar and Lt. Col. P. C. Gaillard were wounded. — Accounts of the battle itself are detailed and exciting so I quoted participants and primary sources extensively, while putting it all in meaningful order. I spoke from this text so it’s not footnoted but the sources are all there.
Thank you, ______.
It is a tremendous honor to stand on this sacred ground and speak to you this morning as we commemorate one of the most important battles of the War Between the States: the Battle of Secessionville.
There had not been that much immigration into the South in the antebellum days. The Confederates of 1861 were largely the same blood as the patriots who fought the British in 1776.
They had the same strong feelings about liberty and self-government.
Indeed, the most widely quoted phrase of the secession debate in the South during the year leading up to South Carolina’s secession came from the Declaration of Independence:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The country was not centralized in those days. Each state was sovereign and independent, like the countries of Europe. King George III agreed to the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783 which listed EACH American state then proclaimed them all QUOTE “to be free, sovereign and independent states….”
No state ever rescinded its sovereignty or gave up its independence.
In fact, three states INSISTED, before they would join the new Union, that they could secede from it if it became tyrannical in their eyes. Those states were New York, Rhode Island and Virginia.
Because all the states were admitted to the Union as equals, the acceptance of the right of secession demanded by New York, Rhode Island and Virginia, gave that right to all the other states as well.
Tomorrow, June 16, 2019, will be the 157th Anniversary of the Battle of Secessionville which started on this hallowed ground before dawn on June 16, 1862, fourteen months into the war. If this battle had been lost, Charleston would have been lost, then soon, the war.
Charleston was a HUGE symbol for both sides.
Charleston is where the Confederacy began when South Carolinians met here on December 20, 1860 in a solemn convention of the people and voted unanimously, 169 to 0, to secede from the Union.
Charleston is where the war began 16 weeks later, on April 12, 1861, after Abraham Lincoln refused to remove his troops from sovereign South Carolina soil.
Instead, he lied to the Southerners, promising to remove the Fort Sumter garrison while secretly ordering it reinforced.
He sent “8 vessels, carrying 26 guns and about 1,400 men” to reinforce Fort Pickens in Pensacola, and to land 200 soldiers at Fort Sumter with a year’s worth of supplies.
He knew full well that would start the war.
When Major Anderson, Union commander inside Fort Sumter, received notification that he would be resupplied and possibly reinforced, Anderson responded with a letter on April 8th that stated in part:
“. . . a movement made now when the South has been erroneously informed that none such will be attempted, would produce most disastrous results throughout our country. . . . We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in the war which I see is to be thus commenced…”.
Major Anderson SEES that the war is to be “Thus commenced” by Abraham Lincoln.
The importance of holding Charleston can not be overstated.
Gen. Robert E. Lee wrote to Gen. Pemberton and said: “The loss of Charleston would cut us off almost entirely from communications with the rest of the world and close the only channel through which we can expect to get supplies from abroad, now almost our only dependence.”
Gen. Lee added that Charleston was “to be fought street by street and house by house as long as we have a foot of ground to stand upon.”
A resolution stated the same thing:
“Resolved, That the governor and Executive Council concur in opinion with the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, that Charleston should be defended at any cost of life or property, and that in their deliberate judgment they would prefer a repulse of the enemy with the entire city in ruins to an evacuation or surrender on any terms whatever.”
The North wanted to destroy Charleston as badly as we wanted to protect her.
Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune on June 9, 1862, one week before the Battle of Secessionville, stated:
‘Doom’ hangs over wicked Charleston. That viper’s nest and breeding place of rebellion is, ere this time, invested by Union Arms— perhaps already in our hands. If there is any city deserving of holocaustic infamy, it is Charleston. . . .
This is the same Horace Greeley who believed in the right of secession and stated it proudly — let our erring sisters go — until he realized it would affect his money. Then he wanted war as did the whole North.
Southern secession had triggered the beginning of an economic collapse in the North. They had not realized that their economy was largely based on manufacturing for the South and shipping Southern cotton. Cotton alone was 60% of US exports in 1860.
Most of the North’s wealth and power was dependent on the South. Tens of millions of dollars flowed out of the South and into the North annually because of tariffs, bounties, subsidies, and monopolies for Northern businesses.
Southerners were paying most of the taxes, yet, outrageously, three-fourths of the tax money was being spent in the North.
Georgia Senator Robert Toombs called it a suction pump sucking wealth out of the South and depositing it in the North, and it was made up of:
Bounties and protection to every interest and every pursuit in the North, to the extent of at least fifty millions per annum, besides the expenditure of at least sixty millions out of every seventy of the public expenditure among THEM, thus making the treasury a perpetual fertilizing stream to them and their industry, and a suction-pump to drain away our substance and parch up our lands.
Henry L. Benning, one of Gen. Lee’s most able brigadier generals and for whom Fort Benning, Georgia is named, said $85,000,000, a gargantuan sum in those days, was the amount flowing CONTINUALLY through Robert Toombs’s suction pump.
The prescient Benning also said:
The North cut off from Southern cotton, rice, tobacco, and other Southern products would lose three fourths of her commerce, and a very large proportion of her manufactures. And thus those great fountains of finance would sink very low. . . . Would the North in such a condition as that declare war against the South?
Without the North, the South was in great shape with 100% control of the most demanded commodity on the planet: cotton.
Without the South, the North was dead. And they were starting to panic.
The Daily Chicago Times wrote on December 10, 1860, a week before South Carolina’s secession convention was to convene:
In one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. [If] We should lose our trade with the South, with all its IMMENSE PROFITS. Our manufactories would be in utter ruins. Let the South adopt the free-trade system and these results would likely follow. We should be driven from the market, and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment. (Emphasis added.)
The Manchester (N.H.) Union Democrat wrote on February 19, 1861, one day after Jefferson Davis’s inaugural:
“In the manufacturing departments, we now have the almost exclusive supply of 10,000,000 people. Can this market be cut off, and we not feel it? Our mills run now ¾ why? Because they have cotton. . . .But they will not run long. We hear from good authority that some of them will stop in sixty days.”
Sixty days from February 19th, is right at the beginning of the war. The war started 52 days from that editorial.
The Union Democrat went on:
[W]hen people realize the fact that the Union is permanently dissolved, real estate will depreciate one half in a single year.¾Our population will decrease with the decline of business, and matters will go in geometrical progression from bad to worse¾until ALL of us will be swamped in utter ruin.
The Morrill Tariff made things worse. It was adopted March 2nd, 1861, just before Lincoln was inaugurated, and made the cost of entry into the North 37 to 50% higher than entry into the South, so NOBODY wanted to do business with the North. The Northern shipping industry was shifting to the South overnight where Northern ship captains headed for their cargoes. Ten days after the MorRILL Tariff was passed by the Northern Congress, The New York Evening Post wrote:
[A]llow railroad iron to be entered at Savannah with the low duty of ten per cent., which is all that the Southern Confederacy think of laying on imported goods, and not an ounce more would be imported at New York: . . . the railways would be supplied from the southern ports. . . . Let cotton goods, let woolen fabrics, let the various manufactures of iron and steel be entered freely at Galveston, . . . at the great port at the mouth of the Mississippi, . . . at Mobile, . . . at Savannah . . . and at Charleston, and they would be immediately sent up the rivers and carried on the railways to the remotest parts of the Union. . . . the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have NO MONEY to carry on the government; . . . the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe.
Imagine the calculation in the mind of Abraham Lincoln, president of the North, as his region collapsed. He could see no way out. He knew the South controlled the most demanded commodity on the planet, cotton, and he KNEW the South was tight with England and seeking to be tighter. He knew that once Southerners completed trade and military alliances with Great Britain and other European countries, the North would NOT be able to beat the South. Because of cotton, the South would industrialize and ship its own commodities and ascend to dominance in North America, trading freely with the world. They had always wanted free trade and had made protective tariffs unconstitutional.
When you compare the overwhelming resources of the North with the South: The North had FOUR TIMES the white population of the South — maybe 200 times or more the manufacturing. There was not a single factory in the South capable of building marine engines but there were 19 in the North. The North had an extensive railroad system, a functioning government with access to unlimited immigration with which to feed Union armies, an army, a navy, a merchant marine fleet, relationships with all the governments of the world, a solid financial system . . .
Lincoln was a man 40 feet tall, armed to the teeth with modern weaponry, facing a man five foot tall carrying a musket.
Of course Lincoln wanted to fight. He could not WAIT to fight. That’s why he did not withdraw his troops from Fort Sumter. That’s why he landed troops at Fort Pickens in Pensacola hours before Fort Sumter was bombarded. That’s why he sent his hostile reinforcement mission to Charleston in the first place.
Some in the Northern press agreed. The Providence (R.I.) Daily Post wrote on April 13, 1861, as Fort Sumter was being bombarded, “We are to have civil war, . . . because Abraham Lincoln loves a party better than he loves his country. . . . Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor.”
Both sides realized that James Island was the key to taking Charleston and despite problems here and there, as well as severe shortages of everything, the defenses of Charleston were BRILLIANT. The Confederates defenders, many of whom were native Charlestonians, were fearless, and they knew the terrain.
A member of the 1st South Carolina Regiment who was in action in Charleston, B. A. O. Norris, of Graham Texas, stated in Confederate Veteran magazine, December 1907, about Charleston:
“I think I am right when I state that this was the only place besieged that did not yield to the forces besieging it. It was stronger and abler to repel any attack on the day that it was evacuated than ever before.”
Brigadier General Roswell Sabine Ripley wrote a good article entitled “Charleston and its Defenses.” in 1885. Ripley had done a lot of the work.
EVERY approach to Charleston had to be taken into account. Ripley said the lines of defense extended from “the inland channel opposite Christ Church parish [Mt. Pleasant], across that parish to the Wando River; across Charleston Neck; and from the right bank of the Ashley River, through St. Andrew’s parish, to the Stono, and on the banks of that river and across James Island to the channels on its east, near Secessionville.”
Because Charleston had been taken by the British in the Revolutionary War from the neck area, Ripley writes “it was determined to close that avenue effectually. A strong line of fortifications was built across the peninsula from river to river at once. It was intended to cut a canal from the Cooper to the Ashley, some two miles in advance of this, with complete fortifications. In case of attack the timber in front could be readily felled to cover the approaches with abattis, while the whole system could be flanked by fire from gunboats in either one or the other river. The interior line was finished in a few weeks.”
Ripley writes “a strong cremalliere line [JAGGED] was constructed across James Island from a point on Wappoo Cut . . . to the vicinity of Secessionville.” This was done January to February, 1862. Fort Pemberton was on the end by Wappoo Cut, and Tower Battery was on the opposite end by Secessionville. Both were in advance of the regular Confederate line by almost a mile.
If you look at a Google map of the Secessionville peninsula, it is shaped somewhat like an oblong hourglass and the part where the Confederates built Tower Battery is the absolute narrowest part across the peninsula.
Ripley said “At this time Colonel L. M. Hatch was stationed with his regiment at Secessionville. His especial duty was to watch the creeks and interior water-approaches. He conceived the idea of fortifying the neck of the latter peninsula, . . . his suggestions were approved, and with the labor of his regiment he constructed the priest-cap work across the neck with flanking arrangements, built a strong bridge to connect the northern end of the peninsula [Secessionville] with the main island, and erected an observatory which commanded an extensive view of the approaches to Charleston from the south-east. It proved very fortunate that this work was early accomplished.”
The priest-cap design was two redans, side by side, so, together, they looked like the letter M. That design allowed troops inside to shoot an enfilading fire on anybody attacking the front. The whole front was approximately 125 yards across.
The footbridge was well over a half mile long and extended from old Secessionville to the main Confederate lines and it was capable of men AND horses so Tower Battery could be reinforced.
The tower was 75 feet high and a lookout with field glasses could see all over James Island including all the Yankee positions at the mouth of the Stono by Folly Beach.
Johnson Hagood, in his memoirs, added that Tower Battery “was further strengthened by a small flanking battery across the northern creek or marsh, afterwards called Battery Reed, in honor of the gallant Captain Sam J. Reed.” Reed was killed in the Battle of Secessionville. Battery Reed was extremely beneficial, laying down enfilading fire from a mile away on Yankees attacking the front of Tower Battery.
Hagood said “Fort Pemberton was in fighting condition. But four guns were mounted [initially] at Secessionville; a bomb-proof shelter, and a powder magazine had been there constructed. The parapet was unfinished in front of the guns—indeed, its profile was so slight that after the battle of the 16th June Colonel Hagood rode his horse into the ditch and over the parapet from the exterior approach.”
Milby Burton in Siege of Charleston writes:
“On June 2, 1862, General Pemberton wired Jefferson Davis that there were 20 vessels in the Stono Inlet. . . . [O]ther Union troops stationed on Edisto Island were ferried across to Seabrook’s Island and marched across Johns Island to Legareville, from which point they were transported across to James Island for the assault on Charleston.”
Pemberton was short of ammunition. He told Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist “not to waste ammunition.”
He also told Brigadier General Mercer in Savannah to have “ALL of your command ready to move at the shortest notice.”
“On June 8, Pemberton informed W. J. Magrath, president of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, that ‘the enemy in large force is preparing to attack Charleston—Probably through James and John’s Island,’ and requested Magrath have several trains ready to move at a moment’s notice for or with troops.'”
On June 9, writes Confederate Gen. Samuel Jones in his book, The Siege of Charleston, Union General Wright’s division crossed the Stono “and took position on Mr. Thomas Grimble’s plantation, two miles above Union General Stephens’ command. The Confederates immediately opened fire of solid shot and shell, which fell into, around, and over General Wright’s camp and among the gunboats in the Stono. General Stephens’ camp was also under fire. This at once convinced General Benham [the Union commanding officer] that the main camps and landings were untenable while exposed to the Confederate fire, and as there was not dry land enough on the island above high water for a secure camp out of range of the Confederate guns, it seemed evident that he would be obliged to abandon the island, the key to Charleston,— or silence the advanced Confederate batteries.”
“On June 10, Pemberton ordered the Confederate lines to advance in order to establish a battery of heavy guns on the edge of Grimball’s plantation with a view to driving the gunboats from the immediate area and making landing hazardous. Colonel Hagood started advancing with the First South Carolina and a battalion of the Fourth Louisiana on the right flank, and Colonel Williams with the Forty-seventh Georgia on the left flank. Williams ran into the Union forces in the thick woods. The Georgians made ‘a gallant advance and fought with great vigor, but their lines being disorganized, advanced in squad strength where they were repulsed and badly cut up.'” They lost 60 to 70 men. (Burton, Hagood)
On June 14, Emma Holmes in her diary wrote “Skirmishes of almost daily occurrences on James Island.”
Also on June 14, Gen. Evans assumed command on James Island and inspected the lines.
On “June 15, General Pemberton wrote Governor Pickens that he had on James Island only 6,500 effective men.” Yankees thought 12,000.
There was much skirmishing. They knew something was about to happen.
Sunrise on Monday, June 16, 1862, was 5:14 a.m. The time structure was different in those days and an hour earlier than today.
Milby Burton writes: “In spite of feverish activity, this breastwork was incomplete at the time of the attack. Col. Thomas G. Lamar, who was in command, had pushed his men to the point of exhaustion. Finally, at 3 a.m. on the morning of June 16, he allowed his worn-out men to sleep. . . . They were barely asleep when they were awakened by an assault by a brigade of Union troops. . . . Since there was little time to give the alarm, Lamar rushed to one of the big guns, already loaded with grape, and pulled the lanyard. The roar of the gun aroused the troops, and the grape tore into the oncoming ranks” and the Battle of Secessionville was on.
Here’s how Col. Lamar described it:
“On the morning of June 16 about 4 o’clock my pickets were driven in and reported to me that the enemy were advancing in force. . . . I immediately dispatched a courier to Lieutenant Colonels Gaillard and Smith, ordering them to move up their battalions at once. . . . I then proceeded to my batteries. . . . When I arrived . . . I found the enemy to be within 700 yards in line of battle and advancing on me at the double quick.” That’s when the Columbiad was fired, and soon all the guns were firing.
Milby Burton writes:
“By 2 a.m. on June 16 the Federal troops had been ‘falling in’ into two columns. The first or assaulting group consisted of the Second Division, composed of six regiments with some engineers, cavalry, and artillery, under the command of Brigadier General Stevens; this group comprised about 3500 men. Another column, comprised of the First Division, consisting of about 3100 troops, was formed on the left of the Second under the command of Brigadier General Wright. The assaulting group was to advance in silence and make the attack at ‘first light’ with the bayonet; the First Division was to protect the Second from a flank attack by the Confederate troops. The large number of Federal troops should have been more than sufficient to surprise and crush a garrison of 500 men.”
“Confederate troops rushed to the aid of Colonel Lamar’s defenders as they were aroused. The first to reach him was the Pee Dee Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. A. D. Smith. Next, from its encampment nearby, came the Charleston Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. P. C. Gaillard. Finally those of the assaulting troops who had reached the parapet were either killed or repulsed. The Eighth Michigan fell back and re-formed; with the aid of the Second Brigade they charged under fire for 1000 yards, assaulted the works, and again gained a foothold. After more fierce hand-to-hand fighting, they were again pushed back.”
Here is the Yankee perspective by Confederate Gen. Samuel Jones in his book:
“The enemy were known to be busily at work night and day, strengthening their positions, and it had been reported to General Benham some days before that from the masthead of a naval vessel in the Stono several long trains of cars loaded with troops had been seen pouring into Charleston over the road which Colonel Christ’s expedition had failed to break”
Colonel Christ’s expedition, that he is referring to, was an attack on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, a critical part of coastal defenses. Whichever city needed troops, the other was to send them on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. It’s defenses were put in place by Gen. Robert E. Lee who had his headquarters along the railroad line at Coosawhatchie, SC, half way between Charleston and Savannah, from November, 1861, to March, 1862, when he was in charge down here. There were numerous attacks by Union troops to break the railroad but they were always defeated by tenacious Confederates.
Gen. Jones continues:
“About four o’clock on a dark cloudy morning Stephens’ whole command was in motion and, pressing forward rapidly and in silence, surprised the Confederate picket in the house they occupied, captured two or three of the men and, debouching through the advanced hedge, advancing at double-quick time, deployed, or attempted to deploy, into line of battle, the Seventh Connecticut, the center regiment, following close on the Eighth Michigan, to form on its left. It seems that the mistake, or blunder, had been made of attempting to charge with brigade front over a space scarcely wide enough for a regiment in line. While the regiments of the leading brigade were forming forward into line in double-quick time, a storm of grape and canister from the Confederate guns crashed through the center of the line and continued tearing through the ranks with great rapidity, severing the line, one part crowding toward the right, the other to the left.”
“Still, the regiment moved rapidly on, preserving their order and leaving the ground in their rear strewn with their dead and wounded, and did not stop until they gained the parapet and delivered their fire upon the enemy in his works. But they were unable to contend against such great odds, and, being entirely unsupported for a considerable time, they fell back slowly, contesting every inch of ground . . . .”.
“When within two or three hundred yards of the Confederate works the Seventh Connecticut ‘came obliquely upon an unforeseen ditch and morass,’ crowding and doubling up the regiment toward the center. At this moment a terrific fire of grape and musketry swept through the ranks. ‘The line was inevitably broken,’ says Colonel Hawley, ‘and though the men stood bravely to their work the line could not be reformed until the colors were brought into the open field.”
There was much confusion, then the Yankees went forward and “marched by the flank through a dense brush on our left and followed the edge of the bushes, which formed one side of a marsh to within forty yards of the enemy’s work. Here our progress was interrupted by a large fallen tree, between which and the enemy’s work was an impassable marsh. On our right was an abattis of dense brush and on our left and front marsh. Here we lost many of the men who were killed and wounded in the regiment. Seeing that we could be of no possible use in this place with less than platoon front to retaliate by fire on the enemy, and this position being raked by the fire of the gun on the corner of the enemy’s work nearest the observatory, I ordered the regiment to retire, and it, too, found shelter behind the hedge.'”
“While the First Brigade was being thus cut up the Seventy-ninth Highlanders, leading the Second Brigade, was ordered by General Stephens to the right to assail the work a little to the right of the point from which the Eighth Michigan had been driven. Lieutenant Colonel Morrison led the right wing of his regiment to the parapet.”
“‘As I mounted the parapet,’ says the Lieutenant Colonel, ‘I received a wound in the head, which, though slight, stunned me for the time being; but still I was able to retain command. With me, many mounted the works, but only to fall or to receive their wounds from the enemy posted in rifle-pits in rear of the fort. . . . From the ramparts I had a full view of their works. They were entrenched in a position well selected for defensive purposes and upon which our artillery seemed to have little effect, save driving them into their retreats, and in attempting to dislodge them we were met with a fierce and determined opposition, but with equal if not superior determination and courage were they met by our forces, and had I been supported could have carried their works, . . . for we virtually had it in our possession. After remaining in this position some considerable time and not being supported by the other regiments, I received orders to fall back, which I did in good order, leaving behind about forty killed or badly wounded, many of whom fell on the ramparts . . . “.
“While the two latter regiments were coming into line, Colonel Leasure, the Brigade Commander, with his staff, hastened forward to hurry up the left of the Seventy-ninth, intending to lead the assault in person. When about three hundred yards from the Confederate works, he reached the storm. He says: ‘We entered the range of a perfect storm of grape, canister, nails, broken glass, and pieces of chains, fired from three very large pieces on the fort, which completely swept every foot of ground within the range and either cut the men down or drove them to the shelter of the ravine on the left. I now turned to look after and lead up the One Hundredth Pennsylvania Regiment and found its center just entering the fatal line of fire which completely cut it in two, and the right under Major Lecky obliqued to the right and advanced to support the right of the Seventy-ninth New York, and many of the men reached the foot of the embankment and some succeeded in mounting it . . .”.
Across the creek on the right side of Tower Battery if facing forward “The Third New Hampshire and Third Rhode Island were pushed well to the front. The Third New Hampshire approached to within forty years of the Confederate works and opened fire. Colonel Jackson, commanding the regiment, reports that he found no artillery on that part of the Confederate works and that he could easily have gone into the fort.”
“‘IF,’ he adds, ‘I could have crossed a stream between me and the earthworks about twenty yards in width with apparently four or five feet of water, and the mud very soft; the men therefore could not cross. The enemy soon opened on me from a battery about two hundred yards in our rear, throwing grape in to the ranks, from which we suffered severely. In a short time they opened fire with rifles and infantry. At the same time a battery about a mile north of us opened on us with shot and shell.'”
I just want to say, you can’t cross a saltwater creek that is five feet deep and full of pluff mud and assault a fort unless you have a heck of a lot of time to wade across, as we all know. This proves the brilliance of Confederate thinking and planning.
Gen. Samuel Smith goes on: “He seems to have been well enveloped in fire and the [Yankee] regiment suffered severely. He saw reinforcements passing into the Confederate works, which he was powerless to prevent. A section of Hamilton’s battery—regular artillery—succeeded in silencing the battery in the rear and a battalion of the Third Rhode Island penetrated the brushwood to dislodge the Confederate sharpshooters, but did not succeed. The assault was already essentially over and it was a mere waste of life and limb to keep these troops where they were. They were therefore withdrawn.”
Here’s what the Charleston Battalion had to say about it from Charlestonians in War:
“One hundred and twenty-five yards across the marsh that was protecting the Confederate right flank, the rattle of musketry was heard followed in a split second by a shower of bullets and booming artillery fire from an undetected Federal force. The exhausted men of the Charleston Battalion had just begun to relax after their fight when they were rudely jolted by this fire. These fresh Union troops, namely the Third New Hampshire Infantry and Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, were pouring a ‘continuous and deadly fire,’ witnesses reported. ‘Many of our men fell at the guns and along the line formed to the rearward of the battery on its right flank.’ These New Englanders had managed to reach a point behind the Confederate right flank where they could fire into the unprotected rear of the battery and resultantly the few remaining Confederate artillerists were compelled to abandon their guns and take cover while the infantry desperately returned the enemy fire.”
“Due to loss of blood from his neck wound, Lieutenant Colonel Lamar now passed command of the entire battery to Lieutenant Colonel Gaillard, who himself was soon severely wounded in the knee. Without hesitation, Gaillard moved some of his men down the bank of the marsh, where they stood opposite their foe and exchanged rifle shot for rifle shot in a slugging match of endurance. . . . The exhausted Charlestonians tore cartridges and rammed home round after round to the point of giving out, when on the field arrived reinforcements in the form of the Fourth Louisiana Battalion, . . . ” and “the Twenty-fourth South Carolina Infantry and Eutaw Battalion, who both rapidly advanced from their camps several miles to the battlefield to aid in the Union defeat.”
After Lieutenant Colonel Gaillard was wounded in the knee, he turned command over to Lt. Col. T. M. Wagner.
Gen. Samuel Jones continues:
“The assault which had resulted so disastrously, narrowly missed brilliant success. The works about Secessionville were occupied by two companies of the First (afterwards Second) South Carolina Artillery, and two battalions of infantry, the Charleston Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Gaillard, and the Pee Dee Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Smith commanding, in all, less than five hundred men. Colonel T. G. Lamar, of the South Carolina Artillery, commanded the post.”
“From the landing of the Federal force on the 2d to the morning of the 16th the Confederate troops had been subjected, day and night, to the most arduous duties. On the 15th there had been sharp skirmishing and the combined fire from the land and naval batteries had been unusually heavy. Notwithstanding the secrecy observed in the Federal camps, Colonel Lamar had observed enough to convince him that an attack would be made in the night of the 15th or early the following morning, and so reported to General Evans, commanding on the island, who ordered Colonel Johnson Hagood to reinforce Secessionville up to 2000 men, but the reinforcements had not arrived when the assault was made.”
“Colonel Lamar and his men had been busily at work all night of the 15th and until three o’clock in the morning constructing a new land battery and transferring guns to it from an old gunboat.”
“The aggregate Confederate loss was 204, nearly the whole of it falling on the troops who defended the Secessionville batteries. The struggle for the parapet had been especially stubborn and fierce. Muskets were clubbed and Lieutenant Campbell and Mr. Tennant, of the Charleston Battalion, in default of better weapons, seized handspikes and wielded them with effect.”
As soon as the result of the assault was made known to [Union] General Hunter, then at Hilton Head, he relieved General Benham from command and ordered him to Washington in arrest, charged with disobedience of orders and instructions in making the assault. General Wright, who succeeded General Benham in command, was ordered to abandon James Island, which was soon done, leisurely and in perfect order. The Federal troops returned to the points from which they had started on the expedition and the Confederates were left undisturbed to complete the strong lines of earthworks on James Island from Fort Johnson, on the harbor, to Pringle, on the Stono, which were never captured.
Milby Burton writes that:
“Two things helped turn the battle in the battery’s favor.” One was “two small field guns at two different locations, one manned by Lieutenant Jeter, the other by Lt. Col. Ellison Capers” later known as Battery Reed whose purpose was to enfilade an enemy attack on the breastwork at Secessionville a mile away.” . . . . “Both men fired their guns with excellent effect into the Third New Hampshire and helped to hasten their withdrawal” as the hand-to-hand fighting had continued until the “assaulting troops were again repulsed.”
Another major factor that turned the battle in the favor of the Confederates was that “Lt. Col. J. McEnery, commanding a battalion of Louisiana troops, had been aroused by Col. Hagood and sent to Secessionville. McEnery and his men, who were encamped some distance away, started toward the battery” and “advanced to Secessionville over the bridge, nearly a mile long, that extended from the opposite part of the island to the rear of the battery. They arrived on the run . . . and gave considerable assistance in repulsing the Third New Hampshire, which was pouring a deadly fire into the rear of the battery.”
Here is an account by a soldier IN that Louisiana battalion, H. J. Lea of Winnsboro, Louisiana, writing in Confederate Veteran, January, 1923:
“I was a member of Capt. J. W. Walker’s company, which enlisted and went out from Monroe, Louisiana March 2, 1862. We went to Savannah, Ga. and there were attached to and made part of the 4th Louisiana Battalion, commanded by Col. John McEnery.”
“At the break of day on the morning of the 16th, firing was heard up in the front of the fort, the alarm given, and the LONG ROLL BEAT, and the line was quickly formed with orders to march in double-quick time. The distance was as much as three-quarters of a mile or more to the fort. We went up the road along the west side of the line to the bridge, which was about two hundred yards long, crossed over, and turned to the east about four hundred yards to the fort. Just before the head of our line reached the fort, the Yankee regiment, having formed on the opposite side of Lighthouse Creek, at this point about one hundred yards distant, opened fire on us. We were ordered to halt, face to the right, and fire. This continued but a short time; the storming party in front was crowding in, and we were ordered to face to the left and rush to the fort, where the Yankees were scrambling for the top of the parapets crowding forward in great numbers with a desperate determination to capture the fort. We arrived just at the critical moment; a few minutes later would have been too late. They were repulsed, routed, and fled in the same quick time that they came, with the rifles and artillery playing on them to the extreme range.”
“It seemed that every man there in defense of the fort felt as though the whole responsibility of holding the fort rested on him, for it would have been impossible for any force of the same size to have done more. As soon as the storming party in front gave way and fled, the flanking party across the creek also fled hurriedly, for had they remained, even for a short time, they would have been cut off and captured or killed.”
“I remember a tower which stood at the south end of the fort . . . on which a guard was constantly on duty to observe the movements of the enemy. I was permitted to go upon one occasion, and the sentry kindly let me have the use of his glasses for a short time.”
“This battle was one of great importance, considering the effect it may have had on the Confederacy had we failed, for, as I remember it, this point was in reach of Charleston and the enemy, if successful, might have reversed our own guns and brought them to bear on that city.”
“General Lee’s army surrendered April 9, and General Johnston’s a few days later, and, other organizations rapidly following, the Confederate government merged into history. I have not been back since, but remain an unreconstructed Confederate.”
Another Confederate in the battle, R. De T. Lawrence of Marietta, Georgia, wrote in Confederate Veteran, November, 1922:
“Many years after, I met at the Confederate Home of Georgia, a Mr. Jordan, who had been in the engagement in the battery, and subsequently in a number of battles in Virginia, and he told me that the one at Secessionville was the closest and hardest fought of any.”
Warren Ripley writes in the Introduction of Siege Train:
“. . . just as the Southerners had discovered the power of the U.S. Navy at Port Royal, Fort Lamar taught the Yankees a valuable lesson — don’t tangle with the Confederate Army beyond protective range of the warships’ guns. These two principles were to color military thinking in the Charleston area for the remainder of the war.”
Mary Boykin Chesnut in her famous diary wrote:
“At Secessionville, we went to drive the Yankees out, and we were surprised ourselves. We lost one hundred, the Yankees four hundred. They lost more men than we had in the engagement. Fair shooting that! As they say in the West, ‘We whipped our weight in wildcats’ and some to spare. Henry King was killed. He died as a brave man would like to die. From all accounts, they say he had not found this world a bed of roses.”
Her numbers are wrong but her proportions are almost right!
Later she wrote:
“More talk of Secessionville. Dr. Tennent proved himself a crack shot. They handed him rifles, ready loaded, in rapid succession; and at the point he aimed were found thirty dead men. Scotchmen in a regiment of Federals at Secessionville were madly intoxicated. They had poured out whiskey for them like water.”
Milby Burton writes:
“Total Union casualties, including killed, wounded, and missing, were almost 700; those of the Confederates came to slightly over 200. Most of the casualties occurred in an area about 125 yards wide immediately in front of the battery and on the battery itself.”
“Before the attack, the battery was known as the Tower Battery . . . After the battle, however, it was named Battery Lamar.”
“When the news of the repulse of the Federal forces reached Charleston, the citizens were elated, but when the casualty list arrived including the names of many Charlestonians, one commentator wrote: ‘a Gloom has been cast over our City by the death of many fine young men.'”
“After the valiant defense of the battery, the Confederate Congress passed the following resolution: ‘That the thanks of Congress are due and are hereby tendered to Colonel Thomas G. Lamar and the officers and men engaged in the gallant and successful defense of Secessionville against the greatly superior numbers of the enemy on the 16th day of June, 1862.'”
Gen. Ripley ended his article on the defenses of Charleston with these interesting facts:
“The works of defense around Charleston were continued throughout the war until its close . . . . With the exception of a spasmodic attempt to overwhelm Fort Sumter, and an abortive attack upon Battery Simkins and Fort Johnson, the siege of Charleston degenerated into a blockade, in which the Federal fleet was assisted by the Federal batteries on Morris Island, and a useless though annoying bombardment of the city of Charleston at long range.
“The work of the engineers went on, however, notably at Fort Sumter which the enemy endeavored to crush continually. It was WELL supplied at night, and the works of the interior retrenchment well and efficiently carried on under Captain John Johnson, an able engineer, so that it became almost impregnable against an assault, and its garrison lived under the terrific cannonade to which it was subjected in comparative comfort.”
In ending, I just want to say Charleston was never conquered militarily or surrendered. When Confederate forces were ordered to evacuate at the end of the war to continue the fight elsewhere, the city was turned over to the Union Army by an alderman.
Confederate soldier R. De T. Lawrence also said after the battle:
“The troops which had reinforced the command of General Gist on James Island were returned to their former stations on the coast and at Savannah, and the heroes of Secessionville were toasted on every hand.”
Very interesting information. It was a terrible war. So many lives lost. We would be a better world today if the South had won; I’m sure of that.