The defense of Charleston

Although there was an occasional Marine presence at the port of Charleston, SC, during the first 18 months of the war, the first substantial activity appears to have begun during February 1863. In anticipation of a Federal naval offensive, the Confederate Navy Department sent Cos B and C of the Marine Bn from Drewry's Bluff to Charleston, to play a key role in countering the threat posed to the harbor by the Federal monitors. Under cover of darkness, specially trained sailors, plus Marines from Co C, were to board the monitors and sabotage them: steel wedges would be driven into the turret rings to prevent the turrets rotating; sails and wet blankets would be thrown over turrets, pilothouses and hatches to blind and trap the crews; gunpowder would be dropped down the smokestacks, and "sulphurated" cartridges in every ventilator, hatch and porthole.

In the event the boarders never had the chance to execute their dangerous plans. Field in readiness until April 12, 1863, they were disappointed to learn that the Federal fleet had withdrawn after the unsuccessful assault on Fort Sumter six days before, and the Marines were eventually returned to Drewry's Bluff. However, their presence in Charleston during this period was not without incident. On March 24 the Charleston Mercury reported that Lt David Bradford had arrested "Private Welsh, a deserter from the Marine Corps" - probably referring to Pte John Walsh, who had been absent without leave from Co A since February 28. According to the Mercury, the deserter "attempted to escape, and ran off, when the Lieutenant fired three shots from his navy revolver... two of which took effect, one on the right side and one on the leg." As his wounds were not considered dangerous, Walsh was "afterwards lodged in the [City] Guard House," where he made a full recovery.

Desertion became such a problem among the Marines in Charleston that Lt Henry M.Doak was ordered there to locate those who remained after the battalion had gone back to Virginia. Doak placed an advertisement in the local press on May 2, offering amnesty to any who returned to their command voluntarily.

The CS Marine Guard aboard the ironclad CSS Atlanta was captured along with the rest of the crew when she was overwhelmed by the firepower of two Federal monitors in Wassavj Sound, off the Georgia coast, on June 17, 1863. Note the raised torpedo spar at the bow of the vessel in this wash drawing, produced in 1901 by R.G.Skerrett. (Naval Historical Center photo NH 57819)

Lieutenant Doak returned to Charleston at the beginning of August with a detachment to form the Marine Guard aboard the new ironclad gunboat CSS Charleston, which had been launched on July 13. In later years he recalled participating in three sea engagements and one land action in the Charleston area during this period. The first naval action involved the repulse of a Federal boat assault on Battery Wagner; the Charleston lay along the northern end of the channel between the batten" and James Island, and tired into a number of small boats carrying three enemy regiments up the channel.

The second sea action was probably the boat expedition under Lt A.F.Warley, CSN, of the ironclad CSS Chicara, that captured and destroyed the Federal observation post in the marshes at Schooner Creek, between James and Morris Islands, during the night of August 4. Warley commanded two boats manned by Marines and sailors from the Chicara and Palmetto State, and was joined by several others carrying 30 men from the St Mathews "Rifles, Co F, 25th Sotith Carolina Volunteers, under Capt Martin A.Sellers. The infantry landed as skirmishers; wading knee deep through the marsh, they soon made contact with the enemy, who took to their boats and made their escape. A Federal barge carrying 11 men from the 100th New York was intercepted and captured by Warley's sailors and Marines after a violent struggle. The third engagement was the night attack on Fort Sumter on September 8-9, during which Doak's Marine Guard was transferred to the Chieora and fired into the Federal assault boats.

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