Secessionville, Part 2

by Brett Schulte on September 7, 2005 · 0 comments

Secessionville: Assault On Charleston by Patrick Brennan

Note: As I move along through this book (and future books) I hope to pick out a few important ideas or vignettes from each chapter and post as I go. I normally take notes from the books I read anyway in order to write up a book review after I am finished, so I hope these ongoing entries will help me with remembering the key points by putting them down while they are fresh in my mind. In other words, these blog entries should add to my written notes and aid in the construction of my reviews.

I last left Secessionville after having read the Introduction and Prologue. Hunter had taken command of the forces threatening Charleston and Savannah, and he brought Henry Benham with him. Benham apparently was a difficult man to get along with, and Brennan makes this clear from the beginning.

Chapter 1

1. When Robert E. Lee had held the command of South Carolina and Georgia, he had developed a plan to abandon the tidewater region when necessary and to defend more solid points inland. Apparently Gen. John C. Pemberton, Lee’s successor, also held to this view. However, he was not as skillful when it came to dealing with the local politicians, who believed that every inch of ground should not be abandoned without a fight. To make matters worse, due to the Shiloh and Peninsula Campaigns, troops were being taken repeatedly from Pemberton’s Department. This resulted in even greater troop withdrawals, and hence more fighting among Pemberton and various citizens and politicians.

2. Robert Smalls, a slave and pilot of the Confederate ship Planter, managed with the help of several other slaves of the ship’s crew to take the ship out of Charleston Harbor and into the Union Fleet. Smalls, in addition to providing the Federals with several cannon contained on the Planter, also gave Hunter the information that the Confederates had abandoned Coles Island (“Charleston’s southern flank”) and had also been forced to send reinforcements to Richmond and Corinth, Mississippi. Brennan writes that this intelligence in effect was a catalyst for the start of the Campaign.

Chapter 2

1. Apparently James Island had been used as an invasion point against Charleston by the British during the Revolutionary War. Hunter hoped to repeat this invasion. The Confederates had some formidable earthworks which split the Island in half. In addition, Fort Pemberton guarded the right flank and Tower Battery guarded the left. Tower Battery became important later at the Battle of Secessionville.

2. Union BG Isaac Stevens had realized early on in his stay in South Carolina that the key to the whole area lay in the Charleston-Savannah Railroad. He wanted to send an expedition to cut this railroad at Pocotaligo, S.C., and then advance north to isolate Charleston. However, when Hunter and Benham took over for Gen. Thomas Sherman, Benham dismissed Stevens’ plan out of hand. He relented slightly just before the James Island Expedition, though with some extremely cumbersome qualifiers. First, Stevens was only allowed to burn just one bridge near Pocotaligo. Second, he only had 24 hours to attack Pocotaligo and was only allowed one regiment for the expedition. Needless to say, Confederate reinforcements rushed to the area and forced the reinforced Regiment to retreat. Stevens’ opinion of his superior Benham, already low, grew that much worse.

3. By this point in the narrative, it has become clear that Brennan is using a method similar to Warren Grabau in his book Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer’s View of the Vicksburg Campaign. He describes the action from a Confederate POV, and then moves on to describe it from the Union POV. I’ll be interesting to see if he continues this as the narrative moves to the Battle of Secessionville.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

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