Posted By : manager

Posted : January 30, 2024

By Compatriot Mike Thomas

The Charleston and Savannah Railroad was targeted by Union commanders several times during the war. This vital connection remained open until late December 1864 primarily due to valorous stands by vastly outnumbered Confederate forces blessed with superb leadership. The well-documented battles at Pocotaligo in 1862, and Honey Hill and Tulifinny in late 1864, were especially decisive. The Battle of Chap-man’s Fort, though well documented, is rarely mentioned. Chapman’s Fort was among several unfinished and unmanned positions established in early 1864 along the Ashepoo River and adjacent areas to thwart Union water-borne forays against the interior. The action there in May 1864 can hardly be called a battle, but it halted a threat to the railroad just a few miles away.

In May 1864 Union commanders at Hilton Head assembled a well-equipped 2,000-man force of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and marines at Port Royal with orders to destroy “…the railroad bridges over the South Edisto and Ashepoo Rivers and the long trestle-work over the swamp between the two rivers.” Loaded on transports accompanied by gunboats, the force sailed on May 25 intending to land the troops during the night. Somehow, in the darkness, the army transport Boston, loaded with horses and a large contingent of U.S. Colored Troops, missed the channel from the river leading to the planned landing site and continued upstream seven miles before running aground 300 yards from Chapman’s Fort. Alert Confederate scouts reported this and before daylight, a small Confederate force of cavalry and two cannon arrived. 

The cannon opened fire on Boston and immediately hit her boiler. The ship’s crew and the USCG’s quickly abandoned ship and floundered in the marsh as they could do no more than watch as Boston was raked by the shelling. The Yankees in the marsh were never targeted. The ship was hit repeatedly over the next couple of hours before the arrival of Union gunboats caused the Confederate guns to cease fire. A Union gunboat commander wrote in his after-action report that, upon arrival at the scene, he found…” nearly all the troops ashore in the marsh having thrown away their arms and accouterments, and in many instances their clothing.” After all firing ceased and rescue boats were dispatched, the report added, “The colored troops being in a position they could not return the fire, seemed to have been panic-stricken, and …it was as much as the officers could do to keep them from crowding into the boats and swamping them”.

The Yankees did not linger at Chapman’s Fort but quickly set the Boston’s hulk afire without at-tempting to first recover any of the 85 horses still aboard. Thirteen men were reported drowned or missing from the contingent aboard her. This disaster led the commanding officer to abort the entire mission and orders were given to return to Port Royal. Anger and disgust with this debacle are evident within the various Union post-action reports. The Battle of Chapman’s Fort kept the Charleston and Savannah Railroad safe and it was another two months before the Yankees mounted another (failed) attempt to sever it.

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