Reports of Brigadier-General John M. Brannan, Commanding, Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (24 October and 6 November 1862)

Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, U.S. Army (public domain).

Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, U.S. Army (public domain).

HEADQUARTERS EXPEDITIONARY FORCES,
U.S. Transport Ben De Ford, October 24, 1862.

 

COLONEL: In accordance with instructions received from Headquarters Department of the South, I assumed command of the following forces, ordered to destroy the railroad and railroad bridges on the Charleston and Savannah line:

A portion of the First Brigade (Brannan’s), Col. J. L. Chatfield, Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, commanding, effective strength 2,000; a portion of Second Brigade, Brig. Gen. A. H. Terry commanding, effective strength 1,410; detachment of Third Rhode Island Volunteers, Colonel Brown commanding, effective strength 300; detachment of Forty-eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers, Colonel Barton commanding, effective strength 300; detachment of First Massachusetts Cavalry, Capt. L. Richmond commanding, effective strength 108;  section of First U.S. Artillery, Lieut. G. V. Henry commanding, effective strength 40; section of Third U.S. Artillery, Lieut. E. Gittings commanding, effective strength 40; detachment of New York Volunteer Engineers, Lieutenant Colonel Hall commanding, effective strength 250. Total effective strength, 4,448 men.

With this command I left Hilton Head, S.C., on the evening of October 21, and, proceeding up Broad River, arrived off Pocotaligo Creek at 4:30 a.m. with the transport Ben De Ford and the gunboat Paul Jones. Col. William B. Barton, Forty-eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers, 50 men of the Volunteer Engineer Corps, and 50 men of the Third Rhode Island Volunteers, in accordance with my order, delivered early that morning, proceeded direct to the Coosawhatchie River, to destroy the railroad and railroad bridges in that vicinity. The other gunboats and transports did not all arrive until about 8 a.m. on October 22. I immediately effected a landing of my artillery and infantry at Mackay’s Point, at the junction of Pocotaligo and Tulifiny [sic] Rivers. I advanced without delay in the direction of Pocotaligo Bridge, sending back the transports Flora and Darlington to Port Royal Island for the cavalry, the First Brigade being in advance, with a section from the First U.S. Artillery, followed by the Second Brigade, with Colonel Brown’s command, the section of the Third U.S. Artillery and three boat howitzers, which Captain Steedman, commanding the naval forces, kindly furnished for this occasion, and a detachment of 45 men from the Third Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery, under Captain Comstock, of that regiment.

On advancing about 5½ miles  and debouching upon an open rolling country the rebels opened upon us with a field battery from a position on the plantation known as Caston’s. I immediately caused the First Brigade to deploy, and, bringing my artillery to the front, drove the rebels from this position. They, however, destroyed all small bridges in the vicinity, causing much delay in my advance. These, with the aid of the Engineer Corps, were reconstructed as we advanced, and I followed up the retreat of the rebels with all the haste practicable. I had advance about 1¼ miles farther, when a battery again opened on us from a position on the plantation called Frampton. The rebels here had every advantage of ground, being ensconced in a wood, with a deep swamp in front, passable only by a narrow causeway, on which the bridge had been destroyed, while, on our side of the swamp and along the entire front and flanks of the enemy (extending to the swamps), was an impervious thicket, intersected by a deep water ditch, and passable only by a narrow road. Into this road the rebels threw a most terrific fire of grape, shot, shell, canister, and musket balls, killing and wounding great numbers of my command. Here the ammunition for the field pieces fell short, and, though the infantry acted with great courage and determination, they were twice driven out of the woods with great slaughter by the overwhelming fire of the enemy, whose missiles tore through the woods like hail. I had warmly responded to this fire with the sections of First and Third U.S. Artillery and the boat howitzers until, finding my ammunition about to fail, and seeing that any flank movement was impossible, I pressed the First Brigade forward through the thicket to the verge of a swamp, and sent the section of First U.S. Artillery, well supported, to the causeway of the wood on the farther side, leaving the Second Brigade, with Colonel Brown’s command, the section of Third U.S. Artillery, and the boat howitzers as a line of defense in my rear. The effect of this bold movement was immediately evident in the precipitate retreat of the rebels, who disappeared in the woods with amazing rapidity. The infantry of the First Brigade immediately plunged through the swamp, (parts of which were nearly up to their arm-pits) and started in pursuit. Some delay was caused by the bridge having been destroyed, impeding the passage of the artillery. This difficulty was overcome and with my full force I pressed forward on the retreating rebels. At this point (apprehending, from the facility which the rebels possessed of heading Pocotaligo Creek, that they would attempt to turn my left flank) I sent an infantry regiment, with a boat howitzer, to my left, to strike the Coosawhatchie road.

The position which I had found proved, as I had supposed, to be one of great natural advantage to the rebels, the ground behind higher on that side of the swamp, and having a firm, open field for the working of their artillery, which latter they formed in a half circle, throwing a concentrated fire on the entrance to the wood we had first passed.

The rebels left in their retreat a caisson full of ammunition, which latter, fortunately, fitting the boat howitzers, enabled us, at a later period of the day, to keep up our fire when all other ammunition had failed.

Still pursuing the flying rebels, I arrived at that point where the Coosawhatchie road (joining that from Mackay’s Landing) runs through a swamp to Pocotaligo Bridge. Here the rebels opened a murderous fire upon us from batteries of siege guns and field pieces on the farther side of the creek. Our skirmishers, however, advanced boldly to the edge of the swamp, and, from what cover they could obtain, di considerable execution among the enemy. The rebels, as I had anticipated, attempted a flank movement on our left, but for some reason abandoned it. The ammunition of the artillery here entirely failed, owing to the caissons not having been brought on, for the want of transportation from Port Royal, and the pieces had to be sent back to Mackay’s Point, a distance of 10 miles, to renew it.

The bridge across the Pocotaligo was destroyed, and the rebels from behind their earthworks continued on the only approach to it, through the swamp. Night was now closing fast, and seeing the utter hopelessness of attempting anything further against the force which the enemy had concentrated at this point from Savannah and Charleston, with an army of much inferior force, unprovided with ammunition, and not having even sufficient transportation to remove the wounded, who were lying writhing along our entire route, I deemed it expedient to retire to Mackay’s Point, which I did in successive lines of defenses, burying my dead and carrying our wounded with us on such stretchers as we could manufacture from branches of trees, blankets, &.c., and receiving no molestation from the rebels, embarked and returned to Hilton Head on the 23d instant.

Facts tend to show that the rebels were perfectly acquainted with all our plans, as they had evidently studied our purpose with care, and had two lines of defense, Caston and Frampton, before falling back on Pocotaligo, where, aided by their field works and favored by the nature of the ground and the facility of concentrating troops, they evidently purposed making a determined stand; and indeed the accounts gathered from prisoners leave no doubt but that the rebels had very accurate information of our movements.

I greatly felt the want of the cavalry, which, in consequence of the transports having grounded in the Broad River, did not arrive till nearly 4 p.m., and which in the early part of the day would perhaps have captured some field pieces in the open country we were then in, and would at all events have prevented the destruction of the bridge in the rear of the rebels. Great praise is due to the brigade and regimental commanders for their calm and determined courage during the entire day and for the able manner in which they handled their several commands. Colonel Barton, Forty-eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers, as will be seen from the accompanying copy of his report, partially effected the object of his movement on Coosawhatchie; but, meeting with too strong a force of the rebels, was obliged to re-embark.

I desire to call the attention of the major-general commanding the department to the gallant and distinguished conduct of First Lieut. Guy V. Henry, First U.S. Artillery, commanding a section of light artillery. His pieces were served admirably throughout the entire engagement. He had two horses shot. The section of Third U.S. Artillery, commanded by First Lieut. E. Gittings, was also well served. He being wounded in the latter part of the day, his section was commanded by Lieutenant Henry.

The three boat howitzers furnished by Captain Steedman, U.S. Navy, commanding the naval forces, were served well, and the officers commanding them, with the crews, as also the detachment of the Third Rhode Island Volunteers, deserve great credit for their coolness, skill, and gallantry. The officers commanding  these guns are as follows: Lieut. Lloyd Phoenix and Ensigns James Wallace, La Rue P. Adams, and Frederick Pearson.

The conduct of my entire staff – Capt. Louis J. Lambert, assistant adjutant-general; Capt. L. Coryell, assistant quartermaster, and Lieuts. Ira V. German and George W. Bacon, aides-de-camp – gave me great pleasure and satisfaction. My orders were transmitted by them in the hottest of the battle with great rapidity and correctness. To Col. E. W. Serrell, New York Volunteer Engineers, who acted as an additional aide-de-camp, I am much indebted. His energy, perfect coolness, and bravery were a source of gratification to me. Orders from me were executed by him in a very satisfactory manner. Lieut. G. H. Hill, signal officer, performed his duties with great promptness. He acted also as additional aide-de-camp, and gave me much assistance in carrying my orders during the entire day. Col. T. H. Good, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (Colonel Chatfield being wounded early in the day), commanded the First Brigade during the latter part of the engagement with much ability. Nothing could be more satisfactory than the promptness and skill with which the wounded were attended to by Surg. E. W. Bailey, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, medical director, and the entire medical staff of the command.

The troops of the command behaved with great gallantry, advancing against a remarkably heavy fire of musketry, canister, grape, round shot, and shell, driving the enemy before them with much determination. I was perfectly satisfied with their conduct.

It affords me much pleasure again to report the perfect cordiality existing between the two branches of the service, and I was much indebted to Capt. Charles Steedman, U.S. Navy, for his valuable aid and assistance in disembarking and re-embarking the troops; also in sending launches, with howitzers, to prevent an attack on our pickets while we were embarking to return to Hilton Head.

The fitting out of the expedition, as relates to its organization, supplies, transportation, and ammunition, was done entirely by the major-general commanding the department, who at first purposed to command it. I was not assigned to the command till a few hours previous to the sailing of the expedition from Hilton Head.

The reports of the brigade and other commanders, together with a list of the officers and men who rendered themselves personally worthy of notice during the engagement I will forward as soon as received. I have the honor to be, colonel, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. M. BRANNAN,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Lieut. Col. W. P. PRENTICE,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Dept. of the South, Hilton Head, S.C.

____

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH,
Hilton Head, Port Royal, S.C., November 6, 1862.

GENERAL: I herewith transmit the reports of Brig. Gen. A. H. Terry and Col. T. H. Good, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, who commanded brigades during the late expedition, under my command, to Pocotaligo, S.C., and would beg respectfully to bring them to the favorable notice of the department for their gallant and meritorious conduct during the engagement of October 22; as also Col. J. L. Chatfield, Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, who commanded the First Brigade until severely wounded, in the early part of the engagement, while gallantly leading it to the charge. Great praise is also due to General Terry for his care and unremitting exertions during the night of the 22d in superintending the removal of the wounded to the transports.

I also forward the report of Col. E. W. Serrell, First New York Volunteer Engineers, chief engineer of the department, of the part taken by their several commands.

Accompanying General Terry’s report is the report of the success of Lieut. S. M. Smith, Third Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery,* who was sent up before daylight on the 22d to Cathbert’s Island, on the Pocotaligo Creek, to capture the rebel pickets there stationed.

* General Terry’s reports say Third New Hampshire Volunteers.

In addition to those officers  mentioned in my report of the expedition I have great pleasure, on the recommendation of their respective commanders, in bringing to the favorable consideration of the department the following officers and men, who rendered themselves specially worthy of notice by their bravery and praiseworthy conduct during the entire expedition and the engagements attending it: First Lieut. E. Gittings, wounded, lieutenant Company E, Third U.S. Artillery, commanding section, who served his pieces with great coolness and judgment under the heavy fire of a rebel battery; Lieutenant Col. G. W. Alexander, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Maj. J. H. Filler, Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Capt. Theodore Bacon, Seventh Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general Second Brigade; First Lieut. Adrian Terry, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, and Second Lieut. Martin S. James, Third Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery, staff of Brigadier-General Terry; Capt. J. P. Shindel Gobin, Company C, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Capt. George Junker, killed, Company K, Forty-seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers; Captain Mickley, killed, Company G, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; First. Lieut. W. H. R. Hangen, adjutant, wounded, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; First Lieutenant Minnich, Company B, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; First Lieut.  W. W. Geety, severely wounded, commanding Company H, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers; Second Lieutenant Breneman, Company H, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Private Michael Larkins, wounded, Company C, Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Captain Bennett, Company E, Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; First Lieut. D. W. Fox, commanding Company A, Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; First Lieutenant Metzger, adjutant Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; First Sergt. H. W. Fox, Company K, Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Private Peter McGuire, Company A, Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; Lieut. S. S. Stevens, Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general First Brigade; Commissary Sergt William H. Johnson, Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers; Sergeant [Charles H.] Grogan, Private G. Platt, and Private A. B. Beers, Company I, Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers; Private R. Wilson, Company D, Sixth Connecticut Volunteers; First Lieut. Edward S. Perry and Private William Crabbe, Company H, Seventh Regiment Connecticut Volunteers; Artificer Patrick Walsh, Company B, First U.S. Artillery; Sergt. Michael Mannon, Light Company E, Third U.S. Artillery; Sergt. N.M. Edwards, First New York Volunteer Engineers, and Sergts. Henry Mehles, Lionel Auyan, and Fisher, First New York Volunteer Engineers.

I would also mention that I am much indebted to Mr. Cooley, sutler of the Sixth Connecticut Volunteers, for his care and attention to the wounded and his care and his exertions in carrying them on the field and placing them on the transports.

I inclose [sic] a complete and accurate list* of the killed, wounded, and missing during the entire expedition, giving their names, rak, companies, and regiments, with a description of the nature of their wounds. I have the honor to be, general most respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. M. BRANNAN,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Department.

Brig. Gen. LORENZO THOMAS, Adjutant-General U.S. Army

 * Embodied in revised statement, p. 148.

 

Source:

Reports of Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan, U.S. Army, commanding expedition, in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Prepared Under the Direction of the Secretary of War, By Lieut. Col. Robert N. Scott, Third U.S. Artillery, and Published Pursuant to Act of Congress Approved June 16, 1880, Series I, Vol. XIV. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1885.