The coast is not clear.

Yanks Come.  

The Fall is near. (Haiku)

  1. North Carolina
  2. Port Royal Sound
  3. Lee in the Low Country
  4. Georgetown

NC Coast The superior naval forces of the Union, using the new steam powered ships, ultimately more or less controlled the high seas.  Using that power, they immediately invaded Hilton Head, Port Royal and Beaufort, and occupied these sites throughout the war.

29 August 1861 the Union Navy seized Hatteras Inlet, and thereby controlled much of the North Carolina Coast.  The Union Navy needed a port with a deep enough harbor to provide a coaling and resupply port for their fleet.  Control of such a port was crucial to the success of the blockade.  The battle of Manassas had demonstrated that the north was not going to win an easy victory on land.  General T. W. Sherman (this is not General William Tecumseh Sherman, our nemesis of 1865!) was given instructions to take 12,000 men and sail on a major naval expedition to secure such a port.  Early in October President Lincoln himself urged all haste upon General  (T.W.) Sherman and Commodore DuPont, who was to head the naval operation.  They left for Hampton Roads (Virginia, drat it!), and the fleet and army sailed out of Hampton Roads on 29 October 1861.  There were 75 ships, of which 17 were warships, with 12,000 infantry, and 600 marines.   They had been given three targets from which to chose: Bull's Bay, SC, Port Royal, SC, and Fernandina, FL.  They chose Port Royal.  

2 November 1861, Saturday, the citizens of Beaufort were told that the fleet headed south probably was headed for Port Royal. On Sunday, 3 November, Dr.Joseph Walker, thirty-seven year rector of St. Helena's Episcopal Church, suggested that his congregation pack their belongings and hold family prayers. I (FOC) wonder, over the intervening 130 years, why they did not stay and try to protect what they could?  On Monday, 4 November, the Union fleet anchored off Hilton Head, and Confederate Brigadier General Roswell Ripley told the citizens that Port Royal was clearly the target of attack and that they should evacuate Beaufort. All across town, trunks were packed, carts and horses were drawn up, and household servants began busily loading family possessions. For some slaves it was the last act they were to perform for their masters.  Detailed map showing Beaufort.

SC Coast Walker plantation: Reverend Walker's niece Emily Walker recalled her mother sending their trusted slave "Daddy Jimmy" to Retreat Plantation to get the family's longboat, Santa Ana, to town to evacuate them. The boat arrived at 9:00 at night. With a lantern rigged under a canopy, six burly slaves rowed Emily, her cousin Sarah Stuart with two infants, and her father up the Beaufort River past Brickyard Point and across the Coosaw River to the mainland. As they landed in the morning, they heard the boom of the big Union guns in Port Royal Sound.

Dr. Jenkins: The St. Helena Island planters had gathered on Dr. Jenkins's veranda at Land's End to watch the battle. It became obvious that by early afternoon, the Union fleet had complete control of Port Royal Sound and that all the federal troops accompanying the fleet would soon occupy the sea islands. If they were so foolish as to think otherwise, they soon quitted the veranda, mounted their horses and wagons, and rode off down Seaside Road to spread the alarm among the planter households, and gather their belongings for a hasty evacuation.

Slaves: Reputedly some planters tried to take their slaves with them (FOC: I wonder why not all?), but that most slaves refused to go. Some masters told the field hands that the Yankees would sell them to the ill reputed Cuban sugar plantations if they remained behind. Other planters suggested shooting a few recalcitrant slaves to force the rest to leave. Threats and lies did not work. As the slave woman Susannah disingenuously asked her master Daniel Pope, "Why should they [Yankees] kill poor black folks who did no harm and could only be guided by white folks?" The slaves communicated amongst themselves through an underground network, and knew very well what was going on. On Datha Island, Dr. Berners Barnwell Sams ordered his slave Cupid to gather the slaves on the island at the "big landing" to be transported to the mainland, but Cupid and the other slaves instead took to the woods! Not all the planters tried to take their slaves. Captain John Fripp told his slaves to keep together, stay on the plantation, plant provisioning crops for their own sustenance, and forget the cotton. He wished them well and left St. Helena Island. These were wise words.

Free at last,

To chose my path,  

What is the path? (Haiku)

Conveniently for the white population of Beaufort, there was a steamer moored at the town dock on 7 November. Many of the inhabitants who had not evacuated the night before put their belongings aboard the paddle wheeler and went directly to Charleston. Had the Union ships immediately steamed up the Beaufort River, they would have captured much of the white population of the town, although as non-combatants, they may have fared better had they stayed. As it was, elements of the Union fleet came up the Beaufort River the next day on 8 November. Henry, the cook at Coffin Point on St. Helena Island, brought word to the overseer to flee. Henry reported that "all the Yankee ships were going in procession up to Beaufort, solemn as a funeral." The army did not actually occupy the village until 9 November, and, according to local tradition, they found only one white man left in town and he was stone drunk on Bay Street.

The Union Navy invaded Port Royal Sound on 7 November 1861. Union steam ships destroyed Confederate Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island and occupied it, with no Confederate counterattack.  The engagement had an outstanding military description on the Civil War @ Charleston web site, but this seems to have disappeared from the web.  Detailed image of the Confederate Forts and Union Navy.

This 7 November battle was lost primarily because the sea was smooth as glass, the Union ships were steam powered, not subject to whims of wind and wave, and they steamed in an oval, presenting a continuously moving target to the Confederate gunners who could not hit them, while the Union gunners were dead on.  In addition, Union gunboats positioned themselves in line of sight to an unfinished, and ungunned, quarter of the fort on Hilton Head, and demolished it.  This was a sad day for the planters sitting on their veranda watching the battle! They soon (unnecessarily) fled for their lives, although General Sherman kept order upon his occupation (recall, this was not General William Tecumseh Sherman, may his name forever live in infamy!  (Although, truth be told here, W.T. Sherman knew exactly what he was doing!).

Hilton Head Island was occupied without further opposition shortly after 2:30 PM.

In the two days between the white flight (love that pun!) and the arrival of the Union troops, the slaves from both the town and surrounding plantations looted Beaufort and occupied the fine mansions. Several local men stationed on the mainland made forays into Beaufort to burn the valuable cotton, collect personal belongings, and gather military intelligence. Capt. James Stuart of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, dispatched to burn the cotton, reported that the town was plundered. Lt. Teddy Barnwell led a detachment of the Rutledge Mounted Rifles onto Port Royal Island the same day to gather military information. He reported that the town was "still as death," but from the fourth floor of the Barnwell Castle on Bay Street he could see the Union gunboats steaming up the Beaufort River. When Thomas Elliott slipped into Beaufort on November 8, he found that the homes had already been ransacked by the slaves and that the debris of furniture and household goods cluttered the streets. When he arrived at his own home, Elliott found several plantation slaves reveling in the house."Chloe, Steven's wife seated at Phoebe's piano playing away like the very Devil and two damsels upstairs dancing away famously."

On Hilton Head Island itself, the invading Union troops looted the abandoned plantations. General T. W. Sherman, enraged at the behavior of his own troops, soon put a stop to this (recall again, this was not General W. T. Sherman!). On 11 November, he issued General Order Number 24 from his headquarters on Hilton Head Island ordering any troops or officers engaged in looting to cease their activity or be disciplined. He noted that "the right of citizens to be secure in their property must continue." Despite General Sherman's best efforts and intentions, the sea island planters had already lost everything. Few ever recovered the land or possessions left behind, and the major fraction of their estate, the slaves, were of course never returned. Obviously no one in the South was compensated for the loss of slaves. Financial records suggest that roughly half the wealth of the planters was tied up in the value of their slaves. The sea islands of the Beaufort District had changed forever. (Consider this in modern terms, whether you be black or white, the immediate reduction of your net worth by 1/2!)

As the planters began to appreciate the magnitude of this irreversible loss, Union occupiers began to realize their gain, not in slaves or real estate, but in the harbor, and its utility to the blockade. Commodore DuPont mused, "This is a wonderful sheet of water - the navies of the world could ride here." Captain Rufus Saxton of the Quartermaster's Corps, in his report to General Sherman, saw Port Royal as a tremendous gain: "We are now in possession of the finest harbor in the South, where the largest ships can enter and ride at anchor in safety. In the heart of the richest part of the cotton district with direct and easy communication by inland water with Charleston and Savannah, it possesses unrivaled advantages for a Quartermasters and Naval depot, and in the future a great commercial city must grow up here."

The winter of my fall.

The winter of my surprise.  

Why the Fall? (Haiku)

The Battle of Port Royal Sound was the beginning of the end of the Old South in "our neck of the woods."  Beaufort was the first southern city captured by Union forces, remaining in their hands throughout the war. Few of the planter families ever returned to the sea islands, and not until 1892 were they compensated by the federal government for their plantation lands lost to conquest.

Though the slaves were not immediately freed, they were never returned to slavery, and they were among the first slaves in America freed after the Emancipation Proclamation of 22 September 1862. The old order of the South, almost two centuries in the making, had for these islands vanished in a single day, and the sea island community would never be the same again.

Beaufort had been completely abandoned by its white citizens on 11 December 1861 by the time Federal forces arrived there, and the slaves were looting the town.  The general in charge (Stevens) ordered the town cleared of looters and secured.  Beaufort remained in Union hands throughout the war.  There was an excellent  (Union) military description of the Federal occupation of Beaufort, describing their surprise at finding the town abandoned on the Civil War @ Charleston web site that unfortunately seems to have disappeared.  Please submit what you have for inclusion on this USGenWeb site, as it is not dependent on one person, and will not disappear.

Modern Highway Map of Beaufort, showing Historical Markers (SCDAH South Carolina Highway Historical Marker Guide)

General Robert E. Lee was in Savannah and Charleson

Robert E. Lee was here!, in Savannah and Charleston in the winter of 1861/2. Here is what could be documented at this point.


A year would pass before the principal Confederate command was awarded to the general whom Abraham Lincoln and his advisers had ranked the best soldier in the nation. Confederate president Jefferson Davis first wanted Lee nearby to advise him. He then sent Lee in a futile effort to save northwestern Virginia (now West Virginia) from falling into Union hands in the summer of 1861. That fall, Lee was sent to South Carolina to bolster defenses on the Atlantic seaboard. During the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in the spring of 1862, Lee once again served as military adviser to President Davis. It would not be until June 1862, when he was appointed to succeed the wounded Gen. Joseph Johnston, that Lee would command an army for the first time.  You probably thought, as did I, that Lee commanded the Confederate Army from the beginning!

April 18, 1861  Robert E. Lee is offered command of the United States Army

April 20, 1861  Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the United States Army

Library of Congress papers: "To draw my sword," Robert E. Lee, April 20, 1861.  Sympathizing with you in the troubles that are pressing so heavily upon our beloved country, & entirely agreeing with you in your notions of allegiance, I have been unable to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state, my relatives, my children & my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army & never desire again to draw my sword save in defence of my state. I consider it useless to go into the reasons that influenced me. I can give you no advice. I merely tell you what I have done that you may do better.  Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) to Roger Jones April 20, 1861. Custis-Lee Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00)

April 23, 1861 Nominated by Governor Letcher of Virginia and approved by the Assembly on the previous day, Robert E. Lee assumes command of Virginia's militia

May 1, 1861 Robert E. Lee orders Stonewall Jackson to remove the weapons and equipment from the arsenal at Harpers Ferry

June 8, 1861 Virginia turns its state militia over to the Confederate States of America

August 31, 1861 Samuel Cooper, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard are promoted to full general.

Digital Library of Georgia: Cyrus F. Jenkins Civil War Diary, 1861 - 1862, Cyrus F. Jenkins Civil War Diary, 1861-1862, Civil War Timeline: June 30, 1861 – 1862 (hereafter “Jenkins)

1 August 1861 (Thursday) President Jefferson Davis urges General Johnston to take further action in Virginia. Davis sends his advisor, General Robert E. Lee to take command of forces in the area of West Virginia after General Garnett's defeat at Carrickford. (Jenkins)

31 August 1861 (Saturday) The Confederate government appoints five full generals, an unprecedented act. They are Samuel Cooper, Albert Sydney Johnston, Robert Edward Lee, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard. Cavalry skirmish at Munsons Hill near Annandale, Virginia. (Jenkins)

10 September 1861 (Tuesday) To the north, General Robert E. Lee plans his assault on Cheat Mountain near the Pennsylvania line. (Jenkins)

11 September 1861 (Wednesday) Confederate General Robert E. Lee commences his five-pronged attack on Union forces in western Virginia at Cheat Mountain. Rainy weather slows Confederate troop movement, preventing Lee's surprise attack, and enabling the Union to hold their position. The Union victory at Cheat Mountain secures the region of western Virginia for the Union. (Jenkins)

25 September 1861 (Wednesday) Forces led by General Lee and General Rosecrans converge on the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia. (Jenkins)

8 November 1861 (Friday) General Lee arrives in Savannah to take command of a large territory that was blockaded and poorly manned. News of the capture of Port Royal sends many residents of Savannah inland. At Hilton Head, Union troops push out from the beachhead into the area around Beaufort. (Jenkins)

10 November 1861. Robert E. Lee arrives in Savannah and the next day comes to Ft. Pulaski. There he is welcomed by its commander, Major Charles H. Olmstead. Lee gives instructions on defensive work in the fort. During this visit Lee points to nearby Tybee Island and, as famously quoted by Olmstead, says: "...they will make it very warm for you with shells from that point but they cannot breach at that distance." (

11 Dec. 1861 Lee was in Charleston for the great fire of 1861 staying at the Mills House Hotel (The South Carolina Historical Magazine V104 No. 4 Oct. 2003)

10 February 1862 (Monday) Union forces threaten Confederates occupying St. Simon's and Jekyll Island. General Robert E. Lee gives the commanders on the islands authority to withdraw to save their commands. (Jenkins)

4 March 1862 (Tuesday) Confederate General John Pemberton replaces General Robert E. Lee as commander of the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida. President Davis calls Lee to Richmond to be a military advisor in Virginia. (Jenkins)

During the first year of the Civil War, Lee served as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Once he took command of the main field army in 1862 he soon emerged as a shrewd tactician and battlefield commander, winning most of his battles, all against far superior Union armies.[

8 Nov. 1861, Congressional Series of US Public Documents, Volume 2058, Chap. XV, Nov. 5 1861 The Coasts of SC GA, and east FL constituted a department under command of Gen. RE Lee, CS Army. Nov. 8, 1861 Lee assumes command of the Dept. of SC, GA, and East FL. Mar. 3 1862 Gen. RE Lee recalled to Richmond, VA

Stoney Creek Heritage Preserve located in western Beaufort County claims the fortifications at Stoney Creek Battery, Yamassee, SC were a portion of the Confederate southern coastal defenses constructed under the direction of General Robert E. Lee in late 1861 and early 1862.

Soon after Beaufort and Hilton Head Island were captured and secured by Union forces, it became clear to Union General Thomas W. Sherman, commander of the Department of the South, and his replacement in March 1862, Major General David Hunter, that the Charleston and Savannah Railroad located inland from Bluffton was of the highest strategic importance. Indeed, Robert E. Lee, while serving as commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida prior to his reassignment to command the Army of Northern Virginia constructed earthworks and breastworks designed to protect the Railroad from amphibious assault, and had barriers constructed on creeks leading to the railroad..

Lee did write a surviving letter to the Confederate Secretary of War from Coosawhatchie on November 9, 1861 (Congressional Serial Set... Paperback – September 29, 2011, by United States. Government Printing Office), so he was documented at this locaiton.

(Wikipedia) During the Civil War, Coosawhatchie, a small town in what is now Jasper County, was the site of several small battles. Robert E. Lee made his headquarters in Coosawhatchie when he was fortifying the coastal defenses of South Carolina and Georgia during late 1861 and early 1862.4 To protect the railroad bridge in Coosawhatchie against Federal gunboats coming up the Broad River, Lee's troops dug massive earthworks along its banks.  Lee bought and named his famous horse Traveller in Coosawhatchie.5 Note by FOC, Wikipedia may be edited by anyone!  I do not consider this a satisfactory source, but will sufice for the moment.  Traveller was purchased in Greenbrier County, VA (now West Virginia).  Lee saw this horse for the second time at Pocataligo, SC, and purchased it in February 1862.   There is no mention of him naming the horse while in South Carolina.  (Lee in the Lowcountry, Daniel J. Crooks, Jr., History Press 2010) 

4Stone, H. David (2008). Vital rails: the Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in coastal South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-716-7.

5Johnson, Clint (2001). In the footsteps of Robert E. Lee. John F. Blair. pp. 152–4. ISBN 0-89587-235-8.

1 June 1862 Jefferson Davis replaces wounded Army of Northern Virginia commander Joseph E. Johnston with Robert E. Lee.

1 July 1862 Battle of Malvern Hill / Malvern Cliffs.  Robert E. Lee [CS] attacked George B. McClellan [U.S.], whose men made a gallant stand in front of the James River. Lee called off his attack after failing to break the Union line.

Thus we may conclude that Robert E. Lee was indeed in the area from approximately 8 Nov 1861 until approximately 4 Mar 1862, although we do not know yet if he assisted any "planters" or anyone else along the coast, or just made the major defenses more secure.  It is documented that he strengthened the defenses along the Charleston to Savannah railroad, as well as the defenses of Charleston and Savannah themselves, and that he traveled at least some of the Georgia Coast observing and strengthening defenses.  He was clearly in Coosawhatchiee.

There is a book on the subject of Lee in the area:

Lee in the Lowcountry: Defending Charleston & Savannah 1861-1862 (Civil War Sesquicentennial) (Civil War Sesquicentennial Series) Paperback, Daniel J. Crooks, Jr. (Author), History Press 2010

Georgetown: By December, 1861, a month after the fall of Port Royal, South Carolina, the United States Navy successfully blockaded Georgetown and cut off its trade with Europe. By mid-April of the following year, Union gunboats entered the mouths of the Santee River and Winyah Bay, sailed up river and disrupted the rice plantation system. The frequency of federal raids occurred unabated and the gunboats soon became a common sight on many of Georgetown's rivers. With each consecutive incursion, the Union Navy burned fields, looted houses, destroyed property and carried away slaves. Unprotected, many of the planters decided to move inland. A few plantation owners remained, but many abandoned their homes and left their crops to overseers care. For the remainder of the war, most of Georgetown's rice fields lay fallow. (Boyle 1999)

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This HTML document Copyright ©2014 USGenWeb Civil War web site. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy.  However, all of these documents are copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Dr. Frank O. Clark.  Much of the detail of the loss of Beaufort is taken from "The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 1, 1514-1861, by Rowland, Moore, and Rogers, University of South Carolina Press 1996.