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Battle of Secessionville (June 16, 1862), US Civil War

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  • Source:
    Peter Charles Gaillard (1812 - 1889)
    Gaillard graduated West Point in General George G. Meade's class and fought in the Seminole War, and during the Civil War served in the Confederate Army as Lieutenant Colonel of the Seventeenth and as ...
  • Brevet Maj. Gen. Joseph Roswell Hawley (USA), Governor, U.S. Senator (1826 - 1905)
    Roswell Hawley (October 31, 1826 – March 18, 1905) was the 42nd Governor of Connecticut, a U.S. politician in the Republican and Free Soil parties, a Civil War general, and a journalist and newspaper e...
  • John McEnery (1832 - 1891)
    Sources: In the election of 1872 John McEnery, a Democrat, faced Republican William Pitt Kellogg. Sitting Governor Henry Clay Warmoth, a Republican, supported McEnery because Warmoth opposed...
  • Major Gen. Nathan George "Shanks" Evans (CSA) (1824 - 1868)
    George "Shanks" Evans (1824 – 1868) was a Major general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. His Gravestone is very clear, "Major Gen'l" - - - - - Nathan George "Shanks" Evans ...
  • Brig. General Johnson Hagood (CSA), Governor (1829 - 1898)
    Johnson Hagood was a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War and the 80th Governor of South Carolina from 1880 to 1882.Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, Hagood at...

The Battle of Secessionville (or the First Battle of James Island) was fought on June 16, 1862, during the American Civil War. Confederate forces defeated the Union's only attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina, by land. It's noted for the court martial of the Union Brig. Gen. Henry Benham for trying to take James Island, which was against the orders given.

At about 4:30 a.m. on June 16, the Northern troops attacked the Confederate fort at Secessionville where Colonel Thomas G. Lamar commanded about 500 men who had a number of very heavy artillery guns and a good field of fire. Marshy terrain to the north and south would constrict any Union advance. In the lead was the 8th Michigan and behind them was the 7th Connecticut and the 28th Massachusetts. The 8th Michigan were "mowed down in swaths" from "a shower of musket balls and discharges of grape and canister" from the Confederate cannon, according to one Union officer. Yet, some of the Union infantrymen made it into the fort fighting the Confederate artillerymen hand to hand before Confederate infantry reinforcements arrived to help Lamar's decimated men. These were Lt. Col. Alexander D. Smith's 9th South Carolina Battalion, up from Secessionville. Lt. Col. Peter Gaillard's Charleston Battalion soon followed and the battle became a rifle match along the battery wall and swamp lines. Lt. Col. Joseph Hawley's 7th Connecticut's advance halted when their left flank became mired in the marsh mud and their right received canister and grape. The 28th Massachusetts followed the 7th into the same mire and both regiments became intermingled as the Confederates continued to shoot and shell the confused mass of men. In the meantime, Lt. Col. John McEnery's 4th Louisiana Battalion advanced to reinforce Lamar's garrison, while Simonton's Eutaw Battalion advanced along Battery Island Road to face the Union left flank.

A Union battery, the 1st Connecticut under Capt. Alfred P. Rockwell, finally started firing on the Confederate garrison as the Highlanders of the 79th New York under Lt. Col. David Morrison advanced. Confederate artillery fire forced the 79th to the right flank of the fort where they joined the remnants of the 8th Michigan. The 79th mounted the top of Tower Battery and went over the wall. In the end however, they were repulsed, as had the 8th Michigan before them, when reinforcements failed to appear. The 100th Pennsylvania Roundheads, under the command of Maj. David Leckey, tried to support the Highlanders, but their attack stalled as did the previous ones with Confederate canister and grape. Col. Rudolph Rosa's 46th New York tried to line up on the 100th's left, but some retreated with the fleeing Irish 28th Massachusetts and the 7th Connecticut, while the remainder received Confederate canister. Finally, Col. Daniel Leisure ordered a general retreat. Isaac Stevens ordered the 28th Massachusetts, 100th Pennsylvania, 46th New York, 8th Michigan, 79th New York, and the 7th Connecticut to retreat back towards the hedges. The attack had lasted less than 45 minutes.

Yet, the Union advances were not over. On the other side of the marsh to the north was a piece of land the 3rd New Hampshire under Lt. Col. John H. Jackson, supported by Maj. Edwin Metcalf's 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, used to advance upon the right flank of Tower Battery. However, 150 yards of marsh prevented any Union advance upon the fort's defenders, while Confederate batteries to the north fired into their backs. By then, the 4th Louisiana had advanced to the fort's defense. Additionally, the Eutaw Battalion had advanced to the 24th South Carolina's east-west picket line off the Battery Island Road, in a heavy thicket north of the Union's 3rd Rhode Island and 3rd New Hampshire. The 3rd New Hampshire were now encircled in a ring of fire, forcing their retreat back to the west, while the 3rd Rhode Island, who had advanced upon the Confederate thicket to the north, were also forced to retreat.