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POPE PLACED OVER THE ARMY.
Virginia into one command under Pope, who had been called from the West for that purpose.
This officer had distinguished himself in several campaigns, as a daring, energetic, and brave officer, and his appointment to this post of great responsibility, was received with general satisfaction; for it was certain that the unaccountable apathy that had reigned so long beyond the Potomac would be broken up. There were serious doubts, however, whether his administrative was equal to his executive capacity; but the President thought, on the whole, he was the best man that under the circumstances could be selected. In giving him this position, however, he had to perform the ungracious task of placing an officer above those who ranked him, and it was feared that it might cause great dissatisfaction in the army. I'remont, who had been his superior officer in Missouri, and in that capacity had some difficulty with him, immediately resigned his position and left the army. This conduct, while in presence of the enemy, was loudly condemned by his enemies, and scarcely apologized for by his friends. Perhaps, under the circumstances, it was an unfortunate step, but unless Fremont saw, that by taking it he should greatly imperil his country, it is difficult to see how he could do otherwise. So on the other hand, unless the President felt that the welfare of the Republic imperiously demanded it, it was both unjust and dangerous, thus to jump a subordinate over the heads of his superiors in rank.
The address which Pope afterwards issued to the army on taking personal command, though full of promise in words, was ominous of defeat. In it he said, “I hear constantly of taking strong positions and holding them--of lines of retreat, and of bases of supplies—let us discard such ideas.”. And again, “Let us study the probable line of retreat of our opponents and leave our own to take care of themselves.” Aside from the bad taste of such language, casting as it did, an
MOVEMENT AGAINST CHARLESTON
implied reproach on those Generals who had preceded him, it showed a contempt of established rules that boded no good. It was most marvellous that the press and public received it with a shout of approval.". To military men, it predicted more than any oracle could, a terrible defeat.
While affairs before Washington were thus getting into irretrievable confusion, our army met with a severe disaster in front of Charleston. As early as the fore part of May, Benham, in command of the northern department of the south, obtained information that led him to believe that Charleston could be approached by the way of the Stono. He thought that our forces could be suddenly concentrated on James Island, which commanded the approach to it, fort Johnson be taken, and the city reached by our batteries. The project received Hunter's approval, and on the second of this month, the two Generals left Hilton Head with a part of the troops under General Stevens, and reaching Stono river the same afternoon, landed at “Old Battery. Owing to the want of means of transportation, a large portion of the troops were sent to the Edisto, to be marched across John's Island, and were expected to be at the Stono the next day. But from lack of ferry boats, and through other delays, they did not arrive till the fifth, and did not get across to James Island till the ninth. But for this mishap, fort Johnston which was feebly garrisoned, and wholly unprepared for any attack, would probably have fallen.
in the mean while, Stevens had had some skirmishing with the
enemy, in which he captured a battery of iron carronades, and lost twenty prisoners. On the tenth it was ascertained that the rebels were crecting a fort at a place called Secessionville, from which they could command General Wright's and a part of Stevens' camps, and reach even our gun boats in the Stono. It was immediately determined to attempt à reconnoissance in force next morning, and if
BATTLE OF JAMES ISLAND.
possible make a rush and capture the fort. That afternoon, however, the enemy attacked our lives near Wright's camp, but were repulsed with heavy loss. The reconnoissance was now given up, and a project set on foot to reduce the fort with artillery.
In this crisis of affairs, Hunter left, with orders not to advance on Charleston, or attack fort Johnsion "until reinforced or ordered from head-quarters, but that the camps should be made sure and intrenched." Yet the camps could not be made "secure" so long as the guns of the fort commanded them-it must be taken or they abandoned. Why Hunter left while the army was in this critical position, leaving an order so indefinite and contradictory, requires a more satisfactory explanation than has yet been given.
The bombardment producing no effect, and deserters stating that the garrison consisted of only eight hundred men, defended by six guns, and that the whole force on the island announted to but twelve thousand, Benham resolved to storm the fort.
BATTLE OF JAMES ISLAND.
Four o'clock on the morning of the sixteenth, was the bour selecica for the assault. General Stevens, with four thousand men, was to move suddenly in one overwhelming minss on the enemy's works on the right, while General Williams, with three thousand more approached on the left to ! support. The Michigan Eighth, only four hundred strong, alvancing at the double-quick in dead silence, first approached the enemy's works, but being discovered before they reached them, were met by a murderous volley of grape and canister, which mowed them down like grass. They kept on, however, in the face of the horrible tempest, until nearly half their entire number were killed or wounded, when reduced to a mere handftii, and unsupported, they
A GALLANT REGIMENT.
were compelled to fall back, a band of heroes every one. On the heels of this repulse came the indomitable Seventyninth Highlanders, on the double-quick, and formed in line of battle in a large cotton field, directly in front of the guns of the fort. As they passed General Stevens they cheered him. He lifted his cap and smiled as he watched the solid ranks with fixed bayonets, sweeping like a dark shadow over the field in the early dawn.
The rain was falling gently, and through the misty air stretched the dark earth works silent as death. Not a shot
. was fired till they came within a thousand yards of the batteries, when all at once the guns opened with grape and canister, sweeping the open ground like driving hail. Without returning a shot, the regiment, still at the double-quick, closed up its rent ranks, and moved swiftly forward through the desolating fire till they reached the fort. Waving his sword above his head, and shouting to his men to follow him, Lieutenant Colonel Morrison leaped on the ramparts. Several of his brave men followed him, but as fast as they reached the top, they were dropped by marksmen concealed in rifle pits in the rear, and finally Morrison was borne back wounded in the head.
A part of the regiment now filed to the right of the fort --a part maintained its position in front, while the right wing got behind an embankment and by its deadly fire, nearly silenced the guns and prevented any sally. Though rapidly picked off by the hidden foe, they stubbornly maintained their ground, and looked anxiously back for the regiments that were to support them. Had they come up, the fort would have been ours, but instead of help, there arrived an order to fall back. Maddened and mortified, these heroic men then retreated, leaving half of their killed and wounded behind them.
The Seventh Connecticut which should have been up long
before, now advanced through the same terrible fire, but were driven back as the two regiments that preceded them had been. It was said that a hedge crossed the field with only a single opening, through which each regiment had to pass in a narrow line, and thus made the premeditated simultaneous attack impossible. It was also asserted that our batteries did not fire until after the repulse, and then threw shot and shell into our own ranks, completing the discomfiture. Williams' division moved into the fire and fought gallantly, but never reached the works. Our loss in killed and wounded was about five hundred, three fifths of which fell on the I ghth Michigan and Seventy-ninth Highlanders.
This disaster was the more mortifying from its having occurred before Charleston. This city which first lighted the torch of civil war, had suffered less than most of the other portions of the rebellious states, and to be defeated here, caused the deepest chagrin and indignation. · Benham was placed under arrest and sent home and finally deprived of his rank. A victim was demanded, and he was chosen, with how much justice it is difficult to determine. Stevens blamed him, and he in turn censured Stevens for not bringing up the supports as he was ordered to do, thus losing the battle.
From all that can be gathered, however, it does not seem to have been a more desperate undertaking than the storming of Stony Point by Wayne in the Revolution, and had it succeeded would have been pronounced one of the most brilliant actions of the war, the glory of which neither Hunter nor Stevens would have refused to share. At all events, it was just one of those desperate, daring adventures which the people had long been clamoring for; and for not attempting which, Halleck and McClellan had been blamed and ridiculed. The people will judge a General by his success, and yet demand that he shall take terrible risks. Perbaps this is right, but it places commanders in an unenviable position.