As Civil War battles go, Secessionville isn’t nearly as famous as Gettysburg or Bull Run.
7 p.m. Friday: Doug Bostick, author and S.C. Battleground Preservation Trust executive director, will discuss events leading up to the Battle of Secessionville. Department of Natural Resources Auditorium at Fort Johnson on James Island, 217 Fort Johnson Road.10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday: The Battleground Preservation Trust and the Fort Lamar Stewardship Committee will host a day of events at Fort Lamar Historic Site on James Island.Pat Brennan, author of “Secessionville: Assault on Charleston,” will speak, and he and Bostick will sign books.Other activities include Confederate artillery and infantry demonstrations, cannon drills and rifle firings. Tours of the remnants of Fort Lamar will be held throughout the day.A food vendor will be on site. Parking will be off-site, with visitors brought in on a shuttle.The Fort Lamar Historic Site is on Fort Lamar Road. Take Grimball Road off Folly Road and follow the signs.For more information, contact John Jowers at 509-9868 or the S.C. Battleground Trust at 743-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historians don’t consider it remotely as important as Shiloh or Antietam. In fact, outside of Charleston, the James Island battle is basically a footnote to history.
But if it had gone the other way, Secessionville today might be considered one of the most significant moments in the War Between the States.
“It’s definitely overlooked,” said John Jowers, chairman of the Fort Lamar Stewardship Committee. “If the federals had taken Charleston, the war would have been over a lot faster.”
Saturday is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Secessionville, and the Fort Lamar Stewardship Committee and the S.C. Battleground Preservation Trust will host two days of events to mark the occasion. It will be a meditation on a crucial turning point in the defense of Charleston.
In the spring of 1862, the Union made a push to take James Island as an entry point to Charleston. Northern forces were armed with intelligence from Robert Smalls — the escaped slave who sailed the Confederate ship Planter to freedom — that Southern troops weren’t adequately guarding the mouth of the Stono River.
The Union began to prepare for an invasion of James Island, ultimately landing 6,000 troops there in early June 1862.
Doug Bostick, author of “Charleston Under Siege” and executive director of the S.C. Battleground Preservation Trust, said the Union performed almost no reconnaissance. They weren’t ready for what they encountered.
For two weeks, Union and Confederate troops fell into and out of small battles across the island. It all culminated in the hours before dawn on June 16, when two divisions of U.S. Army troops charged the Tower Battery (later renamed Fort Lamar) in Secessionville, a James Island area that had been named for an earlier dispute.
Most of the Confederates at Tower Battery had worked late into the night shoring up defenses at the earthworks, but they — along with reinforcements from Fort Johnson — fought off an attacking army that outnumbered them three-to-one.
Over the course of nearly five hours, the Union would attack in three waves, each one fended off expertly. By 9 a.m., the Confederates reported, the Yankees were retreating.
Secessionville not only gave the South a much-needed victory, and a boost to flagging Charleston morale, it helped keep the city safe from Union attack for more than a year.
“After that, the Union nearly considered James Island a serious opportunity for them,” Bostick said.
The North would wait more than a year before concentrating its efforts on Morris Island.
“It’s really a pivotal event,” said Jowers, whose great-grandfather, George Edward Jowers, fought at Secessionville. “If Charleston had fallen, the South would have lost an important port and Columbia would have likely fallen. It would have divided the Southern states.”
Bostick notes that the battle was ignored or downplayed by Northern newspapers and magazines. One of the national publications that did mention the battle switched the troop counts to make it look as if 6,000 Confederates had defeated 2,000 Union soldiers.
If it had gone the other way, though, Secessionville would be a much better-known moment in U.S. history.
On June 16, 1862, 6,000 Union troops charged Tower Battery in Secessionville, an attempt to take James Island and, from there, launch an assault on Charleston. During the five-hour battle, 2,000 Confederate soldiers repelled three waves of attacks by the Union.×
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