01 March 2017

The Civil War in Beaufort District (SC) History, 1861 - 1865

The history of the Civil War in Beaufort District South Carolina is far different than the history of the Civil War elsewhere in the nation. Secession was nursed to maturity in Beaufort District. Port Royal Sound was among the first Southern harbors to fall into Union hands. The "Port Royal Experiment" was fashioned here during the long Federal occupation.

(Courtesy of the Civil War Trust)
Serious talk of separating the Southern states from the Federal government began under the boughs of the Secession Oak in Bluffton in 1844. Robert Barnwell Rhett, the United States Congressman fro this area known for his extreme views, was invited to a homecoming dinner in Bluffton on July 31, 1844. It is said that 500 people showed up to hear his speech: "If you value your rights you must resist."

The Federal forces saw their first significant vicotry of the Civil War at the Battle of Port Royal Sound on November 7, 1861, "the Day the Big Gun Shoot." Because the white residents had evacuated Beaufort and the Union needed buildings for headquarters and hospitals, the town was spared the torch. The Union held Port Royal Island, St. Helena Island, Lady's Island, and Hilton Head Island for the rest of the Civil War period.

(Beaufort District Collection)

The Beaufort District Courthouse (located in Gillisonville since 1848) operated until the final days of the war in South Carolina. The courthouse burned down in early 1865, destroying most of Beaufort District's early records. The mainland of Beaufort District remained primarily under Confederate control from 1861 to 1865 though several military engagements occurred in the area: Battle of Port Royal Sound, November 7, 1861; Battle of Port Royal Ferry, December 31, 1861 - January 1, 1862; Battle of Pocotaligo, October 22, 1862; Combahee River Raid, June 2, 1863 during which Harriet Tubman, "the Moses of her people" and local native son hero Robert Smalls played major roles; the burning of Bluffton on June 4, 1863, and the Battle of Honey Hill, November 30, 1864.

“Soldiers on Review, South Carolina,” [1864]. Shows black troops at attention, white officers aligned in front. (Beaufort District Collection)

Approximately 200,000 men of color would serve in the Union Army or Union Navy during the Civil War. Some of the men were free black men from Northern states; some were former enslaved men from the states which seceded from the United States of America. Because the area around Port Royal and St. Helena Sounds was occupied by the Federal government so early in the Civil War, three of the four regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers raised in South Carolina were organized here in Beaufort District.

The abandonment of the enslaved and the arrival of Union troops followed shortly thereafter by abolitionist missionaries, doctors, nurses and teachers had a profound effect on the subsequent course of American history as Beaufort District became the testing ground for educating the freedmen at Penn School and plantation schools, extending civil rights to African-Americans, leading to the establishment of one of the first villages under black leadership at Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island.

(Beaufort District Collection)

Here are some reading suggestions and links to get you started exploring the unique Civil War era history of Beaufort District:

Suggested Books

Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861 - 1893 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland with Gerhard Spieler; foreword by Alexander Moore, 2015. This title is volume 2 of the History of Beaufort County South Carolina, 1996 - 2015.

Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment by Willie Lee Rose, 1964.

The Bluffton Expedition: The Burning of Bluffton, South Carolina during the Civil War by Jeff Fulgham, 2012.

The Battle of Port Royal by Michael Coker, 2009.

Department of the South: Hilton Head Island in the Civil War by Robert Carse, 1961.

Suggested Materials about Important People in Beaufort District's Civil War History

Clara Barton

Black Soldiers and Sailors during the Civil War

Stephen Elliott (Brigadier General, Confederate States of America)

Charlotte Forten

Rachel C. Mather

Missionary Teachers to the Freedmen

Robert Barnwell Rhett

Robert Smalls

Laura Towne

Harriet Tubman

Suggested Materials about Important Places in Beaufort District's Civil War History


Penn School

Suggested Materials about Important Events in Beaufort District's Civil War History

Battle of Port Royal Sound 1861

Battle of Port Royal Ferry 1862

Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid 1863

Burning of Bluffton 1863

Battle of Honey Hill 1864

And don't forget that we have Civil War / Reconstruction related events on Saturday.Please note: The lecture "Beaufort in the Civil War" is completely, utterly, and thoroughly full. Bring your confirmation e-mail from the Beaufort History Museum website with you. Registration is closed.


Archigator said...

Your brief description of the document: "A list of the Confederate soldiers killed or wounded in the Battle of Honey Hill at Grahamville, South Carolina on November 30, 1864" states that all of the Confederate soldiers in the battle of Honey Hill were from Effingham Co, GA. However, Company D of the 47th GA Volunteers (Screven Guards)was raised in Screven Co., GA.

I would love to have been able to attend your Civil War presentation today, but I don't live in town. It sounds really interesting!

Grace Cordial said...

Thank you for your comment. It is good to know that Company D of the 47th GA Volunteers (Screven Guards) were raised in Screven County, Georgia.

The statement in the cataloging record for "A List of the Confederate soldiers..." is: "Written to honor the Confederate soldiers from Georgia, esp. the ones from Company I, 47th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry, who were all from Effingham County, GA and took part in this battle." The author's introduction only references Company I members (because some of those men were his ancestors) which in turn is the source of the catalogger's statement about the members of Company I all being from Effingham County. Nevertheless, Turner includes the casualties of other companies from the 47th Georgia in his index. Is there a particular man in whom you are interested?