I'll be telling "Roundhead Stories" all this week in honor of the free days for A Scratch with the Rebels. The 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment was not your typical Civil War unit.
In January, 1862, the Roundheads were stationed in and around Beaufort, SC, charged with guarding the perimeter of the island. For the most part, they were bored with inactivity, but they had had one bright spot on New Year's Day, when they successfully captured the Coosaw River Ferry, which gave them access to a vital Confederate railroad line. On the 15th, they were still re-telling that story.
General Isaac I. Stevens ordered Col. Leasure to take his men ten miles across the island from Beaufort to a spot where a rope ferry across the Coosaw River connected Port Royal Island to Pocotaligo, a station on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad.There they were to help storm the enemy fort on the mainland and then build a "bridge on boats" across the channel. This cover illustration is an early photograph of the Coosaw River crossing being guarded by three Roundheads.
The companies were split up. Companies E and H remained behind to protect Beaufort; B and C were sent ahead to Seabrook on the west side of the island to join the 79th New York; A, G, I, and M formed the storming party; F went ahead to relieve the 50th Pennsylvania at the crossroads; and D and K were charged with constructing the bridge. Several gunboats were on hand to fire on the batteries across from Seabrook and then transport the troops across the channel to seize the works and capture the munitions.
Lieutenant William St. G. Elliott of the 79th New York commanded the troops who challenged the fort. His report indicated that he began to take his men across the marsh on flatboats at 8:00 A.M.; by 10:30 the rebels had abandoned the works. James McCaskey's company (Company C) participated in the embarkation but missed the action because Lt. Elliott determined that the Roundheads' presence was unnecessary and ordered them not to disembark. Although one Union soldier died and ten others were wounded in the first assault, the fighting was over before Company C could get off the boat
The battle of Port Royal Ferry did not last long; the enemy retreated without firing a shot. The next day there was only a small exchange of gunfire. Col. Leasure was happy to report, "The Roundheads were first into the fort, and our flag first floated over the ramparts of the first stronghold on the mainland of South Carolina captured from the enemy . . . We are all safe . . . My men behaved nobly . . . When we returned to the fort to cross the Ferry, one of the marines who was standing there, remarked we were the coolest set of men he ever saw."
In fact, this had been only a minor skirmish, with few, if any, long-range results. The Camp Kettle dismissed it thus:
Some may ask why, when we had made a lodgement on the mainland we did not go on? We did not understand that any advance was intended. The enemy had become insolent and taunted us in many ways, besides erecting batteries and fortifications along the shore at various points, and it became necessary to give them a slight rebuke, and besides our fellows up here in front were "spilin' for a fite" and it was thought best to give them a "New Years frolic" and an opportunity of getting accustomed to stand fire at the same time. We had the frolic, and we stood fire, which is more than can be said by some other people we saw that day.
Read more about this in A Scratch with the Rebels. The e-book is available at http://www.amazon.com/Scratch-Rebels-ebook/dp/B0021AEHJ