The Fighting Parson's Regiment
CHAPTER IX.Expedition to CoosaWhatchie. Landing at Dawson's plantation. March to Coosawhatchie. Ambuscade. Firing on Confederate train. Confederate prisoners. Destruction of track. Retreat. Peril of Lieutenant Corwin. Lieutenant Blanding wonnded. Pocataligo expedition a failure. Perilous voyage back to Pulaski. Confederate weapons. Yellow fever. Death of General Mitchell. His character. Review of Coosawhatchie.
[October, 1862]OCTOBER 21 we embarked on the steamer Planter, six companies of fifty men each, and proceeded to Hilton Head, where we joined the main body of troops belonging to the expedition, and, accompanied by a number of gunboats, started for the point of attack. The morning of the 22d found us opposite Mackey's Point on the Coosawhatchie River, in rear of the fleet, which numbered in all fifteen gunboats and transports. This was the point of disembarkation for the main body, but we proceeded farther up the river, accompanied by two gunboats; We had not gone far before our boat grounded on a point on the - Dawson plantation near the house, and we landed in small boats. A few cavalry pickets delayed us a little, but we finally started up the road with Company H deployed as skirmishers under command of the writer. This road led directly to the village of Coosawhatchie, and ran nearly parallel to the railroad. The attempt to skirmish through the woods was soon abandoned, owing to the dense growth of plants and shrubs and trailing vines. The Spanish bayonet plant was the most formidable, its thick bristling points presenting such obstacles to our progress that we were soon compelled to confine ourselves to an advanced position on the road. Where other roads intersected, guards were stationed. A short march brought us to an open space, with the railroad in plain sight, only about two hundred yards distant from the turnpike. Without waiting for special orders, Company H was deployed along the railway embankment, at the same time that the whistle of an engine warned us that a train was approaching. Carefully posting the men along the track, but out of sight, a cautious observation discovered the train stopped a short distance below us. It was a period of. anxious suspense, until we were as- sured that it was again in motion, when, the most careful instructions having been given as to when and how to fire, we awaited its approach. Several platform cars were loaded with troops, alid as we poured in our fire Upon them, at only a few feet distance, the effect was terrible. In an instant those crowded masses of humanity had disappeared. Some were killed and more were wounded, but a large number jumped frpm the train and concealed themselves in the swamp and woods. A few were taken prisoners, but the wounded were left to be cared for by their own people, who were known to be near by, as we had no means of caring for them. It was a cruel ambuscade, for as they came to the place where we were awaiting them, it was apparent that they had no intimation of our presence in the vicinity. We hoped to injure the engine and so wreck the train, and a number of the most reliable men were assigned to that special duty; but it passed on out of sight, and we gave our attention to the destruction of the railroad, under the direction of the engineers who had accompanied us for such purposes. Not much was accomplished before heavy firing warned us that we could not delay; and, collecting the prisoners and such arms as we had captured, we proceeded to join the regiment. This had arrived at the open space just in season to discharge the little cannon, which the colonel had borrowed from the navy, at the passing train, when it pushed on, hoping to destroy the bridge which crossed the river a little farther up the road; but the Confederates were found strongly entrenched, with heavy batteries guarding its approaches, and, after carefully feeling of the position and drawing the fire of the batteries, the colonel was obliged to give the order to return. Company H was again thrown out as skirmishers, and, discovering what was supposed to be a Confederate detachment, commenced firing. fortunately, before any injury was done, it was ascertained that it was Lieutenant Corwin with his company, which had been left to guard a threatening point. N othing further occurred until we reached the boat, when, as we were embarking, the little knot of cavalry which. had been closely watching our movements for some time rode rapidly for- ward and gave us a volley, by which Lieutenant Blanding, of the 3d Rhode Island Artillery, who accompanied us, was severely wounded. A few shells from the little Parrot gun on our bow dispersed them, and we steamed down the river without further casualty. The main body of the expedition had the usual experience at Pocotaligo, where they hoped to be able to effectually destroy the railroad. The force was too small, and was repulsed with severe loss. We nevertheless expected to renew the attempt the next day; but this purpose was given up, and we were ordered back to the fort. The perils of our return passage were quite equal to any that we had encountered, for in the intense darkness the pilot lost his way, and for a long time we were buffeted about by wind and waves, not knowing what was to become of us. The next day we had leisure to examine the weapons we had captured. It was a curious collection, consisting of rifles, swords of venerable age, and a species of cleaver, much resembling those commonly used by butchers, showing to what extremities the Home Guards, at least, were already reduced. As I write I have a specimen of the last mentioned weapon on my table, ptJrsonally taKen from a rebel at Coosawhatchie.
October 28, General Mitchell was reported seriously ill with yellow fever, and General Brannon assumed command of the department.
HEADQUARTERS OF HUNTER AND MITCHELL.
October 29, Dr. Strickland, our chaplain, an old friend of General Mitchell, was
sent for to attend him. October 30, General Mitchell died, at 6 P. M. And as
others at Hilton Head were prostrated with the same disease, there was danger
that it would spread through the department, and every precaution was taken to
against it. The loss of General Mitchell was a severe blow. He had the
confidence of the troops, had shown his ability as a commander, and was supposed
to be in such relations with the authorities at Washington as to promise such
additions to our forces as would enable us to undertake something of importance.
Our last expedition would perhaps have had a better result had he been wen
enough to assume its direction. As it was, the colors of the Whippy Swamp
Guards, with the prisollers and arms, captured by Company H of our regiment,
were the only favorable results, while the complete failure of the main
expedition, with the loss of so many men, added another to the disheartening
blows from which the department had suffered from the beginning. And now the
loss of General Mitchell, on whom our hopes were centred, left us without a
promise for the future. Soon after our return from Coosawhatchie, two deserters
from the 1st Georgia regiment, called the Whippy Swamp Guards, came down from
Savannah. They reported the loss of thirty men, their major, and the engineer of
the train, at Coosawhatchie,
together with their colors, These latter, which we had in our possession,
attested the correctness of their statement in at least one particular. Had the
Confederates whom we attacked been commanded by anyone of ordinary ability,
troops would have been sent down by the railroad to cut off our retreat, for
there was but one road by which we could return, and this was bordered on either
side by impenetrable woods, so that a small force could have held us and made
our escape impossible. It is probable that our attack at the railroad so
disconcerted them that before they recovered, it was too late to interrupt our
Those who sent us into such a trap either knew nothing of the country, or were
willing to make the sacrifice of our command for the sake of drawing off troops
from the main point of attack. Looking back upon it now, it seems a part of the
blundering operations which characterized our department for the most of the
time that we were there, the attack on Pulaski forming a happy exception to the