While at the Angel Oak we went into the gift shop to look around. I noticed some shelves with books about the local area history during my browsing and was surprised to find books on the civil war, including "Charlestonians in War" and "Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit." The latter book I had seen when I did some research in the Library of Congress while living in Virginia. It is a collection of letters from Corp. Pettit of Co. C of the 100th Pennsylvania composed by William Gilfillan Gavin. I was very surprised to find it here in outskirts of Charleston, particularly as I thought it was out of print. The BIG surprise awaited in the pages of "Charlestonians in War." On the chance that it might have some local history of the Legare plantation skirmish I turned to the index and found several references to Captain Cline!
"Charlestonians in War"
W. Curtis Phelps
At about 3:00 P.M. on Monday, June 2, the Seventy-ninth New York Highlanders landed on Battery Island, followed later by the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts and four companies of the 100th Pennsylvania. These troops were the vanguard of Union brigadier general Henry Benham's 7,000-man force brought up from Hilton Head and Port Royal to assault Charleston. Before dark, the Federals made a reconnaissance on neighboring Sol Legare Island, and though Confederate pickets were clearly visible across the marsh on James Island there was no exchange of fire. Among the Confederate pickets observing the blue-clad interlopers were members of the Charleston Riflemen, Company A of the Charleston Battallion.
The next day a more forceful probe was made by the Federals, designed to sweep Sol Legare Island clear of any Rebels. This reconnaissance resulted instead in a contest over the possession of Chichester's three Southern cannon stuck in the mud off River's Causeway. The expedition, consisting of elements of the Seventy-ninth New York, 100th Pennsylvania, it Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, moved east down the length of the island, reaching the Legare plantation house and its outbuildings, where it halted.
To the left across a cotton field was a wooded area, and beyond that was River's Causeway and James Island. The Twenty-eighth Massachusetts was sent out to investigate the woods and what they might conceal, finding shortly that they hid Confederate pickets. Hearing that a brisk firefight was under way, Capt. James Cline swung his detachment of the 100th Pennsylvania to the left and formed line of battle to meet whatever Southern force came out of the woods.
Half an hour later, the battered remnants of the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts came scrambling back with Rebels hot on their heels. Though they tried to regain their composure, after another Rebel volley the Twenty-eighth continued their retreat, leaving exposed Captain Cline and his 160 Pennsylvanians. Cline stated, "In a few minutes the action became quite warm, and several were killed or wounded."
Cline was soon ordered to send twenty men farther to the east past the Legare slave quarters to protect the Federal right flank, which he promptly did. As the action intensified, Cline personally went back for reinforcements, and upon his return to his exposed position the Confederates in the woods broke forward in a charge. Capt. Hazard Stevens, son of Brig. Gen. Isaac I. Stevens, the commander of General Benham's second division, recorded the Confederate charge years later in a biography of his father. Captain Stevens wrote that the Confederates were in a wood just across a large cotton field from the Federal position and here the firing began. "Soon afterward a column of the enemy, apparently a regiment, which was in fact the Charleston Battalion, the crack corps of the city, emerged from the woods and advanced by the flank in columns of four headed by a mounted officer. In this order they charged down the road and across the field at the double quick."
Captain Stevens had it correct, except that not all of the Confederates in the charge were of the Charleston Battalion. The mounted officer was Lt. Col. Ellison Capers, at the head of a portion of his Twenty-fourth South Carolina Infantry. In the ensuing fight, Cline and his small detachment were isolated by the Charleston Battalion and captured. Sgt. Robert Moffatt of the 100th Pennsylvania remembered Captain Cline shouting to his men to cut their way out, as the Confederates "kept pouring volley after volley on us till within 10 paces of us." These were the first of many Union prisoners taken in their first campaign to capture Charleston.
The weather was not favorable during the first few days of June, and the conditions on the day of the skirmish were "unsuited for military operations of any kind; from nine o'clock in the morning until late at night the rain poured down in continuous showers, the roads and fields were transformed into miry bogs." These were the miry bogs that held fast to Chichester's guns.
As Lieutenant Colonel Capers remembered it, "[I] was sent before day on June 3, with part of the Twenty-fourth and a big rope, to pull the guns out of the bog, and had no idea of a fight until I got to Lamar's fort. There Lamar told me if I got the guns I would have to fight for them. I did fight for them."
According to Capers' official report of the skirmish, he arrived at River's Causeway and found the advance Southern pickets, consisting of the Beauregard Light Infantry and Charleston Riflemen, close to the enemy, in particular the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, who had halted in the woods to their front. These two companies were ordered to join Capers' command, and using the Marion Rifles as skirmishers, the plan was to drive the Twenty-eighth out of the woods. Upon reaching the opposite side of the causeway, Capers formed his companies to the right of it and after a half-hour's work drove the enemy across Legare's fields and back to the Legare house and its outbuildings.
Despite the risk of being exposed to Union shellfire from the gunboats in the Stono River, Capers resolved to make an assault on these buildings so as to isolate Cline's smaller force. Capers planned to use the remaining five companies of the Charleston Battalion under Lt. Col. Peter Gaillard, who had just reached the field, to surround and capture Cline and his men. Capers estimated the total strength of Gaillard's five companies, excluding Company A, at only "about 124 strong," a much lower figure than previously estimated. Four of the battalion's six companies were designated to take part in the charge. These were: Company A, the Charleston Riflemen under Lieutenant Lynch; Company C, Irish Volunteers under Captain Ryan; Company D, Sumter Guards under Lieutenant Hopkins; and Company E, Calhoun Guards under Captain Miles. Lieutenant Colonel Gaillard "took command of the center and left as a reserve." According to Capers, the charge was "well and nobly performed," capturing twenty-two prisoners of the 100th Pennsylvania. Taken under fire from Federals hidden behind the Legare slave quarters, as well as Union gunboats, Capers withdrew his force under cover of a fire provided by the Charleston Light Infantry and the Union Light Infantry/German Fusiliers, which were the remaining companies B and F of the Charleston Battalion, along with three of his own from the Twenty-fourth.
Gaillard reported that he hurried to the scene of action when he was informed that Capers was engaged with a larger force than his own and, upon receiving his orders, sent his companies into line. Gaillard stated that "by some misapprehension" a part of the Union Light Infantry and German Fusiliers was somehow caught up in the charge but never got into the action. Though his command behaved admirably in their first fight, Gaillard felt it necessary to mention in his report that most of his men had been either on picket duty or performing labor during the twenty-four-hour period prior to the action and were, therefore, not at their best.
The chief results of this engagement were twofold: (1) the capture of enemy prisoners who would provide information as to the strength and intent of the Union landing force and (2) valuable combat experience for troops who had yet to see any real fighting. Though all of the companies belonging to the Charleston Battalion played a part in the fight at the Legare plantation, the god of war—"Chance"—shed its grace on a company that was to prove itself on many battlefields as particularly anxious to fight. It had been Company C, the Irish Volunteers, who isolated Cline's detachment of the 100th Pennsylvania near the Legare house, ultimately forcing them to surrender. In the final rush on the Federal position, Captain Ryan grabbed the Pennsylvanian Cline by the throat and, with his sword raised in the air, demanded his surrender. One of Cline's men, "a strapping Pennsylvanian," charged Ryan, intending to run him through with a bayonet, until Confederate Irishman Rody Whelan bounded forward. "[Whelan] locked bayonets with his Captain's assailant.... The bayonets twisted like wire, when by a quick twist of the wrist elevating the guns, Whelan ... laid his opponent sprawling on the ground—saving his Captain's life."
Here it was, a detailed account of the skirmish on Sol Legare Island, a further clue to the actual location, and an accounting of the actions of the Captain as well. Sgt. Robert Moffatt of the 100th Pennsylvania remembered Captain Cline shouting to his men to cut their way out, as the Confederates "kept pouring volley after volley on us till within 10 paces of us." Clearly the Captain intended to fight to the end if necessary. Then there is the description of the surrender itself. In the final rush on the Federal position, Captain Ryan grabbed the Pennsylvanian Cline by the throat and, with his sword raised in the air, demanded his surrender. One of Cline's men, "a strapping Pennsylvanian," charged Ryan, intending to run him through with a bayonet, until Confederate Irishman Rody Whelan bounded forward. "[Whelan] locked bayonets with his Captain's assailant.... The bayonets twisted like wire, when by a quick twist of the wrist elevating the guns, Whelan ... laid his opponent sprawling on the ground—saving his Captain's life." Not only had the Confederate Private saved his commanders life, it appears that the Union Private had saved the life of the Captain. This picture of an irate Confederate officer charging and choking my Great Grandfather seems more in line with the family legend I outlined above. Not sure of the details of the broken sword, but clearly the Roundheads of the 100th Pennsylvania, and Captain Cline, did not surrender easily. All this I learned under the spreading branches of a 1500 year-old oak tree.
Maj James Harvey Cline is my third great uncle. John W. Cline is my 3rd great grandfather also served with the Roundheads along with 2 other brothers.
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