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N S E W 0 miles 15 5 10 Edisto Island North Edisto Island Hutchinson's Island John's Island St. Helena Island Port Royal Island Beaufort Hilton Head Island Wassaw Island Little Tybee Island Tybee Island Turtle Island Otter Island James Island Port Royal Sound Wassaw Sound Broad River A s h e p o o R i v e r Com bahee River Coosaw River S a v a n n ah River N e w River St. Helena Sound Charleston Harbor Atlantic Ocean S o u t h C a r o l i n a G e o r g i a CHARLESTON SAVANNAH Coast between Savannah and Charleston 68 Bluejackets and Contrabands Nicholson’s aggressive patrolling allowed the Otter Island contraband colony to remain relatively free of rebel harassment. Nevertheless, Union officials were concerned that Confederate troops might be camped in the area and might try to harm the contrabands. In mid-December Du Pont ordered Drayton to make a reconnaissance up the Edisto River with the Pawnee, Vixen, and Seneca. When they crossed the bar into the river, Drayton reported that he could “plainly perceive fortifications ahead, on Edisto Island, distant a mile and a half.” He had been told that enemy troops occupied the fortifications, but when the Pawnee and Seneca fired at the works, they received no reply. “On landing I found the fort, which was entirely deserted, to consist of two redoubts with five guns each,” he told Du Pont. “The guns, as the negroes had informed me, had been removed toward Charleston some weeks back.”7 Meanwhile, Lieutenant Daniel Ammen had taken the Seneca up the river; this alerted the rebels, who began burning cotton houses and outbuildings. When Drayton learned from local African Americans that some 500 rebels had encamped at Rockville, between Adams Creek and Bohicket Creek on Wadmalaw Island, he put a force of marines ashore near Rockville the next morning. By the time the landing party reached the camp, however, the enemy had fled. Ammen recalled that the Confederate colonel had “abandoned his tents and some other stores at their encampment a mile back at Rockville.” In his report, Drayton noted that the first thing he saw were “negroes pillaging a building in which was a large quantity of commissariat stores, consisting of rice, sugar, bacon, corn, etc.” They were grabbing up whatever they could find in the rebel camp, which Drayton thought had been there for many months. His men collected about forty Sibley tents and anything else worth removing and took the items back to the boats. The rebels’ hasty evacuation had caused great consternation among the black population, and when Drayton returned to the Pawnee, he discovered that nearly 150 blacks, “all in a great state of alarm,” had collected on board the different vessels seeking refuge. Drayton instructed Lieutenant Thomas A. Budd, commanding the USS Penguin, to land them on the point of Edisto Island and assist them if necessary. According to Ammen, the fugitive slaves finally located themselves on a belt of woods along the seacoast of North Edisto Island, where a broad marsh “afforded them fair protection against a raid from the Confederates.” Drayton departed, leaving Budd in command in the river. When Budd informed Drayton that the blacks had reported that rebel troops might reoccupy their old camp at Rockville, Drayton returned to his anchorage.8 The Seneca and Penguin remained in the North Edisto area until Contraband Camps 69 year’s end. On December 29, 1861, Ammen reported that he had run up the North Edisto and found “that the blacks under [the Penguin’s] charge on Botany Bay Island [on the Atlantic side of Edisto Island] were constantly increasing in number and amounting at this time to between 700 and 900.” In his memoirs, Ammen wrote, “They had a number of scows, and local knowledge of where sweet potatoes had been buried for winter use, and where cattle were to be found, and had ample time to help themselves to all that could be picked up. There was an abundance of raccoon oysters, fish, and the heart of palmetto, which makes a very good substitute for cabbage.” Although the contrabands had made shelters of palmetto leaves and appeared content, Ammen feared that “their supplies of corn will soon fall short, owing to their improvidence and the limited extent of country over which they range.” Ammen worried about the contrabands’ safety as well. He told Du Pont that...


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