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Chapter 8 Joint Army-Na vy Operations I tol’ him [General Benjamin F. Butler] it would be a black man’s war ’fore dey got thru. —Henry Jarvis Enforcing a blockade of the southern coast constituted the Union Navy’s principal Civil War mission, but federal gunboats and other vessels frequently supported Union Army operations by providing gunfire support, convoying and landing troops, defending army depots and supply bases, and participating in joint army-navy expeditions or raids into the interior. In addition to previously discussed joint operations, Union Navy vessels cooperated with the army in attacks on James Island and Fort Fisher, the capture of Fort Pulaski and Plymouth, North Carolina, and dozens of smaller operations. African Americans provided intelligence that prompted or supported these operations, contributed to them by acting as guides, and served as crewmen on navy vessels or as rank-and-file soldiers in U.S. Colored Troop units. On more than one occasion these missions included liberating slaves as a means of recruiting able-bodied men for the newly formed black army regiments. As more of these black regiments were created, these expeditions increasingly included African American infantry units, accompanied occasionally by cavalry or artillery . Transporting black soldiers up the narrow rivers and creeks of the South could be a risky endeavor, but it gave naval officers and sailors an opportunity to become acquainted with their army counterparts both white and black. Furthermore, these joint operations offered black sailors a rare chance to meet and fight with their African American counterparts in the Union Army.1 The first of these army-navy expeditions with black troops came shortly after the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation on 230 Bluejackets and Contrabands January 1, 1863. About this time, the commander of the First South Carolina Volunteers, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, wrote that General David Hunter had consented to send his black troops on an expedition up the St. Mary’s River “to pick up cotton, lumber, and, above all, recruits.” The raid was supposed to be a secret, and Higginson had asked General Rufus Saxton to be “as mum as I am and not a soul in the regiment has dared to ask me about it.” The St. Mary’s expedition may have been the idea of Corporal Robert Sutton, a former slave and now a member of the First South Carolina Volunteers. The corporal had reason to believe that a large supply of lumber could be found up the St. Mary’s River, where, before his escape to Union lines, Sutton had been employed. In his memoirs Higginson related the story of Sutton’s escape using a dugout canoe to leave a plantation at Woodstock and travel down the St. Mary’s River; he later returned to take his wife and children out of bondage. “And up this river he was always imploring to be allowed to guide an expedition,” Higginson wrote.2 On January 23, 1863, Higginson embarked 462 black soldiers of the First South Carolina Volunteers at Beaufort on three steamers—Ben De Ford, the army gunboat John Adams, and the captured Planter. They stopped first at St. Simon’s Sound, where Higginson met with Acting Lieutenant William Budd of the Potomska and Acting Master Moses of the bark Fernandina. In his memoirs Higginson noted that Budd and Moses “made valuable suggestions in regard to the different rivers along the coast, and gave vivid descriptions of the last previous trip up the St. Mary’s undertaken by Captain Stevens, U.S.N., in the gunboat Ottawa, when he had to fight his way past batteries at every bluff in descending the narrow and rapid stream.” Budd and Moses warned the colonel to expect enemy opposition on his return downriver and cautioned him about underestimating the Confederates, who had dug rifle pits along the banks from which it was all but impossible to dislodge them.3 When the Planter arrived, Higginson’s little flotilla left for Fort Clinch, where he transferred 200 of his men to the John Adams before proceeding to the St. Mary’s River, hoping to catch the enemy by surprise. The colonel had planned more than a mere foraging expedition for his unseasoned black troops. He wished, he wrote, “to get them under fire as soon as possible, and to teach them, by a few small successes, the application of what they had learned in camp.” Just below Township Landing, Higginson sent an advance detachment ashore under Captain Sutton. When Higginson...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813173481
Related ISBN
9780813125541
MARC Record
OCLC
496122978
Pages
400
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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