SIR: We have the honor
to inform you, in further prosecution of the duties assigned us, we have made a careful study of three of the most important
of the secondary bays or harbors on the Southern coast, for the purpose of military occupation. These are Bull's Bay, Saint
Helena Sound, and Port Royal Sound, all on the coast of South Carolina. We shall describe each one of them separately,
offering some suggestions as to their advantages and the best mode of occupying them, and we will endeavor to explain, by
a comparison of their relative merits, the grounds for preferring the two former over the latter for immediate occupation.
We have taken them up in the order of their situation from north to south.
Bull's Bay, which has
been justly called Noble Harbor of Refuge, is fifteen miles southwest of Cape Romain and twenty-two miles from the main bar
of Charleston Harbor. The passage into it is direct, there being but one single course over the bar. The light-house is plainly
in sight, being less than four miles distant from the outer curve of the bar, and its bearing, together with the soundings
and buoys, when properly placed, makes the entrance easy. Twenty feet may be carried in at high water of common tide and fifteen
at low water. The channel-way is marked by breakers on either hand, and inside there is a snug, well-protected anchorage in
deep water, with good holding-ground. Bull's Bay is situated below the parallel at which the West India
hurricanes leave the coast, which very much increases its value as a harbor of refuge. Bull's Island,
from which the bay takes its name, is six miles and a half long and about one mile and a half wide. The northeast bluff at
the entrance is high and wooded, and admits of being strongly fortified without delay or great expense; but batteries erected
to defend the entrance may be taken in the rear by landing about three miles south of the northeast bluff, and keeping on
the beach till within a mile of the light-house, where of sand hills commanding the entrance. It is suggested, therefore,
that the extremity of the island should be secured by an inclosed work on the point and a line of intrenchments across the
island at a distance of two miles, more or less, from the light-house. For defense, Bull's Bay possesses this striking advantage,
that it can be held at a single point. Excepting the small sand key (Bird
Island), there is no fast land from which it can be attacked. Bird Island is two
miles off, not easy of access, and insignificant.
It is not probable
that any defensive works constructed by the rebels will oppose any formidable obstacle to the occupation of the place, but
it is to be considered that its proximity to Charleston subjects
it to assault. This assault may be made by combined forces from both directions, for there is interior water communication
with the Santee on the north, as well as with Charleston on
the south. Vessels drawing not more than four and a half feet can come out of the Santee through Alligator Creek at the Horns,
pass within Cape Island and Raccoon Key,
traverse Bull's Bay, and keep inside all the way to Charleston.
Very few white men know the whole route, but many negroes are familiar with it. There are six "divides", or places where the
tides diverge or converge, between Cape Romain
and Charleston Harbor.
Four of these run dry
at low water and the other two are encumbered with mud and oyster banks. At this season of the year, however, the rice crops
having been carried to market, there is but little intercourse with the Santee district by
water. Taking these liabilities into account, it is thought that 4,000 men well intrenched would hold the island, though without
an exact knowledge of its topography it is impossible to speak with certainty. The island affords good water, and timber for
constructing wharves for coaling, or for other uses, if needed. In these respects, and as harbor of refuge, there is no point
north of Charleston that can be made so useful. It is so easy
of access and so perfectly healthy in the hot season that the authorities of Charleston
have recommended it for the seat of a quarantine during their strangers' (or yellow) fever months.
Potion of Bull's Bay
secures the easy command of the four inlets (Price's, Capers', Dewees', and Breach Inlets) lying intermediate between it and
Neither of these enjoy any trade now, but Dewees' Inlet has seven feet at low water or twelve feet at mean high water, and
an excellent anchorage in four fathoms on the inside. It might prove a useful harbor to vessels of light draft. A deep creek,
navigable for boats at low water even to Station Fuller (see chart), enters Dewees' Inlet. From Fuller to Mount Pleasant is
nine, miles, and it is connected with Hobcaw Point, in rear of Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, for the greater part of
the distance, by a well traveled road in a pine forest. The night road from Charleston to Georgetown, through Christ's Church Parish, passes at an average distance
of four miles from the shore. It is well conditioned, the resort of a regular travel, and preserves a communication with the
banks of the two Pedees that would suffer no interruption from our occupation of Bull's Island.
Saint Helena Sound,
situated nearly midway between Charleston and Savannah,
is particularly well adapted to promote the efficiency of the blockading squadron. There are two anchorages, which are healthy
throughout the year-one near Otter Island,
on the north, and one near Hunting Island,
on the south; and the bay is so wide that these two roadsteads may be considered wholly independent of each other. There are
three channels of approach-the east, the southeast, and the south channels. The first has only eight feet on the bar at mean
low water and fourteen at high; the second, which is a little less direct, has ten and sixteen feet, and the third has seventeen
feet at mean low and twenty-three feet at mean high water.
It should be remarked
that the mouth of the South Edisto
River is embraced within the northern limits of this sound. The South
Edisto is the Edisto proper, the North Edisto being the outlet of the Wadmalaw Sound and the Dawho, while the Edisto itself
is a long river, from which large quantities of lumber are sent annually to Charleston.
It is navigable for vessels drawing nine feet of water up to Governor Aiken's rice plantation, at Jehosse, where it communications
with North Edisto River though the Dawho. The Dawho is navigable for steamers drawing not more than six feet at all times
of tide, under the direction of a pilot. Thirteen feet of water at mean low and nineteen at mean high water can be carried
into South Edisto, and there is good anchorage inside, west of Big Bay Island, in five fathoms; but the anchorage on the north
side of the bay, which we first mentioned, that under Otter
Island, is the better and healthier one of the two.
The continuous ranges
of sand shoals, which compose the bar at the several entrances of Saint Helana Sound, extend, unfortunately, six miles to
seaward, and the land is low and difficult to distinguish; the channels, therefore, if used, must be distinctly marked with
buoys; the light-ship must be anchored in a suitable place, and the light-house which has been built on Hunting Island, together
with the beacon light near it, must be maintained. Capable pilots must be at hand. The delta shoals in Saint Helena Sound
are long and narrow; between them are deep and very regular channels, running in directions nearly parallel to each other,
that may be called natural, as regards the rivers of which they are the drains. Beyond these delta shoals a mass of irregular
shoals extends out to the southward from Fenwick and Otter Islands (separating South Edisto River from the sound), which,
by breaking the sea and easterly storms, preserve comparatively smooth water in the sound. The Ashepoo, Combahee, Bull, Coosaw,
Morgan Islands, and Huntins Island (Rivers) empty into the sound.
To complete our topographical description we must speak of them in order.
The Ashepoo enters
the sound at Otter Island, and at its mouth,
under the shelter of the island, is the safe and healthy anchorage we have twice mentioned-safe in all weathers and healthy
in all seasons, requiring protection from no other point than Otter
Island. Near this anchorage, but separated from it by the delta of the
Ashepoo and Combahee, is another equally healthy and safe anchorage in six fathoms of water, equidistant between Otter and
Morgan Islands, and nearly one and a half
nautical miles from each-not easily molested, therefore from the land, if Otter
Island were in our possession.
In crossing the bar
and ascending the sound to reach the anchorage a vessel need not approach Hunting Island so near as two miles, or Otter Island
nearer than one mile and a half. The Ashepoo is navigable for vessels drawing nine feet of water twelve miles above the point
of Otter Island, where they can supply themselves with fresh water on the last of the ebb.
Seven miles above is the mouth of Mosquito Creek, which connects with the South Edisto through
Bull's Cut. The light-draft steamers plying on the inland passage from Charleston
south go through this cut, descent the Ashepoo, cross the Combahee Bank through a small channel, and thence ascend the Coosaw
to Beaufort and Port Royal Ferry. This is only possible for steamers drawing five feet; those of large draft must pass outside
of Otter Island.
We have to penetrate
to the depth of six miles into the sound of Saint Helena to reach the point of junction of the Combahee and Coosaw Rivers. The first of these rivers is
navigable for vessels drawing ten feet of water some twenty miles up. Fresh water may be had on the ebb about ten miles up.
There is a boat connection with the Ashepoo seven miles up. The Coosaw is broader and shoaler than the Combahee; it forms
a part of the interior navigation from Charleston. Steamers
drawing eight or nine feet will run outside from Charleston to Saint Helena Sound, and entering the latter by the most convenient
channel, according to the tide, will proceed up the Coosaw to its junction with Beaufort River at the brick-yards and thence
down to Beaufort on the inside way from Savannah and Florida; or the same steamer may continue up Coosaw River to its head,
near Port Royal Ferry, and go thence through Whale Branch into Broad River and Port Royal Bay. Vessels bound up the Coosaw
may go by the way of Morgan River
to Parrott Creek, which connects the two rivers by a 15-foot channel. All these connections are readily traced on a map of
a suitable scale. They are pointed out in detail because you will perceive from them how large a tract of country and how
extensive, important, and complex a series of lines of interior trade and navigation will be threatened and commanded by the
military possession of Saint Helena Sound.
Hitherto we have specified
two anchorages as desirable; it remains for us to speak of the third and the best. The south channel, as we have said before,
has seventeen feet at low water and twenty-three feet at mean high water; it is therefore quite superior to the others. It
leads to an anchorage in five fathoms of water within half a mile of the northeast point of Hunting Island and near the new light-house.
Both the anchorage and the adjacent shore are healthy throughout the year. The island is about six miles long, with an average
width of little more than half a mile to Johnston's Cree.
It is wooded and is stocked with deer, being used as a game preserve. A small creek (Johnson's), with a narrow channel fifteen
feet deep near its mouth, runs close to the shore. This is a suitable spot for a coaling depot. There is timber for constructing
a wharf, for which there is a natural site near the mouth of a small creek.
We have said that the
two anchorages on the north and south sides of the sound are independent of each other. It is so, but the isolation of that
which is protected by Hunting Island
is the most complete. Here, as in Bull's Bay, and in these two places alone, the military occupation of a single point, remote
and inaccessible to a large force except by great expense of time, labor, and money, secures the roadstead, the depot, and
the channel of approach; and, moreover, this channel is the best of the three leading into Saint Helena Sound, from the broader
space of which it is effectually separated by a natural barrier of banks, partially dry at low water. Neither shells nor solid
shot could molest the shipping, nor hardly projectiles from rifled cannon; and the possession of this anchorage commands a
considerable extent of inland navigation, though less than that on the north side.
Vessels of heavy draft
can pass into Morgan River
by turning the spit of a shoal near Hunting Island Point, and those of light draft by an inner channel between Oyster and
Egg Banks. Vessels drawing ten feet of water may take an inside passage from Hunting
Island to Port Royal
Bay, entering the latter through Station Creek. Three points of meeting
of the tide occur. The channel is bold in general, but intricate, requiring a pilot. Many wooded hummocks and one large house
must be passed within pistol shot. Between Saint Helena Sound and Port Royal Bay are found four inlets-Fripp's Skull, Prtichard's,
and Trenchard's, of which the first and last only, having ten and thirteen feet, respectively, at high water, can be made
available for the uses of commerce.
It is estimated that
4,000 men, in addition to the co-operating naval force, would be sufficient to take and hold Hunting
Island, which would be defended, like Bull's Island, by an inclosed work on the point
and a line of intrenchments across from the sea to Johnston's
Creek at some distance from the light-house. The intrenchments would be less extensive on account of the island being much
In order to fill out
our notes on this vicinity we shall observe that at the eastern end of Saint Helena Island, which forms the right ban of the
outlet of Morgan River into Saint Helena Sound, stands the plantation of Mr. Coffin, at whose house commences a public road,
called the Sea-side road, that extends thirteen miles to Port Royal Bay, at Land's End. Two miles from Mr. Coffin's a road
diverges to the right, leading to Ladies Island
and Beaufort, distant eleven miles. Both these roads are lined with the residences of gentlemen and sea-island cotton plantations.
Parrot Creek, joining
Morgan and Coosaw Rivers,
has been referred to. Opposite to it is Village Creek, leading to a village on a bluff, the summer resort of the Saint Helena planters. Four fathoms may be carried up Morgan
River to Dathaw Island,
which is separated from Saint Helena Island
by a creek. This creek unites at his head with Cowan Creek, while the latter separates Saint Helena from Ladies Island. Boats pass by this route from
Beaufort to Saint Helena Sound. The road to Beaufort from Ashton's, just mentioned, crosses the creek by a bridge at the plantation
of the late Mrs. General Eustis. Ladies Island,
at the head of Morgan River,
is a little more than a mile wide. The town of Beaufort is
on the opposite shore of the river of that name. A road leads from Mr. McKee's plantation, at the head of Morgan River, across to the bluff opposite
The above description
will enable you to form an idea of the interdependence and of the intercommunication, by boat and carriage, between the islands
filling up the head of Saint Helena Sound and the waters emptying into it; of the advantages to be derived from its military
occupation, and of the opposition, with its means and facilities of combination, which this occupation is likely to provoke.
is the finest harbor south of Chesapeake Bay, which it resembles in capacity and extent.
It is approached by three channels, the least of which has seventeen feet of water, while the two others have nineteen feet
at mean low and twenty-five feet at mean night water. Several of our screw frigates of the first class can pass the bar, and
when the entrance is once made a whole navy can ride at anchor in the bay in uninterrupted health and security. The bar, however,
is badly situated; the narrowest and shoalest part is so far out from the headlands, which generally furnish natural beacons
and sailing marks, that a conspicuous object is needed on the spot.
The light ship should
be replaced, and large buoys should be planted in proper places (an open screw-pile basket-beacon, well braced, might be put
down with great advantage in a well-protected spot, under the lee of Martin's Industry and the southeast breakers). We are
looking ahead a little in saying this. The absence of light vessels, beacons, and buoys will by no means prevent access to
the bay. The ships of the expedition will pass through a lane of small vessels anchored on the borders of the natural channel.
It is probable that the entrance to the harbor has been fortified on both sides, and especially at Bay Point. This point may
be approached in the rear by landing at Pritchard's Inlet, next east of Trenchard's Inlet, near high water, pulling through
the creek connecting the two down Trenchard's Inlet to a point near Luce Station, and thence passing along the beach and through
the woods to Bay Point. On the Hilton Head side it is more difficult to take the point in the rear. The entrance is over two
miles wide; there is fine anchorage under Bay Point; on the shore there is a number of rough houses, the summer resort of
planters. Under the head of Saint Helena we have entered into some details respecting the
interior communications and navigation that need not be repeated.
The town of Beaufort, on Port Royal Island, has no commercial importance. During the how weather, when the planters are
in their summer residences, the population numbers about 2,000. At other periods of the year it has but little more than 500
inhabitants. A battery of eight guns, it is said, has been erected at the eastern end of the town. Water may be had at the
Station Port Royal, Land's End, Saint Helena Sound, or by sinking wells from six to ten feet deep anywhere along shore, or
casks at Bay Point. Near this point may be constructed a wharf for a coaling station above the mouth of the little creek that
appears on the Coast Survey chart. The piece of marsh between the fast land and deep water (on the chart) must be crossed
by a bridge. Timber grows close by. The woods directly in the rear of the sea-beach consist chiefly of pine, interspersed
with chinquapin and live-oak. Portions of the island are clear and open. Near the beach there are many clumps of myrtle bushes,
matted together with jack wines and Cherokee roses. The island is healthy where exposed to the influence of the sea breeze.
Parry's Island, which
separates Beaufort and Broad Rivers,
is about five miles long, and is devoted to the culture of sea-island cotton. Broad River is navigable up to Charleston and Savannah Railroad station at Pocotaligo. Steamers and sailing vessels from
Saint Helena pass round Port Royal Island
and enter Broad River by way of Port Royal Ferry and Whale Branch.
Royal is one of the wealthiest of the sea islands, and
is devoted to the culture of sea-island cotton. Besides this passage of communication between Port
Royal Bay and Saint Helena Sound through Whale Branch there is narrow
passage, having nine feet at low water, between Lemon and Daw Islands,
going down the Chechesee River
and entering Skull Creek. A depth of nineteen feet may be carried from Port Royal
Bay up Chechesee River
to Foot Point, on the Colleton River.
This range, a distance of ---- miles, was surveyed in 1859 with reference to a naval depot and coaling station at Foot Point.
Hilton Head Island,
which is devoted to the culture of sea-island cotton, extends from Port Royal Bay to Calibogue Sound, and thirteen feet may be carried up the Chechesee, through Skull Creek,
to the sound, which constitutes the inland passage to Savannah.
The outer shore of Hilton Head Island
is so effectually protected by Gaskin Bank and the shoals inside of it, that a landing is practicable in moderate weather.
This is facilitated by an inshore channel within the outer breakers.
It may be stated as
one general fact, true of the whole coast of South Carolina,
that there are from one to two feet less water on the bars during and immediately after westerly gales and as much more during
and after northeast and southeast gales. The latter cause the heaviest sea. Another general fact is that those are the most
healthy sites which are open to the direct action of the sea breeze. Sheltered points close to the sea-shore will often be
unhealthy, while others with a southern exposure six or eight miles inland will be perfectly healthy during the summer and
For the military occupation
of Port Royal Bay it would be necessary, in order to escape molestation, to hold three points, and this would probably involve,
as the easiest method of holding them, the occupation of the three islands of which these points form part; that is, Hilton
Head Island, Parry's Island, and Phillips' Island. It is difficult to give any precise estimate of the exact number of troops
required to hold these islands.
At the present moment,
when most of the Southern troops are in Virginia or Tennessee,
it is probable that, notwithstanding the contiguity of Savannah and Charleston, no very large bodies could be concentrated against us, but the operation would
be likely to withdraw the troops from the north. This effect, almost certain as it is, will compensate us for the application
of a considerable force on this point. Six thousand men might take possession of Port Royal,
but to hold it permanently would probably require 10,000 or 12,000 men in addition to the available Navy contingent.
Of those three places-Bull's
Bay, Saint Helena Sound, and Port Royal Bay-we have no hesitation in recommending the immediate military occupation of the
first, for the reasons already fully given in the preceding pages, viz, its accessibility, direct channel, safe anchorage,
all of which make it a most convenient harbor of refuge, and its being securely held by the possession of a single point.
With regard to Saint Helena Sound and Port Royal Bay there is more room for doubt. We have compared the two somewhat as follows: If Port
Royal has the greater depth on the bar (twenty-three to twenty-five feet), yet the bar of the former is eight miles from the
land, while that of the latter is only three miles and a half. Saint Helena is held by the
occupation of a single point. Port Royal requires that three points should be taken and fortified.
The entrance of the former is six miles wide, and the best channel can only be molested from Hunting Island; that of the latter is only
two miles wide, and the attacking fleet will be subject to fire from both sides. The resources for wood and water are about
the same in each. Saint Helena is more central between Charleston and Savannah;
Port Royal commands a larger interior communication and trade. The noble bay of Port Royal comprises one large open
space, capable of containing any number of vessels anchored in one body. The anchorages of Saint Helena
are divided and distinct from each other. It seems to us that Saint Helena ought to be seized before Port
Royal, because it will be so much more easily taken and held. The former is a comparatively obscure place, little
known and but little resorted to, while the latter is constantly talked of as the first point of attack, and is closely looked
Stephen Elliott, Jr.,
of Parry's Island, a nephew of George P. Elliott, has been employed in fortifying Port Royal, every foot of which he is familiar
with, while not a planter knows Saint Helena.
that the three points we have recommended will suffice for the purposes of coaling stations and harbors of refuge for the
blockading squadrons, we are not disposed to recommend any immediate measures for the taking of Port
Royal. The putting of 12,000 or 15,000 men thus in the immediate neighborhood of Charleston and Savannah and the
presence of a considerable fleet in this noble harbor would doubtless be a sore annoyance to the rebels, and necessitate the
constant maintenance of large forces in those cities and on those shores. Yet the same force, naval and military, organized
as an expedition and held in hand at New York for a blow anywhere, would threaten not only
Savannah and Charleston, but
the whole Southern coast.
If, in the organization of
such a force, its destination should be absolutely undefined, the threat would be equally against every important point of
the Southern coast from Hatteras to the Rio Grande. The simple
putting to sea of such a force, if it were only to return to its port, would cause general alarm, and the Gulf States could
no longer permit their troops to swell the armies of Virginia. The force thus organized, after being, by frequent embarkations
and disembarkations, used as a means of threat, and thus perfectly drilled to its intended service, might at last be permitted
to strike its blow. Whether at New Orleans, or Mobile, or Pensacola, or Savannah, or Port Royal, or that focus of rebellion-the
scene of the great indignity offered our flag-Charleston,
might be decided at the last moment.