150 Years Ago Today: U.S. Marines Fight Citadel Cadets Outside of Savannah: Battle of Tulifinny
On December 6, 1864 warships of the mighty South Atlantic Blockading Squadron demonstrated against the Confederate batteries defending Charleston and Savannah. These actions were meant to distract the Rebels from two other major operations being undertaken by the Navy. The first was the assembly in Hampton Roads of a massive fleet for the amphibious attack on Ft. Fisher, the main defense work protecting the big blockade running port of Wilmington, N.C. The second was the landing of United States Marines in support of General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea. That landing resulted in the Battle of Tulifinny, and one of the very few occasions in which U.S. Marines fought in a land battle with Confederate infantry.
By late 1863 both Charleston and Savannah had effectively been shut down as blockade running ports by the Navy. After the loss of Mobile Bay in August, Wilmington remained the last major haven for the runners, upon whose cargoes the Confederacy and especially General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia depended for munitions and other staples. Charleston and Savannah, however, remained key political objectives, and if taken would give the Navy a port to supply Sherman's army. To help open the path for Sherman, the Navy landed 5,000 troops and a detachment of Marines on the banks of the Tulifinny River, not far from the town of Yemassee, about 45 miles from Savannah. A dozen Union gunboats supported the landing on the swampy peninsula. As the Yankees advanced they were met by 900 Confederate troops, among whom were the entire corps of cadets of the South Carolina Military Academy (now known as The Citadel).
The Cadets made up about a third of the defending force, and were deployed to defend the key railroad bridge over the river. Told that Union forces were encamped nearby, the Cadets moved out in the pre-dawn darkness of December 7 to participate in a surprise attack on the Yankee lines. The attack succeeded in driving the Union infantry from their camps, and the Cadets and the men of the 5th and 47th Georgia infantry and a militia unit dug in to await the inevitable counterattack. That came on the morning of December 9th. The right flank of that attack was spearheaded by Lieutenant George G. Stoddard and his Marines - who ran right into the positions held by the Cadets. The Marine attack stalled, and when the Union forces on the left flank fell back, so did the Marines. The Union forces then retired to the fleet, which evacuated them.
The success of the Cadets and other Rebel forces was short lived, and although it bought time for the Confederates to evacuate war materials by rail, Savannah fell to Sherman on Christmas Day.
As for the Navy's assault on Ft. Fisher...that is a story for later.
Blockade Runners and the ports they dart in and out of are vital to the Southern player's hopes for victory in my strategic naval game of the Civil War, GMT's Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.