As a result of discontent within the XIth Corps following the Battle of Gettysburg, General Schimmelfennig and the 74th were detached to a new command which was sent south to reinforce Union forces besieging Charleston.  During the time the regiment operated near Charleston (August 1863-August 1864) there were few "battles," but there was nevertheless a considerable amount of activity.  Life on the barrier islands was often difficult as the dunes were barely habitable with no fresh water and huge temperature swings -- although the sea breeze usually offered some relief from malaria-carrying mosquitoes and biting flies (but, of course, there was no protection at all from storm surges).  All food and water had to be moved across the beaches from supply ships or seized during raids on the mainland.

 

For the men of the 74th their day usually involved either considerable fatigue duty on the fortifications on the barrier islands or in the neighboring salt marshes, or on patrol.  Active operations in the salt marshes were more akin -- often eerily so -- to the activities of the brown-water navy and SEAL teams in the Mekong delta of Vietnam than anything else the U.S. Army has done. 

 

The 74th rarely deployed as an entire regiment; usually only a detachment of 100 or less men would be assigned to an operation.  Most activities were reconnaissances or raids on outposts, but on at least one occasion a detachment was sent into hostile territory to find escaped prisoners-of-war.  While the troops would sometimes slog through the salt marshes, movement on foot through the marshes was very difficult and infrequent as the tidal surge was about 5-6 feet and in the summer swarms of mosquitoes and biting flies made such movements almost impossible.  Alligators and poisonous snakes also had to be avoided.  To highlight just how difficult it is to move through a salt marsh, in 1967 one Navy SEAL team took almost four and a half hours to traverse only 500 yards through the deep sticky mud of a salt marsh in the Mekong delta, ecologically very similar to the terrain the 74th was operating in.  

 

The troops normally traveled on patrols or raids by boat as "boat infantry" -- usually in metallic or wooden pontoon boats.  Pontoon boats were exactly that, the pontoons used to hold up pontoon bridges.  Because it could hold a considerable load and maintain a very shallow draught, the pontoon boat was ideal for use in riverine operations and especially in the tidal creeks that criss-cross the salt marshes near Charleston.  The boats were manned by a coxswain and four oarsmen, and could carry about 20 (metallic) or 35 (wooden) men, but the wooden boats also had a tendency to spring leaks and sink.   

 

Single boatloads of boat infantry would regularly -- and often at night -- patrol the tidal creeks of the salt marshes and the shallow inshore waters of Charleston harbor to keep enemy boats at bay.  Ordinarily few shots were exchanged as the Confederate boats would usually retreat up river or to the protection of their fixed batteries.  Larger scale movements on pontoon boats usually took place at dawn and tended not to be undertaken during full daylight as the boats were slow and vulnerable to artillery and small arms fire.  Night movements by more than a couple pontoon boats were especially difficult as boats frequently lost contact or became lost in the tidal creeks, and therefore such missions were only rarely undertaken. 

 

One major amphibious night attack undertaken by pontoon boat failed miserably with heavy casualties (only four of 20 boats made landfall while under heavy Confederate fire, and 135 men surrendered on the beach).  On that occasion, the 74th was fully deployed and had advanced onto James Island in order to draw defenders away from the objective of the amphibious assault, Fort Johnson.  Although the 74th succeeded in its diversionary mission, the two boat infantry regiments became hopelessly confused on their approach and many boats were unable to traverse a sand bar some distance from the shore.  In completing its assigned task, the 74th had used another means to move about: the building of raised wooden causeways.

 

In order to facilitate quick movement through the salt marshes, and to support advanced positions located on islands surrounded by the marshes, the troops built causeways that in some cases were of sufficent size to support horses.  Movement of artillery over the causeways was usually impracticable or impossible.  There were two causeways between Dixon's Island (aka Middle Cole's Island, where Union outposts were located) and Sol Legere Island (aka Inner Cole's Island, where Confederate outposts were located).  Only the support pilings of these causeways were normally in place; only when Union forces attacked Sol Legere or James islands were planks put down to permit a rapid crossing of infantry.  As Union forces retreated, the planks would be taken up.  Company G was normally deployed on Dixon's Island in a defensive position at the south end of the causeways to Sol Legere Island.

 

Between March and August 1864, Company G operated independently of the rest of the 74th as a rocket battery.   The rocket battery consisted of 55 men under the command of Captain Jacob Jungblut and may have fielded as many as 10 Hale rocket launchers.  The battery could field several types of Hale rockets, but normally used the light 2.25-inch rocket and launcher.  Although the rockets would usually go where they were aimed, the crude timing method used to adjust range made accuracy a problem.  Despite its shortcomings, the rocket battery could go anywhere infantry could go, thereby ensuring that Union troops had fire support when they were confronted by Confederate artillery.  Usually only deployed as a section of two launchers, on occasion the rocket battery did go into battle with four launchers in two sections.  Almost always one section would accompany infantry detachments on raids or patrols.  One rocket section (probably on a rotational basis) was more-or-less permanently based on Dixon's Island where it regularly bombarded Confederate outposts on Sol Legere Island and protected the wooden pilings of the causeway between the islands.  One section was deployed at night on pontoon boats to ambush Confederate vessels operating in the tidal creeks and on the Stono river. 

 

In August 1864, the regiment was relieved and it was transferred to the defenses of Washington (as the garrison of Fort Ethan Allen) to await its mustering out in September 1864.

 

Copyright by Bret Coulson, for uses other than personal please contact Bret at Bret.Coulson@mail.house.gov