Dedication of Chapman’s Fort historical marker set Saturday May 13 | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | April 29, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: April 26, 2017 at 4:51 pm
By CHARLES ROWLAND
After 153 years, the little-known “Battle of Chapman’s Fort” in Colleton County will be officially recognized by a historical marker placed along the roadside just upriver from where it occurred.
The community of Bennetts Point, in lower Colleton County where Mosquito Creek flows into the Ashepoo River, is largely known — by those who know of it at all — as a commercial shrimping and shellfish village and as a boat landing used by recreational fishermen and duck hunters. But relatively few people know that just up the Ashepoo occurred a military engagement that resulted in the awarding of five U.S. Medals of Honor, the most ever awarded for actions in a single engagement in South Carolina.
During the Civil War, Bennetts Point was the site of a planned landing of an infantry force of 2,000 Union troops consisting of African-American soldiers of the 9th and 34th regiments of U.S. Colored Infantry, plus horses, mules and a number of artillery pieces.
The mission was to march inland and cut the Charleston-Savannah railroad line where it crossed the Ashepoo River. In May of 1864 the expedition got under way, using civilian-owned-and-piloted transport vessels contracted by the U.S. Army, from the Union-held area around Beaufort, Port Royal and Hilton Head. But resulting from a combination of unfamiliarity with the shallows of the Ashepoo and plain bad luck, only a portion of the force made the landing at Bennetts Point and the mission ultimately failed.
The largest transport in the fleet, the Boston, with 300 troops and 80 horses aboard, mistakenly steamed past the landing site in the dark and ran aground on a bar farther up the Ashepoo — within 600 yards of a Confederate fortification known as Chapman’s Fort. Although that fort was manned by only a few scouts at the time, it would be supplied before daylight with nearby troops and artillery. When the sun rose, the Confederate guns began to fire on the helpless Boston. During the bombardment of 200 rounds, nearly half of which are believed to have hit the ship, the soldiers began to jump overboard. Thirteen Union soldiers died, most by drowning, but the number likely would have been much greater had it not been for the action of a handful of soldiers who, under intense fire, assisted their fellow troops.
Lt. George W. Brush and Pvts. William Downey, John Duffey, David L. Gifford and Patrick Scanlan were awarded the Medal of Honor for their courage and quick actions.
The historical marker is to be erected on Bennetts Point Road near the Frank E. Baldwin Jr. bridge that spans the Ashepoo (about 13 miles east of U.S. Hwy. 17).
Dewey Wise, a former state senator who lives near Bennetts Point, has been the driving force behind the acquisition and placing of the marker. Since moving to Bennetts Point, Wise has developed a keen interest in the history of the community and has done extensive research on Chapman’s Fort.
“I think it is significant that we in the South honor these Northern soldiers for their bravery under fire in rescuing fellow African-American soldiers,” said Wise. “We know that courage is color-blind and the bravery of these men and this battle should not be forgotten.”
On May 13, a dedication ceremony for the placement of the marker will be held at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ field station at Bennetts Point.
The keynote speaker will be Stephen R. Wise, Ph.D., of Beaufort. Dr. Wise (no relation to Dewey Wise) is the director of the Parris Island Museum and is also the cultural resource manager for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island. He is also a frequent lecturer and much awarded adjunct professor of history at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Among his published books are “Lifeline of The Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War” and “Gate of ****: The Campaign for Charleston Harbor 1863,” which was named by the South Carolina Historical Society as the best book written in 1994 on Civil War history.
Also speaking will be retired Marine Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston of Mt. Pleasant. The highly decorated general received the Medal of Honor for heroic action as a then captain and company commander during the war in Viet Nam. According to his medal award citation, on May 2, 1968, during an assault on the heavily fortified village of Dai Do, “… Although twice painfully wounded by grenade fragments, he refused medical treatment and courageously led his men in the destruction of over 100 mutually supporting bunkers, driving the remaining enemy from their positions … Wounded a third time and unable to walk, he steadfastly remained in a dangerously exposed area, deploying his men to more tenable positions and supervising the evacuation of casualties. Only when assured of the safety of his men did he allow himself to be evacuated.”
“Dr. Steve Wise is a noted historian, an author of several books, and we are pleased that he will share his knowledge about these events of long ago with us,” said Dewey Wise.
“General Livingston is going to share with us the stories of some of the recipients of the Medal of Honor and we are pleased to have him with us.”