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Lt. A.S. Bodine Civil War narrativeManuscript, undated, "The Battle of Honey Hill," typescript narrative by Lt. A.S. Bodine adds to the available list of sources on this coastal South Carolina battle of the Civil War. Bodine, who served with Co. B of the 127th New York Volunteers, recalled that in the fall of 1864 his men were pleasantly encamped in new winter quarters at Beaufort, little suspecting that they were about to become supporting players in Sherman's march. Then, about 25 November, they received orders: Be supplied with forty rounds and three days' rations, and be prepared to move at a moment's notice.
On 11 November 1865, William Tecumseh Sherman had telegraphed from Kingston, Ga., "I would like to have Foster break the Charleston and Savannah Railroad about Pocotaligo about the 1st of December." Sherman was moving south from Atlanta, and he wanted the Federal troops at Port Royal to destroy the railroad, cutting off Savannah's only avenue of retreat or reinforcement.
Thus, on 29 November, General Foster's subordinate, Gen. John P. Hatch, pushed off from Hilton Head with five thousand Federal troops in transports and established a beachhead on the mainland. The Federal offensive intended to use one of the less fortified roads and cut the railroad at Grahamville (in what is now Jasper County). But on 30 November, hours behind schedule, the Union column was bloodied by an outnumbered Confederate force entrenched at Honey Hill. The expedition never reached the railroad.
Bodine and his men were transported on 29 November via steamer to Hilton Head, where they joined the rest of the invasion, proceeded to Boyd's Neck, and disembarked about four o'clock in the afternoon. "After partaking of rations (it was then dark)," Bodine writes, "our regiment received the command to advance. After proceeding a short distance we came to a cross-road into which, we filed to the right, after marching about one mile and a half, we stumbled upon a Rebel Battery. The Gen. in command then found we had taken the wrong road and ordered us to counter-march, which we did. After marching several miles we came to a bridge which spaned a small stream, when shots were fired upon us by a Rebel Cavalry outpost at the [second] cross-road, where a church was located."
"Lt. Col. [Stewart L.] Woodford being in command of the regiment, ordered the first company into line, charge bayonets, forward double quick, when they arrived at the church no Rebels were to be found. We continued our advance by the flank, leaving one company at the cross-road, some distance through a dense wood, when we returned to the church then nearly midnight, and bivouaced for the night."
While Bodine's men were getting confused and fatigued by all this marching and counter-marching, their leaders were becoming chagrined at their own blunders. "The maps and guides proved equally worthless," General Hatch fumed in his report to headquarters. First, Commander Preble's naval brigade and General Potter's army brigade (including the 127th), mistakenly pursued some Confederates in the opposite direction from Grahamville. Then the guide took Potter's brigade down the left-hand fork from the church toward Savannah, not Grahamville. The troops covered a total of fifteen miles, much of it in the wrong direction. "The distance marched, if upon the right road," Hatch concluded, "would have carried us to the railroad, and I have since learned we would have met, at that time, little or no opposition."
While the invaders meandered through the night over the same tortuous wagon roads George Washington had followed in 1791, the Confederates used rail transportation from Savannah to reinforce the local South Carolina cavalry and artillery. By eight o'clock the following morning, the Georgia State Militia had arrived.
When Bodine's troops reached the battleground at Honey Hill, they hit the dirt in front of the Third New York Battery and remained there all day. "The position of our regiment supporting a battery was one of the most trying positions troops can be placed in," he recalled, "not allowed to fire a shot, but were allowed to take all the enemy chose to send." The enemy sent quite a barrage, punctuated by rebel yells.
"The Rebels were located in a dense wood (as well as our forces) and in an earthwork, just outside of a place called Grahamville. They would fire by vollies accompanied by two guns with canister and made sad havoc among our forces. Many of our regiment were wounded and killed. The Reb sharp-shooters were in evidence. I heard the stray bullets whistle about me. Corpl. Warner says to me, Lieut. you better change your position as that fellow has his range on you, which I did and was not troubled by him any more, as it was I had three men who were near me wounded by that fellow and a hole through my slouch hat."
After dark, the Federal troops withdrew, with the 127th bringing up the rear. Bodine ended his narrative on a grisly note. "On passing the church which had been used as a hospital during the engagement we saw a large pile of arms and legs which had been sawed off by practicing surgeons, they were buried by a detail the next day."
Union accounts referred to the crossroads church as Bolan's church. Local planter James Bolan had been a generous benefactor of the Episcopal Church in St. Luke's Parish. Bolan's church, more properly Bethel Episcopal Chapel, had been built by Bolan and consecrated in 1861 for the use of the parish's black residents. Ironically, many of the wounded amputees were no doubt African-American Union soldiers. Black regiments, including the 32nd U.S. Colored, the 35th U.S. Colored, and the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, had taken some of the heaviest casualties.
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