HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH,
October 26, 1864.
Report of the attack on Forts Johnson and Simkins, James Island, S. C., on the night of July 2, 1864:
On the evening of July 2, 1864, the Fifty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry, Colonel Hoyt, and the One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteer Infantry, Major Little, were sent on an expedition from Morris Island to James Island. Three detachments of 20 men each from the Third Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery accompanied them, two attached to the Fifty-second Pennsylvania and one to the One hundred and twenty-seventh New York. The men embarked immediately after dark and proceeded to Paine's Dock. The low stage of the tide caused the boats to run aground, producing some delay. The boats started from Paine's Dock in single file, the Fifty-second Pennsylvania leading. They were to cross the harbor till opposite the beach between Simkins and Johnson; then each boat's crew was to turn to the left, pull vigorously to land, and assault with the bayonet, the Fifty-second Pennsylvania attacking Fort Johnson, the One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Fort Simkins. Clear and precise instructions were given to all concerned. The only signal of retreat was to be sounded on a bugle in possession of Colonel Hoyt.
The time of leaving Paine's Dock was about 2 a. m. Some of the boats were pontoons, some metallic boats; a few leaked, but the great majority were in good condition, and the failure cannot be attributed to any defect in the means of transportation. Perhaps as much cannot be said for the skill of the boatmen. If the boats had been steered and rowed by seamen, much of the grounding and fouling which delayed the progress of the expedition and furnished an excuse to the faint-hearted for not pushing vigorously on might have been avoided. The pilot, Sergeant Bennett, One hundred and twenty-seventh New York, failed to find the passage through the bar near Fort Johnson; he seems to have lost his lead. Colonel Hoyt declares himself unable to decide whether this man was merely ignorant or was guilty of willful misconduct. Colonel Hoyt and Lieutenant-Colonel Conyngham, Fifty-second Pennsylvania, by their personal exertion, succeeded in finding a narrow channel through the bar and close to the shore. They passed through, but it was now about daybreak, and the enemy, discovering them, opened a heavy fire, which, however, was almost entirely harmless, passing far overhead.
The boats commanded by Colonel Hoyt, Lieutenant-Colonel Conyngham, Captain Camp, Lieutenant Stevens, and Lieutenant Evans, all of th Fifty-second Pennsylvania, rowed rapidly to the shore, and these officers, with Adjutant Bunyan (afterward killed) and 135 men, landed, took a water battery, and pushed toward Fort Johnson. This work they were not able to carry, and, being deserted by their comrades, were obliged to surrender to a force of the enemy estimated by Colonel Hoyt at 150 when the attack commenced and 300 at the time of his surrender.
Colonel Hoyt bestows unqualified praise on the officers and men who landed with him, of whom 7 were killed and 16 wounded. Colonel Hoyt himself deserves great credit for his energy in hurrying on the boats, and bringing them through a narrow passage in the bar when the pilot had failed.