Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review - "Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero" by D. Michael Thomas

[Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero by D. Michael Thomas (Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, 2020). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:119/142. ISBN:978-1-4671-4479-7. $23.99]

As leader or participant, Brigadier General Stephen Elliott, Jr. of Beaufort, South Carolina was intimately involved in so many key military actions associated with the Confederate defense of the strategically vital stretch of coastline between Savannah and Charleston that a military biography has been long overdue. Part of The History Press's extensive line of concise Civil War studies, D. Michael Thomas's Confederate General Stephen Elliott: Beaufort Legend, Charleston Hero effectively recounts Elliott's entire Civil War career from artillery battery commander to infantry brigadier general in Virginia and North Carolina.

As captain of artillery, 31-year-old Stephen Elliott began his Civil War service in 1861 at the head of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, a venerable militia battery with origins dating back to the Revolution. Coincidentally, a BVA history was just published earlier this year [see here]. During the disastrous Confederate attempt to defend Port Royal Sound, Elliott led the Fort Beauregard garrison and was instrumental in guiding its escape from almost certain capture. Elliott's battery was integrated into the South Atlantic coastal defense network first designed and implemented by former department commander Robert E. Lee, and Thomas recounts Elliott's expert handling of the BVA as the unit assisted in delaying and eventually repelling a two-pronged 1862 Union raid on the Charleston & Savannah Railroad stations at Coosawhatchie and Pocotaligo. Also described in the text are Elliott's series of successful commando-type raids against Sea Island picket posts and Union shipping, the latter highlighted by his capture of the gunboat USS George Washington.

As impressive as his early-war career was, the highlight of Elliott's Civil War service was his tenure as commander of the Fort Sumter garrison between September 1863 and April 1864. Thomas's overview of this period is highly informative, arguably the best section of the book. Assigned to the post by General Beauregard, Elliott's leadership performance under one of the most trying set of circumstances any commander was tasked with during he war was by all accounts brilliant. Faced with regular bombardment by Union heavy artillery without the ability to return fire and patchy resupply of food, water, and military necessities, Elliott nevertheless fashioned a livable garrison existence for his men within the Sumter rubble, repelling enemy amphibious assault and always managing to maintain the morale and fighting effectiveness of his constantly rotating troop complement. Ever the accomplished artilleryman, he was even able to remount a sea battery, which was a considerable technical achievement. In addition to being a high-priority military and political target for the besieging Union army and navy, Sumter was a vitally important symbol of Confederate resistance that could quite easily have been lost under a lesser officer.

Like many other Civil War officers who remained in the artillery branch, promotion was slow for Elliott, even with the career patronage of Beauregard and the high recommendation of Lee. Eventually, Elliott was appointed brigadier general of a South Carolina brigade in spring 1864 and assigned to Confederate forces south of Richmond (where Beauregard was also transferred). His defense of the Elliott Salient at Petersburg during the Crater battle was highly lauded, but it also came at a high personal cost as he received his most serious wound there (he was hit five times during the war, but at Petersburg the bullet passed through both left arm and lung). Such an injury would have incapacitated most, but Elliott recovered remarkably fast (though his arm remained mostly useless) and led a brigade yet again at Averasboro and Bentonville before surrendering at Bennett Place. The loss of all of his property left the former general and his family in straitened circumstances after the war, and Elliott died in February 1866 (the most likely cause being the lasting effect of his Crater wound).

Though its unrelentingly celebratory nature might be distracting to some readers, it's clear from Thomas's narrative that the range and quality of General Stephen Elliott's military service mark him as a South Carolina Civil War figure well deserving of wider recognition.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you wish to comment, please sign your name. Otherwise, your submission may be rejected, at my discretion. Also, outside promotions are not allowed in the comments section.