The history of Battery White, presented below, was developed by Kappy McNulty and Donald R. Sutherland of the Historic Preservation Division of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. They prepared the nomination form proposing that Battery White be added to the National Register of Historic Places in November of 1976. You can view a pdf version of the nomination form on the Documentation page.
DESCRIBE THE PRESENT AND ORIGINAL (IF KNOWN) PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Battery White is an earthwork artillery emplacement built and manned by Confederate troops during the Civil War. It was positioned on Mayrant’s Bluff, upper Winyah Bay, where its guns could command the seaward access to the nearby port of Georgetown. Still largely intact, the five hundred foot long fortification is maintained as part of the landscaping for a condominium complex on what was originally Belle Isle Plantation.
Early descriptive comments about the battery reached the Union Navy by way of Confederate deserters. Its strength was thus recorded on October 5, 1864, by Lieut. R. P. Swann, U.S.S. Potomska. He reported that “there are ten guns…. In rear of battery there is a section of artillery consisting of two rifled 12-pounders….” (U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I Vol. 16, House Document 477, 57th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903, p. 7.)
A brief eyewitness account of the fortification comes from executive officer Congdon of the U.S.S. Mingoe who personally inspected it on February 24, 1865. He reported to J. Blakeley Creighton, his commanding officer, that the fort “was a very large one, containing fifteen guns, three of which are X-inch columbiads, two 18-pounders, four 32-pounder Brooke rifles, five 24-pounder smoothbore, and one 12-pounder, and that there are large quantities of shell and shot, but no powder. The guns were found spiked…with three-cornered files.” (Ibid., p. 268)
Four days later, on February 28, 1865 a more comprehensive report was filed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. After going ashore to examine it, he says of Battery White that “the accounts in the reports fail to convey a correct idea of its character. The site was admirably selected, not only commanding the channel, but the various roads to the town above.” (Ibid., p. 277)
His report continues as follows:
The principal battery looks directly on the water, well planned, and executed carefully, not only with reference to the cannonade by ships, but also to an assault from the water.
The carriages were all new, and probably brought here recently, as many old carriages were piled away in the rear. The water battery mounted twelve guns, two of which were X-inch columbiads, three rifled 32-pounders (banded), four 24-pounders, two rifled 12-pounders (banded), making eleven guns looking on the water. The ditch was flanked by a 6-pounder. The work had ample traverses and magazines. The approach to the right flank over the low beach was swept by one 24-pounder in a separate battery and by a 12-pounder also in a detached work. The rear of the position was defended by a formidable rampart and ditch, extending 300 yards and looking on the several roads leading to Georgetown. It was not entirely finished and had a 24-pounder mounted at each flank; intervening places were designed for field guns.
The ground occupied by these works might be 100 acres, beautifully wooded with live oak.
The huts for the men were numerous and well constructed, with ranges of nice stalls for horses.
If the work had been sufficiently manned, it would have required good troops to take the work. (Ibid., pp. 277 – 278)
Battery White has changed very little since Admiral Dahlgren’s visit. The live oaks are still there (Photos), as are the imposing earthworks. The two ten-inch columbiads have been remounted, pointing outward across the bay. The only really noticeable deterioration in the fortification has taken place in the large mounds representing powder magazines. Decay of their perishable interior shoring has left these mounds partially caved-in. Also perishable were the huts and horse stalls attending the battery. No longer visible, recovery of their traces awaits the trowel and brush of the archaeologist.
Surroundings: Battery White, about 3 acres of which are being nominated, is located in a private condominium development. It is used by residents and guests as a park and place of recreation and historic interest.
Battery White is a distinct, viable entity which has been preserved and which according to plans, will be preserved. Although a few other earthworks do remain in the area, the scattered geographic distribution prohibits their inclusion within the nominated acreage. Furthermore, it is believed that the nominated acreage includes the “principal battery” described by Dahlgren in his report of February 28, 1865. The 100 acres referred to by Dahlgren were apparently that of the total fort, not the battery by itself.
It must also be pointed out that the area surrounding the nominated acreage has been extensively altered. Furthermore, it is the wish of the present owners (who do plan to preserve the battery) that the surrounding property not be nominated because of present and planned construction.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
Battery White is a large earthwork battery, built circa 1862 as a Confederate fortification and located on a bluff overlooking Winyah Bay near Georgetown, South Carolina. It was originally part of a plantation which was at one-time owned by Revolutionary War Colonel Peter Horry, and is now included in a condominium complex.
During the Civil War, the Federal plan of attack (from 1861) included blockading and eventually capturing major ports of the Confederacy. Even prior to this, however, Winyah Bay had been recognized as important to the defense of the state. On December 30, 1860, Charles Alston, aide-de-camp to Governor Francis W. Pickens, encouraged the lowcountry planters to erect batteries:
The Governor of South Carolina asks your aid in the erection of Batteries to protect and defend the entrance fo Winyah Bay and Santee River Millions of Property and what is far more precious than Wealth Life and Honor will be at stake if we suffer marauding bands to enter our ports…. (George C. Rogers, Jr., The History of Georgetown County, South Carolina (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970), p. 388, as quoted from Board of Ordnance Papers, South Carolina Archives.)
In 1862 it was reported that General Pemberton of the Confederate Army had visited Georgetown and selected Mayrant’s Bluff as the site of a battery. Battery White was apparently built sometime soon thereafter. It was well situated, being upon a bluff approximately 20 feet above the bay where the channel narrows to 1400 yards. Apparently, from the beginning, however, the battery was plagued by insufficient manpower and armaments. In February 1863, it was reported that there were but 53 men and nine guns at Battery White. In January 1864, commanding Brigadier-General J. H. Trapier stated (in one of his several requests for artillery and manpower) that “The position itself is a strong one, and with a proper artillery and a sufficient infantry support might be rendered almost, if not absolutely, Impregnable.” (The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. XXXV, part 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), p. 546.)
Assistance was not available, however, and in October 1864, eleven Confederate soldiers deserted the battery and gave information regarding it to R. P. Swann, commander of the U.S.S. Potomska. By February 1865, the battery was reported completely evacuated. This was found to be the case when on February 24, 1865, a party from the U.S.S. Mingoe visited the battery and found it to be unmanned. On February 26, Rear-Admiral Dahlgren of the Flagship Harvest Moon reported the occupation of the battery and Georgetown. He proclaimed slavery abolished and established martial law. Two days later he reported:
The battery was found to be a well-constructed and formidable work, mounting 15 guns, of which 2 are x-inch columbiads. The previous accounts of this battery had varied so much as to render our knowledge of it uncertain. Generally, it had been much underrated and supposed to be unable to resist the attack of a single vessel or a few men. But we can now understand that it was well placed, well constructed, and strongly armed, so that we should have had some trouble to reduce it if well manned. (Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 16 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), p. 273.)
With the occupation of Georgetown accomplished, Dahlgren reported heading for Charleston on March 1. As the Harvest Moon began its way down the harbor, however, it struck a torpedo and sank. (At low tide, the remains of this vessel can still be seen.) No further activity occurred at Battery White in the remaining months of the war. Battery White remained undisturbed for more than 100 years being part of the Belle Isle plantation. During the late 19th Century the plantation was extensively landscaped, and circa 1946 the gardens were opened to toe public (and continued to be until 1974). Although the plantation has been developed as a condominium complex, restrictions have been made for the preservation of the battery.
Nominated property is bounded on the north and south by the Belle Isle Villa and Yacht Club roadway known as Winyah Trace, on the east by a line drawn north to south two feet from the toe of the easternmost embankment of the Battery, on the west by the western edge of a dirt pathway at the rear of the earthen embattlements — with the exception of the earthwork on the other side of said dirt pathway which is also included within the nominated acreage.
Lachicotte, Alberta. Georgetown Rice Plantations. Columbia; The State Printing Company, 1955.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XIII. Washington:Government Printing Office, 1901.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XVI. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903.
Rogers, George C., Jr. The History of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. XIV. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1885.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. XXXV. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891.