A center of the Secessionist Movement prior to the Civil War, Bluffton was essentially abandoned after the Battle of Port Royal Sound in 1861, but served as a hub of the Confederate intelligence network.
In the early morning hours of June 4, 1863, approximately 1,000 Federal troops transported by gunboats disembarked on Hunting Island Plantation and then proceeded some two miles downstream with the intent of burning the town, following the orders of Major General David Hunter, Commander of the Department of the South. The gunboats continued up the river and anchored about a half mile from Bluffton to provide artillery support.
Perhaps one of the most concise papers concerning the burning of Bluffton—who was involved and a description of the engagement—was written by Ron Roth, President of the Lowcountry Civil War Roundtable. His paper can be found online by Googling “The Burning of Bluffton” prepared by Ron Roth.
Over 20 years ago while working as an antiques dealer, I came across a letter in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that is believed to be the only eyewitness, non-military Confederate account of the Burning of Bluffton. The letter is now in the home of Michael and Corinne Reeves. Several years ago, The Bluffton Breeze also presented a Yankee eyewitness account letter now housed in the University of Delaware Library. I was given an archival copy of this letter by the owner, Dr. Ron Finch, a former client and dear friend.
I am presenting this letter for you to read in its entirety. The hole is from a mouse gnawing on the fold. It is interesting to realize the letter went from Camp Pritchard, through the Confederate Hardeeville Post Office to the intended recipient—then to parts unknown, to Chattanooga and, over 100 years later, came back to Bluffton.
The letter was written by a captain to his uncle, a judge. The first paragraph talks about a cousin who did not pay a debt to the uncle. The rest of the letter describes what he saw during the raid. It may take a bit of effort to read, but it is most interesting. You can almost hear the 238 men of the Confederate Calvary racing on their steeds down the dirt road, with its overhanging moss-laden oak trees, sabers clanging and letting out Rebel Yells, as they raced from Pritchardville to Bluffton to engage the enemy.
Burning of Bluffton Commemoration
On June 4, 2015, the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society commemorated the 154th anniversary of the Burning of Bluffton with an Open House at the Heyward House Historic Center.
Taken down during the recent renovations at the Heyward House, the photo below features a mirror that usually hangs in the Gentleman’s Parlor. This tri-part mirror is in the Greek Revival style with carved acanthus leaves marking its corners and was hanging in a local house during the Civil War. Scratched into the glass in the left-hand segment, the graffiti states:
JW, Co E, 115th NY , Flee Rebels, Hell Is Here, 12 July 1863
Article written by Randolph Stewart