The Battle of Secessionville (or the First Battle of James Island) was fought on June 16, 1862, during the American Civil War. Confederate forces defeated the Union’s only attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina, by land.
In early June 1862, Union Maj. Gen. David Hunter transported the Union divisions of Brig. Gens. Horatio G. Wright and Isaac I. Stevens, under the immediate direction of Brig. Gen. Henry Benham, to James Island, where they entrenched at Grimball’s Landing near the southern flank of the Confederate defenses. Benham landed 6,500 men from the 3rd New Hampshire, 8th Michigan, 7th Connecticut, 28th Massachusetts, and 79th New York “Highlanders” on the southeastern end of James Island, and marched toward Charleston. Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan “Shanks” Evans, who had been given command of the 3,000 Confederate defenders of James Island on June 14, barely had time to assess his new command. At about 4:30 a.m. on June 16 the Northern troops attacked the Confederate fort at Secessionville where Colonel T. G. Lamar commanded about 500 men who had a number of very heavy artillery guns and a good field of fire. After an intense battle, the fort’s defenders, augmented during the fight by approximately 1,000 men from nearby Confederate units, prevailed.
The Union suffered 683 casualties (107 dead), compared to 204 (52 dead) by the Confederates. Although the battle was minor, it served as a powerful propaganda victory, increasing morale, particularly in Charleston, and offsetting recent Confederate losses in the Western Theater.
Although the numbers involved were small, the stakes were high. Benham had acted against orders in attempting to take James Island, and he was subject to a court martial after the loss. The Union continued its attempt to starve and attack Charleston for the rest of the war. Had they succeeded in taking “Fort Lamar” at Secessionville, they could have controlled the harbor.