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The Planter at the Gate

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During the Civil War, the month of June of 1862 was a pivotal moment in American history. If Federal forces could capture Charleston, the gateway to the South, it would cripple the Confederacy. Impatient with their Naval blockade of its central harbor, the Union Army decides to pursue another approach for seizing the Holy City by overrunning a small fort on James Island. There, a Southern planter named Colonel Thomas Gresham Lamar, holds the keys to that back door approach as the commander of the Tower Battery built in the hamlet of Secessionville.

On Port Royal Island, Union General Henry Benham grows emboldened by new intelligence delivered by Robert Smalls. Just weeks before, the enslaved boat captain commandeered the steamship, “The Planter,” and slipped past the Confederate defenses at Fort Sumter.  Benham decides the time is ripe to mount an attack on the Tower Battery. Driven by his insatiable ego, he attacks despite being wholly unprepared and  ordered to wait. The result is a fierce and bloody three-hour confrontation that many historians agree likely lengthened the American Civil war by two years.

The weeks, days and minutes leading to the Battle of Secessionville are filled with West Point strategy, homespun heroism and just plain luck. Ultimately, as the Battle of Secessionville unfolds, a native element of the South itself provides the Confederate Army with the secret weapon for victory: Pluff Mud.