By the latter half of 1863, the Union blockade of Charleston had matured and the majority of blockade runners who sailed under the cover of the night never returned. Looking to improve his odds, Captain Jack Holmes sailed the “Will O’ the Wisp” across the harbor, up the Ashley River, through the Wappoo Cut into Wappoo Creek, and then into the Stono River.
The broad and powerful Stono River flowed south between James and John’s Island and emptied out into the Stono Inlet. The Stono Inlet was deep water and was the southernmost end of the Charleston Blockade crescent. Egress from the Stono Inlet was always bottled up by two or three Union gunboats. Entry or exit through the Stono Inlet was rarely attempted by Charleston blockade runners.
Captain Jack surprised his crew by turning west out of the Stono River into the Kiawah River. The Kiawah River runs behind Kiawah and Seabrook Islands but was not nearly as wide or as deep as the Stono. The Kiawah River runs south emptying into the Edisto River which reaches the Atlantic at the Edisto Inlet. The Edisto Inlet was also deep water and was regularly patrolled by Union ships out of Port Royal.
Uninterested in the Edisto Inlet, Captain Jack steamed the “Will O’ the Wisp” into an even smaller tributary of the Kiawah River that splits Kiawah and Seabrook Islands reaching the Atlantic just beyond Captain Sam’s Spit. No one in Jack’s crew, or more importantly, in the Union navy, believed that this portion of the Kiawah River could be navigated. Hence, Captain Sam’s Spit was unguarded. Captain Jack saw Captain Sam’s Spit as the loose seam between the Charleston and Port Royal detachments of the South Atlantic Blockade. Over the ensuing months, Captain Jack repeatedly pulled at that seam, tearing apart what the Union had believed to be a well-woven blockade.
Now, the story of how Captain Jack was able to navigate that stretch of the Kiawah River choked by oyster mounds, root balls, mudflats, and mosquitoes large enough to carry away small children is another part of the story that I will save for the book, Will O’ the Wisp: Madness, War, and Recompense.
What was fun was the opportunity to visit Kiawah Island over the Labor Day weekend and do a very successful book signing. To access the island you must cross the Kiawah River as it meanders toward Captain Sam’s Spit. Enjoy the photos.
As a heads up, my next book signing for Will O’ the Wisp: Madness, War, and Recompense will be Saturday, September 25th (10:30 am-12:30 pm) at Main Street Reads in Summerville. It is a beautiful and delightful bookstore at 115 North Main Street in historic Summerville. If you are in the area I’d love to meet you.