A History of Coosawhatchie, South Carolina

A peaceful spot just off Interstate 95, this community took its name from the Coosaw Indians who once inhabited it. As a white man’s settlement, Coosawhatchie began to grow in the early 1700s around the Coosawhatchie River Bridge, which serviced the road from Charlestown to Savannah. In 1788, the seat of Beaufort District was moved from Beaufort to Coosawhatchie, and a court house was built on the river. A nineteenth century writing tells us that the settlement had about 100 winter residents in 1812, but by 1840 the county seat had moved elsewhere. General Robert E. Lee was headquartered at Coosawhatchie when he was in command of the lowcountry Confederate Army units just after the onset of the American Civil War.
In 1788, Coosawhatchie, nine miles north of present Ridgeland, became the government seat of the Beaufort District. In 1840, the court house was moved to higher ground in Gillisonville, where it remained until it burned in 1865. In 1868, the town Beaufort once more became the county seat for Beaufort County.
Jasper County was named for Revolutionary War hero Sergeant William Jasper (ca.1750-1779). The county was formed in 1912 from parts of Beaufort and Hampton counties, and the county seat is Ridgeland. This area of the state was the home of the Yamassee and Coosaw Indians until colonial times. In 1732, Swiss-German immigrants led by Jean Pierre Purry established a settlement called Purrysburgh on the Savannah River, but the town did not survive. Other settlers built extensive rice plantations, some of which now form the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Two other towns in the county, Coosawhatchie and Pocotaligo, served at different times as the seat of government for Beaufort District.
From the book entitled "The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina - Volume 1, 1514-1861," by Lawrence S. Rowland, Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers, Jr., published in 1996 by the University of South Carolina Press:

"Coosawhatchie was never surveyed or officially created as a town during the colonial period. During the 1740s, and enterprising Swiss merchant from Purrysburg, Henry DeSaussure, opened a store and lodging home at the foot of the bridge which crossed the Coosawhatchie River. This was also at the head of the navigation of that small stream which winds out to Port Royal Sound. Henry DeSaussure was the founder of one of South Carolina's most prominent families in the revolutionary and antebellum eras. Coosawhatchie, which was in the geographic center of the Beaufort District, grew into an important crossroad for the souther parishes and eventually became the county seat for fifty-one years following the American Revolution."

On May 3, 1779, there was a Revolutionary War battle at the small town of Coosawhatchie.
HEADQUARTERS, No. 1. Coosawhatchie, S. C., November 8, 1861.

I. In pursuance of instructions from the War Department, General R. E. Lee, C. S. Army, assumes command of the military department composed of the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida.

II. Captain T. A. Washington, C. S. Army, is announced as adjutant-general of the department; Captain Walker H. Taylor, Provisional Army, as assistant adjutant-general; Captain Joseph C. Ives, C. S. Army, as chief engineer; Lieutenant Colonel William G. Gill, Provisional Army, as ordnance officer, and Mr. Joseph Manigault as volunteer aide-de-camp to the commanding general.

* * * * * * *

By order of General Lee:


Captain, and Assistant Adjutant-General, C. S. Army.

Coosawhatchie, November 9, 1861.

Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN,

Secretary of War:

SIR: On the evening of the 7th, on my way to the entrance of Port Royal Harbor, I met General Ripley, returning from the battery at the north end of Hilton Head, called Fort Walke. He reported that the enemy's fleet had passed the batteries and entered the harbor. Nothing could the n be done but to make arrangements to withdraw the troops from the batteries to prevent their capture and save the public property. The troops were got over during the night, but their tents, clothing, and provisions were mostly lost, and all the guns left in the batteries. General Drayton's command was transferred from Fort Walker to Bluffton; Colonel Dunovant's from Bay Point to Saint Helena Island and thence to Beaufort. There are neither batteries nor guns for the defense of Beaufort, and Colonel Dunovant crossed Port Royal Ferry yesterday, and was halted at Garden's Corner. General Drayton reports he has but 955 men with him, and no field battery, the troops from Georgia that were on the island having returned to Savannah without orders. Colonel Dunovant's regiment is in as destitute a condition as General Drayton's command, s they were obliged to leave everything behind, and number between 600 and 700 men. I wrote to General Lawton to endeavor to withdraw the guns from the battery at the south end of Hilton Head. I have received as yet no report from him nor any official account from the commanders of the batteries. I fear every gun has been lost. At present I am endeavoring to collect troops to defend the line of the railroad and to push forward the defenses of Charleston and Savannah.

Colonel Clingman's regiment of North Carolina volunteers, six companies of Colonel Edwards' regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, and Colonel Martin's South Carolina cavalry compose the force now here. The enemy, having complete possession of the water and inland navigation, commands all the island on this coast, and threatens both Savannah and Charleston, and can come in his boats within 4 miles of this place. His sloops of war nd large steamers can come up Broad River to Mackay's Point, the mouth of the Pocotaligo, and his gunboats can ascend some distance up the Coosawhatchie and Tulifiny. We have no guns that can resist their batteries, and have no resource but to prepare to meet them in the field. They have landed on Hilton Head. Their fleet is in Port Royal Harbor. Four of their gunboats are reported to be approaching Beaufort. I fear there are but few State troops ready for the field. The garrisons of the forts at Charleston and Savannah and on the coast cannot be removed from the batteries while ignorant of the designs of the enemy. I am endeavoring to bring into the field such light batteries as can be prepared.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE,

General, Commanding.

RICHMOND, November 9, 1861.

Governor PICKENS,

Columbia, S. C.:

General Lee is in command of the department embracing South Carolina and Georgia, as well as Eastern Florida. this was done in order to enable him to concentrate all our forces at any point that might be attacked. It is not necessary to send you regiments from this distance, but we will order more troops to your aid from North Carolina. your may retain all armed troops in South Carolina and all unarmed troops that can be made useful in batteries. General Lee has full power to act, and it would be well to send him a copy of this dispatch, that he may not scruple in using all the means of the Government with his reach for your defense.


Acting Secretary of War.

CHARLESTON, November 10, 1861.


Circumstances may soon arise to make it necessary that martial law should be proclaimed in this city. I ask for authority to take the step.


Savannah, November 10, 1861.

General R. E. LEE,

Coosawhatchie, S. C.:

GENERAL: I had the honor to receive yesterday your letter of the 8th instant,* covering extract of Special Orders, No. 206, from headquarters of the Army [A. and I. G. O., November 5, 1861].

Permit me to express my extreme gratification at the contents of this extract, which assures me that I am to have the benefit of your military skill and experience in the present emergency; no one can appreciate the necessity for such assistance more than I do. I earnestly desire a personal interview with you at the earliest practicable moment, and trust that it may be in your power to visit Savannah, if only to remain here one night and return to Carolina the next morning. The present arrangements of the railway trains will make it very convenient for you to accomplish such a visit. It would afford me great pleasure to call on you at your present headquarters and there conferee fully with you, but scarcely fell justified in absenting myself from my command at this critical juncture, even for the space of twelve hours, unless you attack much importance to it, and cannot visit Savannah.

The number of troops recently received by me in a comparatively unorganized condition, and the changes now suddenly made in the posting and disposition of them to meet the movement of the enemy, together with the great pressure at this moment on each department of the staff, will necessarily cause delay in furnishing you with an accurate and forward statement of the troops, guns, ammunition, &c., under my command. In the mean time I have the pleasure to state, for your information, that my command consists of about 5,500 men, mustered into the service of the Confederate States, and distribute along the coast. About 2,000, under command of Brigadier-General Mercer, are stationed at and near Brunswick. The remainder, say 3,500 men, are on this side of the Altamaha River, and all but 500 of this number within 20 miles of Savannah.

Having to-day ordered up all the troops from Tybee Island (about 1,000), I will have about 2,800 men near the city that can move promptly, exclusive of 450 at Fort Pulaski and 200 at Green Island battery, on Vernon River, protecting an important landing about 12 miles in rear of Savannah.

Of the 5,500 troops under my command, about 500 are cavalry and the rest infantry, with the exception of three field batteries (two of these pieces were sent to Hilton, with the re-enforcements to General Drayton, and lost.)

The cavalry are very well mounted and armed; the light batteries have a limited supply of horses, and but moderately well drilled. The infantry are made up chiefly of raw troops, though all substantially armed; about 2,000 of them are very well drilled and disciplined.

As all the volunteer corps in and about Savannah have been mustered into service, they are included in the 5,500; but there are about 3,000 men, armed after a fashion, under State organization, now in camp on the line of railway, and can be called to Savannah in a few hours. With the assistance of the naval officers we are now blocking up the channel in several places, and hope for good results.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding.

COOSAWHATCHIE, November 10, 1861.


Dispatch from Governor Pickens received. Am I at liberty to employ troops in South Carolina and Georgia passing through the States to Virginia?

R. E. LEE.

RICHMOND, November 11, 1861.

General R. E. LEE,

Coosawhatchie (via Pocataligo):

You are authorized to use the entire resources of South Carolina and Georgia that are under control of the Confederate Government for your defense, whether troops, munitions of war, or supplies of every kind.


Acting Secretary of War.

In Beaufort District (county) at the time, Coosawatchie was granted a U.S. Post Office on December 31, 1793, and its first Postmaster was Mr. John M. Davis. In 1912, Jasper County was created out of Beaufort County, and Coosawatchie has been in Jasper County ever since. This Post Office was permanently closed on December 3, 1965.

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