Guarding the Wappoo: Lt. Watson Gets in Hot Water

The Wappo Cut is a waterway southwest of Charleston that connects the Ashley and Stono rivers. During the Civil War, traffic between James Island and Charleston had to cross the Cut. Two bridges spanned the waterway: the New Bridge and a pontoon bridge. During April 1863, the 51st North Carolina was tasked with guarding the New Bridge. Around midnight on April 11, 1863, Lieutenant L. M. Butler inspected the guards at both bridges.

At the time of the inspection, Clingman’s Brigade was assigned to General S. R. Gist’s command. Lieutenant Butler was General Gist’s aide-de-camp. He wrote up the results of his inspection and sent them to Gist’s adjutant, Major Mallory King. The guard at the pontoon bridge “was well versed in their duty, both Officers and men.” The guard at the New Bridge was a different story. The detail “was exceedingly derelict of their duty, resulting from the negligence of Lt. Watson [Edward L. Watson, Company C] of the 51st N. C. T.”

Mallory sent the report to General Clingman, who in turn sent it to Colonel McKethan “for investigation and report.” The next day, McKethan replied to the general with a statement from Lieutenant Watson. Watson, supported by Sergeant J. P. Thompson and Privates John H. Brinson, Daniel Bostick, and M. A. McDougald, categorically denied all the allegations in Lieutenant Butler’s report. Colonel McKethan endorsed Watson’s statement as follows:

“Respectfully forwarded with the remark that I have always found Lt. Watson a faithfull officer. Some of the privates on duty at the bridge with him I have known for years and they are men of undoubted veracity and their statement differs materially from that made by Lt. Butler.”

Clingman forwarded the report and endorsement to General Gist who returned it with an indecipherable response. No further records of the incident exist, so it might have died in a state of “he said, he said.” But Clingman, smarting from the dispute, sent his Adjutant to inspect the bridge guards a few days later. The results of the inspection would lead to the arrest of an officer in the Fifty-First.

To see the original documents from this incident, click HERE.

NOTE: Third Lieutenant Edward Watson was reprimanded two months later for allowing the men of a detail to strip and go swimming “in front of Mr. Bradley’s house, notwithstanding the presence of ladies in the house.” Despite Watson’s apparent laxness as an officer, he was eventually promoted to Captain of Company C.

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