“A demonstration to distract the enemy’s attention”: Schimmelfenning crosses to John’s Island

I’ve offered up a few posts about Morton’s Ford of late.  That action was the result of a demonstration made to distract the Confederates from a raid on Richmond, conducted for the most part with political objectives in mind.  But at the same time, another demonstration was in the works some 400 miles further south.  And the political objectives for which that distraction served were much broader in scope… involving an entire state.

In late January, Major-General Quincy Gillmore refined plans for an expedition into northern Florida.  As related in a report filed afterwards, Gillmore’s objectives were:

… first, to procure an outlet for cotton, lumber, timber, &c.; second, to cut off one of the enemy’s sources of commissary supplies; third, to obtain recruits for my colored regiments; fourth, to inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance, in accordance with instructions which I had received from the President by the hand of Maj. John Hay, assistant adjutant-general.

That last line is important.  Gillmore had instructions to reach a particular objective of political importance – the restoration of Florida to the union.  Such was already underway with Louisiana and Tennessee.  And, as Dale Cox pointed out in a post last month, the urgency was in regards to the 1864 election.  While I’m not going to offer much in the way of the Olustee Campaign (and would direct readers to Dale’s move-by-move posts on his Civil War Florida blog), I do wish to consider some of the peripheral operations involved.  In particular, a demonstration in the Charleston area.

To distract Confederate eyes from the operations in Florida, starting on February 8, 1864 Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig executed a demonstration on John’s Island with parts of two brigades.  Most readers identify Schimmelfennig with the Garlach woodshed, where he hid with the hogs during the battle of Gettysburg.  Schimmelfennig came to the Department of the South with the rest of General George H. Gordon’s 1st Division, Eleventh Corps transferred to Charleston in the summer of 1863.

At Schimmelfennig’s disposal came from those on Folly Island. The main infantry force came from Gordon’s Division, with Brigadier-General Adelbert Ames in command a that moment.  Additional troops came from Brigadier-General Robert Foster’s division also on Folly Island.  The expedition included six pieces of artillery. The intent was to cross from Folly Island to John’s Island by way of intermediate stops on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands.


Among the forces from Gordon’s, or should we say Ames’, Division was the 157th New York Infantry.  Colonel Philip P. Brown offered a detailed report of his regiment’s participation in this operation.

The One hundred and fifty-seventh New York Volunteers left camp on the evening of Sunday, February 7, with 173 armed men, 10 cooks, 4 stretcher-bearers, 10 pioneers, 3 hospital attendants, 3 detailed as orderlies; total, 203 men, commanded by 1 field, 2 staff. 3 line, and 4 acting officers; total force, 213. In accordance with orders from brigade headquarters, the regiment proceeded to Stono Landing, where it arrived a little after 8 p.m. It was ferried across to Kiawah Island 12.30 o’clock the same night, and at once commenced march on the left of the brigade. It arrived at the Vanderhost plantation at daybreak, and bivouacked during the night at that place, in the same order in the brigade.

I’ve marked the area of the Vanderhorst plantation on the map above.  In Federal correspondence the location was not specific to the buildings themselves, but rather a frequently used bivouac area.

March was resumed at 9 p.m., the regiment being third from the right. In this order it arrived at the Seabrook plantation in the early morning, when it was at once ordered to throw out skirmishers.

The Federals crossed over Haulover Cut (see map) onto James Island and moved up the road leading to the interior.  That crossing occurred on the morning of February 10.

Lieutenant Gates, with Company G and parts of Companies A and I, was detailed for that purpose, making a force of 40 men. Lieutenant Gates advanced under the direction of General Ames at 8.15 a.m., and was immediately met by a brisk fire from the rebel skirmishers, who had advanced from the woods and were charging over a rise of ground. They obtained possession of a line of hedge and ditch, but were speedily dislodged by our men, who drove them into the open field. Here our line was re-enforced by a body of the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers, who deployed on our right. Colonel Harris, Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers, here took command, and the line advancing pushed the rebels into the woods and continued driving them from half a dozen positions, until a halt was ordered at the distance of about 2 ½ miles from the main force. Major Rice, One hundred and forty-fourth New York, had command at this time.

The Confederate forces initially encountered were under the command of Major John Jenkins, 6th South Carolina Cavalry.   But as the Federals pushed forward, they encountered reinforcements sent forward by Brigadier-General Henry Wise, commanding the Sixth Military District.  This reinforcement included parts of two infantry brigades, including one that was en route to Florida.   As that point is worth more detail, allow me to pause here and pick up the discussion in the next post.

Personal side note:  One of the Confederate regiments involved with the action was the 46th Virginia Infantry, in which one of my ancestors was serving at the time.  So, yes, you may accuse me of elevating the stature of this little “demonstration” a bit.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Part I, Serial 65, pages 106-7, 276.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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