“Attacked the enemy at night and stunned him to a pause”: John’s Island demonstration, Part 2

In the first post on the John’s Island demonstration of February 1864, I discussed the reason for the operation and Federal movements to John’s Island.  I left off with Colonel Philip Brown’s account of the initial skirmishing on February 10, 1864.  Now I’ll turn to the initial Confederate reaction.

Pickets from the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry, under Major John Jenkins, picked up the movement onto Kiawah Island and tracked the Federal advance on February 9.  To contest the advance, Jenkins had at his disposal 150 cavalry, a company from the 59th Virginia Infantry, and a section of the Marion Artillery.


Jenkins reported this to Brigadier-General Henry Wise, commanding the Sixth Military District of South Carolina headquartered at Adams’ Run.  But Wise would not receive notice until 12:30 p.m. on February 9.  Wise assumed the Federals were moving up to destroy a battery then under construction along the Stono River, on John’s Island opposite Grimball’s Landing. Though incorrectly guessing the objective, Wise immediately issued orders for reinforcements to block the advance.  Colonel William Tabb, with a battalion of the 59th Virginia and another section of the Marion Artillery, moved over from Church Flats.  Colonel P.R. Page lead another column from John’s Island Ferry consisting of five companies of the 26th Virginia. In addition, Wise ordered up Charles’ Battery (Battery D, 2nd South Carolina Heavy Artillery) and a company of cavalry.  But none of these would arrive on John’s Island until the next day.

Wise himself met up with Jenkins around 11 a.m. on February 10, arriving in time to see “the enemy in line of battle on the Bohicket road, just below Dr. W. Jenkins’, about a mile above the Haulover.”  Charles’ Battery and Page’s infantry arrived around noon to reinforce Jenkins.  At that time, Wise had but 200 cavalry, 550 infantry, a section of the Marion artillery, and Charles’ Battery to confront what he estimated was 2,000 Federals.  Wise determined the best option was to fall back in order, and wait for reinforcement:

Before I had time to reconnoiter or make any observations, the enemy were reported to be flanking us on the left. They were distinctly seen deploying their infantry in a heavy forest on a line with our left, while shelling with two pieces on our right and four on the left in front. I instantly ordered my forces to fall back to a triangle in the roads called the Cocked Hat. Above that point took position and sent back for all my reserve at Adams’ Run, for three more companies of the Fourth[*], and for the working parties at Pineberry and Willstown. The companies of the Fourth and Forty-sixth Regiments Virginia Volunteers vied with each other in the rapidity and promptitude of their marches, and they reached me, to their honor, hours before I expected them; but they were much rest-broken and fatigued from night marches and without any rations except a short supply of bread. The men of Major Jenkins also were severely worn from fighting and marching two days and nights.

The Confederate force, though fatigued, conducted a fighting withdrawal roughly 3 miles up the Bohicket Road.

On the Federal side, Colonel Philip P. Brown of the 157th New York recorded his regiment moved up to the site of that morning’s skirmish and, after a short pause, moved up Bohicket Road behind a skirmish line.  There the Federals formed a line of battle.  “The line having advanced in this order over two wide fields, it was checked upon entering the third by a fire from the rebel skirmishers, who were strongly intrenched.”

The accounts differ on exactly what happened next.  Brown indicates when Brigadier-General Adelbert Ames was informed of the Confederate position, he “ordered a cessation of the advance, and afterward the withdrawal of the line.”  And Brown added the withdrawal was in good order. On the other hand, Wise contended that Jenkins held the line until dusk and “attacked the enemy at night and stunned him to a pause, capturing 4 prisoners almost within his line of encampment.”

No matter who’s account is correct, the result was the same.  The Federals withdrew to positions at Haulover Cut, prepared defenses, and waited.  The Confederates, with Tabb’s reinforcements on the scene, likewise fortified their hold at the Cocked Hat intersection.

Though conceding the field, Ames’ push had made an impression.  At the time of the fighting Brigadier-General Alfred Colquitt’s brigade was on trains moving from Charleston to Savannah, with orders to prepare for follow on movement to Florida.  After a flurry of dispatches, those orders were countermanded and Cloquitt’s brigade moved to John’s Island to reinforce Wise.  In that respect, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig orders to “distract the enemy’s attention” was accomplished.

Both sides picked up skirmishing on the morning of February 11.  But that afternoon, the action would pick up again.  I’ll turn to that in the next post.

Note: The 4th Virginia Heavy Artillery, which Wise shortens to 4th Virginia Volunteers, was converted to infantry in May 1862 and in March 1864 became the 34th Virginia Infantry.  So don’t let the designation fool you.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Part I, Serial 65, pages 107 and 144-5.)

“Two-thirds of my brigade are dismounted….”: The South Carolina cavalry swap

Continuing a thread – looking at Confederate reenlistment, recruitment, and conscription in the winter of 1864.  General Robert E. Lee pointed out issues with the system as applied in South Carolina, and to some extent Georgia, in January 1864.  Perhaps the best demonstration of the problem comes from the cavalry, where both men and mounts were required to replenish the ranks of South Carolina regiments (recall, the Confederate troopers supplied their own mounts for the most part).  On this day (February 10) in 1864, Brigadier-General Pierce M.B. Young, commanding Butler’s Cavalry Brigade, wrote to Major H.B. McClellan, Major-General J.E.B. Stuart’s adjutant, to press this problem and propose a solution:

Major: I have the honor, very respectfully, to ask that this brigade be relieved with four full regiments from the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. It is impossible to recruit the brigade unless this is done. I cannot see how General Beauregard’s department would be loser by this exchange. In less than a month after the exchange, this brigade, being on the coast and near their homes, would be as full as the new regiments. Two-thirds of my brigade are dismounted, and it is impossible to mount them in Virginia. Many of the companies have become depleted by casualties in action to such a degree that they have fallen below the minimum, and these companies would be able in a short time to recruit up to the requisite number. Something must be done, and done soon, or at the beginning of the spring campaign this brigade will not put as many men in the field for duty as ought to constitute one regiment. The authorities are already too well aware that our capital has more than once been endangered and exposed to the raids of the enemy, and all for the reason that our cavalry force was too small to cope with the enemy, and scarcely sufficient to keep up the picket-line. If portions of our country are laid waste and our capital exposed for the want of cavalry, why not have it when so much is lying idle and actually in need of exercise? I respectfully propose that one full regiment be ordered on at once and permit me to send back two in its place. At the expiration of a month let three others be ordered up, and send back my remaining three. This will be giving General Beauregard five regiments for four.

Some of the back-story here is apparent to even the cursory examination of the situation that winter.  The Army of Northern Virginia came off a very active campaign season.  Attrition took a toll.  And through the first months of the winter, replacements were trickling in at an uncomfortable rate.  No matter how veteran a unit might be, it cannot perform the mission if under-manned.  The problem was, as mentioned above, more acute with the cavalry due to the re-mount cycle in the Confederacy.

On the other hand, cavalry regiments in South Carolina were operating in… well lets just call it a less stressful environment.  Being “local” with prospects of remaining in South Carolina, those regiments attracted volunteers.  With the term of service complete on six month “emergency” state regiments, the South Carolina-based units received another boost.  Not to mention the ease of remounting, or even rotating horses as needed, for even the lowest ranking trooper.  And let me make one further point about the cavalry stationed in South Carolina in regards to workload – these regiments were not hard pressed compared to those in Virginia.  (The case can be made that as a whole, the cavalry operating on the South Carolina coast was ineffective, as it was by practice road-bound.  The Federal “scouts” on the other hand, dismounted for the most part, operated with good effect.  But that’s a topic for another day.)

Eventually Young’s request found traction.  While not exactly as he proposed, there was a rotation of cavalry from South Carolina. On March 17, orders came from Richmond for General P.G.T. Beauregard:

The First South Carolina Cavalry and Second South Carolina Cavalry have been ordered to South Carolina. The Fourth South Carolina Cavalry, Colonel Rutledge, the Fifth South Carolina Cavalry, Colonel Dunovant, the Sixth South Carolina Cavalry, Colonel Aiken, the Seventh Georgia Cavalry, Colonel White, the remaining companies of Colonel Millen’s (Georgia) battalion, and the cavalry companies of Captains Tucker, Wallace, Boykin, Trenholm, and Magee have been ordered to Virginia. Prepare them for movement without delay in light marching order with their wagon trains; the heavy baggage will come by railroad. Orders sent by mail. General Hampton will superintend the movement.

I would bow to cavalry experts opinions about the quality of those units.  But at a minimum, those were fresh troops and mounts funneled into Virginia.  Though late in the season.

But with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The transfer of troopers came down officially as part of Special Orders No. 65.  On March 26, a complaint came from the Second Military District of South Carolina (recall, this was a “slice” of the coastal country between the Edisto and Combahee Rivers).  The letter read in part:

The execution of paragraph 29, Special Orders, No. 65, from Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, leaves me in a most deplorably destitute condition. I telegraphed yesterday to you for instructions. As a military necessity, I have determined to retain 2 couriers from Davis’ company, Fifth South Carolina Cavalry, at my headquarters until some arrangement can be made by which I can communicate with my command. These will be the only mounted men I have in the entire district. [emphasis added] I also consider it vitally important to keep Saunders (my scout), as he is the only man I have acquainted with the neighboring islands.

So by pulling much needed cavalry to Virginia, a section of the South Carolina coast was left short of mounted troops (just two men if we read the complaint literally).  And there is again, a story for another day about the only man acquainted with the islands.

Oh, and who was the commander of the Second Military District?

Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson.

Some readers will contend this situation was of benefit to the Confederacy.  Would you want that general commanding mounted troops?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 1153; Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 362, 375.)