“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.)

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