Potter’s Raid, April 1-4, 1865: The last offensive in South Carolina gets organized

At the same time as the Confederate withdrawal from Richmond and Petersburg, a small expedition was organizing on the coast of South Carolina.  This effort, aimed at knocking out the few remaining rail lines in the state, would become the last Federal offensive in South Carolina and among the last of the war.

Recall that in mid-March, while idle at Fayetteville, North Carolina, Major-General William T. Sherman directed Major-General Quincy Gillmore to send a force of around 2,500 men against the railroad lines between Sumterville and Florence.  Specifically, Sherman wanted locomotives and rolling stock, which had escaped his columns during their passage through South Carolina, destroyed.  Gillmore was to scrape up, from his garrison forces, a force to march inland to wreck a section of the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad and chase down some trains.  Gillmore assigned this task to Brigadier-General Edward Potter. Much like Major-General George Stoneman’s Raid, Potter was to tie up one of the smaller loose ends.

Potter’s start point was Georgetown, South Carolina.  To catch up a bit, shortly after the fall of Charleston, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren directed a naval force to seize Georgetown and close the last seaport in the state.  Though able to secure the port with just a naval landing force, Dahlgren lost his flagship, the USS Harvest Moon, to a torpedo in Winyah Bay.  This setback did not stop the Federals from establishing a base at Georgetown.

Potter’s force would consist of two brigades.  The First Brigade, under Colonel Philip P. Brown, included the 25th Ohio, 107th Ohio, 157th New York, and a detachment from the 56th New York.  Colonel Edward Hallowell commanded the Second Brigade with the 54th Massachusetts, 32nd USCT,  five companies of the 102nd USCT.  A section of Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery, under Lieutenant Edmund C. Clark, brought along two 12-pdr Napoleon guns, but with only 360 rounds of ammunition.  Detachments from the 1st New York Engineers and 4th Massachusetts Cavalry rounded out the force.  All tallied, Potter reported 2,700 men for his expedition.


In addition to the main column, Potter had the Army transports Hooker and Planter move up the Santee River, supported by a Navy detachment under Commander Fabius Stanly, to Murray’s Ferry.  The water-born column brought ammunition and rations, but no additional troops.

Potter did not leave Charleston until April 1.  Even then, he took an additional four days to get the expedition fully organized and the supplies staged for movement to Murray’s Ferry.  Not until April 5 did Potter leave Georgetown. Sherman had wanted the expedition sent out by the last days of March.  But delays outfitting the ad-hoc formation determined much of the delay.

I’ll pick up the “line of march” following Potter at the appropriate sesquicentennial mark.  For the moment, consider some of the units involved with this expedition.  Many were veterans of the fighting on Morris Island – in particular the 54th Massachusetts.  Also consider the Planter moved in support.  Rather fitting that the last offensive operation in South Carolina would include troops and vessels which had served with prominence around Charleston.

(Source: OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1027-8.)

December 9, 1864: Another attempt at the Charleston & Savannah Railroad falls yards short

Earlier I mentioned the operation launched by Major-General John Foster to gain the Charleston & Savannah Railroad by an attack near Coosawhatchie, South Carolina.  Again, this was an effort to support Major-General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea by cutting the rail link between Savannah and Charleston.  Earlier efforts failed to break the rail line due to Confederate defenses at Honey Hill.  But not throwing in the towel, Foster launched several expeditions, leading up to a landing on the peninsula between Coosawhatchie River and Tulifinny Creek.  By December 7, Foster could report a lodgement three-quarters of a mile from the railroad (the closest of any of the various attempts over the last three years had reached to this railroad, mind you!).

On December 9, word passed down from Foster to Brigadier-General Edward Potter (commanding the troops on the ground) that one more “go” at the railroad was required.  For this, Potter ordered a “skirmish brigade” formed that would advance toward the railroad and feel out the Confederate defenses.  The hope was that would find an unguarded point, at which the break could be achieved.  Colonel William Silliman, detached from his regiment, the 26th USCT, commanded an ad-hoc formation consisting of the US Marine Battalion, the 127th New York and 157th New York.  The formation had the Marines on the right, with the 157th in the center and the 127th on the left.  Of the movement, Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Woodford, of the 127th New York reported:

We formed in front of the rifle-pits in the open field, at 9.10 a.m., in one rank–the marines having the right, the One hundred and fifty-seventh New York Volunteers the center, and the One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers the left. The men were deployed at a distance of two places from each other, and one company of the One hundred and twenty-seventh was formed as flankers on the left. The line covered a front of near three-quarters of a mile, reaching from a point 100 yards to the left of the dirt road that runs into the Coosawhatchie turnpike. We advanced under cover of a heavy artillery fire, moving almost due north. The line was maintained with great regularity, and struck the rebel pickets about 350 yards from the railroad. These, after a few shots, fell rapidly back upon their reserves. These reserves, opposite our center and right, retired upon their main line, which immediately opened a heavy fire, both with musketry, grape, and canister. The rebel pickets upon our left appeared to rally upon their reserves, which were near their line, and these being sheltered by a heavy growth of young pines, main-rained for some time a sharp and well-directed fire, which enfiladed our left.

With the initial success, the Federals rolled back the Confederate line to within a couple hundred yards of the railroad.  Robert Sneden later penned this depiction (oh, you know I hesitate to say “map”) of the action from descriptions:


Notice the position designations listed for the 127th New York.  He didn’t show the 157th or Marines on the map.  But the gist of the movement is there, with the Federals crossing some low ground in front of the railroad to press the defenses on the railroad.

Just as the skirmish line reached the Confederate entrenchments, Silliman was hit in the leg.  For the second time in four days, Woodford assumed tactical command of an operation under such circumstances.  And he continued to press the advance:

The skirmish line pushed steadily forward, pressing the place occupied by the rebel pickets, and took up position within about 200 yards of the railroad. The marines upon the right, under command of First Lieutenant [George] Stoddard, U.S. Marine Corps, approached quite close to the rebel battery and made a gallant attempt to flank and charge it. They were exposed to a very severe fire; became entangled in a dense thicket between the forks of a creek upon the right, and were compelled to fall back. They retired upon the reserves, where they reformed and again moved to the front.

The Marines had hit a portion of the line held by the cadets from the South Carolina Military Academy, the Citadel.  The entire student body was in the field that morning, manning the works (the only time an entire college body has fought as a unit).  So this brings a bit of notability to this otherwise small action – one of the few times the US Marine Corps operated at more than a company strength during the Civil War, and they happen to run against the Citadel cadets.  And as Woodford indicates, the Marines got the worst end of the deal.  At that point, the attack began to break up.

The two New York regiments remained in their advance positions for much of the day.  Around 2:30 that afternoon, the regiments began to retire.  As they did, the Confederates sortied and attempted a flank attack on the left.  This was repulsed.  Both sides finally retired completely at dark.

In the action, the Marines suffered eleven casualties.  The 157th reported the same number of wounded from their rolls.  The 127th suffered much worse with 8 killed and 51 wounded.  Brigadier-General Beverly H. Robertson, Confederate commander in the sector, reported 52 casualties.  However those numbers do not include any mention of casualties the cadets may have suffered.

Assessing this action, if at all, most sources draw attention to Foster’s failure, again, to break the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. This is cited as the reason the Confederates were able to resupply Savannah and later retreat. So the failure is reflected as a strategic blunder to close those last few hundred yards on December 9, 1864.

But let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of reality here.  Consider the “big map” again (for simplicity, I’ve left out the Federal coastal garrisons and the Confederate defensive positions confronting Hilton Head, but factor those in.)


Sherman’s left most columns were but twenty-five miles or so from the site of Woodford’s skirmish. Likely they even heard some of the firing.  As the sun sat on December 9, the Twentieth Corps had leading regiments within an easy morning march from the railroad, just outside Savannah.  So close were the Federals at that point, General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was visiting Savannah to consult with Lieutenant-General William Hardee, opted to take a ferry over the Savannah River that afternoon instead of risking the train.  For all practical purposes, the railroad was cut even while Woodford pulled his men back.  From that, there are some grand points to consider… but I’ll save that for the moment.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 441-2.)

“The railroad is less than three-quarters of a mile from our front”: Foster’s attempt to isolate Savannah

With his forces stopped at Honey Hill on November 30, 1864, Major-General John Foster turned to other courses in order to accomplished his supporting task for Major-General William T. Sherman – that of attaining the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  On December 6, Foster landed a force under Brigadier-General Edward Potter at Gregory’s Plantation.  The intent was to move up that neck between the Coosawhatchie River and Tulifinny Creek to the town of Coosawhatchie where the rail line passed.

The force consisted of the 56th, 127th, and 157th New York Infantry, the 25th Ohio Infantry, and the Naval Landing Brigade.  This brigade-sized element landed between 9 and 11 a.m. on December 6 at Gregory’s.  And, contrary to what modern readers might assume, it was the 127th New York that made the initial landings, and not the Marines.  Foster provided a brief overview of the movement towards the railroad in a report sent to Washington that day:

General Potter pushed immediately forward, and about one miles and a half out met the enemy, whom he forced rapidly back to the spot where the road up the peninsula between Coosawhatchie and Tullifinny meets the road running across from one river to the other.  Here the rebels, being re-enforced from the south side of the Coosawhatchie, made a stand and attacked our left vigorously, but our men repulsed them handsomely, capturing a battle-flag and some prisoners, and got possession of the crossing, which we now firmly hold.  A detachment sent to the right destroyed the road bridge over Tullifinny.  Our loss on the whole affair was about 5 killed and 50 wounded.


To an observer on the ground, Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Woodford, 127th New York, the action was worth a few more sentences:

The rebel pickets were soon met and driven back. Their skirmishers were encountered at about a quarter of a mile south of the turnpike. The center of our line of battle was on the dirt road; the right wing extended into an open field at right angles to this road and parallel to the turnpike; the left wing was refused and lay about forty-five degrees from northeast to southwest. The four companies of the One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers held the right center of the line; Company I soon came up, and was ordered in on the left,; the remaining five companies came promptly up as soon as we landed, and were also subsequently sent in upon the left of the line of battle. The severe fighting was nearly over when these latter got into position. Soon after the firing became general, the rebels advanced the left of their line–which lay upon the turnpike, sheltered by the forest on the north and a heavy skirting of trees and hedge on the south–into the field, and endeavored to charge and break our right. The naval infantry, which lay immediately to the right of our regiment, were forced back about 100 or 150 yards, leaving our right uncovered.

Of course, writing his report, Commander George Preble emphasized that his boat howitzer battery saved the Army’s line providing timely support.  No mention of the naval infantry falling back.  At around the same time, the 127th’s commander, Colonel William Gurney, was hit in the arm.  Woodford then took command of the regiment.

With the four companies of my command which were with me I immediately charged the rebel line, but before we reached them they broke and retired. Part of them fell back into the woods north of the turnpike, and part moved west on the turnpike, under cover of their artillery, to their intrenchments near the railroad. Just before we charged we fired by rank, and under this discharge the flag of the regiment in our front–the Fifth Georgia Reserves–fell.

The battle-flag, mentioned by Foster in his dispatch, was contested by the 127th and 56th New York… and Preble would claim it was his naval infantry which had delivered the killing shot to the color bearer.  Regardless, the 127th received the captured honor after the skirmish was over.   By nightfall, Foster had about 2,000 men on the neck.

The Federal landings caught the Confederates off-balance, but not off-guard.  Major-General Samuel Jones had arrived at Pocotaligo the night prior with orders to assume command of the sector.  But Jones walked into a cloud of confusion.  The 5th Georgia men encountered were but a battalion (of around 150 men) guarding the neck.  Of the other forces at Jones’ disposal, 32nd Georgia, a section of artillery, and the South Carolina Cadets from the Citadel were on hand to throw against the threat.  Overnight, Jones collected other elements – to include part of the 47th Georgia and a North Carolina reserve battalion – at the threatened point.  All told about 800 men, counting the cadets.  Colonel Aaron Edwards, 47th Georgia, was ordered to attack the Federal position at daylight.  Jones expected to use the sound of that attack to trigger a bombardment of the Federal positions from a battery on the west side of the Coosawhatchie.

So on the morning of December 7, Edwards sallied forward with his scratch force.  Perhaps being generous, Edwards claimed this force met initial success, but then faltered:

Our skirmishers drove the enemy vigorously until the right of the line became engaged with the enemy’s line of battle, our left at the same time overlapping his right. This position was maintained until after Colonel Daniel’s demonstration on my right, when the enemy made new dispositions on and extending beyond my left. It becoming apparent that the enemy’s force considerably outnumbered mine, which consisted largely of raw troops, it was deemed impracticable to attack him in force, without which it was impossible to drive him from his position. I therefore withdrew in good order, unpursued by the enemy, to my present position. The troops engaged, which were my skirmishers only, behaved with great gallantry.

Jones later claimed that Edwards failed to make the attack “with any spirit.”  But in all truth, his force was outnumbered.  The failure did leave the Federals in possession of the cross roads and within a mile of the railroad, as Foster was quick to claim in his report to Washington:

The railroad is less than three-quarters of a mile from our front separated by a dense wood, through which is only a bridle path, and in the skirt of which are our pickets. I have ordered nearly all the force from Boyd’s Neck to this position, and also some 30-pounder Parrotts, with which we can reach the railroad, even should our men not succeed in gaining it, as I hope they may, as also the road bridge over the Coosawhatchie. Our position is strong, the spirit of the troops excellent, and the landings and means of communication good.

However advanced Foster’s position, he was up against the same tactical limitations which prevented the Department of the South from achieving a break of the railroad over the past two years.  Arrayed on a small, narrow peninsula, with no maneuver space, Foster could only push directly forward.  Even with a small force, the Confederates held the advantage of position.  And though Foster outnumbered his opponent at the point of attack, he was short on infantrymen.  Requests to Washington, though made, would not meet the immediate need.  Foster pressed his subordinates for 1,000 more men from Morris Island and Florida.

In the mean time, the railroad was, as Foster indicated, within range of the Parrott rifles.  All this action taking place, hopefully, to benefit Sherman’s force… which was at the time of the action on December 7, was only some 30 miles away as the crow flies, but on the other side of the Savannah River.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 420-1, 438-9, 448.)

“I at once determined not to follow them”: John’s Island demonstration, Part 3

Though he probably didn’t know it, as the sun rose on February 11, 1864 Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig’s demonstration on John’s Island had achieved its goal.  After sharp fighting through the previous day, both sides had retired to positions roughly three miles apart.  The Federals maintained a “bridgehead” with parts of three brigades on the John’s Island side of Overhaul Cut.  The Confederates concentrated most of Brigadier-General Henry Wise’s brigade at a crossroads further inland, awaiting the arrival of Brigadier-General Alfred Colquitt’s brigade.  The presence of Colquitt on the island, instead of making way to Savannah, meant that Schimmelfennig had indeed distracted the Confederates, at least temporarily, from Federal operations in Florida.

Both sides skirmished and probed through the morning and into the afternoon.  But just after noon, the Federals once again pushed out from their bridgehead.  Colonel Philip Brown, 157th New York, recorded his regiment was ordered,

… with the One hundred and seventh Ohio Volunteers and Seventy-fifth Ohio, to advance in support of columns already advanced.  Marching by the flank, this force, under the direction of General [Adelbert] Ames, proceeded along the left of the forest to within supporting distance of the skirmishers and batteries previously sent out.

This move by the Federals caught Wise realigning his lines just after the arrival of Colquitt’s Brigade.

I placed my right on the Bohicket River, across the Bohicket road, and extended my line across the open field on a ditch back to the woods on my left, and through them to the Legareville road. I gave the command of the right to Colonel Page, with portions of the Twenty-sixth, Forty-sixth, Fifty-ninth, and Fourth Virginia Volunteers, and the left to General Colquitt, with his regiment of 900 Georgians. Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper commanded the artillery. I placed one section of Charles’ battery on the right between the Bohicket road and river, the Marion Battery in front immediately on the left of the road, and the other section of Charles’ battery to protect the rear and left flank.

Wise’s position sealed off any line of advance for the Federals.  But there’s no indication Ames intended to press the matter beyond just the prescribed demonstration.


Wise’s report of the action indicates his artillery was heavily engaged in this action:

… the Marion Battery at 3.20 p.m. opened upon them at about 1,200 yards distance, when they fell back to the woods, at about 1,500 yards distance. The artillery practice was very efficient in everything except the friction primers. Three-fourths of them at first failed. The enemy soon replied with (I thought) three pieces only, but one of their positions was concealed by a hedge-row, and after their retreat I found they had two positions for field pieces-one on the right and the other on the left of the road. A section of Charles’ battery also opened from our right, and was very effectively served.

All this activity kept General P.G.T. Beauregard focused on John’s Island.  He ordered another battery from the South Carolina Siege Trains to prepare for movement to John’s Island.

And he also worked out plans for a demonstration of his own – to distract the Federals from the distraction.  To Wise, he wrote, “All the guns on James and Sullivan’s Islands will open at 2 o’clock tonight on Morris Island to create a diversion in your front.” Orders went out to all commanders in the defenses around Charleston.  Additional instructions called for signal rockets to coordinate the start of firing. The guns on James Island were later directed to focus on the Black Island batteries to their front.

But while Beauregard planned, the Federals were again moving.  Wise noted the slackening of fires by mid-afternoon.  “By 5 p.m. their fire ceased.”  By dusk, the Federals pulled back and established a line of pickets around their original bridgehead.  Brown recorded, “This was executed as speedily as possible, a line of about forty-five posts of 3 men each being established at intervals of 15 paces in favorable positions, and a reserve of 30 kept in the rear.”

Wise, however, failed to offer pursuit.  “We were 4 miles from the haulover.  They had about 1 ½ miles the start of us, and i at once determined not to follow them….”  Wise offered no fewer than twelve (!) justifications for the decision not to pursue.  These ranged from a shortage of artillery ammunition (a claim that was later in dispute) to the need to get Colquitt’s brigade back on the trains.

The Federals withdrew completely across Overhaul Cut that night.  The USS Nipsic and USS Iris provided cover for the movement. By the following afternoon, they were back in the camps on Morris Island.  Wise did not detect the withdrawal until the next morning. He reported seventeen casualties from incomplete reports. Federal casualties were not reported in detail, but were likely just as light.

With that, the demonstration was over.  And a successful demonstration it was, from the standpoint of delaying the movement of Colquitt’s brigade and distracting Beauregard’s attention.  However, any gain achieved by blood and sweat on John’s Island was forfeited over the following week.  Instead of pressing forward on the Florida expedition, Major-General Quincy Gillmore and Brigadier-General Truman Seymour debated over their options.  That allowed time for Colquitt to complete his assigned movement.  Had there been unity of minds, perhaps Olustee would have occurred with one less Confederate brigade on the field.

On a broader scale, the similarity of objectives, proximity in time, and, to a lesser extent, the level of effort expended offer an opportunity to compare two “demonstrations” conducted in February 1864 – Morton’s Ford and John’s Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Part I, Serial 65, pages 107, 144-5 and 599.)

“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.)

“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.)