Causton’s Bluff Part 3: War on Whitemarsh

Causton’s Bluff Part 3: War on Whitemarsh

During February and March 1862, Confederate Troops at Causton’s Bluff had been in frequent skirmishes on Whitemarsh Island with Federal troops scouting from Tybee Island.

  1. Causton’s Bluff Part 1: The Key to Savannah
  2. Causton’s Bluff Part 2: Challenge from Tybee
  3. Causton’s Bluff Part 3: War on Whitemarsh Island
  4. Causton’s Bluff Part 4: Arrival of the 29th Georgia Regiment
  5. Causton’s Bluff Part 5: Tidewater Time

The Berrien Minute Men watched from Lawton Battery and Camp Tattnall when Fort Pulaski fell on April 11, 1862. Even from the distance of seven miles, the furious onslaught of artillery was a terrible scene to behold.

Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Currier & Ives.

Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Currier & Ives.

About a week later  U.S. troops from Tybee and Cockspur Islands made a reconnaissance of Wilmington Island. Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore’s purpose for ordering the mission was to determine “if any preparations by the enemy for boat expeditions against the hulk [USS Montezuma] on Lazaretto Creek or on the left of my position [were] being made.” Pickets from Causton’s Bluff had made contact with the Montezuma about March 27, 1862.

On April 16, 1862, A Federal mission under the command of  Lt. James Harrison Wilson and escorted by seven companies of the 8th Michigan Infantry Regiment led by Col. William M. Fenton,  were transported aboard the steamer Honduras (later commissioned the USS Honduras) from Goat Point at the mouth of Lazaretto Creek to Wilmington and Whitemarsh islands.

Steamer Honduras (later commissioned USS Honduras). Image courtesy of Florida Keys Public Libraries.

Steamer Honduras (later commissioned USS Honduras). Image courtesy of Florida Keys Public Libraries.

Landing rear companies on Wilmington Island at Screven’s Plantation, the Federal mission proceeded to land a force at Gibson’s Plantation on Whitemarsh Island. A work party of Confederate soldiers from Causton’s Bluff detected the landing party and reinforcements were quickly called up. A skirmish ensued in which both sides took losses.

Col. Marcellus Douglass filed an official after-action report with the Confederate States Army. Lieutenant Wilson and Col. William M. Fenton filed official U.S. Army reports.  On both sides of the conflict the size of the commands were understated, while the size of opposing forces were exaggerated.

The report of Col. Douglass was filed from Causton’s Bluff:

Headquarters Carston’s Bluff,

April 21, 1862.

Captain: I take this the first opportunity to make my report of the engagement between a portion of my command and a regiment of the enemy on Whitemarsh Island on the evening of the 16th instant:

The island lies east of this place, and between is the island called Oatland. I have for some time kept pickets and small scouting parties on Whitemarsh, knowing that the enemy occasionally visited it. On that day I had sent, under command of Lieut. Thomas G. Medders, of Company H, a party of about 45 men for scouting and picket duty. In the evening I took with me Capt. J. T. Crawford, of Company G; Lieut. B. T. Bowie, of same company, and 37 of their men, with axes, across to Oatland to have the trees on the island cut down. I required the men to carry with them their guns and cartridge boxes.

Soon after getting there and about 3 p. m. one of my pickets came in from Whitemarsh and told me that the enemy were landing at Mr. Gibson’s place, on the point of Whitemarsh next to Wilmington River, and that a steamer with about a regiment of men on board was lying in the river some 400 or 500 yards from the landing, and that Lieutenant Medders, with his men, had fallen back across the island to a cross-road some 2 miles from where the enemy were seen. I immediately started Captain Crawford, with his company of 37 men, to the place where Lieutenant Medders had halted. I gave to Captain Crawford instructions to remain at that point until I could return to camp and get an additional force, and also directed him to send out pickets from the cross-roads in two directions, one leading to Gibson’s place and the other to Turner’s place, which is on the point of Whitemarsh next to Augustine Creek, and in view from which is Skidaway Island. I then hurried back to camp, being delayed in crossing Augustine Creek. Taking with me three companies (A, B, and C), commanded respectively by Lieut. E. L. Connally and Capts. James McCallay and John L. Moore, I started for the island, hurrying the steamer Leesburg, at my command for this purpose. In order to take two chances of getting assistance to Captain Crawford I had Captain McCallay to land from the boat on Oatland, just across from the battery at this place, and directed him to hurry over to the cross-road on Whitemarsh, with orders that he and Captain Crawford should remain with their companies at that place until I could reach them with the two others, and not to attack the enemy until I joined them, unless they should ascertain that there was only a small party of the enemy, instead of a regiment, as reported to me by the pickets. My reason for not taking the three companies directly over Oatland to Whitemarsh was that the only means of crossing the stream between the two islands was a small boat that would carry about 10 or 15 men at once, and too much time would be consumed in this manner. I therefore went on the steamer with Companies A and C around to a landing on Whitemarsh. Being delayed at the mouth of Whitemarsh Creek about one hour the boat ran aground, and by the time I could get my men all on land it was near 5.30 o’clock.

In the mean time the pickets posted by Captain Crawford discovered a party of the enemy, about 50 strong, who had advanced 1 1/2 miles across the island. The pickets fired on them and fell back to the crossroad, and reported the number of men seen to be about 50 or 75, whereupon Captains Crawford and McCallay, after distributing between their two companies the scouting party under Lieutenant Medders, determined to endeavor to surround the enemy and capture or kill them. Captain Crawford with his force went the road toward Gibson’s, and Captain McCallay with his force up the road toward Turner’s, to where another road turned off to the left and led to Gibson’s place. Both parties met small parties of the enemy and the firing commenced, the force on each side being nearly equal. The enemy were driven back for 1 1/2 miles across little fields and skirts of woods to the Gibson house, where they sheltered themselves behind a hedge of cedar, and brisk firing began.”

This was the first firing I heard, the other being scattering and the noise of the steamer preventing those of us on board from hearing anything else. As soon, however, as we had landed and the reports of the guns were heard I started my men at a double-quick, having then 2 or 2 1/2 miles to go. This distance we made as quickly as possible. On the way I met several of the wounded men and those who were without cartridges coming back. At the distance of about half a mile or less from the Gibson house I met Captain Crawford with his men retreating across a small field, and learned from him that he and Captain McCallay, who with their forces had divided near the cedar hedge, had been overpowered after having sustained heavy loss and exhausted their ammunition, and were compelled to retreat, and that the enemy—a full regiment—were in hot pursuit. Seeing that Captain Crawford and all his men were completely worn out I ordered them to the rear, and formed my men in single rank along and just in the edge of a skirt of woods, ordering them to lie down and wait for the command to fire. Soon the enemy came, shouting as they came, apparently confident of overtaking and capturing the small party who had so long held them in check. The imprudence and impatience of one man prevented me from getting the enemy completely by surprise, and I believe in our power. He, contrary to orders, fired too soon, and knowing that a scattering fire would begin, I gave the command to fire, and one volley checked their progress and turned them back. They discharged their guns at us, but without effect. I kept my men in their position, expecting another advance, but no Yankee showed himself again. Soon Captain McCallay, about whom I felt great uneasiness, came in from a direction to the right of us, some of his men wounded and the rest without cartridges and all completely exhausted.

Night had then come on us, and having only about 60 men with cartridges and physically able to fight, I deemed it imprudent to pursue the enemy to their boats, knowing their overwhelming force of 800 men and also fearing an ambuscade, as a skirt of woods through which they retreated was between us, and we could not then ascertain whether they were fleeing or awaiting our advance.

On the next day I found that they had remained on the island only long enough to gather up their dead and wounded, as they had left knapsacks, cartridge boxes, canteens, haversacks, overcoats, blankets, &c., and a number of guns, all of which we gathered up. I also saw the doors that they had taken from the houses there and on which they had borne off their killed and wounded. The doors were very bloody.

During the first part of the engagement, and while Captains Crawford and McCallay were driving the enemy before them, a Federal lieutenant was mortally wounded, and from him the fact was ascertained that their force numbered 800 or 860; it was the Eighth Michigan. Another prisoner, who was taken with the lieutenant, also stated that the men we were fighting were not foreigners. Several caps were found with the letters of the companies to which the wearers belonged on them, showing that there were different companies. I also learn from the officers and men that while the fighting was going on in the field in front of and from here, just beyond the Gibson house, the enemy formed in line of battle and their entire force took part in the fight. Some time during the engagement the enemy landed some artillery (the tracks of the wheels were found by us the next day), but it was not brought into action at all, and I judge was carried back on the boat as quickly as it had been landed.

The officers of my command engaged were: Capt. J. T. Crawford and Lieut. B. T. Bowie, of Company G; Capt. James McCallay and Lieuts. A. W. Pearce and J. T. Horsley, of Company B; Capt. John L. Moore and Lieuts. T. M. Breed aud J. B. Breed, of Company C, and Lieuts. E. L. Connally and J. C. Steger, of Company A. Lieut. Thomas G. Medders, of Company H, was lieutenant of the scouting party sent out in the morning.

The whole force engaged at any one time was not over 90, some having been detailed as pickets to prevent surprise from the rear and to guard the steamer.

Below is a list of the casualties: *

Officers …………………………………………………… 3 wounded
Non-commissioned Officers ………………..1 wounded
Enlisted Men……………………………4 killed, 12 wounded
Total………………………………………….4 killed,  15 wounded

The loss of the enemy could not be ascertained, except approximately, by going over the ground and finding the bloody places which marked where they fell. There were quite a number of these, some of them indicating that those shot had bled very freely. Bloody garments were found, some caps that had been shot through, and the bloody doors upon which they had borne off their men; guns and various other things with blood on them indicate that the enemy suffered severely.

I had forgotten also to mention that the lantern they had used in searching for their dead and wounded was found the next day. In their haversacks were found plates, knives, and forks, butter-crackers, meat, &c., as if they had come prepared to remain on the island a day or two. They had also some ground coffee that they drooped in their hurry. The guns used by them were muskets, some of them large-bore Springfield muskets rifled.

The loss on our side, particularly in the ranks of Captain Crawford’s company (G), and the length of time they were fighting, show with what bravery they maintained their ground against overwhelming numbers—eight or ten to one.

I cannot omit to state my high appreciation of the skill and courage of Captains Crawford and McCallay and the valor of officers and men under them. Captain Crawford had command of the party until I arrived, and in his judgment and valor I have entire confidence. Captain McCallay nobly seconded him in every movement, and a braver, truer man cannot be found.

Individual instances of heroism and narrow escapes were reported to me, among them that of Garland Upshaw, of Company B, who in assisting in bearing off a wounded comrade had four bullet-holes made through his coat. Upshaw is quite a youth, and yet is considered one of the best scouts in the regiment. Private Pilkinton, of Company A, was shot just as he had loaded his gun, and after falling handed it to Captain McCallay, requesting him to discharge it at the foe. Captain Crawford and his men were nearly surrounded, and though exposed to fire from three directions bravely fought until they had no cartridges to use. Captain McCallay had a ball shot through his coat.

I have made this report too long, and yet not long enough to do full justice to the men who, less than 100, in a fair fight kept back 800 well armed Yankees for nearly an hour, and retreated only because they had no more ammunition with which to fight.

I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

M. DOUGLASS, Colonel, Commanding Post.
Gapt. Malloby P. King, A. A. G., Second Brigade.

 

The report of Lt Wilson was published by the New York Times, which incorrectly identified the source as Lieut. W.L.M. Burger.  Burger was indeed on the mission, but Official Records of the Union Army confirm that the following is the report of Lt. Wilson.

As a Lieutenant, James Harrison Wilson led the April, 1862 federal excursion on Wilmington Island.

As a Lieutenant, James Harrison Wilson led the April, 1862 federal excursion on Wilmington Island.

DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH.; A Severe Skirmish on Wilmington Island. A Reconnoitering Party Attacked by the Rebels. THE ENEMY REPULSED WITH LOSS, Ten of Our Men Killed and Thirty-five Wounded. OFFICIAL REPORT OF THE AFFAIR.

A skirmish occurred on Wilmington Island, above Fort Pulaski, on the 16th inst., the official report of which I send, and also a list of the killed and wounded. There is a discrepancy in the numbers of killed and wounded reported, and the list given me. I cannot explain it.

ON BOARD STEAMER HONDURAS,
OFF WILMINGTON ISLAND, Ga.,
April 17, 1862.

Lieut. W.L.M. Burger, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General Headquarters United States forces, Tybee Island, Ga.:

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following for the information of the General Commanding:

Escorted by seven companies of the Eighth Michigan Volunteers, commanded by Col. Fenton, and a small detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery, I embarked on the steamer Honduras at Goat’s Point about 8 o’clock yesterday morning, for the purpose of making a reconnaissance of Wilmington Island.

Proceeding through Lazaretto Creek, Tybee River and Wilmington Narrows, to Scriven’s [Screven’s] plantation, two companies, (G and B,) about 115 men, under the command of Capt. Pratt, were landed, with orders to march at once to the southwest end of the island, skirting Turner’s Creek on the right, so as to cover the boat party which was to follow that stream to Wilmington River. Ascending to the junction of Oatland and Turner’s Creeks, the balance of the command, in all about 300 men, was landed at Gibson’s plantation [on Whitemarsh Island].

The first company ashore was directed to move at once to the southwest end of Whitemarsh Island, skirting Turner’s Creek, and with instructions to leave a small picket at the intersection of the roads leading from Gibson’s and Oatlands to Turner’s, till another company should arrive at that point. A third company was to be thrown out on the road to the ferry at Canton’s Bluffs [Causton’s Bluff], to protect the boat party up Oatland Creek. The two remaining companies were to be held in reserve at Gibson’s plantation.

Lieut. Caldwell and sixteen men of the Rhode Island Volunteers, with one light 6-pounder, were left in charge of the steamer. The gun could not be landed on account of the inability of the boat to lie alongside of the landing.

Having proceeded through Turner’s Creek to Wilmington River, I returned by the same route, and landed at Gibson’s. Directly after arriving there, I was informed that our patrols had discovered the enemy in force at or near Fleetwood’s, and had seen traces of them all the way to Turner’s. Col. Fenton had already given order for the advance companies to fall back to Gibson’s, and and his dispositions for repelling an attack and covering our embarkation.

After an examination of the ground, at my suggestion, one company was thrown further forward to take shelter behind the hedge and fence surrounding one of the houses. The Colonel had already designated this position, and stationed another in the woods lining the marsh on the left, and the balance behind the houses and trees nearer the landing. After these dispositions were completed, and between 4 and 6 P.M. the rebels, subsequently ascertained to be the Thirteenth Georgia Volunteers, about 800 strong, armed with Enfield rifles, preceded by a heavy line of skirmishers, made an attack upon our position. After our advance line had delivered its fire from the hedge, the bugles sounded “the charge” for the main body; this was confounded with “the retreat,” the advanced line abandoned its cover, and fell back through an open space towards the reserve. While in this somewhat confused condition, the enemy advanced rapidly, pouring in upon us a steady and destructive fire. Our men replied with spirit, from such cover as could be obtained. Order was soon reestablished, and the rebels held in check for an hour or more. After the ineffectual efforts of Col Fenton and myself to form enough men to charge their line and drive them from the hedge, a portion of one company was carried to the right and under cover of the timber skirting that side, the left flank of the enemy was met and frustrated in an attempt to move in that direction; an advance on the left and along the whole line, dislodged the enemy and put him in full flight. He fell back rapidly, leaving several dead and wounded on the field, and was closely pressed for half or three-quarters of a mile. As it was now almost night, it was not deemed advisable to continue the pursuit further. Our skirmishers were gradually drawn in, strong advanced guards were posted well out on both roads, and two companies again posted on the line of the hedge, and the fence to the right. After having made, these admirable dispositions of his force to secure our position, Col. Fenton then directed the removal of our killed and wounded to the steamer; and after holding the ground for three hours, the entire form was quietly embarked without further accident — though it must be confessed had the enemy renewed his attack while we were embarking, we should have suffered great loss.

Our five small boats could not remove more than fifty men every thirty minutes, and the steamer lay in such a position that the six-pounder could not be brought to bear without jeopardizing the lives of our own people.

Our loss is ten killed and thirty-five wounded. Among the former is Lieut. and Adjt. Pratt, who fell while gallantly cheering on the men. Lieut. Badger, in command of the advanced guard, was dangerously, if not mortally wounded, and fell into the hands of the enemy; but in the hurry of their retreat he succeeded in effecting his escape.

The loss of the enemy cannot be ascertained; two of their dead were left in our hands. One, mortally wounded, died before we disembarked; the balance were carried off.

I am, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C.H. WILSON,

First Lieutenant T.E. and Chief T.E., Department of the South.

KILLED AT WILMINGTON POINT.

Co. A. — Minor Pratt, Adjutant; Levi Conden, left temple; Asa Atherton, through head.
Co. B. — George Sparbuck, right lung; Charles A. Balley, throat; A. Vandenstack, right lung and right arm; Dessa Kapple, back and heart.
Co. H. — James E. Barton, right cheek and head.
Co. I. — Edwin Ayers, left thigh.
Co. K. — Eli Myers, lungs and back; —– Pestye, left side.
Co. A . — Carlos Delong, left arm and hip; Henry W. Caldwell, right breast and back; Warren Cole, through both hips; Aylmer Jennings, left thigh; Fred. Shillinger, left thigh; Barney Collins, right hand.
Co. C — Lieut. Badger, wounded in body, (mortally;) Franklin Moore, left foot; Silas Lurner, through the body; Ezekiel Cramer, right hand; Constantine Schloppi, left leg; Amos C. Walker, right leg; Lyman A. Andrews, right hip; Lewis Piper, left thigh.
Co. D — P.H. Hankinson, left wrist: Walter D. Smith, Engineer corps, left arm and back: Nicholas Carlin, right thigh; Andrew J. Coborne, inferior maxillary; James Cooper, right thigh.
Co. I — Wm. B. Golf, right shoulder and bach 5 Walter S. Ryans, hypogastric region; John R. Bunting, left ankle; Thos. Plinstock, left hand.
Co. K — Second Lieut. George Jennings, left leg.

There being a want of suitable hospital accommodations at Tybee, the wounded, by direction of Brigade-Surgeon J.J. Craven, were brought down here this morning on the Honduras to the general hospital.

The fact that the enemy fled, leaving us the field, notwithstanding their superior force, is regarded as having given us the best of the affray.

The Atlantic is just in, with New-York dates of the 14th inst.

The Oriental goes North to-day, carrying the mails and rebel officers, and 150 rebel prisoners,

J.M.W.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Colonel William M. Fenton, 8th Michigan Infantry also filed a report from the Honduras.

Colonel William M. Fenton, 8th Michigan Infantry, led skirmishes against Confederate troops from Causton's Bluff.

Colonel William M. Fenton, 8th Michigan Infantry, led skirmishes against Confederate troops from Causton’s Bluff.

Report of Col. William M. Fenton, Eighth Michigan Infantry. Headquarters Michigan Volunteers,

On Board Steamer Honduras,

Off Wilmington Island, Ga., April 16,1862—11 p. m. 

Sir: I have the honor to report, for the information of the general commanding, that, in compliance with Special Orders, No. 41, I embarked with seven companies of the Eighth Michigan Regiment as an escort to Lieut. J. H. Wilson,Topographical Engineers, on a reconnaissance of Wilmington Island. Two companies, under command of Captain Pratt, were landed at Screven’s plantation, with orders from Lieutenant Wilson to skirt Turner’s Creek; the other live companies were landed at Gibson’s plantation. Two of these companies were ordered to skirt Turner’s Creek; a third was to take the road to the right toward ferry at Carston’s Bluff to protect boat party up Oatland Creek, and the remainder to secure the landing. After one company of the five was landed Lieutenant Wilson proceeded in a boat up Turner’s Creek. Owing to the small number of boats and the distance from the steamer (which was grounded) some delay occurred in the disembarkation. I directed Lieutenant Colonel Graves to follow with the second company to skirt Turner’s Creek, but being misdirected he took the road to the right toward Carston’s Bluff, and on landing with the remaining companies I received information from him that the enemy were in force at Fleetwood’s plantation and to the left of the wood. This rendered the reconnaissance of Oatland Creek with boat unsafe, and I ordered the companies all in, and stationing the remaining companies to guard against an attack at our landing sent out strong pickets on both roads. I believe the advance of company to the right instead of along Turner’s Creek saved my command, as it sooner enabled me to post the men to advantage and take a position from which the enemy’s approach could be observed. The enemy proved to be the Thirteenth Georgia, about 800 strong, armed with Enfield rifles. As they approached (about 4 o’clock p. m.) with a strong body of skirmishers in the skirt of woods below the road the companies I had stationed to the right and left of the road, in accordance with my instructions, opened fire. I immediately sounded the charge for advance of companies in the rear of first line. The first line, mistaking the signal, fell back to the next cover. A constant and effective fire was kept up on both sides from cover of trees and bushes for an hour or more. Lieutenant Wilson, who had returned with boat party, here proved of great service to me. He took a party at my request to the left, and I ordered a company to the right to flank the enemy. Both operations were successful, and in a few moments the enemy retreated in confusion, leaving several dead on the field, followed by our men with loud cheers.

It being now about sunset I recalled our troops, and giving to Lieutenant Wilson the command of pickets stationed to guard against surprise, formed the companies in line as originally posted, sent the dead and wounded in boats to the ships, and gradually and very quietly under cover of night withdrawing the men sent them on board as fast as our limited transportation would allow. At the last trip of the boats I embarked, accompanied by Lieutenant Wilson, Lieutenant Colonel Graves, and the remainder of my command, at about 10 o’clock p. m., and immediately brought on board the two companies left at Screven’s plantation. After the enemy retreated we were unmolested. It is due to the officers and men of the command to say that generally they behaved with cool and intrepid courage. Adjutant Pratt fell dead near my side, gallantly fighting musket in hand and cheering on the men. Our loss, I regret to say, was comparatively heavy—10 killed and 35 wounded out of a command of 300 men. Among the wounded is Acting Lieutenant Badger, of Company C, who was in charge of the advanced picket, and exhibited undaunted courage. He with one of his men was made prisoner. Both escaped, and were brought in when the enemy retreated.

The captain of the Honduras is deserving of great credit for his kind attention to the wounded. Indeed he afforded us every facility for the comfort of officers and men in his power. I respectfully refer to Lieutenant Wilson’s report, which I have road, and contains some facts not embraced in this report, among others in relation to the men detailed in charge of the field piece on board ship, who were vigilant and attentive.

Herewith is transmitted a list of casualties.*

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

WM. M. FENTON,
Colonel, Commanding.

Lieut. W. L. M. Burger,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Tybee Island.

Again, the engagement on Whitemash alerted all regiments manning the batteries around Savannah.  Private Isaiah Smith at Beaulieu Battery  was called out in the middle of the night.

Thursday April the 17th 1862
I got up at 4 Oclock in the morning. We was ordered to cook one days rashing to go to Whitmarsh Island as the enemy had made an attact on our men but we did [not] get to go. I went on Co Drill at 9 Oclock – Isaiah Smith

At Camp Tattnall, the 29th Georgia Regiment was dispatched to reinforce Causton’s Bluff.  Berrien Minute Men Company D, and the 29th Georgia Regiment would take up station at Causton’s Bluff  and do picket duty on Whitemarsh Island and at Caper’s Battery. At the same time, and unbeknownst to the Confederate command, the 8th Michigan Infantry embarked on the USS Ben Deford for transportation back to Beaufort, SC.

A soldier of the 29th Georgia Regiment, Lieutenant Thomas J. Perry, wrote  to the Rome Courier newspaper from Causton’s Bluff:

Our Savannah Correspondence.

Causton’s Bluff, near Savannah,
April 19, 1862.

Dear Courier: Our Regiment was sent down here Wednesday night [April 16], to reinforce the 13th Georgia Regiment who had a fight with the Federals the evening before, on Whitmarsh Island [Whitemarsh Island], an account of which you have doubtless seen in the city papers.

But as the Yankees left the Island we were put to work on the fortifications here, and our tents sent down, so we will have to remain. This is a beautiful place, but it is very, objectionable, on account of the sand flies and gnats, which are exceedingly troublesome. The bluff is on what is called St. Augustine Creek. It is about as wide as Coosa River at low tide, and is navigable for vessels drawing twelve feet water.

Thunderbolt Battery is just below us on the same creek, Oakland Island [Oatland] is just opposite us and Whitmarsh just back of it, a small creek dividing them; Wilmington Island is still lower down. The Federals are trying to get possession of Whitemarsh and Oakland Islands, to erect a battery in order to shell out the battery here, and then take our guns and shell out Fort Jackson, and the city would then of course fall into their hands.— This is believed to be their programme.

Our company came down here thro’ a mistake of Col. [William J.] Young’s. We were detailed to guard the Depot to prevent the six months troops from returning but as we are here we will probably remain. Some of the Boys are returning from Augusta, and report the others improving- W. H. Mitchell, J. C. Andrews and W. E. Payne have returned this morning. Sixty-six have re-enlisted for the war. It takes no Conscription bill to make them do their duty.

Related Posts:

Causton’s Bluff Part 1: The Key to Savannah

Causton’s Bluff Part 1: The Key to Savannah

In the spring and summer of  1862, the Berrien Minute Men, Company D (later Company K), 29th Georgia Regiment were stationed at Causton’s Bluff near Savannah, GA. Company D was  the second of two companies known as the Berrien Minute Men, recruited from Berrien County, GA during the Civil War.  In the early months of the war, the Campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  were made along the Georgia coast, with the 13th Regiment at Brunswick,  then at Sapelo Island, and Darien, GA.  By early 1862 The Berrien Minute Men,  having gotten “regulated” into the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment ,  were sent to the Savannah, GA area to Camp Wilson, and Camp Tattnall.  From there, the first company of Berrien Minute Men, Company C (later Company G) would go on to stations at Fort Jackson, then Lawton Battery on Smith’s Island in the Savannah River, while Company D went to Causton’s Bluff.

Preceeding the war,  Causton’s Bluff Plantation and allied Debtford Plantation comprised 700 acres of rice fields, owned by Robert Habersham and cultivated by his slaves.  Remnants of the rice fields on the marshes adjacent to the bluff can still be seen in satellite images.

Remnants of rice fields adjacent to Causton's Bluff are still visible in satellite images.

Remnants of rice fields adjacent to Causton’s Bluff are still visible in satellite images.

Causton’s Bluff had been a considered a point of vulnerability in Savannah’s defenses since before the Revolutionary War, “on account of the landing being good, and approachable by water two ways.” “This twenty to thirty foot bluff strategically commanded the rear approach to Fort Jackson, on the Savannah River, and the approach to the part of the eastern lines of the city.”   Union commanders regarded an assault on Causton’s Bluff as  “the key to Savannah.” The bluff, about three miles east of Savannah, overlooked St. Augustine Creek and Whitemarsh Island (pronounced Whitmarsh Island).

Map of Causton's Bluff Plantation showing location of rice mill, mansion, negro settlement, ferry landing, and Fort Barton (name given to Causton's Bluff Battery in 1863)

Map of Causton’s Bluff Plantation showing location of rice mill, mansion, “negro settlement”, ferry landing, and Fort Bartow (name given to Causton’s Bluff Battery in 1863) 

Causton’s Bluff had been garrisoned since December 1861 by   the 13th Georgia Infantry, also known as the Bartow Light Infantry, under the command of Colonel Marcellus Douglass  On Christmas Eve, 1861 Cyrus Jenkins, a soldier of the Montgomery Guards, 13th Georgia Regiment wrote, “We are encamped on a beautiful plain surrounded by a nice grove of live oak cedar & pine, with the moss hanging from every limb & branch. The weather is very warm, pleasant without a coat…water very strongly tinctured with lime.”  The water was supplied by a cold flowing Artesian well, which still attracted visitors to Causton’s Bluff for decades after the war.  B. H. Richardson, writing in 1886, claimed “few prettier or more romantic spots can be found any where. The grove at this bluff is undoubtedly the grandest and loveliest to be found any where in this immediate section. It is composed of magnificent live oaks of mammoth proportions, whose stalwart limbs are clothed in the Spanish moss, which is so generally admired by all strangers. One could almost imagine that it had been designed and laid out by a skillful landscape gardener, the arrangement is so artistic. The grove however is of natural growth, and the beautiful arrangement is of nature’s cunning hand…”

Eleven miles to the east of Causton’s Bluff on Tybee Island, GA, Union soldiers agreed that the weather was fine.

Horace-Porter

Captain Horace Porter, the engineer-officer of the regular army on Tybee Island, later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of Chickamauga.

In a letter of December 26, 1861, Captain Horace Porter, 46th NY Regiment wrote to his mother, “It is still so warm that you don’t even need a coat.” In another letter, Captain Porter added, “One disadvantage is that this place is full of mice. During the night they constantly jump over our heads.”  The 46th NY Regiment had “in a total strength of 35 officers and 673 men, 16 washerwomen, and campfollowers with 15 horses” had arrived on November 9, 1861 on the steamship Cahaba.

Another U.S. soldier on  Tybee,  a private of the 7th Connecticut Volunteers,  added, “fleas bite continually.

 

Fredrick Dennison, Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery wrote,

Prior to the war, Tybee Island, though beautiful in itself with its oaks, pines, palmettoes, jungles, wild plums, yams and vines, was but a semi-civilized region. The wild hogs we found there, made still more wild by the thunder of our guns in the siege of Pulaski, were not wholly exterminated during the war-strokes. With great difficulty our boys found them within good rifle-range. Perhaps Captain Churchhill will not soon forget how, at a later date, as he was crossing the island on horseback, these savage swine deployed on his flank from the thicket, so frightening the horse that he dashed like a comet through the sand-hills and trees, giving the Captain a ride a la John Gilpin. Tybee yams and wild fruit failed to make sweet or tender pork.

The Federals  had occupied Tybee Island on November 24, 1861 after it was abandoned by the Confederates, and through the winter of 1861-62 the island was garrisoned by the 46th New York Regiment. The 46th NY Regiment had been recruited in New York City and was mustered into the U. S. service in the summer of 1861 under the command of Col. Rudolph Rosa.  The regiment was composed entirely of German immigrants.

There was the savor of German cooking in the mess and the sound of German songs in their camp. All the commands were given in German at drill. The various bugle calls such as reveille and taps, were the same as those used in the German army,” recalled Captain Horace Porter, the engineer-officer of the regular army. Not only that, just as in Germany, the soldiers addressed their superiors as “Herr Major” and “Herr General.” The companies were numbered after the German fashion from one to ten. The “Regimental Order Book” was written in German.  – Ernst Mettendorf,  Zwischen Triumph und Desaster : Ein deutshes Regiment im amerikanischen Burgerkrieg.

The bivouac of the 13th GA Regiment on Causton’s Bluff must have seemed all the more charming to Private Jenkins considering the regiment’s experiences of the previous year. The 13th GA Regiment had headed into war in Virginia armed with flintlock muskets, marching through mountains, camp fever, short rations, wet, muddy, weary,  “gun and cartridge box for a pillow,” sometimes “crawling from one grub, shrub, cragg and cliff to another,” sometimes cold and frozen.  Despite the relatively pleasant winter weather on the bluff, in the following week Jenkins came down quite ill.  He was sick “with evident symptoms of cold, feverish sensations and general debility” followed by “high inflamation of stomach and bowels.” On New Year’s Eve, Jenkins wrote, “Still no better. Evening with high fever. After taking three opium pills I find that I am getting still worse.” Jenkins was furloughed to Macon, GA for recuperation.

By  mid-February, 1862 Private Jenkins was well enough to rejoin his unit on Causton’s Bluff:

” I again return to camp where I met my comerades  which was like the meeting of my kin at home. I found them busily engaged at work upon a sand battery near the camp. One company relieved another so that each company works half each day & occasionly some companies work at night. The battery is to consist of five guns. 4 magazines & one skuttle [scuttle] for the reliefs safety.” – Pvt Cyrus Jenkins

The 46th NY Regiment and other U.S. regiments on Tybee Island would soon challenge the defenses of Savannah.

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