THE JOHNS ISLAND
By James W. Towart
It is not the intent of this chapter to dwell on the sources of Maple Leaf artifacts which were personal items that the soldiers brought from home, or those which were sent from home, or which they purchased from sutler stores, or made for themselves. The focus here is on civilian artifacts, such as chinaware plates, cups, glassware, and eating utensils of the kind found to date in the baggage of the officers of the 112th Regiment of New York Volunteers.
At first glance, one might conclude that these items could have been picked up almost anywhere along the military route of the 112th and let it go at that. But it may be possible by doing some historical detective work to narrow down the possible sources thereby increasing the potential for future research and adding historical significance and interest to these artifacts. One way to begin to analyze this problem is to make some provisional assumptions which can be either confirmed or modified by future artifact recovery and additional historical research.
The civilian dinnerware artifacts under consideration include items of fine quality with some pieces imported from Europe and the Orient. It can be assumed provisionally that these kind of things would most likely have been found in the homes of well-to-do families, and considering where the 112th had been, they were more likely to have been rural family homes. It is probably reasonable to assume that these items would be more likely to be available from homes in areas least affected by the ravages of war than those located in areas marched or fought over by masses of troops.
Another provisional assumption is that the most likely environment for infantry soldiers to collect dinnerware would be one of low stress marching conditions and the absence of imminent combat. Two other related factors would be the availability of baggage wagons and/or a nearby base camp. The converse would provide the least likely environment for plate collection: forced marches and combat which created a high-stress level that drove the soldiers to the limits of their endurance. In these circumstances survival was the priority of both officers and men: food, water, and sleep. Also, these conditions separated the soldiers from their baggage wagons and typically caused them to throw away any non essential items they were carrying.
Another tentative assumption that can be made is that it was more likely for infantry officers to acquire civilian dinnerware artifacts than enlisted men. The main advantages that officers had were: substantially higher pay which would enable them to purchase civilian items, the ability to maintain personal baggage such as boxes and suitcases, priority access to space on baggage wagons, and the use of enlisted men as personal servants. These soldiers cooked, set up and took down the officers' tents, packed and looked after their baggage, and foraged for supplemental provisions (and chinaware?). On the other hand the enlisted man's lot was hard: his pay was at the absolute poverty level, and when his unit made a move he was expected to abandon or send home all personal belongings except the contents of his pockets and knapsack.
The possible sources of the artifacts in question will now be prioritized and considered in descending order of most likely to least likely,based on the provisional assumptions that have been made.
The Likely Source of Artifacts.
The expedition to Johns Island, South Carolina. in February 1864, presented the 112th and the 169th New York Regiments with some ideal conditions for plate collecting. Although this exercise had a serious military objective, it turned out for these regiments to be a leisurely stroll through some large low country slave plantations relatively untouched by the war.
The account of this expedition is based on William L. Hyde's History of the 112th Regiment of New York Volunteers, except as noted.1
The objective of the expedition was to strike quickly across Johns Island and destroy the Savannah & Charleston Railroad bridge at Rantowle's Creek, an action which would threaten Charleston from the rear, thereby creating a diversion for the Confederates and cause them to withhold troops which might otherwise be sent to oppose General Truman Seymour's expedition to Jacksonville, Florida.
The commander of the expedition was Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig and his force consisted of three brigades made up of units immediately available. These were the First Brigade from Gordon's Division, commanded by Colonel Leopold von Gilsa; the Second Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames2 and Foster's Brigade of Vogdes' Division; commanded by Colonel Jeremiah C. Drake. Foster's Brigade on this expedition consisted of the 112th and 169th New York Regiments. According to Chaplain Hyde's account, the 117th New York was temporarily attached for this mission. The 13th Indiana Regiment, normally part of Foster's Brigade, was assigned to picket duty on nearby Black Island and so did not go on the expedition.3
On February 7, the same day that General Seymour's troops were landing in Jacksonville, General Schimmelfennig's troops on Folly Island were told to get ready to march and to take three days' rations. That night they ferried over the Stono River on two steamers to Kiawah Island and when they were all across they marched along the Island until 6 A.M. They rested all day at the Vanderhorst Plantation and moved on at 10 P.M. They waded across the shoal between Kiawah and Seabrook Island at 2 A.M. on February 9. Once across, they resumed the march and emerged from the woods soon after daybreak and passed through the large Seabrook family cotton plantation. The white planters and the working slaves had left, leaving only elderly slaves as caretakers. It was not uncommon for low country plantation owners to abandon their possessions and homes at the start of the war in order to remove themselves and their slaves to the relative safety of their inland plantations.4 Moreover, in the case of Kiawah, Seabrook and Johns Islands, evacuation of all of the inhabitants was ordered by the Confederate Army in the autumn of 186 l. 5
The Federal forces advanced to the bridge over the Haulover Cut, which divided Seabrook and Johns Island, arriving there early on the morning of February 9. The 142nd and the 157th New York Regiments sent skirmishers across the bridge and they drove back the Confederate pickets commanded by Major John Jenkins.6 The remainder of the Federal column then crossed over the bridge and advanced about a quarter of a mile along Bohicket Road. At that point, they stopped and began to throw up breastworks as a protection against a counterattack.
On the next morning, the First and Second Brigades advanced slowly up Bohicket Road, extending their line to the right. The obvious threat posed by these Federal troops outflanking the small force of Confederate defenders led Brigadier General Henry A. Wise to withdraw his troops to the vicinity of a triangular-shaped road intersection called Cocked Hat, about four miles from Haulover Cut. At that point, the Confederates established a new defensive line and awaited reinforcements. However, the Federal force did not follow the Confederates as they withdrew, remaining near their breastworks.
On the morning of February 11 the Federal forces were divided into two groups. The First and Second Brigade advanced up the Bohicket Road which was the most direct route to the Rantowle's Railroad Bridge. At the same time Foster's Brigade was sent off to the right:
across a bayou and through a plantation belonging to the Legarre (sic; Legare, pronounced Legree) family, about five miles.7
The 112th New York Regiment apparently stopped near the plantation house, which Chaplain Hyde described as a fine specimen of a Southern gentleman's country residence. 8
That afternoon about 3:30 PM the First and Second Brigades encountered the newly reinforced Confederate troops near the Cocked Hat intersection.9 An artillery duel ensued for about an hour. The Federal firing diminished. and finally stopped about 5 PM. At that time all the Federal brigades were withdrawn to their breastworks. The Confederate forces did not pursue them. That night about midnight the Federal troops crossed over the Haulover Cut Bridge and burned it and a nearby plantation house belonging to William Seabrook. They were back in their Folly Island camps by the afternoon of February 12th.
During this expedition, the 112th New York regiment was on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands
and southern Johns Island for five days. During that time they apparently were not
involved in any of the fighting. They were, however, close to 17 abandoned plantation
houses. Elizabeth H. Stringfellow, a Johns Island resident and historian, has
researched the location of these antebellum plantations, plantation houses, and their
owners on southern Johns Island, Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island. A list of the
plantations located close to the line of march of the New York 112th Regiment is to be
found in Appendix B.
Less Likely Sources of Artifacts.
The first posting of the 112th during its war service was Suffolk, Virginia, in early October 1862, and they remained there until the end of June 1863. The town was located on the south bank of the Nansemond River about 18 miles southwest of Norfolk. It had a pre-war population of about 2,000 but during the war it was devoid of men between the ages of 18 and 40. The population was hostile to the Federal troops. The town was surrounded by army camps and fortifications, which the soldiers spent a considerable amount of time working on. The 112th New York was attached to Foster's Brigade along with the 169th New York and the 13th Indiana.
The brigade made two forced marches of about 20 miles that winter, to Zuni in November and to Deserted House in January. These marches were very hard on the inexperienced soldiers. Aside from these two excursions, the regiments remained in their camps that winter. The 1 l2th had many citizens from Chautauqua County as visitors and many officers had wives and children with them. The visitors were ordered to go home in early April. The environment for collecting chinaware up to this time was not very good, but had any non essential civilian possessions been acquired they probably would have been sent home with the visitors.
On May 3, the 112th New York Regiment made a hard march along the Summerton Road with the Federal cavalry burning the houses along the route ahead of them. Later in May they were sent out near Carrsville to tear up the railroad tracks and on the way back Chaplain Hyde says they had:
Good success at foraging, load of nice hams, 2 casks applejack, cask of mulberry sine and a horse.
This is indicative of the soldiers' priorities under those conditions.
The final march from Suffolk started on June 12, and the soldiers marched to South Quay, Carrsville, and Franklin. Chaplain Hyde commented on the needless severity of this march which he attributed to the officers' "sheer ignorance of how to march men." By and large, this would not have been a particularly good trip for collecting plates.
At the end of June, Foster's Brigade marched to Norfolk and took steamers to White House Landing on the Pamunky River. The objective of this expedition was to march to Hanover Court House, north of Richmond, to create a diversion from General Lee's invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. On July 1st they marched for King William Court House and then on to Hanover Court House. As Chaplain Hyde described it, this was another hard march:
Men and officers fell out by scores from sheer exhaustion. Not half of any brigade was in line (that night) .. one company of the 112th had four privates, the largest 22, and several regiments could only muster about a single company. All the regimental commanders of our brigade protested to General Getty against such marching.
On the way to Hanover Courthouse on July 3 and on the way back on July 5, the brigade camped on the Taylor Plantation of 3,000 acres. Mr. Taylor was openly defiant toward the Yankee intruders, but he implored them to place guards over his property. Chaplain Hyde wrote:
His gray hairs saved him from personal violence; but all who wished helped themselves freely to whatever he had. His well stored ice house gave the whole Division abundance during our stay.
Whether the plunder included property other than provisions is not known, but it appears to be the most likely source for obtaining household artifacts on this expedition. The march back went through Williamsburg and ended in Yorktown. This too was a long and difficult march and Chaplain Hyde reported that several wagons broke down and were abandoned.
Least Likely Sources.
The least likely sources of dinnerware artifacts were Folly Island, South Carolina, and Palatka, Florida.
Foster's Brigade reached Folly Island in August 1863, and left in February 1864, for Jacksonville, Florida. While stationed on Folly Island, various units of the Brigade were assigned duty on Morris Island, Black Island and Long Island. These islands were spits of sand surrounded by sea or marsh and there were no houses on them that could contain civilian artifacts. In addition, the troops on Folly Island were severely restricted in their movements. Chaplain Hyde has this to say about the situation:
On Folly Island it was a penal offense to be found outside Regimental camp guard; an officer could not go to either extreme of the Island, without a pass signed by two generals, and could not visit Morris Island without a pass from Department Headquarters.
An archaeological study of a Civil War camp site on Folly Island, conducted by the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, concluded among other things, with these comments on the paucity of civilian artifacts:
Artifacts testify to the soldiers' Spartan existence. The great lack of civilian-related artifacts and personal artifacts gives clear evidence of the isolated nature of the camp. The lack of civilian ceramics, other than alcoholic beverage containers, clearly was the result of the soldiers isolation. It is reasonable to assume that more ceramics would have been "procured" for personal use had there been an opportunity to come in contact with the civilian population. On Folly Island the only way to procure civilian items would have been through sutlers or packages from home.10
The baggage and camp equipment of Foster's Brigade was loaded onto the Maple leaf at Folly Island on March 26, 1864, and remained in the ship's holds until she sank on April 1 in the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. Shortly before the sinking, the ship had carried a troop of cavalry on the main deck to Palatka, where it was unloaded. No record has been found of any cargo being loaded at Palatka, civilian or military.
However, had cargo been loaded there it would most likely have been stowed on the main deck, which was clear and available. Any such cargo would have been lost when the ship sank. It is unlikely that any Palatka cargo would have been stowed in the holds, for several reasons - the crew testified at the Board Survey that the holds were full and contained the property of Foster's Brigade loaded at Folly Island; the trip from Palatka to Jacksonville was only expected to take a few hours and the weather was fine and all the cargo in the holds was to be unloaded at Jacksonville; it does not seem reasonable that the baggage guard placed on board at Jacksonville would have permitted new cargo to be stowed with their baggage when there was no particular reason to do so, particularly civilian goods.
Analysis of the history of the 112th New York Regiment leads to the tentative conclusion that the expedition to Johns Island near Charleston was the most likely source for the civilian dinnerware found so far in the baggage of the officers of that regiment. The principle reasons for this conclusion are - the route they followed passed to about 17 low country plantation houses, all of which were unoccupied except for some elderly slaves left behind by the owners; the march was leisurely and not far from their camp on Folly Island; the homes were in an area that had not been fought over or occupied by large numbers of soldiers of either side; and finally the soldiers had little opportunity to send artifacts home because they left for Jacksonville only 11 days after the expedition. Some artifacts could have been acquired while the regiment was in Virginia, particularly at the Taylor Plantation. However, the conditions the regiment experienced in Virginia were generally not conducive to collecting luxury chinaware.
Future research and recovery of additional artifact from the Maple Leaf may provide some additional clues to this historical detective work. For instance:
1Chaplain Hyde's account contains two deficiencies. First, it does not mention any activities of the soldiers on Johns Island on February 10. Second, the account of the military maneuvers during the "Battle of Haulover Cut" is scant and the information was obtained from the Official Records as noted below.
PLANTATIONS ON THE ROUTE OF MARCH OF THE 112TH NEW YORK
INFANTRY VOL. FEBRUARY 8-12, 1964
By James W. Towart
During this Union Army expedition to Johns Island, South Carolina, the 112th New York Regiment traveled from Folly Island to the vicinity of Legareville and back. The route they followed passed a number of plantations. These plantations and their owners in 1860 are listed below.
· Kiawah Plantation - Arnoldus Vanderhorst
· Rabbit Point Plantation - George Washington Seabrook.
Johns Island, Near Bohicket Road:
· Haulover Plantation (two houses, one burned) - William Seabrook.
· Hope Plantation - William E. Jenkins.
· Hopkinson Plantation - James Hopkinson.
· Walnut Hill Plantation - John W. Jenkins.
Johns Island, Near Old Plantation Road:
· Mullet Hall Plantation (Two houses)
-Lydia B. Legare, James C. Legare.
· Ben Roper Plantation - Benjamin Dart Roper.
· The Oaks Plantation - Micah Jenkins Roper.
· Briars Plantation - Benjamin Dart Roper, Junior.
· Yellow House Plantation - Julia Grece Roper married to Edward B. Bryan.
· Chaplins Plantation - Mary Jenkins Roper Neyle.
Johns Island, Near Legareville:
· The Myrtles Plantation - Mrs. Benjamin Dart Roper, Senior.
· Contentment Hall Plantation - Dr. Edwin Matthew, Mrs. Bejamin Matthew.
· Legare Plantation - Solomon Legare.
Source: Elizabeth Stringfellow, Johns Island resident and historian.
The Maple Leaf. Copyright 1993 by St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc. Contact Keith Holland