The Johns Island South Carolina Conservancy has been dissolved as of 2018

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Posted : November 12, 2020

The Johns Island Conservancy has been dissolved as of 2018

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The Johns Island Conservancy is dedicated to preserving and safeguarding the natural habitat, wildlife, historical and agricultural resources of Johns Island. We pursue this goal through research, education, community networking, and conservation action programs


The Battle of Burden’s Causeway – Part I, Prelude

(Printed on January 10, 2015, in The Johns Island Conservancy, by Colin)

By mid-1864, the last full year of the war, the tide had turned distinctly against the Confederacy. Sherman had begun the campaign to take Atlanta and march to the sea. But Charleston had yet to be taken.  And the largest battle fought on Johns Island was about to begin. As part of the effort to take Charleston, Union forces began an offensive that would engage forces on James and Johns Island as well as on the mainland up the North Edisto River.


Typical Civil War locomotive
Typical Civil War locomotive



The railroad between Savannah and Charleston was the main route for supplies and reinforcements into the city of Charleston. Despite numerous attempts to cut it earlier in the war, it remained intact. The recently appointed commander of the Union’s Department of the South, Major General John Foster, decided to launch a major offensive against Charleston in July 1864. The objective was to capture James Island and to engage Southern forces to prevent them from participating in actions in other theaters.  

The offensive was planned in three parts. The main effort was an assault on James Island including an amphibious landing at Fort Johnson. The second was a landing at White Point on the North Edisto River across from Wadmalaw Island. The third attack was a landing on Seabrook Island and then march up Bohicket Road on Johns Island. Both these landings were aimed at cutting the railroad to prevent Rebel reinforcements from participating in the main battle on James Island. The Johns Island effort was aimed at the railroad bridge on the mainland at Rantowles Creek (1.5 miles west of Main Rd. on today’s Savannah Highway / Rt. 17).


Landing on Seabrook Island


Col Slidell, commander of the 144th NY was only 26 at the time of the battle
Col Slidell, commander of the 144th NY was only 26 at the time of the battle



The Union forces began landing on Seabrook Island on the morning of Saturday, July 2 1864 continuing into early the next day. The troops were under the command of Brigadier General John P. Hatch. They consisted of the following units:

  • 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel William H. Davis
  • 144th New York Volunteers, Colonel W. J. Slidell
  • 56th New York Infantry, Colonel Charles H. Van Wyck,
  • 157th   New York, Colonel Philip P. Brown, Jr.
  • 26th New York Infantry (Colored), Colonel William Silliman
  • 9th US Colored Regiment, Maryland Volunteers
  • 3rd New York Artillery (4 guns), Captain Wildt’s
  • 4th Massachusetts Cavalry (2 companies) , Maj. D.B. Keith
  • Engineer Unit, Bridge Train

Altogether, there were about 5,000 Union troops.


On Saturday, July 2, the first regiment to land, the 144th New York, marched up Seabrook Island toward Haulover Cut while the other troops were still landing. They forded the Cut, drove off the Confederate pickets, and secured the earthworks on the Johns Island side (where the Rosebank Farm Stand was located until recently). This opening action was similar to what occurred earlier in February at the Battle of Haulover Cut.  However this time, the Confederates had fewer forces readily available and lacked the leadership of Captain Humphreys and Captain Jenkins who had commanded the first Rebels in the earlier battle. Now a Major, Jenkins still commanded the forces on Johns Island but was off the Island.


By Sunday morning, July 3, engineers repaired the bridge across the Cut and the additional Union regiments had been landed. Under the command of Col. Davis, they marched up Bohicket Road (today’s Betsey Kerrison Pkwy) to the Cocked Hat, at the intersection with River Road.  Confederate reinforcements forces under the temporary command of Captain Edward L. Parker of the Marion Artillery had begun to gather but were still spread out between Church Flats on the mainland and the Episcopal Church near the bridge to Wadmalaw. There were also false reports of landings on Wadmalaw which made Capt. Parker cautious of moving too far forward.

Change of Plans

Major Davis sent scouts up Bohicket Road towards the Presbyterian Church where they engaged Confederate pickets. He was unsure of what opposition he faced and was wary from his side’s previous defeat in February.   The day was hot and the Union forces were exhausted from the landing and march up to the Cocked Hat. So they entrenched and camped there for the night. Meanwhile, the Confederates realizing the large force they faced, burned down the Orange Hill Plantation house, about a mile north of the Union camp. This had been the headquarters of the Stono Brigade. It was said the fire could be seen as far away as Charleston, signaling the Union invasion. 

By Monday morning, July 4, General Hatch had taken personal command of the Union troops. He had received reports that some Union reinforcements, including artillery, had landed at Legareville on the east side of Johns Island. With the old plantation house smoldering on his front to the north up Bohicket Rd, and still unsure of the opposition he faced, Gen Hatch decided to change his plans and march east up River Rd. instead.  While unable to attack the railroad in that direction, he could support the landings on James Island and threaten the Confederate flank there. He would also have better access to reinforcements and additional supplies as well as an escape route from Legareville along the Stono River. The uncontested control of the navigable waterways by the Federal Navy was a key element in all actions in the Lowcountry.  

July in the Lowcountry

 Despite having set off at 5 AM, by noon the Union troops had only gone 5 miles up to Brickhouse Plantation at Legareville Rd. (approximately where today’s Bryan Dairy Road is located). Image marching in the still of the Lowcountry’s July heat in a woolen uniform on a dirt road behind hundreds of other pounding feet stirring up the dust. Major Davis reported the men suffered severely from the dust and heat and that I do not remember a hotter day during my service, not even in Mexico. One soldier in the 144th New York recorded the day was marked by the intense heat and the stifling dust and intolerable thirst. On the brighter side, he also wrote One compensation was found in the ripe, juicy plums which at our frequent stops could be had for the reaching. While heavy rain in the midafternoon cooled things off a bit, the now muddy roads made any further progress impossible that day. The Union forces camped there for the night, too exhausted for much of an Independence Day celebration.


The most notable event of the day was the capture of Union surgeon Dr. William T. Robinson.   Doctor Robinson was with Company G of the 104th Pennsylvania Regiment who through some confusion missed the turn at River Rd. and continued up Bohicket Rd. After going a mile or so, Captain Corcoran of Company G realized his error and halted. The doctor convinced the regiment was just ahead, insisted on continuing a bit further where he was captured by some Confederate pickets. After a short engagement with the Confederates, Captain Corcoran’s unit retreated back down Bohicket Rd. where he rejoined the main force.


After his capture Surgeon Robinson was brought to the Charleston jail and interrogated by the Confederate adjutant, Major Charles S. Stringfellow   (coincidently sharing the same surname as Johns Island historian Elizabeth Betty Stringfellow, but no relation.). Nevertheless, he reported his treatment as universally kind and respectable. Almost immediately Union General Foster wrote the Confederate commander, General Sam Jones, seeking repatriation of the surgeon as a medical officer. In the middle of ongoing active combat over the next few weeks, the generals exchanged a polite correspondence over the proprieties’ of war. Eventually, Doctor Robinson was exchanged in August for a Confederate medical officer.

Other Actions

Meanwhile, on July 2 thru 4, the actions on James Island and up the Edisto River had proceeded. The tricky night time amphibious assault on Fort Johnson was beset by problems. Nevertheless, one unit of the 52nd Pennsylvania reached the parapet of the lightly defended Fort Johnson. But in the confusion, the other scattered units had retreated and being unsupported, the Pennsylvanians surrendered, not realizing that even their small group outnumbered the opponents within the fort.  


Another Union force had attacked James Island from Sol Legare Island on July 2.   But making little headway, they retreated back on the 3rd. The Union Navy repeatedly shelled the Confederate batteries on James Island from the Stono River but with little apparent success. The Edisto expedition met stiff opposition on Younges Island and also retreated without ever reaching the railroad or causing any significant damage.

Next Time – Three Days of Battle

By the morning of July 5, 1864, two of the three Federal attacks in the Lowcountry had failed. But on Johns Island, a strong force was halfway up the Island facing scattered, disorganized Confederate opposition. The Federal Navy had full control of the Stono River to support them. The Union was in a good position to take most of the east side of Johns Island and flank the enemy on James Island, threatening Charleston. Next post: three days of battle determines the outcome.



The Battle of Burden’s Causeway – Part II,
Five Days of Battle

(Printed on March 16, 2015, in The Johns Island Conservancy, by Colin)

In early July 1864, 5,000 Union troops landed on Seabrook Island and marched up Johns Island in an effort to flank Confederate forces on James Island and help in the capture of Charleston. By the evening of July 4th, after two days of hard marching in the Lowcountry’s sweltering heat, they were camped around Brickhouse Plantation at the intersection of River Rd and Legareville Rd. (near today’s Bryans Dairy Rd.) 

Opening Skirmish

On the morning of July 5, 1864, the Union forces on Johns Island were in an excellent position. They had established a supply base and line of retreat at Legareville on the Stono River. River Rd was open for many miles east and north where they could secure the west bank of the Stono River and threaten the Confederate forces across the river on James Island. However, Confederate reinforcements had begun to arrive on the north end of Johns Island, and, as importantly, Major John Jenkins the commander of Confederate forces on the Island had returned from leave with his family. A native of Edisto Island, Jenkins had commanded the Confederate forces during the vigorous defense at Haulover Cut in February when outnumbered, they had repulsed a Union force of 4,000 troops during three days of battle. 

On Tuesday morning the 5th, Major Jenkins sent scouts down River Rd to determine the disposition and intent of the enemy. When he learned that the Federals under the command of Brigadier General John P. Hatch were advancing up River Rd. he sent part of his forces to delay their advance. The much larger Federal force consisted of two brigades, one under the command Colonel William Davis of the 104th Pennsylvania Regiment and the other under Brigadier General Rufus Saxton. At the same time, Jenkins took command of the recently arrived 1st Georgia regiment, including some artillery, and marched down Bohicket Rd from Maybank Highway, known then as Fenwick Rd. The Confederates turned left on Edenvale Rd. and came upon the Federal’s flank and rear at the intersection with River Rd called Huntscum’s Corner at the time. There they surprised and routed two companies of the 26th New York Colored Infantry who retreated back southwest to Brickhouse Plantation. By this time the larger Union force of two brigades had advanced up River Rd. almost to Plow Ground Rd. Jenkins action had theoretically cut them off from their supply line at Legareville. 

Their rear under threat, the Union troops halted at Burdens Creek just below Plow Ground Rd. and sent Saxton’s Brigade to repel Jenkins and relieve the 26th regiment. Jenkins realized that his small contingent could never prevail squeezed against the large force to his north and the remainder of the 26th New York to his south. He reversed his route and retreated back up Edenvale and Bohicket. He had accomplished his purpose of diverting and delaying the main Union advance. 

The Battleground Set

Meanwhile, Confederate troops from the 2nd South Carolina and 32nd Georgia regiments had arrived around Waterloo Plantation north of Plow Ground Rd. Federal Brigadier Hatch, unsure of what he faced on his front, entrenched in a strong position at Burdens Causeway with the creek and marsh on his front, the Stono on his right and thick Lowcountry jungle on his left. This is as far as the Union forces would get. By nightfall on the 5th there were hundreds of Confederate troops and 4 pieces of artillery blocking their way. 

Wednesday morning, July 6th, found the Confederates entrenched in the field north of, and parallel to, Plow Ground Rd, The Rebels were about a half-mile from the Union lines along the woods just north of Burden’s Creek along the road. General Saxton’s brigade was still returning from their chase of Major Jenkins at Huntscums Coner the previous day. By then Major Jenkins had circled around Bohicket Rd and down Maybank Highway to take command on the front. He began actively shelling the Union forces with his few artillery pieces. Federal General Hatch had troops reconnoitering the Rebel batteries across the Stono River on James Island. His intent was to establish batteries on Johns Island to fire on them across the river. He also sent a few companies of African American troops forward to test the Confederate defenses. They were driven back by the hot fire of the Confederate batteries and troops. 

The most notable event of the day was the wounding of Colonel Davis who had been in tactical command of the Union forces. He had gone forward to view the Confederate defenses and while looking through his telescope observed a Confederate artillery piece load, aim and fire directly towards his party. Though he ducked behind a small tree he was seriously wounded in his right hand and arm requiring his evacuation to medical facilities in the rear. The overall commander, General Hatch also retired to a more central position of command from the relative safety of a Federal ship in the Stono River. This left Brigadier Saxton in command. 

Nothing major had been accomplished for the day except the reinforcement and strengthening of the Confederate line. On James Island, the opposing forces had continued shelling and firing at each other with casualties but likewise, no significant change in their positions. The main lines on James Island ran east from Battery Pringle on the Stono River across from where the Executive Airport is today. The strong Union line on Johns Island was a bit north of this. The Federals had already flanked the Confederate positions on James Island and had full naval control of the Stono River. 

Day of Fighting

On Thursday, July 7, the Union commander Saxton sent skirmishers out to test the Rebel lines and brought forward his artillery to begin shelling. But after a few hours, the Federal fire slackened and the front was quiet except for occasional exchanges of gunfire. Major Jenkins was surprised that his opponents were not attacking more vigorously as he was outnumbered more than 5 to 1. Finally about 5 PM General Saxton ordered an advance. He sent a group of sharpshooters to engage and distract the enemy on his right while the 26th New York Colored Regiment was ordered forward on the left. The 26th had battled Major Jenkins at Hunstcums Corner two days earlier and had spent most of the next day marching up to the position at Burden’s Creek. They had been resting in the rear of the Federal lines on the morning of the 7th but were ordered forward through the lines to reach their jumping-off point. 

The 26th attacked across the field that is now in the northeast corner of the intersection at River and Plow Ground roads. They succeeded in turning the Confederate line, and if supported properly, would have been able to flank and surround the entire Confederate position. General Saxton had several other fresh regiments readily available to support them but failed to send any forward. The Commander of the 26th, Colonel William Stillman, was also wounded just as they reached the Confederate lines further demoralizing the troops. 

The Confederate troops put up a vigorous defense, especially from the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry Regiment. Troops from the 1st Georgia Regulars were pulled from the center of the Confederate line and moved west to counterattack the 26th. The fighting between the Rebel troops and the African-American regiment was especially fierce because of the enmity between the two. Yet the Federal command continued to fail to press the attack with additional troops despite the weakened Confederate defenses. Finally, the 157th New York was sent forward but only after the 26th had begun to retreat. Union Colonel Davis, who had been wounded and sent to the rear the previous day, noted there was a lack of judgment in handling the troops, a scathing observation by the overly polite standards of written commentary of the day. 

An interesting side note for the 26th Regiment is that the actor and singer Vanessa Williams’ great-great-grandfather, David Carll, served in the 26th and was very likely a participant in the battle of Burden’s Causeway. 

Retreat From Victory

Friday, July 8th saw no change in the position of the opposing forces. Confederate forces continued to be reinforced and Brigadier General B.H. Robertson arrived to take command. He continued to rely on the expert advice of Major Jenkins and Captain John Basnett Legare Walpole of the Stono Scouts. The Federals also received reinforcements and General Hatch was ordered to return to the Island and take direct command of the troops. There were some active artillery exchanges in the morning but no significant fighting occurred that day as each side consolidated their positions. 

General Robertson was determined to go on the offense on July 9th. He formed all of his troops into two lines, the first commanded by Colonel George Harrison of the 32nd Georgia, the second by Major Jenkins. At dawn, Colonel Harrison’s men advanced across the field to attack the Union front line along with Plow Ground. Within a half-hour, he had driven back the Federals, across the bridge over Burdens Creek to their second line on the south side of the creek and marsh. Though Jenkins had been ordered to remain in reserve in case Harrison’s troops were repulsed, he nevertheless advanced in support. The full Confederate force including all their artillery pressed hard on the Union defenses across the creek. But being heavily outnumbered and attacking across the swampy ground against strong entrenchments the Confederates were unable to advance any further. General Robertson ordered Harrison and Jenkins to end the assault for the day and hold the ground they had gained. 

Despite the setback, the Federals were in a good position. They defended a strong line with a creek and marsh at their front, the river on one flank and impassable woods and swamp on the other. They heavily outnumbered the Confederates. They could have safely built batteries on Johns Island (near today’s executive airport) and shelled the Confederate defenses across the Stono on James Island. However, the Federals had had enough. On the night of the 9th they retreated back down River Rd. and out to Legareville where they boarded transports and left Johns Island, thereby snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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