At Camp in Cape May, NJ (South of Buena)
I beg to report on operations of the 44th Georgia this weekend at the Cold Spring Village where the unit engaged the enemy in two hard-fought engagements. I tell you proudly that with smiling fortune and unstoppable fortitude, the Village rested in Confederate hands by sunset Sunday.
Our advance troops entered the Village Friday evening and set up camp beneath a modest tree line in front of the community’s main house. The next morning, the remaining members had reported. Answering roll call this weekend were Capt. C. VanBuskirk, Lt. A. Mallette, 1st Sgt (brevetted) K. Doran, Ord. Sgt. K. Haywood, 1st Cpl.(brevetted) J. Marshall, 3rd Cpl. (brevetted) B. Lanza, 4th Cpl. (brevetted) A. Lolli, 4th Cpl. (brevetted) K. VanBuskirk, Jr., Pvt. S. McColgan, Drummer W. Lanza, and Yours Truly. Camp was graced with the presence of Mrs. E. VanBuskirk and Mrs. M. Ringel. Also joining was a future recruit John VanBuskirk who was did pass the over 18 requirement (in inches).
The weekend weather was typical for locales on the seashore. (Cape May is the tip of the southern New Jersey peninsula that curves into the Atlantic south of Buena.) There was brilliant sunshine, heat and humidity both days, with Sunday being the hottest.
Cold Spring Village is a bucolic setting, a community with several dozen modest Dutch Colonial buildings made of clapboard and painted in the Mennonite tradition of dour colors such as federal blue, red trim, plain wood or whitewash. It has a one-room school (gray) that the colonel commandeered for headquarters, a bakery (sugar biscuit yellow) a newspaper press (undetermined), and a blacksmith (burnt pine). The streets are made of crushed clam shells that were well bleached in the sun.
Saturday morning passed quietly as the unit finished setting up camp and inspected equipment. The boys took turns moseying into town, the bakery with its lemon cookies and coffee being the most popular attraction. Sgt. Kurt reconnoitered the area many times in the past and was well schooled in Cape May folklore. He explained the significance of the topography, shipping and fishing industries and even some history of the Delaware Indian tribe, the earliest inhabitants of the area.
Close to mid-morning, we sent out a party to hunt for provisions. Sgt. Kurt knew of a general store a few miles up the road, so he and I volunteered to see what we could rouse. Once there, we came across some locals who seemed more than curious, even mesmerized by our uniforms. Yours Truly could tell one lady was somewhat unnerved by the hard clack of our metal heel guards that echoed menacingly with each step we took. To defuse the situation I smiled, tipped my kepi and told her not to worry, that we were Amish. In support, Sgt. Kurt added, “Please don’t take our picture.”
It bought us enough time to get what we needed and return down the road to Cold Spring Village.
First call came at 1:30 that afternoon. By that time the heat was high, but the boys were ready to brawl with the enemy. The unit formed, and after a few directions from the Captain, we crunched up the clam shell-paved road into the center of the Village. There we formed with two other Confederate units bolstering our numbers and giving the commanding Colonel a bit more flexibility for an offensive.
Two Yankee cannon guarding the road above us announced their presence moving us from our open position in the Village center to behind some trees, the barks of which did little to offer cover. The Lieutenant ordered us up slowly towards a Yankee line of infantry. Then the Blue Bellies brought out a mortar and let off several rounds. This led us to reform behind the schoolhouse 20 yards to the right of the Union cannon. We harassed the cannon as best we could, but when the Union line moved forward, we were in danger of being flanked. At that point, the Lieutenant moved us back and ordered us to refuse our line to hold off the enemy. But the enemy was too numerous. We fell back further taking casualties, and soon it was obvious success this day was not to be. The firing died down and discretion compelled us to return to the safety of our camp.
As the day wound down, many of the boys chatted history with visitors to camp, explaining the details of our equipment, cleaning muskets and being our usual loquacious selves. Later, Sgt. Ken prepared a stew dinner of squash and sausages. To refresh the boys’ spirits, Yours Truly soaked some ears of sweet corn and steamed them over the campfire. Still, a good number of fellows ventured to the Village where a merchant was handing out pulled pork sandwiches. Before long, all bellies were full and attention turned to the evening’s festivities.
It is at this point, Sir, that my heavy conscience must unencumber itself from the self-imposed burden cloaked upon it by layers of debauchery. Earlier in the day, we received reports of a brewery with plentiful supplies of . . . grains . . . on the outskirts of the Village and behind the enemy camp. Lieutenant Art theorized that confirmation was needed, so he and Sgt. Ken agreed to check it out. The sun was setting and darkness would soon add more peril to their reconnoitering effort. Concerned for their safety, Yours Truly volunteered to accompany them as lookout. Mrs. Michale R. shared my concern and joined us as well.
The rumors proved true. We found the brewery where predicted. Weary and thirsty from our search, and there being no cover charge, all agreed it prudent to refresh ourselves with the brewery’s fare before heading back. Also, it turned out that a good portion of the brewery’s sales would go to support the Village. Well, we all felt sort of guilty having shot up the town square earlier and scared the chickens. After a brief (very) discussion, we considered it our Christian duty to contribute to that effort. Having sampled several products, we agreed on a local brew and had the proprietor pour us a healthy, jug filled quantity known locally as a “growler”. We used the opportunity to toast the Village, the health of our comrades, old acquaintances, women and horses, and not necessarily in that order. Mrs. R. settled on sarsaparilla, by the way. (With a spark of inspiration, Mrs. R. decided to have her photograph taken with a group of Yankees who also came to the brewery. She sent the photo to Mr. “Uncle Billy” R. with a note saying she was “making new friends.”)
The growler seemed tame. So we got another. It was the least we could do for the Village.
There were more toasts (Robert E. Lee, Mrs. R.’s well being, and unburned biscuits), a review of the day’s attack, remembrances of past campaigns, and, alas, the death of another growler.
Even with the festive mood, the burden of command laid heavy on our Lieutenant. He felt that in God’s eyes our debt to the Village was still unfulfilled. The Village was pretty shot up and who knew when the chickens would be calm enough to return to egg laying? So we go another growler, because God wills it.
Before we knew it, the brewery was empty save for us four. Chairs rested legs up on tabletops, garbage bags sat by the door waiting to be tossed out, and the proprietor was sweeping the floor. Mrs. R. said the brewery was closing; Yours Truly said we had worn out our welcome; Sgt. Ken suggested the proprietor had a family to see to; and the Lieutenant wondered if everyone left because of something he said.
Having unburdened my conscience of this intemperance, Sir, I now leave it to the uprightness your hands any decision for deserved punishment that will be dutifully accepted by Yours Truly.
Meanwhile back in camp, we closed the night with cigars and spirited conversation regaling our finding the brewery and how the Village can now build a new library thanks to our selfless contributions. Then it was to bed.
Sunday morning was hot and airless. A stickiness greeted those who stepped out from their tent flaps. Sgt. Kurt had the fire up and the coffee going. Sgt. Ken and the Lieutenant started a breakfast of eggs and bacon. Grits were cooking courtesy of Yours Truly.
Some of the boys took turns going into the Village, with most choosing to find a shady spot and rest up prior to the call to the afternoon battle. Visitors wandered in and were welcomed.
First call came again at 1:30. Again, we marched to the Village center. Our numbers were fewer, one of the Confederate units having pulled out overnight; but that did not deter us. In fact, it strengthened our resolve to kick the Yankees out of Cape May perhaps even as far north as Buena.
Once again, two Yankee field pieces, six pounders, guarded the northern road above the schoolhouse and threatened our left flank. They belched their ordinance to start the engagement. This greatly vexed the 44th as we were in no mood to repeat Saturday’s dodging of cannon balls. So the Captain gave the order to take the cannons.
We marched at the double quick into a battle line using trees and the schoolhouse as cover. Then as well as they did Saturday, the Yankee batteries fired within moments of each other. With half the unit behind the right of the schoolhouse and half on the left, we waited unto both guns discharged and hurled ourselves at the gun crew hooting the Rebel Yell before the enemy had a chance to reload. Both guns were now out of commission.
But there was no time to savor the effort. The Yankees were set to clear a path for their infantry with fire from two mortars aimed at the 19th Virginia protecting the center of our line. Quick as a herd of deer, we reformed on the Captain. At this point our blood was beyond boiling as the boys were determined that the pesky mortars that so disrupted our movements yesterday will not succeed in that this day. Again howling the Rebel Yell, we overwhelmed the mortar crews, took the remaining prisoners and lined up for a final charge at the Yankee infantry.
With several well-placed volleys and forward movements, we forced the enemy into a position from which they could neither defend nor advance. They quit then and there.
Upon our march back to camp, we heard other commanders marvel that the 44th had taken out two cannon and two mortars; but for us, it was just an afternoon’s work. When asked why we took out four guns, I could only explain, “Well sir, that’s all they had.”
The next event is at Allentown, NJ, Oct. 8 and 9. This is also our company meeting. Please let the Captain know if you will attend.
Submitted With My Compliments,