Today when we think of intelligence operations, we are accustomed to hearing stories of James Bond and Britain’s MI-6, or our own Central Intelligence Agency. However, both of these groups found their early development in military operations and activities that had occurred many years before. In the United States, this developed through the Army’s signal service in the 1850s, and was quickly revolutionized during the War Between the States due to the necessity to quickly disseminate valuable information as to troop movements. Though many were involved in the day to day operations of the intelligence departments on both sides of this conflict, one figure stands out quite prominently. Though not a Suffolk native, the war and his activities brought him here, and eventually resulted in him making Suffolk his home.
Charles Henry Causey was born on July 14, 1837, in New Castle, Delaware. He was the oldest of three children born to the Maryland native William Causey and his Scottish-born wife, Mary Colvin. By the age of two, however, Charles Henry and the Causey family moved to Elizabeth City County (present day Hampton), presumably following a job opportunity offered to his father, who worked as an engineer. In the same year, the second child of the Causey family was born, William N. Causey; and in 1841, the third and final child, James Colvin Causey. As a young man, Charles Henry attended local schools and excelled in his studies. It was no surprise then when in the mid-1850s he was accepted to Waynesburg College (formerly Madison College) in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a prominent Presbyterian affiliated school. Charles Henry graduated from Waynesburg in 1857, and returned to Virginia to seek a law degree from the University of Virginia. He graduated from UVA in 1859, but before starting his formal law practice, began teaching at a school in Elizabeth City County.
In less than a year though, the political atmosphere of Virginia and indeed the country completely changed. Following Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the “rebellion” in the spring of 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union on the 17th of April by a vote of a special convention. One month later, the citizens of the state went to the polls, and voted overwhelmingly to secede, with the constituents of Elizabeth City County voting in favor of secession, 343-6. Despite their support for the Confederacy, however, Hampton was occupied by the Federal armies early on in the war due to its proximity to Fortress Monroe. In fact, on June 10 the first land battle of the war in Virginia was commenced from Hampton and occurred at Big Bethel in Newport News between Confederate forces under the command of Colonel John Bankhead Magruder and Union forces under General Benjamin “Beast” Butler. Though insignificant in numbers, this early battle was a sign of things to come for Virginia and the Peninsula.
In the meantime, military units were springing up all across the South enlisting young men to defend their homes and sweethearts. On June 24, having been forced away from Hampton as refugees, Charles Henry and his brother James Colvin Causey heeded the call for troops, and joined the Old Dominion Dragoons, Company B of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry. With his vast educational background, and knowledge of the Peninsula region, Charles Henry was detailed to serve as a scout for Colonel Magruder who was quickly throwing up a line of defenses in Newport News in order to protect the new Confederate Capital in Richmond from attack.
In October of 1861, Charles Henry Causey was conferred with a promotion to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate States Cavalry by President Jefferson F. Davis. Amazingly though, no records as to his particular assignment or unit are available with his promotion or included in his service records. Rather, he was issued a statement from his commander in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry announcing his promotion, and describing him as, “…5 ft. 8 in. high, dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair, and by profession a farmer…” The only explanation to such a promotion and descriptive letter hint to Causey’s early service as a scout. Due to the nature of his work, affirming his position in Confederate military service was absolute necessary in the event of capture.
From February to July of 1862, military service records show Charles Henry Causey as serving on the staff of then General John B. Magruder. Magruder’s own records reflect this, and in a May report to General Robert E. Lee, Causey was commended as an officer “of great advantage to the service” and whose “intrepidity and enterprise have been in the highest degree conspicuous on every occasion.” With the help of Causey, and others on his staff with the knowledge of the area, General Magruder was able to hold the Union army at bay for a number of months, when in reality they were vastly outnumbered.
Following the Confederacy’s abandonment of the Peninsula, and subsequent fighting of the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, Magruder was transferred to the Department of Texas. Causey requested from Magruder to stay behind until which time he could gain an official transfer to a command closer to home, and the possibility of a promotion, if available. Being without a Command to report to, Causey was issued orders by the Adjutant General’s office to report to the North Carolina coast, a post he had first requested back in February of 1862 in the midst of the battle of Roanoke Island. With these orders, he was told to report to General Daniel Harvey Hill. More than likely, this was not his first interaction with Hill, as Hill had served for a number of months on the Peninsula during and after the Battle of Big Bethel. While Causey remained in North Carolina throughout the fall of 1862, he did not stop lobbying for the promotion which he believed had been long overdue. In September, Causey’s old friend Major General Magruder weighed in and sent a letter to the Secretary of War, George W. Randolph, urging for a promotion for his able Lieutenant.
Commenting on his abilities as a scout and reconnoitering officer, Magruder explained, “I was indebted to him during the Peninsula Campaign for valuable information as to the enemy’s numbers, position, movement, and designs. On one occasion and at a critical period… he volunteered to undertake the perilous task of penetrating the enemy’s lines and succeeded in getting into their rear and reported to me the information he obtained which proved to be valuable as to their numbers, position, etc. During this expedition which he undertook alone and on foot, he was nine days in the enemy’s lines and endured great hardships from hunger, fatigue, and exposure to cold & wet in the woods and marshes on the Peninsula.”
With such a high recommendation in hand, the future for Charles Henry Causey was destined to be interesting. In my upcoming columns, read how Causey found his way into the Confederate States Secret Service, and ultimately to his future home in Suffolk.