Originally published in the Suffolk News-Herald, August 2005
In my previous column, Charles Henry Causey had seen capture and parole, an assignment with the Confederate States Secret Service, and ultimately, an appointment to the command of Major General George Pickett. In this last and final column, I will relate Causey’s final days of the war, and how a young man born in Delaware ended up making Suffolk his home.
By 1864, Charles Henry Causey had clearly found his niche and spent the remainder of the war as a scout and member of the famed Confederate Secret Service, working both in Pickett’s command and also through the War Department. Not surprisingly, his entire record remains a bit of an enigma due such secret and dangerous operations. Though a scant number of military service records, official reports, and letters do exist, for the most part Causey’s activities from 1861 to 1865 remain obscure. When the National Archives compiled these records, they too noticed the irregularity of his “official” assignments. In a statement filed by one of the records compilers, it was noted that there was “a slight endeavor on the part of Confederate authorities to make it appear that this man was on Signal Duty.” However, there was “no indication that he knew anything of a signal code, or of any action except as a scout or spy.” It was also pointed out that his support by General Pickett in 1863 was clearly emphatic as to the importance of his services, but “makes no mention of what they are.”
The one thing that is known is that Charles Henry Causey’s role in the Tidewater area certainly had a lasting effect on his life. Apparently, during his time scouting in the Suffolk region he had the opportunity to meet the young Martha Josephine Prentis, daughter of Peter Bowdoin and Eliza Wrenn Prentis. Martha was eighteen when Causey met her in 1863, and their relationship blossomed from those occasions when he could avoid the roaming Union cavalry parties that passed through Suffolk in 1864. Despite the infrequency of their meetings in the midst of a raging war, they decided to take their courtship to the next level by the fall of that year. On September 26, 1864, Charles Henry Causey and Martha Josephine Prentis were married in Suffolk. But their time together was anything but a honeymoon, and was abruptly curtailed due to the dismal outlook of the Confederate army. By the winter of 1864, Union General Grant had placed a stranglehold on Lee’s army, and the Signal Corps’ operations were limited to Pickett’s thin defenses on the south side of Petersburg. Causey did manage to slip in and out of enemy lines and continue his reconnaissance work in the Tidewater region, but for the most part his previous services were no longer needed with the Confederate capital under siege. In April of 1865, when Petersburg and Richmond were evacuated, Causey was presumably in the Tidewater area and was not with the army during Lee’s retreat or subsequent surrender at Appomattox. Instead, he turned himself in to Federal authorities two weeks later on April 25, and was given a parole under the terms agreed upon by Lee and Grant.
Upon his parole, Charles Henry Causey returned for his bride in Suffolk, and started a family. Their first child, William Bowdoin Causey, was born on June 11, 1865, and named for Charles Henry’s brother and Martha’s father. Their second child was a daughter, Marianna Causey, born in 1866, and the Causey family continued to grow with the birth of Charles Henry Causey, Jr., born in 1868; Peter Prentis Causey, born in 1872; James Campbell Causey, born in 1874; Margaret Webb Causey, born in 1876; and Josephine Causey, born in 1878. Records indicate two more children who died in infancy, but their names are unknown.
Besides the growth of his family, Charles Henry Causey’s law practice also took a turn for the better following the end of Reconstruction in 1870 and the removal of Federal troops from Virginia. Among his clients included the Atlantic and Danville Railroad, as well as the Seaboard Airline Railroad, putting him in almost daily contact with his fellow Confederate comrade, General Laurence Simmons Baker who served as railroad agent in Suffolk. This also gave Causey the opportunity to befriend former Confederate General William Mahone, a prominent railroad builder and the president of several railroad lines. It was through Mahone that Causey became active in state politics.
In the late 1870s, Mahone became the leader of a somewhat unpopular group at the time known as the Readjuster party, which sought to lower Virginia’s prewar debt. This group was a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and African-Americans opposed to the Conservative Democrat platform that most ex-Confederates aligned themselves with. In 1881 though, the Readjuster Party won control of the Governor’s Mansion with the election of William A. Cameron, and swept a number of seats in the Virginia General Assembly. Charles Henry Causey supported these reform policies of Mahone, and became an active member of the Readjuster Party as a result. In return for his support, Causey was named Clerk of the Virginia Senate in December of 1881, appointed to the Board of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in 1882, and served as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Suffolk.
However, party politics would again change in the Old Dominion, and the Readjuster Party could not hold together its coalition of minority parties in order to stay in power. Sensing the change in the political climate, Mahone made the bold move of aligning himself and the Adjuster Party with the Republican Party in 1884. This created quite a storm in the state, as many considered then (and some still do today) the Republican Party as the “Party of Lincoln.” As a result, a number of citizens ostracized Mahone and other ex-Confederates like Causey as scalawags, but in reality the Virginia electorate remained split fifty-fifty.
Charles Henry Causey, circa 1880s.
Locally, a number of Nansemond County and Suffolk citizens voted Republican in the 1880s. It was through their support that Charles Henry Causey became the first Republican elected from Suffolk to the Virginia State Senate in 1884. Charles Henry Causey served in the Senate until his term expired in 1887, and also became a Republican elector for the 2nd Congressional District.
Besides his political activities, Charles Henry Causey was also a prominent Mason and Odd Fellow, and an active member of the Pickett-Buchanan Camp of the United Confederate Veterans based in Norfolk. At the time, the Tom Smith Camp in Suffolk had yet to be formed, and a number of Suffolk’s Confederate veterans held membership in the Norfolk camp.
In August of 1890, sickness struck Charles Henry Causey, and he was ill but for a few days when he suddenly passed away at 10:30 PM on Wednesday, August 27, at the young age of fifty-three years. His death was announced in both the Suffolk and Norfolk newspapers, and came as a great shock to the community and all that knew him. Prior to his passing, he had often remarked that he wished his funeral to be conducted by his comrades in the Pickett-Buchanan Camp, and per his wish, the old veterans of that group organized on the day of his funeral. Due to his position as attorney for the Atlantic and Danville Railroad, the railroad offered a special train car from Norfolk to carry the Confederate veterans to Suffolk as they paid the last honors to their fallen comrade.
Captain Charles Henry Causey was laid to rest in Cedar Hill Cemetery on Friday, August 29, 1890. He left a wife, and five children. Of those, all rose to some prominence in the community, with Charles Henry Causey, Jr., and James Campbell Causey serving with the 4th Virginia Infantry from Suffolk during the Spanish-American War, William Bowdoin Causey serving as a Lieutenant Colonel of Engineers in World War I, and Peter Prentis Causey becoming a noted local doctor. There is no doubt that a respect and reverence for military service was instilled in the hearts and minds of the Causey children, especially in Charles Henry Causey, Jr. He rose to the rank of Captain during the Spanish-American War, and it was through his efforts that following the war Suffolk Post No. 57 of the American Legion was organized in our city.
Clearly, the accomplishments of his children were a reflection on the character and example left by Charles Henry Causey. Yet, no greater testimony can be said of his life than the one given by the Norfolk Virginian newspaper (today’s Virginian-Pilot) at the time of his death:
“He was a prominent citizen of Suffolk, foremost in all enterprises, looking to the advancement of the section in which he lived, and his loss will be keenly felt…He was a good husband, an affectionate father and a devoted friend.”
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia