The first commercial activity at Ray City arose during the Civil War when Levi J. Knight and his son-in-law Thomas M. Ray constructed a millpond and grist mill on Beaverdam Creek in Berrien County, GA. Captain Levi J. Knight, an old Indian fighter, raised the first company of Confederate soldiers to go forth from Berrien County, the Berrien Minute Men.
After enlisting at Nashville, GA in 1862 the Berrien Minute Men mustered in near Savannah, GA as a company of the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Following this organization, Captain Knight resigned and the company came under the command of John C. Lamb. In the first months after mustering in, the regiment trained and served picket duty on the Georgia coast. They were stationed at a number of camps on the coastal islands and marshes, first at Sapelo Battery, off the coast of Darien, GA, then in Chatham County, GA at Camp Tatnall, Camp Causton’s Bluff, Camp Debtford, Camp Mackey, and Camp Young.
At times the conditions in the Confederate camps of Chatham county were nearly intolerable. The weather was cold in the winter and hot and muggy in the summer. Men were apt to become irritable. One soldier of the 29th Georgia Regiment killed another over a game of marbles. Some men were bored with picket duty. Some were frustrated and longed for action. Others just longed to go home to their farms and families. At Camp Young the harsh realities of Army life in the field would test the commitment of volunteer soldiers in the 29th Georgia Regiment.
The likely location of Camp Young was on Wylly Island about eight miles southeast of Savannah , on a tract of 110 acres which had been acquired by Judge Levi Sheftall D’Lyon at some time prior to 1860. Judge D’Lyon was a prominent citizen and city court judge of Savannah. He was also the father of Isaac Mordecai DeLyon and Leonorean DeLyon, who edited and published the South Georgia Watchman newspaper at Troupville, GA and later at Valdosta, GA. Lenorean DeLyon is credited with giving Valdosta its name. Judge D’Lyon himself was an enigma. He took great interest in supporting the Chatham Dispensary, “a free medical clinic and pharmacy for the poor.” He devoted much of his professional legal career to assisting free African-Americans in acquiring their own property, but he also profited from the business of buying and selling slaves. In 1859 he called for a “vigilance committee for the better preservation of Southern Rights.” In 1861 he was acting as guardian for 48 “free persons of color” in Savannah, while at the same time working to establish a district court system in the new Confederate States of America. In his will D’Lyon directed that five of his slaves be freed, but another 21 were sold in 1863 to liquidate his estate.
Wylly Island is a river island formed by a bifurcation of the Herb River. According to a Civil War map of the defenses of Savannah, Wylly Island was between Thunderbolt Battery, a Confederate artillery emplacement on St. Augustine Creek, and Battery Daniels at Parkersburg on the Skidaway River. Battery Daniels had several supporting batteries on the Herb River and Grimball’s Creek.
There is no remaining trace of these Confederate locations or of Camp Young. Some descriptions of Camp Young are found in the Civil War letters of William Washington Knight, son of Levi J. Knight.
At first, the Berrien Minute Men found fresh food was in short supply at Camp Young. Soldiers supplemented their camp diet either with food purchased in Savannah with their own money, or had food sent from home. William W. Knight’s letter of January 4, 1863 written from Camp Young and addressed to his wife, Mary, mentioned that fellow soldier J. P. Ponder had delivered a box of potatoes sent by her father. Knight wrote of being deployed without rations and of spoiled provisions – “blue beef that will stick to your hands equal to adhesive plaster.” He asked her to send more potatoes, and pork if the weather was cold enough. Knight remarked on the high prices being gotten in Savannah for peanuts, corn, and bacon, and the shortage of bread. He also requested Mary send his mattress bed cover, iron shoe heels, “vial oil”, and carpet bag.
Deadly infectious diseases of all kinds were rampant in the crowded Confederate camps. The river delta land was low lying and prone to malaria. On February 28, 1862 Knight wrote, “We have a good many sick now with cold or pneumonia. Nineteen of our company on the sick list this morning…” In early March, Knight himself was incapacitated by fever.
By mid-March soldiers’ letters home indicated that the supply of food at Camp Young was much improved. But by the end of March Knight wrote of worsening weather conditions; “It is the worst time we have had this winter. The wind and rain from the North East. There is very little timber in that direct. It has all been cut down in front of the Batteries for over a mile.”
At Camp Young, the 29th Georgia Regiment became part of a Brigade which also included the 25th and 30th Georgia Regiments, First Battalion Georgia Sharpshooters, and 4th Louisiana Battalion. In a Brief History of the Thirtieth Georgia Regiment, August Pitt Adamson, 1st Sergeant, Company E wrote about Camp Young:
Camp life at Savannah was far from being dull and was not at all monotonous. Many little incident of a humorous nature occurred. Sports of various kinds were engaged in, which were shared by both officers and men. Occasionally some of the boys would “run the blockade,” as it was called, and go to Savannah without leave, thus running the risk of being put upon double duty, or digging stumps, which were the usual punishments inflicted. One man of Company E [30th Regiment] could so well imitate the signature of the commanding officer, that he frequently gave himself and others leave to go to the city. In such cases they always returned in time for drill, and but few knew of it. On one occasion at night, soon after we went to Savannah, a false alarm was given, the men were hastily aroused and called into line with their old flintlock guns; much confusion followed; some could not find their companies, some ran over stumps and against each other, and two or three of Company B fell into and old well, which was, however, very shallow, but they yelled loudly for help. It was soon found to be a false alarm, gotten up by some of the officers to try the men and have some fun. We were provided good tents and, for the most part comfortably cared for, with plenty to eat, but some of the boys wanted a change of diet, and, discovering a flock of goats belonging to Judge De Lyon, a wealthy old gentleman who had a farm near the camps, the result was nearly all the goats disappeared, leaving the owner quite angry. The boys would say the goats tried to run over them, and they had to act in self-defense.
While at Camp Young, William Knight reported the Berrien Minute Men spent a great deal of the time in drill. They drilled in Company formation and as a Battalion and Brigade. When they weren’t drilling or on dress parade, they attended “Regimental School.” When they could get leave they went into Savannah to get personal provisions or to be entertained. When they couldn’t get leave some went absent without leave; John W. Hagan wrote from Camp Young on March 19, “I cannot get a pass to visit Savannah, and when I go I have to run the blockade and risk getting caught, but I will manage to slip the block.”
This is not to say the Berrien Minute Men and the 29th GA Regiment were idle. Like the 30th Georgia Regiment and other units in their Brigade, they probably were engaged in the construction of fortifications, mounting artillery, and placing obstructions in the river channels. They were certainly conducting picket duty, patrolling the islands below Savannah on the lookout for Federal scouts who might be probing the line of Confederate defenses around the city. They made brief excursions by train into Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina to strengthen coastal defenses where Union forces threatened to attack.
The 29th Regiment remained at Camp Young through April; by May 12, 1863 they had rolled out to Jackson, MS in preparation for the Battle of Vicksburg. But before that departure, while stationed at Camp Young, twenty men of the 29th Georgia deserted the regiment. From the weeks and months the Special Order 15 was advertised, one can judge these were not men who just sneaked off to Savannah, but were long gone. Four of the deserters were from Company K, the Berrien Minute Men, including Elbert J. Chapman, Albert Douglas, Benjamin S. Garrett, and J. P. Ponder.
A reward of $30 was offered for each man apprehended, $600 for the bunch.
Reward offered for capture of deserters from the 29th Georgia Regiment, Confederate States Army, including four deserters from the Berrien Minute Men, Company K. Advertised in the Savannah Republican newspaper.
Headq’rs 29th Reg’t GA. Vols.,
Camp Young, near Savannah, March 12, 1863.
Deserted from this Regiment at Camp near Savannah, the following named enlisted men:
Private FREEMAN BRIDGES, Co. B, is 22 years of age, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches high, has dark complexion, black eyes and dark hair. Enlisted in Franklin county, Ga.
Private DAVID CLAY, Co. C, 28 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, has dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair. Enlisted in Thomas County, Ga.
Private JOSEPH W. SINGLETARY, Co. C., 38 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, sallow complexion, blue eyes, dark hair. Enlisted at Thomas county, Ga.
Private PATRICK FITZGERALD, Co. E, 46 years of age, 5 feet 11 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private EDWARD ROTCHFORD, Co. E, 45 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private JOHN MULLER, Co. E, 26 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, dark hair, dark complexion and dark eyes. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private DAVID WILLIAMS, Co, E, 40 years of age, 5 feet high, brown eyes, light brown hair, and reddish complexion. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private S. A. HALL, Co. F. 20 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, and light hair. Enlisted at Thomasville, Ga.
Private WM. HARVEY, Co. F, 45 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, gray hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
SYRE CHRISTIAN, Co. F, 40 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, light hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
JAMES M. TOHEL, Co. F, 85 years of age 5 feet 9 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, dark hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private C. R. OLIVER, Co. H, 29 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, dark hair. Enlisted at Stockton, Ga.
Private J. R. JACOBS, Co. H. 22 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair. Enlisted at Stockton, Ga.
Private F. F. F. GRIFFIN, Co. I, 40 years of age, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches high, dark complexion, black eyes, and dark hair. Enlisted in Thomas County, Ga.
Private N. P. GANDY, Co. I, 30 years of age, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, and light hair. Enlisted in Thomas County, Ga.
Private WM. BARWICK, Co. I, 38 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, light complexion, grey eyes. Enlisted in Thomas County.
Private ELBERT J. CHAPMAN, Co. K, 31 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, and sandy hair. Enlisted in Berrien county.
Private ALBERT DOUGLAS, Co. K, 32 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, fair complexion, grey eyes, and auburn hair. Enlisted in Berrien county.
Private BENJAMIN S. GARRETT, Co. K, 25 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes, and black hair. Enlisted in Berrien county.
Private J. P. PONDER, Co. K, 31 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, and sandy hair. Enlisted at Savannah.
A reward of thirty dollars is offered for the apprehension of either of the above named men, delivered at these headquarters or confined in a safe jail.
By order of W. J. Young,
Col.Comd’g 29th Reg’t Ga. Vols.
Geo. P. McRee, AdjL
After deserting from the 29th Georgia Regiment:
- Elbert J. Chapman fled to the west where he joined another unit and fought with determination. He was later charged with desertion from the 29th Georgia Regiment, court-martialed and executed by firing squad. After the war, a pension for his indigent wife was denied.
- Benjamin S. Garrett was later shot for being a spy.
- Albert Douglas left the Berrien Minute Men “absent without leave” in December 1862 and was marked “deserted.” There is no record that he ever returned to his unit. In fact, there is no further record of him at all. He was not enumerated in the household of his wife and child in 1870, and in subsequent census records she is identified as a widow. There is no record she ever applied for a Confederate Widow’s Pension. Although there is no record of his death or burial, it is presumed that Albert Douglas died while absent without leave.
- J. P. Ponder left little historical record, other than the military muster rolls which document his enlistment and desertion. Even his name is confused, alternately given as Ponder or Powder Both variations are listed in his Confederate military service records. The letters of William W. Knight indicate Ponder traveled back to Berrien county and returned to Camp Young in February 1863, and that Ponder was back in Berrien in March. In any case, it does not appear the man ever returned to the 29th Georgia Regiment.
Other Berrien County soldiers, such as N. M. McNabb who served with Company D, 12th Georgia Regiment, would be pressed into service to hunt fugitive deserters. According to a sworn statement by Mr. McNabb, “late in the year, perhaps September 1864, the Georgia Militia were at Griffin, Ga Ordered by the Governor to stack arms and return home until further orders, which we did. After getting home, the Enrolling Officers here at home pressed us in to aid them in hunting Deserters.”