Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 2

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 2: Place of Encampment

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island

  1. Arrival On Sapelo
  2. Place of Encampment
  3. Camp Spalding
  4. Election of Officers
  5. Tidewater Time
  6. In Regular Service
William W. Knight wrote home from Camp Spalding, Sapelo Island, GA.

William W. Knight wrote home from Camp Spalding, Sapelo Island, GA.

The  Berrien Minute Men were two companies of infantry that went forth from Berrien County, GA during the Civil War. From October, 1861 to January, 1862, the campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  were made at Sapelo and Blackbeard islands protecting the approaches to Darien, GA on Doboy Sound and the Altamaha River.  The Berrien Minute Men arrived in early October and were stationed on Sapelo Island along with the Thomas County Guards, Thomas County Volunteers and Ochlocknee Light Infantry.

The regimental encampment on Sapelo was Camp Spalding, on the 4000 acre Sapelo Island plantation which had been established by Thomas Spalding. According to New Georgia Encyclopedia,

“Thomas Spalding (1774-1851), noted antebellum planter of Sapelo Island, was one of the most influential agriculturists and political figures of his day in Georgia…He cultivated Sea Island cotton, introduced the manufacture of sugar to Georgia, and promoted Darien and the coastal area as the economic center of the state…Spalding was an influential Democrat and a pro-Union advocate.  As the sectional crisis worsened in the late 1840s he was instrumental in ensuring the support of Georgia for the Compromise of 1850…Despite his ownership of more than 350 slaves, Spalding had considerable misgivings about the institution of slavery, exemplified by his reputation as a liberal and humane master. He utilized the task system of labor, which allowed his workers to have free time for personal pursuits. Slaves were supervised not by the typical white overseers but by black managers, the most prominent of whom was Bu Allah (or Bilali), a Muslim and Spalding’s second-in-command on Sapelo.” 

The Muslim community at Sapelo Island was among the earliest in America, and some scholars believe the ruins on Sapelo include the foundations of one of the first mosques in the country.  Descendants of the 400 enslaved men, women and children who lived on Thomas Spalding’s antebellum plantation still reside on Sapelo Island in the Hog Hammock community. In the description of Sherpa Guides,

“The Gullah village, with its unique cultural, artistic, and linguistic traditions, is without a doubt the most unusual community in Georgia. Old timers speak geechee, a colorful creole that blends English with a number of African languages, primarily from the western coast. Hog Hammock was created in the early 1940s when R.J. Reynolds, who owned most of the island, consolidated the scattered black land holdings around the island. Blacks exchanged their holdings in Raccoon Bluff, Shell Hammock, and other communities for property and small houses with indoor plumbing in Hog Hammock.”

Thomas Spalding’s South End Mansion on Sapelo Island had been inherited by his son, Randolph Spalding.  Randolp Spalding and his five siblings had received the  slaves from their father’s estate, as well. In Sapelo’s People: A Long Walk to Freedom, William S. McFeely writes,  “Randolph Spalding, unlike his scientific father, better fit the popular image of the Southern plantation grandee; in his thirties as the war approached he liked fast horses and big house parties.” Among the tidewater plantation owners, “fears were great of a ‘plundering expedition’ aimed at the huge population of slaves along the coast. Charles Spalding, Randolph’s brother, wrote to an official of the Georgia militia on February 11, 1861 ‘that there are on the Island of Sapelo…about five hundred negroes which might be swept off any day unless protected by a small detachment of infantry on the island.” Spalding feared not only slave raiders, but the slaves themselves: there are on.. [the nearby Altamaha rice plantations] some four thousand negroes, whose owners will continue to feel very insecure until some naval defenders are placed upon these waters.'”

That responsibility fell for a while on the Berrien Minute Men and the 29th Georgia Regiment. On Sapelo Island, the 29th  had duty manning Sapelo Battery  near Sapelo Lighthouse as well as additional gun batteries near Dean Creek.  A gun battery on Blackbeard Island at the Atlantic Inlet to Blackbeard Creek was the site of Captain Knight’s encampment. These positions were important in defending the northern delta of the Altamaha River and the port at Darien, GA from intrusion by Union forces.

A number of Civil War letters of John W. Hagan document the experiences of the Berrien Minute Men. Writing from Sapelo Island on October 11, 1861, Hagan gave his wife, Amanda Roberts Hagan, an update on her brothers Ezekiel W. Roberts and James S. Roberts, cousin Stephen N. Roberts, and the other soldiers of the Berrien Minute Men.

Sapelo Island, Ga.
Oct. 11, 61

My Dear Amanda,
I have imbraced the present opportunity of writing you a short letter which leaves my self and all the company in good health with a few exceptions. We landed in Savannah on Monday night at 8 Oclk and taken the Steamer on Tuesday eavening for our place of encampment which is on Sapelo Island. We landed on Sapelo on Wednesday morning & the same eavening Capt. L. J. Knight’s compny was removed to Sapelo all so and I found Ezeakle & James in good health & in good spearet. There is four companies stasioned hear now the Thomasvill guards & the Oclocknee light infantry & Capt Knights company and the company I came with. The health of the men on this Island is verry good and as to the reports which was going the roundes in Lowndes in regard to yellow feavor that is all faulce. Some of the men of Blackbeard did not take care of themselves, & by exposure and exerting too much they became bilious & I was realy surprised when I found all the boys in so fine health. As to James, Ezeakle & Stephen you would hardly know them. Ther is but four or five on sick report at this time and nothing is the matter with but colds & risings &c. Ezeakle will I think go home on the first boat & he will give moor satisfaction in regard to our fair than I can by writing. We have drew rashings but havent elected any of our offiscers for the company yet. We feel assured that John C. Lamb of Milltown will be our Capt but we know not who will be our Leutenants. All the boys was glad to see us and I think we will get along as well as any solders could expect. Capt Knights company has not drew any money yet but is to draw as soon as the Capt gets abble to go to Savannah. He has the Bloody Piles and is not able at present to travel. We have on this Island five canon mounted. The largest carries 16 lbs balls. The others are smaler & we calculate to mount moor as soon as posable. I do not apprehend any danger heare at present. There was a blockade came in sight here yesterday & we thought we should have a fight. The 3 companies was marched to the Battery or a detachment of the three companies. The cannon was uncovered & loaded & nessery arrangements was made for a fight when all at once the ship taken a tack in a different directsion. We do not now realy whether it was a blockade or an Inglish ship expected & last night at 11 Oclk a small steamer started out so that in case it should be an Inglish vessel they could convey her in.

Amanda, we are not regulated yet & I can not give you a full deatail but in my next letter I hope I shall be able to write something interresting. Some of the boyes are writing, some singing, some fiddleing, some dancing, some cooking, some play cardes & some are at work cleaning off our perade ground & places to pitch our tents. Cience I have bin hear I have seen several of the Thomas county boys. 2 of the old Allen Hagans boys from Thomas is heare. I feel satisfide that we will be healthey & fair as well as we could wish &c.

Amanda, Old man Crofford seemed to be in the nosion to buy my land when I saw him at Nailor. He said he would give me $1500 for my place if he traded with your father providing I would give him two payments from next January. Tel your father to make any trade with Crofford that he thinks proper, but if he wants time he must pay interrest on the payments. I must close for this time & I hope you wil write soon  & I think we had better change our Post office to Nailor because you can send evry Satterday or every other Satterday & get your mail shure & where we send too at present it is unsirtin when you get it. When you write you must derect it as I derect you nothing moor. yours affectsionate husband Til Death. John W. Hagan

N.B. address your letters to
John W. Hagan
Sapalo Island Ga
in care Capt Knight

N.B. Kiss Reubin for me
J. W. H.

By mid-October, 1861 the sick of the regiment on Sapelo Island were more or less recovering from their initial illness.  William Washington Knight wrote on October 12, “There is fourteen on the sick list but none of them very bad all able to be up some little.” Ten days later, William Washington Knight was himself sick with a “bowel complaint.” Of the Berrien Minute Men, he added, “father [Captain Levi. J. Knight] has been very sick but he is getting better so as to be about and attend to his businefs.    There are several of the recruits sick,   five that tolerable bad off although I do not think any are dangerous.    Some of the old company (Company C) are sick yet,    three pretty low.”  But by the end of October, a number of men had given up the regiment. Of the Thomas County Guards, James M. Blackshear provided a substitute and left.  Sixteen-year-old Elias Beall and W. R Pringle apparently went back home.    William A Jones left the Berrien Minute Men and went home on leave to Berrien County, never to return. Jones died of measles in Berrien County on January 18, 1862, leaving behind a pregnant wife  and a young son.

Measles would spread among the regiment on Sapelo in the coming months.

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