Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment at the Battle of Port Royal

The Berry Infantry of Floyd County, GA, along with the Berrien Minute Men of Berrien County, GA, were among the companies forming the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment in the Civil War…

Eight months after the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter the US fleet struck back, attacking Port Royal, SC.  To make the attack, the fleet of some sixty ships sailed from New York through the Expedition Hurricane of 1861, while the Berrien Minute Men weathered the storm on Sapelo Island sixty miles south of Port Royal.  The Federal naval assault came on November 7, 1861; on Sapelo Island the Berrien Minute Men could hear the sounds of the Battle at Port Royal. The untested men on Sapelo were impatient for battle and lamented that they were stuck in a backwater of the war. Not so, their future regimental mates, the Berry Infantry of Rome, GA who were hurriedly dispatched from their station at Camp Lawton near Savannah to Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island overlooking Port Royal Sound, SC.    The Berrien Minute Men and other Confederate companies on Sapelo would have gone, too, it was said, but for the Colonel commanding being too drunk to take the men into battle.  Had the men on Sapelo known what the Berry Infantry were facing, they would perhaps not have been so eager to go.

The destination of the Berry Infantry was Fort Walker, a Confederate earthworks fortification hastily built of sand in the summer of 1861 using the labor of enslaved African-Americans owned by the planters of Hilton Head Island. Construction continued through the summer with the slaves hauling palmetto logs, digging trenches, erecting a powder magazine, and constructing gun emplacements. But the fort was not complete when the Federal fleet commenced the attack on the morning of November 7, 1861.

A soldier of the Berry Infantry, upon returning to Savannah, wrote a series of reports to the Rome Weekly Courier under the pen name “Floyd” describing their experience at the Battle of Port Royal. The writer was probably Thomas J. Perry of Floyd County, GA, a lieutenant of the Berry Infantry, who was known to have written the Courier under this name. In composing these passages, the writer freely confessed, “I have had to write amidst confusion, and under the most unfavorable circumstances. We are hourly expecting to hear of the approach of the enemy. News came last night that they had landed at White Bluff, eight miles below here [Savannah, GA]. I have given you the points though much disconnected.” The narrative has been reorganized here, to present events in chronological order:

Our Savannah Correspondence

Camp Lawton, near Savannah, Ga., November 12th, 1861.

Dear Courier:

There are some facts connected with our departure to Hilton Head Island, that are worthy of notice, The night we first started [Nov 5, 1861,] H. W. Berryhill, H. C. Smith, G. W. Freeman and W. H. Mitchell, had got furloughs to go home, and were getting ready to start, when orders came at 8 o’clock,

Lt. Henry W. Dean, Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment

Lt. Henry W. Dean, Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment

for us to be at the Charleston Wharf at 9. Berryhill and Smith abandoned the idea of going home, and at once informed their Captain that they would go with him. B. had just recovered from a spell of sickness, and was not able to do duty. Smith had been sick in his tent for two days. The Captain objected to their going, but they begged so hard that he consented, and they went to the boat with us, and would have gone, if the orders had not been countermanded. Freeman was not able to go, having been sick for the last three weeks; so he and Mitchell left. Lieut. H. W. Dean, who was just recovering from the measles and had just came into the camps that day, got ready to go with us but was ordered to remain. He insisted on going, but the company refused, and ordered him to remain. We left, but on reaching the boat, we found him there, armed and equipped.

The next morning [Nov 6, 1861] when we left, again, the Captain found it necessary to detail one man to stay and take care of the sick. H.C. Smith was by this time broken out with the measles. The Captain asked if there was any one that would stay, and no one responded. He then said, “I must make some one stay.” All spoke and said they wanted to go, and voted for Dean or Berryhill to stay, but they refused, and go they would.  R. Dollar [Reuben Dollar] was then requested to stay, but he refused, although he had just recovered from a hard spell of sickness. Finally James McGinnis was left.

Our Savannah Correspondence.
Camp Lawton, Nov. 9, 1861.

Twenty-six-year-old Lt. Col. Thomas James Berry, CSA, led a Regiment of Georgia troops, including the Berry Infantry, at the Battle of Port Royal. He was a graduate of West Point, class of 1857.

Twenty-six-year-old Lt. Col. Thomas James Berry, CSA, led a Regiment of Georgia troops, including the Berry Infantry, at the Battle of Port Royal. He was a graduate of West Point, class of 1857.

Dear Courier—Our Regiment left here on Wednesday  morning [Nov 6, 1861] at 9 1/2 o’clock, on board the steamer St. Marys, under the command of Lieut. Colonel Thos. J. Berry, for Hilton Head Island, on the South Carolina coast, and arrived there at 1 o’clock, p. m., and then took up the line of march to Port Royal, five miles distance, and arrived there about dark, and spent the night in some old barns.

Next morning [Nov 7, 1861] at 8, we were ordered out, and formed in a line of battle about one mile from the beach, and in the rear of the sand Battery [Fort Walker]… There was no fort, only a sand battery with 13 guns, and only two large ones, and all exposed… At half past 8, the fleet came up, and opened fire on the battery of 13 guns.

Battle of Port Royal. The Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment were at Fort Walker during the bombardment.

Battle of Port Royal. The Berry Infantry, Company D, 29th Georgia Regiment was at Fort Walker during the bombardment.

The fire was returned, and soon became general.

It was soon announced that one vessel had passed the battery. We were then ordered to advance within a half mile of the beach—we did so, and were ordered to lie down—the enemy discovered our position, and turned loose a shower of shot and shell on us. We lay there for about one hour, the balls and shells fell thick and fast around and about us.

 Bombardment of Fort Walker, Hilton Head, Port Royal Harbor, SC by United States Fleet, November 7, 1861. The Berry Infantry (later Company D, 29th Georgia Regiment) was among Georgia companies sent to defend the island. Image source: Campfire and Battlefield


Bombardment of Fort Walker, Hilton Head, Port Royal Harbor, SC by United States Fleet, November 7, 1861. The Berry Infantry (later Company D, 29th Georgia Regiment) was among Georgia companies sent to defend the island. Image source: Campfire and Battlefield

[At Fort Walker] The largest [gun] was dismounted at the first shot, the next at the 2d fire, so there was only 11 small ones, and Capt. Ried’s [Capt. Jacob Reed, Company D, 1st GA Regulars] two brass pieces to contend against over 500 guns, and they on steel and iron clad vessels.

Cameron [John D. Cameron] went with us, and the evening we arrived there [Nov 6, 1861], he said he would spend the next day in hunting oysters for us, but when morning came he saw that a fight was on hand, and went into the Hospital, where he could have a good view of what was going on, thinking, of course, that he was in a secure place; but the fun had not lasted long before a ball passed through the top of the house; the second soon came along, and then others in such rapid succession that he thought he had got into the wrong pew, and left in double quick, and dodged behind a pine stump, and would occasionally peep around, and could see the balls falling and hear them whizzing bye, and presently he saw a ball strike a tree and tear it to pieces. The thought struck him, that the stump was but little protection, and double-quicked it a little farther. This is his own story. In justice to him I will say he stuck closer to the Berry Infantry, all day, than it could have been expected of him, as he was not allowed to come near our ranks, while in line of battle, as he held no position in the Regiment as yet, not having received his commission. Night came but Cameron had found no oysters, at least he said nothing about them….

General Thomas F. Drayton was in charge of the overall defenses of Port Royal Sound

General Thomas F. Drayton was in charge of the overall defenses of Port Royal Sound

[On the beach] The Captains of the several companies requested Gen. [Thomas F.] Drayton, under whose command we were placed on reaching there, to let us fall back, but he refused. The Captains not being willing to see their men murdered up, took the command of their companies, and ordered them to fall back out of the reach of the guns, until the enemy landed. They accordingly did so. The General soon ordered them back near the beach. The fleet turned loose on us again, with about five hundred guns. We stood there, not being able to return a shot with any success. About 1 o’clock, we were ordered to Reid’s Battery of two guns, near the sand Battery. We remained there until half past two, amid the shower of shot, grape and shell…

There was a continuous roar for five and a half hours. No one could count the reports, and at times could not distinguish the guns.

 

Capt. [John W. ] Turner, Lieuts. [Thomas F.] Hooper and [Henry W.] Dean acted well their parts, perfectly cool all day; in fact there was no fault to be found of any, under all the circumstances.

Our ammunition gave out…

Capt. Reid gave orders for us to leave, as he had lost 15 of his men, killed and wounded.

The men retired calmly, much more so than could be expected…  We [left] all our knapsacks, blankets and clothing.

Those that were with the wounded were left. … There were some left of the South Carolinians wounded. The dead were left on the ground. I heard of no arrangements made by General Drayton to have them buried.

No pen can describe the scene. The fences and houses and Hospital were torn to pieces—men falling in all directions. Some with their heads off, some arms and legs off, and some with their bodies torn to atoms. The balls tearing up the ground in holes deep enough to bury a man. It is impossible to say how many there were killed and wounded.

Gen. Drayton gave orders to fall back with the South Carolina troops in front, and the Georgians to bring up the rear.

The South Carolina troops were the first to leave the field, half an hour before the rest.  Stiles’  [William H. Styles] Regiment next, ours were the last, and our company the last of the Regiment, and Sargeant W. H. H. Camp [William H. H. Camp] the color bearer, the last man to leave. The balls, grape shot and shells falling and passing as thick as hail, as the fleet had ceased firing on the battery and had all their guns were bearing on us, said to be about 500, and we in half a mile of the beach. They continued to fire at us as long as we were in reach of them. I am aware that some will think that this is a strange tale, nevertheless it is true. Our military men men say it was the most terrific bombardment on record.

He [Drayton] marched off, and said nothing about leaving the Island til we got some distance. We all thought when we left the scene of action, we were only going to the woods, to prepare for the enemy when they landed, but to our utter astonishment, we found that the General was making for the boats,

1861 map of Hilton Head Island showing locations of Fort Walker, the woods, Skull creek, and ferry. Distance from Fort Walker to the Ferry landing was about 7 miles.

1861 map of Hilton Head Island showing locations of Fort Walker, the woods, Skull creek, and ferry. Distance from Fort Walker to the Ferry landing was about 7 miles.

We lost all our knapsacks, blankets and clothing….If [Drayton] had let us know he was going to evacuate the Island, we would have brought all our things.

Retreat of the Confederate garrison commanded by General Drayton from Fort Walker to Bluffton, during the bombardment by the Federal fleet, on the afternoon of November 7, 1861. - Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War. Image source: House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/38263.

Retreat of the Confederate garrison commanded by General Drayton from Fort Walker to Bluffton, during the bombardment by the Federal fleet, on the afternoon of November 7, 1861. – Frank Leslie’s Illustrated History of the Civil War. Image source: House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/38263.

On reaching the coast we found that the General had succeeded in getting himself and [the South Carolinia] men off before sundown.

He got himself and [the South Carolina] men off the Island first, and leave us [Georgians] to shift for ourselves, exposed to the enemy’s cavalry.

Colonels Stiles and Berry were very indignant at the General’s conduct—they went to work and made arrangements to get us off about 9 o’clock. It was low tide, and we had to wade some distance to get to flat boats, and then some distance to the steamer St Johns. 

Those that were [left at Fort Walker] with the wounded [had] remained some half hour after the regiments left and as soon as they found the condition of things, they picked up the wounded and made for the boats, and succeeded in getting there in time.It was about 11 o’clock before we got on board. We then run out about 4 miles and cast anchor, and remained there until daylight [November 8, 1861], and then set sail for Savannah, all the time on the look out for the fleet to pursue us, but Providence protected us…

Providence alone protected us. The wonderful escape of our soldiers on that occasion should be a sufficient evidence to all God’s people, that he is a prayers-hearing God and will grant their requests when asked in faith. Prayer is greater than steel or iron, or fleets with all their guns, and skill to man them. For trees,

houses, and fences to be torn to peices, the air full of dust from balls striking the ground, and an array of men walking along, and comparatively few hurt, looks too unreasonable to tell, but prayer availeth much. So we are taught in tho Book of Books and a few of us have realized it. A very wicked young man, who has pious parents, remarked to me the evening of the battle, “I have often heard Pa talk about Providence protecting us, and never could under stand it, but I now comprehend his meaning, for if Providence did not protect us to-day, l am at a loss to know what did.” Tears came into his eyes and he seemed deeply impressed.

The Boat was so crowded that there was no room to set or lie down, so we had to stand up, perfectly exhausted, having had nothing to eat since Wednesday morning, but some cold broad, and but little at that, and no water that was fit for horse to drink, feet and legs wet and no means of drying them.

We arrived safely here [Savannah] at 9 1/2 o’clock, We lost all our knapsacks, blankets and clothing. We are all in rather a bad condition,- most of our boys are not able  to change clothing, and all on account of General Drayton’s conduct…

Col. Thomas W. Alexander, once Mayor of Rome, in the uniform he wore as a Confederate Army officer. Image source: A history of Rome and Floyd County.

Col. Thomas W. Alexander, once Mayor of Rome, in the uniform he wore as a Confederate Army officer. Image source: A history of Rome and Floyd County.

On returning [to Savannah] we found Lt. Col. Alex- [Thomas W. Alexander] and Lt. J. E. Berry [James E. Berry] had arrived, and were preparing to join us.

There is several distinguished military men here, among whom is Gov. Brown.  The troops have been moved off all the Islands, and quite a number stationed near here. Gen. Lawton has had a large vessel sunk in Skull Creek, and one anchored at the Oyster Bed, ready to sink, as soon as the news reaches the city that the enemy has taken possession of the Island.

More than half the citizens [of Savannah] commenced packing up their furniture and goods, and having them drayed to the several depots. The Mayor [Thomas Pilkington Purse, Sr.] was soon

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1842, Alexander Robert Lawton lived in Savannah, Georgia where he was involved in state politics and railroad administration. Lawton was Colonel of the 1st Georgia when that unit overtook Fort Pulaski in January of 1861, and by mid-April he was a Brigadier General in charge of Georgia's coastal defenses. - National Park Service

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1842, Alexander Robert Lawton lived in Savannah, Georgia where he was involved in state politics and railroad administration. Lawton was Colonel of the 1st Georgia when that unit overtook Fort Pulaski in January of 1861, and by mid-April he was a Brigadier General in charge of Georgia’s coastal defenses. – National Park Service

informed that a great many men were leaving also. He issued his Proclamation, forbidding any to leave under 45, and laid an Embargo on all goods being shipped off, and in that way kept some from deserting the city. He let the women and children go. The cars has been crowded for several days going up the country. Some of these ladies had said that they would never leave their homes, unless it was to stand by the side of their husbands, fathers or brothers in repelling the foe, and that they put their trust in God, but as the time drew for them to make good their promises, they put their trust in the Railroad cars.

Yours, Floyd. 

The account in the Savannah papers are very imperfect. We had two wounded in our company. Joseph S. Ayers, slightly wounded in the foot, W. H.  [William H.] Perkinson in the hand.— We have Ayers at a private home. There never was a greater outrage perpetrated upon any set of men, than Gen. Drayton, of South Carolina, did upon the Georgia troops sent to his assistance. He acted more like a mad-man than a General. It looked like he wanted to have us slaughtered, by marching us up under the fire of over five hundred guns, and where we could not defend ourselves.

I hope he will never be in command of any more Georgia troops for he is not the man for a General. 

In the first place, the island was not sufficiently fortified.

And if South Carolinians want help she should first do her duty, and prepare for the worst. She has been boasting that she was ready—she now sees to what extent she was prepared.

Battle of Port Royal headlines, Savannah Daily Morning News, November 9, 1861

Battle of Port Royal headlines, Savannah Daily Morning News, November 9, 1861

Battle of Port Royal
Terrific Cannonading!
Evacuation of the Batteries by the Confederates!
The Forts In Possession Of The Enemy.

About half past one o’clock yesterday morning we received the dispatch published in our morning edition, announcing the evacuation of Fort Walker by our troops and their retreat towards Bluffton. This astounding news was only the precursor of teh more disatrous accounts which reached the city this morning by the boats from the scene of the action which arrived here early this morning.
In the confusion of statements of persons engaged in the action, it is impossible, in the time allowed us to obtain a very connected or circumstantial account of the fight. From various sources we have gathered the following.
As stated in our paper yesterday, the firing between Fort Walker and the fleet commenced about nine o’clock, the fleet giving the most of their attention to Fort Walker. Before ten o’clock seven of the largest steamers of the fleet had passed the batteries, and when the St. Marys left, from whose passengers we obtained our account of the first part of the action, a most terrific cannonading was going on. The fight continued until the departure of the Emma, at twelve o’clock, and when the Savannah left, at 2 o’clock, the firing was unabated, except at the Bay Point battery, which had been silenced between eleven and twelve o’clock. At this time a tremendous cannoading was kept up by the fleet, consisting of some thirty odd steamers and gun boats, which was returned by Fort Walker, the battery on Hilton Head.
The Fort Walker armament consisted of sixteen guns, nine of which bore upon the shipping, the balance being in position on the land side. Five or six of these guns, among them the 24 pound rifle cannon and one ten inch Columbiad, were disabled during the forenoon.- Thus disabled and their ammunition exhausted, the garrison evacuated Fort Walker between three and four o’clock, retiring in the direcgtion of Bluffton, leaving the guns in position and unspiked, have no spikes for that purpose.

In the course of the morning and previous night, considerable reinforcements of infantry and artillery from Georgia and Carolina had arrived at Hilton Head, and were stationed in or in the vicinity of the batteries, but we are unable at present to ascertain the number of troops engaged in the battle.

Capt. Jacob Reed’s artillery corps of the First Georgia Regiment of Regulars arrived at the scene of action on Wendesday night, and, on yesterday bore a gallan part in the fight. Four or five of his men were killed early in the action. The corps lost two of their guns and several horses.
Col. Randolph Spaulding, Georgia Volunteer Regiment, commanded by Capt. Berry were also in the engagement. THey were marched to the beach where they received a galling fire of round shot and shell from the fleet, which, however, they were unable to return with their muskets. Of the Floyd county Berry Infantry, Jas. S. Ayres and Second Surgeon Wm H. Perkinson, received slight wounds.
Col. Wm. H. Styles’ Volunteer Georgia Regiment reached the scene of action at 11 o’clock, havng marched from Skidaway, seven and a half miles distanct, at the double-quick. But they were also unable to fire on the fleet, which was out of the range of their guns. The Regiment had several killed and wounded by shells from the fleet. Our informant states the Col. Styles had two horses shot under him, and in the fall of one of them received a slight injury in the shoulder. The Colonel and his Regiment was at one time exposed to a terrific shelling from the ships, and it is only surprising that more of them were not killed and wounded.

Col. Randolph Spaulding, not bein in command of his Regiment, joined a corps belonging to another Regiment, and engaged in the fight, as far as it was possible for the infantry to participate in it, with his musket on his shoulder

Between 11 and 12 o’clock, twelve vessels engaged the forts, five of them first class steam frigates, the other seven were second class steamers, with a tug leading. The tug opened fire on our infantry stationed some distance from the beach. One of the frigates, the Minnesota, at a distance of two miles, also threw shot and shell at the infantry.
Our informant assures us that seven Dahlgren guns from one of the frigates fired many shots on the hospital containing our wounded, hitting the building several times, notwithstanding the yellow flag was flying. The Surgeons were compelled by this barbarous act to have our wounded moved further into the interior.
The Minnesota is reported to have been on fire three times from hot shot thrown from the batteries.
Col. Spalding’s regiment lost all its baggage, blankets, &c., but saved all their arms.
In the hurry of preparing our noon edition it is impossible to obtain reliable accounts of much that we hear by rumor. We understand that the loss on our side is about twelve killed and forty wounded. Among the latter is Capt. J. A. Yates of Charleston, who was seriously injured by the bursting of a shell. Dr. [Edwin Somers] Buist, of Greenville, South Carolina, was instantly killed by a shell striking him in the head.
We have no positive information from Bay Point battery, farther than it was silcenced at 11 o’clock. We hear that it suffered serious loss. It is reported that garrison retired in safety toward Beaufort.
Of Col. DeSaussure’s regiment, stationed at Fort Walker, four were killed at the battery and twenty wounded.
We understand that the Confederates lost no prisoners, except, perhaps, one or two from Col. DeSaussure’s regiment.
The killed were covered with blankets and left. The wounded were all placed on board of steamers, and will arrive in Savannah today.
The abandon batteries were taken possession by the enemy and the United States flag waived over them as our troops retired.
Thus ends the first act in the grand drama of invasion and subjegation on our Southern coast.
We have no time for comments, and can only say, important as it is, let it not dishearten or discourage, but rather let it stimulate our entire people, every man, woman and child, to determined and unconquerable resistance.

 

Return to Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 5

 

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