29th Georgia Regiment at Camp Wilson near Savannah, GA

Berrien County, GA sent forth in the Civil War two companies of men known as the Berrien Minute Men.  In the early months of the war, the Campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  made along the Georgia coast, at BrunswickSapelo Island, and Darien, GA.  By early 1862 The Berrien Minute Men,  having gotten “regulated” into the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment ,  were sent to Camp Wilson, near Savannah.
Camp Wilson had been established more than a year prior to the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men. Other Regiments encamped there were the 25th Regiment, 27th Regiment, and 31st Regiment.
The camp was located two or three  miles below Savannah, on White Bluff Road some distance beyond the Atlantic & Georgia Railroad [Atlantic & Gulf?]. White Bluff Road was the Shell road which was then an extension of Whitaker Street.  Camp Wilson was two miles from Camp Lawton and one mile from the soon to be established Camp Tatnall.
Isaac Gordon Bradwell, a soldier of the 31st Georgia Regiment, described  Camp Wilson as a large, level field.  It had room enough for four regiments and their equipment, officers horses, a parade ground, and a place for religious meetings and services.

The locale of Camp Wilson was said to be beautiful but, at least in the earlier days, soldiers found life there quite hard. Private Bradwell wrote in a memoir,

We had not been in these camps many days before we were invaded by measles the dread enemy of all new soldiers, and many of our men died or were rendered unfit for further service. Other diseases thinned our ranks, and for a while few recruits came to take their places. We were under very strict discipline all the time, but some men disregarded the military regulations and suffered the consequences…” 

Of camp food, Bradwell wrote,

The rations were ample, and consisted of flour, corn meal, and bacon. To these afterwards were added, rice, pickled beef, peas, sugar, coffee, sometimes vegetables, and always hard-tack. This was a kind of cracker prepared for the army sometime previous to the outbreak of the war, and it was as hard as wood. No salt, shortening, soda, or other leven whatever was used in its preparation, and it could be eaten only by those who had good sound teeth; but we found out later that it could be soaked with hot water and grease in an oven and be made quite palatable. In its original state, I suppose it would keep indefinitely in any climate. Each cracker was about six inches in diameter and about an inch thick. When broken with a hatchet, or other instrument, the edges of the fragments were shiny and showed it solid composition.

Some soldiers thought the camp provisions were less than satisfactory.   Lieutenant Theodorick W. Montfort, of the 25th Georgia Regiment, in a letter from Camp Wilson to his wife  wrote on January 14, 1861 : “We have poor beef & fresh shoat meat cost us 18 cts per lb.” Montfort requested food be sent from home, “some back bones, spare-ribs, sausages, butter & eggs…,”  assuring his wife that the Confederate government would pay the freight on such shipments.

Soldiers could purchase their own food, but prices were high. Soldiers supplemented their Army rations as best they could. Lieutenant Montfort’s letters from Camp Wilson reveal that one food available to the soldiers there was shad, a delectable fish that runs in the Savannah river delta and other rivers of coastal Georgia from late December to late March. The Shad season was just getting underway when the Berrien Minute Men arrived at Camp Wilson in the winter of 1861-62.  (In a court case concerning shad fishing on the Ocmulgee River, the attorney for the defense was Thaddeus G. Holt,  who also served as the first Superior Court judge in Lowndes County, GA). Shad were also the subject of a diary entry written in early 1862 by  John Thomas Whately, an Englishman conscript with the 13th Georgia Regiment who was stationed at the camps around Savannah:

I had the good fortune of coming on two shad which were made mine by paying $1.25. While on my way home through the streets of Savannah, I was teased nearly to death about my fine shad. After we had arrived in camps and partaken of supper, I and my friend H_ went to Capt. Hill’s tent and W_ was not there. I went back to the fire, and was trying to think where my friend W_ could be. While I was thus engaged in thinking, I heard a kind of smacking of lips in the direction of a small tent off to the left: I walked up and what a busy crowd! There were my friends who had teased me, busily engaged in completing the destruction of one of my shad. I walked in just time enough to get a nice piece and the last piece of my devoured shad. We laughed it off and each one of us retired to our respective tents. [Continuing the following day,] I arrose this morning at the tap of the drum, and after I had answered my name and washed my face, I partook heartily of my remaining shad, who was now without a mate as the other had been unceremoniously devoured by the devilish mouths of my friends last night.

(Whatley later deserted, joined the Union Army, served with the 3rd Maryland Cavalry, then deserted again)

On January 1, 1862 in a letter to the Rome Courier, Thomas J. Perry of the Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment, wrote:

The Federal fleet keeps at a respectful distance, though it is thought that Gen. Sherman will be forced to make a forward movement soon. Ten or twelve of his large war steamers can be seen occasionally, near some of the Islands, but they never stay at one place long at a time. Gen. Lee is in the city to-day. Of course his mission is not generally known.

Recalling events which occurred at Camp Wilson just about the time of the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men in January, 1862, Private Bradwell wrote,

“A little incident which happened while we were here served to break the monotony of camp life very effectually for a short while. At midnight,, when all well-behaved soldiers, except those on guard, were sound asleep, the long roll, that never-to-be-forgotten rattle that wakes a soldier to do or die, was sounded. The voice of our orderly sergeant was heard calling out “Fall in! Fall in!” In the darkness and confusion, we grabbed our clothes and got into them as quickly as possible, and seizing our guns, we took our place in ranks. While this was going on, some of our men were so dazed by the suddenness of this rude awakening that they acted like madmen. One fellow snatched up a blanket for his trousers, but could not get into it. Our old French bandmaster rushed up and down the street, shouting all the time, “Where de capitan? Where de capitan? I die by de Capitan!” We were soon trotted off to the parade ground to take our place in the ranks of the regiment there drawn up, to meet the enemy we thought. Casting our eyes in every direction, we could not see the flashing of the enemy’s guns or hear any noise of battle. Here we stood for quite a while in uncertainty, when finally Colonel Phillips appeared. Walking slowly down the line, he asked each orderly sergeant as he passed whether all the men were present, and to send all absentees up to his headquarters the next morning at 8 o’clock. We were then marched back to our quarters and dismissed for the night. The next morning at daybreak the delinquents stepped into ranks to answer their names, ignorant of had happened during the night. There was quiet a delegation from each company to march up to headquarters that morning to receive, as they thought, a very severe penalty for their misconduct. Our good old colonel stood up before his tent and lectured the men, while others stood armed grinning and laughing at their plight; but to the surprise and joy of the guilty, he dismissed them all without punishment after they had promised him never to run away from camp again.”

Union forces had captured Tybee Island on November 24, 1861, and the men at Camp Wilson were taking measures for the defense of the city. A soldier at Camp Wilson in February, 1862, described their work:

…we are…now engaged in throwing up batteries at different points and in cutting down trees on all the roads leading from the coast to Savannah, that is not across them but every tree on each of the road to the swamp – the object of this is to prevent the Yankees from flanking us on either side with their artillery or cavalry, but compell them to keep the road, by this means they can bring but few men into action at any one time and with our Batteries we can sweep the roads – the cause of this unusual excitement is daily increase of the Yankee Fleet on our Coast.

Despite the proximity of the Federal forces, in some ways the familiar routines continued within the line of defenses ringing Savannah. While at Camp Wilson, soldiers of the 29th Georgia Regiment complained that the Savannah post office would not allow the men in service to mail or receive letters until after noon, prioritizing morning mail for the benefit of civilians.

Daily Morning News
Savannah, GA
January 8, 1862

       Mr. Editor: I desire a place for the benefit of the soldiers and their friends who are here in defence of this city.
      Why cannot soldiers receive communications through the post office as soon as the citizens here? By order of the postmaster, at 12 M. is as soon as they can recieve or transmit any communication through this office, while citizens receive their mail matter by 10 A. M. Besides, we are threatened that upon a requisition to change this order from a colonel of a regiment, 2 P.M. for up-country soldiers will be as soon as the mail will be delivered at office, for no regimental box will be rented, but the mail matter will be thrown into the general delivery.
      Soldiers that have abandoned the pleasures and comforts of their homes – have borne the fatigues and fortunes of the camp – yea, and of the field, certainly are entitled to equal courtesies with citizens. Further, soldiers DEMAND of civilians equal rights, equal privileges. We are here in Savannah for its defence -for the defence of Georgia – for the maintenance of the Constitution of the Southern Confederacy – for the protection of women and children, property, freedom of opinion, and every thing that freemen hold sacred and dear| For this, though soldiers, yea, privates, are we to be ordered to stand aside, while courtesies are shewn to citizen civilians. We own much, and will pay, occasion offering, to the citizens (especially the women) of Savannah for kindness to our sick brethren in arms; but we have left our loved and dear ones at home, from whom a letter is an angel’s voice against temptations and vices of camp – as sweet, soft music to the anguished soul – as savory ointment to the wounded spirit – and yet, when calling for this the only true solace a soldier has for his labors, he is met with “Wait till 12 M., or you shall not receive your mail matter before 2 P. M.,” an hour that were a man’s wife dying, and wishing to receive her last breathing sigh, ‘twould be too late to get to her death bed, by army regulations properly made at headquarters here.
Citizens of Savannah, cannot you remedy this? If this office will not pay for a sufficient number of clerks to arrange business sooner, is there no patriotic man who will take the position and relieve this burden on any citizen (if it be one.)
      Soldiers will complain, and we think properly.

W. B. Fordum
Private Berry Infantry
29th Reg. Ga. Volunteers
Camp Wilson

Men of the 29th Georgia Regiment also organized for religious services. Lieutenant Thomas J. Perry, of the Berry Infantry reported from Camp Wilson on January 1, 1862:

     Last Sabbath a week ago, we organized a Sabbath school in our Regiment and appointed the Rev. Mr. Harroll Superintendent, and Thoms. J. Perry Secretary and Libarian. We have built us a Bush Arbor, in the rear of our camps, about 200 yards distant. We have also agreed to hold prayer meeting every Tuesday and Thursday nights, and have preaching every Sabbath at 11 A.M., 3 P.M., and again at night, and have invited the other two Regiments to join us. Quite a number of Col. Phillip’s Regiment have accepted the invitation, and gone to work with a hearty good will.
      Prof. P. H. Mell preached for us last Sabbath at 11 A. M., and again at 3 P. M., and at night gave us a talk upon the subject of prayer.

But, Lieutenant Perry went on to report, “Sin and wickedness prevails…”

To be continued…

Related Posts

 

Advertisements

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 1

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 1: Arrival on Sapelo

Sketch of Civil War Earthwork on Sapelo Island

1863 Sketch of Civil War Earthwork on Sapelo Island. near Sapelo Lighthouse,Doboy Sound, Georgia. Fron a reconnaissance made, under direction of C. O. Boutelle, Assistant U.S.C.S., by Eugene Willenbucher, Draughtman C. S. January 1863

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

During the Civil War,  two companies of men that went forth from Berrien County, GA were known as the Berrien Minute Men. The first company, organized by Captain Levi J. Knight served temporarily with the 13th Georgia Regiment at Brunswick, GA, before going on to join in a new regiment being formed at Savannah,  GA.  The second company of Berrien Minute Men rendezvoused with Captain Knight’s company at Savannah and was also enjoined  in the formation of the new  regiment. The two companies were mustered in as Companies C and D of the as yet unnamed Regiment.  After brief training in the Camp of Instruction at Savannah and in coastal batteries defending the city, the companies were detailed for duty.

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. Darien was about 55 miles south of Savannah and 20 miles north of Brunswick, GA.  The environment of Darien, the sea islands and the Altamaha River basin were ideal for the cultivation of rice and long staple Sea Island cotton, and the agricultural economy of the southern tidewater was strategically important to the fledgling Confederate States.

According to historian Buddy Sullivan, “The soils of the Altamaha delta were extremely fertile, both for the production of cotton and sugar cane, but most especially for that of rice.” In the peak decade of the 1850s, the Altamaha delta produced over 12 million pounds of cleaned, hulled rice; “Darien was the center of some of the most extensive rice cultivation on the southeastern tidewater.”  The tidewater agriculture was particularly labor intensive and “paralleled by the prevalence of malaria, yellow fever and other tropical diseases  and their connectivity with  tidal marshes, mud and water attendant to  the breeding of mosquitoes…Slaves toiled in the wet, marshy rice fields under harsh, demanding conditions.”

“Captain Basil Hall, an English travel writer who visited the Altamaha district in 1828, observed that the growing of rice was ‘the most unhealthy work in which the slaves were employed, and that in spite of every care, they sank in great numbers.  The causes of this dreadful mortality are the constant moisture and heat of the atmosphere, together with the alternating flooding and drying of fields on which the Negroes are perpetually at work, often ankle deep in mud, with their bare heads exposed to the fierce rays of the sun.'”

Slaves working in the rice fields.

Slaves working in the rice fields.

When mosquito swarms peaked in the summer and early fall, the white plantation families of the Altamaha district left the care of the crops to their slaves and migrated to the drier Georgia uplands; they returned to their low country plantations with the first frosts.  Although the proliferation of mosquitoes in the summer months coincided with the incidence of malaria and yellow fever, no connection was made between the events. Instead the common belief was that the tropical diseases were “caused by the “miasma,” a noxious effluvium that supposedly emanated from the putrescent matter in the swamps and tidal marshes, and thought to float in the night air, especially in the night mists as a fog.”

It is perhaps no accident that the deployment of the Berrien Minute Men to Sapelo Island coincided with the waning of the fever season. It appears Captain Knight’s company of Berrien Minute Men (Company C, later reorganized as Company G) embarked from Savannah in September  and had arrived on Sapelo and taken up station on Blackbeard Island by the first of October, 1861.  Sapelo and Blackbeard islands are adjacent, being separated only by Blackbeard creek and a narrow band of marsh.

The Confederate soldiers on the islands had access, albeit limited and inconvenient, to the post office at Darien, GA on the mainland about  10 miles up the Altamaha River. A handful of surviving letters written by the men on Sapelo paint a picture of Confederate camp life on Georgia’s sea islands, including correspondence from William Washington Knight and John W. Hagan of the Berrien Minute Men, Robert Hamilton Harris and Peter Dekle of the Thomasville Guards, and Robert Goodwin Mitchell of the Ochlocknee Light Infantry.

After a number of the men on Blackbeard Island were reported sick, rumors circulated back at home that the regiment was stricken with Yellow Fever. The families of the Berrien Minute Men had reason to fear.  In 1854, a yellow fever outbreak had killed thousands of people on the southeastern coast, including as many as 400 victims at Darien, GA.  But in his letters home, Private John W. Hagan of Berrien county wrote, “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 mutch they became bilious.”  Hagan knew something about yellow fever. His father, John Fletcher Hagan, had died of yellow fever in 1853.

The Berrien County men may have just been unacclimatized to the muggy heat of the coast, or the men may have contracted malaria  in the coastal marshes.  Levi J. Knight, Jr. later wrote that one of the Berrien Minute Men, Private Enos J. Connell, became “unfit for duty, rendered so by a protracted illness contracted on Blackbeard Island… the disease when first contracted was said by his physician to have been Billious fever.” Enos J. Connell never entirely recovered and was eventually discharged in June 1862. Private Thomas N. Connell, died at Blackbeard Island on October 2, 1861, the cause of death being given in his service record as “bilious fever.” Bilious fever,  a now obsolete medical diagnosis, was often used for any fever that exhibited the symptom of nausea or vomiting in addition to an increase in internal body temperature and strong diarrhea. Bilious fever (Latin bilis, “bile”) refers to fever associated with excessive bile or bilirubin in the blood stream and tissues, causing jaundice (a yellow color in the skin or sclera of the eye). The most common cause was malaria.  What treatment the sick men may have received on Sapelo Island is not described, but one known remedy for intermittent fever was quinine derived from the Georgia Fever Bark tree, which grew in the Altamaha River Valley.

Company D of the Berrien Minute Men  (later reorganized as Company K) arrived on Sapelo Island in early October. Company D steamed from Savannah late Tuesday evening, October 8, 1861. Among the men of Company D were privates John W. Hagan, William A. Jones, and William Washington Knight, a son of Captain Levi J. Knight.  There was a wharf on the north end of Sapelo at the Chocolate Plantation, then owned by the Spalding family. But the steamboat landed Company D on the south end of Sapelo perhaps at the Spalding’s South End mansion. Company D disembarked at daybreak on Wednesday, October 9, 1861 and then proceeded to encamp at Camp Spalding.

Visiting the camp hospital, Private William W. Knight found of the Berrien men, “only three that were sick much. Several had been sick but were able to wait on themselves.”   William A. Jones was crippled with a severe infection on his knee.   Captain Levi J. Knight had been among the sickest, but was somewhat recovered. Assistant Surgeon William H. Way, of Thomas County, GA, was the only medical officer with the Regiment at the time.  William P. Clower would later serve as Surgeon of the Regiment.

Within an hour of landing at South End on Sapelo , Private Knight started the eight to ten mile trek to the camp of his father’s company on Blackbeard Island. He was accompanied by Sergeant John Isom, who was returning to Company C.

At the bivouac on Blackbeard island, Private Knight found his father still convalescing.  “Father looks very bad, but he is gaining strength very quickly,” he wrote.  No sooner had Pvt. Knight and Sgt. Isom arrived at the camp on Blackbeard, than Captain Knight’s company packed up and  marched back to Camp Spalding on the south end of Sapelo.  Pvt. Knight described the round trip as “seventeen miles, part of it the roughest country on this globe.”

The soldiers would spend the coming weeks establishing camp and the routine of regimental life on their sea island outpost.

Related Posts:

 

Berrien Minute Men at Brunswick ~ July, 1861

Berrien County in the Civil War
Berrien Minute Men at Brunswick, July, 1861

Civil War letter of Robert Harris, 29th Georgia Regiment, while encamped at Brunswick, GA.

Civil War letter of Robert Hamilton Harris, 29th Georgia Regiment, while encamped at Brunswick, GA.

Even before the secession of Georgia, Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA, had gathered a company of men, styled the Berrien Minute Men, to serve as volunteer infantry.   Knight, an old Indian fighter, politicianrailroad investor, developer and social leader of south Georgia, anticipated of the formation of the Confederate States Army.  In the winter of 1860, he convened a meeting at Nashville, GA, seat of Berrien County which then included present day Lanier, Atkinson, Cook and Tift counties, as well as present day Berrien, where the company endorsed the Resolutions of the Berrien Minute Men.  In the spring of 1861, the Berrien Minute Men encamped and drilled at Nashville, GA.  On May 17, a Grand Military Rally was held at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA on behalf of the Berrien Minute Men.

The following month, Knight’s company of Berrien Minute Men was ordered to  report for muster into the Thirteenth Regiment of Georgia Volunteers.

 

<em>Savannah Daily Morning News</em>, July 24, 1861 reports Berrien Minute Men have received orders to join the formation of the 13th Georgia Regiment, in replacement of  Colonel Paul J. Semmes regiment.  Semmes regiment, the 2nd GA Regiment, which had been on station at Brunswick, GA had been ordered to Virginia.

Savannah Daily Morning News, July 24, 1861 reports Berrien Minute Men have received orders to join the formation of the 13th Georgia Regiment, in replacement of  Colonel Paul J. Semmes regiment.  Semmes regiment, the 2nd GA Regiment, which had been on station at Brunswick, GA had been ordered to Virginia.

 

Savannah Daily Morning News
July 24, 1861
        The following named companies will compose the Thirteenth Regiment Georgia Volunteers, which will take the place of Colonel Semmes’ regiment, now under orders for Virginia, viz:
        Wiregrass Minute Men, Capt. C. W. Styles,
        Brunswick Riflemen, Captain B. F. Harris, Brunswick.
        Lowndes Volunteers, Capt. G. T. Hammond, Valdosta.
        Ochlocknee Light Infantry, Captain W. J. Young, Thomasville.
        St. Mary’s Volunteers, Capt. A. B. Dufour, Darien.
        Seaboard Guards, Captain John C. Nichols, Waynesville.
        Berrien Minute Men, Captain Levi J. Knight, Nashville.
        Piscola Volunteers, Captain William A. Lane, Quitman. –Atlanta Intelligencer, July 21st.

Per orders,  Captain L. J. Knight took his company of Berrien Minute Men to the Georgia coast where  they and other volunteer companies from south Georgia counties were garrisoned at Camp Semmes for the defense of the port at Brunswick, GA.  Camp Semmes, south of the city, had been established by Colonel Paul J. Semmes, commanding officer of  the 2nd Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry. The defense of Brunswick had been the responsibility of the 2nd Regiment until that unit was ordered to Virginia.

Around mid-June, General Lafayette McLaws, Brigadier General A. R. Lawton, and Captain William W. Echols  had visited Brunswick to inspect the troops at Camp Semmes.  Colonel Semmes and the 2nd Regiment had established security checkpoints for all vessels entering the port of Brunswick.

July 4, 1861 Colonel Semmes publishes a circular with requirements for all ships making port at Brunswick, GA. The Berrien Minute Men were among the companies detailed for defense of Brunswick.

July 4, 1861 Colonel Semmes publishes a circular with requirements for all ships making port at Brunswick, GA. The Berrien Minute Men were among the companies detailed for defense of Brunswick.

Savannah Republican
July 8, 1861
CAMP SEMMES.
Brunswick, GA., 4th July, 1861.
Public attention is respectfully directed to the annexed circular, and notice given that all boats are expected to conform to its requirements.  Passengers are ordered not to take passage in any boat until assured by its master of his intention not to disregard the same; and in order to avoid accidents or detention to themselves, to compel, if need be, his compliance therewith.
PAUL J. SEMMES,
Col. 2d Reg’t G.V., comd’g Camp Semmes
and the adjacent coast.
Circular.
HEAD-QUARTERS 2D REG’T G.V.,
CAMP SEMMES, BRUNSWICK, GA., June 25, 1861.
         I. On and after this day, all boats or vessels of any description, passing up or down the river, will be required to set their colors, or, if they have none, to heave to and report themselves to the officer of the day, at Camp Semmes, during the day.
        After sun-down every vessel will heave to and reply to the questions of the sentinel or officer of the day.  One shot will be fired across the bow of any vessel attempting to pass without heaving to, when ordered, and if, after one shot, she attempts to proceed, she will be fired into.
         II. The sentinels on the posts facing the river will be instructed to hail all vessels passing up or down the river which do not set their colors, during the day, and to hail all vessels or boats after sun-down as follows: Steamer, or schooner, or boat, ahoy! (as the case may be,) heave to! The sentinel will then call for the corporal of the guard, who will in turn call for the officer of the day or officer of the guard. The officer of the day will inquire, “What boat (or other craft) is that? – where are you from? – Where are you bound? -have you anything to communicate?” &c.  If the replies be satisfactory, the officer of the day will permit the vessel to pass on.  If any vessel, after a fair challenge attempt to pass, the sentinel will fire across her bow, and call – “The Guard:”
By order of
Col. Paul J. Semmes
W. G. Clemons, 2d Lieut. Co. G.,
Acting Adjutant.

Among the companies replacing the 2nd Regiment at Brunswick   were the Berrien Minute Men with the Thomasville Guards,  Piscola Volunteers, Seaboard Guards, Brunswick Rifles,  Glynn Guards, and Wiregrass Minute Men.

It is a noble thing to fight for our country, and glorious to die in her cause…O, who wants not be a soldier! ~ Robert Hamilton Harris, Thomasville Guards, July, 1861

While encamped there, Robert Hamilton Harris, of the  Thomasville Guards, described the camp and his experiences in a letter to Martha (Mattie) Love, his girl back home in Thomas County, GA. She was a daughter of Peter Early Love,  U. S. Congressman and  former Solicitor General serving old Lowndes County, GA.

A portion of this correspondence has been preserved and scanned in the collection of Civil War letters of Robert Hamilton Harris, housed in the Digital Library of Georgia. Unfortunately, the extant portion of  this letter is not dated. However, we can surmise from contemporaneous events described by Harris that it was written about mid-July 1861.

The partial letter begins in mid-sentence with the description of a ship:

the prize (a boat) before she reaches Savannah. Our men will probably blow her up should any U. S. vessel attack them. She is laden with near $40000 worth of sugar, and was captured by the Jeff Davis on the coast of Newfoundland.

This “prize” was the Yankee brig John Welsh which was captured by the Confederate privateer C.S.S. Jeff Davis  at about 6:00 A. M. on Saturday, July 6, 1861.  This event was widely reported in Confederate and Union newspapers. According the Civil War Naval Encyclopedia, privateers were privately owned vessels sailing under special commissions from their governments in time of war that authorized them to capture ships of an enemy power, be they warships or merchant vessels.  The privateer Jeff Davis was reconnoitering off Delaware when she discovered the  merchantman John Welsh. The John Welsh had departed Trinidad, Cuba, on the 22nd of June for Falmouth, England, having on board a cargo of 300 hogsheads  and 475 boxes of sugar.  She was owned by John Welsh, esq., of Philadelphia. The value of the ship and cargo was estimated at $75,000.  The officers and crew of the John Welsh were taken aboard the Jeff Davis as prisoners and a prize crew was installed. They sailed the John Welsh to Savannah where she was to be condemned as a prize and sold at auction.  Although Robert Harris’s letter made no mention of it, the following day, July 7,  the privateer Jeff Davis captured the schooner S. J. Waring and detailed a prize master and crew  to take her to Beaufort, SC. Three of the original crew, two seamen and the African-American cook, William Tillman, were left on board. Tillman, however, managed to retake command of the ship, killing the Confederate prize master, first mate and second mate.  For his successful action in retaking the ship and sailing her back to New York, William Tillman became the first African-American hero of the Civil War, and received a reward of $6000.00

Harris’ letter goes on to describe  the volunteer infantry companies at the Brunswick rendezvous, and the camp life of the men. This gathering of the companies was prior to their official mustering in to the Confederate States Army:

There are seven companies now encamped in Brunswick, viz. the Thomasville companies, the Berrien Minute Men, Piscola Volunteers, Brunswick Riflemen, Seaboard Guards, and the Wiregrass Minute Men, all of them very fine companies. We will soon be ready for double our number of Federals, and then we will feel easier.
    Our boys seem to enjoy themselves, and I know I do.  We have very hard fare, and have to endure a great many hardships, but we are healthy and have fine bathing facilities. Some of us are in the water nearly all the time. I plunge in regularly every morning at daylight, and spend half an hour or so in the delightful exercise of swimming, after which I don’t go in again during the day. I think this is the best plan.  A very large shark showed himself in our bathing place this morning, but we all went in as soon as he left, for we can’t forego this healthful pleasure because we happen to see a shark in the neighborhood.

Four of these companies, the Piscola Volunteers, Brunswick Rifles, Seaboard Guards, and Wiregrass Minute Men, would later be reorganized into the 26th Georgia Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, along with companies from Lowndes, Ware, Clinch, McIntosh, Pierce and Twiggs  counties.

Harris’ letter mentions that one man of his company, John Bernard, had attempted suicide by cutting his throat. But Dr. [Edwin A.] Jelks of the Piscola Volunteers [Brooks County, GA] was able to suture the wound and keep the man alive, at least temporarily. Jelks, who was a relative of  Harris’ intended, went on to become Surgeon of the 26th GA Regiment.  The 26th Georgia was also the regiment Albert Douglass would join after deserting the Berrien Minute Men in 1862.

Harris also included with his letter a sketch of Brunswick, showing the position of the regimental camp south of the city.

1861 map of Brunswick, GA showing location of the encampment of Captain Levi J. Knight's company of volunteer infantry, the Berrien Minute Men.

Robert Hamilton Harris’ 1861 sketch of Brunswick, GA showing location of the encampment of Captain Levi J. Knight’s company of volunteer infantry, the Berrien Minute Men.

The camp was situated south of the city on the bank of the Turtle River, with  the river front on the west, cedar groves to the north and south, and woods to the east. The Berrien Minute Men (marked B.M.M.) were positioned on the northeast corner of the regimental grounds with the rest of the companies on the north side and on the riverfront. The regiment kept a picket guard on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. The marsh on the east side of the peninsula Harris incorrectly labeled “Bloody Marsh” -the actual Bloody Marsh is on the east side of St. Simons Island. Brunswick’s wharves on the Turtle River are shown, as well as Oak Grove Cemetery, the Darien Road, the Waynesville Road.

Harris’ map also depicts a “prize” ship anchored off the Brunswick wharf.  This may have been a U.S. vessel captured by the privateer schooner Triton, of Brunswick, GA.  The Triton was the very first privateer to be commissioned by the Confederate government.  Confederate president Jefferson Davis had authorized privateers on April 17, 1861 and the Triton was commissioned on May 10, 1861, the  day the orders were published. The Triton was a small, 30-ton schooner, armed with a single six-pounder gun.

The railroad shown on Harris’ map would have been the shortline Brunswick & Florida Railroad, which connected at Glenmore, GA with the Savannah, Albany & Gulf Railroad and the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad.  The Atlantic & Gulf was intended to serve as a “Main Trunk” for the two coastal railroads, and it was planned to stretch across south Georgia to steamboat docks on the Flint River at Bainbridge , creating a passenger and freight connection to the Gulf of Mexico.  By 1860, the Atlantic and Gulf had reached the site of Valdosta, GA, bypassing the Lowndes County seat at Troupville, GA.

Civil War era map of the Brunswick & Florida Railroad, running from Yankee Town (now Waycross), GA to Brunswick, GA - Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

Civil War era map of the Brunswick & Florida Railroad, running to Brunswick, GA – Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

The captain of the Berrien Minute Men, Levi J. Knight,  was an investor in both the Brunswick & Florida Railroad, and the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad.  The state of Georgia had also invested half a million dollars in Brunswick & Florida stock because of the railroad’s perceived strategic value.  An advantage of  these connections, it was said, was that the railroad could move men and materials from ports on the Gulf of Mexico to the Brunswick port on the Atlantic in 24 hours “in case of war between this country and a foreign nation.”   The B&F connection to the Savannah, Albany & Gulf also provided convenient transportation between Brunswick and Savannah, GA.

The Savannah newspapers noted that the Berrien Minute Men and the rest of the 13th Regiment arrived in Savannah on July 30, 1861 via railroad. At that time, they received equipment issued by the Confederate army.

Savannah Daily Morning News
July 31, 1861

Arrival of Troops
The Berrien Minute Men and Piscola Volunteers (Brooks county) arrived yesterday afternoon by the Albany and Gulf Railroad, and are encamped, together with the other companies belonging to the 13th Georgia regiment, on the parade ground. The following is a list of the officers of the former:
Captain – Levy J. Knight
1st Lieutenant – Thomas S. Wylly
2nd Lieutenant – Wm. Giddens
3rd Lieutenant – John C. Lamb
Ensign – Wm. Y. Hill
They number some eighty-five men, rank and file.
Those of the latter are:
Captain – Wm. A. Lane
1st Lieutenant – J. D. Morton
2nd Lieutenant – M. J. Culpepper
3rd Lieutenant – J. M. Rushin
This corps numbers some seventy men.

In August, the seven companies Harris noted at Camp Semmes were joined by the Camden Rifles and the Glynn Guards. On Saturday, August 19, 1861 these nine companies were formally mustered into the 13th Georgia Regiment, under the command of Colonel Cary W. Styles, of Ware county.

It appears that the Lowndes Volunteers and St. Mary’s Volunteers were late for reporting at Camp Semmes, and were not mustered into the 13th GA Regiment. The Lowndes Volunteers later mustered into the 26th GA Regiment.  Another Lowndes company (Company I, 12th Georgia Regiment) under the command of Captain James W. Patterson was already in Virginia.  General McLaws encountered them June 21, 1861 at Branchville, VA.

In a letter written from Petersburg, VA McLaws described traveling with the Captain Patterson’s company of Lowndes company over the period from about June 21 to June 24.

We succeeded in starting [from Weldon, NC] about 8 P.M. in an extra train consisting of twenty freight cars and one passenger car. I have said we, because on arriving at Branchville, from Augusta a company of 116 Volunteers from Lowndes County Ga got into the train, and from that time, there was an end to all individuality. I managed to preserve my seat entire, by piling my overcoat, pillow & carpet bag beside me. But they were all around me, in all various attitudes conceivable, and dressed and undressed as suited their humor or degree of heat, artificial or natural, they had steamed up to at the time – one person, the wit of the party, said that if any body would give him a dollar he would sit in his shirt tail, and for an additional half would then pull off his shirt. Most of them pulled off their shoes, some had socks and others none and many were only partially provided. As the heat increased the fetid odor was tremendous – which added to the insane idea peculiar to volunteers that it was the patriotic duty of each and every one to hurrah and yell on passing through any settlement,made the time pass remarkably slow. And whenever we stopped a moment there was a general rush out in search of water, and then when the conductor shouted “get aboard” various fellows would say “I cant find a board but can get a shingle if you want one!” – all of which added to the general hilarity and made the night rather a sleepless one. When the crowd was put into the baggage cars, the noise was none the less but it was further off, so that second night passed more quiet. But today the passenger car was crowded with them again, and the odors and the singing and the patriotic yelling was truly remarkable. The Lowndes company, however, are a very fine looking body of men and in fact are remarkably well behaved, and have a Captain who has them under complete control by the mere force of his personal influence, his name is Patterson and I have no doubt he will do credit to his state.

Unfortunately, through a lack of coordination there was some duplication in the numbering of the Georgia regiments, and as it happened, there was already a 13th GA Regiment in service in Virginia.  In a short time Col. Styles regiment was reorganized, with the majority of the companies remaining at Brunswick to form the nucleus of the 26th GA Regiment while the Berrien Minute Men, Thomasville Guards, and Ocklocknee Light Infantry were ordered on to Savannah, GA to be mustered into the 29th Georgia Regiment.

About Robert Hamilton Harris:

Robert Hamilton Harris (April 19, 1842-April 29, 1929) of Thomasville, Georgia, was the stepson of Rev. Robert Fleming. During the United States Civil War Harris served in Company A, 29th Regiment of the Georgia Infantry, reaching the rank of captain. For nearly twelve years after the Civil War, he studied and practiced law. During this period he served as Solicitor of the County Court in Thomas county, railroad attorney, and Mayor of Thomasville. Harris became an ordained minister in 1878. He served as a circuit preacher in rural southern Georgia and as a pastor of Baptist churches in Columbus and Cairo, Georgia, as well as Troy, Alabama. In 1900, he accepted a professorship at Cox Seminary in College Park, Georgia, where he remained until his retirement in the 1920s. On October 13, 1863, Robert Harris married Martha (Mattie) Love (March 5, 1845-December 28, 1900). Martha Love was the daughter of Peter Early Love (1818-1866) of Thomasville (Love served in the U.S. Congress, 1859-1861) [In the 1840s, Love was Solicitor General of the Southern Circuit of Georgia, and served at the Lowndes Superior Court of 1845 which convened in Troupville, GA.]

Related Posts: