Causton’s Bluff Part 2:  Challenge from Tybee

Causton’s Bluff Part 2:  Challenge from Tybee

In the spring and summer of 1862, the Berrien Minute Men, Company D (Company K after reorganization), 29th Georgia Infantry were garrisoned at stations defending Savannah, GA.  Since mustering into service a year earlier, the Campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  had been made along the Georgia coast, with the 13th Regiment at Brunswick,  then at Sapelo Island, and Darien, GA.  By early 1862 The Berrien Minute Men,  having gotten “regulated” into the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment  were sent to the Savannah, GA area to garrison Camp Wilson and Camp Tattnall.

On February 21, 1862 Berrien Minute Men, Company C, were detached to serve on the Savannah River Batteries. In early April 1862 Federal incursions on Whitemarsh Island below Causton’s Bluff would precipitate the transfer of Berrien Minute Men, Company D and other companies of the  29th Georgia Regiment from Camp Tattnall to the bluff to reinforce the Confederate position there.  (Company A, Captain Billopp’s Georgia Foresters, were sent to Hutchinson’s Island. The Alapaha Guards (Company E) and 17th Patriots (Company K) were on picket duty at Screven’s Ferry, SC on the Savannah River just opposite Fort Jackson. On May 14th they captured seven federal soldiers who were released to federal authorities a few days later according to communications in the Savannah Daily Morning News, May 19, 1862.)

  1. Causton’s Bluff Part 1: The Key to Savannah
  2. Causton’s Bluff Part 2: Challenge from Tybee
  3. Causton’s Bluff Part 3: War on Whitemarsh Island
  4. Causton’s Bluff Part 4: Arrival of the 29th Georgia Regiment

Prior to the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men at Causton’s Bluff, the position was garrisoned by the 13th Georgia Regiment which experienced frequent night-time alerts.  Some of these were false alarms, but many were in response to Federal incursions on the creeks and islands below the bluff.

Commanding officers of the 46th NY Regiment garrisoned on Tybee Island east of Savannah were well aware that Confederate gun batteries were being placed around the city.

Officers of the 46th New York Infantry Regiment

Officers of the 46th New York Infantry Regiment.  The 46th NY garrisoned Tybee Island, GA in 1862. Image Source: New York State Military Museum

The 46th New York volunteers made the Tybee Light Station their Headquarters and it was “the base of operations for the seige of Fort Pulaski… Temporary barracks were built on the lighthouse grounds and defensive positions were taken up around the Martello Tower, which was refortified with earthwork batteries.” – Tybee Island: The Long Branch of the South.

The Federals on Tybee Island also welcomed escaped enslaved people who managed to find their way to the Island.

Following the capture of Port Royal, SC [and Tybee Island, GA] by Union Naval forces in November of 1861… escaping enslaved people began seeking asylum from naval vessels that were conducting reconnaissance along the coastal islands in March and April of 1862. Not having quarters for those who flocked to the boats, the US Navy established “contraband” camps at Otter Island, South Carolina and at the Naval post for Tybee Island in Georgia. – International African American Museum

1862 enumeration of escaped enslaved peoples living in "contraband" camp on Tybee Island, GA

1862 enumeration of escaped enslaved peoples living in “contraband” camp on Tybee Island, GA

The inventory records of the Union Provost Marshal give the names, age, height, former “occupation,” names, residence and “character” of former masters, date of arrival and present employment of those settled at the contraband camp.  The former slaves were employed as “officers servant,” laborers, boatmen, and oarsmen. These records have been transcribed at the International African American Museum

Tybee Island Light Station circa 1862

Tybee Island Light Station circa 1862

By February, 1862 the 46th NY Regiment was joined on Tybee by seven companies of the 7th Connecticut Regiment, a detachment of New York engineers and two companies of Rhode Island artillery.

Soldiers of the 1st New York Engineers

Soldiers of the 1st New York Engineers

Company F, 1st New York Engineers participated in the bombardment of Fort Pulaski

Company F, 1st New York Engineers participated in the bombardment of Fort Pulaski

Federal soldiers at the Martello Tower, Tybee Island, GA

Federal soldiers at the Martello Tower, Tybee Island, GA. Image source: Boston Athenaeum

The landing of [Federal] troops on Tybee Island greatly excited the Georgians. In a printed address sent out to the people of the State, signed by Howell Cobb, Robert Toombs, Thomass R. R. Cobb and M. J. Crawford, we find the following language:

“The foot of the oppressor is on the soil of Georgia. He comes with lust in his eye, poverty in his purse, and hell in his heart. He comes a robber and a murderer. How shall you meet him? With the sword at the threshold! With death for him and yourself! But more than this – let every woman have a torch, every child a fire-brand – let the loved homes of youth be made ashes, and the fields of our heritage be made desolate. Let blackness and ruin mark your departing steps if depart you must, and let a desert more terrible the Sahara welcome the vandals. Let every city be leveled by the flames and every village be lost in ashes. Let your faithful slaves share your fortune and your crust. Trust wife and children to the sure refuge and protection of God – preferring even for these loved ones the charrnel-house as a home that loathsome vassalage to a nation already sunk below the contempt of the civilized world. This may be your terrible choice, and determine at once and without dissent, as honor and patriotism and duty to God require.

For the Berrien Minute Men, the strengthening Federal positions on Tybee Island would mean re-deployment from their present positions. Captain Thomas S. Wylly’s company of Berrien Minute Men (Company C) on the night of February 21, 1862  were ordered from Camp Wilson to Fort Jackson to relieve the Savannah Republican Blues, and were soon ordered to Lawton Battery on Smith’s Island in the Savannah River.  Berrien Minute Men Company D, under command of Captain Lamb, remained at Camp Tattnall with Major Levi J. Knight, Sr. and the rest of the 29th Georgia Regiment until April of 1862.

On Tybee Island, the Federals prepared gun emplacements to bombard Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, and simultaneously they worked to cut off all supplies to the fort. The last remaining supply route to the fort was by way of Lazaretto Creek, which the Federals blockaded with the USS Montezuma.   The US Navy purchased Montezuma, a former whaling ship, at New London, CT on  November 29, 1861 originally intending to sink her as part of the second “stone fleet” of harbor obstructions on the Confederate coast.  Instead the Navy placed her in Lazaretto Creek, Georgia, in February 1862.

The fleet anchored the old wreck, Montezuma, at a point of three miles south of the fort [Pulaski] in the Lazaretto Creek. The Montezuma had been intended as a barrier to keep out steam ships. But when the traffic continued with small boats, Captain Anton Hinckel received orders to occupy the wreck with three guns and two companies of the 46th New York Infantry. The Montezuma was loaded with stones and had originally been intended to be sunk in the river along with 25 other worn-out ships to block the way to Savannah. Captain Hinckel and his troops spent the next eight weeks on the Montezuma. Regular patrols with row boats guarded the entrances and many of the nightly smugglers were caught. One of them was a slave who showed the Federal soldiers many secret connections to the fort, and thus it was possible to catch three more Rebels on the island of Wilmington. Ernst Mettendorf,  Zwischen Triumph und Desaster : Ein deutshes Regiment im amerikanischen Burgerkrieg.

A Federal map created December 31, 1861 showing the relative positions of the USS Montezuma (labeled "Hulk Scow" on Lazaretto Creek, Wilmington Island, Federal batteries on Tybee Island, and Fort Pulaski. To the west of Wilmington Islands are Whitemarsh Island, Oatland Island and Causton's Bluff [not shown].

An 1862 Federal map showing the relative positions of the USS Montezuma (labeled “Hulk Scow” on Lazaretto Creek, Wilmington Island, Federal batteries on Tybee Island, and Fort Pulaski. To the west of Wilmington Islands are Whitemarsh Island, Oatland Island and Causton’s Bluff [not shown].

The obstruction of Lazaretto Creek by the hulk USS Montezuma on February 22, 1862 cut off the last possible resupply route to the Confederate garrison at  Fort Pulaski.  Perhaps as a signal, the Federals also demonstrated against the fort. At Fort Pulaski, Lt. Theodorick W. Montfort, Oglethorpe Light Infantry, wrote the following day,

“On yesterday Morning, [February 22, 1862] the Yankees opened fire on our Garrison & fired several shots, none of which done any harm. On yesterday evening on Dress Parade while our men were formed in the yard they fired a rifle shell, which passed near us. There was considerable merriment at the expense of those who ran or dodged. I did not do either, yet I assure you to hear a large shell or ball whistling through the air which you can hear for three miles is not a very pleasant sound. Yet I find that men will soon become accustomed to danger as they will to any & evry thing else. Yet to us it is all excitement & amusement. It is good we have something to excite & amuse us.”

Coincidentally,  February 22, 1862 was the date that the Constitution of the Confederate States of America went into effect, assuring to white southern citizens the “right of property in negro slaves.”

For a while, couriers on foot were still able to sneak mail in and out of the fort, although many were captured by Federal patrols.  “Several of our men & mails have been captured either in getting to or returning from Savannah. They have to select some dark night & walk some five miles through a marsh from one to three feet deep in mud before they pass the Yankees that are spread over the Marsh day & night to watch & capture our men.” On the night of February 25, Federal boats patrolled around Cockspur Island and fired on Confederate pickets causing a general alarm. The garrison was again aroused and under arms on the night of the 26th, when anxious Pulaski pickets mistakenly shot a horse.

Fort Pulaski was expected to hold out for quite some time against a Federal siege, but the Confederates were immediately prompted  to further strengthen the remaining Savannah defenses. The battery at Causton’s Bluff was manned as critical link in the inner chain of Savannah defensive works immediately around the city.

Work on construction of fortifications at Causton’s Bluff Battery began in earnest that same month, along with construction of breastworks and batteries near Fort Jackson. At the behest of General Robert E. Lee, the Savannah City Council furnished “from two to three hundred negro laborers ‘for the purpose of throwing up breastworks.'”  Over the summer of 1862, military leaders would call for thousands more slaves to build defensive works around Savannah.

The Confederate States Army ran want ads for slaves to build defensive works around Savannah. Slave owners were assured they would be compensated for the work of their slaves and that the slaves would be well cared for.

The Confederate States Army ran want ads for slaves to build defensive works around Savannah. Slave owners were assured they would be compensated for the work of their slaves and that the slaves would be well cared for.

Savannah Republican
July 3, 1862

Negroes Wanted

C. S. Engineer’s Office
Savannah, June 24, 1862

      One Thousand Negroes are wanted for the completion of important works in the neighborhood of Savannah.
      By order of Brigadier General Mercer, commanding, the undersigned appeals to the Planters of Georgia to furnish this force without delay.
      The value of each negro entrusted to this Department will be appraised immediately and recorded. A receipt will be given for the negro, containing his value, certified by the appraisers. Should he in any way fall into the hands of the enemy, his value so appraised will be refunded to the owner or owners.
      The following terms are offered:
      Field Hand – $11.00 per month, with food, quarters, and medical attendance.
      Carpenters – $17.00 per month, with food, quarters, and medical attendance.
      Plantation Drivers – $20.00 per month, with food, quarters and medical attendance.
      Transportation, by railroad, also furnished.
      N. B – Dr. Thomas A. Parsons, of Burke county, Ga., is appointed Agent of this office, to procure laborers, according to the above advertisement.
By order Brig, Gen. Mercer.
                                      JNO. McCRADY
                                     Capt. C.S.P. Engineers, in charge.
***Macon, Augusta, Milledgeville, Thomasville, and Sandersville papers will publish weekly for one month and send bills to this office.

By order of Brigadier General Hugh Weedon Mercer each county was to contribute 20 percent of its slave labor force to build the defenses of Savannah. Only 10 percent of the slaves could be women. For every lot of 100 slaves, the counties could provide their own overseer, to be paid by the Army. The Army would resort to forcible seizure in any county where planters failed to contribute their quota of slaves.

The War in America: Negroes at Work on the Fortifications at Savannah.--From a Sketch by Our Special Artist.; Illustrated London News. vol.42, no.1199, p. 433. April 18, 1863

The War in America: Negroes at Work on the Fortifications at Savannah.–From a Sketch by Our Special Artist.; Illustrated London News. vol.42, no.1199, p. 433. April 18, 1863

“But some close, narrow-minded planters,” wrote Captain Mercer,  “evinced great opposition to this necessary order, denouncing it as tyrannical &c, they would rather subject our white Georgians to hard work in this terrible weather than spare a few of their slaves.”  Mercer, a native of Savannah, was a son of General Hugh Weedon Mercer and great grandson of Cyrus Griffin, who in 1788 was President of the Continental Congress.  Lt. Mercer was educated at Russell Military Academy, New Haven, CT;  took preparatory study under Dr. William T. Feay, a professor of Chemistry and Pharmacy at Oglethorpe Medical College; received a Master of Arts from Princeton College; and studied law at the University of Virginia.  Mercer’s  diary of Civil War experiences also relates his  disgust with profiteering by Confederate civilians: “A greedy desire to get rich seems to pervade all. One of the most agravated cases I have heard of consist in the charge of $3.50 per day for the use of an old Flat not worth $300; this Flat is used by the picket at Causton’s Bluff as a means of crossing the river, and belongs to Dickerson.”

The construction of Confederate batteries at Causton’s Bluff and placement of obstructions on St. Augustine Creek,  was assigned by General Robert E. Lee to Captain Josiah Tattnall, senior flag officer of the Navy of Georgia.  At the bluff, the gun battery was in a position to protect the back of Fort Lee which was across the marsh on the south bank of the Savannah River. The headquarters at the bluff was in a house that had served as the home of the overseer  of Habersham family’s rice plantation at Causton’s Bluff.  At the time the overseer’s home was built, about 1852, Robert Habersham owned at least 89 slaves who worked the plantation. “The overseer had objected to living all year at the plantation, because the miasma made the summer months unhealthful on rice plantations; so a new house was built for the overseer on the southern extremity of the plantation, some distance from the rice fields under cultivation.”

On February 28, 1862 units of 13th Georgia Regiment from Causton’s Bluff  encountered sentries from the Montezuma  who were patrolling the creeks around Wilmington Island in a small boat.

 A wild shootout followed in which one of the Rebels was killed along with two Union soldiers Johann Müller and Louis Herweg. Corporal Anton Mayer and his entire crew of 18 men were taken prisoner by the Rebels. Some of them had been wounded and Franz Etzold, a soldier, died a week later from his injuries. 

A second Federal patrol boat went undetected by the Confederates.

First Lieutenant Alphons Servière was with the second boat. He and his entire crew had to conceal themselves in the thick underbrush of the island. After two days they managed to return to the Montezuma – Ernst Mettendorf,  Zwischen Triumph und Desaster : Ein deutshes Regiment im amerikanischen Burgerkrieg.

 

Another night alert occurred on Tuesday, March 11, 1862 when the Confederate pickets on Whitemarch Island made contact with Federal Scouts. At Battery Beaulieu (pronounced “Bewly”) twelve miles below Savannah on the sea-island cotton plantation of John Schley,  “...at 1 Oclock in the knight we was ordered out on the perade ground and we loded our guns to go to Whitmarsh Island [where] the Yanks made an attack on our men,” wrote Isaiah Smith, a private of Company K, 31st Georgia Regiment, “but we did not get to go before the fight was over so we went to bed again.

Two weeks later, on Tuesday, March 25, 1862 a Federal detail from the Montezuma made another raid on Wilmington Island, taking one civilian prisoner and returning to their base without making any contact with Confederate forces. The captured Georgian was Jacob Dannenfelser who, like the soldiers of the 46th NY Regiment, was a German immigrant.

Dannenfelser told Captain Hinckel of a force of Germans stationed at Fort Pulaski. He noted later that it was a full company of the 1st Georgia Regiment under the command of Captain John H. Stegin. “At that time we were very interested to learn something about the situation over there at the fort,” recalled Captain Horace Porter. “One of our men suggested that the regimental band should play German music. When the Germans at Fort Pulaski hear this, they may want to come over to us. The proposal was quickly accepted. And indeed, on a particularly dark night, the first one came rowing across on a tree trunk. We received a lot of very important information from him.” Colonel Rosa reported this incident to General Sherman. In his letter to the general he wrote, “The defector from Fort Pulaski was named John Hirth. He immediately became a member of the 46th New York Regiment.” – Ernst Mettendorf,  Zwischen Triumph und Desaster : Ein deutshes Regiment im amerikanischen Burgerkrieg.

Regimental Band of the 48th NY Infantry

Regimental Band of the 48th NY Infantry

At Fort Pulaski Lt. Theodorick W. Montfort, of the Oglthorpe Light Infantry, wrote, “I think & fear that our heretofore limited means of communication is now effectually cut off. Two men (Germans) from this for Fort deserted …and have doubtless posted the enemy with our ways, means & time of getting a mail.”

 

About March 27, Confederate pickets from Causton’s Bluff while patrolling Whitemarsh Island encountered the Montezuma anchored in Lazaretto Creek  and fired on Captain Hinckel’s men, forcing them to briefly abandon the guns. But the Federals quickly rallied their forces and in the face of superior numbers, the Confederate pickets backed away and withdrew across Whitemarsh Island. The Federals pursued in an armed barge, but were unable to catch up with the Confederate soldiers.

The Confederate German Jacob Dannenfelser, after a week at the USS Montezuma, appealed to the commanding officer to allow him to check on his family back on Wilmington Island. Perhaps seeking Dannenfelser’s collaboration, the Union officer consented; on Sunday morning, March 30, 1862, two union soldiers were detailed to escort Dannenfelser by boat to visit his home.  But a patrol of Confederate scouts from Causton’s Bluff discovered the Federal party upon the return trip and effected a capture.

The affair was recorded in the official report of Colonel Rudolph Rosa:

MARCH 30-31, 1862.—Affairs on Wilmington and Whitemarsh Islands, Ga.

Report of Col. Rudolph Rosa, Forty-sixth New York Infantry.

Tybee Island, Ga., April 3, 1862.
General: In accordance with your orders I arrived at the swimming battery, Montezuma, near Decent Island, on the evening of March 29, 1862, with a detachment of two commissioned officers and thirty men of the Forty-sixth New York. Shortly after my arrival Lieutenant Serviere, having effected the relief of the men in the guard boat near Hunter’s farm, reported that he had been shot at repeatedly by about thirty rebels near Gibson’s farm, without the shot taking effect. On the following day, with four commissioned officers and seventy-five men, I made a reconnaissance on Whitemarsh Island, landing at Gibson’s and marching thence on land to Turner’s farm. From there we were recalled by shots, and found that the small stern wheel steamer [probably CSS Ida] had shown herself near to our boats in Oatland Creek, and had returned after being fired at by the boat’s guard. I then went again across the island to MacDonald’s farm, and returned without meeting the enemy. The topographical results will be embodied in a little sketch.

In returning I heard that by the lieutenant left in command of the Montezuma, leave had been given to Dannenfelser and two men to go with a boat to Wilmington Island, that they had been last seen going into Turner’s Creek, and were now missing. The guard boat was left at the usual place opposite Hunter’s farm over night.

At dawn on the 31st the guard were revised and partly relieved by Captain Hinckel, who then made a patrol to Dannenfelser’s house, and was told that Dannenfelser and the two men had been there for half an hour the previous day, and then had departed. Captain Hinckel also captured a negro in the act of entertaining communication between the fort and Savannah. The guard was instructed to keep a sharp lookout along the shore for our missing men. At noon Lieutenant Serviere was sent to relieve the guard, and with the instruction to search at the same time Gibson’s and Screven’s farms for the missing and for interlopers, but not to proceed farther. At 4 o’clock Captain Hinckel went with the captured negro for verifying his description at the cuts used for smuggling. He came back at 8 o’clock and reported that no trace of the guard and relief boats was to be found….

 

On the Confederate side, Lieutenant George Anderson Mercer, Assistant Adjutant General, 1st Georgia Infantry, was impressed with the action:

Pickets from the 13th Regt captured two German soldiers who were carrying off a German Gardener from his place on Wilmington Island. The Yankees were in a boat 700 yards distant; our men fired seven shots with enfield rifles; three passed through the boat and two struck the unfortunate man the enemy were taking off. This was good shooting. – George A Mercer

Excerpt from the Civil War diary of George Anderson Mercer describing actions of 13th GA Infantry Regiment stationed at Causton's Bluff near Savannah, GA

Excerpt from the Civil War diary of George Anderson Mercer describing actions of 13th GA Infantry Regiment stationed at Causton’s Bluff near Savannah, GA

The return of the victorious scouts to Causton’s Bluff with their prisoners and the liberated Dannenfelser in tow was also noted by Private Jenkins  in his diary,

…17 scouts under Adutant [Adjutant] Hill Sent to Whitemarsh Island, who have returned 3, oclock  with two captured prisners yankees and a dutchman citizan of Wilmington Island, who had previously been taken by the yanks, Companies B. C. & G. ordered to prepare immediately under command of Capt Crawford of Co G. -Pvt Cyrus Jenkins

Word of the capture quickly reached Savannah, and the following day a report of events to this point was published in The Savannah Republican of March 31, 1862:

Capture of Yankees.
         Two Yankees, belonging to the Forty-sixth New York Regiment were captured by our pickets yesterday [Sunday, March 30, 1862] under the following circumstances:
        Tuesday last [March 25, 1862] Jacob Dannenfelser, a German, residing on Wilmington Island was at work in his garden, when some thirty Yankees suddenly leaped the fence. He hailed them and asked who they were and what they were about. They replied that they were friends. They had with them a negro man named Sam, the property of Mr. Pinder, whom they released and then laid violent hands on Dannenfelser. They took him to an old hulk lying near Decent Island and there kept him until yesterday. The hulk is armed with a long rifle gun, which the Yankees call their “Field Snake.”
        Yesterday morning Dannenfelser prevailed on his captors to allow him to visit his family with a guard, for the purpose of seeing them and procuring some clothing. He was despatched to Wilmington in a boat with two men. Having procured his clothing, the boat was returning to to the hulk when our pickets on Whitmarsh opened a heavy fire upon the party. The Yankees were unhurt, though their prisoner did not come off so well. He was shot in three places, through the hand, one through the arm above the elbow, and a third across the bridge of the nose, the last mentioned being a very slight one.
         The Yankees, finding the fire rather warm, gave up and rowed to the island in the direction of our pickets, who took them in charge and forwarded them, together with Dannenfelser, to our camp at Causton Bluff. The latter was immediately brought to town to receive medical attention. The prisoners will be brought to town this morning.
        Dannenfelser said that whilst he was on the hulk, a party of Federals were fired upon by our pickets, when they retired and in a short time brought a force of some one hundred men in a barge with a heavy gun in the bow, to attack the pickets. The party were under command of Colonel Rose [Rudolph Rosa], of the 46th New York Regiment. No engagement occurred. The Pickets had retired from Whitmarsh. Being disappointed and not a little aggravated by the annoyance of our pickets, they threatened to burn the houses on Colonel Gibson’s plantation, but retired without executing the threat.

Being alarmed of the presence of Federal patrols on Whitemarsh Island, on that same Sunday afternoon, March 30, 1862, three companies of men were dispatched from Causton’s Bluff; Private Jenkins was among them.

We left the camp about dark, crossed Augustine creek upon oakland Island [Oatland Island], at Caustin Bluff battery. While passing a cross this Island along a narrow path enclosed by thick underwood, all at once all were silent & still as death.! a moment more & the gunlocks began to rattle like fire in a cainbrake! Two seconds & all was again still! A human form was seen! The Capt demanded his countersign. There were two who proved to be pickets for a squad of the 13th left by Adutant Hill [John Dawson Hill] in the evening.

We passed along to the old bridge 2 1/2 miles from Caustins Bluff & crossed the creek on Whitemarsh Island. While here waiting for the other two companies that we had left crossing Augustine creek, A noise was heard in the marsh, mistaken for the tread of human footsteps. All was again hushed. The Capt ordered us to divide on either side of the path that led through the marsh to the high land, & He with two others advanced to the wood. All were now in suspense. I did not like our position. I went to the wood, but before I got there I was releaved by the hissing, & familiar noise of an Alligator.

We now became tired waiting for the rear party & determined to wait no longer. After leaving a picket at our little boat, we proceeded a mile to an old house, but found nothing here. Then from thence to the Gibson place 1 1/2 miles farther with like success, & from thence to the Turner place 2 miles farther. On nearing this place. (It being now 2, oc [o’clock] at night) we perceived that a brillant light in one of the cabins.

The advance guard (of which I was one) had surrounded the house before the party came up. The men on seeing the light smelt a mice, or a yank and began backing scattering out, & cocking their guns. I could not imagine for a time the cause. I first thought they had seen some one in the diriction they were going then I saw their faces & guns all turn to the cabins. I then knew they expected danger from there, I now felt rather in a critical position, for I was near the house & in their full view. I knew I was no yankee but did they know it. I was afraid to speak or move for fear of being fired upon, for a yankee. I stood for a moment & stept cautiously behind the house.

The occupants of the house were negroes left upon the Island. We found no boats here to pass across to Wilmington, & returned to the Gibson Place.

As we neared the place, low depressed coughing was heard. We expected our rear scout, but crept up noiselessly within full view, when Capt demanded who comes there.  A reply came, Friend with the counter sign (all else was perfect silence).  Capt: Advance and give the countersign. All again still for a moment, then rapid cocking of firelocks was heard in every direction, in two seconds more all again silent. Capt again in his usual firm calm voice demanded the countersign. Then a trembling voice: Capt McCallay [James McCauley]. I know your voice, Lieut [William R] Redding Co E [13] th.

We here lay in ambush around the landing untill day (It being now 3, oc [o’clock] ). An hour by sun we, with exception of a small scout party under Adutant  [John Dawson] Hill. went to the Turner place to take our boats for Wilmington, (they were to meet us there).  Just as the boats came Hill sent a messenger for us to go to his assistance, They are coming. We now quicked it back but found when we got there they had turned back.

17 were left under command of Lieut [Bolling H.] Robinson to guard this & the remainder of us went over up on Wilmington. We then started out into two parties, Capt McCallay with, co B, were to go to the Hunter place & from there to the Scriven place & attack the yanks first, while the other party were to go to the Scriven place & there lay in at ambush untill the commencement & then come up in thier rear. But before we had got to the Scriven place we heard sharp firing in the direction. We went double quick (a mile) untill we came in sight, when we saw co G. quickening towards us. Capt [Joel T.] Crawford with his co G. were ordered by Hill back to our fleet of skiffs to prevent being cut off.

He now told Capt McCallay that Hill had ordered him McCalley back. The firing we heard was upon Whitemarsh, between our pickets there & the yanks. After a warm contest wounding one of our m[en] of Co G. they put to water & oarred toward Wilmington near the Scriven place. Company B now doubled quickening back to the boats. We soon after this heard sharp shooting at Scriven place. A few moments more & another volley & all was over. The enemy surrendered 16 in number. One killed three wounded with but two scattering shots from them.

An eight oared barge boat with a six pound field Piece upon its bow, together with their small arms, the prisners were sent on immediately. But some of us were here delayed untill about ten OC  at night when we started for Thunderbolt and after very heavy oaring against the tide we arrived at 3 oc in the morning of Tuesday. (some of the boats however reached Thunderbolt several hours in advance of us).  Here we remained untill morning where I lay upon the ground & Slept untill sun rise, when we again put out for camps and reached them at 9 oc in the morning

The Union account of the engagement was continued in Col. Rosa’s report of the actions of the 46th NY Regiment:

On the evening of the 1st of April we received promptly a re-enforcement of two officers and thirty men of the Forty-sixth New York, and one 6 pounder at the Montezuma. At 10 o’clock in the same night Lieutenants Serviere and Rettig and fifteen men in the relief boat returned and reported as follows: When the relief boat met the guard boat at Hunter’s farm they both proceeded to Gibson’s house, the relief boat in advance, the guard boat (with the small old iron 6-pounder, private property of the subscriber) bringing up the rear. At Gibson’s they saw two men; then Lieutenant Serviere with fifteen men landed and found himself soon engaged in a skirmishing fight with about thirty rebels, whom he successfully drove out of the houses and the farm, killing at least one of them. When the guard boat neared the landing Lieutenant Rettig also jumped ashore, but the helmsman, a canal boatman promoted to a sergeant’s position since two days, suddenly lost his self-possession entirely, backed the boat off, and dropped back with the tide. Lieutenant Serviere then took to the relief boat, which during the time had filled with water, and had to be bailed out, and set afloat again under cover of a chain of skirmishers. They left without any loss, though fired at repeatedly, and then saw in the distance that the guard boat had drifted on the flats between Screven’s and Hunter’s Place; that a fire was opened against it at about fifty paces distance, by, at the least estimation, about sixty men; that the men laid themselves flat on the bottom of the boat and waved their caps as sign of surrender. The relief boat then took to the small creek and swamps between Oatland Creek and Wilmington Narrows, was fast aground over night, and succeeded in coming back late the next evening by way of the narrows and the stockade. The total loss, therefore, consists of eighteen enlisted men, the man Dannenfelser, and about twelve rounds of ammunition. Two boats and one small iron 6-pounder were also lost, being prizes of the Forty-sixth Regiment New York State Volunteers, and not belonging to the United States. There seems to be a determination to keep up at all events the communication to the fort by way of Whitemarsh and Wilmington Islands and the very numerous creeks running through McQueen’s marshes. I most respectfully propose to keep a small armed steam-boat there.
Your most obedient servant,
RUDOLPH ROSA,
Colonel, Comdg. Forty-sixth Regiment New York State Vols.
General Q. A. Gillmore, Commanding.

 

Again, Lt. Mercer was impressed with the work of the Georgian’s at Causton’s Bluff.

These Georgians of the 13th are rough fellows, but full of fight and reckless of life; after the taking of the fifteen Yankees volunteers were called for for Picket duty; the whole regiment volunteered. There is no disposition to avoid a fight among our troops; they covet one only too anxiously — sick and all turn out for it. – George A Mercer

By March 31, 1862 the battery at Causton’s Bluff had been re-fortified.  “There was ferry dock on the river below the fort [Fort Bartow, Causton’s Bluff], since troops crossed the river at this point. This may have been the point where the Confederate ironclads Atlanta and Savannah, and the steamer Ida tied up when they came to Causton’s Bluff.” Also at the bluff was the steamer Leesburg, kept at the disposition of the commanding officer.

On April 9, 1862 the federal troops on Tybee were further reinforced by the 8th Michigan Infantry, arriving from Port Royal, SC aboard the U.S.S. Benjamin Deford.

USS Benjamin Deford brought the 8th Michigan Infantry to Tybee Island, GA on April 9, 1862

USS Benjamin Deford brought the 8th Michigan Infantry to Tybee Island, GA on April 9, 1862

Finally, on April 10, 1862 the anticipated Federal bombardment of Fort Pulaski commenced.  At Lawton Battery and Camp Tattnall, the Berrien Minute Men were about seven or eight miles from Pulaski, more than close enough for a front row view of the artillery barrage.  Witnessing the thunderous, up close barrage, did the Berrien Minute Men hark back to their time the previous fall on Sapelo Island, when atmospheric conditions caused them to hear the cannons bombarding Port Royal from a distance of 60 miles?  From one tenth the distance, how hellish the shelling of Pulaski must have seemed in comparison

Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Currier & Ives.

Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Currier & Ives.

Assistant Adjutant General  George A. Mercer observing the bombardment from Skidaway Island about six miles distant, reported the scene.

“The earth shakes with a tremendous cannonade. The bombardment of Fort Pulaski commenced early yesterday morning, and still continues with unabated fury. At half past nine oclock yesterday morning I roade over to Skidaway to witness the grand but terrible scene; I remained until after twelve; again in the afternoon I rode over and returned some time after dark. We were six miles off, but we could distinctly see the heavy columns of white smoke shooting up from the mortars on Tybee, and then see the immense shells bursting over the Fort. The enemy fired four and five times every minute, while the Fort replied slowly and coolly. The flag staff was shot away about noon. At the night the sight was grand. The tongue of flame was seen to leap from the mortars and then the flash of the bursting shell appeared just above the Fort.

During the bombardment all lines of direct communication were cut off with the Confederate garrison stationed  at Pulaski.  But Fort Pulaski was within line of sight of Causton’s Bluff. On the morning of Friday, April 11, the fort tried to get a message out; Commanding officer Colonel Charles H. Olmstead:

attempted to signalize to Causton’s Bluff…but such was the fire that no human being could stand on the ramparts for even a moment. Nearly a thousand shell, of the largest size, were thrown into the fort from the Federal batteries.” -Savannah Republican, April 12, 1862

On April 13, 1862, a portion of the Confederates surrendered at Fort Pulaski were loaded on the USS Ben Deford as prisoners of war for transportation to Fort Columbus, in New York Harbor.  Others of the Confederate garrison, including Colonel Olmstead, the commander of the fort,  were taken away as POWs by the steamship Oriental.

Steamship Oriental transported Colonel Olmstead and other POWs to a federal prison after the capture of Fort Pulaski

Steamship Oriental transported Colonel Olmstead and other POWs to a federal prison after the capture of Fort Pulaski

After the fall of Fort Pulaski, Savannah became more vulnerable to an approach to across Whitemarsh Island and St. Augustine Creek, and an assault on Causton’s Bluff.  In a letter to his father , Lt. Charles C. Jones Jr. [Chatham Artillery at Isle of Hope,] expressed the thoughts on everyone’s mind that April when the news of Fort Pulaski’s fall reached Savannah: “If the heavy masonry walls of Pulaski were of no avail against the concentrated fire of those Parrott guns posted at a distance of more than a mile, what shall we expect from our sand batteries along the river?” – Robert S. Durham

Historian Craig Swain observed“St. Augustine Creek, which connects the Wilmington and Savannah Rivers… also lead back east to the waters behind Tybee Island, in close proximity to Fort Pulaski.” 

Soon the 29th Georgia Regiment would be sent to reinforce the 13th Regiment at Causton’s Bluff.

Related Posts:

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 5

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 5:  Tidewater Time

During the Civil War,  two companies of men that went forth from Berrien County, GA were known as the Berrien Minute Men.  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.  Regimental officers were elected by the first of November. Through the fall, the men bided their time, fighting boredom and disease…

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

The soldiers of the 29th Georgia Regiment lamented their defensive position so far from the action of the war.   William J. Lamb and Thomas L. Lamb left the Berrien Minute Men in October to join Company E, 54th GA Regiment. Moses Giddens and John F. Parrish  left camp by the end of October. Parrish was a miller and took an exemption from military duty for service essential to the war effort; he later served as a judge in Berrien County. William Anderson, Enos J. Connell and Newton A. Carter left sick, but later returned to the regiment on Sapelo.

While languishing on the tidewater, the closest the 29th Regiment came to an enemy engagement was listening to the sounds of the Battle of Port Royal on November 7, 1861. Some 60 miles from the men on Sapelo Island, cannonade sounds from Port Royal may have carried over the distance due to an acoustic refraction caused by atmospheric conditions.  In the right combination, wind direction, wind shear, and temperature inversions in the atmosphere may cause sound waves to refract upwards then be bent back towards the ground many miles away. Numerous cases of acoustic refraction and acoustic shadows in Civil War battles have been documented.

Sounds of the Battle of Port Royal were heard sixty miles away by the Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island, GA.

Sounds of the Battle of Port Royal were heard sixty miles away by the Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island, GA.

The Battle of Port Royal was one of the earliest amphibious operations of the Civil War, in which a US Navy fleet under Commodore Samuel Francis Dupont and US Army expeditionary force of 15,000 troops under General Thomas West Sherman captured Port Royal and Beaufort,  South Carolina. The Confederate forces  defending the harbor at Fort Walker on Hilton Head and Fort Beauregard in Bay Point were completely routed  after a four hour naval bombardment.

Sergeant Robert Goodwin “Bobbie” Mitchell, of the Ochlocknee Light Infantry, Company E, 29th Georgia Infantry wrote  to his sweetheart, Amaretta “Nettie” Fondren in a letter home dated November 11, 1861, “How bad did it make me feel to remain here and listen to the booming of the cannon and not knowing but what every shot was sending death to some noble Georgian’s heart…How my blood boiled to be there.”

Sergeant Mitchell’s letter also reported that Colonel Spalding had gotten “shamefully drunk.” That fact was known to Spalding’s fellow plantation owners as well.  Charles C. Jones, who was Mayor of Savannah until August, 1861, wrote  in a letter to his father on November 9, 1861, that Colonel Spalding was supposed to have taken the regiment to South Carolina to participate in the defense of Port Royal, but it was rumored he was too drunk to do so. Jones was 1st Lieutenant of the Chatham Artillery, which in the summer of 1862 would share a station at Causton’s Bluff with the Berrien Minute Men defending approaches to Savannah, GA.

The Battle of Port Royal dramatically exposed the vulnerability of the Confederate coast, ultimately leading to the abandonment of the Georgia sea islands.

 “The attack on Port Royal had a major impact on General Robert E. Lee, who took command of the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida on November 8, 1861. As a result of his observations of the potential of the Union naval forces, Lee determined that the dispersed garrisons and forts that protected the widely scattered inlets and rivers could not be strengthened enough to defeat Union naval forces. Accordingly, he concentrated the South’s coastal guns at Charleston and Savannah. Making use of the Confederacy’s interior lines of communication, Lee developed quick-reaction forces that could move along the coastal railroads to prevent a Union breakthrough.” – HistoryNet

For a while after the fall of Port Royal, time continued to drag for the Berrien soldiers on the Georgia tidewater. The sick roll continued to grow. Isaac Baldree, John M. Bonds, John W. Beaty, James Crawford, William W. Foster, John P. Griffin, John L. Hall, George H. Harrell, Burrell H. Howell, Bedford Mitchell James, James S. Lewis, Thomas J. Lindsey, Edward Maloy, Newton McCutcheon, Samuel Palin,Thomas Palin, A.D. Patterson, John W. Powell, William J. Powell, James S. Roberts, Jason Sapp, Sidney M. Sykes, Levi T. Smith, Charles N. Talley, James B. White  and Thomas W. Beaty of Captain Wyllys’ company of Berrien Minute Men were absent on sick leave. Hyram F. Harrell, of Captain Lamb’s Company, left sick; he died on February 4, 1862.  On November 27, Hansell H. Seward and James A. Slater of the Ochlocknee Light Infantry were discharged from service at Darien, GA.

On Sunday, December 1, 1861,  Pvt. William Washington Knight wrote his wife that the weather was unseasonably warm.  William and his brother John were recuperating from severe colds.  Several of the men in camp on Sapelo Island were sick, and measles was spreading among the men.   William and his father, Major Levi J. Knight, were  up the river at Darien, GA, where they attended church together.  The town was later described by Union officer Luis F. Emilio, “Darien, the New Inverness of early days, was a most beautiful town…A broad street extended along the river, with others running into it, all shaded with mulberry and oak trees of great size and beauty. Storehouses and mills along the river-bank held quantities of rice and resin. There might have been from seventy-five to one hundred residences in the place. There were three churches, a market-house, jail, clerk’s office, court-house, and an academy.”   Wharves and docks were along the river.

Hugh E. Benton of the Thomas County Volunteers deserted the regiment on December 4, 1861. By this time, Sergeant Mitchell was frustrated and disgusted with the long inactivity of the 29th GA Regiment on Sapelo Island.  In his letter of December 9, 1861, from Sapelo, Mitchell complained of boredom in the camp.  Historian Lesley J. Gordan summarized Mitchell’s  despondence:

Far from the front, he found himself doing “nothing exciting or encouraging.”  The army seemed “cruel and despotic in its nature,” and he grew annoyed with the antics of his fellow soldiers, whom he deemed “rough and unrefined.”  

By mid-December, Berrien Minute Men Company D were on station at Camp Security.  Little is known about this camp except that it was “near Darien, GA” which would seem to place it on the mainland, rather than on the islands. Another soldier’s letter written from Camp Security and postmarked at Darien describes Camp Security as “one of the most abominable places on earth.”

Measles were soon rampant among the men. On December 18, Pvt. William Washington Knight wrote  from Camp Security, “Nearly all of our company have the measles.     Capt [John C.] Lamb has it.   We have eighteen privates fit for duty.    Reddin B. Parrish of our company son of Ezekiel Parrish died yesterday evening at sundown.     He was one of the best steadyest young men in our company.   Capt Lamb sent him home last night to be buried.”  The body of Redding Byrd Parrish was returned to Berrien County, GA.  The internment was at Pleasant Cemetery near Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA.

Grave of Redding Byrd Parrish, Pleasant Cemetery near Ray City, Berrien County, GA. Parrish died of measles December 17, 1861 while serving with the Berrien Minute Men at Camp Security, McIntosh County, GA. Image source: Terrell Anderson.

Grave of Redding Byrd Parrish, Pleasant Cemetery near Ray City, Berrien County, GA. Parrish died of measles December 17, 1861, while serving with the Berrien Minute Men at Camp Security, McIntosh County, GA. Image source: Terrell Anderson.

There were some sixty men of the regiment sick with measles including John Knight, Ed Lamb, J.S. Roberts, Jasper M. Roberts, John Clemants, and John W. McClellan among others.

On December 14, 1861, Colonel Randolph Spaulding resigned his position for unknown reasons. In a new election, Captain William H Echols, was elected Colonel of the regiment. But the Confederate War Department declined to permit Echols to accept the position, and he remained in his position with the Confederate Corps of Engineers.  Another election was then ordered and William J. Young was elected and commissioned as Colonel of the Regiment.

Most of the men recovered from the measles. Some didn’t. Nathan B. Stephens of the Thomasville Guards died of measles on December 11, 1861, at Darien. Henry C. McCrary died of measles on Christmas Day.  On New Year’s Eve, John C. Clements was put on sick leave.  Sergeant Lewis E. Cumby of the Thomas County Volunteers was sent home with measles and pneumonia and died on New Year’s Day, 1862.  Elbert J. Chapman, known to the Berrien Minute Men as “Old Yaller,” was furloughed. Chapman later deserted the Berrien Minute Men, joined another unit, was court martialed and executed for the desertion. John A. Parrish and John M. Griffin were absent on sick leave; Griffin never returned. E. Q. Bryant of the Thomas County Volunteers was at home sick.   Harrison Jones of the Berrien Minute Men was discharged with a disability January 12, 1862. Stephen N. Roberts and James S. Roberts, kinsmen of John W. Hagan, went home sick.  James returned to the regiment by February, 1862, but Stephen never recovered; he finally succumbed to pneumonia in Lowndes County, on January 6, 1863.

On January 1, and again on January 4, 1862,  Sergeant Mitchell wrote that there was drinking and fighting among the men.   The conditions of camp life had taken their toll on the morale of the men, but soon the 29th Georgia Regiment would be reported ready for action.

About Robert Goodwin Mitchell:

Robert Goodwin Mitchell was born on a plantation in Thomas county, Georgia, July 15, 1843, a son of Richard Mitchell and Sophronia Dickey. His father had served as a state representative from Pulaski County, before settling in Thomas. After some preliminary work in the neighborhood schools, Robert Goodwin Mitchell attended Fletcher Institute, at Thomasville, and later he was a student in the preparatory department of Mercer University for one term. When but eighteen years old, he volunteered for the Confederate service at Thomasville, and was mustered in Savannah in July, 1861, as color bearer, in Company E of the 29th Regiment. Mitchell had the natural countenance of a leader; He stood 6′ 2″, with blonde hair, grey eyes and a dark complexion. He was soon  appointed sergeant and at the re-organization in 1862, was made second lieutenant. When Gen. C. C. Wilson, of the 21st Regiment, was put in command of the brigade, including the 29th Georgia Infantry, Mitchell was appointed to the General’s staff as aide-de-camp. He married Amaretta Fondren on January 21, 1864. Mitchell was serving in the trenches under fire in the battle at Atlanta on July 22, 1864, and was severely wounded on the line southwest of the city, August 9, 1864. It was while Robert G. Mitchell was disabled from the wound he received in the war that he began the study of law. In 1865, he established a home south of Thomasville which grew to be a 2000 acre plantation. He went into a law partnership with his brother for a while before being appointed Solicitor General of the Southern Circuit. He was elected a state representative, then a state senator.   After serving his term as senator, Mitchell resumed his law practice until 1903, when he was elected judge of the superior court of the southern circuit of Georgia, to succeed Judge Augustin HansellThe letters of Robert Goodwin Mitchell are part of the Robert Goodwin Mitchell Papers, Hargrett Rare Books & Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, GA.

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