Causton’s Bluff Part 3: War on Whitemarsh

Causton’s Bluff Part 3: War on Whitemarsh

During February and March 1862, Confederate Troops at Causton’s Bluff had been in frequent skirmishes on Whitemarsh Island with Federal troops scouting from Tybee Island.

  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
  5. Causton’s Bluff Part 5: Tidewater Time

The Berrien Minute Men watched from Lawton Battery and Camp Tattnall when Fort Pulaski fell on April 11, 1862. Even from the distance of seven miles, the furious onslaught of artillery was a terrible scene to behold.

Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Currier & Ives.

Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Currier & Ives.

About a week later  U.S. troops from Tybee and Cockspur Islands made a reconnaissance of Wilmington Island. Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore’s purpose for ordering the mission was to determine “if any preparations by the enemy for boat expeditions against the hulk [USS Montezuma] on Lazaretto Creek or on the left of my position [were] being made.” Pickets from Causton’s Bluff had made contact with the Montezuma about March 27, 1862.

On April 16, 1862, A Federal mission under the command of  Lt. James Harrison Wilson and escorted by seven companies of the 8th Michigan Infantry Regiment led by Col. William M. Fenton,  were transported aboard the steamer Honduras (later commissioned the USS Honduras) from Goat Point at the mouth of Lazaretto Creek to Wilmington and Whitemarsh islands.

Steamer Honduras (later commissioned USS Honduras). Image courtesy of Florida Keys Public Libraries.

Steamer Honduras (later commissioned USS Honduras). Image courtesy of Florida Keys Public Libraries.

Landing rear companies on Wilmington Island at Screven’s Plantation, the Federal mission proceeded to land a force at Gibson’s Plantation on Whitemarsh Island. A work party of Confederate soldiers from Causton’s Bluff detected the landing party and reinforcements were quickly called up. A skirmish ensued in which both sides took losses.

Col. Marcellus Douglass filed an official after-action report with the Confederate States Army. Lieutenant Wilson and Col. William M. Fenton filed official U.S. Army reports.  On both sides of the conflict the size of the commands were understated, while the size of opposing forces were exaggerated.

The report of Col. Douglass was filed from Causton’s Bluff:

Headquarters Carston’s Bluff,

April 21, 1862.

Captain: I take this the first opportunity to make my report of the engagement between a portion of my command and a regiment of the enemy on Whitemarsh Island on the evening of the 16th instant:

The island lies east of this place, and between is the island called Oatland. I have for some time kept pickets and small scouting parties on Whitemarsh, knowing that the enemy occasionally visited it. On that day I had sent, under command of Lieut. Thomas G. Medders, of Company H, a party of about 45 men for scouting and picket duty. In the evening I took with me Capt. J. T. Crawford, of Company G; Lieut. B. T. Bowie, of same company, and 37 of their men, with axes, across to Oatland to have the trees on the island cut down. I required the men to carry with them their guns and cartridge boxes.

Soon after getting there and about 3 p. m. one of my pickets came in from Whitemarsh and told me that the enemy were landing at Mr. Gibson’s place, on the point of Whitemarsh next to Wilmington River, and that a steamer with about a regiment of men on board was lying in the river some 400 or 500 yards from the landing, and that Lieutenant Medders, with his men, had fallen back across the island to a cross-road some 2 miles from where the enemy were seen. I immediately started Captain Crawford, with his company of 37 men, to the place where Lieutenant Medders had halted. I gave to Captain Crawford instructions to remain at that point until I could return to camp and get an additional force, and also directed him to send out pickets from the cross-roads in two directions, one leading to Gibson’s place and the other to Turner’s place, which is on the point of Whitemarsh next to Augustine Creek, and in view from which is Skidaway Island. I then hurried back to camp, being delayed in crossing Augustine Creek. Taking with me three companies (A, B, and C), commanded respectively by Lieut. E. L. Connally and Capts. James McCallay and John L. Moore, I started for the island, hurrying the steamer Leesburg, at my command for this purpose. In order to take two chances of getting assistance to Captain Crawford I had Captain McCallay to land from the boat on Oatland, just across from the battery at this place, and directed him to hurry over to the cross-road on Whitemarsh, with orders that he and Captain Crawford should remain with their companies at that place until I could reach them with the two others, and not to attack the enemy until I joined them, unless they should ascertain that there was only a small party of the enemy, instead of a regiment, as reported to me by the pickets. My reason for not taking the three companies directly over Oatland to Whitemarsh was that the only means of crossing the stream between the two islands was a small boat that would carry about 10 or 15 men at once, and too much time would be consumed in this manner. I therefore went on the steamer with Companies A and C around to a landing on Whitemarsh. Being delayed at the mouth of Whitemarsh Creek about one hour the boat ran aground, and by the time I could get my men all on land it was near 5.30 o’clock.

In the mean time the pickets posted by Captain Crawford discovered a party of the enemy, about 50 strong, who had advanced 1 1/2 miles across the island. The pickets fired on them and fell back to the crossroad, and reported the number of men seen to be about 50 or 75, whereupon Captains Crawford and McCallay, after distributing between their two companies the scouting party under Lieutenant Medders, determined to endeavor to surround the enemy and capture or kill them. Captain Crawford with his force went the road toward Gibson’s, and Captain McCallay with his force up the road toward Turner’s, to where another road turned off to the left and led to Gibson’s place. Both parties met small parties of the enemy and the firing commenced, the force on each side being nearly equal. The enemy were driven back for 1 1/2 miles across little fields and skirts of woods to the Gibson house, where they sheltered themselves behind a hedge of cedar, and brisk firing began.”

This was the first firing I heard, the other being scattering and the noise of the steamer preventing those of us on board from hearing anything else. As soon, however, as we had landed and the reports of the guns were heard I started my men at a double-quick, having then 2 or 2 1/2 miles to go. This distance we made as quickly as possible. On the way I met several of the wounded men and those who were without cartridges coming back. At the distance of about half a mile or less from the Gibson house I met Captain Crawford with his men retreating across a small field, and learned from him that he and Captain McCallay, who with their forces had divided near the cedar hedge, had been overpowered after having sustained heavy loss and exhausted their ammunition, and were compelled to retreat, and that the enemy—a full regiment—were in hot pursuit. Seeing that Captain Crawford and all his men were completely worn out I ordered them to the rear, and formed my men in single rank along and just in the edge of a skirt of woods, ordering them to lie down and wait for the command to fire. Soon the enemy came, shouting as they came, apparently confident of overtaking and capturing the small party who had so long held them in check. The imprudence and impatience of one man prevented me from getting the enemy completely by surprise, and I believe in our power. He, contrary to orders, fired too soon, and knowing that a scattering fire would begin, I gave the command to fire, and one volley checked their progress and turned them back. They discharged their guns at us, but without effect. I kept my men in their position, expecting another advance, but no Yankee showed himself again. Soon Captain McCallay, about whom I felt great uneasiness, came in from a direction to the right of us, some of his men wounded and the rest without cartridges and all completely exhausted.

Night had then come on us, and having only about 60 men with cartridges and physically able to fight, I deemed it imprudent to pursue the enemy to their boats, knowing their overwhelming force of 800 men and also fearing an ambuscade, as a skirt of woods through which they retreated was between us, and we could not then ascertain whether they were fleeing or awaiting our advance.

On the next day I found that they had remained on the island only long enough to gather up their dead and wounded, as they had left knapsacks, cartridge boxes, canteens, haversacks, overcoats, blankets, &c., and a number of guns, all of which we gathered up. I also saw the doors that they had taken from the houses there and on which they had borne off their killed and wounded. The doors were very bloody.

During the first part of the engagement, and while Captains Crawford and McCallay were driving the enemy before them, a Federal lieutenant was mortally wounded, and from him the fact was ascertained that their force numbered 800 or 860; it was the Eighth Michigan. Another prisoner, who was taken with the lieutenant, also stated that the men we were fighting were not foreigners. Several caps were found with the letters of the companies to which the wearers belonged on them, showing that there were different companies. I also learn from the officers and men that while the fighting was going on in the field in front of and from here, just beyond the Gibson house, the enemy formed in line of battle and their entire force took part in the fight. Some time during the engagement the enemy landed some artillery (the tracks of the wheels were found by us the next day), but it was not brought into action at all, and I judge was carried back on the boat as quickly as it had been landed.

The officers of my command engaged were: Capt. J. T. Crawford and Lieut. B. T. Bowie, of Company G; Capt. James McCallay and Lieuts. A. W. Pearce and J. T. Horsley, of Company B; Capt. John L. Moore and Lieuts. T. M. Breed aud J. B. Breed, of Company C, and Lieuts. E. L. Connally and J. C. Steger, of Company A. Lieut. Thomas G. Medders, of Company H, was lieutenant of the scouting party sent out in the morning.

The whole force engaged at any one time was not over 90, some having been detailed as pickets to prevent surprise from the rear and to guard the steamer.

Below is a list of the casualties: *

Officers …………………………………………………… 3 wounded
Non-commissioned Officers ………………..1 wounded
Enlisted Men……………………………4 killed, 12 wounded
Total………………………………………….4 killed,  15 wounded

The loss of the enemy could not be ascertained, except approximately, by going over the ground and finding the bloody places which marked where they fell. There were quite a number of these, some of them indicating that those shot had bled very freely. Bloody garments were found, some caps that had been shot through, and the bloody doors upon which they had borne off their men; guns and various other things with blood on them indicate that the enemy suffered severely.

I had forgotten also to mention that the lantern they had used in searching for their dead and wounded was found the next day. In their haversacks were found plates, knives, and forks, butter-crackers, meat, &c., as if they had come prepared to remain on the island a day or two. They had also some ground coffee that they drooped in their hurry. The guns used by them were muskets, some of them large-bore Springfield muskets rifled.

The loss on our side, particularly in the ranks of Captain Crawford’s company (G), and the length of time they were fighting, show with what bravery they maintained their ground against overwhelming numbers—eight or ten to one.

I cannot omit to state my high appreciation of the skill and courage of Captains Crawford and McCallay and the valor of officers and men under them. Captain Crawford had command of the party until I arrived, and in his judgment and valor I have entire confidence. Captain McCallay nobly seconded him in every movement, and a braver, truer man cannot be found.

Individual instances of heroism and narrow escapes were reported to me, among them that of Garland Upshaw, of Company B, who in assisting in bearing off a wounded comrade had four bullet-holes made through his coat. Upshaw is quite a youth, and yet is considered one of the best scouts in the regiment. Private Pilkinton, of Company A, was shot just as he had loaded his gun, and after falling handed it to Captain McCallay, requesting him to discharge it at the foe. Captain Crawford and his men were nearly surrounded, and though exposed to fire from three directions bravely fought until they had no cartridges to use. Captain McCallay had a ball shot through his coat.

I have made this report too long, and yet not long enough to do full justice to the men who, less than 100, in a fair fight kept back 800 well armed Yankees for nearly an hour, and retreated only because they had no more ammunition with which to fight.

I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

M. DOUGLASS, Colonel, Commanding Post.
Gapt. Malloby P. King, A. A. G., Second Brigade.

 

The report of Lt Wilson was published by the New York Times, which incorrectly identified the source as Lieut. W.L.M. Burger.  Burger was indeed on the mission, but Official Records of the Union Army confirm that the following is the report of Lt. Wilson.

As a Lieutenant, James Harrison Wilson led the April, 1862 federal excursion on Wilmington Island.

As a Lieutenant, James Harrison Wilson led the April, 1862 federal excursion on Wilmington Island.

DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH.; A Severe Skirmish on Wilmington Island. A Reconnoitering Party Attacked by the Rebels. THE ENEMY REPULSED WITH LOSS, Ten of Our Men Killed and Thirty-five Wounded. OFFICIAL REPORT OF THE AFFAIR.

A skirmish occurred on Wilmington Island, above Fort Pulaski, on the 16th inst., the official report of which I send, and also a list of the killed and wounded. There is a discrepancy in the numbers of killed and wounded reported, and the list given me. I cannot explain it.

ON BOARD STEAMER HONDURAS,
OFF WILMINGTON ISLAND, Ga.,
April 17, 1862.

Lieut. W.L.M. Burger, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General Headquarters United States forces, Tybee Island, Ga.:

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following for the information of the General Commanding:

Escorted by seven companies of the Eighth Michigan Volunteers, commanded by Col. Fenton, and a small detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery, I embarked on the steamer Honduras at Goat’s Point about 8 o’clock yesterday morning, for the purpose of making a reconnaissance of Wilmington Island.

Proceeding through Lazaretto Creek, Tybee River and Wilmington Narrows, to Scriven’s [Screven’s] plantation, two companies, (G and B,) about 115 men, under the command of Capt. Pratt, were landed, with orders to march at once to the southwest end of the island, skirting Turner’s Creek on the right, so as to cover the boat party which was to follow that stream to Wilmington River. Ascending to the junction of Oatland and Turner’s Creeks, the balance of the command, in all about 300 men, was landed at Gibson’s plantation [on Whitemarsh Island].

The first company ashore was directed to move at once to the southwest end of Whitemarsh Island, skirting Turner’s Creek, and with instructions to leave a small picket at the intersection of the roads leading from Gibson’s and Oatlands to Turner’s, till another company should arrive at that point. A third company was to be thrown out on the road to the ferry at Canton’s Bluffs [Causton’s Bluff], to protect the boat party up Oatland Creek. The two remaining companies were to be held in reserve at Gibson’s plantation.

Lieut. Caldwell and sixteen men of the Rhode Island Volunteers, with one light 6-pounder, were left in charge of the steamer. The gun could not be landed on account of the inability of the boat to lie alongside of the landing.

Having proceeded through Turner’s Creek to Wilmington River, I returned by the same route, and landed at Gibson’s. Directly after arriving there, I was informed that our patrols had discovered the enemy in force at or near Fleetwood’s, and had seen traces of them all the way to Turner’s. Col. Fenton had already given order for the advance companies to fall back to Gibson’s, and and his dispositions for repelling an attack and covering our embarkation.

After an examination of the ground, at my suggestion, one company was thrown further forward to take shelter behind the hedge and fence surrounding one of the houses. The Colonel had already designated this position, and stationed another in the woods lining the marsh on the left, and the balance behind the houses and trees nearer the landing. After these dispositions were completed, and between 4 and 6 P.M. the rebels, subsequently ascertained to be the Thirteenth Georgia Volunteers, about 800 strong, armed with Enfield rifles, preceded by a heavy line of skirmishers, made an attack upon our position. After our advance line had delivered its fire from the hedge, the bugles sounded “the charge” for the main body; this was confounded with “the retreat,” the advanced line abandoned its cover, and fell back through an open space towards the reserve. While in this somewhat confused condition, the enemy advanced rapidly, pouring in upon us a steady and destructive fire. Our men replied with spirit, from such cover as could be obtained. Order was soon reestablished, and the rebels held in check for an hour or more. After the ineffectual efforts of Col Fenton and myself to form enough men to charge their line and drive them from the hedge, a portion of one company was carried to the right and under cover of the timber skirting that side, the left flank of the enemy was met and frustrated in an attempt to move in that direction; an advance on the left and along the whole line, dislodged the enemy and put him in full flight. He fell back rapidly, leaving several dead and wounded on the field, and was closely pressed for half or three-quarters of a mile. As it was now almost night, it was not deemed advisable to continue the pursuit further. Our skirmishers were gradually drawn in, strong advanced guards were posted well out on both roads, and two companies again posted on the line of the hedge, and the fence to the right. After having made, these admirable dispositions of his force to secure our position, Col. Fenton then directed the removal of our killed and wounded to the steamer; and after holding the ground for three hours, the entire form was quietly embarked without further accident — though it must be confessed had the enemy renewed his attack while we were embarking, we should have suffered great loss.

Our five small boats could not remove more than fifty men every thirty minutes, and the steamer lay in such a position that the six-pounder could not be brought to bear without jeopardizing the lives of our own people.

Our loss is ten killed and thirty-five wounded. Among the former is Lieut. and Adjt. Pratt, who fell while gallantly cheering on the men. Lieut. Badger, in command of the advanced guard, was dangerously, if not mortally wounded, and fell into the hands of the enemy; but in the hurry of their retreat he succeeded in effecting his escape.

The loss of the enemy cannot be ascertained; two of their dead were left in our hands. One, mortally wounded, died before we disembarked; the balance were carried off.

I am, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C.H. WILSON,

First Lieutenant T.E. and Chief T.E., Department of the South.

KILLED AT WILMINGTON POINT.

Co. A. — Minor Pratt, Adjutant; Levi Conden, left temple; Asa Atherton, through head.
Co. B. — George Sparbuck, right lung; Charles A. Balley, throat; A. Vandenstack, right lung and right arm; Dessa Kapple, back and heart.
Co. H. — James E. Barton, right cheek and head.
Co. I. — Edwin Ayers, left thigh.
Co. K. — Eli Myers, lungs and back; —– Pestye, left side.
Co. A . — Carlos Delong, left arm and hip; Henry W. Caldwell, right breast and back; Warren Cole, through both hips; Aylmer Jennings, left thigh; Fred. Shillinger, left thigh; Barney Collins, right hand.
Co. C — Lieut. Badger, wounded in body, (mortally;) Franklin Moore, left foot; Silas Lurner, through the body; Ezekiel Cramer, right hand; Constantine Schloppi, left leg; Amos C. Walker, right leg; Lyman A. Andrews, right hip; Lewis Piper, left thigh.
Co. D — P.H. Hankinson, left wrist: Walter D. Smith, Engineer corps, left arm and back: Nicholas Carlin, right thigh; Andrew J. Coborne, inferior maxillary; James Cooper, right thigh.
Co. I — Wm. B. Golf, right shoulder and bach 5 Walter S. Ryans, hypogastric region; John R. Bunting, left ankle; Thos. Plinstock, left hand.
Co. K — Second Lieut. George Jennings, left leg.

There being a want of suitable hospital accommodations at Tybee, the wounded, by direction of Brigade-Surgeon J.J. Craven, were brought down here this morning on the Honduras to the general hospital.

The fact that the enemy fled, leaving us the field, notwithstanding their superior force, is regarded as having given us the best of the affray.

The Atlantic is just in, with New-York dates of the 14th inst.

The Oriental goes North to-day, carrying the mails and rebel officers, and 150 rebel prisoners,

J.M.W.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Colonel William M. Fenton, 8th Michigan Infantry also filed a report from the Honduras.

Colonel William M. Fenton, 8th Michigan Infantry, led skirmishes against Confederate troops from Causton's Bluff.

Colonel William M. Fenton, 8th Michigan Infantry, led skirmishes against Confederate troops from Causton’s Bluff.

Report of Col. William M. Fenton, Eighth Michigan Infantry. Headquarters Michigan Volunteers,

On Board Steamer Honduras,

Off Wilmington Island, Ga., April 16,1862—11 p. m. 

Sir: I have the honor to report, for the information of the general commanding, that, in compliance with Special Orders, No. 41, I embarked with seven companies of the Eighth Michigan Regiment as an escort to Lieut. J. H. Wilson,Topographical Engineers, on a reconnaissance of Wilmington Island. Two companies, under command of Captain Pratt, were landed at Screven’s plantation, with orders from Lieutenant Wilson to skirt Turner’s Creek; the other live companies were landed at Gibson’s plantation. Two of these companies were ordered to skirt Turner’s Creek; a third was to take the road to the right toward ferry at Carston’s Bluff to protect boat party up Oatland Creek, and the remainder to secure the landing. After one company of the five was landed Lieutenant Wilson proceeded in a boat up Turner’s Creek. Owing to the small number of boats and the distance from the steamer (which was grounded) some delay occurred in the disembarkation. I directed Lieutenant Colonel Graves to follow with the second company to skirt Turner’s Creek, but being misdirected he took the road to the right toward Carston’s Bluff, and on landing with the remaining companies I received information from him that the enemy were in force at Fleetwood’s plantation and to the left of the wood. This rendered the reconnaissance of Oatland Creek with boat unsafe, and I ordered the companies all in, and stationing the remaining companies to guard against an attack at our landing sent out strong pickets on both roads. I believe the advance of company to the right instead of along Turner’s Creek saved my command, as it sooner enabled me to post the men to advantage and take a position from which the enemy’s approach could be observed. The enemy proved to be the Thirteenth Georgia, about 800 strong, armed with Enfield rifles. As they approached (about 4 o’clock p. m.) with a strong body of skirmishers in the skirt of woods below the road the companies I had stationed to the right and left of the road, in accordance with my instructions, opened fire. I immediately sounded the charge for advance of companies in the rear of first line. The first line, mistaking the signal, fell back to the next cover. A constant and effective fire was kept up on both sides from cover of trees and bushes for an hour or more. Lieutenant Wilson, who had returned with boat party, here proved of great service to me. He took a party at my request to the left, and I ordered a company to the right to flank the enemy. Both operations were successful, and in a few moments the enemy retreated in confusion, leaving several dead on the field, followed by our men with loud cheers.

It being now about sunset I recalled our troops, and giving to Lieutenant Wilson the command of pickets stationed to guard against surprise, formed the companies in line as originally posted, sent the dead and wounded in boats to the ships, and gradually and very quietly under cover of night withdrawing the men sent them on board as fast as our limited transportation would allow. At the last trip of the boats I embarked, accompanied by Lieutenant Wilson, Lieutenant Colonel Graves, and the remainder of my command, at about 10 o’clock p. m., and immediately brought on board the two companies left at Screven’s plantation. After the enemy retreated we were unmolested. It is due to the officers and men of the command to say that generally they behaved with cool and intrepid courage. Adjutant Pratt fell dead near my side, gallantly fighting musket in hand and cheering on the men. Our loss, I regret to say, was comparatively heavy—10 killed and 35 wounded out of a command of 300 men. Among the wounded is Acting Lieutenant Badger, of Company C, who was in charge of the advanced picket, and exhibited undaunted courage. He with one of his men was made prisoner. Both escaped, and were brought in when the enemy retreated.

The captain of the Honduras is deserving of great credit for his kind attention to the wounded. Indeed he afforded us every facility for the comfort of officers and men in his power. I respectfully refer to Lieutenant Wilson’s report, which I have road, and contains some facts not embraced in this report, among others in relation to the men detailed in charge of the field piece on board ship, who were vigilant and attentive.

Herewith is transmitted a list of casualties.*

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

WM. M. FENTON,
Colonel, Commanding.

Lieut. W. L. M. Burger,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Tybee Island.

Again, the engagement on Whitemash alerted all regiments manning the batteries around Savannah.  Private Isaiah Smith at Beaulieu Battery  was called out in the middle of the night.

Thursday April the 17th 1862
I got up at 4 Oclock in the morning. We was ordered to cook one days rashing to go to Whitmarsh Island as the enemy had made an attact on our men but we did [not] get to go. I went on Co Drill at 9 Oclock – Isaiah Smith

At Camp Tattnall, the 29th Georgia Regiment was dispatched to reinforce Causton’s Bluff.  Berrien Minute Men Company D, and the 29th Georgia Regiment would take up station at Causton’s Bluff  and do picket duty on Whitemarsh Island and at Caper’s Battery. At the same time, and unbeknownst to the Confederate command, the 8th Michigan Infantry embarked on the USS Ben Deford for transportation back to Beaufort, SC.

A soldier of the 29th Georgia Regiment, Lieutenant Thomas J. Perry, wrote  to the Rome Courier newspaper from Causton’s Bluff:

Our Savannah Correspondence.

Causton’s Bluff, near Savannah,
April 19, 1862.

Dear Courier: Our Regiment was sent down here Wednesday night [April 16], to reinforce the 13th Georgia Regiment who had a fight with the Federals the evening before, on Whitmarsh Island [Whitemarsh Island], an account of which you have doubtless seen in the city papers.

But as the Yankees left the Island we were put to work on the fortifications here, and our tents sent down, so we will have to remain. This is a beautiful place, but it is very, objectionable, on account of the sand flies and gnats, which are exceedingly troublesome. The bluff is on what is called St. Augustine Creek. It is about as wide as Coosa River at low tide, and is navigable for vessels drawing twelve feet water.

Thunderbolt Battery is just below us on the same creek, Oakland Island [Oatland] is just opposite us and Whitmarsh just back of it, a small creek dividing them; Wilmington Island is still lower down. The Federals are trying to get possession of Whitemarsh and Oakland Islands, to erect a battery in order to shell out the battery here, and then take our guns and shell out Fort Jackson, and the city would then of course fall into their hands.— This is believed to be their programme.

Our company came down here thro’ a mistake of Col. [William J.] Young’s. We were detailed to guard the Depot to prevent the six months troops from returning but as we are here we will probably remain. Some of the Boys are returning from Augusta, and report the others improving- W. H. Mitchell, J. C. Andrews and W. E. Payne have returned this morning. Sixty-six have re-enlisted for the war. It takes no Conscription bill to make them do their duty.

Related Posts:

Levi J. Knight, Jr on List of Incompetent Confederate Officers

In the organization and command of the Berrien Minute Men it is noted that Levi J. Knight, Jr. was a nephew of Major Levi J. Knight who originally organized the Berrien Minute Men at Nashville, GA. Levi J. Knight, Jr. also served as an officer in the outfit; In  1861, he was elected 2nd Lieutenant.

In May 1862, Levi J. Knight, Jr was elected Captain of Berrien Minute Men Company C (later Company G), 29th Georgia Regiment. His election followed the resignation of Captain Thomas. S. Wylly. Wylly may have resigned under financial pressure. The Savannah Daily Morning News reported May 19, 1862 that the State of Georgia had filed suit against him for collection of back taxes.

Captain Knight, Jr was detailed to take Company C to Battery Lawton , where they joined the Brunswick Rifles manning artillery defenses of the city. The Berrien Minute Men and Brunswick Rifles had encamped together at Brunswick.  (Berrien Minute Men Company D was manning the battery at Causton’s Bluff and other posts around the city.)

Lawton Battery was part of the complex of Advance River Batteries supporting Fort Jackson on the Savannah River. The battery site had been selected by General Robert E. Lee while on an inspection trip with Col. Edward C. Anderson on December 8, 1861. Anderson noted foundations for a gun Battery were already being constructed with slave labor on a mud island above Fort Jackson. The other sites included Smith’s Island and Huchinsons Island, and “at both which points the General ordered batteries to be erected.” Smith’s Island became the site of Lawton Battery.

1864 map showing relative positions of Savannah, Battery Lawton, Fort Jackson, Fort Lee, Causton's Bluff, Oatland Island and Whitemarsh Island.

1864 map showing relative positions of Savannah, Battery Lawton, Fort Jackson, Fort Lee, and Causton’s Bluff.

Lawton Battery consisted of one 32-pounder rifle gun, one 42-pounder smooth bore, two 8-inch and two 10-inch columbiad guns. The battery was built on low-lying land of Smith’s Island (Barnwell Island, SC) on the Savannah River  opposite Battery Lee.

Lawton Battery, Fort Jackson and the other Advance River Batteries were under the command of Edward C. Anderson. Anderson was educated at a Massachusetts prep school, a former mayor of Savannah and a former officer of the United States Navy. He had participated in numerous naval and amphibious operations in the Mexican-American War.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Anderson was sent to Richmond by Governor Joseph E. Brown, to purchase ordinance from the Tredegar Iron Works for the State of Georgia. Soon after, Anderson was personally summoned to Montgomery, AL by the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, who commissioned him a major in the Corps of Artillery. He was ordered at once to set sail for Europe, as a confidential agent to buy war material for the Confederacy, arranging for its transfer to the Confederate States, through the Union blockade by way of blockade runners. In England, he was stalked continually by spies hired by the United States Consul General, Charles Francis Adams. Anderson described his position as the Secretary of War in England. He and fellow Georgian James D. Bulloch negotiated with the British for the sale of warships and blockade runners to the South. Upon learning of the Southern victory at the First Battle of Bull Run, Anderson raised a Confederate Flag upon the rooftop of a friend’s house in Liverpool. Their success in both exporting arms, and running the blockade prompted other British firms to begin blockade-running efforts. Returning home in November 1861, aboard the newly purchased Merchant Steamship Fingal with Bulloch, they delivered much needed arms and ammunition. Fingal was later converted to the iron-clad CSS Atlanta. Anderson was promoted, and served as “Commander of the River Batteries” as a part of General Robert E. Lee’s staff. At this time, Anderson was placed in command of Fort James Jackson (Old Fort Jackson), becoming the Confederate Headquarters for River Defenses, including the Confederate Navy. He was a member of the Confederate high command at Savannah until the end of the war.

On the 1st of May 1862, a soldier of Battery Lawton staunchly defended the pride, commitment, professionalism and patriotism of the men stationed at the battery.

Savannah Daily Morning News
May 3, 1862

COMMUNICATED
Smith’s Island, May 1st, 1862.

Mr. Editor: Please make room in your valuable paper for the following. In the Republican of yesterday, is to be seen in one of its paragraphs, under the head of “Savannah Never to be Surrendered”

“One thing more remains to be done, and then we shall be ready to measure arms with the enemy. Let the commanders of our various batteries call together their respective garrisons and swear them never to abandon a gun so long as it sets on its carriage, and a soldier is left to man it.”

A soldier takes the liberty here to inform the editor of the Republican (if he is not aware of it,; that we are volunteer.i from Georgia, absent from respectable and comfortable homes, and come without consulting Mr. Republic and, to defend our homes and country at large, and expect to do it to the last. We need no oaths to make us fight for all that is near and dear lo us. Prompted by a sense of duly and a spirit of patriotism, we expect to accomplish all that can be done by human hands. Any one who can’t fight without taking an oath, can’t fight with. No one need be sworn to fight except those who would have others sworn. But God help the country whose battles are to be fought by such men, or the prattling tongues of editors. We are ready and daily expecting the enemy, and have been for weeks, and it has just now transpired that there is one thing more to be done before “we are ready to measure arms with the enemy,” (not so much of the “we,”) and that as set forth in his paragraph. I confess that I am ashamed even to let our enemies know that we have men—or a man in our midst—that would either publicly or privately express such an idea. I confess, also, that I thought the people whose homes are but a few miles above our batteries, and which we are shortly to enter into a life and death struggle for, had more confidence in the soldiers whose lots are cast at batteries amid sand flies, mosquitoes, marsh mud, swamp fever, &c. Georgians never have disgraced themselves on the battle field or elsewhere, neither have they given any cause for any one to suppose they would. If the said Editor wishes to make a display of his patriotism, I would advise him to lay down his air-gun and take a musket. But that he will not do; he prefers remaining In his office amusing himself by abusing Gov. Brown, dictating for wiser men than himself and making himself conspicuous, as well as ridiculous, in various other ways. But the whole trouble with said Editor is this, if “we” are defeated below, the Republican office falls into the hands of the enemy; and I am constrained to believe that he would see it, with all Savannah, laid in ruins before he would for a moment expose his breast to the galling fire of the enemy, and, from his editorial, would conclude that he would have us (hundreds) sacrifice our lives to save his ‘‘little all.” I hope God will save his office, protect his person, and take a liking to his principles. I can’t do either, and more especially the latter. I have my hands full fighting for the Confederacy.

In the spring, men at Smith’s Island may have taken their station with pride, but in warmer weather the conditions at the river batteries were nearly intolerable. At Fort Pulaski, on April 6, Lt. Montfort wrote about the pests:

We are terribly annoyed with sand flies & soon will be musquitoes. Yet we have the consolation of knowing that “Afflictions though they seem severe, are often mercy sent.” While we are annoyed by them we are assured by those acquainted with the paces occupies by Yankee Soldiers & Batteries on the River between here & Savannah, that they are a hundred times worse than here. The places now occupied by them between here & Savannah on the river, are the places on the river where heavy vessels heretofore have had to stop to unload & load & so annoying are the musquitoes & sand flies & the places so sickly that I am informed frequently they have been unable to employ men at one dollar an hour to go there to assist in unloading & loading. And while we have abandoned all idea of assistantance from the Government we put our trust in God, ourselves, the musquitoes & sand flies. If these fail us we are gone.

Lawton Battery

Captain George A Mercer, after visiting Smith’s Island and Fort Jackson on Sunday, June 22, 1862, wrote of the miserable experience.

“Sunday was intensely hot, and I could not but feel how much our brave soldiers were enduring in their present position. Fort Jackson, and the adjacent batteries, are located in low swampy fields, where the insects are terrible the air close and fetid and full of miasma and death. Capt. Blain’s men, on Smith’s Island, are particularly uncomfortable; their tents are pitched on the muddy ground, beneath the blazing sky; not a dry spot of earth, not a shade tree is near; the tide frequently rises above the platforms of their tents, soaks their bedding and washes away all they have; they have positively been obliged to anchor their cooking utensils to prevent their being carried away. And yet these brave fellows must stay — and do stay cheerfully in this dreadful spot, where every comfort is denied them, and sickness and death must add their horrors to the scene. I spent a miserable night last night; I lay down at the Fort but not to sleep; hundreds of fleas ran over me stinging me into a fever; I did not secure one moment’s sleep, but lay tossing in misery, counting the weary hours till morning; had I left the bed and gone outside the net the mosquitoes would have been as bad as the fleas. Indeed a sad necessity is imposed upon our troops; they must garrison spots where a white man can hardly live.

Captain Mercer noted that in August and September 1862, “The River Batteries [were] guarded only by small detachments of ten or twelve men each; the deadly miasma in the vicinity has rendered them uninhabitable.” Regimental returns show Captain Levi J. Knight, Jr was at Camp Debtford in July; Camp Debtford was on the Debtford plantation adjacent to Causton’s Bluff.  In August,  Knight was sent to Camp Anderson.  Other men of the 29th Regiment detailed to Camp Anderson included First Lieutenant Willis Clary, 2nd Lt Henry Clary and Pvt Hines H. Grey of the Georgia Foresters; Stephen D. Chitwood, Fountain Nally, Thomas Mills and John F. C. Mills of the Stephens Volunteers; Elijah W. Bryant, Thomasville Guards; John H. Elkins, John R. Griffin, Jonas Johnson, Peter Madden, George C. Maddox and Hines Holt Grey, 17th Patriots; Isiah Goff, Allen D. Smith, William D. Warren  and R. M. Simpson, Thomas Volunteers.

Camp Anderson was where Major Robert Houston Anderson was forming a “select battalion of sharpshooters” from highly qualified volunteers and select officers and men from the existing regiments around Savannah.  “By Special Order No. 259, District of Georgia, dated July 30, 1862, men were chosen from the regiments manning the defenses of the city to fill up the other companies of the new battalion.” Company D of the new sharpshooter battalion was composed of men selected from the 29th, 30th, 47th, and 13th Georgia Regiments and the 8th Georgia Battalion.  According to Russel K. Brown, “Camp Anderson was situated on Wildhorn Plantation, 12 miles below Savannah on the west bank of the Groves or Little Ogeechee River and near the line of the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad. William Moody described the camp to his wife thus, ‘We are camped about 1 1/2 miles from Number 1 station and in 1/4 mile from the little Ogechee River on a very high pleasant place tho I exspect it is a sickly place. The sand files is very bad.'” 

Circumstances at Camp Anderson may have been better than at Lawton Battery, but only marginally. As at other Savannah garrisons, health conditions were problematic from the first encampment at Camp Anderson. Men died of typhoid, typhoid fever and typhoid pneumonia, bowel disorders, chronic diarrhea, congestion. Many more went on sick rolls. Desertion became a problem; by the end of the year 29 men would desert from Camp Anderson.  At least one deserter killed himself rather than be captured and returned to Camp Anderson. Another, after firing a shot at Major Anderson, was court-martialed and executed by firing squad. Three more deserters were sentenced to death but were released and returned to duty under a general amnesty and pardon issued by Jefferson Davis.

Levi J. Knight, Jr was not at Camp Anderson for long; After August 29, 1862, he was reported on regimental returns as absent sick.  Willis Clary, suffering with a lung impaired by pneumonia and a congenital short leg, resigned at Camp Anderson on August 22.   Henry Clary was sick in a Savannah hospital; he died September 4, 1862.

 

Regimental return for September 1862 showing Levi J. Knight, Jr. absent from post at Camp Anderson.

Regimental return for September 1862 showing Levi J. Knight, Jr. absent from post at Camp Anderson.

But in October Captain Knight returned to Battery Lawton on Smith’s Island. Also detailed to Battery Lawton was Lt. William Pendarvis, of the Georgia Foresters, Company A, 29th Regiment. In October Pendarvis was “in arrest.” Pendarvis tendered his resignation November 20, 1862 which was endorsed by Col. Anderson. The Colonel had previously busted Pendarvis from rank for “disreputable conduct,” and Pendarvis had been subsequently elected lieutenant while Anderson was away from the post. Anderson pronounced him totally incompetent, and he would have been court-martialed had he not resigned.

It appears that an animosity also developed between Captain Knight and Col. Anderson. The situation culminated on November 28, 1862, when Knight’s insolent behavior drove the Colonel to place him “in arrest” and to make charges against Knight in a letter to Brigadier General Beauregard;

Savannah River Batteries
28th Novb 1862

Capt Geo A Mercer
AAG

Captain
I regret to have to bring to the notice of the Brig Genl Comdg. the total inefficiency of Captain Levi J. Knight, Co G 29th Regt Ga Vols. This officer commands one of the finest companies in the service in point of materiel. Yet from inattention and want of care they have lapsed into a condition o negligence not just to so fine a body of men & very far from creditable to the officers whose duty it was to have encouraged and instructed them. There is a familiarity between the captain & the private soldiers that is hurtful to the service. The men have free access to his tent even to taking possession of his bed and loafing there. As evidence of the detrimental tendency of this system of free intercourse I have to inform you that on the occasion of my exercising the companies today at the great guns Captain Knight’s men failed to come forward at the long roll & only appeared after repeated calls & by my sending up the commanding officer of the port to enforce the order. Captain Knight had been duly notified of my intention to drill the men. He did not accompany his detachments, but after the lapse of half an hour came strolling leisurely down by the longest & most circuitous route & being informed that I had ordered him under arrest for his conduct, excused himself upon the plea of not feeling well. Upon another occasion when reported to me for failing to attend the School of Instruction ordered by you & for leaving the Island without notice to his commanding officers, the same excuse was made & thus it has been again & again. I have been unwilling to suppose that an officer would lightly avail himself of the plea of indisposition to evade his duty & hence have refrained from bringing the matter to your notice heretofore.Candor compels one today that Captain Knight is not fitted for the responsible trust confided to him & that – in the event of any mishap to the officers in command of the Battery – I do not regard him as qualified to fill his place. I should regret to lose his company. Under a different Captain they could be made a credit to the service, but under existing auspices the forces of evil example will demoralize & cripple them.

I am Captain Very Respectfully
Your Obbt

Ed. C. Anderson

By December 1862, Levi J. Knight, Jr was relieved of his command.  Regimental records show Captain Levi J. Knight, Jr was “in suspension,” for insubordinate behavior. On December 4, 1862 he was brought before an Officers Examining Board and he was “suspended from rank and commission by order of General Beauregard. His rank was reduced to private.  On May 28, 1863 his name was on a published “list of officers of different grades who have been dropped from the rolls of the army, in accordance with the provisions of the act for ‘ridding the army of ignorant, disabled and incompetent officers,’ by orders from Adjutant and Inspector General’s office.”

After being stripped of his rank, Knight continued to serve with the Berrien Minute Men. In 1863 he was elected by the company to the rank of Jr 2nd Lieutenant, but the election was set aside by Col. Anderson.

A year later, Knight’s new commanding officer, Captain Edwin B. Carroll,  again put him up for an officers position.

Camp 29th Ga. Regt
July 14th 1864

Capt J. W. Turner
Comdg 29th Ga Regt

Captain
I respectfully make the following statement in the case of private Levi J . Knight Co G 29th Ga Vols. He was elected Jr 2nd Lieut. in Co G on the 28th day of September 1863 but the election return was disapproved by Col. E. C. Anderson — Comdg on the grounds that Knight had been dropped from the rolls and could in consequence hold no position. Knight was detailed by Col. Anderson and sent to Charleston with another company and another election was ordered. While in Charleston he made a fresh statement of his case to Genl Beauregard and thereupon was ordered before the Board of Examiners that he might prove whether or not he should be put on duty as an officer. The decision of the Board is that he is competent for discharge the duties that may devolve upon him. I think he is entitled to the position and hope that he will be ordered on duty as an officer in the Company

Very Respectfully
Your Obt Svt
E. B. Carroll
Capt Comdg Co G
29th Regt

*************************************

Head Qrs Stevens Brigade
July 15, 1864

The enclosed paper is reply returned with the following statement. Co. G. 29 Regt has been on detached duty in Savannah until very recently. Some of the records are accessible in this case now. The facts are that L. J. Knight was Captain of Co G was brought before a Board of Examiners for incompetency. On their recommendation his name was dropped from the rolls by the War department and he became a private in the same company. Upon the occasion of a vacancy he was elected 2 Lt but on some cause his election was set aside by then Comdg Officer Col E. C. Anderson and a new election ordered at Smith [Island]. J. L. Hall was elected, examined and announced in orders and has filled the position ever since. Upon a transfer to duty in some other command Knight appears to have appeared before a Board of Examiners, the findings of which are herewith enclosed – I would Resply ask what action should be taken in the case.
Resply
H. S. Stevens
Brig Genl

 

Confederate States of America
War Department
Adjutant and Inspector Genls Office
Richmond, Va., April 28th, 1864

Genl
I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that the proceedings and findings of the Examining Boards in the following case, have been confirmed by the War Department.

Sergt. Levi J. Knight, Co. “G”, 29th Ga. Vols.
Decision- “The Board pronounce him qualified for promotion.”

You will please issue the necessary orders.

Very Respectfully, General
Your Obedient Servt

Saml M. Melton
Maj.

By 1864, Levi J. Knight had regained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was captured with the Berrien Minute Men near Nashville, TN on December 16, 1864. He was held as a prisoner of war until June 16, 1865 when he was released after swearing an Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

 

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