Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 1

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

Sketch of Civil War Earthwork on Sapelo Island

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

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island

  1. Arrival On Sapelo
  2. Place of Encampment
  3. Camp Spalding
  4. Election of Officers
  5. Tidewater Time
  6. In Regular Service

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

From October, 1861 to January, 1862, the campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  were made at Sapelo and Blackbeard islands protecting the approaches to Darien, GA on Doboy Sound and the Altamaha River. Darien was about 55 miles south of Savannah and 20 miles north of Brunswick, GA.  The environment of Darien, the sea islands and the Altamaha River basin were ideal for the cultivation of rice and long staple Sea Island cotton, and the agricultural economy of the southern tidewater was strategically important to the fledgling Confederate States.

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

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

Slaves working in the rice fields.

Slaves working in the rice fields.

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

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

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

After a number of the men on Blackbeard Island were reported sick, rumors circulated back at home that the regiment was stricken with Yellow Fever. The families of the Berrien Minute Men had reason to fear.  In 1854, a yellow fever outbreak had killed thousands of people on the southeastern coast, including as many as 400 victims at Darien, GA.  But in his letters home, Private John W. Hagan of Berrien county wrote, “as to the reports which was going the roundes in Lowndes in regard to yellow feavor that is all faulce. Some of the men of Blackbeard did not take care of themselves & by exposure and exerting too mutch they became bilious.” The Berrien County men may have just been unacclimatized to the muggy heat of the coast, or the men may have contracted malaria  in the coastal marshes.  Levi J. Knight, Jr. later wrote that one of the Berrien Minute Men, Private Enos J. Connell, became “unfit for duty, rendered so by a protracted illness contracted on Blackbeard Island… the disease when first contracted was said by his physician to have been Billious fever.” Enos J. Connell never entirely recovered and was eventually discharged in June 1862. Private Thomas N. Connell, died at Blackbeard Island on October 2, 1861, the cause of death being given in his service record as “bilious fever.” Bilious fever,  a now obsolete medical diagnosis, was often used for any fever that exhibited the symptom of nausea or vomiting in addition to an increase in internal body temperature and strong diarrhea. Bilious fever (Latin bilis, “bile”) refers to fever associated with excessive bile or bilirubin in the blood stream and tissues, causing jaundice (a yellow color in the skin or sclera of the eye). The most common cause was malaria.  What treatment the sick men may have received on Sapelo Island is not described, but one known remedy for intermittent fever was quinine derived from the Georgia Fever Bark tree, which grew in the Altamaha River Valley.

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

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

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

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

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

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Moses Lee ~ Exemplary Farmer

Moses C. Lee (1853-1926) was an outstanding farmer of Berrien County, GA.

He was a son of John Levy Lee and nephew of Moses Corby Lee (1808-1884), both pioneer settlers and prominent land owners of  old Berrien.  His father and uncle were veterans of the Indian Wars of 1838 and fought with Levi J. Knight’s Militia Company in the last Indian fight in Berrien County, GA.  His mother was Elender Wetherington (1813-1889).  He was the father-in-law of Lint Miller and one of the investors in the Miller Hardware & Furniture Company.

Born July 12, 1853,  Moses C. Lee (1853-1926) was sometimes referred to as M.C. Lee, Jr. to distinguish him from his uncle. Moses C. Lee, the subject, first appears at age six in Census records in the  1860 enumeration of his father’s household in Berrien County, GA.  His father’s real estate was valued at 3500 and personal estate at $3800.

On November 1879, Moses C. Lee married Amanda Clements in Berrien County, GA.   Born Sarah Amanda Clements, she was a daughter of  John F. Clements and Nancy Patten, and a sister of John Miles Clements.

The newlyweds made their home in a house on the farm of Moses’ father, John Levy (or Levi) Lee, where they were enumerated in the Census of 1880.

After the death of his father, John Levy Lee, in 1884, Moses Lee carried on working his Berrien County farm.  Moses Lee’s residence was known as “Stoney Hill,” according to William Green Avera.  The Lee place was situated on the road “from Milltown to Tyson Ferry on the Alapaha River just east of the present site of Alapaha.” This road passed the residences of John Studstill, first Sheriff of Berrien County; Judge J. H. Rowan; and Keefe and Bullocks Turpentine Still.

By 1896 Moses Lee was recognized as one of the leading farmers in this section.

Tifton Gazette, March 7, 1896 praises the work of Berrien County, GA farmer Moses Lee.

Tifton Gazette, March 7, 1896 praises the work of Berrien County, GA farmer Moses Lee.

Well, I have the results of what Mr. Mose Lee, has stored away, for another specimen of what can be obtained in the wiregrass region.  Will take corn first.  On his farm he housed between 1500 and 2,000 bushels of “little cob” corn, and some where near 11,000 pounds of well cured fodder.  He dug and housed 12,000 bushels of sweet potatoes, and left enough in the patch to fatten 100 head of hogs. Cotton! cotton! He raised nineteen bales of cotton, averaging four hundred pounds each, which amounts to 7,600 pounds, and has jugged and barreled 750 gallons of syrup, of the finest that can be made.  He killed enough porkers to amount to 12,000 pounds and from them he obtained about 1,650 pounds of lard.  Hay he housed enough to winter 50 or 60 head of cows, beside old “Buck”.  As it was a bad year for oats and rice he only housed about 5,000 bundles of oats and 80 or 100 bushels of rice.
    He has enlarged his farm this year, by adding 40 acres of new land.  He is only going to use ten tons of guano this year.
    We hear some folks crying hard times, but all they have to do is to work with energy and vote for Hammond.  If anyone thinks that I have exaggerated in stating the above facts, I can only refer them to Mr. Lee, Milltown, Ga.

In 1917, M. C. Lee was employing Randolph Graham, John Thomas Brantley and Fletcher Turner to farm his land.

Children of Moses C. Lee and Amanda Clements Lee:

  1. William David Lee (1880 – 1967) married Mollie Clements
  2. Jennie L Lee (1882 – 1974)  married Sam I Watson, 1900
  3. Ellen D Lee (1883 – 1907) married William R. Smith; died of measles April 30, 1907
  4. John Vinson Lee (1885 – 1947) married Camilla Spence
  5. L. Chester Lee (1887 –1908) died of typhoid fever December 14, 1908
  6. Winnie Lee (1888-1891)
  7. Lena A Lee (1891 – 1971) married Willis Linton “Lint” Miller, 1913
  8. Remer E Lee (1893 – 1901) died of blood poisoning
  9. Mary Emma Lee (1895 –1986) married 1) Virgil Shingler; 2) J.Crawford Dasher
  10. Infant Lee – born and died July 22, 1897

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Rice Production in Wiregrass Georgia

19th-century image of four Georgia rice field workers.

19th-century image of four Georgia rice field workers.

Rice production efforts by settlers  and rice plantations in coastal Georgia are well known, but rice was also grown by pioneer settlers of Lowndes, Berrien and other Wiregrass counties.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia:

“Rice, Georgia’s first staple crop, was the most important commercial agricultural commodity in the Low country from the middle of the eighteenth century until the early twentieth century. Rice arrived in America with European and African migrants as part of the so-called Columbian Exchange of plants, animals, and germs. Over time, profits from the production and sale of the cereal formed the basis of many great fortunes in coastal Georgia.”

The cultivation of rice on coastal plantations played a significant role in the introduction of slavery in Georgia, which was forbidden by the state’s original charter.

At least by the mid 1800’s settlers further inland,  in the Old Lowndes County region were growing small amounts of rice locally, along with other farming and agriculture efforts.   The total rice production in Lowndes County for the year ending June 1, 1850 was 66,300 pounds.  With the total state production reaching about 39 million pounds of rice that year, Lowndes county was hardly among the chief producers. Still, the rice crop was important to the local farmers  who had settled in the Rays Mill, Georgia (nka Ray City) area.  The Reverend George White in 1855 listed rice, cotton and corn as Lowndes county’s major agricultural crops. The following year, 1856, Berrien County was cut out of Lowndes. One early Berrien county rice grower was Aden Boyd. The Berrien County agricultural and manufacturing records  for 1860 show his farm produced 80 pounds of rice, along with 50 bushels of corn, 10 bushels of oats and 5 bushels of peas and beans. By 1879, Berrien County farmer Wiley Chambless  “gathered 21 bushels of clean, ruff rice from half an acre” and “plan[ned] to plant 50 or 75 acres in rice” for 1880.

Equipment for producing rice was manufactured right here in Georgia. In the 1850’s Nesbet & Levy’s Ocmulgee Foundry and Machine shop in Macon, GA. was manufacturing rice thrashers, among many other agricultural and industrial machines.

In Milltown (now Lakeland, GA.) there was a rice cleaning machine at the Lastinger Mill. Later on, Berrien county residents could take their rice to the Avera mill, built in 1880 near Nashville.   In fact, by 1880 the Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun reported that, “The farmers of Berrien county say that rice pays them better than  cotton.”

1910 – A FEW INDUSTRIAL FACTS ABOUT GEORGIA

Rice – Rice is an important product which can be easily produced in Georgia of very superior quality. The average yield is about 12 barrels per acre and in favorable seasons a second crop of 8 to 10 barrels may be obtained. This product sells for about $3.50 a barrel.