Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 6

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 6: In Regular Service

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.  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 on the tidewater, fighting boredom and disease…Finally, the 29th Regiment was reported ready for service.

On January 14, 1862, Brigadier General Alexander Robert Lawton informed Adjutant Inspector General Samuel Cooper that the regiment had been properly mustered in as the 29th GA Volunteer Infantry.

Head Quarters, Dept of Geo

Savannah Jany 14th 1862

General S. Cooper
Adjt Inspector General
             Richmond
                               General
                                             I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a letter of the 10th inst from the Ajt General’s Office, inquiring if Col R Spalding’s 29th Geo Regiment has been properly mustered in or not.
                                            In reply I beg leave to say that it is a full regiment and has been for some months regularly in service
                                           I have the honor to be, very Respy
                                                                         Your Obdt Servt
                                                                          A R Lawton
                                                                         Brig Genl Comg

Brigadier General A. R. Lawton letter of January 14, 1862 confirming readiness of the 29th GA Infantry

Brigadier General A. R. Lawton letter of January 14, 1862 to Adjutant Inspector General Samuel Cooper confirming readiness of the 29th GA Infantry.  (In 1864, General Cooper stayed the execution of Confederate deserter Burrell Douglass. Cooper is credited for the preservation of Confederate service records after the war).

A Regimental Surgeon, William P. Clower, was finally appointed on January 18, 1862. Surgeon Clower’s brother, John T. Clower, would later serve as the doctor in Ray’s Mill (now Ray City, GA). The surgeon was a welcome addition, but the health conditions of the Regiment did not immediately improve.  James Madison Harrell was sent home sick.  Alfred B. Finley, who joined the Berrien Minute Men at Darien, contracted measles and lost an eye to complications; despite that disability he would continue to serve with the 29th Regiment.  Hiram F. Harrell contracted measles and died at Darien, GA.  Edward Morris contracted measles and “camp fever” and never recovered; he died a few weeks later at Savannah, GA.

The 29th Regiment’s tenure on Sapelo would soon be over.  Before the end of January, the 29th GA regiment would be called up to the coastal defenses at Savannah.  When the regiment finally left Darien, John Lindsey, William Hall, and James Newman and John R. Langdale were left behind, sick. William Anderson, who had been on sick leave in October, had a relapse and was also left in Darien.  Thomas J. Lindsey, David D. Mahon and Robert H. Goodman were detailed to Darien as  nurses. John W. McClellan was also detailed to remain at Darien. Malcolm McCranie died of measles at Darien on February 2, 1862 and Ellis H. Hogan  died February 25, 1862. In the Ochlocknee Light Infantry, George Harlan was disabled and discharged at Darien on February 17, 1862 and Francis M. Dixon died of typhoid pneumonia at Darien the following day.

The defense of Georgia’s sea islands quickly proved untenable against the strength of the Union Navy. By early December 1861 U.S. forces had occupied Tybee Island off the coast of Savannah, and were landing ordnance and constructing batteries there.  By the end of January, 1862 U.S. Navy vessel  were maneuvering to enter the Savannah River, and threatened to cut off Fort Pulaski from Savannah. On the South Carolina side, U.S. troops occupied Daufuskie Island and constructed batteries on Bird Island and at Venus Point on Jones Island.
General Lee was desperate to shore up Confederate artillery defending Savannah, Georgia’s chief seaport. To strengthen the Savannah defenses, General Lee instructed General Mercer at Brunswick to remove the  batteries on St. Simon’s and Jekyll islands if the defense of those positions became untenable, and to forward the artillery to Savannah.  By this time the sea island planters had moved their property inland, and the residents of Brunswick had abandoned the city. By February 16, 1862 General Mercer reported the guns had been removed from Jekyll and St. Simons and shipped to Savannah and Fernandina. At the retreat of the 4th Georgia Battalion and Colonel Cary W. Styles 26th Georgia Regiment from Brunswick, General Mercer wanted to burn the city as a show of determination not to be occupied by U.S. forces.
With the withdrawal of the 29th Georgia Regiment from Sapelo Island, the Confederates abandoned the defense of Darien altogether. Indeed, the Savannah Republican newspaper of June 27, 1862 reported “two Yankee gunboats had passed Darien some four or five miles up the river, seemingly to destroy the railroad bridges across the Altamaha… A gunboat had been up the river as far as Champion’s Island – Nightingale’s Plantation…she was seen lying at Barrett’s Island, about three miles from the town, having in charge a two mast schooner that had been hid up the river.”  The schooner was believed to have been loaded with rice. The coast around St. Simon’s, Doboy, Sapelo and St. Catherines was said to be infested with Yankee steamers. The coastal inhabitants feared that crops in fields bordering the rivers would be destroyed by the Union forces;  “They have already stolen a goodly number of our slaves, thus curtailing our provisions crops…” 
Current navigational chart showing Sapelo Island, Blackbeard Island, Doboy Island, Queens Island, Wolf Island, GA. The Berrien Minute Men, Company G & K, 29th Georgia Regiment, were stationed at Sapelo Island and Blackbeard Island during 1861, defending the Altamaha River delta from Union forces.

Current navigational chart showing Sapelo Island, Blackbeard Island, Doboy Island, Queens Island, Wolf Island, GA. The Berrien Minute Men, Companies G & K, 29th Georgia Regiment, were stationed at Sapelo Island and Blackbeard Island during 1861, defending the Altamaha River delta from Union forces.

 

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Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 4

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 4: Berrien Minute Men and the Election of Officers

Randolph Spalding, first Colonel of the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment, elected November, 1861

Randolph Spalding, first Colonel of the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment, elected October, 1861

During the Civil War,  two companies of men that went forth from Berrien County, GA were known as the Berrien Minute Men.  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 on Sapelo Island in early October.

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 two companies of Berrien Minute Men arrived on Sapelo Island without knowing who their regimental officers would be, or even which regiment they were in. The other companies in the no-name regiment on Sapelo were the Thomasville Guards and the Ocklocknee Light infantry, companies from Thomas County that had served with the Berrien Minute Men in the briefly constituted 13th Georgia Regiment at Brunswick, GA. Two other companies of the new regiment were still in Savannah.

The custom among the volunteer regiments of that time was that field officers were elected by popular vote of the troops, with the appointments officially made after confirmation by Army command. It was during the first few weeks on Sapelo Island, that the regiment held elections for the field officers. Among the candidates for Colonel were: Captain William H. Echols, a graduate of West Point and captain in the Engineering Corps of the Confederate Army; Cary Wentworth Styles who had commanded the 13th Regiment at Brunswick, and who, after the War founded the Atlanta Constitution;  and Randolph Spalding (1822-1862), who was master of the South-end Mansion on Sapelo Island and a son of Sapelo plantation founder Thomas Spalding.

 

William Holding Echols, a Captain of Engineers in the Confederate States Army, was a candidate for Colonel of the 29th GA Regiment.

William Holding Echols, a Captain of Engineers in the Confederate States Army, was a candidate for Colonel of the 29th GA Regiment.

The Berrien Minute Men and the Thomas county companies had experienced the leadership of Colonel Styles when they served with the 13th Georgia Regiment at Brunswick, and William W. Knight was of the opinion that they would never accept Styles as Colonel of the regiment.  The companies in Savannah preferred Echols, but the majority of the Regiment on Sapelo Island favored Randolph Spalding. The election was held on October 22, 1861.

October 23, 1861 Savannah Republican reports election of Levi J. Knight as Major of the 29th Georgia Regiment

October 23, 1861 Savannah Republican reports election of Levi J. Knight as Major of the 29th Georgia Regiment

Savannah Republican
October 23, 1861

Election of Officers. – An election for field officers of a new regiment to be composed of companies now in camp at our Parade Ground and on Sapelo Island, took place yesterday.  The vote of the Companies in this city [Savannah] show a majority of 20 votes for Echols over Spalding for Colonel.  Alexander received a large majority for Lieutenant Colonel, and L. J. Knight the same for Major. The vote from Sapelo has not been received.

October 24, 1861 Savannah Republican reports election of Levi J. Knight as Major of the 29th Georgia Regiment

October 24, 1861 Savannah Republican reports election of Levi J. Knight as Major of the 29th Georgia Regiment

Savannah Republican
October 24, 1861

Military Election. – The election of field officers for the new regiment now encamped here and at Sapelo, resulted in the choice of Randolph Spalding Colonel by a majority of 20 votes. ——- Alexander was chosen Lieutenant Colonel, and Levi J. Knight, Major.

Randolph Spalding was chosen as Colonel, perhaps due to the home field advantage. He was a successful planter on the mainland and on Sapelo Island where he was master of the Spalding’s South End mansion. In addition, he was a Representative from McIntosh County for several terms. He later served on the staff of General William H.T. Walker. (He would die in camp at Savannah in March of 1862.)

Thomas Williamson Alexander was elected Lieutenant Colonel.

Thomas Williamson Alexander was elected Lt. Colonel of the 29th Georgia Regiment

Thomas Williamson Alexander was elected Lt. Colonel of the 29th Georgia Regiment

Levi J. Knight advanced to Major of the newly formed Regiment.   Thomas Spalding Wylly, a nephew of Colonel Randolph Spalding and grandson of Thomas Spalding,  became Captain of Berrien Minute Men Company C.  Wylly was educated and experienced traveler, having joined an expedition to California in 1849. (Wylly later transferred to Clinch’s 4th GA Cavalry.) John C. Lamb was elected Captain of Berrien Minute Men Company D.

Thomas Spalding Wylly succeeded Levi J. Knight as captain of the Berrien Minute Men

Thomas Spalding Wylly succeeded Levi J. Knight as captain of the Berrien Minute Men. Image source: Wendy Wylly

 

With the election of officers, the Berrien Minute Men and the other companies on Sapelo were another step closer to completing the organization of the regiment. Over the next few months the worst foes the regiment would face in their backwater post were low morale, boredom, and disease.

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