Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 3

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 3: Berrien Minute Men on Island 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 on Sapelo Island in early October.

Sapelo Island Lighthouse

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

Despite conditions of camp life that drove some men away, the sea islands held a strange beauty for the Wiregrass farmers turned soldiers. While stationed at Camp Spaulding, Pvt. William W. Knight wrote, “we are camp on as pretty a place as I have seen. it is a high live oak grove one side open to the Atlantic its never ceasing roar about three quarters of a mile from camp.”  William W. Knight was a son of  Levi J. Knight, Captain of the Berrien Minute Men and original settler of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA.

Private Robert Hamilton Harris of the Thomasville Guards, Company A, 29th Georgia Regiment, also found the island enchanting. These were the idyllic first days of Confederacy, when the Georgia volunteers still anticipated glorious battle and before they experienced “unholy war.”   Private Harris wrote to Martha (Mattie) Love, his girl back home,

Inside you will find a sort of map of our position and neighboring places. I think it is near enough correct to give you some idea of things about us. On the Atlantic side is a fine beach of firm white sand, with a good many shells scattered over it, not many of which are very fine however. When the winter gales begin to blow many nice ones will wash up, and then I will make a collection. Mattie, I wish you could stroll along our beach, or wander among the delightful groves of the Island, you would enjoy it so.
       If you would like to have some shells and other curiosities I can bring them to you when I go home, or send them to you if I do not go.

Harris’ correspondence is part of a collection of Civil War letters of Robert Hamilton Harris, housed in the Digital Library of Georgia.

1861 map of Confederate positions on and near Sapelo Island, GA including Sapelo Lighthouse, Sapelo gun batteries, encampment of the 29th Georgia Regiment (Camp Spaulding), Wolf Beacon, and the position of Berrien Minute Men, Company C, 29th GA Regiment on Blackbeard Island, GA

1861 map of Confederate positions on and near Sapelo Island, GA including Sapelo Lighthouse, Sapelo gun batteries, encampment of the 29th Georgia Regiment (Camp Spaulding), Wolf Beacon, and the position of Berrien Minute Men, Company C, 29th GA Regiment on Blackbeard Island, GA

 

Harris’ map shows the location of the camp of the 29th Georgia Regiment situated on the south end of Sapelo Island, on a bluff north of Lighthouse Creek.   The position of the Sapelo Island Lighthouse and the lighthouse causeway are shown, as well as the position of Spalding [Sapelo] Battery and masked batteries near Dean Creek.  Today, Sapelo Lighthouse is one of five remaining lighthouses in Georgia, and one of three open to the general public, advises Sherpa Guides.

Apparently represented but unlabeled on Harris’ map are Little Sapelo Island, Queens Island, and Wolf Island. Little Sapelo Island lies to the west of Sapelo, separated by the marshes around Duplin Creek. Doboy Island/Commodore Island, Queens Island, and Wolf Island lie to the south of Sapelo Island, across Doboy Sound.

The relative locations of the neighboring creeks and islands are somewhat distorted. Harris’ map identifies Dubois [Doboy] Island and Wolf Beacon. Wolf Beacon was a lighthouse at the northern end of Wolf Island. The Georgia Legislature had ceded jurisdiction of Wolf Island to the United States in 1819 for the purpose of building the 55-foot high beacon light to complement the lighthouse across Doboy Sound on Sapelo Island. The beacon was constructed by the U.S. Coast Guard  along with a keeper’s house and was in operation by summer 1822. Confederate forces eventually  blew up the Wolf Beacon light to eliminate its navigational aid to the Union Navy.

Harris’ map shows Captain Knight’s Company, the Berrien Minute Men, stationed at a battery defending the south end of Blackbeard. True enough, but it appears Harris mistakenly labeled St. Catherines Island to the north as Blackbeard Island.  His depiction of Sapelo Island is actually the combined Sapelo and Blackbeard islands. Harris’ combined Sapelo/Blackbeard clearly shows the prominent Northeast Point on Blackbeard Island, but failed to indicate the belt of marsh and the narrow Blackbeard Creek which diagonally separates Blackbeard from Sapelo. Captain Knight’s camp would have been at the inlet to Blackbeard Creek on the southernmost point of Blackbeard Island, on a dune and tree covered finger of land some 1400 yards wide lying between the seashore on the east and the creek on the west.

About Robert Harris:

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

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Me and Mrs. Jones: Harmon Gaskins Had A Thing Going On – Twice

Over the course of his life, Harmon Gaskins twice married widows named Mrs. Jones.  He first married Melissa Rouse Jones, widow of Clayton Jones, and second married Mary McCutchen Jones, widow of Matthew Jones. For nearly forty years, Harmon Gaskins and his family lived near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Harmon Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, originally settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins, and brothers John and William near present day Bannockburn, GA. They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location.

Born in Beaufort, South Carolina around 1808, Harmon Gaskins was the youngest son of Rhoda Rowe and Fisher Gaskins, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  Fisher Gaskins and his family appear there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810.  That same year, when Harmon was perhaps two years old, his mother died.   His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA, where the family had lived prior to 1807.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father remarried.  Harmon’s new step-mother was Mary Lacy.  Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War. His stepmother’s brother, the Reverend John B. Lacy, would later become a prominent Primitive Baptist Minister

It was about this time that Harmon’s father, Fisher Gaskins,  began to expand his livestock operations. Soon he was looking to acquire good land on which to raise his growing herds of cattle. By 1812,  Harmon’s father had moved the family to Telfair County, GA where there was good grazing land for his cattle. His father was very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, Harmon’s father moved his family and cattle yet again, this time to the newly created Appling County, GA, south of the Ocmulgee River.  Harmon Gaskins, now a lad of 12 or 13 years, moved with the family.

By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature formed the new county of Lowndes out of the southern half of Irwin County. It was around that time or shortly thereafter, Harmon’s father brought his cattle herds and family father south into that portion of Lowndes County that would later be cut into Berrien County.  Fisher Gaskins (Sr.) brought his family into Lowndes County and settled west of the Alapha River perhaps a little south of the present day Bannockburn, GA, and about 15 miles north of the area where William A. Knight, Isbin Giddens,  and David Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay.

Around 1832, Harmon’s father moved farther south into Florida where it was said that there was even better pasture land for cattle. Harmon stayed behind, as well as his brothers, William and John.

Harmon Gaskins married about 1835 and first established his own home place on the Gaskins land near Gaskins cemetery.  Harmon Gaskins, and his brothers William and John, were among Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.  Many published accounts of the pioneer skirmishes with Native Americans at  William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River and at Brushy Creek have been related on the Ray City History Blog.

In the late 1830s, Harmon Gaskins moved his family to a location near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles from present day Ray City, GA.  The Census of 1850 shows the Harmon Gaskins place was located next to the farm of Mark Watson, which was  in the area of Empire Church.  Harmon Gaskins kept his residence here until 1875, when he decide to build a place nearer the Alapaha River. Just two years later, Harmon Gaskins died and was buried at the Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Sixty years after his death, the Clinch County News ran an account of Harmon Gaskins life in Berrien County:

The Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

Harmon Gaskins – 1808-1878

    This the youngest of the three sons of Fisher and Rhoda Rowe Gaskins, was born in 1808, and began life for himself as a laborer on the farm of a neighbor, Mrs. Clayton Jones.  He was about grown when his father decided to move to Florida; and ere long he was in love with Mrs. Melissa Jones, widow of Clayton Jones.  Mrs. Jones’ husband had moved to this county from Emanuel County along with the Sirmans family of Clinch and Berrien counties.  Her husband died about 1830 or 1832 and left her with three children, viz; Irving Jones and Henry Jones and Harriet who later married Wm. M. Avera.  The daughter Harriet was only about two or three years old when her father died, she being born in 1829.  Mrs. Melissa Jones was an illegitimate daughter of Miss Martha (Patsy) Rouse who later became the wife of Jonathan Sirmans of this [Clinch] county. The father of this illegitimate child was named Rowland, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Scotch-Irish man of handsome mien and who deceived the youthful maiden and went away never to return.  This illegitimate child grew up and married Clayton Jones in Emanuel county, and they came to Berrien county about 1825, and he died about 1830-2 as already stated, leaving his widow possessed of a home and farm and with five children to take care of.  Harmon Gaskins, about her age, but a little younger, after working for her on the farm a year or two, proposed marriage and was accepted and they were married about 1835.
    Their first child Rhoda was born Jan. 17, 1837, at the old homestead which was located on the Willacoochee Road leading east from Nashville by way of Avera’s Mill 7 miles east of Nashville and near the Gaskins Graveyard.
    The early life of Harmon Gaskins was not  different from that of other pioneers’ sons growing up in the atmosphere of frontier life.  He was reared to live the chase and many were the conquests made by him in company with his father and brothers of the wild beasts that then abounded and roamed through the country.  Like his father and brothers, he became the owner of a vast herd of cattle, and from the proceeds of sales of his beef-cattle each year he was able to save up gold and silver which in his hands stayed out of the channels of trade for years at the time. He was inured to the hardships of life as it then existed.  His only mode of travel was horseback unless he had to make a trip to a distant trading-point for supplies that could not be produced on the farm.  In such event of a trip, the horse was hitched to a two-wheeled cart of his own construction he being an excellent blacksmith and wheelright; and journey made in company with two or three neighbors situated like himself.  They drove their carts sitting astride their horses, and took rest-spells by occasionally walking by the side of the horse.  Such trips had to be made to St. Marks, Fla., or to old Center Village in what is now Charlton county.  An occasional trip would be made to Savannah but most of the trips were made to the other points named; these trips were usually about once a year, and would last a week or ten days.
  After the birth of two or three children the homesite of Harmon Gaskins was moved to a different location on the same lot of land and for many years he lived near Five-Miles Creek just east of his first location. This was  his home until about 1875 when he decided to locate on a lot of land which he had owned for several years lying nearer the Alapaha River and east of his old home.  Here he constructed a plain log dwelling and began the work of making a new home for himself and family, renting out the old home-place. He died at his last location.
    After the death of his first wife, Mr. Gaskins was married to Mrs. Mary Jones, widow of Matthew Jones and daughter of Robert and Cornelia McCutcheon, pioneer citizens of Irwin and Berrien counties.  By his two marriages, Mr. Gaskins had fourteen children – nine by his first wife and five by the second wife.
     Harmon Gaskins’ death was sudden and was deemed by his older children to appear to have been surrounded with peculiar circumstances.  A suspicion arose that he was poisoned by his wife.  This suspicion was nursed and grew in the minds of the children until it was determined several weeks later to have the body exhumed and a post mortem examination of the stomach made.  The State Chemist failed to find any trace of poison and the decision reached that he came to his death by natural causes.  This however engendered much bitterness and ill-feeling between the widow and her step children, and she entered suit for damages for slander.  She was given a verdict for $1600.00.  She later married Alfred Richardson by whom she had four children, and with whom she lived until a few years before her death in 1918.
    Harmon Gaskins enjoyed but few and limited opportunities for obtaining an education.  Nevertheless he was one of the best-posted men on political issues and economics of his time.  He was a liberal subscriber to the newspapers of his day, and he had a good collection of books on history and other subjects of all of which he was a great student. His counsel was found to be safe and his judgement sound; he was often sought after by others.  He was appointed one of the first judges of the Inferior Court of Berrien County, serving many years.  After the court was abolished he served many years as Justice of the Peace.  However, he never sought political office but rather preferred to stay home.  He labored with his own hands as long as he lived, and put in a good day’s work the day before he died.
At the death of his father in Columbia county, Fla., he inherited a large stock of cattle from the estate which ranged in Volusia and St. Johns counties, Fla., and until a few years preceding his death he made trips down there once a year for the purpose of rounding up the cattle, marking and branding the calves, and talking over his business affairs with those he had arranged to look after the herds.  The men were usually men living in the neighborhood there and under their contract were to look personally after the cattle and pen them about three months in the spring and each summer in order to keep them tradable, and sell the beef steers in the summer, and bring the money from the sales to the owner. For this service the herder was to receive every fifth calf raised and these calves were marked and branded for the herder at the April round-up.
I
ncompetent and probably dishonest herders in due time began to appear among those entrusted with the care of the Florida herds, and this with the gradual failing of the range and the development of the country there and the influx of people, all worked to the detriment of the enterprise. The income from the cattle grew less each year until Mr. Gaskins decided to sell what he had left and let Florida cattle growing alone. Thus he sold out about 15 or 20 years before he died. After his death some sixteen hundred dollars in gold and silver coin and several hundred dollars in paper money was divided among his heirs after having lain in his trunk for many years.
    The children by the first wife were:
    (1) Rhoda, born Jan. 17, 18–, married first to Francis Mobley and after his death in the civil war she married Wm. M. Griner.
    (2) Martha, married first to Thomas Connell who was killed in the civil war; second to William Parker who died three months later; third husband, Hardeman Giddens, was a first cousin on her mother’s side.
(3) Nancy, married Solomon Griffin of Berrien county.

    (4) Fisher H., married Polly Ann Griner.
    (5) Harmon Jr.  Never married, died a young man during the war.
    (6) Rachel, married William Griffin.
    (7) Sarah C., married Samuel Griner.
    (8) Thomas H., married Rachel McCutcheon.
    (9) John A., married Mary Bostick.
    The children by the second wife were: Wayne and Jane who died in childhood; Harmon E. Gaskins, never married, living single in east Berrien county; William H. Gaskins  and David D. Gaskins, The latter married Elsie Hughes.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA