29th Georgia Regiment at Camp Wilson near Savannah, GA

Berrien County, GA sent forth in the Civil War two companies of men known as the Berrien Minute Men.  In the early months of the war, the Campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  made along the Georgia coast, at BrunswickSapelo Island, and Darien, GA.  By early 1862 The Berrien Minute Men,  having gotten “regulated” into the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment ,  were sent to Camp Wilson, near Savannah.
Camp Wilson had been established more than a year prior to the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men. Other Regiments encamped there were the 25th Regiment, 27th Regiment, and 31st Regiment.
The camp was located two or three  miles below Savannah, on White Bluff Road some distance beyond the Atlantic & Georgia Railroad [Atlantic & Gulf?]. White Bluff Road was the Shell road which was then an extension of Whitaker Street.  Camp Wilson was two miles from Camp Lawton and one mile from the soon to be established Camp Tatnall.
Isaac Gordon Bradwell, a soldier of the 31st Georgia Regiment, described  Camp Wilson as a large, level field.  It had room enough for four regiments and their equipment, officers horses, a parade ground, and a place for religious meetings and services.

The locale of Camp Wilson was said to be beautiful but, at least in the earlier days, soldiers found life there quite hard. Private Bradwell wrote in a memoir,

We had not been in these camps many days before we were invaded by measles the dread enemy of all new soldiers, and many of our men died or were rendered unfit for further service. Other diseases thinned our ranks, and for a while few recruits came to take their places. We were under very strict discipline all the time, but some men disregarded the military regulations and suffered the consequences…” 

Of camp food, Bradwell wrote,

The rations were ample, and consisted of flour, corn meal, and bacon. To these afterwards were added, rice, pickled beef, peas, sugar, coffee, sometimes vegetables, and always hard-tack. This was a kind of cracker prepared for the army sometime previous to the outbreak of the war, and it was as hard as wood. No salt, shortening, soda, or other leven whatever was used in its preparation, and it could be eaten only by those who had good sound teeth; but we found out later that it could be soaked with hot water and grease in an oven and be made quite palatable. In its original state, I suppose it would keep indefinitely in any climate. Each cracker was about six inches in diameter and about an inch thick. When broken with a hatchet, or other instrument, the edges of the fragments were shiny and showed it solid composition.

Some soldiers thought the camp provisions were less than satisfactory.   Lieutenant Theodorick W. Montfort, of the 25th Georgia Regiment, in a letter from Camp Wilson to his wife  wrote on January 14, 1861 : “We have poor beef & fresh shoat meat cost us 18 cts per lb.” Montfort requested food be sent from home, “some back bones, spare-ribs, sausages, butter & eggs…,”  assuring his wife that the Confederate government would pay the freight on such shipments.

Soldiers could purchase their own food, but prices were high. Soldiers supplemented their Army rations as best they could. Lieutenant Montfort’s letters from Camp Wilson reveal that one food available to the soldiers there was shad, a delectable fish that runs in the Savannah river delta and other rivers of coastal Georgia from late December to late March. The Shad season was just getting underway when the Berrien Minute Men arrived at Camp Wilson in the winter of 1861-62.  (In a court case concerning shad fishing on the Ocmulgee River, the attorney for the defense was Thaddeus G. Holt,  who also served as the first Superior Court judge in Lowndes County, GA). Shad were also the subject of a diary entry written in early 1862 by  John Thomas Whately, an Englishman conscript with the 13th Georgia Regiment who was stationed at the camps around Savannah:

I had the good fortune of coming on two shad which were made mine by paying $1.25. While on my way home through the streets of Savannah, I was teased nearly to death about my fine shad. After we had arrived in camps and partaken of supper, I and my friend H_ went to Capt. Hill’s tent and W_ was not there. I went back to the fire, and was trying to think where my friend W_ could be. While I was thus engaged in thinking, I heard a kind of smacking of lips in the direction of a small tent off to the left: I walked up and what a busy crowd! There were my friends who had teased me, busily engaged in completing the destruction of one of my shad. I walked in just time enough to get a nice piece and the last piece of my devoured shad. We laughed it off and each one of us retired to our respective tents. [Continuing the following day,] I arrose this morning at the tap of the drum, and after I had answered my name and washed my face, I partook heartily of my remaining shad, who was now without a mate as the other had been unceremoniously devoured by the devilish mouths of my friends last night.

(Whatley later deserted, joined the Union Army, served with the 3rd Maryland Cavalry, then deserted again)

On January 1, 1862 in a letter to the Rome Courier, Thomas J. Perry of the Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment, wrote:

The Federal fleet keeps at a respectful distance, though it is thought that Gen. Sherman will be forced to make a forward movement soon. Ten or twelve of his large war steamers can be seen occasionally, near some of the Islands, but they never stay at one place long at a time. Gen. Lee is in the city to-day. Of course his mission is not generally known.

Recalling events which occurred at Camp Wilson just about the time of the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men in January, 1862, Private Bradwell wrote,

“A little incident which happened while we were here served to break the monotony of camp life very effectually for a short while. At midnight,, when all well-behaved soldiers, except those on guard, were sound asleep, the long roll, that never-to-be-forgotten rattle that wakes a soldier to do or die, was sounded. The voice of our orderly sergeant was heard calling out “Fall in! Fall in!” In the darkness and confusion, we grabbed our clothes and got into them as quickly as possible, and seizing our guns, we took our place in ranks. While this was going on, some of our men were so dazed by the suddenness of this rude awakening that they acted like madmen. One fellow snatched up a blanket for his trousers, but could not get into it. Our old French bandmaster rushed up and down the street, shouting all the time, “Where de capitan? Where de capitan? I die by de Capitan!” We were soon trotted off to the parade ground to take our place in the ranks of the regiment there drawn up, to meet the enemy we thought. Casting our eyes in every direction, we could not see the flashing of the enemy’s guns or hear any noise of battle. Here we stood for quite a while in uncertainty, when finally Colonel Phillips appeared. Walking slowly down the line, he asked each orderly sergeant as he passed whether all the men were present, and to send all absentees up to his headquarters the next morning at 8 o’clock. We were then marched back to our quarters and dismissed for the night. The next morning at daybreak the delinquents stepped into ranks to answer their names, ignorant of had happened during the night. There was quiet a delegation from each company to march up to headquarters that morning to receive, as they thought, a very severe penalty for their misconduct. Our good old colonel stood up before his tent and lectured the men, while others stood armed grinning and laughing at their plight; but to the surprise and joy of the guilty, he dismissed them all without punishment after they had promised him never to run away from camp again.”

Union forces had captured Tybee Island on November 24, 1861, and the men at Camp Wilson were taking measures for the defense of the city. A soldier at Camp Wilson in February, 1862, described their work:

…we are…now engaged in throwing up batteries at different points and in cutting down trees on all the roads leading from the coast to Savannah, that is not across them but every tree on each of the road to the swamp – the object of this is to prevent the Yankees from flanking us on either side with their artillery or cavalry, but compell them to keep the road, by this means they can bring but few men into action at any one time and with our Batteries we can sweep the roads – the cause of this unusual excitement is daily increase of the Yankee Fleet on our Coast.

Despite the proximity of the Federal forces, in some ways the familiar routines continued within the line of defenses ringing Savannah. While at Camp Wilson, soldiers of the 29th Georgia Regiment complained that the Savannah post office would not allow the men in service to mail or receive letters until after noon, prioritizing morning mail for the benefit of civilians.

Daily Morning News
Savannah, GA
January 8, 1862

       Mr. Editor: I desire a place for the benefit of the soldiers and their friends who are here in defence of this city.
      Why cannot soldiers receive communications through the post office as soon as the citizens here? By order of the postmaster, at 12 M. is as soon as they can recieve or transmit any communication through this office, while citizens receive their mail matter by 10 A. M. Besides, we are threatened that upon a requisition to change this order from a colonel of a regiment, 2 P.M. for up-country soldiers will be as soon as the mail will be delivered at office, for no regimental box will be rented, but the mail matter will be thrown into the general delivery.
      Soldiers that have abandoned the pleasures and comforts of their homes – have borne the fatigues and fortunes of the camp – yea, and of the field, certainly are entitled to equal courtesies with citizens. Further, soldiers DEMAND of civilians equal rights, equal privileges. We are here in Savannah for its defence -for the defence of Georgia – for the maintenance of the Constitution of the Southern Confederacy – for the protection of women and children, property, freedom of opinion, and every thing that freemen hold sacred and dear| For this, though soldiers, yea, privates, are we to be ordered to stand aside, while courtesies are shewn to citizen civilians. We own much, and will pay, occasion offering, to the citizens (especially the women) of Savannah for kindness to our sick brethren in arms; but we have left our loved and dear ones at home, from whom a letter is an angel’s voice against temptations and vices of camp – as sweet, soft music to the anguished soul – as savory ointment to the wounded spirit – and yet, when calling for this the only true solace a soldier has for his labors, he is met with “Wait till 12 M., or you shall not receive your mail matter before 2 P. M.,” an hour that were a man’s wife dying, and wishing to receive her last breathing sigh, ‘twould be too late to get to her death bed, by army regulations properly made at headquarters here.
Citizens of Savannah, cannot you remedy this? If this office will not pay for a sufficient number of clerks to arrange business sooner, is there no patriotic man who will take the position and relieve this burden on any citizen (if it be one.)
      Soldiers will complain, and we think properly.

W. B. Fordum
Private Berry Infantry
29th Reg. Ga. Volunteers
Camp Wilson

Men of the 29th Georgia Regiment also organized for religious services. Lieutenant Thomas J. Perry, of the Berry Infantry reported from Camp Wilson on January 1, 1862:

     Last Sabbath a week ago, we organized a Sabbath school in our Regiment and appointed the Rev. Mr. Harroll Superintendent, and Thoms. J. Perry Secretary and Libarian. We have built us a Bush Arbor, in the rear of our camps, about 200 yards distant. We have also agreed to hold prayer meeting every Tuesday and Thursday nights, and have preaching every Sabbath at 11 A.M., 3 P.M., and again at night, and have invited the other two Regiments to join us. Quite a number of Col. Phillip’s Regiment have accepted the invitation, and gone to work with a hearty good will.
      Prof. P. H. Mell preached for us last Sabbath at 11 A. M., and again at 3 P. M., and at night gave us a talk upon the subject of prayer.

But, Lieutenant Perry went on to report, “Sin and wickedness prevails…”

To be continued…

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