The Pioneer Corps

John Jefferson Beagles (1829-1916)

John Jefferson Beagles, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave of John Jefferson Beagles, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

At Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA a simple white marble headstone marks the grave of Confederate veteran John Jefferson Beagles. John Jefferson Beagles was the father of James Thomas Beagles, subject of previous posts (Family Feud at Rays Mill, The Biggles Farm). The marker commemorates the senior Beagles’ service in the Pioneer Corps, Company K, 61st Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry.

Just three months before the cannon fire on Fort Sumter signaled the opening of the Civil War on April 12, 1861, John Jefferson Beagles married Nancy Catherine Wright  in Laurens County, GA.  They were joined in matrimony on January 10, 1861 by Justice of the Peace Andrew Bedingfield.

By July of 1861, the newlywed J.J. Beagles had enlisted in the Confederate Infantry. He was mustered in September 13, 1861 at Whitesville, GA.

John Jefferson Beagles

John Jefferson Beagles

From Company Muster Rolls, it appears that John Jefferson Beagles spent the first three months of service with Company C, of the 26th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry,

Private G. W. Nichols Describes the 26th Regiment

The Twenty-Sixth Georgia Regiment was organized in Brunswick, Ga., October, 1861. It was armed with Enfield rifles and was soon ordered to St. Simon’s Island, seven miles east of Brunswick. Here it had to work very hard, building a fort and other batteries, and fighting sand flies and mosquitos and drilling with its heavy siege-guns, and company and battalion drills with the small arms. They had to do a lot of picketing. After they finished the fort and other batteries, they were ordered to move all of their heavy guns back to Brunswick and the regiment was ordered to Savannah, Ga. From here it was ordered to Camp Beulah, twelve miles from Savannah, near Green Island Sound, and back to the shell road, where the regiment reorganized and re-enlisted for three years, or during the war.

The Twenty-sixth Georgia Regiment was made up entirely with South Georgians, who were brought up in a thinly settled country where there were but few schools. The most of them were taught early how to handle and use a gun, and could kill the fleet-footed deer, panther, wolf, bear, wild-cat and fox running at break-neck speed or could take off a squirrel’s head with the old plantation rifle.

From January  to May of 1862 Beagles was detailed to Company E, 26th Regiment (later known as Company E, 61st Regiment),  a Montgomery County unit known as the Montgomery Sharpshooters.

With the May Reorganization, Beagles was transferred to the newly formed Company K, 61st Regiment under Captain E. F. Sharp.

The 61st Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry was present at the Battle of Gaines' Mill. The Battle of Gaines's Mill, sometimes known as the First Battle of Cold Harbor or the Battle of Chickahominy River, took place on June 27, 1862, in Hanover County, Virginia, as the third of the Seven Days Battles.

The 61st Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry was present at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. The Battle of Gaines’ Mill, sometimes known as the First Battle of Cold Harbor or the Battle of Chickahominy River, took place on June 27, 1862, in Hanover County, Virginia, as the third of the Seven Days Battles.

Muster rolls show that John Jefferson Beagles was with Company K , 61st Regiment  Georgia Volunteer Infantry from May 1862 through April 1863. In August, 1862 the 61st Regiment was at the Second Battle of Bull Run. In September they were at the Battle of Antietam; in December, at Fredericksburg. In May of 1863, the 61st Georgia Regiment was at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

It appears that around that time, Beagles may have left his unit temporarily.

According to the New Georgia encyclopedia:

Desertion plagued Georgia regiments during the Civil War (1861-65) and, in addition to other factors, debilitated the Confederate war effort. Deserters were not merely cowards or ne’er-do-wells; some were seasoned veterans from battle-hardened regiments…Georgians’ sense of duty to alleviate the social and economic hardships endured by their families and communities encouraged Confederates to abandon the ranks and return home.

At any rate, Beagles returned to his unit, for the records show that on May 18,1863 he was court martialed under  General Orders No. 64. General Orders No. 64, offered amnesty to Confederate deserters who returned to service. This was in contrast to the fate of Yaller Chapman, even though he fought with other units.

In July and August, 1863 Beagles was “Absent – sick in hospital.” He may have been out during the Battle of Gettysburg, but in September he was again with his unit and was present through February of 1864.  During this period, the 61st GA Regiment was not engaged in any major battles.

The actions and engagements of the 61st Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry have been chronicled in A soldier’s story of his regiment (61st Georgia) and incidentally of the Lawton-Gordon-Evans brigade, Army northern Virginia” by Private G. W. Nichols.

In  March of 1864, Beagles was detailed to the Pioneer Corps.

The soldiers in the Pioneer Corps were assigned from Infantry divisions to work under the direction of the Engineer Corps. The confederate engineers were responsible for the construction and maintenance of river, coast and harbor defenses, and other constructions of war. The Pioneer Corps would have participated in the construction of earthworks and entrenchments,  fortifications, pontoon bridges and the like.

The Photographic History of the Civil War: Forts and artillery describes the works of the Pioneer Corps and the Engineer Corps:

“The great battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, on the way to Petersburg, were but a succession of attacks upon improvised fortresses, defeats for the assaulting troops, flank movements to a new position, new entrenchments, new assaults, new flank movements, and so on continuously. The stronger Northern army never overcame the weaker Southern legions so long as the latter remained in the trenches. The preponderance of numbers enabled the Federal armies to extend ever to the left, reaching out the long left arm to get around the flank of the Confederate positions. This was the final operation in front of Petersburg. To meet the continuously extending left of the Federals, Lee’s lines became dangerously thin, and he had to evacuate his works. He was not driven out by the foes assaulting the works themselves until his lines became so thin that they were broken by weight of numbers.”

The cost of assaults on entrenchments during all these late campaigns of the war was tremendous. The losses in Grant’s army from the time he crossed the Rapidan until he reached the James—a little over a month—were nearly equal to the strength of the entire Confederate army opposing him at the outset. Again, at Petersburg, the attack cost the Union army, in killed and wounded, a number almost equal to the entire force of the foe actually opposed.
As for the profile, showing the strength of parapet of the works employed, there was no fixed rule, and the troops used arbitrary measures. Ten to fifteen feet of fairly solid earth generally sufficed to withstand the heaviest cannon, while a thickness of two feet and a low parapet would protect against rifle fire. If logs or other heavy timber were at hand, the thickness of the parapet could be correspondingly reduced. It was found that even a slight work, if held by strong rifle fire, always prevailed against the advancing force, unless the latter attacked in overwhelming numbers.

Beagles was with the Pioneer Corps when the 61st Georgia Regiment was engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness in early May. The battle was bloody but inconclusive, and was immediately followed by sporadic fighting from May 8 through May 21, 1864 at the strategic crossroads near Spotsylvania Court House. Again inconclusive, the Battle of Spotsylvania was even bloodier with almost 32,000 casualties on both sides.

The Pioneer Corps, details from the Confederate Infantry Divisions, worked under the supervision of the Engineer Corps to build earthworks, fortifications, pontoon bridges, and other structures for war. The soldiers of the 61st Georgia Regiment detailed to the Pioneer Corp probably helped to construct the extensive confederate entrenchments at the Siege of Petersburg, fought June 9, 1864 to March 25, 1865.

The Pioneer Corps, details from the Confederate Infantry Divisions, worked under the supervision of the Engineer Corps to build earthworks, fortifications, pontoon bridges, and other structures for war. The soldiers of the 61st Georgia Regiment detailed to the Pioneer Corps probably helped to construct the extensive confederate entrenchments at the Siege of Petersburg, fought June 9, 1864 to March 25, 1865.

On June 16, 1864 J. J. Beagles drew new clothing.  In September he drew new clothing again. The records show that in 1864 on Oct 17 John Jefferson Beagles deserted. This was just two days before  Confederate General Early decided to launch a surprise attack across Cedar Creek, VA in the early morning hours of October 19, 1864. The 61st regiment was involved in the Battle of Cedar Creek, along with the 5oth Georgia Regiment , and other confederate units.

In the last regimental  note on John Beagles, he appears on a list  of paroled prisoners at Provost Marshal’s office, Bowling Green, VA,  May 4, 1865.  The record notes that he was sent to Montgomery County, GA.

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Marrying Cousins: Letitia Giddens and John Mathis Giddens

Letitia Giddens and John Mathis Giddens were cousins who lived in the Ray City, GA vicinity prior to the Civil War.

Letitia “Lettie” Giddens was the daughter of Sarah Smith and John Giddens, born July 14, 1832 in Randolph County, GA.  Her mother died in 1845, when Lettie was about seven years old.  Her father was remarried about two years later on April 11, 1847 to Nancy Smith in Randolph County.  Lettie was enumerated there at age 18 in 1850 in the household of her father and stepmother.

About 1851 Letitia Giddens married her cousin John Mathis Giddens.  He was born 1832 in Lowndes County, GA the eldest son of Civility Mathis and Duncan Giddens, and grew up on the family farm near the Cat Creek community, about ten miles southeast of Ray City, GA.  His father, Duncan Giddens,  served with Levi J. Knight in the Indian Wars of 1838. His grandfather, Thomas Giddens, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  His brother, Jasper Giddens, was a subject of earlier posts (see Jasper Giddens ‘Settles’ Knife Fight).

According to Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia Vol 1, John M. Giddens’ father, Duncan Giddens, and uncle Thomas Giddens, came south around 1827-28 to settle in that part of Lowndes county later cut into Berrien county.  Around 1855, Duncan Giddens moved to Clinch County where he served as Justice of the Inferior Court.

In the Census of 1860, John M and Letitia Giddens were enumerated in  Berrien County, where John was a farmer with $850 in real estate and $900 in his personal estate. Census records place them in the neighborhood of James M. Baskin, William Washington Knight, John Knight,Sr. and other early settlers of the Ray City, GA area. According to Huxford, after marriage, Lettie and John M. Giddens made their home in Berrien County near her parents.

Around the start of the Civil War John and Lettie moved to Clinch County and settled in Lot 240, 7th Land District on land  given to them by John’s father, Duncan Giddens. After the outbreak of hostilities John M. Giddens went to Waresboro, GA  to Battery Walker where he enlisted as a private  “for 3 years or war.”  He was mustered into the 50th Georgia Infantry, Company B under Captain Bedford.

John M. Giddens soon learned that soldiers in the confederate camps were under risk of more than battle. His Civil War service records show that from April 30, 1862  he was “absent, sick in hospital.”  By June 1862 he was “sent to hospital in Savannah.”  In July, letters home from the Berrien county soldiers were telling of rampant disease spreading throughout the confederate camps: chills and fever, mumps, diarrhea and typhoid fever. That month, John was “sent 17th of July to Convalescent Camp located near Whitesville, Ga,” about twenty miles south of Savannah.

The confederate facility at Whitesville, GA was Guyton Hospital, subject of earlier posts.  Guyton Hospital had been established just two months earlier. In Surgical Memoirs of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 2, issued 1871, Guyton Hospital was described as one of the better  hospitals in Confederate Georgia.

On the same day that John M. Giddens arrived at Guyton Hospital, July 17, 1862 his cousin Isbin T. Giddens died there of “brain fever.”  Until his illness, Isbin had been serving as 2nd Sergeant in the Berrien Minute Men,  Company G, 29th Georgia Regiment.

Later company records of the 50th Georgia Regiment show John M. Giddens was “absent sick not known where.”  The Company muster roll, for November and December 1864 observed that he was “absent – sent to Hospital in November 1862 – not heard from since – supposed to be dead.”

John M. Giddens, Company B, 50th Georgia Regiment.  Company Muster Rolls show he was presumed dead since 1862, after he never returned from the hospital at Whitesville, GA.

John M. Giddens, Company B, 50th Georgia Regiment. Company Muster Rolls show he was presumed dead since 1862, after he never returned from the hospital at Whitesville, GA.

According to Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, John M. Giddens died at a military hospital in late November or December 1864, but it seems unlikely that he would have survived that long given the other known facts of his service.  It seems more probable that he died in 1862, shortly after becoming ill.  The location of his burial is not known at the time of this writing.

At home in Clinch County, Lettie Giddens waited for the husband who would never return.  After the war, she moved back to Berrien County with her two children, Virgil A. and Lavinia, and remained there for the rest of her days.  Her father, John Giddens, died in Berrien County in 1866.  Lettie lived on a farm valued at $330 near the home of her step-mother, Nancy Smith Giddens.

Isbin T. Giddens Dies of Brain Fever at Guyton Hospital, Georgia

Isbin T. Giddens and Matthew O. Giddens were the two youngest sons of Isbin Giddens, a pioneer settler of the Ray City, GA area.  The Giddens brothers served together in the Civil War.  They joined Levi J. Knight’s company of Berrien Minute Men, Company G, 29th Georgia Infantry at Milltown (nka Lakeland), GA.  Neither men would survive the war.

Gravemarker of Matthew O. Giddens, Camp Chase, Ohio

Mathew O. Giddens, a subject of previous posts (Matthew O. Giddens ~ Confederate POW), fought with the Berrien Minute Men for more than three years before he was taken prisoner on December 16, 1864 near Nashville, TN. He was imprisoned at Camp Chase, Ohio where he died three months later. Federal records of deaths of Confederate prisoners of war show that M. O. Giddens, 29th GA Infantry, died of pneumonia on February 7, 1865 at Camp Chase. He was buried in  one of 2,260 confederate graves at Camp Chase Cemetery.

Isbin T. Giddens became a corporal in Company G, 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment, the Berrien Minute Men.  He was enlisted at Savannah, GA on August 1, 1861. From August 1, 1861 to Feb, 1862 confederate military records show he was present with his unit.

Whether in the P.O.W. camps or in regimental camps, Confederate soldiers like Mathew and Isbin Giddens were under constant risk for disease.  In early December of 1861, soldiers of the Berrien Minute Men wrote home that there was an outbreak of measles in the camp of the 29th Regiment. In late December,  the measles outbreak was even worse. By July of 1862 letters home from the Berrien Minute Men told of diseases spreading throughout the confederate camps: chills and fever, mumps, diarrhea and typhoid fever.

That summer, Berrien Minute Men Company G (formerly Co. C) was at Battery Lawton on the Savannah River. Isbin T. Giddens had made the rank 2nd Sergeant,  but by July he was gravely ill.  He was sent to the Confederate general hospital at Guyton, GA about thirty miles northwest of Savannah. (Note: This community was also known as Whitesville, Georgia. See Guyton History.)

Soldiers of Berrien County  helped in the construction of the hospital at Guyton.  In a letter dated May 18, 1862, Sergeant Ezekiel Parrish wrote to his father James Parrish (1816-1867) that a construction recruiter had visited him in Savannah, GA:

“Father I think now that I shall go up to Whiteville at No three on the C R R to help build a government hospital.   There was a man here this morning that has the management of that work after hands and for the improvement of my health which is growing bad I think I shall go and work there a few weeks.  The water here is very bad and brackish and a continual use of it is enough to make anybody sick.  [If] I  do not go up to No 3 I shall write to you soon…”

Ezekiel Parrish  made it to Guyton hospital at Whiteville. His Confederate service records show he was among the Berrien County men he was detached in May 1862 for carpentry work at the hospital. Another was Matthew A. Parrish,  of Company I, 50th GA Regiment.

But within three weeks time Ezekiel Parrish’s health took a turn for the worse.  He was himself admitted to the hospital and died of measles pneumonia, June 5, 1862 at Whitesville, GA.  Matthew A. Parrish would not long survive him; he died October 21, 1862 in Berrien County, GA.

The Savannah Republican, August 14, 1862, wrote,

Guyton Hospital, located at Whitesville, No. 3, Central Railroad, is now a very important point, being (together with Springfield, where a convalescent camp is located) the headquarters of the sick from every point.—Here preparations are being made on a large scale for the accommodation of patients from the other Hospitals and camps, and daily accessions are being made to the large number already there… Springfield, six miles from Whitesville, is a beautiful location, where several hundred convalescents, still unfit for duty, are rapidly improving. Thanks to the wise forethought of those who originated and executed this admirable plan in connection with Guyton Hospital. There is a hospital attached to this camp also; there is a want of proper nurses and nourishment there. We trust that want will soon be supplied by the people of the surrounding country”

The assignment to Guyton hospital perhaps gave the men  a better than average chance of surviving his illness.  In Surgical Memoirs of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 2, issued 1871, Guyton Hospital was described as one of the most effective of the general hospitals in Confederate Georgia.  Patients at Guyton were far more likely to survive gunshot wounds or disease than soldiers sent to other Georgia hospitals.

The excess of mortality in the general hospitals of Savannah and Macon, Georgia, over that of Guyton, was clearly referable in great measure to the hygienic conditions and relative locations of the various hospitals…In the crowded hospitals, the simplest diseases assumed malignant characters; the typhoid poison altered the course of mumps and measles, and pneumonia, and was the cause of thousands of deaths; and the foul exhalations of the sick poisoned the wounds of healthy men, and induced erysipelas, pyaemia, and gangrene.  Who can estimate the suffering inflicted, as in the celebrated case of the Augusta hospitals, by the development and spread of hospital gangrene in overcrowded hospitals situated in the heart of towns and cities?
     As a rule in military practice, the wounded should never be placed in wards with patients suffering from any one of the contagious or infectious diseases, as small-pox, measles, scarlet fever, typhus fever, typhoid fever, erysipelas, pyaemia, or hospital gangrene; and these various diseases should not be indiscriminately mingled together. The voice of the profession is unanimous as to the exclusion and isolation of small-pox, but we know from extended experience that sufficient care was not exercised in the isolation of other diseases.

Despite the hospital’s better record with disease, Isbin T. Giddens died of “Brain Fever”  on July 17, 1862 at Guyton Hospital. The term Brain fever, no longer in use, described a medical condition where a part of the brain becomes inflamed and causes symptoms that present as fever.   In modern terminology, conditions that may have been described as brain fever include Encephalitis, an acute inflammation of the brain, commonly caused by a viral infection, or Meningitis, the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.  Giddens died with no money in his possession.  His effects, “sundries”, where left in the charge of W.S. Lawton, Surgeon and later,Surgeon-in-Chief. His place of burial was not documented.

Isbin T. Giddens, register of deaths by disease, Confederate Archives

Isbin T. Giddens, register of deaths by disease, Confederate Archives

 

The historical marker at Guyton bears the inscription:

In May 1862 the Confederate Government established a General Hospital in Guyton, Georgia. This hospital was located on a nine acre tract of land between Central Railroad, a determining factor in locating hospitals, and current Georgia Highway 119, Lynn Bonds Avenue and Pine Street. The end of May saw five people on the medical staff at this hospital. Five months later the number had reached 46 people including surgeons, assistant surgeons, contract physicians, hospital stewards, ward masters, matrons, ward matrons, assistant matrons, nurses, cooks, and laundry workers.

The Savannah Republican, September 6,, 1862, wrote,

Covering for the Sick Soldiers.
We are in receipt of a letter from the Surgeon of the Guyton Hospital, to which all our
convalescing soldiers are sent, stating the fact that the patients are wholly unprovided with
blankets, comforts and other covering to protect them against the approaching cool weather. The
government cannot purchase blankets on any terms, and it rests with private citizens to prevent
the suffering that must surely ensue without such aid. Will not our citizens take a review of their
bed clothing, and send us what they can possibly spare? Anything that will keep out the cold
will answer, and we hope to receive a prompt response to the appeal, both from city and country.
The inmates of the hospital have relatives and friends all over the State, who should do what they
can for their comfort. All packages sent to this office will be promptly forwarded.

♦ ♦ ♦

By May 1863, this hospital had a medical staff of 67 people. Confederate documents reveal that this hospital had 270 beds and 46 fireplaces. When the hospital was filled to capacity the Guyton Methodist Church was used to take in patients who could not be placed in the hospital. Surgeon William H. Whitehead was the Surgeon-in-Charge from May 1862 until February 1863, when Surgeon William S. Lawton took charge and served in this capacity until the hospital was abandoned in December 1864, when the 17th Army Corps of General Sherman`s Federal Army approached. From May 1862 to December 1864, this hospital provided medical care, food, clothing, and lodging for thousands of sick and wounded Confederate soldiers. – Historical Marker

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