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 3

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 3: Berrien Minute Men at Camp Spalding

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.

With their encampment established,  the companies on Sapelo turned their attention to the organization of the regimental command. By the first of November the Regiment held elections for  its officers.

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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