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Chapter 4:

The year 1862 opened with considerable activity along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. On January 26th an expedition started from Hilton Head, comprising 2,400 infantry under command of Gen. Horatio G. Wright, in transports convoyed by the gunboats Ottawa, Seneca, Isaac Smith, Potemska, Ellen and Western World, under Capt. Charles H. Davis, and two armed launches with their crews from the frigate Wabash, under Capt. C. P. R. Rodgers. The expedition anchored in Warsaw sound, and on the 27th a reconnoissance was made of Wilmington narrows up to the obstructions of sunken hulk and piling. A similar reconnoissance reached the obstruction at Wall's cut, north of the Savannah. On the 28th four months provisions and supplies of ammunition were sent down to Fort Pulaski under protection of Commodore Tattnall and his fleet. As the vessels neared the fort they were fired upon by the Federal gunboats north of the river under Rodgers, and by those south under Davis, and the strange spectacle was presented of a naval engagement in which the contestants were separated by land. The distance between the two Federal squadrons was about three miles. Tattnall sent on the transports in charge of the Sampson, while he turned back with the Savannah and Resolute, expecting the Federal boats would come out in the river to cut him off. As he returned, a heavy fire was opened [83] on him, to which he replied with vigor. The Federal shots went wild and neither of the boats and none of the men were hurt. As the Sampson and her two unarmored companions came back up the river, the enemy was able to get a better range and several rifled shells were sent through her, hurting no one, however, and doing no serious damage.

Immense crowds gathered upon the docks at Savannah during this naval affair, and the boats were vociferously welcomed as they returned from their adventurous mission. General Lee at once reported that, ‘If the enemy succeed in removing the obstacles in Wall's cut and Wilmington narrows, there is nothing to prevent their reaching the Savannah river, and we have nothing afloat that can contend against them. The communication between Savannah and Fort Pulaski will then be cut off.’ He added, ‘To-day I have caused to be sunk in Wilmington narrows the floating dock of the city. I hope this passage at least will be effectually obstructed.’ Since early in December the Forty-sixth New York regiment had been quietly at work landing ordnance and implements and constructing batteries along the north side of Tybee. Later the Federal engineering force was considerably increased, and put under command of Gen. A. H. Terry. The work of constructing the earthworks was done by the Federals at night and with great caution. ‘The positions selected for the five advanced batteries,’ General Gillmore has written, ‘were artificially screened from the view of the fort by almost imperceptible changes, made little by little each night, in the condition and distribution of the brushwood and bushes in front of them.’ As an outpost the Federals put a hulk in Warsaw sound, which also obstructed the passage, and stationed a force upon it, from which detachments were sent out on scouting expeditions.

Another Federal force, operating from Daufuskie island on the South Carolina side, removed the obstructions [84] from Wall's cut, and with infinite caution and the most exhausting labor, planted batteries on platforms upon the swampy Bird island, and at Venus point on Jones island. One of Tattnall's boats, the steamer Ida, running past on February 13th, was fired upon by this battery, but not injured, and on the following day three of the Confederate boats paid their respects to the battery. By the first of April, 1862, the Federals had eleven batteries constructed, mounting 36 heavy mortars and cannon, mainly 10-inch columbiads and Parrott rifles.

Meanwhile General Lee with his headquarters at Coosawhatchie, and later at Savannah, was making efforts to obtain reinforcements of ordnance and men for the threatened region of the coast. No guns could be obtained from Pensacola, and but five 8-inch columbiads and one 24-pounder could be sent from Richmond. In order to concentrate his resources for defense, General Lee authorized General Mercer, in command at Brunswick, to remove the batteries from St. Simon's and Jekyl islands, if he considered those positions difficult to maintain, and forward the heavy guns to Savannah. It appeared that there were now no inhabitants at Brunswick, and the planters on the island had removed their property to the interior. On February 16th General Mercer reported that he had moved the guns and was shipping them to Savannah and Fernandina. The Fourth Georgia battalion was then stationed at Brunswick, as was also Col. Cary W. Styles' command, the Twenty-sixth regiment, but both were at once withdrawn.

General Mercer also urged that he be given orders to burn the town of Brunswick, for the ‘moral effect it would produce upon the enemy, as evidencing our determination to continue the present contest with unconquerable determination and at every sacrifice.’

At this critical moment, while the chief seaport of the State was threatened by the enemy, the enlistment of troops for home service apparently embarrassed the [85] Confederate officers in charge of the coast defenses. On the 6th of February General Lee wrote to Secretary Benjamin that ‘the replacing the troops in the Confederate service in this State is a matter of serious consideration. The period of service of several companies serving the batteries for the defense of the city of Savannah is about to expire. One that was mustered out of the service a few days since at Fort Pulaski declines to re-enter the service, and it is supposed that others will be equally averse. The loss of these companies at this time will be a serious injury to the defense of the city, as artillerists cannot be made on the eve of battle.’ The fear of invasion had become so great that the people of Georgia were at the time unwilling to send troops out of the State. Lee asked that he be assigned another general officer to take charge of troops guarding the approaches of Savannah from the Ogeechee. Governor Brown expressed confidence in Lee and heartily cooperated with him. He declared that the attack on Savannah must be repelled at any cost, and intimated that he would rather see the city burned than surrendered. He directed General Jackson to call out such of the militia force of Savannah as he could arm for imperative service, in addition to the State troops already in the field. Considerable apprehension for the safety of Augusta in the contingency of the capture of Savannah was felt, and General Lee authorized the obstruction of the river below Augusta, and the erection of a battery to protect the works.

On February 17th Col. Charles H. Olmstead, of the First volunteer regiment of Georgia, commanding at Fort Pulaski, was notified by General Lee that the position taken in his rear by the enemy would require him to protect himself in that direction. ‘As far as possible,’ said Lee, ‘your safety will be anxiously cared for, and for the present your communication with the city will have to be by light boats over the marsh and through [86] Wilmington narrows to Causton's bluffs, or by any other mode by which you can better accomplish it.’ It was a feature of the siege of Pulaski that the Federals were never able wholly to isolate the fort from communication by some of the marshy channels with the city.

On February 18th, following the disaster at Fort Donelson, General Lee was ordered by the war department to withdraw all forces from the islands in his department to the mainland, taking proper measures to save the artillery and munitions of war. About March 1st the works on Cumberland and Amelia island were abandoned, and Captain Blain's company was ordered to Savannah.

The military situation had now become very grave through the Federal successes in Kentucky and Tennessee. An intimation of what might be expected from the meeting in battle of the largely superior forces of the enemy and the overconfident soldiers of the Confederacy, had been furnished by the affair at Fishing creek, where General Zollicoffer was killed and the army of Crittenden practically annihilated. This was followed by a levy of troops, made February 2d, in which Georgia was called upon for twelve regiments. Soon afterward came the news of the surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson and the occupation of Nashville. In view of these conditions President Davis telegraphed General Lee at Savannah, March 2d, ‘If circumstances will, in your judgment, warrant your leaving, I wish to see you here with the least delay.’ On reaching Richmond, Lee was appointed military adviser of the president, and on March 14th, Maj.-Gen. John C. Pemberton. an officer of the old army, of fine reputation as an engineer, was appointed to the command of the department of South Carolina and Georgia. Meanwhile General Lawton had pressed for. ward the work of fortification. Fort Jackson was strengthened, shore batteries were located near it, and the battery at Thunderbolt was protected and reinforced. Toward the last of March scouting parties from the [87] opposing forces encountered each other on Whitemarsh and Wilmington islands. Gen. A. R. Lawton on April 5th officially reported: ‘On two successive nights, March 30th and 31st, scouting parties were sent to Whitemarsh and Wilmington islands from the Thirteenth Georgia regiment, Col. Marcellus Douglass. which were entirely successful, killing one and capturing eighteen of the enemy, two of whom have since died. They also captured a barge with a six-pounder. We had but one man wounded, and it is feared that he will not recover. The scouting party was under the immediate command of Captain [J. Terrell] Crawford, Thirteenth Georgia regiment, who conducted it with skill and gallantry, and all the officers and men under his command exhibited the most commendable courage and enterprise.’

In a communication to the adjutant-general of the Confederate States from General Pemberton on April 9th, the latter says that he addressed an inquiry to Adjt.-Gen. H. C. Wayne, of Georgia, asking for an expression of the governor's views in regard to the continuance of the State forces, and in reply received a copy of the governor's speech to the State troops at Savannah March 15th, to which General Wayne added, that ‘if they, do not re-volunteer within the week, as set forth in his speech, he will replace them by an equivalent force of new volunteers.’ Governor Brown in a subsequent interview stated that not more than 3,500 of the State troops now in service could be counted upon at any one time within the next two or three months for the defense of Savannah. ‘My own opinion is,’ said General Pemberton, ‘after a great deal of inquiry, that even this number is an overestimate. I am convinced that there is a general indisposition to re-enter the State service, although the governor thinks differently.’ There had been, however, no delay in supplying every regiment which Georgia had been asked to contribute to the Confederate service. Under the last call for twelve regiments, [88] eighteen had been furnished. Brig.-Gen. W. D. Smith was assigned to duty in the military district of Georgia, with orders to report to Gen. A. R. Lawton, April 10th.

The United States land forces participating in the reduction of Fort Pulaski were under Maj.-Gen. David Hunter and Brigadier-Generals Benham, Viele and Gillmore. Within the walls of Fort Pulaski, under the command of Col. Charles H. Olmstead, were a little over 400 men of the Savannah regiment, or First regiment of Georgia, the companies being the Montgomery Guard, Capt. L. J. Gilmartin; German Volunteers, Capt. John H. Steigen; Oglethorpe Light Infantry, Capt. T. W. Sims; Wise Guard, Capt. M. J. McMullen; Washington Volunteers, Capt. John McMahon. The armament of the fort was five 10-inch and nine 8-inch columbiads, three 42-pounders, three 10-inch mortars, one 12-inch mortar, one 24-pounder and two 12-pounder howitzers, twenty 32-pounders and two 4-inch Blakely rifled guns. The fight went against the fort from the first, but there was great faith in the strength of the works. Gen. David Hunter, commanding the Federal department of the South, demanded the surrender of the garrison of Colonel Olmstead, the flag being sent under Lieut. James H. Wilson. Colonel Olmstead replied briefly, declining to surrender, and stating that he was there ‘to defend the fort, not to surrender it.’ The first shell was fired at 8:15 on the morning of April 10, 1862, and by 9:30 all the beleaguering batteries were in operation. Colonel Olmstead replied vigorously, but was at a disadvantage at the start on account of knowing the position of but two of the eleven Federal batteries. An attack by the. Federal fleet was anticipated, but it took no part in the bombardment. The Confederate soldiers and citizens in Savannah and the adjacent fortifications listened with anxiety throughout the day to the continuous roar of the guns. The ten hours bombardment on the first day caused no material damage, but during that night the garrison was [89] terribly harassed by the enemy's mortar shells which were dropped into the fort, one every five minutes. A fiercer attack began at daybreak of the second day, especially upon the southeast angle, where the fire of the rifled cannon was concentrated to breach the walls of the fort. As General Hunter reported: ‘The result of this bombardment must cause, I am convinced, a change in the construction of fortifications as radical as that foreshadowed in naval architecture by the conflict between the Monitor and Merrimac. No works of stone or brick can resist the impact of rifled artillery of heavy caliber.’ The solid walls of the old fort built for war of another sort crumbled like the Congress and the Cumberland under the shot of the Virginia. ‘Two casemates were opened to an aggregate width of thirty feet, the scarp wall was battered down in front of three casemate piers, and the adjacent wall on each side was so badly shattered that a few hours' firing would have doubled the width of practicable breach, a ramp of debris reaching to the foot of the counterscarp. In repairing the work subsequently, 100 linear feet of wall had to be rebuilt.’

Corporal Law of the Phoenix Riflemen, stationed at Thunderbolt, had taken a signal man to the fort on the night of the 10th, and leaving after the flag was lowered, carried the news to Savannah. ‘ At the close of the fight all the parapet guns were dismounted except three, two 10-inch columbiads, known as ‘Beauregard’ and ‘Jeff Davis’ (but one of which bore on the island), and a rifle cannon. Every casemate gun in the southeast section of the fort, from No. 7 to No. 13, including all that could be brought to bear upon the enemy's batteries except one, was dismounted, and the casemate walls breached in almost every instance to the top of the arch, say between five and six feet in width. The moat outside was so filled with brick and mortar that one could have passed over dry shod. The officers' quarters were torn to pieces, the bomb-proof timbers scattered in every [90] direction over the yard, and the gates to the entrance knocked off. The parapet walls on the Tybee side were all gone, in many places down to the level of the earth on the casemates. The protection to the magazine in the northwest angle of the fort had all been shot away; the entire corner of the magazine next to the passageway was shot off, and the powder exposed, while three shots had actually penetrated the chamber. Such was the condition of affairs when Colonel Olmstead called a council of officers in a casemate; and without a dissenting voice they acquiesced in the necessity of a capitulation, in order to save the garrison from utter destruction by an explosion, which was momentarily threatened. Accordingly, at 2 o'clock p. m. the men were called from the guns and the flag was lowered.

Early in the day Colonel Olmstead had no doubt of his ability to silence every battery on Tybee island, and to this end he determined that when night came and the enemy's fire slackened, he would change the position of all his heavy guns, so as to bring them to bear on the enemy. As the day progressed, however, his situation became desperate. Every man did his duty with aladrity, and there being few guns that bore on the enemy, there was a continued contest as to who should man them. When volunteers were called for to perform any laborious duty, there was a rush of men from every company in the fort. Among the last guns fired were those on the parapet, and the men stood there, exposed to a storm of iron hail, to the last.

’ When the flag was shot down on the second day, Lieut. Christopher Hussey, of the Montgomery Guards, and Private John Latham, of the Washington Volunteers, leaped upon the exposed parapet and disentangled the flag and remounted it at the northeastern angle on a temporary staff.

The terms of capitulation were arranged by Colonel Olmstead and General Gillmore, and the swords of the officers were received by Maj. Charles G. Halpine, of [91] literary fame as ‘Miles O'Reilly.’ The terms of capitulation provided that the sick and wounded should be sent under a flag of truce to the Confederate lines, but this General Hunter afterward declined to ratify, thus cruelly furnishing another instance of the inhumanity of the Federal treatment of prisoners of war, and the whole garrison was sent as prisoners to the forts in New York harbor. The Federals contented themselves with occupying the fort, thereby closing the port to commerce.

During these operations on the Georgia coast, Phillips' Georgia legion had been on duty in Gen. T. F. Drayton's district, next north of Savannah, and was in action with the enemy on March 20th and 22d near Bluffton, S. C.

On April 13th Maj.-Gen. David Hunter, in command of the ‘department of the South,’ issued the following general order No. 7:

All persons of color lately held to involuntary service by enemies of the United States in Fort Pulaski and on Cockspur island, Georgia, are hereby confiscated and declared free, in conformity with law, and shall hereafter receive the fruits of their own labor. Such of said persons of color as are able-bodied and may be required shall be employed in the quartermaster's department at the rates heretofore established by Brig.-Gen. T. W. Sherman.

This conduct of Hunter accorded with his reputation elsewhere. His brutality was exceeded only by Butler. The above order was followed May 9th by the following:

The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the South, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against said United States, it became a military necessity to declare martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States, Georgia, [92] Florida and South Carolina, heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

The foolish order was annulled by President Lincoln, who was wise enough to rebuke the act. Another savage performance of Hunter's was the organization of a negro regiment, the first in the United States service. Hunter was properly declared an outlaw by the Confederate government, and it was decreed that if captured he should be held in close confinement for trial for crimes committed.

It soon became evident that the fall of Fort Pulaski did not involve the capture of Savannah by the enemy. The Confederate force in Georgia was strong enough to resist an advance by any force of Federals then in that quarter.

On April 16th a reconnoissance of Whitemarsh island was made by seven companies of the Eighth Michigan infantry, Col. W. M. Fenton, escorting the topographical engineer, Lieutenant Wilson. This force encountered several companies of the Thirteenth Georgia regiment, detachment meeting detachment, and some spirited skirmishing was the result. Captains Crawford and McCallay made a vigorous attack upon one party and pursued it, but the main body of the Michigan men in turn gave the Georgians a lively chase, until Colonel Douglass happened up with reinforcements and drove them back. The Thirteenth lost 4 killed and 15 wounded. Garland Upshaw, a young private, who was considered the best scout in the regiment, in assisting to carry a wounded comrade from the field had four bullet-holes made in his clothing. Private Pilkington, shot down as he was about to fire, handed his gun to the captain and requested him to discharge it at the enemy. Captain Crawford and men were nearly surrounded, but fought bravely until their ammunition was exhausted. The boys of the Thirteenth, less than 100 strong, had held at bay a much larger force of the enemy for nearly an hour, and the affair increased their experience and prepared them for [93] further fighting with Lee in Virginia. Colonel Fenton reported his loss at 10 killed and 35 wounded, and his total strength at 300.

The people in Georgia began to feel less alarm for the safety of their chief seaport. This was evinced by an article in the Savannah Republican of April 21st, noting the quiet which prevailed in military matters:

On the banks of the Savannah all seems quiet, too. The enemy, few in numbers, are still lying in our lower river, and, so far as seen, no reinforcements have reached them. They have not a force equal to an attack on the city, and its augmentation would seem inconsistent with the pressing demands from other points at the present time. McClellan will need every man he can draw into the field for his operations in the peninsula, and the Federal exigencies out west are equally pressing for all the troops at their command. Meanwhile we are not idle. The military authorities here are using all means in their power to strengthen our defenses and make them impregnable. Come in what numbers he may, the enemy will have his hands full in his march upon Savannah.

The ‘Federal exigencies out west’ meant the state of affairs immediately following the battle of Shiloh which, though indecisive, had effectually checked for awhile the onward march of the Union armies, who were moving with far more caution than they had exhibited before that memorable conflict. Indeed, an indecision seized upon them in the West from which they did not recover for months. [94]

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