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Chapter 9:

  • Georgia in 1863
  • -- Fort M'Allister -- destruction of the Nashville -- organization on the coast in March -- the defenses of Savannah -- loss of the Atlanta -- Streight's raid and capture -- distress in the State.

With the beginning of 1863 the United States authorities were collecting at Charleston harbor a fleet of new ironclads, built after the pattern of the Monitor, and one of these, the Montauk, was sent down below Savannah by Admiral Dupont for a trial of its effectiveness against Fort McAllister. The latter work, constructed by Confederate engineers on Genesis point, guarded the approaches to Savannah by the Ogeechee river, and was in charge of Maj. John B. Gallie, supported by troops under Col. R. H. Anderson. The main part of its armament was one rifled 32-pounder and one 8-inch columbiad. Above the fort lay the blockade-runner Nashville, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to leave the Ogeechee. The Montauk, under command of John L. Worden, who fought the Virginia in Hampton Roads, steamed up near the obstructions on the Ogeechee, January 27th, followed by the gunboats Seneca, Wissahickon, Dawn and Williams, which anchored a mile astern. A combat ensued which raged for four hours between the gunners of the fort and the monitor. The gunnery of the Georgians was so excellent, according to the Federal accounts, that the monitor was repeatedly hit and all the shots came close to her, but her armor protected her from damage. On the other hand, the Federals could not see that their fire had produced any material effect on the fort, and they withdrew defeated after all the shells on board had been used. [202]

A fiercer engagement followed on February 1st. According to the report of Colonel Anderson, the attack began at 7:45 a. m., participated in by the monitor, three gunboats and one ironclad. As the vessels approached, Capt. Arthur Shaaff, commanding the First battalion sharpshooters, lined the river bank with his men, prepared to annoy the enemy if the obstructions were passed. Martin's light battery and Captain McAllister's troop were held in reserve; two rifle guns of the Chatham artillery, under Lieutenant Whitehead, were placed in pits on a bluff a mile to the rear, and the guns of the Nashville were taken out and mounted about seven miles up the river under the command of Captain Baker, while the steamer was put in readiness to be sunk if necessary to keep her from capture by the enemy. The Federal monitor took position at a distance of 800 to 1,000 yards, while the wooden boats lay two miles east. The fort opened fire and for five hours the combat continued. According to the Federal report, the Confederate fire was accurate and the monitor was hit forty-six times, but the weight of metal thrown at her was not sufficient to do harm. Colonel Anderson's official account of this fight was as follows:

The enemy fired steadily and with remarkable precision; at times their fire was terrible. Their mortar firing was unusually fine, a large number of their shells bursting directly over the battery. The ironclad's fire was principally directed at the 8-inch columbiad, and at about 8:15 o'clock the parapet, in front of this gun was so badly breached as to leave the gun entirely exposed. The detachment did not leave their gun or evince the slightest fear, but in a most gallant and determined manner fought their gun to the close of the action, refusing to be relieved. The name of the brave officer who commanded this gun is First Lieut. W. D. Dixon, of the Republican Blues, First Georgia volunteer regiment. At 8:30 a. m. one of the 32-pounders was disabled, one of the trunnions being knocked off. The same shot also killed Maj. John B. Gallie, Twenty-second battalion [203] Georgia artillery, the gallant commander of the battery. Prior to this he had been wounded in the face by a fragment of shell, but refused to be relieved, and continued notwithstanding his suffering, inspiring the men with his own gallant and unconquerable spirit up to the time he was killed. Thus perished nobly a brave, good and gallant soldier. Capt. G. W. Anderson, Jr., upon Major Gallie's death succeeded to the command of the battery, and displayed during the whole action the utmost coolness and gallantry, as did Capt. Robert Martin, commanding the 10-inch mortar; Capt. G. A. Nicoll, Company F, Twenty-second artillery, and every officer of the battery. The whole fire of the Confederate battery was concentrated upon the ironclad.

Again the Federal gunboats had suffered defeat from the plucky little Confederate fort.

On February 27th the Nashville, or Rattlesnake, as she was frequently called, had the misfortune to run aground not far above the obstructions in the river. On the following morning Worden, having observed this, steamed down under the guns of the fort and to within a point about 1, 200 yards from the cruiser. He then opened fire on her with 15-inch shells, entirely disregarding the shot which was hurled at him from Anderson's guns. In a very few minutes the cruiser was doomed. Flames burst out from the exploding shells, and a black column of smoke rose above her rigging. At 9:20 her pivot gun exploded, and half an hour later her magazine blew up, tearing the vessel into smoking, blackened fragments. But not without injury did the Montauk retire from striking this severe blow at the Confederate navy. As she steamed down the river she encountered a torpedo in the channel, and was compelled to run upon a bank to repair damages, her pumps keeping her afloat with difficulty.

Yet another, and a still more formidable attempt to subdue the gallant Georgia gunners in the sand and mud batteries on the Ogeechee was made on March 3d, by three new monitors, the Passaic, Capt. Percival Drayton; [204] the Patapsco, Commander Ammen, and the Nahant, Commander Downes. The operation of these revolving floating batteries was not familiar to the Confederate gunners, but the men stood manfully to their guns, and soon discovered that the monitor was not such a formidable monster after all, particularly against sand batteries. For seven hours the 15 and 1-inch shell and shot were hurled at McAllister, and the mortar boats kept up the din all night following, the only effect being to temporarily dismount the 8-inch gun and the 42-pounder and slightly wound two men. Next morning the fort was as good as ever. This experiment led Admiral Dupont, who was preparing for a naval attack at Charleston, to report that, ‘Whatever degree of impenetrability the monitors might have, there was no corresponding quality of destructiveness against forts.’ Horace Greeley, in his ‘American Conflict,’ says that from this time the Union fleets ‘saved their ammunition by letting Fort McAllister alone.’

At this period great apprehension was felt on the coast regarding the fleet which was known to be fitting out in the North for invasion of the South by sea. Either Charleston or Savannah, and more probably both, was to be the object of this expedition. On February 17th, General Beauregard issued a proclamation announcing that it was his solemn duty to urge all persons in the two threatened cities unable to take an active part in defense to retire. ‘It is hoped,’ he said, ‘that this temporary separation of some of you from your homes will be made without alarm or undue haste, thus showing that the only feeling that animates you in this hour of supreme trial is the regret of being unable to participate in the defense of your homes, your altars and the graves of your kindred. Carolinians and Georgians! the hour is at hand to prove your devotion to your country's cause. Let all able-bodied men, from the seaboard to the mountains, rush to arms. Be not exacting in the choice of weapons; [205] pikes and scythes will do for exterminating your enemies, spades and shovels for protecting your friends.’

The organization of Confederate forces in the district of Georgia, under Gen. H. W. Mercer, was reported in March as follows:

Brigade of Gen. W. H. Taliaferro—Thirty-second regiment, Col. George P. Harrison; Forty-seventh regiment, Col. G. W. M. Williams; Fourth Louisiana battalion, Col. J. McEnery.

Brigade of Gen. W. H. T. Walker—Twenty-fifth regiment, Col. C. C. Wilson; Twenty-ninth regiment, Col. William J. Young; Thirtieth regiment, Col. Thomas W. Mangham.

Savannah river batteries and other defenses—First of Georgia, Col. C. H. Olmstead; Fifty-fourth regiment, Col. Charlton H. Way; Sixty-third regiment, Col. G. A. Gordon; First battalion sharpshooters, Capt. A. Shaaff; battalion Savannah volunteer guard, Maj. John Screven; Emmet rifles, Capt. George W. Anderson; Fourth cavalry, Col. D. L. Clinch; Fifth cavalry, Col. Robert H. Anderson; cavalry battalion, Maj. E. C. Anderson, Jr.; battalion partisan rangers, Maj. John M. Millen; Twenty-second battalion artillery, Col. E. C. Anderson; Chatham light artillery, Capt. Joseph S. Cleghorn; Chestatee light artillery, Capt. Thomas H. Bomar; Columbus light artillery, Capt. Edward Croft; Joe Thompson artillery, Capt. Cornelius R. Hanleiter; Martin's light artillery, Capt. Robert Martin; Read's light artillery, Lieut. J. A. Maxwell; Terrell's light artillery, Capt. E. G. Dawson.

The First regulars, under Colonel Magill, was on duty in Florida, under Gen. Howell Cobb; the Eighth battalion, Maj. B. F. Hunt, was on James island, S. C.; the Forty-sixth regiment, Col. P. H. Colquitt, and the Twenty-first battalion of cavalry, Maj. William P. White, were at Charleston. The total number of effectives on duty in the State for coast service was a little over 12,000, while the forces in South Carolina and Florida, from which reinforcements might be hoped in emergency, were about 17,000.

The defenses of Savannah at this time were quite elaborate [206] and extensive, but were weak in the guns of great penetration demanded already in the development of warfare which had been brought about since April, 1861. To oppose the passage of vessels up the river, there were obstructions at the head of Elba island, a mile and a quarter below Fort Jackson, and at the same place was the floating battery Georgia. Near Fort Jackson was Battery Lee, and opposite, across the river, were Battery Cheves and Battery Lawton. Still farther up the river were Fort Boggs and Fort Hutchinson, opposite, and the Bay battery on the edge of town. The total armament of the Savannah river defenses was 44 guns and 4 mortars.

On the southward coast region there were Fort McAllister, Rosedew battery, Beaulieu battery, Isle of Hope siege train, Thunderbolt battery, Greenwich battery, and Fort Bartow at Carston's bluff, mounting in all 49 guns, 3 mortars and 12 field guns. On the lines extending from the swamp west of the city, around from the south and east to Fort Boggs, were mounted 41 guns. But it appears from the report of the board convened at Oglethorpe barracks, consisting of Generals Mercer, Taliaferro and Walker, and Capt. W. W. Gordon, that many of the guns were ineffective, and that a large increase in the number of guns and gunners, as well as troops in reserve, was needed.

On June 8, 1863, two United States gunboats, and one transport towing two large boats loaded with troops, started from St. Simon's island in the direction of Brunswick. The landing was disputed by Sergts. J. W. Taylor and Alexander Burney, with the Brunswick pickets, and after incessant firing for about three-quarters of an hour the boats withdrew. When Corp. A. E. Foreman, Corporal Lamb and Corp. T. E. Hazzard saw the boats leave St. Simon's island, they had hastened with all the men they could spare and greatly aided Taylor and Burney in repelling the enemy. Capt. W. W. Hazzard, of Company G, Fourth Georgia cavalry (Col. D. L. Clinch), [207] seeing two boats ascend the river, and fearing for the safety of the salt works some seven miles up, ordered Lieutenant Grant, with detachments from Sergeants Taylor and Burney and such other men as he could spare, about 30 in all, to take a good position and dispute every attempt at landing, while he hastened with the remainder of his command to the salt works. He found one boat lying at the mouth of the creek leading to the works, and another going back to Brunswick. After firing about fifty shots, the one threatening the salt works returned and joined the other at Brunswick. Upon the repulse of the Federals the largest boat returned to the sound, while the others again ascended the river. The detachment under Lieutenant Grant was now hurried to the salt works, while a squad under the guidance of Julian Burnett, who had that day shouldered his gun and volunteered his services, hastened to the railroad bridge. This had just been fired by a party of the enemy, who retreated to their barge on the approach of the Confederates. The latter being conducted by Mr. Burnett to a point which the barge was obliged to pass, poured a well-directed fire into it at a distance of about 100 yards. Two officers fell, and three oarsmen appeared wounded. As the gunboats returned to the neighborhood of the salt works, Captain Hazzard placed detachments under Lieutenants Scarlett, R. S. Pyles and H. F. Grant to watch the movements of the enemy. The Federals, however, made no further efforts and both boats returned to the sound. The Confederates lost one horse from a grapeshot; but not a man was wounded. It was reported that the enemy lost three killed, one officer severely and others slightly wounded. A few days later, Sergeant Burney was killed by the accidental bursting of a shell. The activity and foresight of Captain Hazzard and the gallantry of Lieutenant Grant and command were mentioned in official orders.

On June 11th two steamers and two gunboats, with 300 [208] or 400 men, appeared before Darien, and landing a strong party of negroes burned the town, whose white inhabitants had all left it and were living at a place some distance in the rear, known as ‘the ridge.’ Capt. W. A. Lane of Company D, Twentieth Georgia battalion of cavalry (Maj. John M. Millen), not having force enough in hand to resist the landing, turned all his attention to the protection of the large number of families and valuable property at the ridge until reinforcements could arrive. The woods surrounding Darien were shelled during the burning of the town. The enemy consisted of negroes under white officers. They captured a pilot boat with sixty bales of cotton on board, and carried off some negroes, most of them free.

In addition to the land defenses and the floating battery Georgia, the ironclad Atlanta was still on duty in the Savannah river and adjacent passages. In January, Commodore Tattnall had proposed to attack the blockaders with the Atlanta, but on going down with the first high spring tide found that the engineer officers were unable to remove the obstructions for his passage. When the next high tide arrived he was stationed by General Mercer off Carston's bluff on account of the attacks on Fort McAllister. The government becoming impatient, the gallant old commodore was relieved, and Lieut. William A. Webb was ordered to take command of the Atlanta, with implied duty to do something with the least possible delay. Accordingly on June 17th he got the ironclad under headway before daylight and entered Warsaw sound. There he found two monitors, the Weehawken, Capt. John Rodgers, and the Nahant, Commander Downes, which had been sent for the express purpose of meeting the Atlanta. The monitors were two of the strongest of their class, fighting with a 15-inch and an 11-inch gun behind ten inches of armor on the turrets. Webb gallantly sought to meet his formidable antagonists at close quarters, and it was reported that it [209] was his intention to run into the Weehawken and blow her up with his bow torpedo. But he went aground about 600 yards from the monitor, and after backing off went aground again so hard and fast that it was impossible for the engines to move his doomed vessel. The Weehawken came up within 300 yards and opened fire. Her first shot, a 15-inch spherical, struck the armor of the Atlanta at such an angle that it passed through about eleven inches of iron and four feet of wood. The effect was terrific. Great quantities of wood and iron splinters were scattered over the gun deck. Sixteen men were wounded and 40 more were made insensible by the shock. A second shot partly crushed the pilot-house, wounding both pilots and one helmsman, and stunning the other. The firing was continued with serious effect. Eight shots were fired from the Atlanta, none of which struck the Weehawken. The Nahant did not come into the fight at all. Webb found it impossible to bring his guns to bear effectively in his unfortunate position, and it was evident that lying there a fixed mark, it would be a matter of but a few minutes before his boat would be crushed and his men killed. Accordingly the unfortunate commander hoisted the white flag, and sent Lieut. J. W. Alexander to inform Captain Rodgers that he had surrendered. The Federals made prisoners of 165 men, including the officers, and these, with the exception of the wounded, were sent to Fort Lafayette, New York harbor. The captured boat was repaired and used in the United States navy. This sudden loss of the Atlanta, from which important service was expected, was a distressing blow to the South, but Webb and his men were not to blame for the misfortune. Even if they had escaped the sandbars, the armor of the Atlanta would have been ineffectual against the guns of the two monitors.

In the spring of 1863 there occurred in north Georgia one of the most celebrated cavalry exploits of the war, [210] the capture of Col. A. D. Streight by Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. Bragg at this time occupied with the army of Tennessee the Tullahoma line and Rosecrans was at Murfreesboro, both armies being quiet for the time, though their cavalry kept busy. On the night of April 26th, Colonel Streight set out from Tuscumbia, Ala., with 1,500 men, mostly mounted, with orders to cut the railroad in Georgia below Rome. He was promptly followed by a cavalry command under General Forrest. A battle was fought at Driver's gap, Sand mountain, in which Capt. W. H. Forrest, a brother of the general, was severely wounded—it was feared mortally, but he recovered and was in the field again in 1864. Streight, driven from this position, pushed on toward the Georgia line; but on the next day he was overtaken at Black creek, where after heavy skirmishing he crossed and burned the bridge, thus placing a deep and rapid stream between himself and pursuit. It was here that a young Alabama girl, Emma Sanson, mounting behind Forrest, at imminent peril of her own life, guided him to a ford, by which he crossed and pressed on in pursuit.

Near Gadsden there was a desperate fight between Forrest's men and Streight's command, in which the Federals were worsted, but they sent forward an advance guard to secure the bridge near Rome, and pushed on in the hope of placing the river between them and their pursuers. At the Chattooga they were delayed by the capture of the ferryboat, and after crossing it was found that Forrest was ahead of them in the race for Rome and the advance guard had failed to get possession of the bridge. On the morning of May 3d, Forrest, with his command reduced to about 500 men, overtook Streight again and forced a pitched battle upon his antagonists, who outnumbered him nearly three to one. Streight tells of his men being so exhausted that they fell asleep in line of battle, but although the pursuit had been as exhausting to the Confederates, they pressed the fight [211] against the superior forces of the enemy. While the battle was progressing, Forrest audaciously dispatched an officer to Streight, demanding immediate and unconditional surrender of his whole force. Streight parleyed for awhile, but Forrest with an air of impatience, declaring that he could wait no longer, sent couriers and staff officers to a number of imaginary batteries and to four pretended regiments of cavalry with orders to form line and prepare for a charge. Though he had in fact only two field pieces and part of a regiment, his staff and couriers dashed off to obey his orders, as he had given them. Forrest then announced that within ten minutes the signal gun would be fired and the truce would end. Thereupon Streight surrendered his entire force of 1,500 men. The two commands had been engaged in five days and nights of constant fighting and riding. The Federals were carried as prisoners of war to Richmond.

The great drought of 1862 reduced the production of food so much as to create very considerable distress in Georgia. ‘The great question in this revolution is now a question of bread,’ said the governor. It was also found that the paper currency had declined in value until a bill purporting to be a dollar was worth but twenty cents. ‘It now takes,’ the governor said, ‘the whole salary of a judge of the Supreme court for twelve months to purchase fifteen barrels of flour.’ It was recommended that the legislature make it a penal offense for any planter to plant more than one-fourth acre of cotton per hand, and the limit was actually fixed at three acres per hand.

The fund of two and a half millions appropriated for the suffering families of soldiers had been distributed during the winter and early spring for the relief of nearly 85,000 people. Of this number, 45, 718 were children, 22,637 kinswomen of poor living soldiers, 8,492 orphans, 4,000 widows of deceased and killed soldiers, and 550 were soldiers disabled in service. This was one result of two years of war. [212]

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