“During the last ten days my boats have made several excursions”: More raids on the Georgia coast, 150 years ago

During the last days of August and into the first week of September, 1864, the Federal Navy continued raids into the “Marshes of Glynn” … I could not resist that Sidney Lanier reference… in Glynn County, Georgia.  From August 26 to September 6, crew of the USS Braziliera, stationed off Brunswick in the Turtle River, took their launches out into the backwaters in search of salt kettles and other targets.  Acting Master William T. Gillespie summarized the actions:

During the last ten days my boats have made several excursions inland destroying salt works, consisting of 10 kettles of 700 gallons each, 12 kettles of 500 gallons each, 20 pans 4 feet by 6 feet, and 300 bushels of salt; liberating 30 negroes and 2 white families.

Took J.A. Lang and J.D. Denson, prisoners; they belong to the Third Georgia Militia.

The salt works were situated some 18 miles up Turtle River, on the creeks leading into Buffalo swamp. My officers and men have penetrated some 40 miles inland between the Altamaha and Satilla rivers, meeting no opposition excepting the militia. Credit is due my people for the energy with which these boat expeditions have been prosecuted. The enemy’s force now in this county amounts to 100 Confederate solders and 75 militia.

The range of Gillespie’s raids included Wilson’s Creek, nearly on the south branch of the Altamaha, down to White Oak River off the Satilla:


The log extract from September 1 demonstrates the range and nature of the excursions:

September 1. – St. Andrew’s Sound – At 3 a.m. Mr. Bennett left the ship with three armed boats and crews to go on an expedition. Mr. Longstreet, Mr. Severns, and the pilot accompanied the expedition. At 6:40 saw three boats up Wilson’s Creek, supposed to be the expedition that left at 3 this morning. At 10:41 Messrs. Bennett, Longstreet, and the pilot returned on board with the first cutter. At 10:52 the whaleboat returned. At 11:52 Mr. Severns returned with the gig. At 7:30 p.m. sent the second cutter on an expedition up White Oak River in charge of Boatswain’s Mate woods.

Wood’s boat did not return until September 4, bringing a refugee with him.

These extracts, along with the reports of other raids along the coast that summer, the case could be made that southern Georgia was ripe for a major Federal incursion.  Certainly Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren alluded to such in his reports to Washington.  Major-General John Foster, in command of the Department of the South, looked for such openings earlier in the summer.  But by September, Foster was under orders not to open any offensive operations.

Was Brunswick a worthy objective?  Consider – today the Sidney Lanier Bridge at Brunswick passes over the entrance to one of the busiest ports on the US east coast.  I’d submit that answer was “maybe,” if someone was in need of a port on the Georgia coast.  And as we know, there was need of such later in the year.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 648-9.)


“The amount of sickness in this command … is deplorable”: August 30, 1864 – Savannah needs quinine

On August 30, 1864, General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the District of Georgia, wrote to Major Charles Stringfellow, Assistant Adjutant-General for Major-General Samuel Jones in Charleston, in regard to a pressing matter in Savannah:

 I regret to state that the amount of sickness in this command has been and still is deplorable, and being aware of the great benefit of quinine as a prophylactic, strenuous efforts were made in the commencement of the season by my predecessor, Major-General Gilmer, and since his departure by the medical officer in this district, through the proper channels, for a supply of quinine for the District of Georgia, all of which have been totally unsuccessful. In the District of Georgia the medical officers have been unable to procure quinine even as a medicine, and officers and soldiers have been sick and suffering for the want of it, at times being entirely without any at all. Under such circumstances it is needless to add that it could not be used as a prophylactic. On the other hand the Third Military District of South Carolina has been superabundantly supplied, insomuch that within the past week, to alleviate the sufferings of officers and men in this district, I have ordered a transfer of 100 ounces to the District of Georgia. This last I bring to the attention of the major-general commanding to show that while one part of the command has had the benefit of this all-important preventative, another portion has, from some unexplained cause, suffered extremely for the want of it, even as a remedial. The requisitions for the quinine will again be made without delay, and should it be procured in sufficient quantities to be used as a prophylactic, I have little doubt that the health of the command will be much benefited.

In the 19th century, quinine was the only effective drug to counter malaria.  Derived from the bark of the cinchona tree which grew in Peru and Ecuador.

While some had attempted to smuggle seeds or seedlings out of those areas, for the most part in the mid-19th century those South American countries held a monopoly in the bark.  Thus the only means of acquiring the drug was by circumventing the blockade.

Notice that just 100 ounces was sufficient to meet the immediate for McLaws.  Such quantities came through the blockade as cargo on many runners.  But there were always worries that might not be enough to meet demands or be cutoff in the middle of the season.  In July, Jones ordered the purchase of 400 ounces of quinine on the market in Charleston.  But he ordered that supply regulated where supplies of medicated whiskey and “the infusion of indigenous bark was furnished.”  With manpower stretched thin already, the Confederacy could not afford to lose numbers to malaria in the summer of 1864.

Yes, disease was the major killer during the Civil War.  And if so, perhaps the dreaded mosquito did more damage to the armies in South Carolina and Georgia than any bullets or shells.  A few hundred ounces of quinine were just as important as hundreds of yards of breastworks, one might say.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 617-8.)

Firing on a flag of truce: An incident of war at Charleston, August 30, 1864

On the morning of August 30, 1864, the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter was starting an eighth week.  The routine of that bombardment might be considered “skirmishing” with heavy guns.  They rattled… or more accurately, boomed … across the outer reaches of Charleston harbor at interval throughout the day.  At Fort Sumter, Captain Thomas Huguenin reported twenty Parrott shells and thirty-eight columbiad shells fired at the fort from Morris Island during the day.  The Confederate garrison on Sullivan’s Island received seventy-four shots from the Federals, and returned fifty-seven.  Lots of iron and gunpowder expended that day.  Yet, for all that noise, those shots were not the “story of the day.”

Earlier in the day, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren sent a package of letters over to the USS Wabash, with instructions for delivery to the Confederates with a flag of truce at Breach Inlet.  Specific instructions were:

Give directions for the flag-of-truce boat to approach the inlet no nearer than 1½ or 2 miles, there to anchor and wait the arrival of a rebel flag-of-truce boat.

The vessel from which the boat is sent, as well as the boat, should show a flag of truce.

These were routine instructions for what had become commonplace.  The time established for the flag-of-truce was early evening, around 6 p.m.  But that day the commonplace was not uneventful, as Acting Ensign George McClure, the truce officer, related:

In obedience to your order I proceeded with a flag of truce in toward Beach Inlet. When within about 2 ½ miles of the beach I cast off from the Winona and pulled in toward the fort at Beach Inlet. When within about 1 ½ miles a shot was fired across our bow from the fort, when I immediately anchored. After waiting about an hour I noticed a boat sailing around from Fort Moultrie, and soon after steering toward us. It was, however, too far distant for me to distinguish whether it showed a flag of truce or not. It had not gone far before our forces on Morris Island commenced firing at it, and I noticed 2 or 3 shells explode directly over the boat. I soon after distinguished a small flag of truce, when I got under way and stood toward it under sail. On communicating I found the boat in charge of Lieut. R. Jones, of General Higgins’ staff. I delivered the packages to him. He complained very bitterly of our forces on Morris Island firing at him while on his way out. I told him I was very sorry anything of the kind had occurred, and hoped that everything would soon be satisfactorily explained. Our communication here ended, and I returned aboard ship.

For perspective, the map below roughly depicts the respective locations of the boats and the Federal batteries:


The incident took place between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., by which time the Confederate boat reported back to Sullivan’s Island.

All’s well that ends well?  Not hardly. Fragments of shells had landed on a flag-of-truce boat.  The Confederates and the Navy, all the way up to Dahlgren, wanted to know why the Army would fire on a flag of truce.  So inquiries went forth over the following days.  On September 2, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, commanding the Federal troops outside Charleston, responded to Captain Joseph Green, commanding the blockade at Charleston:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 31st ultimo, relative to the firing upon a flag-of-truce boat by my batteries. In reply allow me to respectfully inform you that my orders from Major-General Foster are to receive no flags of truce in this district, and that in compliance with these orders I have instructed my pickets and batteries, on the approach of a flag of truce, to warn its bearers back by firing twice over their heads and the third time to fire sharp. I must therefore beg that in case the naval forces wish to communicate by flag of truce they will notify me of the same beforehand; otherwise the occurrences of August 30 will certainly be repeated.

So there were actually several exceptions to the “routine.”  For starters, the Army had express orders not to accept any truces at Charleston, which Major-General John Foster had clearly communicated to the Confederates. So the gunners were naturally wary.  Of course, had the Navy offered a warning to the Army, that might have been different.

But another departure from the norm, alluded to in McClure’s report, was the point of departure of the Confederate boat.  Green emphasized that in his report to Dahlgren, saying “I would state that it is unusual for the rebel flag of truce to come from Moultrie Point to meet ours of [Breach] Inlet; they generally come from the Inlet.”

McClure also mentioned the Confederate boat had not identified itself clearly.  Only after shells burst did he see a “small flag of truce.”  Though none of the other officers echoed that back to the Confederates for an explanation.

In the end, this all boiled down to an incident of war.  There was no intent by either side to deceive.  If anything, the intentions by both sides to avoid being predictable (sending a boat from a different location and firing warning shots before asking questions) had resulted in an unpredictable situation. Still, no lives were lost.  Packages exchanged.  But the “routine” was disrupted.

In the defense of the Federal gunners, there were plenty of good reasons for them to fire upon any unidentified vessel making the way out of Charleston.  The logs from Sullivan’s Island for August 30 closed with this line:

A steamer run in and went up to the city at 1.15 a.m.

That would be the blockade runner Fox.

Yes, Charleston was still a port of call for those pesky blockade runners.  Sort of a good reason for the gunners on Morris Island to pay careful attention to anything moving out around Sullivan’s Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 252; Part II, Serial 66, pages 265, 268-9; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, page 652.)