Georgia’s Secession and Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Burt

Earlier this month, I mentioned the seizure of Fort Pulaski by Georgia militia, well in advance of the state’s secession convention.  This left three installations in the state remaining in Federal hands – Fort Jackson, Oglethorpe Barracks, and the Augusta Arsenal.  When Georgia seceded on January 19, 1861, the state moved with some deliberation to take control of these installations.

In Augusta, Captain Arnold Elzey, 2nd US Artillery, commanded the arsenal, containing a battery worth of artillery and 20,000 muskets.  Manning the arsenal was a company of artillery and a detachment of ordnance personnel recently evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina.  On January 23, a dispatch from the Secretary of War, Joseph Holt,  warned Elzey that Georgia troops would move on the arsenal.  Elzey’s instructions read, “It is not expected that your defense shall be desperate.”  The orders authorized Elzey to negotiate honorable terms.

When Georgia troops arrived the next day, Elzey complied with his instructions.  Messages between the Georgians and the garrison through Henry R. Jackson, Aide-de-Camp to the Georgia governor and Lieutenant J.P. Jones, Elzey’s post adjutant.  In the terms of surrender, Elzey transferred all public property to the state authorities, inventoried and receipted.  Further the arsenal’s garrison began transit to New York, via Savannah. Note 1 Among those personnel surrendered was ordnance storekeeper John M. Galt.  After the surrender, Galt immediately requested six months leave of absence. Note 2 With that, the US Army left Augusta, not to return until 1865.

In Savannah, no large garrisons manned Fort Jackson or Oglethorpe Barracks.  Two ordnance sergeants manned the facilities – Sergeant Walker (who’s first name is not recorded) and Sergeant Edwin Burt.  On January 27, Lieutenant William Star Basinger of the Savannah Volunteer Guards, under orders of Colonel Alexander R. Lawton of the state militia, arrived at Oglethorpe Barracks and demanded surrender of all facilities.  Sergeant Burt related his response in a report filed that day:

I refused to recognize Colonel Lawton’s authority, or to allow Lieutenant Bassinger [sic] to interfere with the barracks or public property.

Lieutenant Bassinger [sic], on my refusal to agree to comply with the order which he gave me, called on and obtained assistance from the city police and fastened up my public storeroom.  The barracks are now under the charge of the police.

I do not think the State authorities design taking the stores from here at present, or that they will molest me so long as I allow them to keep my storeroom fastened. Note 3

Sergeant Burt’s commander, Captain William H.C. Whiting, arrived in Savannah the next day.  Under the situation, Whiting ordered Burt to make no further resistance and for all practical purposes left the matter to the War Department in Washington.Note 4 All Federal military facilities in the state of Georgia passed to state control at that point.

Note the contrast between the events in Augusta compared to those in Savannah.  Elzey, with orders granting him an easy way through the situation, acceded to demands.  Scant resistance, but honor intact, the troops marched away leaving a bounty for the state to collect.  Burt, with no orders and no support, was not so quiet.

In the earlier post, I mentioned the fates of Colonel Lawton and Captain Whiting, both of whom served as generals in the Confederate Army.  In this post, I brought up a few more principles – Captain Elzey, Henry R. Jackson, Lieutenant Joseph P. Jones, Storekeeper Galt, Lieutenant Basinger, and Sergeant Burt.

Of those mentioned, all but one joined the Confederacy by the spring of 1861.  Joining Lawton and Whiting, Elzey and Jackson became generals in gray.  Jones resigned his commission and served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 5th North Carolina at First Manassas (h/t to Harry Smelter here).  Galt resigned from his post while on leave, offering his services to the new Confederate government.  Basinger went on to command the Savannah Guards as the 18th Georgia Battalion at the end of the war.

Burt, on the other hand, remained a Union man to the end.  When I wrote earlier this month, I confessed no knowledge of Burt’s fate.  Now I know, thanks to some help from my pal Robert Moore.

My first clue about Burt came from General O.O. Howard’s autobiography.  Howard mentioned a Sergeant Edwin Burt who became his adjutant in the 3rd Maine Infantry.   In “Maine at Gettysburg” the Maine Gettysburg Commission noted “Ordnance Sergeant Burt” drilled the regiment in those early days.  Burt served as a Captain on brigade staff at First Manassas.  Promoted to Major the next year, he received some recognition for service the Peninsula.  He led the 1st New York Infantry at Second Manassas.  Promoted again, to Lieutenant Colonel, Burt received mortal wounds at the battle of the Wilderness, in the fighting near the Brock-Plank Road intersection.  He lays today in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, plot number 3953.

I couldn’t be sure “Edwin Burt” who refused to surrender at Oglethorpe Barracks was indeed the same “Edwin Burt” who died tragically at the Wilderness.  Robert did some research and within a few queries not only had conformation, but uncovered more background information than I could have imagined.   There’s more to Sergeant Burt than an entry from the Official Records.  And I urge you to look at Robert’s post today for more on this story.  You will find a rather surprising “personal issue” that must have weighed on Burt in those days 150 years ago.

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Notes:

  1. Reports of Capt. Arnold Elzey, Second US. Artillery, of the seizure of Augusta Arsenal.  OR, Series I, Volume I, Serial 1.  Pages 320-323.
  2. Report of Ordnance Storekeeper John M. Galt, US Army, of the seizure of Augusta Arsenal.  OR, Series I, Volume I, Serial 1. Page 323.
  3. Report of Ordnance Sergeant E. Burt, U.S. Army, of the seizure of Oglethorpe Barracks, Savannah.  OR, Series I, Volume I, Serial 1. Pages 324-325.
  4. Report of Capt. Wm. H.C. Whiting, U.S. Corps of Engineers, of the seizure of Oglethorpe Barracks and Fort Jackson.  OR, Series I, Volume I, Serial 1. Pages 323-324.
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