One of the oft-heard lines with respect to the burning of Darien, Georgia on June 11, 1863, is the “sleepy little coastal village” had no military value and was not a legitimate objective. However, there were reasons to assess Darien as a military objective. I mentioned the rice plantations along the coastal plain which forwarded their products to market through Darien. Likewise, Darien and other small ports (lets not forget Murrell’s Inlet, here either) were also shipping hubs offering routes past the major elements of the blockade.
That in mind, consider the December 16, 1863 actions by USS Huron, as reported by Lieutenant-Commander George Stevens:
Sir: I have the honor of forwarding to you a detailed account of the capture of the prize steamer Chatham by this vessel on the morning of December 16, 1863, off Doboy Sound, Georgia:
The circumstances attending her capture were as follows: At 12:50 on the morning above mentioned, while blockading this place, a steamer was discovered running past this vessel, bound out to sea. I immediately gave chase, firing ten shots at the stranger, who, at 1:15 a.m., hove to and showed a light, upon which I boarded and took possession of her, she proving to be the rebel steamer Chatham, from Darien, Ga., bound to Nassau, [New Providence], and by the captain’s statement her cargo consists of 299 bales of cotton an a quantity of tobacco and resin.
The boarding officer was also informed that the pilot, one deck hand, and a deserting rebel soldier had escaped in a boat. Upon asking the captain if he had any papers, he replied that he had some, but had destroyed them. No flag of any description was to be found on board. The only vessel within signal distance was the mortar schooner Dan Smith, stationed on the Altamaha River.
Stevens went on to indicate the Chatham was sent north to Port Royal. He also listed the names of the crew and two passengers. No doubt the crew of the Huron were happy with the prospects of the prize money.
While the Chatham’s cargo was valuable, the ship itself was not in great shape. Commander William Reynolds, at Port Royal, noted, “The Chatham is an old Savannah River boat, not seaworthy, and her prize master reports that he had much trouble in getting her even to this port.” But even an old broken steamer (launched in 1838) was of value in the waterways of Georgia and South Carolina. Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren impressed the Chatham into service. However, the ship does not appear in any other reports. Records indicate the prize court awarded $5,000 for the purchase of the vessel. The navy sold the side-wheel steamer at the end of the war for $9,300.
This minor incident does indicate Darien was a port which blockade runners could, and did, use. The bar was but a few fathoms deep at most. But light draft craft, of the type frequently used for running the blockade, could make Doboy Sound if well piloted. So Dahlgren had to allocate one of his valuable gunboats to the sound. The Huron was one of twelve blockaders assigned to the Georgia coast at that time, including two monitors guarding against any possible breakout of the CSS Savannah.
And turn this incident around. The Confederates used the Chatham as a transport before this blockade running attempt. The steamer had descended down from Savannah by way of the backwater channels. If the Chatham could work her way down, other light craft could work their way up the coast. Darien was not only a possible port of call for blockade runners, but also along a waterway bringing supplies to the Confederate army.
Even with all this, I would not offer an excuse for Colonel James Montgomery’s actions. But there is ample justification for the orders which sent the raid there in June of 1863. The town was not removed from the war as some would contend. The docks of Darien, Georgia were part of the Confederate war effort, and were a proper military objective.
(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 177-9.)
- The decline of Charleston as a blockade runner port of entry (markerhunter.wordpress.com)