In to the fall of 1864, the Federal Navy remained active along the Georgia coastline. Having established a pattern through the summer months, the blockaders continued with raids into the tidal extents covering the Satilla and other rivers near Brunswick, Georgia. The crews of the USS Braziliera and USS Mary Sanford made such a raid on October 13-15, 1864. The initial objective of this raid was not to destroy any supplies or works, but one of emancipation. In his report on the action, Acting Master William T. Gillespie, commanding the Braziliera, wrote:
On the night of the 13th instant I went in charge of an expedition up the White Oak River, with two boats from my vessel and one from the Mary Sanford. We succeeded in securing 50 negroes belonging to J. Morrison, a planter. During the time two of my men, in some manner, became detached from me. I waited, and sent two officers to search for them, as long as I considered it prudent.
Other than the two missing men, this initial objective of Gilliespie’s raids was a complete success. The party then returned to the Mary Sanford, which was laying off Penniman’s Mills in the Satilla River.
Gilliespie then set out on a second raid. Acting Master Zackeus Kempton of the Mary Sanford provided details of the second outing:
Having learned [from the escaped slaves] that there was a large quantity of corn and rice stored at the town of Jeffersonton, on the river 12 miles above Penniman’s Mills, in transit to Savannah, for the Confederate Government, taking with me Captain Gillespie, his pilot, and boats, at 2:30 p.m. got underway and proceeded up the river. While passing Yellow Bluff was fired upon by a company of cavalry that was secreted behind trees and in the grass. They were driven from their hiding place in five minutes with canister and shrapnel, and as they were not over 200 yards from our guns they must have been punished severely. I regret to state that the fourth shot fired at us instantly killed Peter Collins, our pilot, the ball passing through his body near the heart. The killing of Mr. Collins is the only casualty that happened during the fire of the enemy. We passed above the bluff about a mile. Having lost our pilot, I was obliged to abandon further proceedings and return down the river.
Kempton’s party passed Yellow Bluff a second time on the way back without incident and safely made the Mary Sanford.
In regard to the two missing sailors, Gillespie added:
On the 17th Edward Sheridan, one of the men, returned and reported Charles Thompson, the other man, a prisoner in the hands of the Confederates. The cause of this misfortune originated in these two men having found some liquor. When Thompson became intoxicated he went back to the house after plunder. Sheridan made the best of his way to the vessel in a canoe he found in the marshes.
Yes, another drunken sailor story for the records….
Throughout the sesquicentennial, I’ve brought up minor incidents such as this, particularly from the lesser known and followed fronts. My purpose in doing so has been to shed light on the scope of the war beyond the major campaigns, and to some extent demonstrate how these minor affairs fit into the bigger picture. In the case of the Navy’s raids along the Georgia coast, we see that even up into the last months of the war, emancipation factored into the military operations. Depriving the Confederacy of fifty (47, by Kempton’s count) slaves, and by the same move giving freedom to those in bondage, was a military gain for the Federals. As we consider the course of “Civil War to Civil Rights,” we must look at episodes such as occurred on October 14, 1864 as waymarks along that journey. Emancipation was, as implemented, a military operation. There are reasons it had to be such… and we would do well to understand, as it sets up the next steps in the trip towards what is today.
But for the sailors on the Satillia, they were less concerned with the war’s objectives that day. They felt the loss of their pilot:
We anchored for the night at the mouth of White Oak River. On the morning of the 15th instant we returned down the river, and round to St. Simon’s, landed the contrabands at that place, and buried the corpse of Mr. Collins in due form. Mr. Collins was a brave officer, and died at his post. His death is very much lamented by the officers and crew….
And looking towards the next round of operations along the coast, Kempton added, “My officers, men, and myself are all anxious for a pilot, so that we can raid on these rivers when an opportunity offers.”
(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 15-16.)