Civil War Wednesday: The Burning of Darien

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1, 1863, and afforded African-Americans in the North the opportunity to volunteer for active service in the Federal army, and Governor Andrew of Massachusetts wasted little time in calling the men to arms. During February 1863, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw took charge of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry – by month’s end, 1,007 soldiers and 37 officers drilled in Boston.[1]

Colonel James Montgomery

In late May 1863, the regiment boarded ships and headed to Hilton Head, South Carolina, with the knowledge the Confederate Congress recently authorized the return to slavery of captured African-American soldiers. White officers leading black troops faced death or punishment as determined through the courts. Soon after their arrival at Hilton Head, Shaw and the 54th joined forces with Colonel James Montgomery and his Second South Carolina Volunteers, another African-American regiment. Montgomery, supposedly operating under direct orders from the department commander – Major General David Hunter – ordered Shaw to take their combined forces up Altamaha River toward the port town of Darien, Georgia.

Lithograph showing the 54th Massachusetts attacking Battery Wagner

Once the troops neared Darien on June 11, Montgomery, who believed the port operated as a safe haven for Confederate blockade-runners, and served as the hometown of some of the South’s wealthiest slave owners, began shelling the vacated town. Local residents, fearful of the Federal blockade ships of the nearby coast, fled from Darien weeks earlier. Once the soldiers entered the town, Montgomery ordered his troops to begin looting and burning the various buildings. Shaw protested against assisting, but when Montgomery pressured with threats of a court-martial, the young colonel of the 54th relented and ordered some of his men to apply the torch. In a letter to his wife, written the day after the action at Darien, Shaw lamented, “Besides my own distaste for this barbarous sort of warfare, I am not sure that it will not harm very much the reputation of black troops and of those connected with them. For myself, I have gone through the war so far without dishonor, and I do not like to degenerate into a plunderer…there was not a deed performed, from beginning to end, which required any pluck or courage.”[2] President Abraham Lincoln, fearing repercussions from Hunter’s activity along the coast, relocated the officer to another theater. Just over one month after the shame of their involvement in the destruction of Darien, the men of the 54th would prove their mettle in leading the assault on Battery Wagner.



[1] “The 54th Massachusetts Infantry,” History, http://www.history.com/topics/the-54th-massachusetts-infantry (accessed May 20, 2013).

[2] Russell Duncan, ed., Blue-eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999), 343.

ms2Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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Civil War Wednesday: Nurses

Period Illustration depicting nurses.

Period Illustration depicting nurses.

Prior to the Civil War, no professional nursing schools existed in the United States, and males occupied the vast majority of all nursing positions, with the “Catholic Sisters of Charity” representing the only professionally trained group of female nurses at the outset of war. During the conflict, this newfound vocation for women, also provided opportunities for free persons of color, slaves, and convalescent soldiers. At war’s end, more than 20,000 women provided angelic care to wounded soldiers.

Many female nurses came from middle and upper-class families, so income probably did not serve as the prime factor, which motivated them to risk their own health while tending to the needs of others. In the North, white nurses earned $12 per month, while African American nurses received $10. In the South, where inflation ran rampant, a nurse working in early 1865 earned a monthly salary of $40. In 1892, Congress approved a $12 per month pension for those women who served in Federal hospitals.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Clara Barton, an employee of the U.S. Patent Office prior to the war, began her nursing career after the July 1861 Battle of Bull Run/First Manassas. Throughout the war, she followed the Federal armies from Virginia to South Carolina, instilling a level of professionalism and introducing standard practices and procedures for nurses. After the war, she assisted family members in locating their loved ones – men fallen on some distant field or incarcerated in one of many Southern prisons. In 1881, she formed the American Red Cross.

Kate Cumming

Kate Cumming

 

Alabamian Kate Cumming served as a ObamaCare’s 2013 will be the year we get our first good look at how Medicaid Expansion and the ObamaCare how to get medical insurance Marketplaces will work (two health care reform’s biggest programs. nurse for the Confederacy in the western theater from April 1862, until the termination of hostilities. She experienced many of the same emotional struggles as nurses elsewhere, as witnessed in a September 1862 diary entry: “There is a good deal of trouble about the ladies in some of the hospitals of this department. Our friends here have advised us to go home, as they say it is not considered respectable to go into one [hospital]. I must confess, from all I have heard and seen, for awhile I wavered about the propriety of it; but when I remembered the suffering I had witnessed, and the relief I had given, my mind was made up to go into one if allowed to do so.”[1]

In April 1863, after almost one year spent tending the wounded, Cumming lamented, “It is sad to see so many dying with no kindred near them to sooth their last moments and close their eyes. What a sacred duty is here left undone by our women! I do not say all are guilty of this neglect, for I know there are many good women who have their home duties to attend to, and others who have not strength physically…”[2]

A poem, which Cumming penned after the war, perhaps captures the essence of the trials Civil War nurses endured North and South.

The wounds I might have healed –

The human sorrow and smart;

And yet it never was in my soul

To play so ill a part:

But evil is wrought by want of thought

As well as want of heart.[3]


[1] Kate Cumming, Kate, the Journal of a Confederate Nurse. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 65.

[2] Ibid., 99.

[3] Ibid., 4.

Michael Shaffer

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

 

The Civil War Center

The Civil War Center

 

 

Civil War Wednesday: Rome, Georgia

Forrest

Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest

 

In April 1863, the Federal forces set their sights on destroying the main line of supply for Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army – the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Colonel Abel Streight developed a raiding plan, whereby his troopers, mounted on mules, would traverse the rugged terrain from their launch point near Eastport, Alabama. Once on the trail, the Federals would head toward Dalton, Georgia, where they planned to sever Bragg’s rail supply out of Atlanta. Brigadier General Grenville Dodge received orders to cooperate with Streight; his role consisting of a feint toward Tuscumbia, Alabama in an effort to attract the attention of Confederate forces in the region. Unfortunately, for these soldiers, they attracted the attention of Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Streight and company corralled their 1,250 mounts, mostly mules, near Eastport, Alabama. As the blue-clad soldiers slept soundly in their tents, Southern soldiers approached the camp, opened the gates to the stockade, and released the Federal’s hooved transportation. Two days later, Streight’s men had collected most of the strays and resumed their trek eastward. On April 29, Forrest turned his sights from Dodge and began his pursuit of Streight. The quick riding Confederate horsemen closed the Federal lead, and on April 30, Forrest struck the rear of Streight’s force at Day’s Gap. Forrest’s command suffered 65 casualties, the general’s brother William among the wounded, but perhaps the biggest blow to the Southern effort occurred when the Federals captured two of Forrest’s artillery pieces. The rather incensed chieftain issued direct orders to his force. “Whenever you see anything blue, shoot at it, and do all you can to keep up the scare.”[1]

Colonel Abel Streight

Colonel Abel Streight

 

Riding vigorously, the Southern troopers continued the chase, and made rapid progress until encountering the Black Creek, where they found the lone bridge spanning the stream destroyed. Thanks to the efforts of a local resident, young Ema Samsom, who saddled up behind Forrest and took him to a nearby crossing, the chase quickly resumed. As the Northern troops neared the confines of Rome, they began to tire. Miles of bone jarring time in the mule-saddles, having missed several meals, and the constant harassment received from Forrest and company began to take a toll. Skirmishing outside Gadsden, Alabama resulted in the mortal wounding of Colonel Gilbert Hathaway, further dampening the spirits of Streight’s raiders. The blue-clad troopers continued to close the gap on Rome, since Forrest’s screening of their right flank had diverted their path away from the original target of Dalton. John Wisdom, a mail carrier and former Rome resident, spotted the Yankee troopers, and rode for several hours to alert the citizens of his hometown of the approaching Federal force.

The citizens of Rome rallied into action, rushed to guard the bridge providing access to the city, and started constructing barricades along the main road. Streight’s men had had enough, and they pleaded with their colonel to surrender, an action Streight refused until afforded the opportunity to ascertain the actual strength of the Southern force. Forrest complied, and in yet another of his many brilliant ruses of the war, successfully fooled his Northern opponent into thinking his numbers far superior than the 600 or so soldiers remaining.[2] Forrest orchestrated a creative parading of the same troops and the deployment and redeployment of the same artillery pieces, until finally, Streight, in an exasperated manner exclaimed, “Name of God! How many guns have you got? There’s fifteen I’ve counted already.” [3] After Streight surrendered his army on May 3, he learned the actual numbers Forrest fielded against him and proceeded to demand a retraction of his surrender and the resumption of fighting. Forrest responded, as only the “Wizard of the Saddle” could, “Ah, Colonel, all is fair in love and war you know.”[4]

In a post-war account of the raid, a member of Streight’s party commented on the actions of Forrest during the campaign. He praised the Southern cavalryman when noting, “His movements were timed as if he knew the object of Streight’s expedition, and he could not have moved more certainly to thwart it if he had seen a copy of General Rosecrans’ order.”[5] The Rome Courier editors captured the thoughts of many in the city in penning a headline for an article recounting the raid and capture – “Great Victory! Great Joy! The Yankees in Rome at Last.”[6]



[1] Brian Steel Wills, The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman: Nathan Bedford Forrest (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), 113.

[2] Brian Steel Wills.

[3] Ibid., 119.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gilbert C. Kniffin, “Streight’s Raid Through Tennessee and Northern Georgia in 1863,” in Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States War Papers, District of Columbia, reprint 1887-1915 ed. (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing, 1998).

[6] Rome Courier, “Great Victory! Great Joy!,” Confederate Union, May 12, 1863. http://milledgeville.galileo.usg.edu/milledgeville/view?docId=news/fuw1863/fuw1863-0074.xml&query=Streight&brand=milledgeville-brand (accessed March 12, 2013).

ms2Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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Civil War Wednesday: The Navy

Montauk

Montauk (Photo Credit: The Soldier in Our Civil War: A Pictorial History of the Conflict, 1861-1865, Illustrating the Valor of the Soldier as Displayed on the Battle-field. New York: J. H. Brown publishing company, 1884-85).

Two vessels and their crews carried much history into a February 28 confrontation off Georgia’s coast near Confederate-held Fort McAllister. John L. Worden, former commander of the USS Monitor in the epic encounter with the CSS Virginia in the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, now captained the ironclad USS Montauk. Although the Federals had battled Fort McAllister’s defenders, Worden ignored shelling from the Confederate bastion as he approached a vessel, which had run aground nearby.

Rattlesnake

The Rattlesnake (Photo Credit: Harper’s Weekly, March 28, 1863).

Slowly, the turret of the Montauk rotated toward the Rattlesnake, once known as the Confederate privateer Nashville. Soon, the remains of the sleek craft, which had once plagued Northern shipping, lay smoldering in the Ogeechee River’s murky waters. The Montauk received her only damage when striking a torpedo (floating mine) as she steamed away from the area.

Worden

John L. Worden (Photo Credit: The Library of Congress).

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

The Civil War Center