Beneath the tangle of Georgia underbrush, beneath the pines and oaks and Spanish moss stand the remnants of the guardians of Savannah. Others, victims of time, lie scattered and leveled, erased by progress. Savannah, Georgia is hostess to an unknown multitude of historic fort, battery and defensive sites. Obvious to the area's visitors are Fort Pulaski, Fort Jackson and Fort McAllister which have been preserved by national and state park caretakers. But, hidden and mostly forgotten, are other fort and battery sites that were erected to protect the twisting maze of waterways of the region in an effort to dissuade enemy landings. Some are known--some disguised as "natural" landscaping in a subdivision yard. Cannon batteries and an additional series of rifle pits dot the islands and peninsulas wherever the course of a small creek comes close to traversable soil.
Early in Georgia history, shortly after James Oglethrope's landing to establish the city of Savannah in 1733, protection from invaders became a priority. At Jones' Narrows, which is now an overgrown marsh creek, a major inland waterway flowed past the "Wormsloe" plantation of Captain Noble Jones. A timber guard house was built in 1739 and 1740, as temporary protection. On September 29, 1740 Thomas Jones, the treasurer of the colony, was allotted £27 18S 6p to cover the "charges of Building a Guard House on Pine Island Near Skidaway Narrows." With this allotment Fort Wimberly, a tabby fortification, was constructed to replace it.
Pirates who plied the waters of the Caribbean and Eastern Seaboard were a constant threat to the young colony. The Lord Governor of Georgia asked for a 40 foot square fortress to be built to "Protect the Town from being annoyed by any small privateer...." He continued pleading, "...to my Lords in July last, a small French Schooner came in & Lay very near the Island [Tybee] and decoyed several Boats on Board, & Carried away Slaves to the Value of ú1000 Sterl."
In the 1755 document, "The Spanish Official Account of the Attack on the Colony of Georgia, in America and its Defeat on St. Simon's Island" by General James Oglethorpe, is a proposal for a fort to be constructed protecting the Savannah River and other major waterways of Georgia. Noting Cockspur Island, Oglethorpe wrote, "The places for Forts near the Sea are, first Cockspur, a small Island in the mouth of Savannah River commanding the North, but much better the South Channel; The North Channel is only for small Craft, but the South Channel is for large Vessels." Though plans are shown for a blockhouse and entrenchment. The entrenchment was eliminated due to funding. After the American Revolution another structure, Fort Greene, was built on Cockspur Island. It was destroyed by a hurricane ten years later.
To the south, the "back-door" to Savannah, fortifications were built at Hardwick. There a fort was erected on the "Northeast angle of the town, two hundred feet square." Another fort at the northwest angle was built and paid for personally by Governor Henry Ellis costing £400 and was 120 feet square.
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Savannah Proper and the Evolution of Fort Wayne
One might speculate that Savannah is the most Southern city of Southern cities, In many of her early maps and renditions, even before the Civil War, north is at the bottom and south at the top. In reality, views of the settlement, and later the town, were made from the river-- the most important perspective-- looking toward the south. The vantage point was popular with many map-makers and artists throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In one typical earlier map, one of the few renditions, a western stronghold is shown. Fort Moncrief, a small containment west of the city is located near the river at what is now Yamacraw Village. It was named for Captain Moncrief, a British chief engineer who built thirteen redoubts around the town before and during the revolution. Fort Prevost, on the east end of the bluff next to the river, continues the walled protection around city of Savannah proper and appears on the site during the 1779 siege by, and defeat of, American and French armies by the British. Another typographer indicates a differing shape of Fort Prevost conforming closer to the completed plan for the fort the next year.
In the four decades prior to the American Revolution protection for Savannah underwent several changes. By 1734, on the northeastern bluff near the city, on what would be the site for Fort Wayne, "...a battery of 12 guns on the river... Beside them which 2 block houses at the Angles of the town had each 4 guns...."
Along the eastern boundary of the town were "Palasadoes." This boundary which eventually became Drayton Street, remained unchanged for many years. The guard room and the battery of twelve guns were on the bluff inside the palisade. The fort is just outside the palisade at approximately what is now president street.
In "Plan of the City Savannah and fortifi." from the deBrahm manuscript, 1757, the city is shown with extensive fortification. The walls were "Talus faced with Pine saplings set in the ground,..." Improving the design before the construction started, the Governor added, "Tours Bastionees-- to each Bastion one of which was placed in the angle of each Gorge to serve as Cavatieres couvertes, with strong platforms in their first stories for Cannons of twelve-pounders to range and command the Country."
From this record no indication of fortifications are evident on the northeastern bluff. An additional note, though, described an unusual feature there, "Between the City and the Trustee's Garden is an artificial Hill upon the Bay, part of which in 1760 was dug through (to open a communication with this Suburb and City) whereby a Stratum was opened near the plane of the City filled with human Bones,..." The "Indian Hill" shown in the upper right corner of the map. The "stratum" or excavation would be located approximately where the present-day East Broad Street Ramp winds down the bluff.
By 1765 a map entitled "Savanna Town" records a square fortress with diamond buttresses in the Fort Wayne location on the northeastern corner of town. An index number notes it simply as "Castell" next to the "Trustee's Garden" and "Gouv. Plantage." This "Castell" was gone by the time of the revolution eleven years later. In another drawing of a powder magazine believed to be dated 1760 one of the few references to the name, "Fort Prevost" is used. The magazine appears to be the same indicated in reconstructed works later at this location. Arguably the date on the drawing could be interpreted as 1780, and could have been drawn during the British occupation of the town.
The American patriots of Savannah were not prepared for a British invasion. Defenses by this time were in disrepair. Some preparations had been attempted but were inadequate for protection. The rebels sank hulks in the river and erected a battery at Trustee's gardens in this same location, but otherwise, "The metropolis of Georgia was in the most defenceless condition imaginable,... " A battery had been thrown up at the eastern extremity of the city, upon which a few guns had been mounted,..." but, "Every other part of the city was exposed,..." The Trustee's Battery -- referred to by the British as "The Fort"-- was erected in 1776 and was only a line battery. Though a wall had been erected around the city it was of little value. On December 27, 1778 British landed at Girardeau's plantation and attacked two days later. A battery at the site of the present Fort Jackson lay in ruins near the landing point. One map of the scene shows Girardeau's Plantation mistakenly labeled "Gordon's." British forces won control of the city. Not shown on the map the "New Erected Works" at the eastern end of the city, but it does indicate a rebel battery thrown up to meet the invaders near what is now the Wheaton Street and Waters Avenue intersection.
During British occupation Fort Prevost was constructed in a modified star shape with bastions on four sides to protect from river and land attack. Governor Wright ordered up to 400 Negroes to build it. The magazine illustrated in figure 12 can be seen on the eastern demilune. A circle of abatis runs from the western line south then turns east over the bluff. In September, 1779, under the command of Vice-Admiral Charles Henri d'Estaing, the French landed troops at Beulieu and Montgomery joining forces with the army of American Major General Benjamin Lincoln. After a bloody battle the combined forces were defeated. D'Estaing hesitated to attack after demanding the surrender of the British forces, giving reinforcements time to arrive from Beaufort, SC.
"Siege of Savannah" drawn in 1881, 100 years after the fact by a Colonel Carrington, illustrates battle lines well. Incorrect in that the town is laid out too large, most things are, however, in their general vicinities. Well defined is the battery at the northeastern bluff. Also, the Spring Hill redoubt is visible on the southeast edge of town where General d'Estaing was struck down and where General Casimir Pulaski and Sergeant William Jasper were mortally wounded.
A plan and a 1782 map of Savannah show Fort Prevost in a completed form. By 1800 "old" Fort Prevost lay in ruins. By 1812, the smaller, remodeled "Fort Wayne" had been built and was already labeled "Old" by the surveyor John McKinnon on a plat that probably was used for the sale of additional construction. Fort Wayne had been reduced in size since 1780 eliminating the southern and eastern outer works and reconfiguring the western wall.
A crescent styled structure was finished by 1813 and the city was walled by the end of 1814. An excellently detailed plan of Fort Wayne was rendered in 1821 a Captain Poussin, showing the contoured earthen structure stretching around the bluff by the river. Starting where the East Broad Street Ramp is now located it circled the bluff ending at, but not extending past, Wright Street as the old fort had. Fort Wayne was out of date by 1824. A poorly rendered detail on a map from that year shows that the position on the bluff was superseded by the brick structured Fort Jackson down river and Fort Augusta on the eastern tip of Hutchinson Island.
Bought by the Savannah Gas and Light Company in 1852, all indications of the previous fortresses were gone. The brick buttressed of the gas works that still stands today covers only a portion of the fort's area. In this plate the current General MacIntosh Boulevard, marked "Plank Road," skirts the edge of the facility. The outer, northern section of bluff is vacant though a warehouse sits at its base. Fort Wayne is still indicated on city maps today even though no structure has existed for over 140 years.
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The War Between the States
At the beginning of the Civil War a frenzied race for protection began.
To the east, Fort Pulaski, which stood at the mouth of the Savannah River was still in Union hands though ungarrisoned. Shortly after the attack on Fort Sumpter, South Carolina, a flotilla sailed down river from Savannah and claimed Pulaski for the Confederacy. All creeks and rivers near the city had to be fortified. Slave labor was principally relied upon in erection the defenses. At one time, impressed into service, more than two thousand slaves and free blacks were working on the fortifications around Savannah. Tybee Island was garrisoned with a small rebel outpost at the north end where World War I era fort Screven now stands. In 1861 Federal troops landed and captured the outpost.
On the north end of Wassaw Island watching Wassaw Sound was an octagon earthen fortification that was built as an advance defense to the Skidaway and Wilmington Island batteries farther up the Wilmington river. It saw action early in the conflict when on October 30, 1861 members of the Georgia Republican Blues traded shot and shell with federal vessels. In the vicinity of Ossabaw Sound to the south no defensive works existed exterior to Green Island due to the protective maze of marsh creeks and mud islands between there and Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River. To protect the southern end of the Savannah Peninsula a fortification, Fort Screven (Green Island Battery,) was built in the summer of 1861 by 300 Negro slaves furnished by Captain Screven of the Savannah Volunteer Guards. It had an eight gun battery and an encampment of 75 tents when General Robert E. Lee visited in the fall of 1861.
Inspecting the Volunteer Guard garrisoned there, General Lee watched as the men marched by with two ranked columns in double quick time. One "stout clumsy volunteer" marching in the lead platoon stumbled during a turning maneuver tripping the men around him. The rest of the platoon could not stop, and the soldiers ended up in a confused pile on the ground. The incident sparked "inexhaustible laughter" from everyone around, including General Lee. In his gracious manner he still complimented the assembly by saying, "If I had ten thousand such troops, I would not hesitate to meet a very much greater force of the enemy."
Morale ran high in the first months of the war. Stationed on Green Island, seventeen year-old private Joseph C. Thompson wrote his sister, "If they try us I think they will be barking up the wrong tree for I do not believe there is one man in the Guards who would not die before surrender."14 There was 30 miles of coverage on the eastern defense line.15 Later, in 1864, approximately 20 miles were added on the western.16 Still, with over 50 unnamed lunettes and salients,17 historian Charles E. Jones, Jr. described the Rebel lines as "scarcely more than a skirmish line strengthened at intervals."
The outermost defenses hanged like ripe fruit, easy for the Federals to pick. On Sunday February 9, 1862 General Lee sent orders to Colonel Edward C. Anderson, commander of the coastal defenses, saying, "dismantle the Batteries on St. Simons and Jekyl Island, as it is intended to abandon the outside line of defense and fall back upon the interior forts." By the end of March the guns of Skidaway, Green Island and Wassaw were moved to the interior forts, Thunderbolt and Beulieu.19 On March 25 on Skidaway Island a Union flotilla ascended the Wilmington River to Skidaway Island. When a landing party went ashore they found a "strong bastioned work for ten guns, with bomb-proofs, trenches, etc." recently abandoned. Around the same time, Union troops erected batteries on the mud at Venus (Oyster) Point and Bird Island in the Savannah River between Fort Pulaski and the city. Supplies and messengers had to "Run the Block" avoiding the hail of cannon fire. The noose of Lincoln's Blockade was beginning to tighten on Savannah.
Fort Pulaski was built on Cockspur Island between 1829 and 1845. It stands near the site of colonial era Fort George. With walls of brick, up to seven feet, thick, the consensus of thought in 1862, including General Lee's, was that no cannon fire could penetrate them. Over a period of a few weeks, Union Captain Quincy A. Gilmore secretly constructed batteries at night on Tybee Island. The armaments included a new type of gun; 30-pounder Parrot rifles. In only five hours of firing on April 11, the guns had opened a breach in the wall. The next day Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, the commander of the fort, was forced to lower his flag and surrender or face the fort being blown up by its own powder magazine which was open to the line of fire. The fall of the fort insured a secure blockade of Savannah by the Union Navy.
The southern and strategically important anchor of the defense network for Savannah was Fort McAllister. Built in 1861, it served as protection for Savannah's back door. Constructed by hand labor of sand and mud the earthwork structure stands at Genesis Point on the Ogeechee River a short distance downstream from Hardwick. The original angled battery was extended after 1863 to form its current hexagonal shape. Though harassed by Federal gunboats the earthen fortification, saw only 10 days of combat in 4 years of war. The most noted were in February and March 1863 when it was bombarded by the ironclad Montauk and Federal mortar schooners. After an intense barrage the earth structure proved invaluable because walls could be repaired at night, showing their ability to withstand the onslaught. There was only one Confederate casualty during the naval bombardments. Major John B. Gallie, a native of Scotland and commander of the fort, was killed during the fusillade by the Montauk in March 1863. The fortress, manned by approximately 250 men, withstood Union penetration of the Ogeechee region until Major General William T. Sherman's 60,000 man army arrived, ending its famous "march to the sea." A 4,000 man assault force attacked the fort on December 13, 1864, overrunning the small outpost in just 15 minutes.
Fort McAllister was built with similar methods to other Southern earthwork fortifications of the era. A wooden frame form mold was erected to shape the walls, Negro laborers excavated dirt, carried it in wheelbarrows and wicker baskets, then dumped it into the form and tamped it with wooden pestles. When the large earth mounds were complete the forms were taken down leaving the earthen walls.
An interior line of forts and water batteries commenced at Red Bluff battery in South Carolina forming the northern point of Savannah's defenses approximately five miles north of the Savannah River. These were secondary buffers to prevent landfall of enemy troops. Battery Cheves, on the Union Causeway, was about half-way between Red Bluff and the Savannah River. Fort Jackson, on the Savannah River, stood with a cluster of armed units protect the main channel. Those included Battery (Fort) Lee next to Jackson, Fort Tattnall located on a small mud shoal mid-river, and Fort Lawton across the channel on Barnwell Island. At the easternmost point of Hutchinson Island was also a small battery near the site of old Fort Augusta though at least one map indicates it may have been on Fig Island. Below the site of old Fort Wayne (Savannah Gas works) the "Bay" battery sat below the bluff near where the Marriott hotel is now located on General MacIntosh Boulevard.
Fort Jackson, headquarters for all Savannah defenses was refortified. Its location commands a point where all boats coming from or going to Savannah must pass. On the river to the west, the Ironclad, CSS Georgia was anchored acting as an additional battery. On the edge of the marsh to the east is Fort Lee. Colonel Edward Clifford Anderson, wrote in 1862, after "walking across the muddy dams to Fort Jackson.... [I] visited the mud battery below Fort Jackson, known as Fort Lee. It was a miserable affair with the gun platforms improperly based up & changing their level with every alteration in the position of the guns...." Fort Lee was rebuilt and refitted with two ten-inch mortars, two ten-inch and three eight-inch columbiads, one 42-pound, one 32 pound, and two 24-pound rifles.26 Today much of the structure has been eroded by the river, leaving only a small percentage of the original.
Threaded together in the lace-work of marsh and pine forests, the mid-line of protection started at Fort Bartow at Causton's bluff on Saint Augustine Creek near the Savannah River. Stringing south were Batteries at Bonaventure, next to the cemetery, then Fort Thunderbolt, now the site of Palmer-Johnson boat works. On Whitemarsh Island was the Gibson point battery at the confluence of Richardson and Turner Creeks and protecting the island from the south was Turner's Rocks battery. A short distance from these batteries, built after an 1863 Union landing, was a vertical line of defense dissected the island from Richardson Creek to a marsh adjoining the Wilmington River. Continuing the loop was Battery Daniels at Parkersburg, the Isle of Hope (Church Lot) batteries, Battery (Fort) Wimberly (formerly Battery Lawton) on the Back (Moon) River on the opposite side of Isle of Hope (figure 26) from the old fort site, and Burnside Island battery near Beaulieu.
At Beaulieu, the location of the landing of the French Army in 1779, a battery protected the Vernon River. This was reinforced by a smaller battery up river at Tucker's point near Vernonburg. A formidable fortification was in place on Rose Dhu Island with smaller units at Coffee Bluff on the Forest River. A detachment with cannon watched at the Atlantic and Gulf railroad crossing a short distance to the west.
It was known that if the waterway batteries were taken, the enemy could take other similar batteries from land side, so Fort Bartow at Causten's Bluff was built. It covered 17 acres and was one of the largest and most complete earth works of its kind on the coast. Today much of the earthen walls have been conserved adding an interesting landscape to a housing subdivision of homes occupy the flat parade grounds. Here in 1862 General Robert E. Lee had a close call. During an inspection of the fort a cannon, built with the supposition of its being able to throw a projectile 5 miles, was being tested. When the first shot was fired the gun exploded hurling the upper half over Lee's head, landing in the marsh several hundred yards away. Men around him were killed and wounded but Lee was unharmed.
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Last Stand Defenses
William R. Boggs, an army engineer in the service of the state of Georgia took a pocket full of fencing nails and a hatchet and laid out a "first rate" line of defense around the city of Savannah. The line of puissant works started at Fort Boggs near what is now Savannah Country Club stretched south and west to envelope the city of Savannah in a semi-circular form. Varying from one to two and a quarter miles beyond the city grid, it terminated at the Springfield Plantation swamp at Laurel Grove Cemetery. The western run of the earthen wall is now the route of the 37th street extension that divides the northern and southern sections of the cemetery.
Within the line to the east were Forts Brown and Mercer. Fort Mercer was located in the northeast section of the intersection of Waters Avenue and Victory Drive, across from Daffin Park. Fort Brown was situated at the Catholic Cemetery at what is now the intersection of Skidaway Road and Gwinette Street. A section of the wall is preserved next to the soccer field on the campus of Shuman Middle School on Goebel Avenue. Sections of the main wall between forts Brown and Boggs can be seen stringing toward the north along the fairways of the country club. Fort Boggs, named for the future general, was situated on Brewton Hill overlooking the Savannah River. A soldier, John L. Woods, wrote his father in 1862 quoting an officer who described the fortification, "one of the finest works constructed on either side." State troops formed much of the work force, though the principal source was slave labor. Workers started at 8:00 A.M. and worked until one hour before sundown.
Outside of the city walls were batteries protecting connecting roadways. Battery Harrison protected against land invasion from the south and was located two and one half miles south of the city park (Forsythe) on Whitebluff Road, just north of what is now the intersection of Bull Street and DeRenne Avenue. Other batteries (figure 28) protected (Old) Montgomery Road, Skidaway Road and the Thunderbolt Shell Road. On Groves Point was Croft's battery of light artillery located at Cheves' landing on the Grove River, west of Coffee Bluff.
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Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, after capturing the city of Atlanta, Georgia in the summer of 1864, turned his 60,000 man army toward the east. After he "disappeared into a hole," as was described by Abraham Lincoln, he emerged on the outskirts of Savannah. His army was tired, but well fed from the bounty of the Georgian agriculture captured along the way. Confederate soldiers had poured in from the region in anticipation of his arrival. Still their total was only about 16 percent of the Union force. An attack of the city from the west had been undreamed of until the fall of Atlanta, therefore, little or nothing had been done in the way of fortifications around that perimeter. In a desperate response, western defenses of Savannah were ordered erected on December 3, 1864.
On the southeastern bank of the Savannah River at the confluence of Pipe Maker's Creek, General Williamson and the Georgia 20th Corps constructed "Fort Hardeman" on Williamson's Brampton Plantation. Located near the plantation cemetery where a mausoleum enscribed "Jonathan Bryan, Patriot" stood, the fortification was the most elaborate of those on the eastern line. Containing ten guns, it was garrisoned by two hundred infantry of the Georgia militia, Pruden's Artillery Company and Georgia Cadets under the command of a Colonel Hill.
In his book "The Siege of Savannah," Charles C, Jones wrote "The lunette, which constituted its prominent feature was approached by a covered way. It had an ample bomb proof made by cutting a deep ditch from the salient to the bastion. It commanded a terre-plein in case the enemy should attack from Hutchenson's Island... The entire front was protected by a double friezen for stakes and fence rails planted firmly in the ground and interplaced with iron wire.'"
A short distance away on the Augusta road, near the site of the mid-1900's "traffic circle" in Garden City, another large earthen fortification was built containing, "three heavy guns with field pieces on the flanks." The railroad battery "McBeth" was at the intersection of Louisville turnpike and Central Railroad on the spot that is now the Hercules chemical factory. Its main gun, mounted on a flat-car almost changed the course of history. General Sherman, while viewing Confederate defenses through a railroad cut that is now under the Highway 80 overcrossing, was narrowly missed by a shot from the cannon. A Union major noted in his diary, "The General had a very narrow escape from a shell today..." Perhaps an understatement, another soldier from Iowa noted separately, "It did not miss him over a foot." A black enlisted man from the Union Pioneer unit who walked nearby wasn't as lucky. The cannon ball skipped on the ground, bounced up and struck him just under the jaw, decapitating him. An officer covered him with his frock before the entourage left.
Across the fields toward the modern Interstate 16 was Battery Acee at the head of Shaw's dam on the Ogeechee canal. Near where Savannah Christian Preparatory School stands a 12-pounder gun was stationed on the Habersham Old Road. Between battery Acee and Habersham road was another 12-pounder. In the rear of Lawton's barn and at the head of the causeway crossing his rice fields on salt creek stood Battery Barnes with two 32-pounders, two 21-pounder Napoleons and one 12-pounder Howitzer. At Pine-point battery opposite the rice fields of George S. Owen's Silk hope plantation, near the present site of the Georgia Patrol office, and at Battery Jones on the old Savannah-Darien road crossing of Salt Creek were two 32-pounder garrison guns, four 12-pounder Napoleons, one 32-pounder cannonade and one 20-pounder Parrot gun. These well armed batteries were the most active during the exchange with Federal gunners.
The typography of Savannah accentuated the fortifications and helped create its own defense. On a peninsula, Savannah was surrounded by marsh mud, water, man-made dikes and rice fields that created a formidable moat for any invader. To slow the Yankees all that was necessary was to open the flood gates and guard the causways. In a field near Savannah, Iowa infantryman Charlie Albertson wrote upon arriving there, "We had a fine time coming through when not marching too hard... We live on rice and Homony, or rather corn. They raise plenty of rice here. It grows in the water, they have levies and gates to cut off the water and let it on... Some times we march all night. Most through mud and water, sometimes almost knee deep." Evaluating a potential charge across the mud and water he added, "We have a large force here.... We could easy take Savannah by storm but we would lose a great many men, And I for one do not feel ambicious to charge the large Reb fort in front of our division."
Infantryman, Theodore Upson's correspondence concurred with Anderson from another spot on the line, "We are drawing our lines pretty close and were it not for the water in the ditches and streams around the city no doubt we would try to take the works by assault. Of course, we would lose a good many men by this, but our boys are impatient and ready to try it.
" On December 11, 1864, the day of investment, he wrote, "We are on the lines closing around Savannah. This whole country is marsh. The confederates have cut the dykes and a good deal of it is under water. Last night we went into some works which were thrown up in a rice field. Every thing was black muck. the works were alright though pretty wet."
Across from Battery Jones along Dean Forest Road Upson related conditions in the mud and the accuracy of Rebel guns, "We had just gotten settled when the Captain of a couple of guns which were in the embrasures close at our right told us to lay low. He was going to wake up the Johnnys. He fired both of his guns at the battery perhaps a half mile away. He woke them up all right. They replied, knocked the muzzle off of the gun next to us, the wheel of the other, blew up the caisson standing in the rear of the guns, and threw one shell into the muck in front of us which exploded and covered us with about 20 tons of black mud. We were not hurt but are quite sure the Johnnys were not asleep at all."
With few avenues of advancement, Union soldiers constructed portable protection to move along roads and causways. "We have been making rolling breast works," Upson wrote. "We make small rolls of saplings or poles fastened together with withes or pieces of grape vines and out of these have made a roll about 60 feet long and over 4 feet in diameter.
"Our sharpshooters get behind this and roll it down the road, shooting into battery embrasures so that they cannot fire... We are drawing our lines pretty close and were it not for the water in the ditches and streams around the city no doubt we would try to take the works by assault. Of course, we would lose a good many men by this, but our boys are impatient and ready to try it."
General William J. Hardee, in command of Savannah's defenses, thought Sherman's cannons were beyond the common three to four mile range of most guns. When a demand for surrender was sent, he refused. Hardee did not know the extent of Sherman's armaments. "By tomorrow." Sherman informed General Ulysses S. Grant, "I will have six 30-pounder Parrots in position." The Parrot rifles were of the same type used in the subduing of Fort Pulaski in 1863. On the same morning Sherman had sent the summons to Hardee for surrender, he had stood by the three-mile post on the Augusta Road and noted that Confederate lines lay not more than one quarter mile to the east. The mile posts were measured from the courthouse in the center of Savannah, well within the Parrot rifle distance.
With the disclosure of Hardee's refusal, an attack across the creeks and rice fields seemed inevitable to Union troops. Upson recorded, "We learn that General Hardee of the Conf. has refused to surrender the city to us, we are getting ready to assault the works. It will be hard work in our front for the water is nearly 5 ft. deep and there are a great many ditches and bad places to get over and through. But if we make a start we are going through and I think the Johnnys know it for they do not talk as saucy as they did at Vicksburg."
On December 21, 1864, Confederate troops escaped across the Savannah River over a make-shift pontoon bridge made of rice boats and planks from the River Street wharves. At the same time a Union patrol entered into Confederate territory by crossing the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad bridge over the Little Ogeechee River to a site now located on Hunter Army Airfield. The earthworks they found was empty; an indication of the Rebel armies retreat. For an unknown reason, the patrol was ordered back across the river. Sherman's officers waited. Relieved, Upson scribbled, "December 22, The Johnnys got out last night. I think our officers knew they were going and did not try to stop them for we could hear them all night moving about and most of us think if we had pushed the fighting on our right front a little harder we might have cut them off and captured the whole of them. I am awfuly glad we did not have to charge their works for we would have lost a good many lives, that's for sure."
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Conditions of Duty
Until Sherman's army arrived, life behind the palisades of Savannah was difficult on troop moral. With the exception of the occasional harassment by the Union gunboats life was generally boring. With the gunboat blockade travel to and from the inner waterways was unsafe. All avenues of approach to landfall necessitated constant surveillance. Morale declined in the remote posts. Lieutenant Charles Jones Jr. of the Chatham Artillery stationed at Isle of Hope wrote his father saying, "It has often seemed a little less than rediculous, this idea of endeavoring to fortify every avenue by light sand batteries, which must be silenced so soon as the heavy metal of the Lincoln gunboats is brought to bear. The day belongs to the past when open earthworks and palmetto forts can successfully contend with heavy batteries of modern fleets... [W]e must expect that these open batteries must yield whenever confronted by the heavy guns of the Lincoln gunboats."
Union gunboats and pickets constantly badgered the Confederate forts and batteries. After Federal troops had established their own batteries at Venus Point and Bird Island, attacks were commonly reported at Turner's Rocks, Wilmington battery, Skidaway, Wassaw and others. August 19, 1863 Josephine C. Habersham recorded in her diary, "...rain all day... Bombarding of the forts as usual. Heard 14 heavy cannon, but we never mind them now." South of Savannah on Friday, November 7, 1862 a gunboat ascended the Little Ogeechee and harassed Camp Houston and the Coffee Bluff battery. Doing little damage it sailed away giving the troops a few days of conversational topic.
To improve observation of enemy movements Federal troops burned off the marsh. Consequently inspection of the outposts by the Confederate commanding officers was also hazardous. Colonel Edward C. Anderson recorded in his diary Wednesday, March 5th 1862, "The Yankees are burning off the Marsh below, and apparently have set fire to the grass on the lower end of Elba island, pushed a picket across from Rockwells company and burned off the Western end...." As a result even small boats were at risk. He wrote, "Thurs. 13th. At 7 this morning Com[madore Josiah] Tattnall came down in his vessel accompanied by Gen [Alexander] Lawton and staff... we stood down South Channel in search of Major Knights party... The enemy immediately opened fire upon us, but his shot fell short... Steamed down to within a mile and three quarters of the enemys gunboats when he opened up on us from three batteries, the shell passing over us, or bursting shot, some 50 yards from the steamer. On this occasion I witnessed some very profound dodging on the part of a Confederate Brigadier General... We returned fire... but on the second or third discharge the shell became jammed in the gun and could not be sent home. We drifted out of range with the flood tide... Returned to the Fort at 5 ock. Nobody Hurt."
Boredom and sickness were not part of the glory of the battle expected when in fall of 1861 John W. Hagan joined the Confederate service and was appointed a third sergeant for Company "D," 29th Georgia Volunteer Infantry. For almost two years his duty consisted of working on, and standing watch along, the coastal defenses of Savannah with a short assignment at Wilmington, North Carolina. He wrote home in 1863, "We are doing picket duty at Whitemarsh and are keeping up a picket at Capers Battery which makes our duty very hard. We furnish 10 & 11 men every day exclusive of the extra dutymen & we have no hopes of getting Furloughs." Tired of the tedium he later wrote, "I am [heart]sick, I cannot get a pass to visit Savannah and when I go I have to run the blocade and risk getting caught, but I will manage...."
To pass the time the men would organize a game of marbles "...or some other game of hazard to pass away the time..." in an effort to ease the dullness of the watch. Disease was a constant threat, "E.W. Roberts has got sick furlough at last," Hagan happily wrote home. "I am glad he got one for it looked as if he was doomed to die at Whiteville."
Describing the working conditions of the artillerymen Josephine C. Habersham wrote after visiting Rose Dhu Island battery, "We went into the dark excessively hot magazine. How it must exhaust the men to be in the bombproofs, of a hot stifling day with all the miserable accompaniments of the bombardment- wounds, death, perhaps worse, disaster and defeat."47 Not only the enlisted men grew weary of the near "intolerable" conditions. At Fort McAllister Alfred L. Hartridge, a 24 years old lieutenant of the Dekalb Riflemen wrote home of his societal plight, [we have] "only government rations to eat and nothing to keep [away] the mosiquitoes, red bugs, etc... I need a servant very much, and have been trying to get a boy but so far have not succeeded-- otherwise I am well situated."
Many died due to disease and accident. The soldiers of Camp Sam Crump on the Isle of Hope purchased an ad in a Savannah newspaper saying, Expressed "the regret of the Company at the death of Nelson Gibbs." The members of Capers Light Guard went on to "mourn the untimely death of our late member..., who by accidental discharge of a gun, fell in the full vigor of manhood's prime....
Camp Defiance, two miles below Savannah and two miles from the Savannah River, illustrated in name, the spirit of the soldiers of the city in the war's beginning. But as the war dragged on the tropical heat, mosquitoes, sand gnats and mundane life of standing guard took its toll in mental and physical abuse. Especially in the outer posts. A few miles north of Camp Defiance, in the marsh and rice fields of South Carolina was Camp Despair. Located twenty miles from Hardeeville, separated from Bluffton by 2 and one half miles of river and marsh, with four times that distance to Savannah, it was the middle of nowhere to a young military man. Life in camp must have lived up to the name. At Battery Cheves, just three miles from Camp Defiance a group of Irishmen, a sergeant, corporal and seven men joined the multitude of southern soldiers who grew tired of defending the planter ruling class. In the dark of night the group stole a battery boat and deserted. Other enlisted men were in agreement.
In the winter of 1864 at Rose Dhu Battery there was a conspiracy among the troops awaiting Sherman's army. Three companies planned to desert with arms and win over the troops at Beaulieu battery, then march to the camp of the 57th Georgia Regiment. Tired of war, they planned to make their way to the interior of the country, thinking that one way to end the war was to set an example other troops could follow.
Though the perpetual dullness of a soldiers life was obvious, life in the coastal defense was not always desperate. Closer to the city entertainment and diversion was easier to attain. "Camp Fanny H____" near the Thunderbolt Battery was named for a young Savannah lady who enjoyed visiting the young men of the camp. Her virtue is protected through history by the discreet records of a signal corps enlisted man. Specific pleasures were available, at least to the men of the inner defenses.
Today the locations of many sites remain secret. Historians and anthropologists remain silent about historical spots for fear of relic hunters. Relic hunters, who know as much or more about sites as the former, remain silent in fear of bureaucratic hording and control. Only the general public remains uninformed of the history that lies beneath their feet-- or under the small mound in their flower garden.
Captain Jone's Wormsloe, Kelso
The History of Georgia, McCall
Guardian of the Ogeechee, Durham
Recollections of a Long and Satisfactory Life, Harden (Sav 1934)
The Savannah Volunteer Guard, Bassinger
A Present for Mr. Lincoln, Lawrence
Confederate Foreign Agent, Hoole
With Sherman to the Sea, the Civil War Letters, Diaries and Reminiscences of Theodore F. Upson
Ebb Tide, the Diary of Josephine Clay Habersham, Hartridge
Capmpfires of Georgia Troops, 1861-1865, Smedlund
Recollections of a Private in the Signal Corps, William Haden