The Fighting Parson's Regiment
CHAPTER VIII.The wreck of the sutler's schooner. Its consequences. The death of Colonel Perry. His character. Action of officers. Sent to New York. Lieutenant-Colonel Barton promoted. Detailed on recruiting service. General Mitchell commander of the department. Expedition to Bluffton. Blockade-runner Emma, Confederate ironclad. Back with the regiment. Its condition. Bluffton again visited. Ravages of war.
[June, 1862]ON the 16th and 17th of June, a fearful storm prevailed along the coast during which a schooner was discovered on her beam ends, on the bar off the west end of Cockspur Island. With much difficulty the crew was rescued, but the vessel became a total wreck, and the cargo, which consisted of sutler supplies, floated ashore on Tybee and Cockspur Islands. Cases of claret and champagne and barrels of beer and wine, were too strong an attraction to be resisted, and the result was that on the 17th the regiment was in a terrible state of demoralization. As soon as the facts were discovered by the colonel, the severest measures were applied. Guards were set along the shores to secure the cargo, and those who were intoxicated were confined in the guard-house and dungeon. The liquor was collected, and locked up in the magazine, and comparative order was restored. It is probable, however, that the excitement and vexation so overcame the colonel as to induce the attack of the following day. It was the first time that the brutalizing effects of the war had manifested themselves in our regiment, and he was grievously wounded. At about three o'clock of the afternoon of June 18, while the colonel was writing at his desk, his pen suddenly dropped from his hand, his head dropped, and scarcely with other sign, the silver cord was loosed and the golden bowl was broken. It was a sad day in the regiment. He was so strong-so far above the jealousies of ordinary army lifeso just and true - that he was as a rock of defence to such as were in any way dependent upon him. Although holding a subordinate position, we felt that he had no superior in the department, in those qualities which constitute a leader and commander. How well I remember him, as firmly seated on his gray horse, the gift of his ministerial friends and others, he moved about the field at battalion drill, so' familiar with the duties of his position as never to suggest a doubt, giving the word of command without effort, but with a power of tone such as I have never heard equalled. Here, as elsewhere, always dignified, always composed. A man to respect, to trust, to obey. It was his misfortune to be confined in a department which furnished so little Scope for his abilities, and a still greater misfortune that he incurred the envy and jealousy of those over him.. At the time of his death he had applied for leave of absence, and the promise of promotion led him to expect a transfer to some other corps. Had he lived, so large an estimate had we formed of his abilities that we should have expected his rapid advancement to a conspicuous position among the leading generals of the army. As a man he was admired and beloved, for, although reserved and reticent, he did not withhold his confidence, and esteem from such as he deemed worthy of it. Everything relating to those under him received his personal attention, and in cases of discipline, while sometimes severe, he was always just, and when he died the feeling was universal throughout the regiment that the loss we had suffered could never be made up to us. From the time of my first introduction to him, until that morning when I parted. from him at Pulaski, never again to see him in life, I recall many instances of his kindness and thoughtful consideration; but they are too personal to be recorded here. N dtwithstanding his reserve and his habitual seclusion, except when engaged in active duty, he knew his officers better than they thought, and cared for them better than they knew. As an evidence of this I recall with great distinctness the ride we had together, when we visited various points on Dawfuskie, when he found the rebels were making preparations to annoy or attack us. On our return as we slowly rode towards camp, the conversation turned upon the character and relative merits of the officers of the regiment. He was in a singularly communicative mood, and spoke with unusual freedom. There was no unkindness, no bitterness in what he, said, but there was abundant evidence of keenness of observation, and a knowledge of the temper and disposition of those of whom he spoke, and had he lived, no good man would have had occasion to fear him, and no bad man to despise him. His parting words at Our last interview in Pulaski, meant more than I knew then, but they were not needed to keep him in my mind, embalmed with loving thoughts and precious memories. We buried him outside the fort, but subsequently his body was removed to Cyprus Hill Cemetery, in Brooklyn; and a granite monument has now been erected above his remains, -by the efforts of James H. Perry Post, G. A. R., and the survivors of the regi. ment, assisted by the Hanson Place Methodist-Episcopal Church of Brooklyn, of which he had been the pastor. On this is inscribed, in fitting words, the story of his life, his services and sacrifice.
His death left us in a state of some embarrassment. The promotion to the colonelcy naturaHy belonged to Lieutenant-Colonel Barton, but Major Beard had done much important service in the department, which seemed to deserve recognition, and in addition, his father's relations with prominent men in Brooklyn could command their influence. But he lacked the full confidence of his brother-officers, and his promotion over Lieutenant-Colonel Barton would have been an undesirable precedent to establish, and at a meeting held for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the officers of the line and staff, it was found that we were unanimous in favor of Lieutenant-Colonel Barton, and a paper was drawn up, and signed, requesting from the Governor his appointment. Chosen for the purpose of conveying this, with other letters of recommendation, from Major-General Hunter and Brigadier-General Terry, I hastened to New York by the first steamer, in company with Lieutenant-Colonel Barton, and had the satisfaction of securing all that we desired. From this time until October, being detained in New York, with Captain Farrell, on recruiting service, I must depend upon the journals of Thompson and Conklin, and the sketch recently written and sent me by Major Barrett, for an account of what transpired in the regiment during the interval. The record is short, and lacking in interesting or important circumstances; occasionally, a flag of truce came down from Savannah, with persons who desired to join their friends in the North. General Mitchell, who had established a character by successful operations in the West, relieved General Hunter, and by his urbanity, and an undefined and. indefinable magnetism, had captivated the soldiers, while his reputation as a successful general inspired them with a belief that the depal'tment of the South would thereafter have opportunity to make .for itself a place in the history of the war, by solid achievements. Poor man'! hQw little he knew of the lack of material, of opportunity and force, in his new command. Better for him had he remained in a subordinate position in the. West, where the field was large, and afforded encouragement for the exhibition ot military skill and genius.
The work of repairing the fort was carried on energetically, and an occasional excursion up the river, or to neighboring isiands, relieved tIle monotony of garrison duty. One .expedition to Bluff ton, on the May River, for the purpose of destroying the salt works, resulted not only in its immediate object, but in securing a large supply of excellent and convenient furniture, including a piano for headquarters. The blockade-runner Emma, having for a long time been tied to the wharf at Savannah, made. an effort to escape with its cargo of cotton. Just as the sun was beginning to light up the horizon, it was discovered near the entrance to Wright's River, hard and fast, with a receding tide. Boats were manned and sent with all speed to secure her, but too late to save more than the scorched and blackened remains of her valuable cargo of cotton. The fact that an English steamer had, by the contributions of the ladies of Savannah, been converted into a ram of powerful armament kept the garrison on the lookout for an attack, until it became known through deserters that she was an unwieldy mass of iron, with engines of insufficient capacity to move her against the ordinary current of the river.
One morning our gunboats, in the spirit of mere bravado, ran up the river to within range of Fort Jackson and the batteries near, but
[October, 1862]without result, except to show how poorly both were provided with artillery. Had the navy made a serious attempt on Savannah, we always felt that it would have met with but feeble opposition. There had grown up a wholesome dread of our gunboats, especially of the ironclads, and although our troops met with obstinate resistance, wherever the navy could penetrate the way was almost undisputed.
While affairs were thus comparatively stagnated in the department, Captain Farrell and myself were hard at work recruiting, and, as a result, the regiment was brought up to nearly its original number. It was a pleasant relief from the stale, stupid life in garrison, and afforded an opportunity to recover from the dreadful effects of the exposure on the swamps and islands of the Savannah. Some of the duties, however, were by no means agreeable; and when the order came for a return to the regiment, it was very welcome. We had been away long enough, and were quite willing that others should take our places; and October 2, when we rejoined the regiment, it was with a feeling of pride that we took up the regular duties of army life again.
During our absence, the officers had been accustomed to meet together to discuss
tactics and military law, and it was apparent that we must make special exertion
to place ourselves abreast of those who had thus profited. Some I few changes
had taken place. At night the "All's well" which every hour was carried round
the fort from sentinel to sentinel, proclaimed the fact that everyone was
watchful, and illustrated the system which prevailed.
The several expeditions to Bluff ton had furnished our quarters with useful and
attractive furniture, and, with every convenience for garrison duty, we should
have been content, except for the feeling that we might be serving our country
better in more active operations.
October 9, General Mitchell and staff visited the fort, and it soon became known
that an expedition was planned in which a portion atleast of our regiment would
take part. From that time until the 21st, the companies which were to join the
expedition engaged in target
practice every day, and there was much emu-
lation among them. The officers also joined in the practice, for the sake of
In the meantime the steamboat Planter made another expedition to Bluff ton, to
complete the demolition of the salt works. Just as we were about to cast off
from the dock to return to the fort, the Confederates, who had been awaiting
their opportunity, attackea. us, and for a few moments the firing was quite
sharp. Owing to the low state of the tide, our artillery was useless, until,
having cut the hawser, we swung out into the stream, when a few discharges of
grape and canister scattered the enemy and we proceeded back to the fort. Our
casualties were one killed and several wounded. The frequent expeditions had
stripped the towvn of almost everything portable, and it is not surprising that
the inhabitants were desperately angry. It was a pretty village, apparently a
summer resort for the wealthier people of Charleston and Savannah. The houses,
for the most part of neat and attractive appearance and embowered in trees,
stretched along for some distance on the high table-land near the water, and
the shore of the river was
dotted here and there with boat and bathing houses of pretty design. Deep
ravines ran from the river back through the town until lost in the darkened
shades of the woods beyond. But the houses were desolate and given up to
pillage, the happy households scattered, lost in the whirlpool of mad rebellion,
fathers and sons were measuring out their life-blood in the rebel army, and
mothers and daughters were mourning over the loss of friends and homes and all
that makes life dear, while suffering the terrible privations of an invaded
country. A sad picture of the cruelties of war!