The Civil War (1862)

Rumors, common in any war, were rampant in Liberty County during the early months of 1862, and some of them had substance. Federal naval and marine forces were active in the Darien area, and reports circulated that a federal gunboat would attempt passage up the Altamaha River to destroy the Doctortown railroad bridge.


First Lieutenant W.A. Fleming and 25 members of the Liberty Independent Troop were dispatched to Fort Barring­ton on the Altamaha River to prevent passage of the gunboat up the Altamaha River to the railroad bridge. They remained there until the end of March 1862, when they were relieved by a detachment of the Liberty Guards.


Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island near Savannah, a U.S. Army installation until it was occupied by the Confederate Army in January 1861, was attacked by U.S. naval forces in April 1862. After a one-day siege and bombardment with improved guns imported from Europe, the fort surrendered to federal forces and Savannah was sealed as a port.


Charles G. Postell, a physician and first sergeant of the Altamaha Scouts, was appointed an officer and surgeon in the Confederate Army in early 1862. Joseph Jones, also a physician and a private in the Liberty Independent Troop, was appointed an officer and surgeon in the Confederate Army at the same time.


The limited active duty period of the Liberty Independent Troop ended on April 1, 1862. Members of the organization volunteered to continue their patrols along the coast until the unit could be reorganized in line with the current mili­tary posture of the state.


Members of the Liberty Independent Troop held a meeting to make plans for the unit’s reorganization. There was dissention on how the reorganization should be accomplished. A compromise was adopted, but it proved unsatisfactory to Captain Abial Winn, First Lieutenant L.W. Walthour, and First Lieutenant G. T. Hendley. They resigned.


Some members of the Liberty Independent Troop wanted a complete change in the unit structure and even a new name. First Lieutenant William A. Flemming refused to resign and let the unit’s name be changed. The unit was in a state of confusion for several days. Tempers eventually cooled, however, and a second meeting was held. A suitable reorgani­zation was agreed on whereby the two opposing factions went separate ways. One retained the name Liberty Indepen­dent Troop, and the other was named the Liberty Mounted Rangers, or Liberty Mounted Dragoons. The new unit es­tablished a camp on Colonels Island.


The Confederate Army in early May 1862 ordered resi­dents of offshore islands along the Georgia coast to relocate on the mainland. Plantation owners on Colonels Island moved their slaves, livestock, and what they could of their crops to plantations they owned on the mainland, or to the area of Taylors Creek.


The Liberty Mounted Rangers, commanded by Captain William G. Thompson, was ordered to Bona Bella near Savan­nah, Georgia, in May 1862. It was there mustered into the Confederate Army, redesignated Company B, 20th Battalion, Georgia Cavalry, and ordered to James Island to defend Charleston, South Carolina. The Liberty Independent Troop established a new camp on Palmyra Plantation, where it was mustered into the Confederate Army, redesignated Company G, Fifth Georgia Cavalry, and ordered to stand by for further orders.


In September 1862, 11 slaves belonging to Joseph Ander­son stole the guard boat at Sunbury and escaped to a ship lying off Saint Catherines Island. That same month many people along the coast of Liberty County were ill with malaria fever, and Samuel Way, an elderly physician, was the only medical doctor left to tend them. Medicine was scarce and expensive.


The Home Guards in November 1862 commenced digging a series of rifle pits below the Sunbury-Riceboro ferry, and at Half Moon Bluff, Carrs Neck, and Melon Bluff in further defense of Liberty County against federal gunboat incursions. There were reports that federal gunboats had sailed up the Sapelo River and burned plantations along the way.


Slave desertions were uppermost in the minds of Liberty County plantation owners by late 1862. U.S. Navy personnel in recent months had landed along the coast of Georgia and encouraged slaves to leave their plantations and relocate in slave colonies established by the federal government on vacated offshore islands. Liberty County officials dispatched a request to Confederate Army headquarters at Savannah, Georgia, that the Liberty Mounted Rangers be returned to the county to prevent such actions in Liberty County. Some plantation owners in Liberty County moved their slaves inland. Planters started making plans to evacuate their famil­ies from the coastal area.


Liberty County planters in 1862 started raising less cotton and more small grains, sugar cane, fruit. vegetables, and live­stock. They were unable to sell bales of cotton stacked high on many plantations. The Confederate Army needed more food for its troops.


There was a lack of slave supervisors in Liberty County by the second half of 1862. Many plantation owners and their sons were in uniform, and it was impossible to find a qualified young overseer. Plantation women and old men kept the plantations going, but there was a continual fear of slave insurrection.


Corn sold for $1.25 a bushel and cattle at $20 a head to Confederate States agents at the Walthourville railroad depot in October 1862. Few, if any, plantation products were shipped for sale overseas. Liberty County tax collec­tions in 1851 amounted to $5,000. By 1862 the collections had shrunk to about $200.


Primitive Baptist churches in Liberty County were particu­larly harsh with their members during this period of time. Lewis Price J r. (1828-1894) was the son of Lewis and Mary Price of Liberty County. His father was the brother of Viney Price Wells (see Wells Families in Appendix Number 38). Lewis Price Jr. became a member of the Gum Branch Primi­tive Baptist Church, which did not condone Sunday schools, attended Jones Creek Academy \ and while there attended Jones Creek Baptist Church. He returned home and was expelled by the church for receiving religious instructions from another church. He became a Baptist preacher, married Sarah F. Geiger and had eight surviving children, and was pastor of Gum Branch Primitive Baptist Church during the period 1860-1861. The church by then had adopted the practice of Sunday schools.


Salt was scarce in most parts of the South near the end of 1862. There was plenty of salt in the ocean, and Liberty Countians knew how to produce it. Salting operations com­menced in Liberty County near the end of summer 1862.


There was more than one way to extract salt from sea­water. but the simplest way was to dig deep pits in the salt marches, where briney water collected. The water was put into cast iron cauldrons and boiled until the water evaporated and salt remained.


Federal troops never occupied Colonels Island after it was abandoned by its residents on orders from the Confederate Army. Most of the residents had returned to their planta­tions on the island by the autumn of 1862. James A.M. King established a large salting operation on his plantation. He sold the salt in Savannah, Georgia, and gave it free to families of Confederate Army soldiers.


The war structure of Liberty County military organiza­tions was complete by the middle of 1862. It consisted of the Home Guards (Liberty Company), Liberty Mounted Rangers (Liberty Mounted Dragoons), Liberty Guards, Liber­ty Independent Troop, Altamaha Scouts, and Liberty Volun­teers. The Home Guards (Liberty Company) became Company A. Whitehead’s Battalion, Local Defense Troops, Georgia, while the five combat units were all redesignated when they were mustered into the Confederate Army and became a part of major organizations.


In December 1862, Liberty County churches cooperated with the Soldiers Tract Association, a state interdenomina­tional group, to provide Bibles, prayer books, and other religious material for members of the Confederate Army. A “Concert of Prayers” was offered in Liberty County near Christmas 1862 for all members of the Confederate Army.


By late 1862 there were changes of Liberty County offi­cials. When Jesse Brewer, clerk of the Liberty County Inferior Court and Superior Court, went off to war he was replaced by Simon Alexander Fraser, who had previously served in the position. When Joseph William Hughes J r. went off to war the county lost its surveyor, and did not have another one until Hughes returned to the same position in 1866. John Fennell was the sheriff of Liberty County in 1862. He had no deputy for the duration of the war. But he could call on militia units in the county to assist him in an emergency.