The Civil War (1864)

A regular election of Liberty County officials was held on January 1, 1864. Jesse Brewer, a first lieutenant in the Liber­ty Volunteers, ran for and was elected clerk of the Liberty County Inferior and Superior Courts. He resigned his com­mission on February 6, 1864, and returned home to take up his duties.


Major General William T. Sherman, commanding general of the Military Division of the Mississippi, and 99,000 federal troops, crossed into Georgia from Tennessee in May 1864. In less than four months they had captured and burned most, but not all, of Atlanta, Georgia.


The 29th Battalion, Georgia Cavalry, was by now stationed in Liberty County. It was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Hood, who also commanded all military operations in McIntosh and Screven counties. His headquarters was at Flemington.


By spring 1864 troops from federal ships lying off the Georgia coast were raiding Confederate Army positions in areas just south of Liberty County. On one occasion, U.S. Marines landed at Darien, and then marched north and cap­tured 35 Confederate Army troops in their camp on the South Newport River in McIntosh County. The raiders continued marching and stopped just south of Riceboro. They then returned to their ship. All of the action took place with little, or no, opposition from Confederate Army troops. This caused considerable criticism by Liberty County people of Lieuten­ant Colonel Hood.


Elsewhere in the war, the Liberty Mounted Rangers on May 28, 1864, suffered almost complete annihilation in a battle with federal troops at Haws Shop, Virginia. Its com­manding officer, Captain W.G. Thompson, was killed, and its executive officer, First Lieutenant Benjamin S. Screven, was badly wounded.


The four other Liberty County combat units were in North Georgia, and fought parallel battles with federal troops after the federal army started its march to Atlanta, Georgia. Almost all members of the Liberty Guards were either killed, wounded, or captured at the Battle of Noonday Church on June 20, 1864. Captain Samuel D. Bradwell, commanding officer of the Liberty Volunteers, was badly wounded during the Battle of Atlanta, but managed to make his way back to Hinesville.


It was by now apparent to Confederate Army officials that Southeast Georgia would soon become a combat arena. Near the end of September 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Hood ordered his troops in McIntosh County to start building defenses on the north side of the Altamaha River at the Doctortown railroad bridge.


Colonel Charles C. Jones Jr. came to Flemington and other Confederate Army camps in Liberty County and spoke to the troops trying to bolster their morale. The troops in Liberty County were by now short of everything they needed to survive. Most of them believed that the South had already lost the war.


Members of Liberty County plantation families were sent by train to Thomasville, Georgia, where it was believed they would be safe from the war. Thomasville was crowded with refugees. Room and board for one person for one night was $100 Confederate currency. Some planters and their families managed to board commercial vessels and sailed for England and France, where they had bank deposits. Some of them were never again seen in Liberty County, while others sur­faced in Liberty County years after the war.


Major General Sherman and his army commenced a march of devastation from Atlanta, Georgia, to Savannah, Georgia, in November 1864. “We are not fighting armies,” Major General Sherman wrote, “but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor. feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies.” He and his army were at the edge of Savannah by early December 1864.


Major General Sherman deployed his forces around Sa­vannah when he became certain that the city could not be captured without a fight. By December 10, 1864, the 14th Corps was on the right of Savannah touching the Savannah River, the 20th Corps was next, then the 17th Corps, and then the 15th Corps on the extreme right. Confederate Army troops inside of Savannah were commanded by Lieutenant General William H. Hardee.


Brigadier General Henry K. McKay and the Fourth Bri­gade, Georgia Militia, by this time were preparing to defend the Doctortown railroad bridge over the Altamaha River to keep the railroad running south of Liberty County. They built earthworks on the north side of the river at Morgans Lake. They fortified the earthworks, and collected stray Con­federate Army troops to bolster their individual firepower.


Major General Sherman’s army at Savannah numbered about 60,000 troops. It had for the most part lived off the land during the march from Atlanta to Savannah. Now, it was immobile and food and supplies had to be brought to it. U.S. ships with food and supplies layoff the Georgia coast, but there was no port they could use.


Major General Sherman ordered Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick and his cavalry division to capture the Genesis Point Battery (Fort McAllister) and open the Ogeechee River to U.S. supply ships. The cavalrymen and their horses swam the Ogeechee River, tried to capture the fortification, and failed. They then went on to set up foraging operations in Bryan and Liberty counties.


Major General Sherman ordered Major General William B. Hazen and divisional troops of the 15th Corps to capture the Genesis Point Battery (Fort McAllister). They built a bridge over the Ogeechee River for the heavy artillery on the night of December 12, 1864, and at sunrise the next morning crossed the river. By five that afternoon they had captured the fortification.


Brigadier General Kilpatrick and his troops established foraging operations in Bryan County, and arrived in Liberty County on December 13, 1864. They encountered elements of the 29th Battalion, Georgia Cavalry, there were skirmishes, and the Confederate Army troops retreated to the Altamaha River. The federal troops then went on to open the port at Sunbury.


James R. Morgan was a small boy living at Sunbury. He later recalled events of December 13, 1864:


The yankee troops reached Sunbury in the early afternoon, and by four they had the Sunbury Baptist Church on fire as a signal to federal gunboats anchored off Saint Catherines Island. The federal gunboats came into the Sunbury harbor the next morning and occupied the town. They would have been unable to take the town without the help of land forces, because Sunbury was well fortified with heavy breastworks.


Elements of the cavalry corps, Army of Tennessee, com­manded by Brigadier General Alfred Iverson engaged federal troops in a skirmish at Hinesville on December 16, 1864. The Confederate Army troops withdrew to the Canoo­chee River to rejoin what was left of their parent unit.


There were five 50-man foraging parties in Liberty Coun­ty, each assigned an overall task of stripping a particular part of the county of its food and livestock. Emphasis was placed on coastal areas of the county where the large plantations were located.


Each foraging party had its own commander. It first took horses and mules to pull wagons and other conveyances loaded with food and poultry. Livestock was driven on foot. Foraging headquarters were set up in Midway Church, Tran­quil Academy, and Taylors Creek Methodist Church. Con­solidated wagon trains were formed at Midway Church for the journey to Savannah, Georgia.


The foraging parties were protected by U.S. Army infan­try. If the troops thought any civilian they encountered con­stituted a threat to their security, they were either shot or taken prisoner. The prisoners were marched with the wagon trains to confinement centers outside of Liberty County.