Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fessenden Morse: December 24, 1864

Near Savannah, Ga.,
December 24, 1864.

Our campaign has been successfully ended, and we are again in camp preparing for a few weeks' rest and comfort.

Since my note to E–––, we have had the hardest time of the whole campaign since leaving Atlanta. On the 15th, about two P. M., our regiment was ordered to the river; on arriving there, we were shipped on flat boats and crossed to Argyle Island, with considerable difficulty, getting aground once, and being shelled at long range by a rebel gunboat. We camped that night with the Third Wisconsin on a rice plantation. The object of our move was to protect a rice mill which was threshing out rice for the army, and to prepare a crossing into South Carolina. The remainder of our brigade crossed to the island on the 16th. That same morning, our threshing operations were suddenly brought to a standstill by a rebel battery, which opened on us from the South Carolina shore; this caused the most amusing skedaddle of about a hundred negro operatives, men, women and children, that I ever saw.

We got two guns into position and silenced the rebs. On the 19th, after several delays, our regiment, the Third Wisconsin, and the Thirteenth New Jersey, started at daylight, and, under cover of a heavy fog, crossed to the South Carolina side, effecting a landing without loss. We advanced at once, driving in about a brigade of rebel cavalry. After having secured all the desirable positions, we entrenched ourselves, and received the support of the remainder of our brigade and two guns. The enemy were much annoyed by our movement, and in the afternoon made quite a decided attack, charging in one place almost up to the works.

Our position was a peculiar one. With our five regiments, we held a line about two and a half miles long. The whole country is a rice swamp, divided into regular squares by dykes and ditches, with occasional mounds raised a few feet above the water level. On a series of these mounds our regiments were placed, connected along the dykes by a thin line of skirmishers. Our ground being perfectly open and level for miles, we could see every manoeuvre of the enemy.

On the 20th, the enemy pressed as close to our lines as they dared, showing a very superior force to our own, and in the afternoon opened a battery in our front, and fired from a gunboat in our rear, in a manner which was by no means comfortable. Early in the morning of the 21st, news came of the surrender of Savannah, and orders for our immediate crossing into Georgia. Most of our regiments and the two guns were transferred to Argyle Island, when the enemy began to advance rapidly into our old position ; they were easily checked, but with them in our front and a gale blowing on the river, it became a very difficult and dangerous operation to cross. However, by ten P. M., that night, the last man was on the island, though he had to swim the river.

Now I must go back to about four P. M., that same day, when our regiment attempted to cross to the Georgia shore. Arrived at the landing, no boats capable of carrying anybody were to be found. Captain Grafton and I took a light “dugout” and went across to send some over. Two “flats” were found and sent back, and the regiment put on them. The largest of the two, containing the majority of the men, had, with great difficulty, struggled against the wind and tide and nearly reached the shore, when an irresistible gust struck it, turning it round and round, and sending the poor boat up the river towards South Carolina with great speed. Grafton and I pursued them in our light boat, and found them about seven P. M., hard and fast on the lee shore of Hutchison Island, whence, after a deal of work, they were ferried back, a few at a time, to Argyle Island.

Such a row back against the wind as we had is easier imagined than described; however, at twelve at night, we were safe on Georgia soil with a fraction of the regiment. The next day was spent mainly in ferrying the brigade over. Towards night we started for camp, and reached it after a hard march of nine miles. This expedition cost us a few very good men wounded, but no officers.

I haven't as yet heard any estimate of the guns, stores, etc., captured, but I understand that everything was left behind. The city has been well protected since our occupation; the citizens seem very well contented that it has changed hands, and show themselves freely on the streets. We are camped about two miles from the city; the river is not a stone's throw from my tent. We are collecting quite a fleet of light boats, so that we shall have plenty of opportunity for rowing. Our next move will probably be to take Charleston.

SOURCE: Charles Fessenden Morse, Letters Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 199-200

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