Monday, January 13, 2014

January 14, 1864 (Wednesday): To Put An End To The War

General Raleigh A. Colston

Savannah, Ga., January 14, 1864.
Brigadier General THOMAS JORDAN,
Chief of Staff, Charleston, S. C.:
     GENERAL: The past two or three days have brought to light a bad state of affairs here. Among the troops stationed at the batteries on Rose Dew Island, mouth of the Little Ogeechee River, there are at least a few men of bad spirit who have been attempting to excite the troops there and at other points around Savannah to acts of insubordination and desertion. It is to be feared even that a spirit of discontent has spread throughout the whole command at Rose Dew, extending possibly to other companies.
    As reported by a corporal stationed at Beauleiu, the conspirators proposed to march away from their post on the island yesterday evening, going in a body with their arms to the interior of this State. They expressed themselves tired of the war and said they thought such a step on their part would end it. A secret oath had been exacted of all admitted to their confidence not to divulge their intentions.
Believing these reports might be well founded, I advised Brigadier-General Mercer, commanding the District of Georgia, to send Colonel Olmstead's regiment and a part of Colonel Gordon's command
last evening to take position near the Little Ogeechee to observe the enemy in his threatened advance from that quarter, with private instructions to watch the garrison at Rose Dew Island.
These dispositions were made and the suspected troops watched. No movement was attempted by them during the night.
    By order of General Mercer a board of officers is now engaged in a rigid investigation of the whole matter, and as soon as the facts are known the guilty men will be arrested and placed in close confinement for trial and punishment. This spirit of discontent has ripened into an intent to desert under the influence of idleness, a want of active service for officers and men, and I am satisfied it will be best to exchange some of the troops here for others, sending the disaffected to Charleston or some other point where they will be in the presence of the enemy.
    The companies at Rose Dew are Company F (Captain J. W. Anderson), Company I (Captain Elkins), Fifty-fourth Georgia Regiment, and Jackson Guards (Captain Tanner), who claims to belong to the Fourth Florida Battalion, but is considered here as commanding an independent company. There are two other companies of the Fifty-fourth Georgia Regiment here, commanded by Captains Russell and Brantley; the latter is with the siege train.
    As a change of duty may be the means of improving the tone of these disaffected troops, I propose to order the four companies of Colonel Way's regiment, Fifty-fourth Georgia, and the Jackson Guards, Captain Tanner, to the Third Military District of South Carolina, and replace them here by the Twelfth Georgia Battalion, Major Hanvey.
     The Fifty-seventh Georgia Regiment should be sent on duty in presence of the enemy, say at Charleston or some other point, and another regiment sent here to replace it. The men of this regiment complain, as stated by Brigadier-General Colston, that they were not properly exchanged after their capture at Vicksburg. Will the commanding general take these troops to Charleston and send a good regiment to replace them here? If this cannot be done, perhaps an exchange might be arranged so as to bring a regiment from the Army of Tennessee or from Virginia.
     The inclosed report from Brigadier-General Colston gives a clear statement of what has transpired up to this hour, and I concur fully in the recommendations therein made. Prompt action will probably be the means of avoiding future trouble, and add to the general efficiency of our available strength.
The individuals found guilty of exciting their companions in arms to discontent and desertion should be promptly punished.
     I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

     J. F. GILMER,
    Major-General and Second in Command.

January 14, 1864.
Captain G. A. MERCER,
Assistant Adjutant-General:
SIR: On Tuesday, 12th instant, a communication was received from Captain Hanleiter, commanding Beaulieu Battery, to the effect that a non-commissioned officer had informed him of the existence of a plot among the garrison at Rose Dew, the purpose of which was to abandon the post at Rose Dew with arms, ammunition, &c., to win over the troops at Beaulieu if possible, to advance toward Savannah, taking with them the Terrell Artillery at White Bluff, whose adhesion was considered certain, also some State troops camped on the Skidaway road, and to come to the camp of the Fifty-seventh Georgia, upon whom they seemed to rely as ready to join them, the whole to make their way to the interior of the country, their avowed purpose being to induce by their example as many of the troops as possible to imitate them and by refusing to bear arms any longer "to put an end to the war." The plot was to be executed on last night. I immediately send Captain W. T. Taliaferro, my assistant adjutant-general, to Beaulieu and Rose Dew to investigate the matter. In the mean time an order was sent from district headquarters for the arrest of Private Coleman, Company F, Fifty-fourth Georgia, and he was sent on to the barracks at Savannah. From the result of investigations made by Major Hartridge, commanding at Rose Dew, and Captain Taliaferro it became evident that the plot, which at first appeared so improbable, did really exist.
    On yesterday I ordered about 300 men from the First Georgia Regiment and the First Florida Battalion, under the command of Colonel Olmstead, First Georgia, to repair to the causeway connecting Rose Dew Island with the mainland and cut off the communication between the two. Captain Guerard's battery of artillery was ordered to support him. One hundred and fifty men from the Sixty-third Georgia Regiment, under Major Allen, were ordered to report to Colonel Olmstead. These movements of troops were made ostensibly for the purpose of meeting some demonstrations of the enemy by way of the Ogeechee.
    No attempt of any kind was made on last night by the garrison at Rose Dew. The arrest of Coleman and the concentration of troops has evidently frustrated the design, but from the report of Sergeant Hinson to Captain Tanner (Jackson Guards, at Rose Dew), the attempt was not given up until late yesterday evening. Another non-commissioned officer confessed last night to Captain Tanner that nearly the whole company had agreed to go off that night. All the parties concerned were pledged to secrecy by an oath.
     A board has been ordered by district headquarters to investigate further into the matter. The troops sent to Rose Dew to check any attempt will remain there until further orders. I would respectfully offer the following suggestions:
     First. That a court-martial be convened forthwith for the immediate trial of the parties implicated; that the proceedings of this court be revised at once by the proper authority and the sentences be immediately carried into effect. A terrible and very prompt punishment is indispensable in such an extreme case.
     Second. That the troops at Rose Dew be removed from that post and their place supplied by others upon whom reliance can be placed.
    Third. That the Fifty-seventh Georgia Regiment be transferred either to the Army of Tennessee or of Virginia. The spirit of this regiment (the Fifty-seventh Georgia) is bad. The troops say that they have never been properly exchanged, and the impression prevails, probably with good reason, that they will not fight if brought before the enemy. They are demoralized by the influence of home, to which they are too near, their friends and relatives persuading them that they have not been properly exchanged and ought to be at home. Their presence here may have a bad effect upon the other troops and their spirit and tone may be improved by removal to more distant points.
    It will be necessary, of course, to send other troops in the place of those removed.
    I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    R. E. COLSTON,
    Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 35, Part 1, Pages 529-532.

This is one of the most advanced plots at mutiny during the war.  The plan was to take the command and march on Savannah and then to the interior of Georgia, inducing troops they encountered along the way to end the war.  It had little hope of success, but it another reflection of the dire state of affairs in the Confederacy at the start of 1864.  A key point made by Colston is that being close to home actually acted as an inducement to mutiny, as it was too easy to be influenced by a civilian population much more disenchanted with the war than the military was.

No comments:

Post a Comment