Below is a map of “The Rebel Defences [sic] of Savannah, Georgia.” The map features many Civil War sites and shows the supposed location of the C.S.S. Georgia. It was created by Robert Knox Sneden in 1864, prior to the fall of the city of Savannah. What can you learn about the war around Savannah during this time period? What can you learn about the C.S.S. Georgia? Click on the stars below to find out more about Savannah’s coastal defenses.
Dr. Ed Ayers discussion on the causes of the war
Dr. Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, was the visiting scholar for week one’s discussion on the causes of the war. To listen to his lecture, please click below.
To see the audio index, click here.
March to the Sea: Ebenezer Creek
Week one’s field trip took the participants on a two hour boat trip up the Savannah River to Ebenezer Creek, site of the drowning of fugitive slaves following the Union army. The boat left the dock at River Street in downtown Savannah at 9 a.m. and along the way the group learned about the history of the rice plantations that spread out along the banks of the Savannah River north of town. Remnants of the old rice fields were visible and everyone soaked up the scenery of the tall cypress trees as we passed by. We arrived at Ebenezer around 11 a.m. and, after the boat docked, made the short hike up the road to the Jerusalem Lutheran Church, which was founded in 1734 by the Salzburgers. After exploring the grounds of the historic church and cemetery, including a look at the remains of the Old Augusta Road that U.S. General Jefferson Davis used during his advance on Savannah, the group had lunch at the New Ebenezer Retreat and Conference Center before returning to the boat. Back on the water, the boat left the river and entered into Ebenezer Creek. Large cypress trees grew out of the swampy waters, and everyone had their eyes peeled for alligators. The group arrived at the site of the crossing, now marked by trash and remnants of the pilings of an old wooden bridge. U.S. Gen. Jeff. C. Davis crossed Ebenezer Creek with his 14th Army Corps as it advanced toward Savannah during Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. Davis hastily removed the pontoon bridges over the creek, and hundreds of freed slaves following his army drowned trying to swim the swollen waters to escape the pursuing Confederates. Following a public outcry, Sec. of War Edwin Stanton met with Sherman and local black leaders in Savannah on January 12, 1865. Four days later, President Lincoln approved Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15, confiscating over 400,000 acres of coastal property and redistributing it to former slaves in 40-acre tracts. After floating near the site for awhile to discuss the event, the boat returned to the river and quickly made its way toward Savannah, outrunning the usual June afternoon thunderstorm.
Dr. Todd Groce, president and CEO of GHS, talks about the movement of Sherman’s 14th Army Corps, leading up to the controversial and tragic events at Ebenezer Creek.
From the Collection
Georgia Ordinance of Secession
JK9784 .A15 1861
Journal of the public and secret proceedings of the Convention of the people of Georgia: held in Milledgeville and Savannah in 1861: together with the ordinances adopted
Includes communications from commissioners and officers of other states relative to secession, the constitution of the Confederate States of America, etc.
Elizabeth Brown Pryor
Elizabeth Brown Pryor, author of Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through His Private Letters and winner of the Lincoln Prize and Jefferson Davis Award, was week two’s visiting scholar. To learn more about her experience, see below.
Elizabeth Brown Pryor presented a half-day program on the critical—and sometimes wrenching—decisions Americans had to make in 1861. The program began with an examination of how Robert E. Lee came to his historic determination to side with the South. Using new materials, she showed that his decision was far from inevitable. Lee had multiple considerations, including his allegiance to the United States army, his belief that America’s “limits contain no North, no South, no East, no West, but embrace the broad Union, in all its might & strength, present & future,” and the advice of his relatives, a large number of whom supported the Federal government. She then led the class in analyzing nine true case studies of families and individuals who had to wrestle with competing loyalties as the nation divided. These histories were presented as problem-solving exercises. The complex financial, political, and emotional concerns of each case were laid out, and the class analyzed the choices available to each person. Figures from all regions and both genders were included. They ranged from well-known personalities, such as JEB Stuart, whose father-in-law was a Union general and an important role model, and who never again spoke to Stuart, to Pryor’s own great-great grandfather, who fought for the Union, although the rest of his Virginia family supported the South. Most of the cases ended in surprise decisions, illustrating the agonizing nature of the situation and underscoring the fact that there was nothing certain in the way that individuals, North or South, responded to the crisis.
A Visit to Fort Pulaski
Week two’s excursion was a short drive out to Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, at the mouth of the Savannah River. Participants went on a park ranger guided tour of the fort, learning about the history of the fort and the weapons used there, as well as the story of the Battle of Fort Pulaski. In 1829, then second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Robert E. Lee was ordered to Cockspur Island outside of Savannah, Ga. to build a fort on the marshy island that would command the outlet of the Savannah River. Lee was involved in the early stages of construction as the island was being drained and built up, but was transferred to Fort Monroe in 1831. The fort was completed in 1847, and following the secession of South Carolina in 1860 was taken over by troops of the state of Georgia. In February 1861, Georgia joined the Confederacy and the fort was occupied by Confederate soldiers. Robert E. Lee returned to Fort Pulaski in 1861, this time as a general in command of the Confederate coastal defenses along the Carolina, Georgia and eastern Florida seaboard. After serving most of his career as an engineer, Lee was there to give orders and recommendations for the defense of the fort. By April 1862, Union forces occupied nearby Tybee Island and had begun construction of a battery along the beaches. Fort Pulaski, thought to be impenetrable because of its location out of the range of artillery, was captured by Union troops on April 11 after successful shelling with new rifled cannons that were able to fire significantly further and were able to breach the walls of the fort.
Park Ranger Joel Cadoff talks about Robert E. Lee’s involvement in the construction, and later on, the defense of Fort Pulaski outside of Savannah, Ga.
From the Collection
Robert E. Lee papers, 1838-1871
This collection consists of correspondence and photographs of Robert E. Lee. The contents reflect his military service at Fort Pulaski, military maneuvers, honorary membership in the Bartow Debating Society and the Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine Company, and ongoing correspondence with Annie W. Owens.
Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) was born in Virginia. He graduated from West Point and was assigned to the Engineer Department. His first service was at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island on the Savannah River, then under construction. After serving in several other posts, he became Assistant Chief Engineer in Washington, D.C. He was in the Mexican War under Gen. Winfield Scott. He was for several years Superintendent of West Point. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was offered the field command of the U.S. Army which he refused and soon resigned from his post. In 1861, he was appointed commander of the Virginia forces and served as military adviser to President Jefferson Davis with the rank of General. In 1862, he assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia and in 1865, he was General-In-Chief of all Confederate armies. He surrendered to Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865. After the war he became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia where he remained until his death. After his death the name of the College was changed to Washington and Lee University.
Dr. David Blight’s discussion on memory and emancipation
Dr. David Blight, professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, was week three’s visiting scholar. To listen to his lecture, click below.
To see the audio index, click here.
The group set out early during week three’s trip down to Sapelo Island, an hour’s drive south of Savannah and home to the Geechee community of Hog Hammock. Sapelo Island is one of Georgia’s many barrier islands and is remote, only accessible by a 20 minute ferry ride. Upon arrival at the island’s ferry dock, we were taken by bus to meet and hear from Buddy Sullivan, manager of NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System on Sapelo, who gave us a history of the island. Sapelo, now owned by the state of Georgia, was formerly owned by the tobacco millionaire R.J. Reynolds Jr. and we were given a tour of his mansion and estate, part of which now houses the University of Georgia Marine Institute. After the tour, we arrived at Hog Hammock to have lunch with Cornelia Walker Bailey, a leading preserver of Geechee culture on the island. The Geechee, also known as Gullah in other areas, are the direct descendants of West African slaves, brought to the island by plantation owner Thomas Spalding, who have been living on the island with a culture that has remained relatively unchanged because of the islands’ isolation. As the group ate lunch, everyone listened to stories that Bailey told about how life used to be on the island, how the religion of the Geechee’s is a mix of Islamic and Christian beliefs and how they are fighting to preserve their culture against development and a dwindling population that is forced to leave to find education and employment. After enjoying our lunch and saying our goodbyes we made a short stop at the beach to soak up views of the Atlantic, and returned to the dock for the ferry and van ride home.
Cornelia Walker Bailey, from the Geechee community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island, talks about tracing her ancestry back to Bilali, an African Muslim slave who served as island owner Thomas Spalding’s head slave manager.
From the Collection
Owens and Thomas family papers, 1837-1954
The February 5, 1865 edition of the Savannah Republican newspaper. The front page article gives an account by U.S. General Rufus Saxton at the Second African Baptist Church in Savannah on the meaning of emancipation and the results of the meeting between U.S. General William T. Sherman and U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. The meeting resulted in the issuing of Sherman’s “Special Field Orders, No. 15”, which confiscated 400,000 acres of coastal land in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina for redistribution to former slaves.
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands records, 1865-1869
This collection contains photocopies of letters and lists from the Bureau of Refugee, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands’ branch in Savannah, Georgia from 1865 to 1869. These records detail the efforts of this agency to assist the newly freed slaves throughout coastal Georgia including Chatham County, McIntosh County, Glynn County, Liberty County, Ossabaw Island, and St. Catherine’s Island. The originals of these documents may be accessed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Abraham Lincoln commemorative ribbon – 1892
Abraham Lincoln commemorative ribbon, image of Lincoln with a scroll labeled ”emancipation proclamation” below. The inscription at the bottom, ”With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Dr. David Blight’s discussion
Dr. Blight returns for week four’s discussion. To listen to his lecture, click below.
To see the audio index, click here.
The final week of the seminar the participants met at Hodgson Hall, headquarters of the Georgia Historical Society, to go on a walking tour of downtown Savannah and see the monuments, markers and statues that commemorate the war and the people involved. The group started with a walk through Forsyth Park to the Confederate Monument, where Dr. Groce explained the history of the monument. We continued down Bull Street stopping at markers dedicated to the Union Army headquarters at what is now the Oglethorpe Club, and then on to General Sherman’s headquarters at the Green-Meldrim House. From there we made our way to see the Beach Institute, opened in 1867 as the first school in Savannah designed for the education of African-Americans. We stopped off at the Second African Baptist Church, where General Rufus Saxton read Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 to the citizens of Savannah and promised the newly freed slaves, “40 acres and a mule.” The group finally made its way down to the river and the slavery memorial depicting an African-American family with broken shackles at their feet, whose inscription by Maya Angelou reads, “We were stolen, sold and bought together from the African continent. We got on the slave ships together. We lay back to belly in the holds of the slave ships together in each other’s excrement and urine together, sometimes died together, and our lifeless bodies thrown overboard together. Today we are standing up together, with faith and even some joy.”
Dr. Todd Groce, of GHS, talks about the history of the Confederate Monument in Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, Ga.
From the Collection
Helen Dortch Longstreet papers, 1904-1941
This collection consists primarily of correspondence, with the majority consisting of carbon copies of letters written by Helen Dortch Longstreet. A large portion of the collection describes her efforts to clear General Longstreet’s name. She attempted this through speeches, publications, the Longstreet memorial Association, and the Longstreet Memorial Exhibit, both at the New York World’s Fair of 1938 and the Golden Gate Exposition of 1940. There are also photographs of the exhibit, the Longstreet Memorial and the 75th Gettysburg Reunion.
Confederate Memorial Day pin – 1902
Robert Hunt’s Confederate Memorial Day pin from Dallas, Texas, 1902