Baptists and the American Civil War: December 28, 1864

Scenes from Savannah 1862Savannah remains the focus of headlines one week after the city’s capture by Sherman as the news slowly makes its way into smaller towns and outlying areas. Raleigh, North Carolina’s Daily Progress is among today’s newspapers reporting the fall of the port city.

Also today, William A. Rockwell, previously a colonel who remained in Savannah following the Confederate’s evacuation of the city, presents, at a public meeting in Savannah, resolutions directed to President Lincoln. The subject matter pertains to loyalties and involves a number of Savannah’s leading men.

The meeting and resolutions set in motion a months-long process in which Federal officials attempt to sort out who had remained loyal to the “Northern Government” during the war, and those who had not.

Following the war, today’s meeting and resolutions are critical in reconstructing the city. The commanding Union officer in the larger Hilton Head district in May 1865 writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, informing the Secretary of his inquiry into the loyalties or disloyalties of leading citizens remaining in the city. Determining that only one of about a dozen of certain leading men remained loyal to the United States during the war, the commander nevertheless reports that all are now prepared to submit to the “Northern Government.”

Meanwhile, an official in nearby Union-controlled Beaufort, South Carolina today composes a report of another kind: the status of freedmen instructional efforts in Beaufort since Sherman’s march. Beaufort, along with Savannah, is a center of black Baptist activity in the Deep South.

Beaufort S. C. Dec 28, 1864

Rev. M. E. Striety
New York

Dear Brother,

Your letter of the 16th by the Arago was duly recvd. but I was not able to reply by her return, our first installment of

Freedmen from Gen Sherman’s army came in to Beaufort on Sunday eve 700 strong, many more are expected to follow.

Most of them will be located out of town on the various Plant. Whether they will enlarge our schools so that more teachers will be needed is more than I can now tell. Two of our schools are to be taken possession of by the Tax commissioners on the first of Jan. next.They are about to establish schools on several of the “School Farms” under their own control, teachers on said farms will be removed, unless transferred to their employ. This transfer will doubtless bebewst, where all parties can agree, rather than have strangers come into these schools.

The schools thus established by the commissioners are to be Govt. Schools, supported by the income from the “school farms.”

 It does not seem quite fair for them thus to take schools where other societies have been at work, but I see no way to help it. Several of the N. F. R. schools, fare the same as ours.

 Your construction of my call for teachers is correct. Those for regimental teaching, must come prepared for sold. life.

 Bro Sisson concludes to return to his old field near Seabrook. The man and wife can take the place where Bro ? and sister have been for a few weeks, send them soon as possible. They will need every thing for housekeeping. It is on a plant. some seven miles from town. I cannot say definitely as to the condition of the house or pleasantness of location as I have not seen them, I judge from what others say they are very fair.

I hope to visit Savannah soon and see what is wanting there. What is to be done in this business of getting teachers down here, should be done quickly.

I have written Mrs. Valentine I see no opening for them, under the present circumstances.

Miss Marshall finds some difference I presume between talking and practicing self-denial. She may yet make a good veteran.

Miss Phillips and Foot are both teaching in town.

The Twichell girls and Mrs. Fowler have near 200 scholars in their schools. My health is some better.

Shermon’s glorious march to our shore fills us all with joy and thanksgiving. I have seen numbers of his men and several of the chaplains, they all speak of their march as a “pleasure excursion”. I think Gen Sherman has an army of invincibles.

His men have the utmost confidence in him and are ready to do whatever he asks of them.

Our weather is like May now. Frogs, Birds and crickets are singing to cheer us and the Thunder is rolling in the heavens as I am writing. Strange Christmas weather you will say

Yours in love
W. J. Richardson

Strange weather it may be, but fitting to the simultaneously tumultuous and joyous days along the Georgia and South Carolina coast.

Sources: Daily Progress, December 28, 1864 (link); Q. A. Gillmore to E. M Stanton, May 29, 1865 (link); “Report on Teachers in Beaufort since Sherman’s March, December 28, 1864” (link)