Baptists and the American Civil War: October 20, 1862

Scenes from Savannah 1862War-time conditions in Savannah, Georgia are deteriorating, although enthusiasm for and loyalty to the Confederacy among Southern-born white citizens seemingly remains undaunted. A Northern-born resident of Savannah — A. G. Spencer, a merchant by profession — describes life in Savannah this month, as related by a New York Times reporter to whom merchant Spencer discusses the city’s condition.

…. The population of Savannah, usually about 25,000, is at present something less than 15,000, and business is almost at a stand still. Two out of five of the stores and other places of business are closed, and those remaining open have a very meagre stock of goods, and are doing next to nothing in the way of trade. The blockade of the city he considers almost perfect, and does not think it worth while for the Government to spend another cent to make it more effective. All manufactured and imported goods are extremely high, and scarcely to be had at any price. Ordinary boots bring $30 a pair, and $20 is charged for footing old ones. Coats worth in New-York $15, bring from $40 to $50, and pants from $20 to $25. Tea is worth $10 per pound; coffee 75 cents; butter $1, and other things in proportion. Flour is $42 a barrel, with a limited supply on hand, as the wheat crop of that region has proved almost a total failure. The crop of corn, however, has been good this season, and it is now selling in Savannah at 50 cents a bushel; though, previous to the gathering of the new crop, it brought $2. There is great suffering among the poorer classes of the city, and their prospects for the future are daily growing worse, as the contributions of the wealthy for the support of the soldiers’ families, which were freely given at the beginning of the war, are now greatly diminished, from the inability of the contributors, and from the fact that many of them have been themselves forced into the army through the conscription act. The conscription has been very thorough, and almost every ablebodied man, from 18 to 35, is now in the army. The second conscription, which is to include all between the ages of 35 and 45, had not been enforced when Mr. SPENCER left, but he thinks it will add one-third to the fighting force of the Confederacy, which he estimates at present to be about 400,000 effective men.

The available troops in and about Savannah at the time he left, he thinks did not exceed 3,000, but it was currently reported that the Confederate Government were about to station 40,000 soldiers in the city. Gen. BEAUREGARD arrived at Savannah on the 18th of September, and formally took command of the defence of that city and Charleston on the 19th. Gen. PEMBERTON, who was previously in command at Savannah, was ordered to Richmond. Great preparations have been made and are now in progress for the defence of Savannah, and Mr. SPENCER thinks if an attempt is made to capture the city by land it will require a strong force. Every road leading out of the city has been fortified for three or four miles in extent, and batteries have been erected on the South side of the river at intervals all the way from the city to Fort Jackson. The high bluff in the city limits, where the gas works are located, has been mounted with eight cannons of the largest calibre. Besides these, a line of fortifications is now being erected around the entire city, commencing on the river above the city and running round and intersecting the river below. Over 2,000 negroes are at present working on these fortifications.

The water defences of the city consist of the floating batteries Georgia and Fingal, and obstructions thrown in the river. These obstructions are placed about a mile below Fort Jackson, and consist, first, of rows of spiles driven into the bed of the river, and running across from bank to bank, and, second, of wooden cribs from fifteen to twenty feet square, filled with stone and sunk in the bottom of the river. The cribs are forty or fifty rods below the spiles.

As for the floating batteries, Mr. SPENCER does not think they will amount to much, and says very little reliance is placed on them by the people of Savannah as a defence for the city….

The feeling of the citizens of Savannah with reference to the rebellion, Mr. SPENCER represents as being nearly unanimous in favor of continuing the course they have begun, and of never yielding until they have gained their independence. Many of them openly declare that they would prefer becoming the subjects of a foreign Power to a reunion with the National Government. Not a few openly avowed that they had meditated the movement for twenty years past, and that in the election of LINCOLN they saw their opportunity. The Northern men, of whom there are a great many in Savannah, as well as all the Southern cities, are mostly Union men at heart, but they are obliged to disavow or at the best to conceal their sentiments. There is however, nothing like the reign of terror visiting them at present, that there was at the begining of the rebellion. The “Rattlesnake Club” and “Vigilance Committee,” at whose instigations so many outrages were committed on Union men and strangers at the commencement of the movement, have pretty much died out. The better class of citizens were compelled to discountenance them in self-preservation, and to save their whole social fabric from tumbling into anarchy, and their opposition, together with the fact that the leading desperadoes, with most of their rank and file, have found their way into the army, has at length relieved the city from much of the terrorism that formerly existed. Considerable freedom of expression is now allowed, provided it is judiciously indulged in, and with reference to the demerits of the neighboring State of South Carolina, the utmost latitude is permitted and even approved. Mr. SPENCER says he has often openly expressed the hope that the war would not end until Charleston was utterly extinguished and blotted off the map, and his sentiments always met with an approving echo. They accuse Charleston of having got them into the scrape, and charge cowardice upon the South Carolina troops in battle.

At the time of the capture of Port Royal Mr. SPENCER says Savannah could have been taken with the utmost ease. It was the universal expectation that it would be taken, and the failure of the Government to follow up the victory at Port Royal greatly disheartened the Union men in Savannah. If the city ever should be captured he says the Government will find the same state of things existing as at New-Orleans; there will be no manifestations of Union feeling until it is settled beyond a doubt that the Government is able to maintain its position. With reference to the emancipation proclamation of the President, Mr. SPENCER is of the opinion that it will prove to be impolitic. The news of the proclamation had not reached Savannah when he left, but it had been long anticipated; and the repeated averments in Southern newspapers that the Federal Government intended to adopt such a measure has already, as he thinks, added 10,000 soldiers to the Confederate army. The Union men of the South, who have heretofore argued that the war on the part of the United States was for the maintenance of the Government and the supremacy of the Constitution and laws, will now be met with the remark: “There, I told you this was a war for the niggers,” and the result would be that every man would be forced to take sides with the South. This advantage to the Union cause he thinks will not be counterbalanced, as many who favor the measure anticipate, by any efforts on the part of the negroes themselves calculated to strengthen the arm of the National Government, or weaken that of its enemies. He deems the idea absurd, that the mass of plantation negroes in the interior will, in consequence of this measure, be induced to strike a blow for their own freedom, or in fact that they will ever hear of the proclamation.

Against this backdrop of tension within the city, the Savannah Ladies’ Christian Association, an organization that helps meet the needs of Confederate soldiers, assembles today at the First Baptist Church, as announced in the Savannah Republican.

There will be a special meeting of the Savannah Ladies’ Christian Association, at the Lecture Room of the Baptist Church, (Whitaker street entrance,) This Morning at 10 o’clock.  The object of the meeting is to commence working up the material which has been given for the soldiers, and we cordially invite and earnestly insist upon the attendance of all the ladies in the city who are willing to co-operate in providing our suffering army with comforts.  The work should be speedily done, as their necessities are urgent, hence the importance of aid from all who are able and willing to assist.  The ladies will assemble at the hour of ten, from day to day, until their mission is accomplished.  They will please come provided with thimbles, scissors, &c.
By Order of the Directress.

In Southern towns and cities across the Confederacy, the local Baptist church frequently serves as a meeting place for women’s relief organizations who are at work making clothing and gathering supplies for Confederate soldiers who are often ill-clothed and ill-fed.

Sources: “Matters and Things in Savannah,” New York Times, October 7, 1862 (link); “Savannah Ladies Christian Association,” Savannah Republican, October 20, 1862 (link)