After a rather rough voyage of some eighty miles during the night, the ” De Molay ” dropped anchor at 6 A. M. [on the 9th] in the sound off the southern point of St. Simon’s Island. Colonel Shaw landed and rode across the island to report to Colonel Montgomery…
Quartermaster Ritchie issued A and wall tents to the Fifty-fourth on June 10; and all were at work pitching camp and clearing the ground, when a steamer came to the wharf. Colonel Montgomery was on board, and hailing Colonel Shaw from the deck, said, ” How soon can you be ready to start on an expedition?” Colonel Shaw replied, ” In half an hour,” and at once caused the long-roll to be sounded. Hurried preparations were at once made, and at 6 p. M. eight companies of the regiment embarked on the ” Sentinel.” Companies F and C were left behind as a camp guard.
Running down the river to Montgomery’s camp, the armed transport “John Adams” was found with troops on board. Besides the Fifty-fourth, five companies of the Second South Carolina, and a section of Light Battery C, Third Rhode Island Artillery, under Lieut. William A. Sabin, took part in the expedition. Owing to the ” Sentinel ” grounding after proceeding a short distance farther, and the ” Adams ” also running on a shoal, there was long delay waiting for the flood-tide. Not until 1 A. M. did the “Sentinel” run up the coast, entering Doboy Sound at sunrise. There the gunboat “Paul Jones” and the “Harriet A. Weed” joined. Entering the Altamaha River, with the gunboats occasionally shelling houses and clumps of woods, the vessels proceeded until the town of Darien appeared in sight. Then the gunboats searched it with their shells and fired at a few pickets seen east of the place.
At 3 P. M. the troops landed without resistance at some of the deserted wharves. Pickets were posted, and the troops formed in the public square. Only two white women and a few negroes were found. The inhabitants were living at the ” Ridge,” a few miles inland. Some fifteen or twenty men of the Twentieth Georgia Cavalry, under Capt. W. A. Lane, picketed the vicinity, but had retired. Darien, the New Inverness of early days, was a most beautiful town as Montgomery’s forayers entered it that fateful June day. A broad street extended along the river, with others running into it, all shaded with mulberry and oak trees of great size and beauty. Storehouses and mills along the river-bank held quantities of rice and resin. There might have been from seventy-five to one hundred residences in the place. There were three churches, a market-house, jail, clerk’s office, court-house, and an academy.
After forming line, orders came for the Fifty-fourth to make details and secure from the houses such things as would be useful in camp, besides live-stock, resin, lumber, etc. Soon the plundering thus legitimized began. An officer thus describes the scene: —“The men began to come in by twos, threes, and dozens, loaded with every species and all sorts and quantities of furniture, stores, trinkets, etc., till one would be tired enumerating. We had sofas, tables, pianos, chairs, mirrors, carpets, beds, bedsteads, carpenter’s tools, cooper’s tools, books, law-books, account-books in unlimited supply, china sets, tinware, earthenware, Confederate shinplasters, old letters, papers, etc. A private would come along with a slate, yard-stick, and a brace of chickens in one hand, and in the other hand a rope with a cow attached.”
But the crowning act of vandalism is thus set forth in one of Colonel Shaw’s letters: —“After the town was pretty thoroughly disembowelled, he [Montgomery] said to me, ‘ I shall burn this town.’ He speaks in a very low tone, and has quite a sweet smile when addressing you. I told him I did not want the responsibility of it, and he was only too happy to take it all on his own shoulders. . . . The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some; but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, ‘ We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare.’ But that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless.”
By Montgomery’s express orders, therefore, the town was fired, only one company of the Fifty-fourth participating with the Second South Carolina, Montgomery applying the torch to the last buildings with his own hand. Fanned by a high wind, the flames eventually destroyed everything but a church, a few houses, and some lumberworks owned in the North. The schooner “Pet,” with fifty-five bales of cotton for Nassau, lying in a small creek four miles above, was captured, and a flatboat with twenty-five bales near by was also secured.
Our transports had been loaded with plunder, and late in the afternoon the troops re-embarked. Some warehouses had been fired, and the river-bank was a sheet of flame. A few moments’ delay or a change of wind might have resulted disastrously. The heat was so intense that all were driven to the farther side of our boat, and gunbarrels became so hot that the men were ordered to hold them upward. Five miles below the town the steamer anchored. The light of the fire was seen that night at St. Simon’s, fifteen miles away.
June 10, 1863
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