Thursday, May 26, 2011

Putting Order to Chaos: Treasure Discovered in Miscellaneous Collection

By Craig Glass

Walking into the Department of Archives & History research area
reveals a room filled with indexed cabinets of film in perfect order
and reference desk aides who can point you to just about any official
records that the state has ever kept since it was a Province (not even
a Colony yet!) in 1671. But things weren't always so organized.

In the 1880's and 1890's, the official South Carolina Confederate
Historian attempted to collect and compile service records of all
South Carolina units. Large sheets of paper with standardized rows
and columns were included with letters sent to veterans of the "late
unpleasantness" all across the country, especially to unit Captains
and other officers. These letters asked anyone who had original
Muster Rolls, which were detailed unit rosters, to compile information about his unit and return the large papers, filled-in of course. When
the documents came back, there were some surprises, including several original Rolls from the battlefields, some personal recollections of war stories, and other State and Confederate records. At some point, these documents and others relating to the Civil War period were packed up into fourteen boxes, unorganized and possibly done in a rush, personal letters mixed with compiled Muster Rolls mixed with
General Assembly Resolutions from the era, and more.

Of particular note was a compiled Roll of "Brooks' Battalion of
Foreigners". Inside were listed the officers of the Battalion and a
handwritten letter from one of them, describing the amazing story:

Genl M. L. Bonham, Jr.,
Adjt + Insp. General of So. Ca.
Sir, During the Summer, or Fall, of 1864 when the Confederate forces had been reduced almost to an army of cripples and there were no more old men or boys from whom to get recruits, and when the Federal authorities, after having arrayed against us men from nearly every race of Europe, had armed the negroes and placed them in their ranks, the Confederate authorities conceived the idea of forming battalions from federal prisoners of war of foreign birth who would take the oath of allegiance and join our ranks. On the 16th May 1864 at Drewry’s Bluff, Capt. J. H. Brooks had been wounded in three places and lost nearly all of his Co. “H”, Nelson’s (7th) S.C. Battalion and had been mentioned by Genl Hagood (who regarded him as one of his best officers) in his report of the battle for “Conspicuous gallantry”. After his recovery from his wounds Capt. Brooks was selected to command one of the foreign battalions authorized to be raised and about the 10th October 1864 proceeded to organize the same at Summerville S.C. under the name of “Brooks’ Battalion of Regulars”. The Battalion was composed of men of nearly all European Nations (including an Italian who could not speak English) but the Irish and Germans predominated. A large number of men from the Northern States (some pretending to be Englishmen) escaped the vigilance of Maj. Black, of Genl. Hardee’s Staff, who enlisted them and became, unfortunately, members of the command. During Dec. 1864 Companies A, B, C and D, were ordered to Honey Hill but arriving too late to take part in that fight, were sent to Savannah where, most injudiciously, they were placed on most important outposts.
On, or about, the night of Dec. 16th 1864 this command was stationed on one side of a Rice Field with the Federal troops on the other side, a dam on each side of the Encampment connecting the two. On each of these dams were two militia pickets and at the head of one of the dams there were two field pieces commanded by Captain Simkins. About 7¼ O’clock p.m. a Sergeant of Co. “A” called Capt. Martin into a tent and told him that there would be a mutiny at Eight O’clock p.m., that the men had received a message from Genl. Sherman threatening that they would all be killed if he captured Savannah and found them in arms. Consequently they had planned to go over to the enemy in a body and to buck and gag the officers and take them with them. If the officers resisted (which they expected them to do) they were to be killed and taken anyhow. Capt. Brooks, Capt. Minott and Lieut. Goodwin went for assistance with which to capture the men. Capt. Martin, being officer of the day and Second in Command, for an hour and a half, or more, was left in was left in command of the camp, assisted by Captains Wardlaw and Simkins. Lieut Teuten was sent away as being a useless sacrifice. The men became very insubordinate, one company “B” going so far as to buck the stacks of arms in order to commence the mutiny and desertion. By the coolness and address of the officers, however, the rising was delayed until Col. Brooks and Capt. Minott arrived with militia troops and captured the command. The ringleaders were punished in accordance with the provisions of the army regulations and the men were taken to Savannah but the former officers of the Battalion were given a Guard and put in charge of them. Through the kindness of Maj. Black, of Genl Hardee’s Staff, who knew the danger to which these officers were exposed, on the night that Savannah was evacuated this Body of men was the first who crossed the pontoon bridge and the men formerly composing companies A, B, C and D, of Brooks’ Battalion were taken by captains Martin and Wardlaw back to the prison at Florence.
This will explain why the names of the men are not given but as a this battalion has often been alluded to and was in active service for a short time, in the interest of truth and in justice to the officers who were only providentially prevented from meeting a most tragic end, I hope that you will place the names of the officers above mentioned and the battalion to which they belonged (to-gether with this explanatory note) amont the records of Confederate Organizations now being filed in your offices.
Vincent F. Martin
Charleston S.C.
Feby 22d 1889

For more information about the Civil War in South Carolina, visit the Sesquicentennial Facebook Page for news, notes, and events.

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