Expedition Along the Coasts of Georgia and East Florida, November 3-10, 1862
Report of Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton, U. S. Army
BEAUFORT, S. C., November 12, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to inclose, for your information, the report of an expedition which I sent on the steamer Darlington up the rivers and lagoons on the coasts of Georgia and Florida between Saint Simon's Island and Fernandina:
The expedition was composed of Col. Oliver T. Beard, Forty-eighth New York Volunteers; Rev. Mansfield Branch, chaplain, U. S. Army, and Captain Trowbridge, with his company (A), of the First South Carolina Volunteers (colored). I had two objects in view in sending this expedition. The first was to prove the fighting qualities of the negroes (which some have doubted), and the other was to bring away the people from the main-land, destroy all rebel salt-works, and to break up the rebel picket stations along the line of the coast.
I am happy to report that in every point of view the expedition was a, perfect success. Rarely in the progress of this war has so much mischief been done by so small a force in so short a space of time. Thirteen different landings were made. The pickets in every case were driven in, the salt-works destroyed, and all the work finished up before the enemy could collect a sufficient force to overpower our men.
It is admitted upon all hands that the negroes fought with a coolness and bravery that would have done credit to veteran soldiers. There was no excitement, no flinching, no attempt at cruelty when successful. They seemed like men who were fighting to vindicate their manhood and they did it well.
I trust that you will appreciate the importance of this little effort of the First South Carolina Volunteers. It seems to me one of the important events of the war--one that will carry terror to the hearts of the rebels. It discloses an objective point where the hardest blow can be dealt against this rebellion. This whole coast is intersected by bays, lagoons, and rivers, which are navigable by light-draught steamers, in some instances, for more than 100 miles up into the heart of the richest part of the Southern country. I would propose to have a number of light-draught steamers; have them well armed and barricaded against rifle-shots, and place upon each one a company of 100 black soldiers. These are better than white soldiers for this service, on account of the greater facility with which they can effect landings through the marshes and thick woods which line the banks of the streams. each boat should be supplied with an abundance of spare muskets and ammunition, to put in the hands of the recruits as they come in. These boats should then go up the streams, land at the different plantations, drive in the pickets, and capture them, if possible. The blowing of the steamer's whistle the negroes all understand as a signal to come in and no sooner do they hear it than they come in from every direction. In case the enemy arrives in force at any landing we have either to keep him at a proper distance with shells or quietly move to some other point and repeat the same operation long before he can arrive with his forces by land. In this way we could very soon have complete occupation of The whole country. Indeed I can see no limit to which our successes might not be pushed up to the entire occupation of States or their occupation by a large portion of the rebel army. I consider that your instructions to me cover this whole ground; but in my present position I am utterly powerless to do anything. It was with extreme difficulty that I obtained the services of the Darlington from the military department for this one expedition, and I know not when I can again procure her services. I can procure no supplies of ordnance or medical stores without an order from the commanding general, and if he thinks differently, or does not choose to give them to me, I am helpless. I make no complaint of this; it is proper that the commanding general should control the supplies; but all this routine, nevertheless, ties my hands and renders it utterly useless for me to attempt to carry out this great plan. I am convinced that it can only be done successfully by the one who has absolute control of the means of transportation and supplies.
I therefore beg leave to recommend that this duty he assigned to the military commander of the department, and that he be instructed to carry out a plan which, in my humble opinion, will, if carried out properly, save the country a vast amount of life and treasure and do much to break down this rebellion.
I have also to report that the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers is filling up rapidly--550 are already enrolled. More than 1,000 able-bodied negroes are now in the employ of the Engineer and Quartermaster Departments. Were I to enlist from these I could fill up the regiment in one day; but I have thus far abstained from any interference with these departments.
The steamer Darlington was captured from the rebels by the Navy and was subsequently transferred to the Quartermaster's Department. She returned from the expedition completely riddled with rifle balls. Fortunately but 4 of our men were wounded.
Great credit is due to Colonel Beard, Mr. French, and Captain Trowbridge for their bravery and skill in managing the expedition.
I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Volume 14. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.