The Marshall House’s 3rd Floor Civil War Era Display
Marshall House guests are encouraged to walk all the floors to see items of interest throughout our city’s past. On our 3rd floor, you’ll find a unique collection of original prints, newspapers, letters, and documents reflecting Savannah’s experience during the Civil War. These items are displayed in chronological order beginning on the west end of the 3rd floor near room 303 and ending near room 323.
THE MARSHALL HOUSE DURING THE CIVIL WAR ERA
THE "FLORIDA HOUSE" WING • Room 303
Savannah is home to the country’s oldest African Baptist congregation. The First African Baptist Church was founded by both free and enslaved people in 1774. George Liele was its first pastor. Like many members of the congregation, Liele fled Savannah with the British at the end of the Revolution to avoid re-enslavement.
In his absence, Andrew Bryan assumed the church’s leadership role. He was a pioneering Baptist preacher who suffered beatings and imprisonment for his teachings. He bought his freedom, and that of his family, and became a prosperous businessman who later built the first church for the congregation. The sketch, drawn after the Civil War, is of the original church building. It was later renamed First Bryan Baptist Church.
After Bryan’s death in 1812, his nephew, Andrew Cox Marshall, became the church’s 3rd pastor. Like his uncle, Marshall bought his own freedom and became a prominent businessman in Savannah. He lived to the ripe old age of 101, and by the time of his death in 1856, his efforts had grown the church’s membership to more than 1,800. During his lifetime, he baptized more than 3,000 people. William J. Campbell, First African’s 4th pastor, led the church throughout the difficult times of the Civil War. His image is depicted later in the tour (near Room 222) in a painting called “The Meeting.”
MAIN HALL • Starting with Room 301
The Republican Blues & Furlough Pass
Early friction with Creek and Cherokee tribes, and preparations for war with European powers in Savannah’s early history led to the development of private military companies. The earliest was The Chatham Artillery, established in 1786. The Marshalls were heavily involved in the Savannah Volunteer guards, and the Irish community filled the ranks of the Jasper Greens.
The abundance of military private companies was a southern phenomenon. In a region of the country where 30-45 percent of the population was enslaved, violent uprisings were a constant fear. The public display of military force was a reminder that the social order would be maintained. The Republican Blues contributed to the first Georgia regiments to fight in the Civil War. Included in the frame is a furlough pass signed by the company’s commander during War.
Georgia’s Ordinance of Secession, like other ordinances signed in January of 1861, did not bind the state to the Confederacy. Notice the top of the document reads, “Republic of Georgia” and the document also notes the six dissenters at the bottom of the page. On this same date, the Savannah Volunteer Guard, the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, and the Chatham Artillery took possession of Federal-occupied Fort Pulaski; this was more than three months prior to the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston. The Confederate States of America was formed on February 4, 1861. Framed alongside this print are banknotes printed in Savannah during the war.
While the opposing armies faced off in Virginia and in the west, Union forces opened a third front along the southern coastline. The US Navy blockaded ports and when possible landed forces large enough to capture coastal cities. New Orleans fell quickly. On the other side of the Savannah River, Federal troops arrived in Port Royal Sound. Beaufort, Bluffton, and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina fell shortly afterward. From these bases Federal efforts focused on cutting the railroad linking Savannah and Charleston.
The barrier islands of Georgia were judged indefensible by Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General charged with planning the coastal military strategy for South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Prior to his fame as the Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, he ordered the evacuation of Confederate forces from the barrier islands to more defensible posts upriver.
14 miles from Savannah, Lee ordered Tybee Island abandoned, and the lighthouse Oglethorpe constructed was burned by the Confederates before they left. Union forces subsequently took possession of the island for the remainder of the war.
Fort Pulaski fell on April 11, 1862. Using long-range, rifled guns on Tybee, the Federal artillery was able to breach Fort Pulaski’s 14-foot masonry walls in a matter of hours. Once the powder magazine was exposed, the Confederate commander surrendered. The fort’s fall resulted in the closure of Savannah’s port for the remainder of the war.
Savannah was effectively blockaded by the Union. But it was also protected from Union invasion from the coast. Ships were sunk at strategic points to make the waterways impassible by Union ships; Southern ironclads were stationed at deep bends in the waterways; and numerous batteries and possible landing points were manned by local Confederate soldiers.
The CSS Georgia was Savannah's first ironclad. Built in Savannah and reinforced by railroad ties, she was much too heavy to leave the deepest portions of the Savannah River. She was also very slow due to her weight and engine size. She served her purpose, however. She was moored in the center of the Savannah River between Union-held Fort Pulaski and Confederate-held Fort Jackson as a formidable deterrent to attempts to invade upriver.
The CSS Atlanta was built in 1863, and was an improvement over the first ship. Beginning her Confederate career first as the blockade runner Fingal, she brought arms and ammunition from England to the South early in the War. Refitted with her iron cladding, she was much quicker and more seaworthy that the CSS Georgia. Her builders believed she would challenge the blockade on the high seas. Her added armor, however, pushed her hull so deep in the water that she could not clear the shallowest waters of the tributaries of the Savannah River that led to open water.
Struggling to maneuver toward Federal warships, the CSS Atlanta only got off two shots before being stuck in the mud and sand of the shallow waterway. She could not flee, and she could not fight. Her guns were not able pivot in order to aim at the approaching warships. There were three Union ships ready to do battle, but only the large guns of the USS Weehawken were needed to win the day.
The USS Weehawken was one of the many commissioned larger and stronger ironclads built in response to the Confederate ships. The battle against the CSS Atlanta was her greatest success. After firing several rounds into the immobile CSS Atlanta and wounding 25 sailors the Confederate ship surrendered. The Confederate ship was later repaired and rechristen the USS Atlanta, to join the US fleet on blockading duty in coastal Virginia.
Fort McAllister, on the Altamaha River, guarded the only viable deep-water approach to Savannah. Past this point on the river, land was dry enough to land Union troops. If the Fort could be taken, the Federals could land enough force to threaten the city. Fort McAllister endured undefeated when bombarded by Union Monitor Class naval squadrons early in the war. Pictured here, the Privateer Nashville had an illustrious career, first as a blockade runner and later as a privateer. She sought protection from the guns of Fort McAllister, but she was caught by the USS Montauk. While other US ships pounded the fort, the Montauk’s single, pivotable cannon sunk the Nashville. She lies at the bottom of the Altamaha River to this day.
WEST STAIR LANDING
Fort Pulaski was in Union hands for the remainder of the war, serving as a Union outpost and a prison for Confederate officers. The letters displayed here were written during this time by a Union private on duty at the fort, describing his role guarding officers and skirmishes with Confederate forces in South Carolina.
MAIN HALL • Room 306
Various Confederate Defenses are pictured here, including the rebel turtle ram (the CSS Savannah misdrawn), and a side-wheeled steamer. The letter displayed here was written by one of thousands of Confederate soldiers camped between the city and Union forces stationed at Pulaski and Tybee throughout the war. It’s an interesting artifact noting a curious encounter with a Colonel that results the officer’s injury and the subsequent need to vote for another to replace him.
The 1st South Carolina Volunteers was organized in August of 1862, well before the often hailed 54th Massachusetts Regiment was mustered into service. Its 1,000 soldiers were almost all recently freed enslaved Gullah men from coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Its first commander, Colonel Thomas Higginson, was a well-known white abolitionist. The print seen here depicts soldiers occupying Beaufort, South Carolina. Harriet Tubman joined the regiment as a nurse, as did Savannahian Susie Baker who was a 14-year-old runaway slave at the time. Susie was literate, and often spent time teaching the men of the 1st SC Vols to read. She would later marry one of its soldiers, Edward King. Known as Susie King Taylor in much later years, she went on to publish her story and was the only Civil War black woman to write a memoir. The 1st South Carolina went on to fight with distinction in many coastal engagements until renamed the 33rd Colored Troops in 1864. The unit served as an important precedent for the 170,000 African Americans fighting for the North.
The Seige of Savannah
This map shows the approximate dispositions of the opposing armies around Savannah in December of 1864. The situation was desperate for both sides. Sherman’s 62,000 troops were at the end of a five-week march which began after the destruction of Atlanta. The passage through Georgia during those weeks was marked by good weather and a steady supply of provisions gathered from the plentiful farms and homesteads along the way. Now that the Grand Army was static, however, supplies dwindled and the troops were on limited rations. The 9,000 Confederates, led by General William Hardee, were scattered on a thin line of defenses but were aided by the recent flooding of the rice fields now impassable by horse or foot. Even with these defensive advantages, the men in gray were no match for Sherman’s battle-harden veterans.
The land Battle of Fort McAllister sealed the fate of Savannah. It was over in 15 minutes. Four thousand Union troops swamped the entrenchments held by only 140 Confederates. Once it fell, on December 10th, the Altamaha River was wide open to the Union Navy, and now the Union Army could be resupplied with food and supplies. More significant to the fate of Savannah, heavy cannon were delivered.
Now with these long-range guns in his possession, Sherman signaled to Hardee that he would not hesitate to open fire on Savannah if the city was not surrendered. The Confederate General replied he would stand firm and the carnage on the Union side would be tremendous. But his ardor was nothing more than a ruse; he needed time to plan an escape.
The parks and squares of Savannah were ideal for use as camps and assembly points for Union Soldiers once the city fell. Monterey Square, the closest to the large parade grounds at Forsyth Park, was very popular with the troops. Just 10 years earlier, a monument to Casimir Pulaski had been erected. As a martyr of the American Revolution, his monument was a popular "tourist spot" to visiting Northerners.
EAST WING STAIR LANDING
The Confederate government’s orders to Hardee were very clear: do not risk your army in the defense of Savannah. There were only two things left to do. First, the Confederates destroyed the war material they could not take with them; and second, planned their escape from Savannah.
The Confederate Evacuation was executed well. The ironclad CSS Georgia was sunk, and the Naval Yard in Savannah was set afire. An unfinished ironclad was burned as well. The CSS Milledgeville was only partially complete with the hopes it would be the weapon to finally lift the Union Blockade. The evacuation commenced on December 20th, across two pontoon bridges made of rice barges connected end-to-end and stabilized with railcar wheels. Everything that could be taken to supply the army went with the troops: wood, horses, food, machinery, and various other supplies. Stockpiles of rice and cotton, and cannon (too heavy to carry) were left to be captured by the Federal troops.
The civil government in Savannah capitulated early the next morning when Mayor Richard Arnold met the Union commanders on the outskirts of the entrenchments to welcome them to the city. Though consternated, the citizens in Savannah put forth their best efforts to cooperate, and benefit from the change in government. Sherman’s entire army of 62,000 troops remained in Savannah for six weeks. The occupation by garrison forces remained until the end of the Reconstruction Period.
These drawings appeared in Harper’s Weekly after the war. They depict images of events in Savannah during the Union Occupation. Many white citizens had family members still in Confederate arms at this late stage of the war and chose not to live under United States rule; they were evacuated to Augusta by steamship. Union commanders quartered themselves in the homes of Savannah’s wealthy when feasible. Several officers boarded at the Pulaski House, and other hotels (including The Marshall House) became hospital wards. General Geary became the garrison commander of the military occupation of Savannah. At the invitation of English cotton factor Charles Green, Sherman set up his headquarters at the Green Mansion on Madison Square.
The images here were reported by the northern press on February 2, 1864, five weeks into the occupation. After covering the Confederate retreat for two days and firing upon the Union forces occupying Fort Jackson the CSS Savannah had nowhere to go. The crew ran her aground on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, and then scuttled the ship on December 21st. The resulting explosion lit up the night sky for miles.
The first U.S. troops to enter the city were those of General Kilpatrick’s cavalry. Seventy-five of his sick and wounded officers lodged in the Marshall House during the first week of the occupation. Before leaving with the bulk of the Union troops, Kilpatrick took up residence in a mansion.
The headline in this New York Herald edition reports “The Conflagration of Savannah.” The burning of a portion of the city doesn’t fit well with the popular narrative that Sherman spared the city from destruction. “Hidden History of Civil War Savannah,” written by local author Michael Jordan, gives an interesting account of the mysterious event that destroyed nearly 100 structures on the westside of town. Two of those buildings were owned by Mary Marshall.
EAST WING • Rooms 321-323
This wing showcases a tragic chain of events in Savannah. It houses a portion of a series of drawings entitled “Tragedy at Ebenezer Creek.” Originals of these works have been displayed at various civil rights museums. Isaac McCaslin is the artist. He graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design, and dedicated this series as a theme on social justice. Today he has a successful gallery on Drayton Street.
The March to the Sea was a military strike at the heartland of the Confederacy, an area yet untouched by war. To the people of African descent, the two long blue columns of troops passing through Georgia was an army of liberation. As plantations were burned, and gleaned for provisions, the enslaved people living there joined the march to maintain their new-found liberty. Staying behind was not an option.
Ebenezer Creek, pictured above, was the site of one of the most regrettable moments of the Civil War. Just one day prior to the fall of Fort McAllister, one of the two wings of the army was crossing this tributary of the Savannah River when its commander made a fateful decision. General Jefferson C. Davis (ironically named) believed the thousands of recently freed people following the Union army troops would be a liability in the coming siege of Savannah. He ordered his men to cross the pontoon bridges first, and then bar the crossing of the African Americans. After the last troops crossed the creek they dismantled the bridges. Stranded, many jumped into the icy river and drowned. Others were butchered by Confederate cavalry shadowing the column. The remainder were re-enslaved, returned to former masters to face harsh punishments.
When news of the tragedy at Ebenezer Creek reached the Northern press, the outrage was universal. Once Savannah fell to the to the Union, civilian authorities led by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton came to Savannah to investigate Sherman’s conduct.
The Meeting was the consequence of the travesty. At Sherman’s headquarters at the Green mansion, the General and Secretary of War Stanton met with twelve black leaders, among them Pastor Campbell of the First African Baptist Church. During The Meeting, black leaders agreed to use their influence with the recently freed community to help continue the war effort. In return, Stanton asked the leaders what the people required of the new government now that they were free. The answer was title to their own land as the foundation of their newly won liberty and independence.
This is a print from the original painting commissioned by the Marshall House during its 1999 restoration. The artist is Thomas Haller Buchanan of Denver, Colorado. The architect of the painting, however, is the esteemed civil rights leader William Westley Law who gave meticulous instructions to the artist. The original painting hung in our Courtyard Atrium until donated to Savannah’s Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, founded by W. W. Law in 1993. The upstairs gallery, where the painting is exhibited today, also houses several sketches of the Savannah leaders depicted in the painting.
Sherman’s Field Order Number 15 was given just four days after the “Meeting.” It confiscated 400,000 acres of lands along the southern coast, from Charleston to Jacksonville. The order provided for 40-acre tracks to be given to the black families living on nearby plantations, along with a mule to help cultivate the soil.
General Rufus Saxton was Military Governor of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia prior to the collapse of the Confederate defenses in Savannah. Early in the war he helped recruit former slaves into military units such as the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. He was charged with enforcing Sherman’s order, and so met with Savannah’s black community to communicate the news.
Saxton’s Speech, “Forty Acres and a Mule,” was delivered at Second African Baptist Church. Today this congregation meets at their present church on Greene Square.
The dream of land and independence depicted in the final picture of the charcoal series was not to be. On April 15, 1865 President Lincoln was assassinated and a new administration took hold of the government. Special Field Order 15 was rescinded in October and land granted to African Americans was taken away and given back to southern whites. The promise of 40 Acres and a Mule was never kept.