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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Georgia steamboats play a role in Civil War battles
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring the use of rivers in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.

Construction started on Savannah River's Fort Pulaski in 1829. Many of the bricks used for its construction were carried down river from Augusta onboard the steamboat Free Trade and its two freight boats.

Curious Savannahians were able to take excursions on to the fort onboard the steamboat Santee, which charged $1.50 per person, with dinner included.

Much of the naval part of the Civil War took place off the Georgia and South Carolina coast. The C.S.S. Planter was a former side-wheel steamer turned Confederate transport.

On May 13, 1862, Capt. Relyea went ashore, leaving his ship in Charleston's harbor. After raising the Confederate flag, a man named Robert Smalls sailed the boat past all the Confederate gun emplacements.

He replaced it with a small white flag and surrendered to the U.S.S. Onward of the Union blockading force. Smalls, it so happened, was a slave and had 15 other slaves onboard.

The ship had a substantial amount of artillery and explosives, of which the Union forces gladly took charge. Smalls received a substantial cash prize for the cargo, although not nearly what it was worth.

Smalls then served as a Union pilot in South Carolina waters and was eventually made the first black captain of the Union ship U.S.S. Planter, sailing the waters off Fort Pulaski.

The steamboat Star of the West was chartered to the War Department and the U.S. Navy. As such, she was charged with resupplying Maj.Anderson's garrison at Fort Sumter.

After being fired upon, she abandoned that mission. While off the Texas coast, she was captured by the Confederacy and taken to New Orleans. There she was renamed the C.S.S. St. Philip.

Just before New Orleans fell, the ship was loaded with Confederate gold and quickly headed for the relative safety of Georgia's Confederate Mint in Dahlonega.

Another ship, the side-wheel paddle steamer Ida, made history as a Confederate resupply boat for the forces at Fort Pulaski. The Federals had built a causeway across the marshes and put heavy artillery in place as a blockade. Capt. Circopeley of the Ida chose to make a run for the fort at low tide, during which time he knew the small steamboat would not be visible to the Federal gunners because of the marsh grasses. The fort was successfully resupplied.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring the use of rivers in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.



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