Tri-City Ledger -

By Kevin McKinley
Guest Writer 

River culture collides with dogs of war

 

March 21, 2019

The river boat, John Quill plied the waters of the Alabama River near Boatyard Lake.

The age of antebellum river culture was already in decline at the outset of the War Between the States. Better roads and the coming of the railroad allowed easier access to distant inland areas. During the final days of the war, blue clad invaders marched through these areas during the twilight of their antebellum existence.

Beginning in March 1865, General Frederick Steele's Union forces had begun the march north from Pensacola in support of General Canby's movements against Mobile. Steele reached Pollard, turned west and rapidly headed towards Baldwin County and Ft. Blakely.

In Canoe, on March 27, 1865, Union commanders Steele, Lucas, and Spurling rendezvoused in the tiny hamlet. Southern troops under Col. Armistead had only recently left the community and were now at Bellville where they awaited the Union attack they were certain would come. From Bellville, Col. Armistead telegraphed Gen. St. John Lidell that the Federals had occupied Pollard on March 26th, and Canoe Station on March 27th.

Due to rain and mud, the advance of the Federals was slowed. Yet the Union troops at Canoe could hear the distant sound of artillery coming from Spanish Fort. The rumor mill circulated the story that Confederate forces had repulsed the Northern onslaught with massive casualties. Yet by now Steele had sent scouts to Gen. Canby to rely dispatches that reinforcements were on the way. Confederates at Bay Minette Station observed the messengers and reported it to the Confederate high command.

By March 30th, Steele's forces had reached the river land. The morning had begun in a windy, wet manner that witnessed thousands of Union troops huddled around campfires along the road from Canoe Station to Weatherford's Plantation. The Perdido River was forded and by evening Union foragers returned from Montgomery Hill (near Boatyard Lake and Ft. Mims). The troops brought with them cattle and sheep. The Union forces were in dire need of meat because they were now reduced to a scant ration. Some Union troops had more than others in that an ample supply of bacon, hard tack, coffee and sugar were stolen from homesteaders along the way. Union forces camped for the night in order to feed and reequip.

At daylight on March 31st, Union forces resumed the march to Stockton and reached the town by 2pm. Due to the fact that Stockton had been among the antebellum river settlements which had flourished prior to the war, the area was well settled. Union troops took advantage of the good roads and stole as much as their saddlebags and wagons would allow. Corn and fresh meat began to disappear as the Union forces raided hen houses, smoke houses, and barns in the area. Corn was taken from a grist mill and the facility was required to run at full operation until the Union forces moved out of the area (it was probably destroyed thereafter).

The Union march downriver continued on April 1 with the last files of the Union 2d Division leaving Stockton at noon. Steele and Hawkins pushed on to within two miles of the Confederate works at Ft. Blakely. Lt. Col. Spurling was dispatched to act as point guard and to open communications with Gen. Canby. The 49th Mississippi was waiting for Spurling's bluecoats and the men gave battle to the blue clad trespassers. About 100 men of the 49th were captured in the battle which raged along a split rail fence at the plantation. By now, elements of Lucas' troops were skirmishing with Southern defenders all along the Stockton Road. Union cavalry charged the Confederate works at Saluda Hill. Confederates rallied against their Northern opponents and both sides lost men in the contest.

The Second Division thereafter destroyed the railroad from Stockton to the river. The 24th Indiana Brigade destroyed 400 yards of track in an hour during this action. The two Union forces were now on the verge of linking up and putting great pressure on the Confederates at Blakely and Spanish Fort. On the 31st of March, Gen. Canby dispatched a train of 75 wagons to resupply Steele's forces. Union forces had stolen everything of value in the area and nothing remained to sustain the army, therefore the appearance of the large Union wagon train was a welcomed sight to the hungry bluecoats.

From this point the Union forces prepared to launch the final Union offensive of the war against the Blakely area. Following the war the area would never again be the focal point of settlement and supply that is had been prior to the war.

Special thanks to Billy Dorriety for the use of the book, History of the Campaign of Mobile by C.C. Andrews. Those interested in local Civil War history or learning more about the SCV should visit the camp's website at: http://www.campcarneyscv.org

The camp, and reenactors, will be present for the Alger Sullivan Historical Society Boxcar Bar BQ on the last Saturday in November. The reenactors will fire period weapons, set up a historically accurate military camp from the 1860s and give demonstrations of their equipment and provide narratives of life during the War Between the States.

 
 

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