By Lois Barefoot Mays

Local amateur historians were astonished recently to learn how perilously close the Civil War came to Charlton County in February 1864. More than a year before the end of the war, Union troops numbering more than 300 men were raiding two Nassau County sawmills on the St. Marys River. They stole, in a weeklong greedy, plundering episode, most of the lumber stacked at these mills. Then they suddenly jumped aboard steamships and made their ways back to their Fernandina post, leaving in such a hurry that they cast adrift four rafts of timber, hoping the tide would deliver them to the coast.

A report of the expedition shows that Major Galusha Pennypacker, who was in charge of a unit of Pennsylvania Volunteers, received orders to leave their Fernandina post on February 15th, 1864 and rapidly walk the thirty-three miles to Woodstock and Kings Ferry Mills on the St. Marys River to confiscate lumber for military use. Persons living along the road, who might have given information of their approach, were made to march with the soldiers until they arrived at sunset at Woodstock Mills.

Twenty men were sent by Major Pennypacker to surprise and capture mill guards and prevent the lumber from being set on fire, as orders had been given to watchmen to burn the property on the approach of any Federal forces. However no sentries were there and the lumber was found undisturbed.

The following morning, Major Pennypacker ordered the 300 Yankee soldiers to build rafts of the lumber found at the mills. (The Edwin Alberti estate was the owner of Woodstock Mills and Gilbert and Franklin Germond owned the Kings Ferry sawmill that was later purchased by William Mizell, Sr. and his brother Jackson Mizell in 1870.) Stacks of lumber, some of it very valuable, were sent by raft daily to Fernandina. Before the week was up, at least a million feet of lumber was stolen.

Abruptly on February 22nd Major Pennypacker and his whole force were hastily dispatched back to Fernandina, the troops returning on the steamers “Island City” and “Harriett A. Weed”. Thirty-one extra persons, who had come inside the mill property during the week, were sent to the Fernandina post also and included two deserters, four refugees and 25 slaves. Four rafts of lumber were quickly abandoned to make their own way to Fernandina down-river. The suddenness of their departure was almost surely caused by an unexpected exchange of gunfire that day with Confederate soldiers on the Camden County side of the St. Marys, in which two of the Pennsylvania Volunteers were wounded.

It’s been a long time since the gunfire of the Civil War encounter was heard on our peaceful St. Marys River. Maybe some day a concrete monument will mark the place where Confederate soldiers defended this part of Georgia.

SOURCES: The War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series One, Volume 35, pages 359-60, also Series One, Volume 15, pages 283-4; The Vanished Town of Kings Ferry by William Mizell, Jr., page 17; Yesterday’s Reflections II by Jan H. Johannes, Sr., page 122-3.

Charlton  County Archives