John W. Kennington, Jr.
GRAY JACKETS IN SAVANNAH THE ENLISTED SAILOR OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES NAVY ON THE SAVANNAH RIVER 1861-1864.
(Under the direction of Professor Lawrence E. Babits) Department of History, April 1994.
The story of the men who operated, maintained, and defended the ships of the Confederate States Navy has been set aside by many naval historians in favor of ship construction and naval ordnance. By ignoring enlisted men of the navy we sell our history short. These men were no less important than the officers who commanded them. Without the enlisted man, the navy could not exist.
This study examines the history and development of the ordinary sailor of the Confederate States Navy on the Savannah River. These men provided close support for military operations in Savannah and the surrounding areas, naval operations in the Savannah River and coastal Georgia, sentry duties in small boats, and supplemented the land forces in defense of the city. They chose a way of life that was, at the same time, both easier and more difficult than their army brethren's; easier in that they were not under the constant pressure of combat, more difficult in that the conditions aboard armor clad ships were appalling.
Primary documentation on the life of the common sailor of the mid-nineteenth century is scarce at best, but the Savannah River Squadron has more surviving primary documentation than any other Confederate Naval Squadron. The pay rolls, muster sheets, clothing records and provisions are all conducive to examination. Such questions as: What uniforms were issued? What did they look like? What color was the uniform? How did each vessel provide for each sailor in terms of food and sundry items? How old was the average sailor? Where did he come from? How much did he get paid? These questions can be answered, or at least investigated through analysis of existing records.
This study is arranged topically and deals in turn with the major problems facing the sailors every day: pay, clothing, food, work, shelter, battle, and boredom. An introductory chapter about the history of the Savannah Squadron is included to provide the reader with a background of the naval war around Savannah.
Logically, Savannah, and the other harbor cities, would be the major provider of men for the sea services. But when we look deeper, we find that the majority of the men did not come from this seafaring community. Instead they were from the fields and farms of the deep South or immigrants new to America. Whether they were rebels or heroes does not matter. What does matter is that they served their country to the end. Whether drilling at broadside guns or coaling the ship, the sailors worked in tedious, boring atmosphere. Unlike their brothers in the field, these men rarely saw the enemy and, when they did, barely came within combat range. Well fed, inadequately paid, partially clothed, it is a wonder that they performed at all; yet, when they were called to duty, they performed as seamen of the highest caliber. It does not matter if it was night patrols along the obstructions, or cutting out a enemy ship of war, it was still as dangerous as standing picket in a forest or assaulting the breast works of a well entrenched army.
Throughout the four years of the war, the Savannah Squadron moved from crisis point to crisis point, meeting each with determination to overcome. The men, for the most part, served with honor and pride. Some of them, in fact, were captured at Sayler's Creek on 6 April 1865; the final battle of the war in the Eastern Theater.