4th Georgia Cavalry (Clinch’s Cavalry)
by Jacob Merrow
Member SCV Camp 1630
4th Georgia Volunteer Cavalry grew out of a need for a military force-in-being in the coastal region of southeastern Georgia during the Civil War. This sparsely-populated, far-flung region, was virtually without defense by mid-1862, when Confederate authorities had abandoned the practically indefensible coastal area and much of its male white population had left to join the Confederate army. Due to their exposed locations, the off-shore islands, plus Brunswick, Darien, and St. Mary’s, had all been abandoned and the residents had “refugeed” to safer locales in the uplands. The only formal military forces remaining in the area were several independent companies of partisan rangers or cavalry mustered for state service and three excess mounted companies which had been spun off from the 26th Georgia Volunteer Infantry and were left behind when that regiment went north in the early summer of 1862 to join the Confederate forces being gathered in Northern Virginia. Out of the 5 brothers that enlisted 3 stayed behind those where Charles in his 50’s, Joseph 50’s, and Samuel 40’s. The other 2 brothers, David and Lemuel mid 20’s, chose to stay with the infantry and fought in first Manassas to the surrender at Appomattox.
In early 1862, Confederate military authorities organized these various mounted companies into “The Cavalry Command South of the Altamaha River”, and put them under the command of Duncan L. Clinch, Jr., a local planter and an army veteran of the war with Mexico.
The 3rd Battalion, Georgia Volunteer Cavalry operated solely inside its nominal area of responsibility - the coastal region of southeastern Georgia between the Altamaha and St. Mary’s Rivers. Its mission was to perform scouting, picketing, and courier service in the region and, most importantly, to offer some credible resistance to Federal attempts to disrupt its contribution to the Confederate war effort. This resulted in some skirmishing with blockading Federals, as well as a few disaffected slaves and non-compliant conscripts and Confederate army deserters. Several men from the command were killed or wounded in these frays.
C - “Camden Mounted Rifles”- Captain Nathan Atkinson Brown
In March, the regiment was ordered to support other Confederate troops gathering near Jacksonville, Florida, to confront some recently-arrived water-borne Federals probing the St. Johns River for opportunities to disrupt the local economy and to perhaps establish a permanent foot-hold in the region. Clinch took his third-in-command, Major J.C. McDonald, a battery of three pieces of artillery, and five companies, all told 277 men. With them the men of company C
For the remainder of 1863, Clinch’s 4th Georgia Cavalry continued to operate exclusively in the southeastern region of Georgia. Increased activity by the ever-aggressive Federals in the region, operating primarily out of St. Simons Island and Fernandina, Florida, resulted in additional skirmishes, the most notable of which were two altercations, one in April and another in June. In the first case, the commander of the “Glynn Guards”, returned to his home grounds on Saint Simons, along with a squad of his men, and conducted offensive operations against the Federal forces there, determined to do damage to their local base of operations. While killing or wounding several Federals, he burned the wharf and the large storehouses at the southwestern end of the island. During this operation, the Confederates destroyed a large quantity of coal, plus some quartermaster and commissary stores, which had been landed there by the enemy. The second incident involved a day-long skirmish on 8 June 1863 “Glynn Guards” took on several boat-loads of Yankees attempting to destroy some salt-manufacturing apparatus in the Turtle River above Brunswick. Several more Federals were killed or wounded in this fray. Other such events involved various Federal excursions throughout the war, were federals boated into Rivers to attack plantations, salt-works, and sawmills, brickyards, shipyards, turpentine distilleries, potential blockade runners, and other economic enterprises. And, the regiment continued to occasionally encounter armed Confederate deserters, non-compliant conscripts, runaway slaves, these encounters, of course, resulted in several woundings and deaths amongst the regiment’s personnel. To further burden its members, in 1863, the regiment suffered the ravages of a severe typhoid epidemic, having for several months as many as 110 men sick at a time and ultimately suffering about two dozen deaths to the disease.
The mission of the 4th Georgia was enlarged in early 1864 when Colonel Clinch was called upon to contribute again to the meager Confederate forces in northeastern Florida opposing those of a sizable new group of invading Federals that resulted in the battle of Olustee. This included the men of company C.
Clinch and his troopers arrived in Olustee on 17 February, and were involved in the initial fighting early on the morning of the twentieth. Clinch and Colonel Carraway Smith of the 2nd Florida Cavalry were sent out with their cavalry by General Finegan to locate the approaching enemy and then draw them back toward the well-entrenched Confederate infantry near Olustee. As the main battle developed, the regiment was moved to the left flank of the Confederate lines to prevent any attempt by the Federals to outflank the Southern infantry on that side.
As Confederate prospects around Atlanta and Charleston began to deteriorate in mid-1864, the regiment was re-positioned to extend its support for the first time to the area above the Altamaha River, which had been recently vacated by the reassignment of the 5th Georgia Cavalry to duties near Atlanta. Those men who had gone directly to Atlanta traveled via the rails to Macon, where they disembarked and were immediately diverted to Columbus on their horses. This detour was in response to a potential threat against the huge Confederate industrial complex there from Federal Major General Rousseau’s raid into the region coming out of northeastern Alabama. When that threat dissipated, they rode their horses back to Fort Valley near Macon, then on to Atlanta where they joined the Confederate Army of Tennessee and prepared to participate in the desperate Confederate defensive effort there. Upon arrival, the regiment reported to Major General “Fighting Joe” Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. For a period of time, it was stationed on the eastern side of Atlanta around Stone Mountain, where it was involved in a series of skirmishes with Federal cavalry. Then, in late August it was moved to the southwestern side of Atlanta, where it was dismounted and placed in trenches previously constructed by other Confederate troops at Mount Gilead Church, located about five miles west of East Point. On 31 August, Sherman sent his 100,000 man army to the west of the city swinging counter-clockwise like a hinged gate to cut its remaining rail connections to the south and west, There the men of the 4th cavalry fought for days but were eventually pushed back to the vicinity of the rough and ready where they held and awaited orders. As Atlanta was falling to the Federal forces shortly thereafter, the regiment was remounted and assigned, along with other cavalry units, to serve as the rear guard while Confederate forces evacuated the city. Soon, they were involved in additional skirmishing with Federal cavalry, as the Confederate army relocated south of Atlanta.
In mid-November, Sherman destroyed much of what was left in Atlanta, and embarked with 60,000 picked men on his infamous “March to the Sea”, destroying and pillaging everything that he could lay his hands upon between Atlanta and Savannah that had potential use to the Southern economy and the Confederate military forces. From then to the end of December, the regiment was involved in a largely ineffective Confederate opposition to Sherman's aggressive predators, skirmishing almost daily for six weeks. In mid-December, Sherman arrived at the coast, where, in a brief and hotly-contested fight on 13 December, he captured Fort McAllister, which was located near the mouth of the Ogeechee River and guarded the southern water-borne approaches to Savannah. Captain N.B. Clinch's Artillery Company, comprised largely of former 4th Georgia Cavalry-men, were all captured or killed there,(Including Charles N. Drury JR. who road ahead with 100 men to help support the fort was captured there) and Captain Clinch was severely wounded, along with a goodly portion of his men. Savannah fell to the Federals on 21 December when Camden County native, Lieutenant General W.J. Hardee, escaping Sherman’s reaching grasp in the still of the night, took his 10,000 man force across the Savannah River into South Carolina.
This effectively ended major military operations in Georgia. Then, in early 1865, leaving behind sufficient forces to hold the city and to keep the few remaining regional Confederate military forces at bay, he moved his massive force into the Carolinas, where it encountered a gallant, but feeble and ultimately futile, resistance. From there the 4th Georgia cavalry continued the fight in the Carolinas where they eventually surrendering with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's army of the Tennessee in North Carolina. One source estimated that Clinch’s regiment comprised only about 200 officers and men in May 1865 when it concluded operations. This represents over a 90 % depletion rate,