The Burning of Darien

This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Julya Lizarralde as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2020.

The Burning of Darien historical marker was dedicated in 2001. View the Burning of Darien historical marker listing.

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  1. Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), Darien, Ga., Bridge US 17 South, 1943, Gelatin Print, 8” x 10”, Foltz Photography Studio, https://georgiahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/5DC2584B-C273-456E-8EF3-669228443968
  2. Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), Darien, GA, 1943, Gelatin Print, 8” x 10”, Foltz Photography Studio, https://georgiahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/C5A09521-D587-49E5-B704-984740468212
  3. Lizarralde Julya, Burning of Darien Museum, 2020, Photograph, 8” x 10”.
  4. Lizarralde Julya, Tabby Ruins, 2020, Photograph, 8” x 10”.
  5. Lizarralde Julya, Tabby Ruins II, 2020, Photograph, 8” x 10”.
  6. Lizarralde Julya, Tabby Ruins III, 2020, Photograph, 8” x 10”.
  7. Lizarralde Julya, Altamaha River, 2020, Photograph, 8” x 10”.
  8. McCall Thomas, Plan of the Town of Darien, 1806, Map, 29.5” x 21”, Georgia Archives, https://vault.georgiaarchives.org/digital/collection/hmf/id/40

The following essay is by SCAD student Julya Lizarralde,  2020.

Background

The town of Darien Georgia is nestled right along the coast of the Altamaha River, founded in January 1736 by Scottish Highlanders recruited by James Oglethorpe to protect the colony of Georgia from its enemies.[i] Darien, Georgia, was named after a former Scottish colony in Panama known as Darien Scheme in order to establish the Scot roots in the new colony.[ii]  The Scots were to be a military force against the Spanish and Indians, and by 1739 the settlers joined forces with South Carolina to capture four of the Spanish forts before the Battle of Fort Mosa.[iii] Due to the bloody end of this battle, 51 Darien settlers died and the remaining abandoned Darien for South Carolina. By 1741, 43 new colonists arrived and received land grants that allowed the land to descend to a male or female descendent, in “Tail General.”[iv] Many settlers would remain in Darien due to this new land grant and it allowed the city to grow into a generational town.

During the Civil War, Darien was overlooked as a threat since it was an undefended city and was not strategically important to win the war.[v] The port of Darien was a crucial port of the state of Georgia during the time, but by 1863 it was not occupied by Confederate troops and was basically deserted by the townspeople.[vi] On June 11, 1863, only 500 remaining people were living in Darien, and they were not expecting US forces to attack.

The Raid

United States troops of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers under the command of General Robert Gould Shaw and the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers under the command of Colonel James Montgomery carried out the looting and raid of Darien.[vii] They began with firing cannons at homes along the river and throughout the town. Once docked at the port, US troops flooded the streets to loot and vandalize residences and businesses, taking things of value back to the boats. General Shaw instructed his men to loot only items that would be useful back at camp, while Colonel Montgomery and his men broke rank and looted freely among the town.[viii]

Colonel Montgomery led the next command by ordering his men to set the town on fire. General Shaw was reluctant to participate and protested against Montgomery. Unfortunately, under the threat of being court-martialed by Montgomery, Shaw was forced into allowing his troops to participate.[ix] Colonel Montgomery believed the burning to be a statement to the South, saying “I will burn this town and we will scourge Darien and set an example to the rest of the South.”[x] General Shaw would later state his feelings regarding the raid in letters to his wife calling the attack “a dirty piece of business.”[xi]

General Robert Gould Shaw

General Shaw was haunted by what he and his troops did to the town of Darien. His men were the first fully African-American unit fighting for the U.S., so to have his men be a part of this controversial burning of a civilian town destroyed him.[xii] General Shaw would write in letters to his wife Annie that they were never under attack from the people of Darien and that Montgomery still ordered to burn down the town.[xiii] As they moved on to their next battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, General Shaw stated, “I want you to prove yourselves. The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight.”[xiv] At dusk, Shaw led his men over the fort walls and would be outnumbered by Confederate troops on the other side. He and his men died in what now is described as a suicide mission due to their miscalculation of enemy troops.[xv] After General Shaw’s death his wife made sure that he was remembered for trying to stop Colonel Montgomery, by releasing the letters he sent her. She was also dedicated to making donations in their name to the rebuilding of Darien.[xvi]

Maps and Photography

Due to the burning of Darien, most maps from before 1863 were destroyed in the fire.[xvii] The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) collections holds an original plan of the town of Darien dating from 1806.[xviii] It is not known who created this map, but it survived through the time of the Civil War and now is a source that shows how the town of Darien was planned out. Within GHS’s collection, there are also multiple pictures from 1943 that depict the landscape of the river and the highway above it.[xix] These photos show how the town was still not fully developed at the time and allow us to see what the coastline looked like before the docks were added for easier docking through the town of Darien.[xx] Along the shoreline of the Altamaha River tabby ruins still stand. These were buildings that served the timber and shipping industries of Darien during the 1800s and are a reminder of the raid for the people today.[xxi]

Darien Today

I chose a marker close in relation to Savannah in order to travel to the area and see it for myself. I have always been interested in learning about the Civil War and I had never heard of the Burning of Darien. Today, Darien is still a quiet town nestled along the Altamaha River. I took a road trip down in order to capture photos of the historical marker of The Burning of Darien, and I experienced more than I was expecting. I was able to see the tabby ruins that show the true destruction of the raid and that has been memorialized for importance. They do have a sign that indicates what the buildings were before they were destroyed; however, they seem forgotten among the small town. The Burning of Darien Marker, however, is on the City Hall lawn in a prominent area for people to see. The locals of the town are very welcoming and helpful. When speaking to some of them, they were aware of the markers but not aware of the full story of the Burning of Darien.

[i] “Darien Georgia History,” Darien Georgia History, last modified April 12, 2020. https://www.n-georgia.com/darien-history.html.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] The Historical Marker Database. “The Burning of Darien Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, June 16, 2016. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=84005.

[vi] Dale Cox, “The Burning of Darien, Georgia,” Explore Southern History, January 4, 2014.

[vii] Russell Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1992), pp. 341-345.

[viii] Ibid 342.

[ix] Ibid 343.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ryan Stewart, “Burning of Darien Still Important Knowledge.” The Brunswick News, July 1, 2015.

[xiii] Margie Love, “Darien Commemorates Its Burning.” Coastal Courier, June 11, 2013, https://coastalcourier.com/coastal-living/darien-commemorates-its-burning/.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Stewart, “Burning of Darien Still Important Knowledge.”

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] The Historical Marker Database. “The Burning of Darien Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, June 16, 2016. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=84005.

[xviii] Plan of the Town of Darien. Accessed May 7, 2020. https://vault.georgiaarchives.org/digital/collection/hmf/id/40.

[xix] Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), Darien, Ga., Bridge US 17 South, 1943, Gelatin Print, 8” x 10”, Foltz Photography Studio, https://georgiahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/5DC2584B-C273-456E-8EF3-669228443968

[xx] Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), Darien, GA, 1943, Gelatin Print, 8” x 10”, Foltz Photography Studio, https://georgiahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/C5A09521-D587-49E5-B704-984740468212

[xxi] Julya Lizarralde, Tabby Ruins, 2020, Photograph, 8” x 10”.

Cox, Dale. The Burning of Darien, Georgia – June 11, 1863, January 4, 2014. https://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/darienburning.html.

Darien Georgia History. “Darien Georgia History.” Darien Georgia History, 1999. https://www.n-georgia.com/darien-history.html.

Duncan, Russell. , Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), Darien, Ga., Bridge US 17 South, 1943, Gelatin Print, 8” x 10”, Foltz Photography Studio, https://georgiahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/5DC2584B-C273-456E-8EF3-669228443968

Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), Darien, GA, 1943, Gelatin Print, 8” x 10”, Foltz Photography Studio, https://georgiahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/C5A09521-D587-49E5-B704-984740468212

Love, Margie. “Darien Commemorates Its Burning.” Courier masthead 2, Last modified June 11, 2013. https://coastalcourier.com/coastal-living/darien-commemorates-its-burning/.

Plan of the Town of Darien. Accessed May 7, 2020. https://vault.georgiaarchives.org/digital/collection/hmf/id/40.

Stewart, Ryan, and Brunswick News. “Burning of Darien Still Important Knowledge.” The Brunswick News, July 1, 2015. https://thebrunswicknews.com/life/burning-of-darien-still-important-knowledge/article_df68adc2-4c7d-5892-bd07-0428434a7d54.html.

The Historical Marker Database. “The Burning of Darien Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, June 16, 2016. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=84005.