The Burning of Darien, Georgia - June 11, 1863
Burning of Darien, Georgia
One of the most controversial acts of the War
Between the States (or Civil War) took place when
Union troops torched defenseless Darien, Georgia.
Burning of Darien
The Adam Strain Building,
seen here, was gutted by the
fires and repaired ten years
later. It is made of tabby.
First African Baptist Church
This church, one of the oldest
for African Americans, was
burned by Union soldiers and
later rebuilt.
The Burning of Darien, Georgia - June 11, 1863
"This dirty piece of business"
Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Updated: January 4, 2014
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Tabby Ruins in Darien
The entire business district
was burned to the ground, as
were churches and homes.  
Ruins still line the waterfront.
The burning of historic Darien, Georgia, was
one of the most controversial acts of the War
Between the States (or Civil War).

On June 11, 1863, Union troops raided the
town on the Georgia coast in a frenzy of fire,
looting and destruction. There were no
Confederate troops in Darien, only a few
civilians who fled for their lives as their city
was burned around them.

The 54th Massachusetts, a famed regiment
of black Union soldiers, was among the units
that took part in the destruction. Col. Robert
Gould Shaw, the regiment's commander,
called the burning of Darien "a barbarous
sort of warfare" and protested to superiors in
the Union army about the role the 54th had
been ordered to take in the raid.

The responsibility for the raid on Darien was
fixed by Shaw on his immediate superior,
Col. James Montgomery of the 2nd South
Carolina U.S. Colored Troops (later the 34th
USCT). Before the war he had taken part in
the guerrilla warfare of the "Bleeding
Kansas" episodes.

According to a letter written by Shaw to his
family shortly after the raid, he reached
Simons Island with the 54th Massachusetts
on June 9, 1863. On the next day he was
approached by Col. Montgomery who asked
how long Shaw would need to prepare his
men for an expedition. Shaw promised his
men would be ready to move in 30 minutes.

Eight companies of the 54th left St. Simons
Island by steamboat that same day. As they
left the island they were joined by two other
steamboats carrying Col. Montgomery, five
companies from his regiment and two
sections of light artillery from Rhode Island.
The three transports were escorted by the
Paul Jones of the U.S. Navy.

At 8 a.m. the next morning - June 11, 1863 -
the boats steamed into the mouth of the
Altamaha River. Shaw reported that cannon
were fired indiscriminately at houses along
the river as the boats advanced, despite the
fact that some likely sheltered women and
children.  The expedition reached Darien at
12 noon.

The Union commander rained cannon fire on
the town, even though no shot had been fired
at his men and no Confederate soldiers
were in sight. One shell, according to Shaw,
passed through the dress of a woman but
miraculously did not injure her.

With the gunboat watching from the river, the
three U.S. Army transports tied up to the
wharves on the Darien riverfront and the
Union soldiers went ashore. Montgomery
ordered them to loot the homes and shops of
the town of all of their furniture and movable
goods, all of which were to be brought to the
boats.  This took several hours for the
soldiers to accomplish.

Once the work was done, Col. Montgomery
ordered the burning of the town. Shaw told
his family that he objected to the order, telling
his commander that he "did not want the
responsibility of it." Montgomery shouldered
the responsibility himself and directed that
his orders be carried out.  As women, the
elderly and children watched from afar, their
homes went up in flames.

According to Shaw, his men also participated
in the burning because they were ordered to
do so. The excuse Montgomery gave him for
the destruction was that Southerners must
be "swept away by the hand of God, like the
Jews of old."

"This makes me very much ashamed of
myself," Shaw wrote on the day after the raid.
He also called it a "dirty piece of business"
that brought dishonor on his regiment.
Confederate authorities were shocked by the
merciless attack on civilians. Captain William
A. Lane of the 20th Battalion Georgia Cavalry
reported that when he saw smoke coming
from Darien he tried to intervene with a
detachment of only 15 men. He realized he
stood no chance, however, and withdrew
back away from the town without firing a shot.

On June 13, 1863, two days after the raid,
Captain W.G. Thomson of the same unit
reported to Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer:

...I have to report that the enemy have burnt
Darien to the ground; there is only one
church and two or three small buildings
standing...They came up the river in three
gunboats, shelling as they came along.

The only prisoners taken by the Federals, he
reported, were two women who were later

Among the buildings burned in Darien by the
Union troops was the historic First African
Baptist Church. Founded in 1822, it was one
of the oldest African American churches in
the South.

Col. Shaw later complained to superiors
about the wanton destruction of Darien and
the war he and his men had been ordered to
carry out against women and children. He
died 25 days later while leading the 54th
Massachusetts in the failed attack on Battery
Wagner near
Charleston, South Carolina.

The Confederates did lodge a formal protest
against the burning of Darien. Gen. P.G.T.
Beauregard included the incident in a litany
of incidents of vandalism he attributed to
Union soldiers in a letter to Brig. Gen. Quincy
A. Gillmore of the U.S. Army.

Despite Beauregard's complaint that the
burning of Darien and other towns were war
crimes, Col. Montgomery was not removed
from his post.  He commanded a brigade at
Battle of Olustee, Florida on February 20,
1864. He resigned his commission later that
year and returned home to Kansas where he
died on December 6, 1871.

The site of the Union landing at Darien is
now a waterfront park, where the ruins of
historic warehouses and other structures
can be seen. The Adam Strain Building near
Broad and Screven Streets was gutted in the
fire but survives. The Grant House at Adams
(GA 99) and Rittenhouse Streets is the only
residence not destroyed by the fires. It is still
a private home.

A marker on the burning of Darien stands on
the grounds of city hall.
Darien Waterfront
Darien had been a small but
active port before the war.
Now a destination for heritage
and eco-tourism, it remains a
center for the Georgia shrimp
The Grant House
The only residence to survive
the fires, the Grant House is
still a private home today.