The legacy of Darien, Georgia

Signpost marking the Burning of Darien

After watching the movie Glory, I was struck by the actions of the Union soldiers on the town of Darien, Georgia. I know that the movie is based upon factual events, so I decided to look up information about Darien and its destruction during the Civil War. I found out the Darien had indeed been plundered by Colonel James Montgomery and Colonel Robert Shaw. Col. Shaw was unhappy about his part in the raid, and wrote about its happenings to his wife, Annie, afterwards. He explains that the only people left in the town were a few women and negroes. He tells her about Montgomery’s order to burn down the homes. Montgomery tells him that, “the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of Old….We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare”[1]Did “outlawed” mean that since they were in charge of black soldiers, they were not really part of the regular Union army? I find Montgomery’s statement to be revealing about how officers felt about commanding African American soldiers. Col. Shaw may be the exception to the rule, as his parents were abolitionists and he may have felt less ostracized by being in command of black soldiers.

Remaining Structure of the Burning of Darien

McIntosh County history describes the, “…the lumber industry devastated, and even the once-thriving seaport town of Darien was destroyed as the result of the “total war” tactics of a renegade Union field officer.”[2] Could Col. Montgomery have been acting alone in his actions of plundering, stealing and burning this town to the ground? Or was this a practice of many commanders? There is rumor that Shaw’s family helped rebuild Darien after the war, but I could not corroborate that information. That may have been a myth perpetuated by the movie Glory. A book about the infamous raid and the 54th Regiments involvement was published in 1965 and is based on the letters from Col. Shaw to his wife. It also was one of the sources for the movie Glory.[3]

[1] Colonel Robert Shaw to his wife Annie about the Raid at Darien, Georgia. St. Simons Island, GA, June 9, 1863. (accessed on July 3, 2003).
[2] City of Darien, Georgia, “McIntosh County History: The Birth of McIntosh County,” (accessed July 3, 2012).
[3] Glory, directed by Edward Zwick, (1989, Culver City, CA. Tri-Star Pictures) DVD.

  1. The film revealed that African American soldiers struggled every step of the way for acceptance and parity with their white counterparts. The prejudice started at the top with Lincoln not supporting the 54th in their quest for equal pay, filtered down through the ranks of leadership such as Gen. Harker, Montgomery, the quartermaster, and fellow troops. Shaw is probably not unique, but clearly in the minority. We know from reports of plunder, pillage and destruction, that Montgomery’s actions were common occurrences as the Union forces strived to bring the South to its knees.

  2. elewis417 said:

    I’ve been told growing up around veterans of wars, that in order to win the war, it has to be personal for civilians. Civilians have to participate in order for the war to shift from stalemate to a clear victor. I think all commanders in battle are aware of this horrible fact. Take WWII, would Truman bomb Japan again in order to end the war? In both Korea and Vietnam we have a game of checkers played with a civilian population that refuses to give up. In many ways the war in Iraq wasn’t real for Americans. The reason for this is as civilians we are so detached from the war. It becomes a political battle that you hear about on the news. Here in the U.S., we can turn the TV off, change the channel, or listen to something else. During the Civil War in the South, there is no off switch. I think commanders capitalized on this and completely devastated the population as best they could. If you break the will of the enemy, he will no longer fight. It’s a horrible reality of war.

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