Kennesaw …

In March 1861 the Republican Party candidate, Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the United States. He did not carry a single southern state. The Republicans had taken a position against slavery. The south took a position against the federal government.

The first military action of the American Civil War took place at Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina in April 1861. The war was a brutal affair that took the lives of about 8% of America’s white males aged 13 to 43; 6% in the North and 18% in the South. In the aftermath the North prospered and the South was impoverished for a century.

By 1864 the South were losing but progress was very slow and costs were high. It was an unpopular war. Lincoln seemed unlikely to win a second term, his opponents were promising to sue for peace rather than continue to fight for victory. Atlanta, Georgia was a crucial resource to the Confederates. It stood at the intersection of four important railroad lines that supplied the Confederacy and was a centre of military manufacturing.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was commanding the Union forces ranged against Confederate troops commanded by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Rather than make a frontal attack, Sherman had chosen several times to pass Johnston’s position and threaten his supply line. Johnston had fallen back each time.

After two months and 70 miles (110 km) of gaining ground with few casualties on either side , Sherman’s progress was blocked by imposing fortifications on Kennesaw Mountain, near Marietta, Georgia. This time Sherman ordered a large-scale frontal assault.

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought on June 27, 1864. The Union forces suffered about 3,000 casualties in comparison to Johnston’s 1,000. Sherman wrote to his wife …

I begin to regard the death and mangling of couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash.

Essentially it was a Confederate win but on the far right of the Union lines troops under the command of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield were able, once again to outflank Johnston’s position, all that lay between them and Atlanta was the Chattahoochee River. Johnston withdrew to the river where he was outflanked yet again and was relieved of his command in favour of John Bell Hood.

Sherman took Atlanta after a month-long siege. It was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy and enough to swing public sentiment behind Lincoln. He was reelected and concluded his second inaugural speech with a plea for reconciliation …

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.       Abraham Lincoln March 4 1865.

The visitor to Kennesaw Mountain can walk to the summit passing the positions where the Confederate army was dug in. The city of Atlanta can be seen from the top. A few cannons remain on duty where so many lost their lives.

At the foot of the hill there is a museum and an informative video is shown regularly.

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. His successor, Andrew Johnson was able to announce the end of the war the following month.

Darien …

Not far from St Simon’s Island is another spot where I can indulge my interest in history and my passion for birding.

Darien in McIntosh County was originally founded by by Scottish Highlanders recruited by James Oglethorpe. They arrived in January 1736 and wasted no time building a town and fortifications. This was during the period when many Scots were moved off their traditional lands to make way for sheep farming – the highland clearances. Most of the settlers spoke no other language than Gaelic.

They had a tough time of it during the period when Britain and Spain were battling for domination in the south-east.

The city was built adjacent to the site of Fort King George which had been built in 1721, the earliest British fort on the Georgia coast. It has been rebuilt from old plans and is an interesting place to visit.

Fort King George – blockhouse
Fort King George – smithy
Fort King George – barracks

Darien also suffered badly in the Civil War. In 1863 it was burnt and looted by Union soldiers in order to deny supply to the Confederate forces.

When rebuilt after the Civil War it enjoyed great prosperity as a timber exporter … until they ran out of trees.

Just south of the town is the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, which attracts thousands of wintering and migrating ducks and provides excellent habitat for migrating shorebirds and resident wetland birds.  There are a number of observation towers. Take your telescope.

St Simon’s After Irma …

The lovely Gayle and myself are safely in Ohio looking out onto Lake Erie.

Until a few days ago we were staying on St Simon’s Island in Georgia, guests in the house that you can see in the video below. This was shot by a neighbour, our friends evacuated to South Carolina and are also safe but have a lot to do when they are eventually allowed home.

Currently residents are not allowed to return, a curfew is in force for those who chose not to leave. 90% of Glynn County is without power, trees are down, roads and bridges are being checked for damage.

Okefenokee …

Down in the south-west corner of Georgia you can find the largest swamp in the USA, the Okefenokee. It covers about 700 square miles (1,800 square kilometres). It is the source of the Swanee River. Fifty inches (127cm) of rain a year provide the water. Shallow waterways wind through cypress trees and peat bogs, canoes are the simplest means of getting about. We settled for a motorised pontoon boat.

It’s a great place for Alligators …

… and interestingly, a great place for Black Bears who like to raid Alligator nests and plunder the eggs. Female Alligators guard their nests, large ones can fight off a bear, smaller ones are likely to come off second best. Since the swamp has been protected the bear population is recovering from past persecutions. None volunteered to be photographed.

It’s also a great place for birds, especially those with long legs …

Little Blue Heron

We got a glimpse, as well, of a pair of Sandhill Cranes.

The trees and shrubs in the swamp provide opportunities for a different suite of birds.

Barred Owl

The waters are acidic and nutrient poor, ideal for pitcher plants …

St Simon’s Island …

Is one of a string of sand barrier islands along the coast of Georgia. It is quite densely settled but the homes and businesses are tucked away amongst a forest of Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) draped in Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Add extensive marshes, numerous golf courses and land set aside as green space by the island’s Land Trust and you have a community that merges comfortably into nature … Except, perhaps, when a hurricane bears down on it. The highest ground on the island is about five metres above sea level.

White-tailed Deer
Eastern Grey Squirrel

It was home to Creek Indians for millenia. After the Americas were put on the European map by Mr Columbus the Spanish were quick to explore Florida and Georgia but the French were the first to found a colony.  In 1564 René Goulaine de Laudonnière built Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. It was short-lived. The Spanish founded their own colony at St. Augustine a little further south. Before long they attacked Fort Caroline and slaughtered most of the garrison.

The Spanish spread their influence northwards founding missions to convert the native inhabitants. The missionaries were accompanied by soldiers to establish Spanish authority and ensure the safety of the priests.

After 1600 the pace of colonisation picked up considerably. The French, the English, the Scots and the Dutch all founded colonies in North America.

A century later St Simon’s Island lay at a strategic position between Spanish Florida centred in St Augustine and the British in Virginia. A Spanish mission on the island had fallen into disuse. Spain and Britain were not getting along all that comfortably. James Oglethorpe was sent to erect a fort on the island. In 1736 he founded Fort Frederica with a small town adjacent. Not far away on the mainland Fort King George was built and the town of Darien grew up adjacent to it, settled mainly by Scots.


In 1713 the British had wrung  from the Spanish the right to sell slaves and some goods into South America. In 1731 the brig Rebecca was boarded by the Spanish off Florida. The captain, Robert Jenkins was accused of smuggling and suffered the indignity of having his left ear cut off. It was but one of a number of irritants that led to war, again, with Spain, a war that came to be called the War of Jenkins Ear.

It began in 1739 and ran on into the broader War of the Austrian Succession which finished in 1748. It was largely a naval affair fought in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America.

In 1742 the Spanish landed 2000 troops on St Simon’s Island in an attempt to push Britain out of its colony in Georgia. Oglethorpe’s men from Fort Frederica fought off the Spanish in two engagements, the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and the Battle of Bloody Marsh. The Spanish withdrew from the island, probably unaware that they had a numerically superior force.

Irma …

After a fabulous week on St. Simons Island, which I will get around to sharing, it was time to leave. And by coincidence a very good time to leave. Irma, the strongest hurricane to form in the Atlantic has been meandering north over recent days, has ravaged some of the Caribbean Islands and is bearing down on Cuba. It is tipped to hit Florida on Sunday.

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for the Florida Keys. Police and outreach workers will begin taking those of Miami’s homeless that refuse to go into refuges into custody for their own protection tomorrow. The conurbation centred on Miami is home to 6 million people.

St Simons Island and the nearby city of Brunswick in southern Georgia are on high alert, it is likely that they will be severely impacted in the coming days but no mandatory evacuation has been ordered yet.

Gayle and I picked up our Chevy in Jacksonville this morning and we have been part of a procession of Florida number plates up the I-75. We are safely ensconced in Atlanta.

Our thoughts are with all of you who are in the firing line.

Arrival …

The lovely Gayle and I flew into Jacksonville, the largest city in the contiguous United States. By area that is, and of course, that depends on where the lines are drawn on the map. The metropolitan area has a population of about 1.6 million people.  That’s considerably more than Miami proper with a mere 400,000 but if you throw in the rest of the conurbation – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach you’ve drawn a line around 5.5 million people. So which gets to be state capital, Jacksonville or Miami? Neither, it’s Tallahassee with a smaller population than either.

Anyway you will be pleased to know that Jacksonville has recovered well from the Great Fire of 1901 which started as a kitchen fire , spread to Spanish Moss in a mattress factory. In just eight hours, it swept through 146 city blocks, destroyed over 2,000 buildings, left about 10,000 homeless and killed seven.

During the silent movie era it was the centre of the film industry but then Hollywood came along.

Hurricane Matthew made itself felt in 2016.

We didn’t stay long in case something bad happened. It seems ill-fated.

The truth is we were picked up by friends and whisked away to the beautiful St Simons Island over the border in Georgia. They have a really fabulous house backing on to a lake.

Whilst having breakfast the next morning we could see this guy without getting up from the table!

I guess a swim is not on the agenda.

As beautiful as the house is all the light switches are up side down. How odd.