William Harrison Gowen Served in
Ragtag Fourth Georgia Regiment
William Harrison Gowen, scion of a prominent Georgia family, went from riches to rags when he volunteered August 25, 1862 at age 20 in the Fourth Georgia Cavalry Regiment commanded by Col. D. L. Clinch. His mother provided him with a splendid cavalryman’s uniform of Confederate gray with brass buttons and even a plume for his hat. But the Fourth Georgia was no place for a fancy dude.
The regiment was assigned to coastal defence, and the best horses, equipment and supplies went north to battlefield cavalry units like those commanded by Stonewall Jackson. If a Fourth cavalryman looked like a soldier with ability, he was transferred north as a replacement. The regiment was always short-handed and poorly mounted. Generally they forgot to salute. The Fourth was an embarrassment to its sister unit, the Fifth Georgia Cavalry Regiment.
In the fall of 1863 an ambitious Col. R. H. Anderson, who commanded the Fifth, attempted to disparage the Fourth in order to have it consolidated with his command. He addressed a letter to Gen. Beauregard describing for his benefit the Fourth, as follows, “no two commands are drilled alike, their internal organization is entirely different, their discipline is loose and irregular, their armament is bad and the equipment miserable. I
verily believe that they could not march tomorrow from Savannah to Charleston without having 50% of their horses unfit for service.”
However the General saw something he liked in Clinch’s command and ignored Anderson’s suggestion. The Fourth, shuttling from Savannah to Jacksonville, took
pride in their privation. They wore their slouch hats and ill-fitting uniforms like a badge of honor. The patch-itup-and-make-it-do command was not impressive on the drill field [if they ever saw one], but they took on all comers. They fought like wildcats against tremendous odds and never lost a battle.
Once on March 20, 1863 Gen. G. T. Beauregard, from his Charleston headquarters, ordered the Fourth to Jacksonville to meet a threatened invasion from the sea.
On March 27, the regiment composed of 277 men and three pieces of artillery was facing the invaders. The Eighth Maine Infantry Regiment and the Sixth Connecticut Infantry Regiment with support from some 1,500 negro troops under “Montgomery of Kansas”
came storming ashore.
Col. Clinch had three of his five cavalry companies dismount to fight as infantrymen in protection of the artillery pieces and placed the remaining two on the flanks. Each time a landing force arrived, the artillery opened up. When the cannon barrels were about to melt, the dismounted cavalrymen charged. The entire Federal force was routed and fell back into the sea, awaiting evacuation. Jacksonville was saved and Gen. Beauregard was elated.
Beauregard sent Col. Clinch his congratulations in General Order No. 12, a commendation to the colonel for his efficient discharge of his duties and Maj. J. C. McDonald who commanded the three companies who dismounted to serve as infantrymen. Individual acts of bravery were cited in the citation which closed with “Officers and men of the Fourth Georgia were always eager and ready to meet the enemy on any and all occasions.”
The Federal armada abandoned its efforts to take Jacksonville and steamed north to threaten Brunswick, Georgia. The Yankees landed on St. Simons Island almost unopposed and used it as a staging area. But when they attempted to invade adjoining Brunswick, the
found the short-handed Fourth Georgia drawn up to oppose them. Again the landing force withered under the rapid fire of the artillery, and again the cavalrymen drove them back into the water. The Fourth launched an attack on St. Simons Island, and the Federal forces were again evacuated by their navy.
On July 2, 1863 Capt W. M. Hazard of Company G of the Fourth Georgia filed a routine, matter-of-fact report to his headquarters at Savannah, concerning the part played by his troops in the repulse of the Federal naval craft attempting the landing at Brunswick, according to “War Department Records,” Series I, Volume 14, page 315.
Thwarted here, the Federal boats turned up river in a foraging attempt. Capt. Hazard reports that his troops mounted and dashed up river to place themselves in defense of a salt factory which the Federals threatened, again repulsing them. On that date the Fourth Georgia operated in the Georgia theatre under command of Brig. Gen. H. W. Mercer. Throughout the remainder of the Civil War, Clinch’s regiment was never attached to an
army corps, but was used to successfully defend the Savannah River batteries and other coastal military installations.
Paperwork was not one of the strong points of the regiment. The muster roll of the Fourth Georgia for June 1864, last on file, shows William Harrison Gowen still “present.” The regiment, still defiant and eager to fight, was included in the command of Maj.-Gen. Sam
Jones, CSA, when it was surrendered to Federal forces. William Harrison Gowen was paroled at Thomasville, Georgia in mid-May of 1865, a month after the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse.
William Harrison Gowen, son of James Gowen and Anna Elizabeth Abbott Gowen, was born in Camden County, Georgia January 23, 1842, according to Charles Latimer Gowen of Atlanta, his grandson.
William Harrison Gowen was married about 1870 to Anne Elizabeth Wright of Carteret’s Point, near Brunswick in Glynn County. She was a daughter of Moses Christopher Burnett Wright and Ann Anderson Wright. Their household was enumerated in the 1880 census of Glynn County, Enumeration District 57, page 25, as:
“Gowen, W. H. 38, born in Georgia
A. E. 27, born in Georgia
C. B. 9, born in Georgia, son
C. A. 7, born in Georgia, son”
William Harrison Gowen died February 23, 1890 on St. Simons Island, and was buried there in Christ Churchyard, Frederica, Georgia.
Children born to William Harrison Gowen and Anne Elizabeth Wright Gowen include:
Clarence Blain Gowen born January 29, 1871
Charles Moore Gowen born May 18, 1872