There’s a little known story about the Civil War that Ken Johnston wants to tell. The new director of programs and education at the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus decided since February is Black History Month and the full-sized reproduction of the USS Water Witch is complete, the timing was perfect.
This weekend, the museum will explore the roles of African-Americans in the Civil War.
The stories of three sailors -- Moses Dallas, a slave serving as a pilot with the Confederate Navy; Jeremiah Sills, a free black sailor serving aboard the Water Witch and Peter McIntosh, an escaped slave serving in the Union Navy -- will be told.
Johnston, who is an actor and playwright, wrote “Black in Blue,” which recounts the stories. Local actors Jonathan Perkins will play Dallas, and Ken Bell will play Sills. Atlanta actor Volnerius Rackley will be McIntosh.
“It is, from the get-go, a compelling story,” Johnston said about the black sailors on the Water Witch. “You’ve got a really interesting, human story. There is heroism on both sides, and there is cowardice on both sides.”
The Water Witch was a Union gunship that patrolled the waters between Ossabaw Island and the Georgia coast. On a stormy night in June of 1864, Confederate naval forces attempted to capture the ship, which was anchored near Savannah as part of the Union blockade.
The brief but violent battle was well documented in first-person accounts by sailors on both sides.
The Confederate Navy planned to capture the ship and have Dallas pilot it as the confederacy attacked other ships.
The plan failed quickly when Dallas was the second person to be killed in the battle. Sills was the only Union casualty.
“He was fighting like a wildcat,” Johnston said. “He died from multiple cutlass blows.”
During the attack, McIntosh jumped overboard, swam to Ossabaw Island and was picked up by a Union picket boat the next morning. He later served on the USS Philadelphia.
Actors Perkins and Bell are excited to share these little-known stories.
“A lot of people don’t know about this and should,” Perkins said.