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16 Aug 2014

Georgia and Sherman’s March to the Sea (Part One)

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August 16, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Road to Tara Museum

By Renée S. Gordon

“War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”  –William Tecumseh Sherman

Ulysses Grant and William T. Sherman first met at West Point as students, but did not forge a friendship until their time together in the Civil War. On March 12, 1864, Grant assumed command of the entire US armed forces and he immediately went to Nashville to meet with Sherman. On the 18th, Sherman was assigned to Grant’s previous command, the Division of the Mississippi, with orders to decimate Gen. Johnston’s forces and destroy all military targets and anything that could be used to benefit the war effort in Georgia. Civilians were not to be harmed unless they offered resistance. Many historians cite this as the first example of total war. One of Grant and Sherman’s goals was to break the southerners’ will for rebellion and desire to continue the war.  

Sherman’s 250-mile long, 66-mile wide, March to the Sea was launched in Atlanta, which had fallen on September 2, 1864. On November 15, 1864, he set out and reached Savannah on December 21, 1864. Sherman telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln on December 22nd that he had taken the city and that he was giving the city and 25,000 bales of cotton to him as a Christmas gift. The Civil War ended in less than three months.

Sherman determined his route using census records to ensure that his troops would be able to obtain enough food along the way. He set out with approximately 62,000 troops, divided in half and generally traveling 20 to 40-miles apart, 600 ambulances and 2,500 supply wagons. 

Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, ordered that the population destroy anything that the army could use but for the most part they did not. Historians do now largely agree that many of the fires set along the route were not Sherman’s doings but were instead set by members of the communities to keep supplies from falling into Union hands. While there were certainly molestations by Union soldiers these crimes were punishable, were most often committed by stragglers and there is only a single “documented” case of a female being ravished.

A good place to begin to understand the march and to separate truth from legend is 15-miles south of Atlanta in Jonesboro. This is the city where the last battle was fought in the Atlanta Campaign. The battle took place here because it contained the last rail link to Atlanta. Union forces burned all but 12 buildings in the town including the rail station, the courthouse and a large portion of railroad track. The loss by the Confederates forced the surrender of Atlanta on September 1, 1864.

The Road to Tara Museum (TRTM) is the perfect place to start to trace Sherman’s historic path and begin to understand both the events that took place and the renaissance that has taken place in the towns and villages he marched through. The museum is located in the 1867 Jonesboro Depot Welcome Center that replaced an earlier depot that was destroyed during the Civil War. Galleries here interpret the Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Jonesboro and the complete story of the novel “Gone With the Wind” (GWTW). Emphasis is placed on the life of Margaret Mitchell, the role Clayton County played in the writing of the novel, the movie and its characters. “Gone With the Wind” plays continuously in the museum.

Highlights of the collection are a rare priest’s Civil War uniform, an authentic Sherman necktie from the Jonesboro railroad track*, replica costumes from the movie, documents, photographs and artifacts. A large showcase is devoted to Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award, her portrayal of the “iconic mammy figure” and the mythology surrounding the role of the mammy on the plantation. 

The final exhibit is dedicated to Melvinia Shields, the great-great-great grandmother of First Lady Michelle Obama, slave of Clayton County’s Henry Shields. In 1860 she delivered a son, Dolphus, whose father was Henry’s son Charles. She lived on Charles’ land until the end of the 1800s. She died at the age of 94 and a monument was erected in the county in 2012.

Stephens Mitchell declared Jonesboro the “Home of Gone With the Wind” in 1969 because of its ties to Margaret. It is on the porch of her maternal great grandparent’s home that she heard tales of the Jonesboro battle and the Atlanta campaign from her aunts. Rural Home, as the Fitzgerald’s plantation was called, was Margaret’s Tara, though not like the one depicted in the film. Rural Home began as a simple four room structure built in the 1830s. It is no longer extant.

Stately Oaks Plantation was erected in 1839 in the Greek Revival-style on 404-acres. In August of 1864, Union troops marched down the road. Six men entered the home and took everything of value. Two officers came the next day and asked if the cook could fix a meal. After learning that all the food was gone they requisitioned food for the family and posted two guards to protect them. The home is now part of Margaret Mitchell Memorial Park.

An exterior tour includes, a Tenant Cabin, the cook’s original hand-hewn Log Kitchen, Bethel schoolhouse, Blacksmith Shop and a replica Creek Indian village. The original chimney of one of the houses on the Fitzgerald Plantation is also on the property.

Tours of the home’s interior include a rare boxwood piano, original flooring and newspaper clippings from the premiere of Gone With The Wind on the first floor. The four rooms on the second level showcase additional treasures. At the top of the stairs you are greeted with a fainting couch used by women because of the tight corsets. Corsets in the day were so tight that you put your shoes on first because the corset prevented you from bending. There is also a display of 19th-century toys and a bed and dresser set handcarved by a slave in the 1830s. 

Stately Oaks is decorated for mourning for the entire month of August. During the Civil War era viewings were held in the front parlor of the home. After viewings moved to funeral parlors the front room began to be known as the living room.

By appointment you can visit the 1860 Warren House. The home served as a field hospital and headquarters for the Confederates. When the Union forces took command of the area it served the same function. Highlights of the tour are the still visible signatures of recuperating soldiers on the walls downstairs. People claim to have seen a ghostly soldier staring out the window.

While in Jonesboro be certain to visit Arts Clayton a nonprofit organization founded in 1986. The gallery presents new and emerging Georgia artists and focuses on educational programing. The shop offers affordable Georgia made artistic creations that make unique gifts and mementoes.

Madison was chartered on May 11, 1809 and was largely populated by revolutionary soldiers who had received land grants. Madison benefitted from the cotton boom and by the onset of the Civil War nearly 50 percent of the population were enslaved blacks. Joshua Hill, a former US Senator, rode to his encampment and persuaded Sherman not to burn the town. Ironically, the only home in the town that was burned was Hill’s. 

Modern Madison has more than 50 antebellum buildings and has been voted one of the best small towns in which to live. There is no shortage of entertainment either since “The Originals” and parts of the “Vampire Diaries” series and is filmed

J. B. Walker built the Georgian Bonar Hall in 1839 on his 10,000-acre estate. The house has a central hall with two rooms on both sides and 13-ft. ceilings. Scenes from I’ll Fly Away, My Cousin Vinny and Road Trip were filmed at Bonar Hall.

The Georgian Revival Heritage Hall was constructed in 1811 and is the city’s oldest home. It has been voted Madison’s #1 Attraction. Daily tours are offered. 

Dublin, Georgia was founded on December 9, 1812. And named after Dublin, Ireland. For a small town Dublin is big on history. Self-guided walking tour brochures are available that list 50 sites within the Historic Downtown.

Jefferson Davis was aware that surrender was imminent and just prior to Lee’s surrender he left Richmond, the Confederate capital, for Texas where he planned to continue the fight. The Union pursued him almost immediately.  On May 7, 1865 he arrived on the outskirts of Dublin. When his retinue caught up with him they inquired about the best route and proceeded onward. While in town, Jefferson’s black carriage driver, John Davis, made the acquaintance of Della Conway, a young black woman. Union forces were only six hours behind and Davis was captured on May 10, 1865. He returned to town after Davis’ capture and he and Della were wed for 40 years. 

The 1904 Carnegie Library is listed on the National Register of historic places. The building functioned as a library until 1964. The structure serves as a cultural space and event venue. Special architectural elements are the all original woodwork including the doors.

Theater Dublin is a meticulously restored Art-Deco movie theater constructed in 1934. Only the marquee and exterior walls are original.  Legend has it that the owner of Theater Dublin burned down the rival theater down the street. This historic theater is now a performing arts center.

The Historic First African Baptist Church was founded in 1867. It is the oldest African American church in the city. The church has a series of beautiful stain-glass windows that date from 1914 and a small gallery dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 17, 1944 the Black Elks Club sponsored an oratorical contest and one of the contestants was a 14-year old King’s first public address came in the form of a speech, “The Negro and the Constitution.” First African Baptist Church continues to sponsor an annual commemoration of the event and King’s legacy.

Dublin Farms B&B is a wonderfully surprising venue, accommodations and gourmet dining in a 30-acre rural setting. Ristorante da Maria provides gourmet Italian cuisine to the public on weekends. The Northern Italian Feast consists of five courses and libations for under $40.00. The service and hospitality are incomparable. Reservations are highly recommended.

Deano’s Pizza in Dublin is the two-time winner of USA Today’s “Best Pizza in the State.” This is brick-oven pizza at its best.

Springfield, Georgia’s Ebenezer Creek was the scene of one of the most infamous incidents during Sherman’s March. The Union Army employed many newly freed blacks as teamsters, pioneers, cooks, laundresses, etc., who in return for their labor received food. As women, children and the elderly joined the followers the number of refugees quickly outpaced the army’s ability to feed them and slowed the troops of Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis considerably. Davis decided that something had to be done.

As he reached the 165-ft. wide, 10-ft. deep, Ebenezer Creek on December 3rd he commanded that the blacks be restrained from crossing. They were informed that the army had to cross the pontoon bridge first. Once the army’s crossing was complete, Davis had the bridge taken apart so that no one else could cross. An estimated 5,000 refugees were stranded, the vast majority of which were females very young and very old. 

Having been closely followed by Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, he and his forces arrived at the creek and began pushing the people from the rear. His troops then fired on the helpless blacks as hundreds were pushed or plunged into the icy water where they drowned. Any freedmen remaining on the shore who escaped gunshots or drowning were returned to their owners. 

Several Union eyewitnesses reported the incident but Davis defended his actions with Sherman’s backing. Public outrage caused Sherman to meet with Sec. of War Edwin Stanton and African American leaders on January 12, 1865 in Savannah. On the 16th Lincoln sanctioned Sherman’s Special Field Order No.15, granting ex-slaves 40-acres of confiscated property and a mule. A 2010 historic marker acknowledges and interprets the incident.

Georgia’s Civil War Trails are clearly marked with interpretive signs, markers, audio tour options and QR codes. This is the final year of the sesquicentennial celebration of the conflict that defined our country and visitors final opportunity to immerse themselves in the uniquely American stories. All the planning tools you need are available online.

I wish you smooth travels!

*rails that had been heated and bent around tree trunks

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