Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Dublin's Rusty Henderson, portraying Robert Toombs, leads
the procession through the Old Capital gates.

Milledgeville, GA. January 22, 2011. One hundred and fifty years ago, the greatest political minds gathered in the state capitol building in Milledgeville to subscribe their names to the Ordinance of Secession. The vote, while not close, was not indicative of the deep division between the citizens of Georgia on the issue of whether the State of Georgia should leave the Union. Unionist or Cooperationist leaders Alexander Hamilton Stephens and Herschel V. Johnson urged caution or no secession at all, while other Georgians led by Howell Cobb, T.R.R. Cobb and Robert Toombs urged immediate and unconditional secession.

This past Saturday the culmination of the divisive Secession Convention was re-enacted in a performance sponsored by the Old Capital Society in the reconstructed Georgia state capitol building in Milledgeville. The final performance was staged in the connection with the annual Sons of Confederate Veterans parade and salute to Gen. Robert E. Lee.

More than one hundred reenactors dressed in Civil War area costumes, carried Confederate and American flags, rifles, bagpipes, and other accouterments as they marched from the Old Governor's mansion to the Old State Capitol building on the campus of Georgia Military College. The procession was led through the gates of the capitol grounds by Dublin's Rusty Henderson, who portrayed United States Senator Robert Toombs, who resigned his seat two weeks after the ordinance of secession was adopted. A packed house looked on with interest as one delegate after another rose to speak in opposition to or in favor of the motion to leave the United States.

Henderson, portraying the red-haired Toombs, was the first to speak in favor of secession. The fire eater secessionist was challenged by former Georgia governor and unsuccessful 1860 vice-presidential candidate Herschel V. Johnson, of Louisville. Johnson, who later became the Judge of the Superior Courts of Johnson and Washington counties, was portrayed by Lt. Col. David Wells of Milledgeville. Then came the political giant Alexander Hamilton Stephens, who soon became the first and only vice-president of the Confederate States of America. Stephens, a five-foot nine-inch man who weighed less than a hundred pounds and suffered from frequent disabilities, plead with his cane in the air for the delegation to resist any quick, unreasonable, and unconstitutional actions. Playing the role of Stephens was GCSU's Dr. Mark Pelton, a veteran of many fine stage performances. Rising to end the debate was John Geist, a Milledgeville actor who assumed the role of Thomas R.R. Cobb, a fiery secessionist who died in battle at Fredericksburg in December 1862. Rick Joslyn, in portraying assembly chairman George Crawford, called for the final vote. As Toombs and Cobb marched out in triumph, Johnson and Stephens, threw their pens into the fireplace as they left in disgust and sorrow.

The event is the first of many commemorating the beginning of the Civil War by Georgia's Old Capital Museum Society. For more information about the State Capitol and its programs featuring the sesquicentennial of the Civil War go to

Mark Pelton as Alexander Hamilton Stephens

                                                  David Wells as Gov. Herschel V. Johnson

                                                         John Geist as Thomas R.R. Cobb

Rick Joslyn as George Crawford

Monday, January 24, 2011


The Defender of Georgia

They called him "Fightin' Joe" Wheeler. Wheeler, a Georgian by birth and an Alabamian by choice, fought as hard as he could to save his native state of Georgia from General William T. Sherman's invading army in the fall of 1864. More than three decades later, General Wheeler became one of the few American generals to fight in both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. In 1912, when the State of Georgia sought names for her newest county, it chose the name of Wheeler to honor the general, most likely for the exploits of the general in the War for Southern Independence than those in that inauspicious war in the Caribbean which lasted only a few weeks.

General Wheeler was born on September 10, 1836 near Augusta, Georgia. Joseph spent his formative years with his family in New England. When he received his appointment to the United States Military Academy, he claimed that he was a Georgian. While just barely above the minimum height requirement for West Point cadets, Joe Wheeler finished near the bottom of his class in 1859. After a brief training assignment as a cavalry lieutenant, Wheeler was assigned to duty in the Territory of New Mexico.

Within seven months, Wheeler's native state seceded from the Union. Wheeler returned to Georgia to accept an appointment as a first lieutenant in a state artillery unit. After serving near Pensacola, Florida, Wheeler transferred to Alabama, where he was assigned to command the 19th Alabama Infantry. As the fighting ended during the first calendar year of the war, Lt. Wheeler was promoted to a colonel.

Wheeler's men saw action early and viciously in the pivotal Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. After Shiloh, Wheeler transferred to a cavalry unit in the Army of the Mississippi. With many of his men trained under Nathan Bedford Forrest's command, Wheeler performed admirably and in doing so, was promoted to brigadier general after the Battle of Perryville.

Wheeler's troops protected the Confederate left at the bloody Battle of Chickamauga. In the following months, Wheeler kept the Union army at bay until Sherman was able to mount his offensive in the spring of 1864.

Gen. Wheeler's cavalry was assigned by Army of the Tennessee commander, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to protect the railroads coming into Atlanta. In July, Wheeler's men thwarted a Union attack on Macon led by Gen. George Stoneman. While Wheeler was busy chasing Union forces north of Atlanta, the city began to crumble under the relentless pressure of Sherman as he pounded the city with artillery fire. Finally the Union army cut off all access to the railroad hub in the late summer of 1864.

It would be October before Gen. Wheeler would rejoin Gen. John Bell Hood who had been forced to abandon Atlanta. When General William T. Sherman began his March to the Sea, Gen. Wheeler and Gen. Samuel Wragg Ferguson of Mississippi were assigned the tasks of harassing the Union columns and to prevent any flanking movements along the way.

Gen. Ferguson moved through Laurens County in an attempt to keep the cavalry attached to Gen. Sherman's right wing from peeling off to the southwest to rescue Union prisoners at Andersonvlle. The right wing was first threatened at Griswoldville in upper Twiggs and lower Jones County by an army of boys and old men. A few days later, prison guards, prisoners, cadets, and local militia under the command of Gen. Henry C. Wayne stalled the right wing at Oconee River Bridge, Georgia and Ball's Ferry, if only for a few hours.

On November 22, a Captain R.W.B. Ellliot forwarded Major Hall's report that the enemy had crossed the Oconee at Blackshear's Ferry. At noon on the 24th of November 1864, J.A. Brenner, of Augusta, wrote, "General Wheeler with 10,000 men now crossing the Oconee River, twenty miles below the bridge, at Blackshear's Ferry, and coming to the assistance of General Wayne. Enemy has burned long-trestle work on the other side of the bridge."

The following day, Gen. Henry Wayne reported to Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws in Savannah, "The enemy are trying to force Ball's Ferry. There is heavy firing below - apparently at Blackshear's Ferry. The movements of the enemy are definitely on Savannah."

Wheeler was unable to halt the invading hoard as it sliced through Central Georgia, Savannah, and thence northward into the Carolina. During the war, Wheeler was wounded three times and reportedly had sixteen horses shot out from under him. Wheeler was captured while attempting to aid Confederate President Jefferson Davis' attempt to escape to freedom. He was taken as a prisoner but served only two months. Many experts consider Wheeler as second only to Nathan Bedford Forrest as the South's greatest calvary commanders.

After the war, Wheeler left his native state and moved to Courtland, Alabama to farm and practice law. Wheeler was elected to the United States Congress in 1880, lost a legal challenge, only to take office after the challenger died. After declining to run again in 1882, Wheeler returned to Washington in 1884 and served until 1898.

Joseph Wheeler left the Congress in 1898 to do what he did best, fight while riding his horse. The general volunteered for duty in Cuba and was assigned by President William McKinley to command the calvary. His command included Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders. In one of the early battles while his forces were routing the Spaniards, General Wheeler reportedly exclaimed, "Let's go boys! We've got the damn Yankees on the run again!"

In Cuba (Wheeler in front, T.Roosevelt, far right).

But "Fighting Joe" wouldn't give up the fight. After many successes in Cuba, Wheeler, at the age of sixty-three, transferred to the Philippine Islands, where he fought under the command of General Arthur McArthur, father of General Douglas McArthur, for more than a year. When he retired in 1900, General Wheeler became one of only two generals in American history to serve as a general in both the armies of the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. The other was Gen. Fitzhugh Lee.

Joseph Wheeler died in New York one hundred and five years ago today. His body is one of the few Confederate general officers to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Wheeler was honored by Georgia with the naming of a high school in Marietta, a liberty ship, a major road in Augusta, and an army camp outside of Macon. Wheeler was similarly honored by his adopted state of Alabama. His statue, one of the very few depicting Confederate officers, now stands in Statutory Hall in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Looking For A Paradise

It didn't always seem to be a special spot. We really didn't know what we had. It wasn't exactly a paradise, but we paved it anyway, installed brighter lights, and put up a parking lot. Now if these words remind you of Joni Mitchell's classic song, Big Yellow Taxi, that is by design.

But what you now see, wasn't what you used to see. What is now covered by asphalt, plantings, and white stripes was once covered by dirt, hoof prints, peanut hulls, a miniature golf course, and a hotel. Yes, that's what I said, a miniature golf course and a hotel.

Nearly two hundred years ago when the City of Dublin was first laid out, the town was divided into blocks with each block containing four lots. The blocks were primarily developed along Jackson and Jefferson streets. Businesses and factories eventually expanded to other streets in the city, especially those along the railroad and in particular, Madison Street. Most of the other city blocks were filled by homes. But for some reason, the northern edge of the first block of West Madison Street was never fully developed.

Back in the 1860s, one of the city's first hotels, the Troup House, was erected on the South Jefferson Street side of the block. It was in the days following the Civil War when the first traveling circus came to town and staged a show on the vacant lot.

For decades, the open space was often the scene of performances by traveling shows. Then in 1910, Dan Burch bought the entire southern half of the block. Burch erected a two-story building on the site of the Troup House, which he moved to the empty space in the rear.

The Troup House continued to be used as a boarding house until it burned in the early 1920s. The ruins were cleared and once again the lot became a parking lot for autos and horse and mule drawn wagons as the rest the businesses on Madison Street, both on the eastern and western ends, were enjoying their greatest years.

As automobile traffic began to skyrocket after World War I, P.B. Cheek, of Darlington, S.C. , planned to erect an auto garage on the Burch property on the corner of S. Lawrence and W. Madison streets. Up to forty cars would be stored and locked in separate stalls under Cheek's plan. Cheek also planned to install gas pumps with the capacity to pump gas into four cars simultaneously. The project never materialized and the Burch lot went back to its usual use as a parking lot and a portal to the stores of West Jackson, South Jefferson, and South Lawrence streets.

Then in 1930 in the darkest days of the Great Depression, a new and exciting idea was launched for the parking lot. The resurgence of golf in Dublin at the Dublin Country Club led a group of men to come up with a way that the ordinary citizen could play the increasingly popular sport.

An eighteen-hole miniature golf course, complete with fairways, hazzards, bunkers, and sand traps was constructed on the Burch lot in the early spring just in time for the warm weather. Organizers played a few trial rounds to work out the kinks. When too many holes in one and birdies were registered, the course was rearranged to make par a more difficult score to achieve.

The owners of the Dublin Miniature Golf Links hoped that the course, with its prime location in the central business district, would attract business men to sneak away for a relaxing round during the day.

A contest was held to come up with a clever name for the course. The Courier Herald offered a free yearly subscription by mail up to forty miles away. The first prize was for a handsome mounted golf trophy. That award went to Carl Nelson, who submitted the name of Golf A'While. The second prize of five cash dollars, which amounted to more than a week's salary for most people in those days, was won by J.C. Woodard. Marjorie Page, the third place winner, won three dollars, though the names of their entries were not published.

Contestants were required to join the club. In order to qualify to become a member, any aspiring golfer had to play only a single round at a cost of fifteen cents and fill out a registration form. It was not necessary for any member to be a good golfer. In the first few days of operation, new golfers discovered the excitement of the game and the outstanding value of their entertainment dollars.

In the beginning, there were lots of people who came to play. The course was even lighted on some evenings to accommodate the crowds. But, like most things, all good things come to an end. With a deepening depression, attendance slumped and the course closed and the improvements were removed. Once again, the Burch lot became a parking lot.

Then in the 1960s, the Dublin Downtown Merchants Association improved the lot to accommodate the vast numbers of shoppers who patronized the downtown stores in the days before the opening of Williamsburg Village, the Dublin Mall, and Westgate Shopping Center.

When the 1980s rolled around, downtown shopping was on the decline. Although the number of shoppers dwindled, businesses, mostly the mom and pop variety, held on. In 1990, the City of Dublin and Laurens County funded the organization of Main Street Dublin in an attempt to revitalize the heart and soul of the county's capital.

Some twenty years later in the sweltering summer of 2010, the Dublin Downtown Development Authority and the City of Dublin designed and enhanced one of the city's oldest parking lots, hoping that it would beautify and enhance the new businesses which have begun to thrive around the West Madison Street square. With the help of Laurens County and Georgia Power Company, the lot is friendlier and more illuminated than ever. Go by there at lunch time, you'll have a hard time finding a parking space. Walk a little further. It won't kill you. After all, wouldn't you walk a little further to find a paradise. I would.

The Development Authority and the downtown business owners hope and we all should hope, that with a little luck and a lot of public and private support, a paradise will emerge and once again Madison Street will thrive as a major business avenue.

Monday, January 10, 2011


One of the Last River Boats

For centuries men have named their ships for their wives and their girlfriends, and even their daughters. Such was the case with the Oconee River's newest steamer which was christened one hundred and ten years ago last week. Many years ago, I picked up a copy of Thought You Might Be Interested in Knowing. I was. So, I started reading. On page four of the memoirs of D.T. Cowart, he states that the wrecked remains of The Clyde S. could be seen on the eastern bank of the Oconee River several hundred yards north of the river bridge.

I kept asking myself who was Clyde S.? I thought he may be one of the city's business leaders or perhaps one of the owners of the steamboat company to which the boat belonged. I soon learned that The Clyde S. was named for Clyde Smith, the daughter, and not the son, of Joseph E. "Banjo" Smith, Jr. and Caroline Isabella Blackshear Smith. Her father was one of the top three business leaders during the Golden Age of the Emerald City with ownership in dozens of businesses, houses, and commercial establishments in Dublin.

As one of The Emerald City's leading entrepreneurs, J.E. Smith hoped to enhance his own business interests by establishing his own river boat company, which he named the "Oconee Navigation Company." In the late summer of 1910, Smith hired William W. Ward, a veteran river boat captain and boat builder, to build the company's flag ship. Assisting Ward was D.W. Wyatt, who, with Ward, learned their craft from the recently deceased master boat builder of Oconee River steamers, Capt. John M. Graham. Graham built The Katie C., which would work in tandem with The Clyde S.

The Clyde S. was a flat-bottomed river boat, twenty-four feet in width and ninety-six feet in length. With its 140-ton capacity, Smith and his captain and general manager, J.F. Fitchett, hoped that the new boat would rejuvenate river boat traffic, despite the dominance of the multitude of railroads which cris-crossed the mid-Oconee River region and the emergence of the automobile.

On January 5, 1911, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, along with their son Eldridge and their daughter Clyde, went down to the company's wharf on the river to launch The Clyde S. It was a relatively cold day, but the weather was improving. Instead of the obligatory bottle of champagne, Clyde, just seven weeks shy of her tenth birthday, took a bottle of grape juice and smashed it across the prow of the boat near the top of the bow. After all, the Smiths were very good Methodists and a bottle of alcohol to christen their boat was simply out of the question.

After christening The Clyde S., Smith's workers set out to put the finishing touches on the light draught boat, which would run the entire navigable portion of the river with Dublin as its base. After her final inspection by Captains E.B. Fitzgerald and W.G. Lee, The Clyde S. set out on her maiden voyage on the morning of February 16, 1911. With a hundred tons of freight aboard, the light draught steamer headed south down the Oconee. Captains Fitzgerald and Lee, who have been coming to Dublin for nearly two decades, commented on the astonishing growth of the city and predicted the growth would continue for some time to come.

Accidents on the river were inevitable. Especially on the Oconee River, which despite the funding by state and national governments to clear the river of obstructions, was not as safe and reliable as river boat captains hoped that it would be. Within two months, The Clyde S. was rounding a bend as it approached Diamond Landing in the southern part of Laurens County. The boat hit a snag. A large gaping hole in her hull caused the boat to take on water. Captain Marcus M. Mobley acted quickly, ordering his hands to throw off all the cargo they could. A few hands jumped off and swam to the river bank to tie a rope to secure the sinking vessel. Captain Mobley ingeniously ordered his crew to take several mattresses which were aboard the boat and stuff them into the puncture to keep The Clyde S. from sinking. His plan worked. The ship was repaired in short order. After securing some of the cargo, the boat was underway toward its scheduled destination.

On July 19, 1911, the Milledgeville News reported that The Clyde S. was the first steamer to arrive in the port of Milledgeville. State officials, in selecting Milledgeville as the state capital just more than a century earlier, had figured that the city would be at the head of navigation of the Oconee. Their estimates were a bit short and river traffic never succeeded, a failure which led to the eventual removal of the capital to Atlanta, forty something years before The Clyde S. made it to Milledgeville.

Captain Mobley's crew unloaded two train car loads of barrel staves from the boat powered by a 50-horsepower engine. Milledgeville officials were ecstatic and hopeful that the arrival of the first steam powered engine to their city would mark a new prosperity for the Old Capital.

In 1915, The Clyde S. was rebuilt by Captain Mobley as the first Oconee River boat to be built for both passengers and freight. The practice of using freight boats to carry passengers had been suspended following the sinking of the HMS Titanic in 1912.

Eventually, The Clyde S. sank or was scuttled and her remains deposited on the Sand Bar, a name given to it a century earlier by the first settlers of northwestern Montgomery County and the first settlers of what would become Dublin.

The practice of using river boats virtually ended by the end of World War I. Although it appeared the use of freight boats on the Oconee was all but dead, the second Oconee River Bridge was designed in 1920 to contain a revolving pivot in the middle to allow river boats to pass through. But alas, river steamers would eventually disappear for ever.

Clyde Smith, the woman, went on to graduate at the top of her class at Wesleyan and to become one of the most beloved librarians in the history of the capital of North Carolina. I'll tell you more about her soon, so keep on reading and learn about more interesting pieces of our past.

Monday, January 03, 2011


A New Year's Nightmare

It was 1-1-1911, the first day of the first month of the first year of the second decade of the 20th Century. Everyone was looking forward to a new and another prosperous year. Pomp and John were good friends. They enjoyed a wonderful winter holiday weekend talking about old times and new plans for a bumper cotton crop in the fall. In fact, it would become the county's and the state's largest cotton crop ever. Then, the unthinkable happened. But first, let me tell you a little about the two men in this story.

Edward Everett Hicks, a son of Willie P. Hicks and his wife Jane Outler, descended from two of Johnson County's earliest settlers. Known as "Pomp" to his friends and family, Edward grew up in the days of Civil War and Reconstruction in Johnson County. Pomp followed his father to Laurens County when the elder Hicks left his position as Postmaster of Wrightsville to take the position as the assistant postmaster and then Postmaster of Dublin. A farmer most of his life, Pomp Hicks sought the office of Sheriff of Laurens County in 1898 and was elected. Sheriff Hicks courageously served as the county's chief law enforcement officer through 1904 when he was replaced by J.D. Prince. Hicks was elected for a fourth two-year term in 1906.

Half way through his second term, Sheriff Hicks was charged with the responsibility of hanging one John Robinson, the last man to be publicly hung in Laurens County. After much debate as to who would actually pull the trap door, Hicks took charge and sent ol' John Robinson to his dangling death.

After leaving office, the former sheriff entered into a partnership with J.T. Grinstead to form the Farmers Cooperative Warehouse, which was located not far from his South Church Street home.

John Wyatt, a son of the somewhat prosperous farmer James Wyatt and his wife Lucretia, grew up in the Bailey District of northern Laurens County. Wyatt, who apparently never married, lived primarily with members of his family.

The new year rang in on a cold rainy day. John Wyatt had been spending a few days with his old friend Pomp, whose farm adjoined the Wyatt place, some four miles north of town. When Pomp was in town on business, John managed his farm. After the death of his wife Winnie some two years earlier, Pomp Hicks enjoyed spending his leisure time on his farm which he bought from Wyatt's father.

Nightfall came early that cloudy evening. After a filling supper, John and Pomp retired to bed about seven o'clock - an hour and a half after sunset. In those days, it was customary for people to share beds out of pure necessity, especially in small farm houses. Wyatt had expected to spend one more night with Hicks before returning back to his sister's home by Tuesday afternoon.

Wyatt, reported to be a fifty-eight-year-old, half-witted, partially deaf, slow learner, awoke from his slumber and stepped outside for a bit of fresh air. Hicks remained asleep. Just as Hicks turned over and suddenly awoke from a sound sleep, he noticed the dim outline of a fully dressed man illuminated by the flickering light of an oil lamp in an adjoining room. Pomp suspected it to be the figure of a skulking burglar. Instinctively, the sheriff reached over his bed for his shotgun. He called out, "Who's there?" There was no answer. He called out again, this time in a louder voice. Still, there was no answer. Hicks quietly cocked his gun and took aim at Wyatt's motionless silhouette. John, a near mute who may have been sleep walking, spoke not a single word nor heard not a single sound, not even the blast of Hick's gun as it fired.

Wyatt was dead when he hit the floor, his chin blown away and his jugular vein completely severed by the blast. His heart racing dangerously and his lungs breathing rapidly, Pomp Hicks could only hear the faint murmurs of the gurgling victim as he laid on a blood-spattered rug outside the bedroom.

Hicks turned back to his bed to awaken Wyatt and tell him of what had just happened. "John! John! Get up! I have killed somebody!" he screamed. Again, he called out to his friend. In the shadowy bedroom, he began rifling the patchwork quilts hoping to touch Wyatt.

Horrified at the thought that he may have shot and killed his good friend, Hicks, uncharacteristically failed to investigate his victim, sprinted out of his house still wearing his night clothes in the near freezing night air, and set off in the direction of a Negro tenant house for help. The farmer rushed back with Hicks to the scene.

Hicks struck a match and lit a lamp to look for his closest friend. He didn't want to look at the body of the man he shot, fearing that it was John whom he shot. Pomp searched his bed one more time. Then he forced himself to examine the body lying outside his bedroom. Sure enough, lying lifeless on the floor was Wyatt, the victim of a single, but deadly volley of buck shot. The sheriff crumbled in anguish. The Negro man ran for more help. At dawn Pomp was prostrate, his mind spinning with horrifying thoughts of "My God, what have I done?"

The next morning Sheriff J.J. Flanders accompanied the coroner to the Hicks' farm to interrogate his predecessor about the circumstances of the tragedy. Hicks sobbed violently, unable to tell a coherent account of what happened the night before. The investigators believed their friend, although his story was broken by nervous and unintelligible words

No charges were filed as the killing of John Wyatt was not done with malice aforethought. Nor was it considered manslaughter, nor were Hicks' firing at a shadowy figure in the night considered negligent homicide since he was in reasonable apprehension of immediate harm to his person.

Nine years later, he attempted an unsuccessful campaign for another term as sheriff. Pomp Hicks died on November 20, 1928 and is buried in Northview Cemetery. You know when John Wyatt died. I do not know where his body was laid to rest.

Pomp Hicks never fully recovered from that New Year's night when he killed his good friend. The nightmarish visions of his old acquaintance lying there with part of his face missing was always brought to his mind in the days of old lang syne.