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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MAJOR GENERAL RENDER BRASWELL

A BORN STORYTELLER 



    They say I was born to tell stories.  I had a long and happy life.  And, I went to a lot of places around the world.  I loved to tell stories to whoever would listen to them.  There are so many stories to tell, but for now, I’ll stick to my own story.  

I was born on October 27, 1907 on the road leading from Adrian to Norristown in Emanuel County, Georgia.  My daddy was  Timothy J. Braswell, an insurance salesman and farmer.  His daddy and my grandpa, John Arthur Braswell, was known to be one of the greatest story tellers around.  He studied and read law, but never became a real lawyer.  

Grandpa Braswell used to tell the story of when he was with the Confederate Army over in South Carolina in the last few months of the Civil War.  He was only 18. He and his fellow soldiers were forced to dig out undigested grains of corn from the horse manure, just to get something to eat.  Starving, freezing  and homesick, my grandfather took a man’s horse and rode home to Emanuel County as fast as he could. 

My mother, Diva Dewberry, used to teach school over in Meriwether County. My momma and daddy split up before I was two. I moved with my mother, a beautiful and smart woman,  to Covington, Georgia.  She was later introduced to and married  Dr. Courtney Brooks, a pharmacist and later, a mayor of Covington.  

When I was only fifteen, I enrolled at the University of Georgia.  I liked science, so I got a degree in Pharmacy at Georgia at a time when most of my contemporaries were just getting out of high school.  I stayed on at Georgia and got another degree, a Bachelor in Science, four years later.  The thought of going to Medical School kept coming into my head.  So, with the help of my stepfather, I went on to Emory where I finished my studies in medicine in 1932.  At 25 years old, I was one of the youngest doctors anywhere around the state.  When I was in school, I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Alpha Kappa Kappa, a  medical fraternity. 

After finishing my internship at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, I made a career change.  In fact, my decision to join the Army would change my life forever.

As a newly commissioned second lieutenant, I was ordered to report to Fort McPherson, where I was appointed the Chief of Surgery.  I went back to school at The Medical Field Service School in Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania before I was sent overseas to Manila in the Phillippines, where the Army made me Assistant Chief of Surgery in the Sternberg General Hospital.  

Just after Valentine’s Day in 1938, I married Elizabeth Willingham, the most beautiful and wonderful woman, I had ever seen.  We got married in a real big wedding in St. Philip’s Cathedral  in Atlanta.  We had a grand time traveling all across the country on our honeymoon, before we traveled to the Philippines to make our first home.  

Just before the war began in 1941, Elizabeth and I were sent back to the states, where I was assigned as Assistant Surgeon at Walter Reed Hospital.  Soon they chose me to become a member of the American College of Surgeons.  They say I was the youngest doctor ever to receive that  prestigious honor.  

I decided I wanted to serve in the Army Air Corps.  My first assignment came as a Commander and Chief of Surgery at the base at Big Springs, Texas.  In September 1943, I was promoted to a position at the Air Force Cadet Center in San Antonio.  I took some time to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

Then just as the war was winding down in Europe but heating up in the Pacific, the Air Force sent me to serve as the Command Air Surgeon of the 20th Air Force in Guam.
Our planes flew almost every day or night, bombing the island of Japan.  Tens of thousands of the Japanese people were dying every day when our bombers dropped bombs which exploded and ignited fires that  wiped out many Japanese cities.  Then on August 6, 1945, the course of the war changed forever.  

I was called in to examine the pilot of a B-29 who had just returned from the most important mission of the war.  It may have been the most important military mission of all time.  My patient was Col. Paul Tibetts.  His plane was the Enola Gay.  You know, it was the plane which dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.  That almost ended the war right there.

I was at the hospital  in Iwo Jima when they brought Col. Tibetts in to see me.  The Air Force was concerned that the rashes on his body may have come from atomic radiation.  I went over every  part of his body.  I finally figured out the rashes were actually scratches from the dirt and grit which were blasted up from the ground and went through the Colonel’s flight suit.

My wife and I returned to the states in May 1946, when I  was assigned as Commander and Chief of Surgery, Keesler Field Hospital in Mississippi. After a little more than a year, we moved to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, with the same duties as I had at Keesler. 

In 1952, I was assigned as an air surgeon in the Third Air Force.  We enjoyed our stay in London, before once again we came back home, When we returned to the US, I went to work as a surgeon for the Military Air Transport Service. 

My colleagues gave me a great honor when I was recognized for my professional attainment in the field of aviation medicine.  My uniform was filled with all sorts of medals.  I was given a Legion of Merit for my work in Iwo Jima and an oak leaf cluster for my time as Command Surgeon of the  World-wide Military Air Transport Service.  I got Air Force commendations for my surgical work at Maxwell and as the Senior American Medical Officer in the United Kingdom from 1952 to 1954.  They gave me three battle stars for the time I served in the South Pacific during the war. My greatest award came when the Air Force gave me a Distinguished Service Medal.
After I retired from the Air Force as a Major General, I went to work as a Medical Director of General Motors in Atlanta.  I later went into practice with my half-brother, Dr. Courtney Brooks.   

My darling Elizabeth died in 1971.  Elizabeth and I had three fine children, Stephen, Thomas and Elizabeth.  Some three years later, I married Lillian Cox Dawes de  la Fuente in Atlanta. 

I died on May 20, 2001.  They buried my body in Section 5 of Arlington National Cemetery.  The Air Force gave me one grand send off into the skies of heaven.  I can’t remember if I ever wanted to be a lawyer like most of the men story tellers in my family.  But, the government buried me in a crowd of Supreme Court Justices.  They are a right smart bunch of fellows.  Sometimes they get together and talk about the law.  And the stories they tell, well you can’t make up these tales.  Right around me are Chief Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Warren Burger, and others like Thurgood Marshall and four more Associate Justices. 

You can’t see them from my grave, but not too far from me, a few hundred feet or so,  and just across a small hill out of sight of the Justices and myself are the Kennedy boys;  Joseph, John, Robert and Edward.  Boy, do those Yankees  have a good time when they all get together! I can’t they say what they do.  After all, one of them was my commander in chief for a thousand  days. And what happens in Arlington, stays in Arlington.  

Well, folks this is my story.  Obviously, I couldn’t speak to you directly. So, I asked my first cousin Claudie Braswell Thompson’s grandson, Scott Braswell Thompson, Sr.,  to tell my story. He’s a hopeless storyteller  like me.  He got it from his daddy, Dale, who was another one of us who every time you see one of us Braswells, we’ve got a story or three to tell.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

CHICKAMAUGA, THE RIVER OF DEATH

       

         It is often said, although with questionable authenticity,  that the Cherokee called the creek which runs through Walker County in Northwest Georgia, “Chickamauga” or “The River of Death.”  That moniker seems all too intuitive and only fitting  for during this week a century and a half ago, the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee pommeled, battered and slaughtered each other in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain Range.  

Nearly everyone has heard of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.  In that horrific and climactic three-day battle, casualties were estimated from 46,000 to 51,000 or nearly 17,000 per day.  Many people don’t realize it, but the second bloodiest battle of  the Civil War took place right here in Georgia.

In two days, September 19 and September 20, 1863, the two armies counted roughly 35,000 casualties.  Nearly four thousand (1,657 USA, 2,312 C.S.A.) men would die on the battlefield or in nearby field hospitals.  More than 24,000 (9,756 USA, 14,674 C.S.A.) were wounded during the two days of fighting.  Another six thousand or more men were listed as captured or missing with the Union Army accounting for three quarters of that amount.

For the most part,  Laurens Countians served in the Army of Northern Virginia and another configuration of the Army of the Tennessee.  Slightly more than a half dozen  Laurens Countians took part in the second most deadly battle of the Civil War.  

The highest ranking Laurens Countian to take part in the battle was Col. William H. Wylly.  Wylly, then a captain and later a Dublin lawyer, was in command of Company A of the 25th Georgia Infantry.  Attached to Wilson’s Brigade of Wm. H.T. Walker’s Division, the 25th, which had seen only coastal duty until that time, was engaged in the fighting at the northern end of the battlefield.  Capt. Wylly made it through the battle unscathed.  George M. Prescott, a member of the Brown Light Infantry of Screven County, but later a long term resident of Laurens County, also made it through the fighting virtually free of injuries. 

The majority of the local men who saw action at Chickamauga were members of the 20th Georgia Volunteer Infantry.  The 20th Regiment, under the command of Gen. Benning’s Brigade, saw little fighting as they were used in reserve during the vicious crisscrossing combat along the LaFayette Road.  Young Woodard Swinson, one of the county’s first men to volunteer for Confederate service, joined the Muscogee Mounted Guards on May 23, 1861.  Swinson survived the fighting, only to be killed at Deep Bottom, Virginia eleven months later.

George W. Belcher, who would later become Police Chief of Dublin, joined the Jefferson County Guards in 1861.  Sgt. Belcher was wounded in the Seven Days Battles and at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862.  Belcher survived the hellish fighting at the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg as a member of Gen. John B. Hood’s Division under corps command of Gen. James Longstreet.  Longstreet’s Corps, which had suffered brutal casualties at Gettysburg, had only eleven weeks of rest before going into the cataclysmic combat at Chickamauga.

Sgt. Belcher, of Company C,  was severely wounded in the fighting, probably between the Brock House and the Log School east of Lafayette Road.  He recovered and returned to his company which surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox.   Chief Belcher died in 1911 and is buried in Northview Cemetery.  

James McLeod, who briefly lived in Laurens County at the turn of the 20th Century, was a member of Company B from Telfair County.  McLeod survived most to the war unscathed until he lost the sight in one eye at Appomattox Court House, a day before the surrender.


Walter T. Dawson, a private in Gist’s Brigade, Walker’s Division, was wounded in an eye and lost his sight in the heavy fighting along the northern end of the fighting. 

James F. Hawkins, of the Hancock County Guards, was a member of Benning’s Brigade.  Pvt. Hawkins, who moved from Washington County to Laurens County, in 1900, was wounded in the left shoulder at Cold Harbor in June 1864.   
Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans launched an offensive from Chattanooga down into the northwest corner of Georgia against Gen. Braxton Bragg’s forces to drive Bragg’s army out of that strategic Tennessee fortress. Bragg wasn’t going to give up so easily and moved north to meet Rosecrans.  

After skirmishes between infantry and cavalry on September 18, the real killing began the next day.  Longstreet’s Corps attacked and drove a large part of the Union Army off the battlefield.  The Federal Army held onto their tentative defensive position, while Confederate units attacked Chattanooga from its neighboring heights on Lookout Mountain.
 
The brutal fighting started just after dawn on the 19th.  Bragg’s forces made repeated charges against the Union right with some successes.  Determined Union defenders held strong.  Just before midnight,  Longstreet’s two divisions, with six fresh brigades, arrived on the scene, switching the advantage of the attack to Bragg.  

With Longstreet’s Corps on the left and Polk’s corps on the right, Bragg launched a decisive blow to the entrenched Federals.  Rosecrans’ mistaken order to fill a gap in the Federal line, resulted in a move which in fact created a fatal gap into which Gen. Hood poured eight brigades, forcing a total collapse of the Union right at the southern end of the field.

Union Gen. George Thomas, thereafter known as the “Rock of Chickamauga,” gathered his remaining troops and stood solid against the capture of his entire force.   Thomas’ men held their ground against repeated assaults, withdrawing only under the cover of darkness. Neither side had the stomach to fight again on the following day.

The battle resulted in somewhat of a tactical draw.  The Southern army remained in control of the heights above Chattanooga. The defeated Federals escaped back to the safety of their former lines, which they held for the rest of the war.  Had Bragg decided to pursue the retreating Federals the following day, the casualty count could have surpassed the horrific toll at Gettysburg.

The Battle of Chickamauga was a test for things to come.  In the early spring which followed, Gen. William T. Sherman, came down from the hills of North Georgia, attacking and destroying all targets of military value along his way to the rail center of Atlanta.  In his “March to The Sea,” that summer and fall, Sherman put the final nail in the Confederacy’s hopes to retain control of the Southern States and making the end of the war a virtual certainty.

ALL PHOTOS BY SCOTT B. THOMPSON, SR., OCTOBER 2012


Saturday, September 14, 2013

THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY OF 1938

VOTE FOR ME, I PROMISE TO........


Folk humorist Will Rogers once proclaimed, “I am not a member of an organized political party, I’m a Democrat!”  That statement was all too fitting in 1938, three-quarters of a century ago, especially in the South.  In the pre Ronald Reagan days of the Solid South when nearly all voters who registered to vote listed themselves as Democrats, competition for statewide and local positions was often fierce and sometimes, down right dirty.

It was in those early warm and dry days of September 1938, when two of Georgia’s political icons of the first half of the 20th Century went head to head and nose to nose to win the race for a seat in the United States Senate.  The campaign pitted  Walter F. George, Georgia’s two-term senator against Eugene Talmadge, the state’s former governor and a fiery populist candidate from Telfair County.  Two make things more interesting, incumbent Georgia governor E.D. Rivers found himself in a fight  for his life in his bid against Hugh Howell  to hang on to his job in the capitol.

While  most local officials were not on the ballot in the Summer of ‘38, the races for the two seats in the Georgia House of Representatives were somewhat contentious as incumbent W.H. Lovett, owner of the Courier Herald faced off against A.T. Cobb and  Ed L. Evans faced  R.I. Stephens in the race for Post # 2 in somewhat close races.

In the latter part of the 1930s, Laurens County was still an important key to the election of any Democratic hopeful in a statewide race.

The first major candidate to come to the Emerald City was incumbent Senator Walter F. George, (left) who had succeeded Rebecca Felton, the country’s first female senator.  Sen. Felton was named to replace Thomas E. Watson after his death by then Georgia Governor, Thomas W. Hardwick, a Washington County native,  future Dublin resident and newspaper publisher.

George served in the United States Senate for 36 years, the last two as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a position which made him third in the line of succession to President Dwight Eisenhower.  At that time, George was highly regarded as the greatest Senator  by Massachusetts Senator, John F. Kennedy.

Local officials, in consultation with the Senator’s aides, selected Stubbs Park as the site for the speech at 11:30 on August 30.  A special platform was constructed in the triangle  surrounded by a grove of tall ancient pines, just north of the Catholic Church.

The Boy Scouts were stationed along the routes to the park to guide the crowds down to the pine grove.  Local dignitaries and politicians were asked to keep their introductory remarks brief so that Senator George could have ample time to plead his case before setting off on a jaunt before.

George had been to Dublin on many occasions, speaking at high school graduations and at political events. The Senator even brought his own band with him.  Just to add to the excitement, the all-girl  band from Eastman, which had just played for Franklin D. Roosevelt in Barnesville, performed to get the crowd more excited.

It was few weeks earlier when President Roosevelt appeared at a rally in Barnesville to support his hand picked candidate Lawrence Camp.  George had grown increasingly disenchanted with the President’s New Deal policies and programs.  Likewise, Roosevelt’s endorsement of Camp fanned the flames of bitter feelings in the race.

Former Georgia Game and Fish Commissioner and Dublin resident, Peter S. Twitty, introduced the popular senator.  Sitting on the platform and lending moral support was former senator, congressman and governor,  Thomas Hardwick.

In his speech, George attacked FDR’s relief programs and in particular W.P.A. administrator, Harry L. Hopkins, whom the Senator described as “Hell on Relief.”  George had no admiration for P.W.A.  Administrator Harold Ickes, insinuating that Ickes was going to personally profit from FDR’s work and relief programs all the while gaining too much power.  Senator George felt totally confident after looking at the faces of those people he met along the campaign trail.

Y.G.Chambless, Chairman of the Laurens County George Club and a  long time supporter of Talmadge and Roosevelt, believed that Senator George “was best man in the race, because he stands head and shoulders above each of his opponents and is a statesman of the old school, a gentleman and a scholar with the courage to fight for right and justice.”

Twelve days later on September 10, former two-term Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge came to town and took his place on the same dias in Stubbs Park where George had spoken.   Talmadge, a long time favorite of Laurens County voters, had lost a little of his solid support in the two years after he left office.




On the day of the speech, crowds gathered at places like Adrian Well in western Emanuel County to form motorcades into Dublin for the popular Populist politician.  They weren’t disappointed. For two hours, Talmadge spoke, his voice booming throughout the park.  

Earlier in the week, incumbent governor E.D. Rivers (left) came to town to woo the voters.  Rivers, despite his successes in providing more tax exemptions, improved schools, free school textbooks and better roads, had become somewhat unpopular, although one couldn’t tell it by the size of the crowd which gathered at the courthouse.  When the courtroom was overflowing hours before the scheduled four  o’clock starting time, the decision was made to move the program to the steps of courthouse.

A week  earlier, River’s opponent Hugh Howell’s rally was moved from the outside to the inside when a rare September rain dowsed the spectators.

When the votes were counted, the Lower Oconee River Valley and upper third of North Georgia went for Gov. Talmadge.  Stronger support along the coastal areas and the major cities swung the race in favor of Senator George, who won a 44% plurality victory over Talmadge, who garnered 32 percent of the vote.  Interestingly, Camp’s strongest support came from neighboring Treutlen County, where seven out of ten voters put their mark beside the president’s candidate’s name.

In Laurens County, the turnout was nearly 80 percent.  Talmadge,  with 46 percent of the vote, easily won over George, whose strong support was confined to Dublin and Dudley voters.  The race for governor was much closer in Laurens County with E.D. Rivers defeating Hugh Howell by a mere 45 votes.  Statewide, Rivers was re-elected after getting a fraction more than half of the votes cast.

In an election called “the greatest and most thrilling political spectacle in Georgia history” by Atlanta Constitution writer Ralph McGill, Laurens Countians were witnesses  to a glimpse of one of the most exciting campaigns in Georgia’s long  history.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

THE FIRST NANCY HANKS


The Fastest Thing in The South


She was the fastest thing in America, or at least in the South - more than twice as fast as her namesake, the fastest horse in the forty-four states.  Able to fly down the tracks at the seeming supersonic speed of seventy-seven miles an hour, the Nancy Hanks I, nothing but a speeding bullet could out run her. In the end, it was speed which brought her fame and speed which killed her.

In the 1880s, competing railroads were engaged in serious and bitter competition. Lower fares, unwavering reliability, prompt service and speed of travel were the goals of good railroads in this state and around the nation.  Although, the Central of Georgia dominated the railroad industry in Georgia during the latter years of the 19th Century, company officials were always out to improve their service to the customer and at the same time, increase the profits to their shareholders.

In 1892, the Central's owners devised a bold plan to put the ultimate in speedy passenger trains on the tracks from Atlanta to Savannah. The Baldwin 4-0-0  locomotive, in its initial trials, boosted the Nancy Hanks to a speed of 78  miles per hour  -  much faster than trains which boosted that they were the fastest in the world by traveling a mile a minute, or sixty miles per hour.  Railroad officials planned to have at least three of the fast trains - one to travel in each direction and a third one to serve as a back up if either of  the main trains ran into trouble.

Despite some thoughts to the contrary, the Nancy Hanks was not named for the mother of Abraham Lincoln - not hardly in the post war South which was still suffering from lingering effects of Reconstruction and northern Republican domination of the Federal government. It was indirectly named for the president's mother, who was the namesake of the country's fastest race horse at the time.

The first test cruise of the Nancy Hanks came on October 9, 1892.  At precisely 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Savannah, with the top officials of the railroad onboard, the bullet train left the depot in Savannah.  In the most amazing time of eight hours, the Blue Fast Flyer, pulling two passenger cars, a baggage car and an express car, arrived in Macon at 12:45 for a 20 minute lunch stop, At 3:00 p.m, the Nancy Hanks arrived at the depot in Atlanta.

On a second test run, with a larger contingent of eminent men aboard, the Nancy Hanks, with Engineer J. Flanders at the controls, pulled the throttle full speed ahead attaining a speed of 78 mph and trimming the Atlanta to Savannah,294-mile  run to seven and one half hours.

The Nancy Hanks was no ordinary locomotive. Her elegantly refurbished cars were painted a bright vermillion shade of red, with "Nancy Hanks" with gold letters, painted by W.T. Leopold,  on both sides of her cars. The engine was painted in bright royal blue colors.

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The Nancy Hanks' lighting fast speed had deadly consequences.  On a mid-afternoon in February 1893, Mary Short was taking a stroll to the Oakdale Depot.  Thinking the streaking blue and red train was going to slow down as it approached the depot, Mrs. Short  misjudged her speed and was instantly killed as she was walking across the tracks. On May 28 of that year, "Uncle Billy" Graham and his wife were walking along the tracks, holding their umbrellas over their heads during  a gully washer.  With the Nancy Hanks flying through the storm at a mile a minute, the Grahams never knew what hit and instantly killed them.

All went relatively well for the Nancy Hanks. That is until a Tuesday afternoon on March 14, 1893.  As the train was approaching Smarr's Station, some fifteen to twenty track miles from Macon, the flange of one the engine's wheels pulled off the rail.  The engine, which suffered substantial damage, left the track, as well as all of the other cars, except the parlor car which came to a stop half on and half off the tracks.

Surprisingly, no serious injuries were reported.  Engineer John Ramsey suffered an acute bump and cuts on his head, while Fireman Togaith was scalded by escaping steam.  William Cooper, a passenger from New York, was also cut on the head.  The passengers remained relatively calm while  E.A. Waxelbaum broke open a window to allow Cooper to be extricated to safety.

In less than two weeks after the wreck, circumstantial evidence and an apparent  confession by a frequent felon led prosecutors to believe that a dastardly crime had been committed.  As time passed, no indictment was sought and the derailment was finally determined to be an accident.

As the Panic of 1893 brought the economy of the United States and the world into the severest depression since 1873, the Central of Georgia's directors were forced to cut operations.  No longer could the railroad afford the lavish, lighting fast excursions from the capital city to the coast. Although the Nancy Hanks was profitable, she was drawing much needed and  experienced workers and resources  from other lines around the state.

The last ride of the Nancy Hanks came on August 13, 1893.  Actually, the only thing that changed was that the Nancy Hanks would no longer fly through the countryside from the coast to the foothills of the mountains.  It was relegated to ordinary passenger service, stopping at all regularly scheduled stations along her way, forcing her passenger to travel almost 11 hours to reach Savannah from Atlanta.

During the boom of post World War II, the Nancy Hanks II was put on the tracks from Atlanta through Macon to Savannah.  From July 1947 to April 1971, the Nancy Hanks II represented the ultimate luxury in the waning  golden era of passenger railroad traffic in America. On some rare occasions when there were impediments to travel along the Central from Macon to Savannah, her engineers would take the train along the old Macon, Dublin and Savannah route through Dublin.

It was 120 years ago when the fastest thing in the South came to a screeching halt.  It was as they always say, "all good things must come to an end."