One Last Valiant Stand

The last days of the Confederacy were coming to an end.  General Sherman's army was poised in Atlanta ready to march east to Savannah to split the Confederacy in half.  General Grant's army was still laying siege against General Lee's army in Richmond and Petersburg.  Many men in the Southern army were coming home on winter furlough with plans not to return.  One hundred and fifty years ago on November 22, 1864 the largest battle of the Civil War in Middle Georgia took place along the Twiggs - Jones County border east of Macon near the industrial hamlet of Griswoldville.

On October 12th, when it became apparent to Confederate leaders that Sherman's army would march along the Central of Georgia Railroad bound for Savannah, Maj. Gen. Gustavas A. Smith recalled as many men as he could gather.  These men had been sent home on a harvest furlough following the loss of Jonesboro.  The men, mostly young boys, old men, and disabled soldiers, rendezvoused at Camp Lovejoy. Among those men was Sgt. Blanton Nance, Co. E, 7th Ga. Militia, who later lived in Dublin; Laurens County residents J.H. Barbour, A.M. Jessup, and Henry E. Moorman of the 5th Georgia Reserves; along with many other old men and boys from Wilkinson, Jones, and Twiggs Counties.  John A. Braswell,  who lost his father early in the war, left his home near Irwin's Cross Roads in Washington County to join the 5th Georgia Reserves just days after his 18th birthday.  Capt. John McArthur brought his company up from Montgomery County to help hold off the Union army. Companies D and H of the 2nd Regiment were brought up from Wilkinson County.

Following his defeat in Atlanta, Gen. John B. Hood took his Army of the Tennessee to Alabama, along with the cavalry of Gen. Joseph Wheeler.  More than sixty thousand Yankees were moving out of Atlanta toward Lovejoy.  A delaying skirmish was fought on the 16th of November.  Georgia governor Joe Brown sent out a call for all able-bodied men to come to the defense of the state.  The Confederates were forced to retreat to Hampton.   Nance and his men began erecting a barricade across the road leading from Atlanta.   At Hampton, Griffin, and Forsyth, the Confederates were pushed back by the vastly superior Union Army.

By the 20th of November, Sherman's right wing was bearing down on Macon.  The Central Georgia city had been the object of an failed attack in the summer past.  Macon was a key railroad and manufacturing center, but it was well defended.  Sherman wanted the city to allow his forces to liberate his fellow soldiers imprisoned in Andersonville.  He did not, however, want to commit a large portion of his forces to capture the city.    By the time the Union Army reached Macon, the Confederate Force amounted to thirty seven hundred men, with another thirty seven hundred or so cavalrymen.  The Union Army launched an attack beginning at Cross Keys in East Macon with the objective of taking the heights east of the city, which are now the site of the Ocmulgee National Monument and old Fort Hawkins.  Sherman's forces were able to get a foothold on the Dunlap Farm, which allowed them to shell parts of the city.  The resulting artillery fire led to the naming of the Macon landmark, "The Cannonball House."  The small band of Confederates was able to hold off the Federals, who retreated to the east, tearing up railroad tracks, destroying Eleazar McCall's old mill, and pillaging the countryside for anything of monetary or military value .

Just east of Macon on the Central Railroad was the hamlet of Griswoldville.  The community of five hundred citizens and one hundred slaves was located at the southern tip of Jones County.  Its founder was Samuel Griswold, a native of Connecticut who accumulated five thousand acres of land on which he erected a cotton gin, a candle factory, a soap factory, and a saw mill.  The most important industry was the pistol factory that manufactured the famed Griswold revolver.  The Confederate Army leased the gin building to manufacture pistols, which were turned out at the rate of one hundred per month.  The Griswoldville factory turned out more pistols than all other factories combined. On the morning of the 21st,  the Union Army moved into Griswoldville.  They destroyed over thirty five hundred weapons, burned anything they couldn't carry, and continued their destruction of the railroad.  That night the clouds dumped a torrential rain in advance of a cold front.  The temperature dropped over twenty four degrees in twenty four hours.

Wheeler's Cavalry moved out early on the morning of the 22nd.   The Union Army had already vacated the smoldering town and were bound for Gordon, McIntyre, and Irwinton.  The infantry followed and arrived in Griswoldville about noon.  The temperatures was 12 degrees.  It was snowing.  The rain-soaked ground was frozen. Gen. Samuel Ferguson's Mississippi Cavalry with 4000 men ran head long into the rear of the Union column just east of Griswoldville .

Gen. Oliver Wolcott's Union forces were about two miles southeast of Griswoldville on the Duncan farm, which was situated on the Jones-Twiggs County line.  Skirmishers came in contact with the Union forces,  who stopped their advance and dug in on the high ground.  Upon the report of the fire from the Duncan farm, more cavalrymen and the infantrymen who had just entered the town were drawn toward the direction of the fire.

The Confederate forces were placed  in a precarious position.  A large open field was  between them and the Union army.  The Union forces were surrounded on three sides by Big Sandy Creek which was a natural barrier to an attack on the Federal left, front, and rear.  The Confederates began an ineffective artillery fire on the hill.  The Union artillery was also similarly ineffective.  The Confederates crossed the creek and advanced to within two hundred fifty yards of the Union lines.  The first ranks were decimated by rifle fire. There were seven thousand men firing at each other within the bounds of the 190 acre field.  The Confederates kept advancing, filling in the gaps in the lines with reserves.

By 4:30 p.m. the battle was all but over.  Near the end of the fighting, Sgt. Blanton Nance, part of Anderson's force which attacked from the railroad at the north end of the battlefield, was shot in the shoulder and the neck.  He fell to the ground.  Nance was lucky.  He was picked up by Union soldiers and taken back to a field hospital for treatment.  Many other wounded men froze to death that night.  Nance, a forty-six year old veteran of the Mexican War, survived and lived in Dublin until 1910, when he died at the age of ninety two.  The Confederates retreated to Griswoldville, returned to Macon the next day,  and  never mounted another threat to Sherman and his men.  Gen. Smith was furious that the militia engaged the Union army contrary to his instructions.

Most of the Montgomery County men survived. Addison McArthur and Groves Conner were killed, and John McArthur and Thomas Adams were wounded.  Southern casualties totaled  six hundred killed and wounded, which was about ten percent of their force.  Northern casualties were fourteen killed, seventy nine wounded and two missing in action.  The town of Griswoldville was never rebuilt.  Today several organizations are seeking to preserve a portion of the battlefield for posterity.