Travels in Time
My time machine came to a stop in a less than hospitable place. All around me was a massive line of soldiers, all dressed in blue. The countryside seemed familiar. By the colors of the trees and the chill in the air, I knew it was autumn. Much to my horror, I surmised that this endless column of blue uniformed infantrymen must have belonged to that dastardly eternal enemy of the South, General William T. Sherman. I found myself in step with the right wing of Sherman's sixty-thousand man army as it blitzed through Middle Georgia, taking what they wanted and burning everything of value they could carry, eat or steal.
An officer walked up to me to ask for my identity. Not wanting to reveal my southern heritage, I introduced myself as Sgt. Jedediah Bartlett and explained that I found my way back to the main line after being separated from a cavalry unit. When the lieutenant asked me if I could write, my response was "yes, sir!" He gave me a satchel filled with writing papers, a couple of inkwells and a supply of quill pens, and ordered me to shadow him every where he went.
The handsome young officer told me that he was Lt. Cornelious C. Platter of the 81st Ohio Infantry Volunteers. I noticed that Lt. Platter carried a diary in his knapsack. Every evening the lieutenant pulled out his diary and wrote of the day's activities. I wrote down everything else which went on during the day. Lt. Platter began to dictate a letter to the regimental commander. Not knowing the exact date, I tricked the Ohioan into telling me it was November 22, 1864. I knew we must be somewhere near Macon, but what puzzled me was that there was snow on the ground that morning. Could it really be November? It never snows in Middle Georgia in November, but on that very day it did so.
Passage along the roads was slow. The pontoon bridge trains were in our way. Some even got stuck in the frozen mud and kept us from reaching our destination of Clinton, the county seat of Jones County. It was cold, very cold, and no one was happy. The early blast of winter and the fear of attack by General Wheeler and his ever circling Confederate cavalry kept nearly every one awake all night long. The foragers brought in a tasty feast of fresh pork and sweet potatoes.
We set out at 10:00 a.m. for Clinton, a muddy, dirty and dilapidated town. It's inhabitants having fled for the hills and the swamps, the town seemed abandoned. A courier came up and told us that the Rebs had given up Milledgeville to the 20th Division without a fight. We marched until dark through pitifully infertile sandy woods.
Arriving in Gordon the following morning, the column rested in defensive works, which had been put up by advance troops. While the locals were virtually starving, these "blue bellies" took time to clean their clothes and enjoy a Thanksgiving feast of pork, swee potatoes, corn bread, honey and cobbler.
Irwinton, the seat of Wilkinson County, was next on our itinerary. Leaving a dawn, we found the main town buildings in heaps of ashes. Friday night was spent sitting around the camp fire and reading the Macon paper and listening to the braggadocios exploits of the conquering army.
We marched through miles of swamps before reaching the Oconee River at noon on Saturday. On the opposite side of the river at Ball's Ferry, the head of the division found a small resistance on the bank. After a short delay and the defenders were routed, we crossed the river on pontoons and made it up the arduous road to the high ground. We took the road to the left and turned in the direction of Tennille and the Central of Georgia Railroad.
Lt. Platter was fascinated by palm leaf plants and Spanish moss growing along the route. As we passed through the countryside, detachments of men broke off and headed toward every farm house along the way, returning with new food stuffs and all sorts of souvenirs. As we paused near Piney Mount Church, I noticed one officer berating a group of privates celebrating their bounty as they came out of a long house. The officer, upon the recognition that the house was the former home of Lt. Asa Gordon Braswell, but more importantly a member of the Masonic brotherhood, ordered all of the stolen goods to be returned immediately. We halted and for 90 minutes tried to decide what to do. The column halted at Peacock's Crossing. Wandering around the area, I found the grave of Lt. Braswell on the far side of a cotton field. He died just weeks before the fighting began in earnest in Virginia in May 1862.
The column turned south at dawn the next morning. Just a few miles down the road we came upon a farmstead with a fair number of livestock in the fields. I decided to go along with a foraging party. We were met by a tiny, black-haired, olive-skinned young woman and her siblings. As she approached us, I glanced over in the woods and saw the head of man peeking out of a hollowed out log. The defiant headstrong woman stepped forward and said, "Sir, my name is Elmina Smith Brantley. My husband was killed and taken from me by you Yankees in Maryland. You aren't going to be taking anything else of mine and my family, so get off my land."
I suggested that we let the little woman have all she could carry back to her house. Her little brothers ran back to the house and fetched a bread tray and a couple of water buckets. I helped her fill them with still bloody scraps of meat. The prime cuts were already snapped up by the greedy butchers. After all this little woman was my great great grandmother.
We got to a town which the town's folks called Wrightsville. I heard Lt. Platter remark, "this is the most miserable town I ever saw." Somehow we found ourselves on the wrong road, some six miles distant from the rest of the Federals. We intended to go to Johnsonville, not the county seat of Johnson County. We camped that afternoon about a mile and a half east of town. That night reports came in of a clash between local militia southeast of town along the Ohoopee River. Shots were fired and a Mr. Flanders was captured and taken as a prisoner.
The regiment turned north and joined the rest of the army as it made its way down the Central of Georgia Railroad to Sherman's prize, the City of Savannah. Sherman's March to the Sea was the single most devastating destruction of civilian property ever intentionally committed by a United States Army. Today, one hundred and forty three years later, the people of Georgia still feel the affects of the senseless acts of vengeance and greed.
Note: Asa Gordon Braswell was my great-great-great grandfather. The lady who defied the Yankees was his daughter in law Elmina Eliza Jane Rebecca Ann Smith Brantley Braswell. At the time of Sherman’s march, she was an 18 year old Confederate widow.