Recollections of A Nightmare

The Yankees were coming!  A sea of blue was marching down the roads from Macon.  They were sixty thousand strong.  Mass destruction was their mission.  Their goal was to make it to Savannah by Christmas, take everything they needed along the way, and destroy everything of value that they couldn't eat or steal.  Forty three years after living through a nightmare, Susan Tillery of Dublin, formerly of Wilkinson County, wrote a letter to the editors of the "The Confederate Veteran." She relived, in detail, the nightmare she suffered during General William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea."

Susan was born in Irwinton, Georgia.  When the war came, her family moved six miles out of town to her father's farm.  Susan became friends with her next door neighbor Sallie Clay.  In nearby Gordon, Georgia, a home had been established to take care of the sick and wounded soldiers, who had been pouring in following the battles of Atlanta and Jonesboro in the summer instant.  The ladies and young girls of Wilkinson County took turns visiting the home taking baskets of food and goodies (though food and goodies were scant).  Susan and Sallie gathered up what they could find, put it in a basket, and headed for the soldiers' home.  The girls arrived in Gordon on Tuesday morning.  Within an hour, frightening news came in.  The Yankees were invading Macon and headed down the Central of Georgia Railroad.  Susan and Sallie decided they should leave right away.  Luckily, they managed to catch an eastbound Macon train headed for Savannah.  The girls got off the train in Toomsboro and headed for home.  The four-mile walk didn't bother them.  Fear overrode any thoughts of the long distance.  Along the way the girls warned anyone they saw that Sherman's army was coming and destroying everything!

Panic was spreading throughout the community.  Susan's father took his livestock down into the swamp to hide them from the thieving Yankees.   The next day he sent a Negro boy named "Bob" down to the swamp to tend to the animals.  Bob returned to report that the animals were okay.  Bob went back down into the swamp on Thursday morning.  He never returned.  Susan's father went down to look for the young man.  He found the stock, but no Bob.  A neighbor told the family that Bob had gone to the Yankees.  Bob had been seen riding through Toomsboro on Mr. Clay's fine gray horse, sitting on a saddle blanket made from one of Mrs. Clay's quilts.  All along the march, freed and frightened slaves swarmed the tail end of the Yankees columns, looking for comfort, food, and freedom.  Several weeks later, long after the Yankees had gone, Susan and her family were sitting on the front porch of their home.  They spotted a man walking through the fields late in the afternoon.   It was Bob.  Susan's father threatened to kill the young man.  He got his gun.  As the children began to cry and Susan's mother began to beg for mercy, Susan's father queried Bob as to the reason for his absence.  Bob said that he "wanted to go up to the big road" so he could "see the Yankees as they passed."  Suddenly, two Yankees pounced on Bob and told him that they had been looking for him and they wanted Bob to go with them.  The "bluecoats" promised Bob that they would pay him ten silver dollars a month and give him a fine horse to ride.  He was going ride along General Sherman as a boy in waiting.  Bob eagerly accepted the offer.  The soldiers gave Bob Mr. Clay's horse, which they had earlier stolen. Things then began to go wrong.  Bob was branded across his shoulders with the letters, "A.S.A.."  His horse was taken away, and he was forced to walk all the way to Savannah, where he managed to escape. Bob followed the railroad back home.  His master was still visibly upset, wishing the Yankees had killed Bob.  Bob, nearly naked in the remains of his shredded clothes, replied "they came very near doing that.  No more Yankees for me.  They made me burn bridges, build breastworks, and do all kinds of hard work."  He turned his back to show Susan and her family the his brand.  Bob stayed with the family until the end of 1865, after which Susan never saw him again.

Susan had a nightmare of her own. Mr. Clay had taken his family's most valuable possessions down into the swamp.  Mrs. Clay, overcome with fear of her husband's safety, sent Sally to look for him.  Sally was afraid, so Susan agreed to go with her.  Susan's father reluctantly agreed that she accompany Sally to look for Mr. Clay.  The girls secreted through the fields, the briars, and the bushes toward Mr. Clay's camp.  Just as they arrived, the girls heard the sound of horses headed toward Mr. Clay's position.  The girls rolled over into a thorny brier-filled gully, out of sight of the Yankees who were just a few yards away.  The girls froze.  The sound of their tense breaths was muted by the whoops of the triumphant plundering hoard. It was dusk.  The air was freezing.  The girls managed to climb out.  Their clothes torn, their skin cut and bleeding, and their hearts racing, Susan and Sally climbed a hill and saw Dr. Taylor's flaming gin house, which only added to their fear.  The girls made it to Mrs. Lord's home, which had just been ransacked and stripped of all its meat supply by the Yankees.  Mrs. Lord and two little Negro children escorted Susan and Sallie to their homes.   They made to the Clay house first - one more mile to go for Susan.  Before Susan could reach her home, she was met by her two younger sisters and her old cook, who had been desperately searching with a torchlight for Susan and Sallie.

Another incident which remained in Susan's memory for decades involved old Judge Bower.  The judge, like most of the residents of Wilkinson County, sent his valuables into the swamps to hide them from the Yankee looters.  The Union soldiers found his belongings, ripped open his bedding, and burned his most prized belongings.  Bower's fine carriage was stripped and modified into a dray.  The marauders shelled all of his corn, put it onto the dray, and took it with them along with Bower's oxen, which they also confiscated.  Judge Bower managed to keep his old gun and his new overcoat.  On Saturday, the judge thought that the danger was over and went outside to sit on the front porch.  Fearing that he was still in danger, Judge Bower placed his gun under his overcoat and sat out on the porch, swearing vengeance against the invaders.  Just then, two straggling Yankees approached the Bower homestead.  The soldiers, desiring the warmth such a coat would bring them, took the garment right off the defenseless judge's back and let him with nothing, not even his trusty gun.  All of this was too much was for the old man.  He didn't live much longer after the end of war.

Susan Tillery remained grateful for the rest of her life for the mercy God had shown her in sparing her and Sallie's families from harm.  The Yankees found Mr. Clay.  They took his livestock and other usable items.  They burned what they couldn't use.  After the war, Susan married William H. Tillery, who had served as a private in Company F of the 3rd Georgia Infantry.  The Tillerys moved to Dublin.  William Tillery, a Dublin merchant,  served as Dublin's first Fire Chief in 1878 and  Mayor of Dublin in the early 1880s.  While Tillery was elected on a pro-liquor ticket,  Susan Tillery was one of the leading opponents of the sale of alcoholic beverages in the city.  Susan Tillery died on February 26, 1920, more than a fifteen years after her husband, who is buried in the old City Cemetery.