Stories are the soul of human memory. Ancient people listened to lengthy narratives about the legendary exploits of heroes like Beowulf. When literacy came, the stories were written down on animal hides and papyrus plants. Sometimes, they were carved into brick and bronze memorials.
In Newton County, 23 historical markers exist and several prominent ones are on the Civil War. According to the online almanac called Georgia Info, these include the triple markers in front of several fast food restaurants on U.S 278. At these stores of the Newton Plaza Shopping Center, park and walk the short distance to read the descriptions of these significant markers.
The first is called Garrard’s Cavalry Raid of July 22, 1864, a very destructive occurrence for the city which paved the way for General Sherman’s visit four months later. This raid razed new confederate hospitals in the city; the Confederate Dead & Hospitals marker, which is found in the Confederate Cemetery at Conyers and Davis Streets, describes this event.
The second one is named The Stoneman Raid. Cavalry brigades from Sherman’s colleague, General Stoneman, came through Covington at 9 AM on July 28, 1864. The third one is called the March to the Sea; it describes Sherman’s ride through Covington on November 18, 2014. Another marker also called The March to the Sea is found in front of the Social Circle United Methodist Church on South Cherokee Road.
When busy drivers do not have time to stop and read the marker where it is located, they have a digital solution. Yes, there is a fast way to track historical markers about the March to the Sea using a downloadable app from the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) website.
There we can find three more historical markers on the Civil War in Newton County. In chronological order, they include: The Capture of Covington (July 22, 1864), Davis at the Yellow River (November 17, 1864), and Sherman at Harris Headquarters (November 18, 1864).
The first one is located at Washington and Greene Streets; it describes actions before the March to the Sea when Garrard’s brigades destroyed the bridges over the Yellow River. The second one is missing, which should not surprise us. In its 2008 survey of the 900 Civil War markers in the state, the Georgia Historical Society found that 15 percent “of the markers were missing or damaged.”
This inventory also uncovered an imbalance of information on the markers. Most tell the stories about the military maneuvers; indeed that is what our local markers tell us. They recount which general and which division was at the Yellow River, downtown Covington, or Social Circle, and the list goes on.
What about the stories of civilians? Here we have to rely mostly on the diaries and memoirs discussed two weeks ago in the second column in this series. There are also archives compiled by the Newton County Historical Society, links on the Wiki page of the African-American Historical Association, and new markers created by the GHS.
So, what did the missing second marker commemorate? Fortunately, we do have an electronic version of its contents from the GHS website. It describes the March to the Sea before General Sherman rode through Covington:
“On Nov. 17, 1864, the 14th Corps, Maj. Gen J.C. Davis, which had camped along this road in and west of Lithonia (14 miles NW) the night before, marched to the Yellow River and camped for the night. General Davis’ headquarters were on the west bank in this area; those of Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, who was accompanying the 14th Corps from Atlanta to Milledgeville, were on the railroad a mile west of the river.”
To guide us to this location, the society has provided “a tip for finding the site at the I-20 East access road at Harold Dobb Road, west of the Yellow River.”
The third one is close to Georgia Perimeter College. It is at the intersection of State Route 142 and U.S. 278. This marker tells us definitively that his troops took livestock, food, and workers from the nearby Graves property, that is the Mt. Pleasant estate, as well as from the Harris farm, before Sherman rode towards Newborn, then called Sand Town, the next day.
Even today Sherman’s encampment at what he called Harris Quarters has a rural character, so students can easily visualize General Sherman talking to the people living there. To reflect our modern era’s multiple literacies, there is a verbal confirmation of his visit from his Memoirs, which adds more qualitative evidence to the rhetorical arguments they will be presenting in their essays this fall.
“I . . . rode on to a placed designated for camp, at the crossing of the Ulcofauhachee River (the Alcovy River), about four miles to the east of the town.” Here we made our bivouac, and I walked up to a plantation-house close by, where were assembled many negroes, among them an old, gray-haired man . . . I asked him if he understood about the war and its progress. He said he did.”
Thanks to the Civil War 150 Historical Marker Project of the Georgia Historical Society, the story of the conflict can be traced today through iTunes and Google Play. Search there for Georgia Historical Markers for the free app. Other agencies and organizations place markers on Georgia roads and streets, such as the Garden Clubs of Georgia. There are over two thousand historical markers in Georgia, and nearly half are on the Civil War.
Kathleen DeMarco is an instructor of English at Georgia Perimeter College.