The Rockdale County Historical Society will mark the 150th Anniversary of Sherman's March To The Sea through Conyers on Sunday, November 16, 3 P.M. at a public dedication of an official Georgia Civil War Heritage Marker in Olde Town Conyers at the Conyers Depot.
Conyers is part of the Sherman's March To The Sea Trail which depicts two historic driving routes following the Left and Right "Wings" of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's 62,000-man army in November and December of 1864.
The afternoon's special guest speaker will be Steve Longcrier, founder and executive director of Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, Inc.
A second marker will also be placed earlier in the day at Philadelphia United Methodist Church by Longcrier, the Society, and church members.
The Georgia Civil War Heritage Trail, founded in 1999 is a 501c3 tax-exempt non-profit corporation which interprets Georgia's Civil War era along six regions.
The public is invited to attend the 3 P.M. dedication. For more details contact Harriet Gattis, Conyers Convention & Visitors Bureau, 770-929-4270.
Here is the text of the markers at the Depot and Philadelphia United Methodist:
War Comes to Conyers
Had you been standing near this spot at midday on Thursday, November 17, 1864 looking west along the railroad track, you would have seen Union Major General William T. Sherman ride into Conyers with Brigadier General William P. Carlin’s 1st Division of Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’s 14th Corps. During the next 24 hours, 13,500 men, 800 wagons and 4,800 mules would pass through this depot town, known then as “Conyers Station” (population 400), on their “March to the Sea.”
Members of General Sherman’s staff spent 1-1/2 hours in the home of Mrs. Amanda Scott located then on the southeast corner of Green and Scott Streets. Majors Henry Hitchcock, Joseph C. Audenreid and others may have been given their noonday meal by Mrs. Scott. Whether Sherman ate lunch on the big boulder near the Scott house, as local legend has it, or joined his officers inside, it seems certain his noonday meal was foraged locally. While in Conyers, newspapers from Augusta dated up to November 13th were found. From them Sherman learned the Confederates were unaware of his plans for the march.
As Sherman’s staff was leaving Mrs. Scott’s home a group of local African-American men offered to volunteer. Colonel Amos Beckwith, Sherman’s chief-commissary officer, hired three as teamsters. Others may have followed informally because all along the route slaves saw the march as their chance for freedom and many joined the column.
As General Sherman and the 1st Division of the 14th Corps marched east toward Covington the 2nd and 3rd Divisions moved into Conyers under Brigadier Generals James D. Morgan and Absalom Baird, respectively. On orders to destroy the Georgia Railroad, soldiers pried up the rails and ties. “I attached much importance to this destruction of the railroad, gave it my own personal attention…,” wrote Sherman. Ties were placed in great piles and burned, while red-hot rails were twisted around tree trunks. These fires and the countless campfires of Federal soldiers were in stark contrast to the darkened homes of Conyers. “That night the army was encamped here the people were afraid to have light in the houses lest the Yankees come in,” wrote Mrs. Julia Ann Stewart of Conyers. “I sat up all night long with matches and candle ready to light at the first alarm.”
Other fires were not numerous because the depot building of Conyers Station had already been torched a few months earlier, on July 22nd, during a Federal cavalry raid commanded by Brigadier General Kenner Garrard. The remains of a Confederate locomotive and train, captured and burned in that raid, were still standing in the station yard as Sherman’s troops arrived. The present depot was built in 1891 just East of the original site.
On the morning of November 18th, with the railroad destroyed, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions marched out of town. The Georgia Railroad, which had put the town of Conyers on the map, had now brought the war right through her front yard.
Federal Troops March Past Philadelphia Church
Just imagine, on Tuesday, November 15, 1864, you look west and see the smoke and red sky from the burning of Atlanta. In fear and apprehension you wonder where Union Major General William T. Sherman’s army is heading next. Two days later, on November 17th, approximately 14,000 soldiers in the Federal 20th Corps, plus several hundred wagons, more than a dozen artillery pieces and the animals needed to pull them march past Philadelphia Methodist Church on the Hightower Trail. The soldiers of the 20th Corps, composed primarily of men from northeastern states, are commanded by Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams and accompanied by Major General Henry W. Slocum, commander of the “Left Wing” of Sherman’s army.
Crossing the shallow fords of the Piedmont region between Augusta (Georgia) and Alabama, the Hightower Trail began as a notable trading route dividing the Cherokee Nation and Creek Confederacy long before also being used by early European settlers. Its name is believed to come from the Native American word “italwa” (Etowah), for town, people or tribe. Philadelphia Church, established 1/4 mile to the west in 1837, stood at this site in 1864. The church was a reference point on Federal army maps used during their march to the sea.
One of the reasons the March to the Sea is unique in history is that General Sherman succeeded in moving an army of 62,000 men through 300 miles of enemy territory without the chance for military re-supply. At first their march led them through areas picked clean during the earlier battles around Atlanta. By the time Federal troops reached present-day Rockdale County they began to encounter “plenty of forage along road, corn, fodder, finest sweet potatoes, pigs, chickens” essential to feeding the large force as it moved across Georgia. Daily foraging details, 50 men strong, systematically stripped the farms of food, carriages, wagons and livestock, sometimes helping themselves to other valuables along the way. A local story tells of a little girl's pony being taken yet leaving the small saddle on a fence post.
Almost four miles east of Philadelphia Church the 20th Corps crossed Big and Little Haynes Creeks to reach Dial Mill. This mill, built before 1830, was owned by James M. Summers. During his absence while serving in the Confederate army the mill was under the care of Mrs. Winnie Puckett. A Federal officer ordered dry corn shucks placed in the mill doorway and set afire. He had not counted on the small woman's determination. Winnie pleaded with him to spare the mill for the women and children of the area. The officer relented and to seal the deal Winnie offered him a tobacco twist she had in her apron pocket. Trusted Federal soldiers were left to protect the mill from other passing soldiers.
At dusk on the 17th the 1st Division, rear guard of the 20th Corps, passed the Sheffield Community Post Office, left present-day Rockdale County and marched on toward Centreville (Jersey) and Social Circle.