It was a “sharp” presentation today as the Civil War swords of Reinhardt’s co-founders Lt. Col. John J.A. Sharp and Capt. Augustus Michael Reinhardt were formally presented for display at the University. Sherry Gray, the great-granddaughter of Sharp, donated the swords, along with Jim Davis, the great-grandson of Sharp, to Reinhardt in honor of their ancestor.
“To understand Reinhardt history today, one must search Reinhardt yesterday,” said President Dr. Kina Mallard. She welcomed the donors and family in attendance, and introduced Dr. Kenneth Wheeler, professor of history, who spoke on the biographical history of Sharp and Reinhardt leading up to Reinhardt’s founding in 1883.
Background of Sharp and Reinhardt (as narrated by Wheeler)
In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, Augustus Reinhardt and John Sharp signed up to fight for the Confederate States of America. Augustus, born in 1842, was still a teenager. He stood 5 feet, 6 inches, he was fair complected, with blue eyes and dark hair, and he spent the first year as a private, serving in Virginia, but he became so ill that he was discharged and sent home in December. By March he was able to re-enlist, in a new unit drawn mostly from the Waleska area, and perhaps because he had more experience than the others he was first a lieutenant and soon the captain, leader of a company of 145 men. Presumably this is when he acquired his sword. Reinhardt’s company fought in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and then went to Mississippi. There, in May, 1863, at the Battle of Baker’s Creek, or Champion Hill, east of Vicksburg, Reinhardt’s unit was decimated, and Reinhardt was shot in the knee. He would recover but have a limp for the rest of his life. Evidently he and his men retreated to Vicksburg, where they and thousands of other Confederate soldiers came under siege for a month and a half, and were pretty much starved into submission. The Union general, Ulysses S. Grant, who captured this Confederate army released them, and Reinhardt and his men made their way back to Georgia. It was a discouraging time, and in January, 1864, Reinhardt resigned his commission—quit the Confederate cause. Enlisted men could not resign, but officers could, and Augustus Reinhardt left the army over the year before the war ended. Perhaps his knee never fully healed, but we really don’t know.
John Sharp, born in 1828, was in his early 30s at the outbreak of war, had served as a militia colonel, and he raised a company that he served as captain, and he climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel as he fought all four years. In addition to a variety of smaller engagements, Sharp saw action in the battle of Seven Pines, at Antietam, at the battle of Fredericksburg. He was captured at the battle of Chancellorsville and held in a prison in Washington, D.C. for twenty days and was then exchanged, after which he saw more Confederate military service from Virginia to Florida before he was shot down and wounded severely while leading a charge in North Carolina at the battle of Bentonville, in March, 1865, just weeks before the war ended. Afterward, he did not romanticize the Confederacy. In 1866, he signed a published letter defending Alexander Stephens. Before secession Stephens told his fellow Georgians not to leave the Union. “The greatest curse,” said Stephens, “that can befall a free people, is civil war.” Sharp and others now recognized Stephens as “the Prophet, who . . . warned us against the fatal error” of secession and civil war, “which we all now lament and are anxious to correct.”
At war’s end, Reinhardt and Sharp beat their swords into plowshares—well, not literally, but they successfully re-entered civilian life. Reinhardt, still just 23 years old, moved immediately to Atlanta, studied law, and became an attorney. He speculated in real estate, and helped found a trolley company that made his suburban plots of land accessible to people who wanted to live close to the Ponce de Leon Springs but still have quick access to the downtown. In politics, people elected Reinhardt to Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen, which basically ran the city, and he lobbied against alcohol, helped open Grady Memorial Hospital—and in his final year he served as head of the aldermanic board—he was mayor pro tem of the city of Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Sharp stayed in Waleska. He had married in 1859, but his wife died during the war, and in 1868 he married Mary Jane Reinhardt, a sister of Augustus, making the men brothers-in-law. Sharp, like Reinhardt, got into politics and served two terms as a state legislator. Sharp, like Reinhardt, invested in a local gold mine. Sharp, sort of like Reinhardt, opened a real estate business. He ran his Waleska farm and his store. In the mid-1870s he edited a Canton newspaper, the Cherokee Georgian. He, like Reinhardt, was interested in transportation and championed an effort to make the Etowah River navigable from Canton to Rome, Georgia, where it becomes the Coosa River, so steamboats could go all the way from Canton to the Gulf of Mexico. Sharp and Reinhardt partnered on another transportation venture, a proposed railroad, the Kingston, Waleska, and Gainesville Railroad, which would run across northern Georgia. The railroad was never built, but the point here is that Reinhardt and Sharp made big plans to develop northern Georgia and make it prosperous. And, no surprise, Sharp, a former schoolteacher, published editorial after editorial in the Cherokee Georgian promoting education. In “How to Build Up A Town,” he argued that “an enduring prosperity” depended on the combination of “two forces . . . the moral and the educational . . . . The influence of a flourishing school, liberally supported by a community, penetrates into every walk of life.” “Education,” Sharp concluded, “is the only instrumentality by which permanent improvement can be affected in any human pursuit or acquisition.”
And so in 1883, when Reinhardt came to Waleska and talked to John and Mary Jane about founding a school, they acted at once. Sharp purchased a saw mill, and Reinhardt went to talk to the Methodists (both the Sharp and Reinhardt families were Methodist) about obtaining a teacher, and the school opened the following year. When they applied to the state for a charter, they explained that the school was “for the education of the youth of both sexes in the usual branches of our English and classical education . . . . solely with a view to advancing the educational interests of the County.” The school they founded has flourished, and everyone associated with Reinhardt University today owes a debt of gratitude to Augustus Reinhardt and John Sharp, for their values, their vision, their interest in future generations, their belief in the power of education to elevate and transform lives. It is a pleasure and a privilege today to accept these tangible reminders of who they were.