Black Bartow County

Earlier this summer I visited the Bartow History Museum, located in Bartow County’s first postbellum courthouse on East Church Street in Cartersville, right beside the Western & Atlantic train tracks and now overshadowed by a bridge built to span the tracks. Its exhibits are well done. Currently, on the main floor, is a photo gallery of different musical groups from the county, and a feature exhibition about the county’s notable women, in honor of the ratification of the nineteenth amendment one hundred years ago this month. Upstairs, in the Dellinger Family Exhibition Gallery, is a permanent display taking the visitor through the history of the area, starting with the Mississippian Indians who built the Etowah Mounds, through Cherokee removal, white settlement, the Civil War, local industry, commerce, and agriculture, the county’s participation in the World Wars, and the current scene. As I say, it is very well done – except that I couldn’t help but notice that the whole thing gives short shrift to Bartow’s African-American community. 

Slavery is briefly mentioned on a single panel in the antebellum section…

…and on the way in, in a photo montage entitled “A Sense of Place,” one finds a group photograph of some members of the “Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Mission Road, 1954,” clearly an African-American congregation. And that’s pretty much it.*

I think that Bartow’s Black history deserves more attention than this. Although plantation slavery was not as common in north Georgia as it was in the Black Belt, as the panel above states, by 1840 there were some 2000 slaves in the county, out of a total population of 9340. I have discovered that slaves were occasionally sold on the courthouse steps in Cassville, the original county seat.** What was it like for these people? What happened to them when Sherman came though on the Atlanta Campaign, armed with the Emancipation Proclamation? How did they deal with this newfound freedom – and with the imposition of Jim Crow once Reconstruction was called off? How did Bartow County experience the Civil Rights movement, and what is the situation of Bartow’s Black population today? These are all stories that ought to be told.

Fortunately, they are getting some attention in other ways. The Etowah Valley Historical Society sponsors an African-American History Initiative, which was responsible for the sculpture Pathways to Freedom, on display in front of Cartersville City Hall. And the Cartersville-Bartow Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (in alliance with the Cartersville Downtown Development Authority) has helped create an African American Heritage Trail in the county. An abridged description of the trail may be found on the Bureau’s website, and the full version may be found in a pamphlet available at the Bartow History Museum and elsewhere (and downloadable as a pdf). A shout-out to Reinhardt’s Pam Wilson for her contributions to this. 

The pamphlet is quite well done (by my friend Lara Jeanneret of Lara J Designs, as it happens, whose work I highly recommend). It features an introduction and historical timeline, and details some nineteen historically significant sites throughout Bartow County, eleven of which are in Cartersville. Some of these I have already seen and blogged about this summer, such as the Pathways to Freedom sculpture, the covered bridge in Euharlee (built by Washington King, son of freedman Horace King), the Black Pioneers’ Cemetery in Euharlee (rediscovered and saved from development in 2002), and the gravesite of Michelle Obama’s three-greats grandmother Melvinia Shields in Kingston. Some of the pamphlet’s other sites are somewhat amorphous, like “2. The Clothing Trades” (active on East Church Street in Cartersville) or “7. African American Real Estate Developers” (active on West Main Street). But others are more concrete, and in my last act of local exploration this summer I determined to see some of them. One was quite by accident: I was eating lunch in Ross’s Diner when I read, in the “3. Segregation” section of the Heritage Trail pamphlet:

Both of Cartersville’s historic courthouses had segregated balconies where African Americans were required to sit. The Grand Theatre had a separate entrance for black movie patrons, which led to a segregated seating section. At both Ross’s Diner and 4-Way Lunch, one can still see the separate entrances designated for African American diners, who also were required to sit at segregated counters at the rear of the buildings adjacent to the kitchen areas.

I asked the manager if this was true, and she admitted it was, and directed me outside and to the rear of the building, as if I was going to use the toilet.

Ross’s Diner, front entrance on Wall Street.

Ross’s Diner, rear entrance off the side alley.

The room that one enters from this door is easy to imagine as a secondary dining area; it is now storage, with the main kitchen to the right. The toilet is in a closet off this room. (I assume that Ross’s Diner didn’t always offer toilet facilities, or else the “white” toilets, wherever they may have been, were decommissioned at some point. The races couldn’t possibly have shared toilets.)

After Ross’s, I walked north on Erwin Street to see “9. Vinnie’s Cabin,” which is located behind a fine nineteenth century house, currently occupied by Strands Hair Salon. 

The main house, believed to have been the first one built in Cartersville, was the “townhome” property of Elijah Murphy Field and Cornelia Maxey Harrison Field,*** whose main residence was on a large plantation on Pumpkinvine Creek, worked by slaves. Obviously their townhome would have needed some staff as well, and cabins out back, one of which still stands, would have been where these people lived. The abolition of slavery did not mean that such social relations entirely disappeared, however, and the cabin takes its name from Vinnie Salter Johnson, a Black woman who was born into slavery in 1855 but who was subsequently employed as a cook by the Field family. She lived with her son in what used to be the slave cabin until she made enough money to be able to rent her own home on nearby Bartow St. I do not know at what point the cabin ceased to be occupied by any Field family employees, or why it survived to the present, but I am glad that it did. It is good to retain such mementoes of the past, as uncomfortable as they might make us now. 

An even more important reminder of the old days (and, perhaps, a more positive one) is “12. The Summer Hill Heritage Foundation” on Aubrey Street. Summer Hill is a historically Black neighborhood, and Summer Hill School was the Black school for Cartersville. The school dates from 1889 and taught students from first through sixth grade; a new wooden structure was built for it in 1922, which was replaced by an even larger brick structure in 1956, by which time Summer Hill School offered high school instruction and fielded sports teams. With the fall of segregation in 1968, the school was closed, but the building (as a community center) and sports facilities (a gym, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and a swimming pool) remain in use. Apparently there is a small museum in the complex, but unfortunately the whole place was closed on account of the plague. 

The disused concrete bleachers of Blue Devil Stadium, hand-built by parents in the community. 

“He who thinks can conquer” statue on the grounds. 

A little further up the street, one encounters “13. Masonic Lodge,” a disused building that at one point functioned as the meeting place for a so-called Prince Hall Lodge. In 1775, Prince Hall and fourteen other free Black men, having been rejected for membership in a colonial Masonic lodge, were initiated by British soldiers into the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and later received recognition as African Lodge No. 1. (Such consideration, it seems, did not convince Hall to support the British during the Revolutionary War.) Out of this act eventually grew an independent branch of Freemasonry for African-American men that spread throughout the North, and then into the South following the Civil War. Like other fraternal organizations, Prince Hall lodges offered fellowship for members and allowed the pooling of resources for charitable work, and were thus an important pillar of the African-American community. Cartersville’s Prince Hall Lodge, designated Mount Zion Lodge #6, was founded in 1896. The pamphlet claims that it is “one of the oldest continually active African American lodges in the state,” although I can find no evidence on the Internet that it still exists, and it clearly does not use this building anymore. In its day it ran the Benevolent Brotherhood Society, into which community members made contributions and could draw on in times of emergency. 

Freemasonry is not as popular as it once was although the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia does seem to be a going concern – with or without the Cartersville chapter. 

But perhaps the most significant African-American site in all of Bartow County is “17. Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center” in Cassville. Noble Hill School (also called Cassville Colored School) was constructed in 1923 with help from the Rosenwald Fund. I had never heard of this before, but it was quite important in its day. Like the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who built all those libraries, Julius Rosenwald, president of the Sears, Roebuck and Co., in partnership with Booker T. Washington, used his wealth for the greater good by helping to fund the construction of schools, many of them for Black children in the segregated South. Rosenwald grants were always matching grants, and it should be noted that only 33% of the cost of the Noble Hill school building came from the Fund; 47% was raised by the local community, with the remainder coming from the Bartow Board of Education. The building featured two rooms, one for first through third grade, the other for fourth through seventh grade – and large windows to take advantage of the natural light, as it was not wired for electricity. The school closed in 1955 when many of Bartow County’s Black schools were amalgamated to form Bartow Elementary School (I do not know where this building was located, or what has become of it since the end of segregation). 

From a display at Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center.

After standing empty for a number of years, the Rosenwald building was resurrected in the 1980s as the site of the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, a museum dedicated to the former school and to African-American history in Bartow County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Webster Wheeler. noblehillwheeler.org

The “Wheeler” in the institution’s title is the surname of the family most closely associated with Noble Hill: Webster Wheeler (1871-1943) was the school’s main builder; Bethel Wheeler was Webster’s son and assistant; Bertha Wheeler was Bethel’s wife who owned the building and donated it for use as a museum; and Susie Weems Wheeler (1917-2007) was the wife of Webster’s son Daniel, who was an early graduate of the school and who served as the driving force behind the establishment of the museum. 

Dr. Susie Wheeler. “Women of Bartow County” exhibit, Bartow History Museum, 2020.

Susie Wheeler had an accomplished career. She received a bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State College and eventually an Ed.D. from Atlanta (now Clark Atlanta) University. She taught in Bartow County and later acted as a Jeanes supervisor, that is, a superintendent of Black schools, for Bartow, Gordon, and Polk Counties. She finished her career as curriculum director for the (now integrated) Bartow County Board of Education, and received the Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2007. She was also a world traveler and 62-year member of Delta Sigma Theta

Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center is also closed on account of the virus, but I was fortunate to be given a private tour by museum curator Valerie Coleman. Some items on display:

This quilt, which received an honorable mention at the Atlanta Quilt Festival, records people who were important to Noble Hill, including Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington on the bottom left, and Webster, Bertha, Bethel, and Susie Wheeler above them. The color picture at the top (underneath the “g” and the “H”) is of another notable local figure: Robert Benham (b. 1946) a native of Cartersville and the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia (1989-2020, with a term as Chief Justice 1995-2001). Justice Benham did not attend Noble Hill, but did graduate from Summer Hill in 1963, and was recruited by Susie Wheeler as a trustee of the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center. In this capacity he arranged for a session of the Supreme Court of Georgia at the Center in 1992!

Justice Robert Benham and other members of the Supreme Court of Georgia at Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, 1992.

Dr. W.R. Moore.

The Center also possesses the medical books, photos, and certificates of Dr. William Riley Moore (1881-1954), the first African-American doctor in Cartersville. Dr. Moore came to town from Florida (from the city of Bartow, as it happens) in 1910 and established a practice for himself above Gassett’s Grocery (site 5 on the Heritage Trail) in the African-American business district on West Main Street. He later moved his office to Summer Hill and practiced there until his death in 1954. He delivered almost all the Black babies born in Cartersville (and a few white ones too, although this is not something that he could publicly acknowledge). He was also an important community leader and was instrumental in establishing the Faith Cabin Library in Cartersville for the use of African-Americans. Both he and his landlord John Gassett are buried in the Black section of Oak Hill Cemetery (which, surprisingly, is not a site on the Heritage Trail).

Photo: C.P. McAbee.

My final stop on the Heritage Trail was “16. St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church,” also in Cassville. Like the Prince Hall Masons, the AME Church has its origins in the social prejudices of northern whites against Black people. Tired of the restrictions placed on him, the Black Methodist minister Richard Allen founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia in 1794, catering to the free Black population of that city. Other ministers followed his example, and in 1816 he organized the AME Church as an independent denomination, with himself as first bishop. The AME Church spread throughout the South following the Civil War, ministering to freedmen. An AME congregation was organized in Cassville in the late 1860s; the local Presbyterians bequeathed to it their church building, as they were all relocating to Cartersville, the new county seat.† 

Unfortunately this historic congregation has essentially died out, and the church building is disused and not in the best repair (the photo of the interior was provided by my friend Christopher McAbee, who has done research on St. James). There are other active AME congregations in Bartow County, however, and other Black churches (mostly Baptist). It would be nice if some appropriate use could be found for this building – and for the Summer Hill Masonic Hall, for that matter.

But, some will wonder, why do we need to focus on “African-American History” at all? Why all the fuss about people who possess some arbitrary physical attribute that ought to be as trivial as having freckles or being left-handed? This is a natural attitude for people who grew up in mostly-white communities but who have been programmed against racism by everything in their culture. If “we’re all the same underneath,” as they’ve been taught from birth, then why do we pay so much attention to what’s on the surface? Why do we celebrate Black achievements so vociferously, in a way that we don’t for other discrete categories of human?

The answer, of course, is that for the longest time white people believed that we weren’t all the same underneath. My theory is that Early Modern Europeans always had a slightly guilty conscience about slavery – so they invented racism in order to justify it, and thereby made it worse. Slavery is bad, they thought, but it’s not as bad to enslave morally inferior people, clearly marked by their dark skin – in fact, it might even be good for them! Thus, predictably, just because one gets rid of the slavery, doesn’t mean that one gets rid of the racism. Even white Americans in places that had abolished Black slavery in the eighteenth century, and who invaded the Confederacy in order to end the practice, saw no reason to accept free Blacks as social equals. The “races” generally did not mix, and if there was ever a question of the distribution of resources, it was white people who got the lion’s share, if not the whole thing. (If Black people did not like this dispensation, they could always go “back” to Africa. Whites were never enjoined to go “back” to Europe.)

And if this is how Northerners thought, how much more so did Southerners, who in an act of aggression displacement blamed their former slaves for the devastation wrought upon the South by the North, and once they regained control of their states instituted a panoply of laws known by the collective name of “Jim Crow.” Such laws were largely animated by the principle of segregation, the notion that Black people and white people should occupy completely different social spaces, with this division enforced in various formal and informal ways. As this blog post has indicated, during the Jim Crow era in Georgia, Black people and white people had separate: 

• neighborhoods and commercial areas
• schools
• colleges and universities
• churches
• fraternal organizations
• (areas in) cemeteries
• seating areas in restaurants, theaters, and courtrooms
• professional service providers 

One can think of any number of other areas where segregation was applied:

sports leagues
• recreational facilities like swimming pools and even state parks (e.g. “10. George Washington Carver State Park for Negroes” on Lake Allatoona)
• hotels
• prisons
• public toilets and drinking fountains

And so on. In fairness, sometimes such things were found far beyond the states of the former Confederacy. (But I’ve always distrusted the cliché that “in the North, it doesn’t matter how big you get as long as you don’t get too close, but in the South, it doesn’t matter how close you get as long as you don’t get too big.” What was segregation if not an attempt at keeping people from getting too close?)

The fundamental justification for segregation is that the “races” really are different from each other, really are like oil and water, and for everyone’s sake ought to be kept apart from each other. And the longer segregation went on, the more self-justifying it became. For not only did people look different, with social separation they had evolved different cultures, with different ways of speaking, different ways of interacting, different bodies of background knowledge, and so on. In this way are the races really more than “skin deep” in the United States – phenotype is generally a marker of culture as well. 

So what is wrong with segregation then? What’s wrong with you hanging out with your people, and I hanging out with mine? We self-segregate along such lines all the time, as any observation of the school cafeteria will indicate. What’s the big deal? Well, the answer is that there is a big difference between doing something because you want to, and doing something because you have to. Much more important, however, is the whole issue of power. White people were in command of all levels of government, and whether by law or social custom, segregation was their project, implemented for their (supposed) benefit. During Jim Crow the races were kept apart – with Black people firmly “beneath” white people in any number of ways. As is apparent by now, the separate facilities for Black people were always crappier than those for whites. It’s not white people who had to use the side entrance to Ross’s Diner and eat in the windowless back room, out of public view. It’s not the white schools that received cast-off textbooks from Black schools. Perhaps most important, it is not white people who had to fear vigilante justice from Black mobs, acting in the knowledge that no jury would convict them. On some abstract level “separate but equal” is a tenable proposition, but in reality it never worked that way. (If nothing else, Black people did not get to vote for Black representatives to a Black legislature, passing legislation binding only on Black people.) Thus did the United States Supreme Court rightly reject it in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954). 

And yet… for all its faults, segregation did allow Black people to be in control of their own institutions. Shelby Steele has written about this, personally recalling the camaraderie that existed among African-Americans in the face of institutionalized white racism. Was something important lost when Summer Hill closed its doors and its students sent to Cartersville High? Perhaps, and it is interesting to note how some segregation-era organizations live on. The Negro leagues might no longer be with us, but Black churches, fraternities, and HBCUs certainly are – and are clearly valued as such by their members. For if “African-American” is a culture, then African-Americans should be able to have their own spaces where their own culture prevails, even as segregation is legally and morally forbidden otherwise. And forbidden for a good reason – people might generally want to hang out with people “like them,” but it’s nice to have the option not to, and it is this compulsory aspect of segregation that is so depressing, a blanket statement that cross-racial amity is simply impossible. It’s also just inefficient: imagine having to spend all that effort policing this boundary, and having to provide two of everything. 

I applaud the Cartersville-Bartow Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for creating the Heritage Trail – and I’m pleased to note that the Georgia Downtown Association agrees with me. I have discovered that the Georgia Historical Society has actually replaced the Georgia Historical Commission as the body responsible for the erection of new historical markers, with the specific mandate of correcting some of the biases of the past. I certainly believe that many of the items in the Heritage Trail pamphlet deserve to be memorialized publicly in metal (not just with QR codes). Summer Hill School is surely as important as the precise locations of the troops of Johnston, Hardee, and Polk at 5 P.M. on May 19, 1864. 

* Although in fairness I should note that several African-American women, including Susie Wheeler and Louise Young Harris (pastor of Queen Chapel in Kingston), are included in the temporary Women of Bartow exhibit on the first floor.

** See the section on Cassville in Lisa Russell’s Lost Towns of North Georgia (2016).

*** According to the pamphlet, 118 N. Erwin St. was commandeered in 1864 for use as a post office by Mrs. Field’s cousin, Union Army Colonel Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. Such an action infuriated Mrs. Field and she refused to welcome Harrison into her home ever again… even after he became the 23rd president of the United States!

† The Presbyterian/AME church building was one of only a few to survive the burning of Cassville on November 5, 1864. 

Civil War Galore

My exploration of the Atlanta Campaign prompted me to take a day trip further north to see some of the other sites in that campaign, in particular Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, and Rome Cross Roads. But as is usual with such tourism, you always discover other things when you’re out, such as the Chetoogeta Mountain Tunnel and the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension. But there is a lot more Civil War stuff in Georgia too. This post deals with some of it, and how it is memorialized. 

In Catoosa County, almost in Tennessee, one finds the main site for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. I regret to say that I was completely unaware of how massive (and massively deadly) the Battle of Chickamauga was in the course of the Civil War. Fought on September 18-20, 1863, it featured some 60,000 Union troops fighting 65,000 Confederates – producing, respectively, 16,000 and 18,000 casualties. Only Gettysburg had a higher toll. That this was a victory for the Confederacy in a war it ultimately lost, I suppose, puts it outside the narrative, so to speak, so it does not surprise me that Gettysburg is better known. 

In 1890, Congress authorized the foundation of this park, along with parks for the Battles of Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, in the first wave of federal Civil War preservation. To my chagrin the visitors’ center at Chickamauga was closed on account of the virus, but at 5300 acres, the park provides lots of things to see. These include artillery pieces:

Battlefield markers:

Plenty of signs explaining exactly what went on at various points in the battle (in gray for Confederate movements, and blue for Union):

And lots of monuments, contributed by various parties:

Florida.

Illinois

Indiana.

Kentucky, honoring soldiers who fought on both sides.

Gettysburg is like this too, if I recall correctly from a visit there many years ago. It is good to remember. The more monuments and markers, the better.

Today, this park has five other satellite sites, at Orchard Knob (for a battle fought there on Nov. 23, 1863), Lookout Mountain (Nov. 24, 1863), and Missionary Ridge (Nov. 25, 1863) – all commemorating subsequent Union victories in defense of Chattanooga, counting as part of the Chattanooga Campaign – plus Moccasin Bend (an American Indian site) and Signal Point (a Civil War signal station). But Chickamauga is the showpiece, and I’m looking forward to returning some day when the buildings are open, and when the weather is not quite as hot. 

The final battle in the Chattanooga Campaign was the battle of Ringgold Gap (Nov. 27, 1863), which counts as a Confederate victory because Patrick Cleburne held up Union forces, allowing Confederates and their equipment to escape, although the Union troops occupied Ringgold shortly thereafter. Ringgold Gap is not part of the national park, but one can view this GHC marker just outside of Ringgold, Ga. Do I detect a celebratory tone?

Cleburne certainly merits a statue…

…and outside the Ringgold railway depot flies Hardee’s flagWilliam J. Hardee was not at Ringgold Gap, but elements of his corps were, and Cleburne’s corps used the flag as well (my thanks to Eb Daniels for telling me about this). Thus does Ringgold accurately celebrate its Civil War heritage, while avoiding the Confederate Battle Flag that causes so much offense. 

Cleburne is noted for something else, which is edifying to our current sensibilities. On January 2, 1864, while stationed at Dalton, he offered up a “Proposal to Enlist Slaves and Guarantee Freedom to All Loyal Negroes.” According to an interpretive sign placed recently by Georgia’s Civil War Commission:

He cited that throughout history, slaves had fought beside master in many conflicts, and that the North was only using the slavery issue as “merely a pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government.” Remove slavery as a war factor and the foundations of the North’s argument would crumble. Cleburne also knew that Great Britain and France would likely recognize the South as a sovereign nation once it emancipated its own slaves.

But another marker, placed by the Georgia Historical Society in 2014 outside the Huff House in Dalton, which was serving as Johnston’s winter headquarters, tells that:

almost all the other generals present opposed the idea of black Confederate soldiers because it violated the principles upon which the Confederacy was founded. Gen. Patton Anderson said the proposal “would shake our governments, both state and Confederate, to their very foundations,” and Gen. A.P. Stewart said it was “at war with my social, moral, and political principles.” Considering the proposal treasonous, Gen. W.H.T. Walker informed President Jefferson Davis, who ordered any mention of it to be suppressed.

So despite the opinion of the Irish-born Cleburne, and some thirteen other officers who endorsed his proposal, it looks like the Confederate States of America really was all about slavery. Eventually the CSA did authorize a version of Cleburne’s proposal… on March 13, 1865, less than a month before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Bit late for that, I guess!

Ringgold Gap was also where Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign began on May 7, 1864. Here is a WPA marker testifying to this event.

Seven miles away, also on May 7, Union forces seized the Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel and its namesake town. A GHC sign tells about it, in the usual stilted style. 

Right beside the western entrance to the railroad tunnel stands the Clisby Austin house, which had served as a railway hotel, then a Confederate hospital, and then as Sherman’s headquarters from May 7 to May 12, 1864. 

Google maps.

I made this map to show some of the places significant to the opening days of the Atlanta Campaign. After Ringgold and Tunnel Hill, the next major encounter was at Rocky Face Ridge. The underlined “Rocky Face” on the map in fact denotes Mill Creek Gap, which the Confederates had spent the previous winter fortifying, including by damming Mill Creek. Turns out that this operation was quite effective at keeping Union troops at bay.

According to another sign, Mill Creek Gap earned the nickname “Buzzard’s Roost,” on account of one soldier’s observation that “buzzards are roosting up there, waiting for us to die.” 

But in what became a common occurrence during the Atlanta campaign, Sherman simply used his superior numbers to outflank Confederate defenses. Dug Gap (marked with a blue star on the map) and Snake Creek Gap (marked with a red star) turned out to be just as useful for getting through Rocky Face Ridge. 

Thus did Johnston abandon Dalton and retreat to Resaca, where the pattern repeated itself. An attempt by Union troops against the Confederate line was unsuccessful, so Sherman ordered a flanking movement to the  south, crossing the Oostanaula River with Cumberland pontoon bridges and forcing another Confederate retreat. 

Of the four GHC markers at Resaca, this one is the most lucid.

But the NPS marker is more clear…

…and the WPA marker actually illustrates what happened.

The Battle of Resaca may have been inconclusive, but it produced some 2800 casualties for the Confederacy, many of whom were hastily buried, or not buried at all. When the local Green family returned to their home in 1866, they were shocked by this sight, and Mary Jane Green, who had served as matron in hospital in Macon during the war, decided to do something about it. Through newspaper advertisements across the South she raised $2000, and got her father to grant her 2.5 acres of land, on which she and her family painstakingly reinterred the Confederate war dead, identifying those they could, and placing those they could not around a large granite cross inscribed “For the Unknown Dead.” The dedication of the Resaca Confederate Cemetery took place on October 25, 1866, and is tied with a cemetery in Winchester, Virginia as the first such cemetery in the country. 

The project put Miss Green $500 in debt, so she petitioned the legislature for a grant to cover it – the first woman known to have addressed that body. Not only did they cover the $500, they gave her a further $3500 to rebury the dead of Chickamauga. She died in 1924 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. 

The next action in the campaign took place at Adairsville on May 17, 1864 – for which see a previous post, and the marker below, which I discovered at the intersection of Cassville Rd. NW and US-41 in Cassville. It gives further details about why Johnston’s attempted ambush of Union troops failed, but gives the credit to Edward McCook (not Daniel Butterfield) for spoiling it. I believe that Spring Place Road on the map is now Cedar Creek Road. 

Old Highway 41, along which most of the Atlanta Campaign markers may be found, had been part of the Dixie Highway, which at one point was the only way to drive from Chicago or Detroit to Florida for the winter. Thus did everyone along the route try to cash in on this traffic, by providing food or accommodation, or some roadside attraction or other reason to stop. See Down the Dixie Highway (56-minute video) for more. The WPA markers seem to be part of this: they are in fact located in “pocket parks” along the route – small parks enclosed by short walls, which would have provided a nice place for a break or a picnic. 

Cassville.

Resaca.

Mill Creek Gap.

It is interesting to see the different “layers” presented at these sites, although nothing quite matches the variety of memorials found at New Hope Church in Dallas. I appreciated the clarity (and neutrality) of the WPA/NPS markers in the pocket parks – it would have been nice if they had built one at Adairsville. The GHC markers are more common, but can also be for pretty obscure things, not written all that well, and occasionally biased towards the CSA. Markers put up by local history societies or the Georgia Historical Society are pretty good, although they’re much less common – and perhaps a bit biased in the other direction.* Best of all are the interpretive signs sponsored by the Georgia Civil War Commission and put up by Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, Inc., I believe during the sesquicentennial years of 2011-2015. By that point technology allowed the integration of text and colored graphics, and the signs are informative and apparently well-researched, with no marked bias that I could ascertain. I hope that whatever material they are made of ends up surviving the elements.

Two observations in conclusion. When dealing with warfare, one is reminded that “history” is often simply an artificial order imposed on the past to try to make some sense of it. There is a formal list of the battles of the Atlanta campaign, but there were a lot of skirmishes and “demonstrations” that are not included in that list – and you just know that there were all sorts of things that happened that did not make it into the official record at all, given the sheer numbers of men involved and the fact that so many of them did not actually survive. This leads to the second observation: War really is Hell. As peaceful as these battlefields and cemeteries might be today, one cannot help but realize that huge numbers of young men died or were permanently disfigured in particularly gruesome (and often quite avoidable) ways during the Civil War. It is good to remember this, if only so that we can avoid it as much as possible in the future. 

* Note how the Carter center marker claims that Sherman’s troops “only destroyed property used for waging war,” but in the next sentence claims that they “lived off the land, destroying food they could not consume,” as if Southern civilians did not need food. One does not need to be Lost Causer to object to that. 

The Western and Atlantic Railroad

Google maps. The purple dots delineate the course of the W&A. 

The Western & Atlantic Railroad, or simply the “State Road,” connecting “Terminus” (Atlanta) and “Ross’s Landing” (Chattanooga), was chartered in 1836 and completed by 1850. It has been referenced several times on this blog; much more information is available in Ken Wheeler’s forthcoming book Modern Cronies. The final piece in the W&A puzzle was the construction of a tunnel (largely by slave labor, it must be acknowledged) beneath Chetoogeta Mountain in Whitfield County, marked with a black star on the map. This project gave rise to the nearby settlement of Tunnelsville, later renamed Tunnel Hill. A wider, parallel tunnel was constructed in 1928, leaving the disused original tunnel to serve as a footpath through the mountain. Motion-sensing lights turn on as you walk through, and the ambient temperature is nice and cool, which is a relief on a hot day.

A photo of the entrance to the original tunnel; you can barely see the light at the end of it. To the left, the date “1928” can be seen through the chainlink fence over the newer tunnel (the actual entrance being obscured by kudzu). 

A Georgia Historic Marker gives more detail. I’m glad to note that by the 1990s, the makers of these signs realized that you could fit more text on them if you just decreased its font size, and that they are more appealing when written in standard English. However, according to Bradley Putnam, a local historian with whom had the pleasure of speaking, the first number should be 1477 (not 1447) – he has measured the tunnel’s length himself. 

A museum on the premises gives more information about the W&A. The display in the foreground is of some rails recovered from a local creek in 2011. They are placed over a pile of ties to illustrate how one can do irreparable damage to a railroad if one is interested in doing so during time of war. The sign explains that the ties would be set on fire, and the heat would melt the rails and cause them to droop under their own weight – you can see that this has in fact happened to one of them. If circumstances permitted, for added destructiveness the heated rails could be twisted around a tree – thus acquiring the nickname “Sherman’s Neckties.”

Across the tracks, the old railroad depot still stands…

…and is, indeed, being rehabilitated for a new purpose. 

Further up the tracks in Ringgold, Georgia, stands another railway depot. It is marked with a blue star on the map above. 

This one took some damage during the Civli War and had to be restored, thus its present piebald appearance.

The historical marker tells more, although the building hasn’t been in continuous use as a railway depot necessarily. It is now an event venue available for weddings or other functions.

Wikipedia.

And, of course, one cannot talk about the W&A without mentioning the Great Locomotive Chase of April 12, 1862, “one of the most colorful exploits of the Civil War,” as the first sign says above. 

North of Ringgold the W&A runs parallel to Highway 151, and about two miles out of town (marked with a red star on the map), one encounters a monument at the place where Andrews’ Raiders abandoned their hijacked locomotive The General, having run out of fuel for it.

An artist’s interpretation of this event may be found on Wikipedia. The backwards-running Texas may be seen on the left. All the raiders were captured; spare a thought for the eight who were executed as spies and “unlawful combatants.” 

Kingston

Kingston, Georgia, is a city of some 600 souls found between Cartersville and Rome. Its name does not reflect any residual American loyalism on the part of its founders, but is a memorial to John Pendleton King, U.S. Senator from Georgia (1833-37). Its incorporation in 1850 suggests that its existence and location are on account of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which had recently opened for business and which still runs through the center of town. 

One cannot mention the Western & Atlantic without mentioning the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862, a famous and exciting episode in the Civil War (although one of little strategic or tactical consequence). According to a historical marker, Andrews’ Raiders:

were forced to side-track here & wait for S. bound freights. After long delay, the “GENERAL” continued N..

Pursuing from Big Shanty, Capt. W. A. Fuller (Conductor), Jeff Cain (Engineer), & Anthony Murphy, — using a push-car — reached the Etowah, where the engine “YONAH” brought them to Kingston; pursuit was resumed on the Rome R. R. locomotive “Wm. R. SMITH.”

The next stop on the Chase was Adairsville, which also revels in this history

Kingston is significant to the Civil War in other ways. Like Cassville, it was the site of a Confederate hospital. The Kingston Wayside Home, according to a marker, was established in August 1861 by the Soldiers’ Aid Society, and treated over 10,000 sick and wounded soldiers over the next three years. Some 250 of these men “known but to God” who succumbed to wounds sustained at “Perryville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and in the Dalton-Kingston Campaign” are buried in a plot in the Kingston Cemetery. The obelisk was put up by the Ladies’ Memorial Association in 1874 and restored by “SCS Camp GA-13” in 1937 (note that it appears on the town seal under the label “Heritage”). 

Plenty of other historical markers throughout Kingston record other events in the Civil War, including the operation of the Kingston saltpeter mine (whose product was used to make gunpowder), the arrival of Federal troops under William T. Sherman and James B. McPherson on May 18, 1864, the fact that Hargris House on Main St. served as Sherman’s headquarters May 19-23, 1864, and that Sherman received orders at Kingston to begin his March to the Sea on November 7, 1864. Then on May 12, 1865 at Kingston (i.e. over a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox), Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford, CSA, headquartered at the McCravey-Johnson residence on Church St., negotiated the surrender of some 3000 Confederate troops to Brig. Gen. Henry M. Judah, USA. But not before the establishment of the first Confederate Memorial Day, which Kingston is proud to claim:

(I would not be averse to revising that last clause….)

Finally, there is Queen Chapel, located on the south side of Kingston. It is billed as an Independent Methodist church, but it seems that at one point it was an African Methodist Episcopal church. Note the deleted letters in these two plaques:

I would be curious to know what the story is here.

The church cemetery boasts the grave of Melvinia Shields, who was born into slavery in Clayton County, Ga. in 1844 and whose three-greats granddaughter is former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Myth or Truth?

Three items of local significance that I’ve heard about recently – although are they actually true?

Indian pointing trees. Wikipedia:

Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America that Native Americans intentionally shaped with distinctive characteristics that convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease. A massive network of constructed pre-Columbian roads and trails has been well documented across the Americas, and in many places remnants can still be found of trails used by hunters and gatherers. One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow.

Dr. Wheeler writes: “The trees are not a myth. But if anyone points one out to you, ask yourself whether the tree is reasonably close to 200 years old.”

Symbolic quilts on the Underground Railroad. From the Longview News-Journal:

Long before Navajo code talkers in World War II and the advent of secured phone lines and encrypted emails, some say, American slaves used quilts hung from windowsills and clotheslines as a signal to others to help them escape to the North for freedom.

“These quilts contained symbols sewn into them. For instance, the North Star signaled for a slave to go north, a sailboat represented safe passage and bear claws told slaves to follow the bear trails into the mountains.

From the comment thread:

This idea has been debunked by serious historians.

1. The quilts would have had to be out all the time, as one could never know when a runaway would be coming by. Neighbors would begin to wonder why a quilt was out all the time.

2. Enslaved people would have had to know about the codes. What is the old saying? Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Imagine a mother, husband, father facing his loved ones being sold away, and would they not be willing to reveal the secret to keep their loved ones close?

3. In his book The Underground Railroad, William Still, secretary to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery society, states that there are records of over 800 people escaping slavery. None of them mentions using a quilt as a map. Tubman makes no reference to use of quilts in her many trips to bring family members to freedom.

4. There were songs, the most famous being “Follow the Drinking Gourd” that are alleged to be from the period to help enslaved people escape along the Ohio River.

Appalachian English. Wikipedia:

One popular theory is that the dialect is a preserved remnant of 16th-century (or “Elizabethan”) English in isolation, though a far more accurate comparison would be to 18th-century (or “colonial”) English.

From a paper on Scribd:

After leaving Appalachia for school in Louisville I learned that Appalachians use Elizabethan English. Unfortunately that isn’t true. It has, however, become a cultural myth. Michael Montgomery says, “The idea that in isolated pockets somewhere in the country people still use “Elizabethan” or “Shakespearean” speech is widely held and is one of the hardier cultural beliefs or myths in the collective American psyche.”

The idea arose in the late nineteenth century and has often been associated with the southern mountains—The Appalachians of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. At one extreme it reflects nothing less than our young nation’s yearning for a stirring account of its origins, while at the other extreme the incidental fact that English colonization of North America began during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I more than four centuries ago. Two things in particular are responsible for its continued vitality: its romanticism and its political usefulness. Its linguistic validity is another matter entirely. Linguists haven’t substantiated it, nor have they tried very hard to do so, since the claim of Elizabethan English is patently based on very little good evidence. But this lack of support is a secondary, if not irrelevant, matter for those who have articulated the Shakespearean English idea in print—popular writers and an occasional academic—for over a century. It has indisputably become a powerful cultural belief and acquired mythic status.

Redoshi

That slaves were illegally smuggled from West Africa to the antebellum South, between the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, is remarkable (and outrageous, of course). The last such documented shipment arrived in Mobile, Ala., in 1860, aboard the ship Clothilda. Hannah Durkin, a researcher at Newcastle University, has now determined that one of the 110 slaves aboard, a twelve-year-old girl named Redoshi (who was renamed Sally Smith) was the last survivor of the illegal slave trade between Africa and the United States, dying in 1937. The National Post has more.

Happy Independence Day

From the Atlantic, via Dartblog:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Famed black abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass posed this question before a large, mostly white crowd in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852. It is “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim,” Douglass explained, adding that he felt much the same: “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! … This Fourth [of] July is yours not mine.”

A little over a decade later, however, African Americans like Douglass began making the glorious anniversary their own. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, the nation’s four million newly emancipated citizens transformed Independence Day into a celebration of black freedom. The Fourth became an almost exclusively African American holiday in the states of the former Confederacy—until white Southerners, after violently reasserting their dominance of the region, snuffed these black commemorations out.

Before the Civil War, white Americans from every corner of the country had annually marked the Fourth with feasts, parades, and copious quantities of alcohol. A European visitor observed that it was “almost the only holy-day kept in America.” Black Americans demonstrated considerably less enthusiasm. And those who did observe the holiday preferred—like Douglass—to do so on July 5 to better accentuate the difference between the high promises of the Fourth and the low realities of life for African Americans, while also avoiding confrontations with drunken white revelers.

Yet the tables had turned by July 4, 1865, at least in the South. Having lost a bloody four-year war to break free from the United States and defend the institution of slavery, Confederate sympathizers had little desire to celebrate the Fourth now that they were back in the Union and slavery was no more. “The white people,” wrote a young woman in Columbia, South Carolina, “shut themselves within doors.”

African Americans, meanwhile, embraced the Fourth like never before. From Washington, D.C., to Mobile, Alabama, they gathered together to watch fireworks and listen to orators recite the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery when it was ratified in late 1865.

Read the whole thing.

Gaelic Slaves

An interesting article in the Scotsman (courtesy Robert Black):

The Gaelic speaking slaves of 18th Century America

It was jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who inspired research into the Gaelic speaking black slaves of 18th Century America who spoke in the tongue of their Highland masters.

Gillespie had long shared with his friends stories of slaves who spoke Gaelic, as told to him by his own parents. The musician led Willie Ruff, retired music professor at Yale University, who played with greats such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davies, to investigate further.

Ruff, a bassist and French horn player, had always been mystified by the line singing of hymns he first heard as a child in the Baptist churches of the American south.

Long struggling to pinpoint its origins, Ruff was led to Presbyterian churches in his home state of Alabama and then, ultimately, to the Wee Free churches of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in search of the roots of this emotional, stripped back form of worship.

It has been widely held in the United States that the method of praise, where the congregation repeats back a line of a song to those leading the sermon, originated in Africa and then taken to the plantations by slaves.

But Ruff, following his research, believes that the music originated in the Hebrides and Highlands before being transported to the American colonies along with Scots emigrants, some who became slave owners.

Ruff earlier said: “I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America.

“We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it’s more like the book for North Uist.

“We got our names from the slave masters, we got our religion from the slave masters and we got our blood from the slave masters.”

More at the link.

Simcoe Day

The first Monday in August in most parts of Canada is a statutory holiday, essentially an excuse for another long weekend between Canada Day (July 1) and Labour Day (first Monday in September). In Ontario, this holiday was usually known the placeholder name “Civic Holiday,” although I seem to remember that the monicker “Simcoe Day” was becoming more and more common by the time I left in the 1990s. It turns out that Simcoe Day is only what it’s known by in Toronto, while other municipalities have named the day after their own local heroes, like Colonel By (Ottawa), Joseph Brant (Burlington), and John Galt (Guelph). But Simcoe Day would make a good province-wide name for the Civic Holiday, because its namesake John Graves Simcoe was the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada (1791-96), the polity that became Ontario in 1867. Simcoe is perhaps most famous for legislation that gradually abolished slavery in Upper Canada. From a CBC article from four years ago:

Simcoe was a known supporter of abolition.

“His bill was brought about by an incident — the Chloe Clooey incident,” said Natasha Henry, a curriculum consultant specializing in African Canadian history.

Simcoe received word of a slave owner violently abusing his slave, a girl by the name of Chloe Clooey, on his way across the Niagara River where he went to sell her into the United States. It was said that her screams were heard by many and the matter was brought to Simcoe’s attention by Peter Martin, a former slave.

“It was his impetus to introduce the bill, but it was then met by objection from a number of the members of his government,” Henry said.

Many members of the legislative assembly at the time owned slaves of their own and so resisted Simcoe’s urge to abolish slavery in Canada.

The resulting law was a compromise that would gradually lead to the end of enslavement.

The act allowed slave owners to maintain the workforce they already had — who would remain enslaved until their death.

Owners were not allowed to purchase new slaves from the United States and any children of female slaves that were born after the act was passed would become free at the age of 25.

Simcoe’s anti-slavery act was the first to pass in a British colony and remained in effect until August 24, 1833, when Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act put an end to slavery in most of the empire.

Washington’s Teeth

An update to the post below about Mount Vernon, in particular about the nature of George Washington’s dentures. A web comic that goes by the name of The Oatmeal, earlier this year, used Washington’s false teeth as an example of beliefs that fundamentally challenge us. I recall that this one was widely shared on Facebook. The relevant bits:

You may have heard that Washington had wooden teeth. He lost most of his teeth in his twenties and had a set of dentures made out of wood.

Except it isn’t true. In 2005, at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, laser scans were performed on Washington’s two-hundred-year old dentures, and found them to be made of gold, lead, hippopotamus ivory, horse, and donkey teeth.

Upon learning this information, how did you feel about George Washington’s teeth?

I stated a thing, I provided evidence of that thing, and presumably you now believe in the thing I stated. Presumably, your belief in the composition of George Washington’s teeth has changed with little or no friction.

But what if I told you George Washington had another set of false teeth? What if I told you this other set wasn’t made from wood, ivory, or any of the aforementioned materials?

What if I told you it was made from the teeth of slaves? (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3)

Now, let’s try this again. How did it feel to learn this fact about George Washington?

Any of the friction I mentioned earlier?

You may have noticed that the first fact about George Washington’s teeth was rather easy to accept. But when I told you the second fact, you immediately checked my sources and are now furiously composing an informed-yet-incendiary retort which you will boldly deliver to me in the form of a sour, blustering Facebook comment.

Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal, goes on to examine this so-called “backfire effect,” which occurs when we encounter beliefs that fundamentally challenge us and prompt our limbic system to respond as though we are being threatened with physical danger. This phenomenon deserves wider attention, if only to make people ashamed of it and encourage them to get over it, perhaps through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. After all, we cannot have universities, devoted to the free pursuit and communication of ideas, if everyone is running around being “triggered” by ideas they disagree with, equating those ideas with “violence,” requiring “safe spaces” as protection from them and soothing expressions of parental concern from the university administration, who have better things to do. Alas, this fundamentally adolescent mode of behavior is becoming all the more common in American academia, doubtlessly because the anti-bullying movement has encouraged people to believe that any difficulty they encounter is not only unpleasant, but morally illegitimate (requiring “emotional labor” to overcome), because university staffers feel the need to justify their employment by “doing something” about whatever is brought to their attention, and because liberal academics are desperate to be seen as being on the correct side of things politically.

But I digress.

I swear that I was not particularly upset to discover that Washington’s dentures were made of the teeth of slaves, although it doesn’t reflect all that well on him. My first thought was that surely they extracted them from dead bodies, in an early form of organ donation? Apparently not! But the evidence is somewhat oblique. It comes in the form of an entry in one of Wasington’s account books, which:

details Washington’s purchase of 9 teeth from “Negroes” for 122 shillings. It’s not clear if Washington intended to use these teeth as implants or within a new set of dentures or if he employed the teeth at all. While this transaction might seem morbid to a modern audience, purchasing human teeth was a fairly common practice in the 18th century for affluent individuals.

“Source 2” above (the Washington Papers Project at UVA) provides more information:

The only documentation of which we are aware of George Washington purchasing teeth from slaves is a brief notation in his ledger books. The physical evidence, a pair of Washington’s dentures that includes human teeth, is part of the collection at Mount Vernon. As to the circumstances surrounding the creation of these dentures, the best historians can do is make an educated guess.  Like all historical theories, this conclusion should be grounded in historical context, supplemental primary and secondary documents, and sound reasoning. But without further documentation, it is impossible to describe the scenario in definitive terms. We are not even entirely positive that the teeth whose price is recorded in the Ledger Book are the same as those in the dentures.

Lund Washington, George’s distant cousin who managed Mount Vernon during the Revolution, made a notation in the plantation ledger books for May 1784: “By Cash pd Negroes for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr. Lemoire.” This “Dr. Lemoire” was almost certainly George Washington’s dentist, Dr. Jean Le Mayeur, who corresponded with George Washington about his visit to Mount Vernon that summer.

Wherever Dr. Le Mayeur practiced, he sought out through newspaper ads “Persons who are willing to dispose of their Front Teeth.” While in New York, he advertised that he would pay two guineas each for good front teeth; in Richmond, he stipulated “slaves excepted.” That could explain why the price noted by Lund Washington was so low. Nine teeth sold for two guineas each would be worth almost nineteen pounds; Washington paid only slightly more than six pounds.

Without further documentation, we can only speculate on the sequence of events leading to the inclusion of human teeth in George Washington’s dentures. Perhaps Dr. Le Mayeur offered George Washington a deal in which Washington saved on teeth by buying them at a much-discounted rate from his own slaves rather than from Dr. Le Mayeur. It is also possible that George or Lund Washington forced one or more of their enslaved people to part with their teeth, paying them a drastically reduced price. Under Virginia’s laws at the time, no plantation owner would have faced legal consequences for such an action.

Sad, if true. But at least he paid something for them, rather than just taking them without any compensation at all…