On Tuesday evening, the 29th of November, in a pine forest a little south of Midville, a young man sat at a campfire and shared supper with his friends. It had been a good day. Although the group was accustomed to trouble, they were thankful no one had been hurt this time. There was plenty of food and if they had to steal more, that was all in a day’s work. They had more guns and ammunition than they needed, and Uncle Billy told them,” If you see something you want or need, just take it, and let these people get along as best they can. If they have corn or livestock, take it and burn everything else.”
The next day the young man and 26,000-armed Union troops took what they wanted in Midville, burned the train station, destroyed the railway bridge across the Ogeechee River, terrorized the residents and then moved east. Uncle Billy, also known as Major General William Tecumseh Sherman and Major General Henry Slocumb then rode with the lead element of the 17th Corps down what is now Hwy 56 toward the area we know as McKinney’s Pond.
That was all this week; November 29th, 1864, in and around Midville, Blundale, and Summertown. 158 years ago, a total of 60,000 Union soldiers invaded, occupied, and cut a path of destruction 60 miles wide and 285 miles long as they continued their march through Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah. They would make the trip in 37 days overpowering a meager force of Confederate soldiers and leaving Georgia destroyed, distraught and destitute for decades. Just as a historical drama, that would have been an unimaginable and horrifying experience for the struggling farming families living in this path of battle. At that time making war on civilians had long been considered barbaric and unthinkable, but Sherman believed that the best way to win was to bring the violence of war to the families of soldiers. His pledge to General U.S. Grant and President Lincoln was that he would “make Georgia howl”. They were reluctant at first to allow Sherman’s ruthlessness, but eventually Lincoln and Grant gave in. It should not be surprising that the name “Sherman” is still met with cold silence in some places today.
Each year as November draws to a close, it may serve all of us well to remember the history of that time and the brutal futility of conflict. When compromise and civility fail, humanity can easily be lost. As you drive past these small communities on Highway 56 and 1, the scars now faded, you might think of the injury and the long, slow healing that follows when men and nations abandon peace. In so many ways and in so many places, the past is still with us today, much more than we may know. Hopefully that sentinel will temper the hearts and minds of leaders and future leaders of this nation of peace and hope.
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