By Ed Brock
It was 140 years ago this week that one of the most notorious Union generals of the Civil War, William T. Sherman, began his "March to the Sea" with Henry County.
The city of McDonough was relatively lucky, said Civil War aficionado Mark Pollard.
"Although he promised not to burn the town, they savagely looted the town," Pollard said.
Pollard, who lives in McDonough, is also part of an effort to install markers from the Civil War Preservation Trust to ensure that that part of the county's history is not lost. He's also helped with the placement of markers in Clayton County for sites that were part of Sherman's battle for Atlanta.
Having solidified his hold on Atlanta and burned much of the city to the ground, Sherman decided to cut a swath through the state toward Savannah. On Nov. 15 the Right Wing of Sherman's 60,000-man army began moving into Henry County, going through Stockbridge where they would encounter the Confederate Kentucky Orphan Brigade, according to Pollard.
One of the three markers will be posted near the sight along Cotton Indian Creek on Hudson Bridge Road where the 15th U.S. Army Corps did battle with the Orphan Brigade that had been scouting roads leading southeast from Atlanta. Under the command of Confederate Gen. Joseph Lewis, the Orphan Brigade engaged the 15th in a "brisk fight" and then burned the bridge over the creek in their retreat. The 15th, commanded by Union Gen. Joseph Lewis, had the bridge repaired in 45 minutes.
The Orphan Brigade made its way to McDonough with the Right Wing right behind them.
In his writings on the attack, Pollard includes the account of Confederate Pvt. John Goode on the approach of the Union Army.
"We could hear the clicking of the saber scabbards against the stirrup, the jingle of the flying end of the traces of the artillery harness, the dull rattle of the wheels of the gun carriages and limbers and the low pattering of the horses' hoofs on the hard dirt road. These were the only sounds to break the otherwise almost breathless silence," Goode reported.
After some skirmishing Lewis decided that Macon needed to be protected, so he pulled his cavalry out of McDonough and the Union troops poured into he square where Pollard's second marker will be placed.
Pollard said Union officers promised not to burn the town because they wanted McDonough Dr. Lewis McKamie Tye to treat their wounded. The Confederate doctors had a better success rate, Polllard said, because they used boiled horse hair to suture wounds, thus cutting back on infection.
"(Tye) told them 'I can't work with smoke in my eyes,'" Pollard said.
Though abiding by their promise to Tye, the Union soldiers ransacked the town, including the McDonough cemetery.
In a 1908 written account then McDonough resident Elizabeth Nolan recalled the desecration of the cemetery, said area historian and author Joseph Moore.
"They opened up graves in the cemetery looking for hidden valuables," Moore said, citing Nolan's story.
Nolan, who lives outside Hampton in Henry County and has penned "The History of Clayton County" and "First Families of Henry County," said the union soldiers also knocked over tombstones in the cemetery.
Union soldiers did burn Dailey's Mill on Walnut Creek, according to Pollard, and the Right Wing left McDonough "only after it had destroyed all the community's useful resources."
On Nov. 17th the 15th U.S. Corps met up with the 5,500 horsemen in the Union Gen. Judson Kilpatrick Cavalry in Locust Grove, where Pollard's third marker will be placed next to Moye's Pharmacy. They left Locust Grove, and Henry County, that evening, marching on to Butts County.
Pollard wrote the text that will appear on the upright, colored marker plaques for the trail, and he expects them to be up in both counties by spring or summer of 2005. Georgia Department of Transportation grants are paying for the markers and more than 80 counties are going to be part of the trails.
They will be placed on the exact spot of the battle or incident being described.
"It's not going to be put in some far off place where you read it and don't understand what's going on," Pollard said.
Signs on local highways will point tourists to the signs' locations, and in some cases right-of-ways will be built around the signs so up to three cars or a bus can park. Maps of the trails will be available at local gas stations.
Along with educating people, the markers will also be a boost to the local economy.
"People who are interested in the Civil War tend to be retired people and they spend a lot of money," Pollard said. "A lot of businesses have welcomed us to put one of these signs in front of their stores because they know they're going to bring in a lot of tourism money."
Jim Campi with the Civil War Preservation Trust also said the plaques are a benefit.
"Several other states have done this, including Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, and seen a substantial increase in heritage tours," Campi said.
But Pollard said the trail markers will help improve Henry County residents' knowledge of the history that surrounds them.
"People have waited for 140 years to know this history," Pollard said. "People in Henry County are dying for this information."