By Curt Yeomans
The Union Army set up camp in the fields surrounding the Stately Oaks plantation house, at its original location near the intersection of Mt. Zion Road and Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, during the Civil War, in late August, 1864.
The army was there for the Battle of Jonesborough (as the town's name was spelled at the time), according to officials from Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc.
The "Yankees" will return to the plantation house Oct. 23-24, 145 years later, but this time it will be at the house's current location at 100 Carriage Lane. Historical Jonesboro volunteers will be re-enacting the "Evacuation of Jonesborough" for the first time in six years.
The event will show how Jonesboro residents, including a pregnant woman in labor, fled the city on Aug. 31, 1864, as the Union and Confederate armies fought each other throughout the city, said "Evacuation of Jonesborough" co-ordinator Kay Dreyer.
"People who attend the 'Evacuation of Jonesborough' will go away with a full understanding of what it was like to be a resident of this city during the battle, and to suffer through that devastation," Dreyer said. "We don't have to make anything up, because there are so many true and interesting stories to tell."
Dreyer said the evacuation of the city will be recreated through 45-minute tours, which begin every 20 minutes. The tours, which will include stops at 10 stations along a trail, will be conducted from 6:30 p.m., to 10 p.m., on Oct. 23 and 24. On the morning and afternoon of Oct. 24, however, a "Yankee" encampment will be set up on Stately Oaks' grounds as a nod to the house's own place in Civil War history.
Admission prices are $10 for adults; $7 for seniors (over the age of 55), and $4 for children 5-11, Dreyer said. She recommended that people call Stately Oaks, at (770) 473-0197, to make a reservation, because Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., officials are expecting a large crowd for the two-day event.
There will be at least two surprises during the tours, but Dreyer did not want to elaborate, because she does not want to spoil the experience for visitors. She said the "Evacuation of Jonesborough" is being performed this year, for the first time since 2003, because 2009 marks three important anniversaries for the city, and for Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc. This year marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Jonesborough, the 150th birthday of Jonesboro, and the 170th anniversary of the construction of the Stately Oaks plantation house.
The house was donated to Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., in 1972, and moved four years later from its original location to its current one, where it became a museum.
While this is the first time in several years that the "Evacuation of Jonesborough" has been performed, Dreyer and Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., President Barbara Emert said there is no guarantee this will become an annual event at Stately Oaks. "It depends on the response we get this year," Emert said.
Even though Jonesboro survived the Civil War, and has endured for a century and a half, the battle that bears the city's name almost killed it at the young age of 5, Dreyer and Emert said. The city had a population of 1,600 people at the time of the battle, Dreyer said. The evacuation re-enactment coordinator said there were 66,000 Union soldiers, and 22,000 Confederate soldiers in the area at the time of the battle.
"After the battle, two-thirds of the town had been destroyed," Dreyer said. "According to one of the books I've read, 20 years after the battle, there were still burnt-out buildings in Jonesboro."
Emert said fighting between Union and Confederate soldiers took place throughout what is now downtown. She also said some places that survived the battle -- and are here today -- such as the Warren House and the Gayden House, were used as hospitals while the battle waged outside their front doors.
"They [the residents of Jonesborough] were just innocent bystanders who were living here, and the war breaks out around them," Emert said.
As the battle approached, and as it was being fought, residents fled east into Henry County, along the general area of where Lake Jodeco Road is located, Emert said. Some people also fled into the southern parts of Clayton County.
Emert said the Battle of Jonesborough is important since it was the last battle fought before Atlanta fell to Union forces under the command of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. "If Jonesboro had not fallen, Atlanta would not have fallen as quickly as it did," Emert said. "That was the last supply line to Atlanta ... Jonesborough may not have been as important as Gettysburg, but it was a very significant battle in the war."
Dreyer said one person who fled Jonesborough in a harrowing manner during the battle was a young, pregnant woman named Anne Hanes, who went into labor while evacuating the city in a carriage driven by her neighbor, W.L. Waldrop. Hanes' story will be re-created as part of the tour, Dreyer said.
Hanes will be played by McDonough resident, and Clayton State University history student, Cynthia Garcia, who is working for Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., as an intern this fall.
"The thing is, I've never had children, so I don't know how exactly to act, other than to moan and groan a lot," Garcia said. "I'm guessing that once I get in there that night, the adrenaline will just take over."