The Griswoldville area was the scene of several significant events during the Civil War. Not much remains to be seen, compared to Chickamauga or Fort Pulaski, but armed with your imagination you may be able to envision the events which took place here. This area witnessed the destruction by U.S. Gen. George Stoneman's cavalry until they were stopped at Round Oak by Confederate cavalry under Gen. Alfred Iverson, Jr. When Sherman's Right Wing moved through the area during his "March to the Sea," it was attacked by much inferior Georgia Militia forces, resulting in a tragic and unnecessary slaughter at Griswoldville. At Clinton, the tourist can find a historic community which retains its pre-Greek Revival quality.
The only significant battle opposing Sherman's "March to the Sea" occurred unintentionally at Griswoldville, when vastly outnumbered Georgia Militia, made up mostly of inexperienced old men and boys, made a futile attack on part of the Right Wing of Sherman's army. Some call this the Gettysburg of Georgia.
Griswoldville was named for the brilliant entrepreneur Samuel Griswold, who came to the town of Clinton from Connecticut in 1820. Griswold established the first iron foundry in Georgia and a factory for making cotton gins. After the Georgia Central railroad was built between Savannah and Macon in the 1840s, Griswold purchased 4,000 acres and moved his operation two miles south to Griswoldville, located 10 miles east of Macon, so that he could be on the railroad. Here he had an enormous factory that produced cotton gins, a saw mill, a grist mill, and factories that produced bricks, soap, furniture, and candles. He built a three-story, 24-room mansion for himself, a church, and 60 cottages for his slaves and workers. In 1862, Griswold converted his gin factory into a pistol factory, where he manufactured more than 3,500 Colt's Navy Repeaters or Brass-frame Confederate Colts, prized weapons in the Confederacy.
On Nov. 21, 1864, Union Gen. Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry, operating on the Federal right flank during the "March to the Sea," destroyed the town, burning everything except Griswold's home, the slave cottages, and a worker's residence. The Confederate commander in charge of defending Georgia, William J. Hardee, realized that Macon was not a target, and assumed that Augusta, with its arsenal, foundry, and other facilities, was Sherman's real objective. Hardee ordered the local militia in Macon to reinforce Augusta. On Nov. 22, 1864, these troops, made up of 4,350 inexperienced troops and artillery under the command of Gen. Pleasant J. Philips, marched eastward on the Georgia Central railroad and ran smack into smaller detachments of the advancing Federal Army, just past the smoldering ruins of Griswoldville. Philips found a battle-hardened Federal brigade, under Brig. Gen. Charles C. Walcutt, numbering 1,513. The Yankees were armed with Spencer repeating rifles and cannon, and located on the crest of Duncan Ridge with flanks on a swamp and railroad embankment. Without orders from superiors, Philips formed his lines for battle and attacked across an open field, trying to cross a swampy creek and charge up a hill. His men made seven assaults, coming within 50 yards of the Yankees before being repulsed by blistering fire. The Confederates reported losses of 422 wounded and 51 killed, and the Union reported 79 wounded including Gen. Walcutt and 13 killed. Union Col. Charles Wills later wrote of the battle, "Old gray haired men and weakly looking men and little boys, not over 15 years old, lay dead or writhing in pain," he wrote. "I pity those boys. I hope I never have to shoot at such men again. They knew nothing at all about fighting, and I think their officers knew as little, or else certainly knew nothing of our being there." In one spot, Federals found a 14-year-old boy, with a broken arm and leg. Next to him, "cold in death, lay his father, two brothers, and an uncle. It was a harvest of death," wrote a Union soldier. Today, the battlefield is in private ownership, but historical preservation groups have the goal of preserving it. One can go to the site of Griswoldville, located at a crossroads next to the train tracks, read state historical markers, and get a general sense of what occurred here.
A single historical marker marks the location of the Battle of Sunshine Church, July 31, 1864, where Confederate cavalry under Gen. Alfred Iverson, Jr. deceived U.S. Maj. Gen. George Stoneman into surrendering 600 men, artillery, and a train to a smaller force. Stoneman was part of Sherman's Great Cavalry Raid, designed to destroy the railroad south of Atlanta in a great pincer move, with Edward McCook's forces sweeping from the west, and Stoneman's from the east.
Stoneman's 2,112 men were working their way toward Andersonville hoping to free Union prisoners at Camp Sumter, and had torn up tracks in Gordon, McIntyre, Toomsboro, and Griswoldville. Approaching Macon, Stoneman encountered entrenched Georgia Militia under Gen. Howell Cobb. He briefly shelled Macon before retreating northward, abandoning his plans. The next day, his cavalry ran full stride into 1,300 Confederate cavalry under Iverson sent to intercept him. Iverson, a native of nearby Clinton, was familiar with the terrain and organized his men appropriately. Stoneman, believing himself surrounded, surrendered on a hill which today bears his name. His black guide, Minor, was immediately hanged from a nearby tree, and the Confederates were preparing to do the same with Stoneman when Confederate officers halted the execution. It is reported that when Stoneman learned he had been captured by a force half his size, he openly wept. Stoneman was imprisoned in Macon, many of his soldiers were sent to Andersonville, and his horses helped turn the Kentucky Orphan Brigade into mounted cavalry. Two of Stone-man's brigades, Col. Horace Capron and Lt. Col. Silas Adams', escaped east then north from Sunshine Church, working their way to Athens and Winder. Capron's brigade was destroyed at King's Tanyard near Winder by Confederate cavalry under Col. William Breck-inridge, which pursued Capron from Sunshine Church; and Adams' made it back to Federal lines. Approximately 1/2 mile south of the historical marker titled "The Stoneman Raid" on the east side of the tracks is Stoneman Hill.
The historic town of Clinton, then the county seat of Jones County, was visited by Stoneman and Kilpatrick's cavalry and Sherman's Right Wing in 1864. Stoneman's 2,000 cavalry pillaged and looted the county and town of more than half a million dollars worth of property in late July 1864 on their way to Macon. On their way back, they stopped again and burned the jail. On Nov. 19, Kilpatrick's 5,000-man cavalry force occupied the town, only to be followed by Sherman's Right Wing consisting of 15,000 men, hundreds of wagons, and 4,000 head of cattle. C.S. Cavalry Gen. Joe Wheeler harassed the Union troops over a four-day period, causing the Federals to fortify the town. When they departed, one third of the town had been destroyed, including residences, a school house, churches, a tannery, and many fences and outbuildings. What remains is considered the best-preserved example of a southern county seat from the 1830s era, with 13 historic homes and churches built in a pre-Greek Revival style called Plantation Plain. During Clinton War Days on the first weekend in May, living history reenactments are held, and the local historical society displays Civil War memorabilia at the McCarthy-Pope House, the oldest remaining structure in town from 1809. Approximately 10 miles southeast at Gordon, you find a rebuilt town which was obliterated by Sherman's Right Wing as it worked its way east on the Georgia Central railroad. Gordon was the location of a northern railroad spur to Eatonton, and is the present location of a favorite historical marker, titled "He Wouldn't Run," which tells the story of Rufus Kelly. Kelly, who fought with Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, had been discharged and sent home to Gordon after losing a leg. But Kelly wasn't finished fighting. Back home on crutches, he voluntarily spied on the approaching Yankees. Riding in from Macon on horseback, he warned Adjutant Gen. H.C. Wayne that the Federals were approaching. Wayne told Kelly that he was abandoning the town and retreating with his 700 cadets and paroled convicts to a bridge over the Oconee. Kelly, incredulous and upset, cursed the General "for a white-livered cur with not a drop of red blood in his veins" and added "Well, you damned band of tuck-tails, if you have no manhood left in you, I will defend the women and children of Gordon!" As Union skirmishers began to enter the town, the one-legged Kelly and one other man, Bragg, unlimbered their Winchesters and fired on the Federals, killing one and scattering the others. The two men were left alone in town for an hour and then, according to Kelly, "the whole world turned to Yankees." Bragg got away but Kelly was captured and sentenced to death by firing squad. He escaped into the swamps several days later by diving out of a wagon as it crossed the Ogeechee River. He survived the war and returned to Gordon, where he taught for 50 years. Gordon has four historical markers and a stone memorial near the depot saluting Kelly's bravery.
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