Down the roads of Cov­ing­ton

This is the first in a se­ries of col­umns in part­ner­ship with Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege pro­fes­sors con­cern­ing the Civil War and its lo­cal ties to New­ton County some 150 years af­ter the war that di­vided Amer­ica.

The Covington News - - WORLD - COLUM­NIST

Sto­ries are some of the most im­por­tant ways that we con­vey mem­o­ries. When the event is un­usual and af­fects many, we put our thoughts in diaries and dis­patches to dis­tant read­ers. Years later, people look at these ar­ti­facts to learn more. The writer stud­ies the style of these texts, the his­to­rian iden­ti­fies the so­cial forces be­hind the mem­o­ries and the geog­ra­pher looks at the lo­ca­tions where the events took place.

His­toric mark­ers and mem­o­ries tell us part of the story: how Union troops rat­tled So­cial Cir­cle and wrecked its train de­pot, how Gar­rard’s cav­alry got to the Con­fed­er­ate hospi­tal at Ox­ford in July 1864. But these were warm-ups for the main event. On Novem­ber 18, 1864, Wil­liam Te­cum­seh Sher­man rode down present-day Routes 278 and 142, then dusty paths, as he led his troops from At­lanta to Sa­van­nah.

Cov­ing­ton res­i­dents found them­selves right in the path of the March to the Sea. Thou­sands of soldiers came through the city and the county. Not just a few thou­sand, tens of thou­sands. It was a big event played out on horse­back, down un­paved roads, through ru­ral pas­tures.

“Sher­man’s path of chaos through Ge­or­gia was not pre­dicted by his early life as a newly-minted West Point grad­u­ate. He knew the South, as a young of­fi­cer,” says Dr. Rob Alder­son, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at New­ton County’s Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege cam­pus. “He had lived in South Carolina, Louisiana and had been to Ge­or­gia. Now, with At­lanta be­hind him and still smol­der­ing, a new kind of war­fare taken di­rectly to civil­ians would emerge as he left the streets of Cov­ing­ton and ven­tured into nearby farms and fields.”

The gen­eral’s visit did not go un­no­ticed. Re­porters from far-away news­pa­pers sent dis­patches on it, Sher­man him­self men­tioned Cov­ing­ton in his mem­oirs and his soldiers de­scribed the city in letters to their fam­i­lies. With­out to­day’s rapid road­ways, the march stopped about ev­ery 15-40 miles. So, on the night of Novem­ber 18, the mas­sive left wing of the Union army camped four miles east of Cov­ing­ton.

“The his­toric marker is in a field to the right of State Route 278 east, where Route 142 be­gins,” said Dr. Ge­orge Lon­berger, GPC as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of ge­og­ra­phy. “The gen­eral talked to an el­derly African-Amer­i­can, who may have worked at the Har­ris farm there.” It is note­wor­thy that Sher­man re­mem­bered his con­ver­sa­tion with the el­derly man and put it in mem­oirs.

It’s also known that his troops camped both at the Graves home called Mt. Pleas­ant and on grounds of present-day Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege.

What does Sher­man’s March to the Sea mean to us to­day? This fall, GPC stu­dents will con­sider what the March to the Sea means in the 21st century in a spe­cial as­sign­ment that will in­volve re­search, gath­er­ing oral his­to­ries and writ­ing es­says. Is it still rel­e­vant? What can we learn from it?

Did your an­ces­tors meet Sher­man’s troops, like the el­derly man Sher­man re­mem­bered? Did your great-great-grand­fa­ther serve in the state mili­tia? Our stu­dents would like to in­ter­view to­day’s de­scen­dants about these mem­o­ries. Con­tact me at this ad­dress: kathleen.demarco@gpc.edu to help our project.

In fu­ture col­umns, we will up­date our read­ers on our work. As we con­tinue to re­search the story of the March to the Sea, we will un­cover new sources and have a new aware­ness of the event as it un­folded in the Cov­ing­ton of 150 years ago and as it is re­called in the Cov­ing­ton of to­day.

KATHLEEN DEMARCO

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