ABOVE PHOTO: The Pirate House Restaurant
By Renée S. Gordon
“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” – William Tecumseh Sherman
The inevitability of a Civil War became glaringly apparent in the early 1800s as the South increasingly began to feel that the industrialized North threatened their way of life and standard of living. Until recently, the cause of the war was cited solely as a states’ rights issue. Modern scholarship gives the overarching issue as slavery as evidenced by compromises reached as early as the 1787 Constitutional Convention’s adoption of the three-fifths clause. Compromises and conflicts continued until the South felt its back was to the wall and they were losing control of the government. Lincoln was elected in November 1860, the Confederate States of America was formed in February 1861 and war was declared in April 1861.
The war dragged on until March 10, 1864 when Grant was appointed Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army. He, in turn, tasked his friend with breaking the spirit of the South so that they would surrender. Sherman issued Special Field Order 120 on November 9, 1864. It laid out the military orders for the Savannah Campaign, the March to the Sea.
Sandersville was established at the juncture of two Creek Indian trails around 1783 and named Saunders Crossroads. The original settlers were Revolutionary War veterans who had received land grants as payment for service. It is midway between Macon and Augusta and Atlanta and Savannah and in 1796 the village was deemed the seat of Washington County.
On November 26th Confederate General Joe Wheeler placed 12 Union POWs under arrest in a store in the town. During the night a mob overwhelmed the guards and murdered the men in a field. Townspeople quickly buried the bodies hoping to escape Sherman’s wrath but when Union troops rode into town the next day they were fired upon.
When Sherman arrived and became aware of the Confederate armed resistance and the execution his decision was to burn the town down. The town’s reverend pled with Sherman to spare the town because all that remained there were four men, three of which were elderly. All the other men had gone to war. Sherman relented and burned only the downtown, cotton warehouses, courthouse and railroad tracks. Jefferson Davis passed through Sandersville on his escape route in May 1865. www.washingtoncounty-ga.com
The 1852 Victorian Brown House Museum is the property of the Washington County Historical Society. Sherman established his headquarters there the night of November 26th because it offered a strategic vantage point. The place where Sherman napped remains the same. The house is furnished with period pieces and interprets the history of the area. Highlights of a house tour are coin silver tableware created by an itinerant silversmith, original woodwork, floors, doors and mantles, a photograph and letter from Longfellow and family portraits in the hall. An outstanding display of Washington County pottery is also on view. www.sandersville.net
The Old City Cemetery dates from the early 1800s and an old stagecoach road once ran through it. It was the scene of a Civil War skirmish and contains 81 Union and Confederate Civil War internments.
Milledgeville was the fourth capital of Georgia and functioned as such from 1803-68. Sherman and an armed force of 30,000 entered the town peacefully on November 23, 1864. www.visitmilledgeville.org
The Old Governor’s Mansion, one of country’s finest examples of High Greek Revival architecture, was completed in 1839. The mansion is brick covered with stucco with all the bricks being slave made and a large portion of the building being completed with slave labor.
Sherman established his headquarters there on November 23rd. Gov. Brown had the mansion cleared out prior to the Union’s arrival and so Sherman took a door off the hinges and placed it on sawhorses for a bed. Brown also blackened all the doorknobs so they did not look like sterling silver.
The house is furnished with 20 percent original and 80 percent period pieces and tours are regularly scheduled. Highlights of the tour are a gold dome that cannot be viewed from the street, handpainted floorcloth, and a salon the entire length of the mansion. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. www.gcsu.edu/mansion
The 1805 Old Capital Museum, the first Gothic Revival building in the country, is ground zero for Georgia’s Civil War history. Visitors can still enter the chamber where GA’s legislators voted to secede. The museum is located on the lower floor and displays begin with the region’s prehistoric beginnings and proceed through galleries that relate area history. www.oldcapitalmuseum.org
The army blew up the arsenal, stabled their horses in the church and destroyed the bridge so that they would not be easily pursued. Prisoners were released to help fight fires and the prisoners who remained set fire to the prison.
Aubri Lanes is a gourmet restaurant housed in a structre that is listed on the National Register. It is the first bank building in the nation where they built the vault and constructed the building around it. The menu focuses on seasonal sides and sauces, farm to table cuisine and traditional southern seafood with a modern flourish. www.aubrilanes.com
Fort McAllister, on the Ogeechee River, fell on December 13, 1864, clearing the way for Sherman to be able to receive supplies and thereby lay siege to Savannah. Confederate General Hardee retreated to South Carolina and on December 21st Mayor Arnold surrendered the city rather than have it bombarded. Sherman telegraphed Lincoln with the message, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah.”
James Edward Oglethorpe and a group of 114 English colonists founded Yamacraw in 1733 on the Savannah River. Oglethorpe and William Bull created a street plan modeled on London. It is the oldest city plan in the country to use a repetitive modular grid with mixed-use public squares and residential areas. There are 26 squares each with a unique history and ambiance. Savannah’s Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1966 and is one of the largest in the nation. www.visitsavannah.com
Savannah has an outstanding tourist infrastructure. Maps and guides are readily available and the city is walkable. General and riverboat excursions are offered as well as thematic, carriage and bus tours. Old Town Trolley Tours provide a good overview and allow you the freedom to hop on and off at sites of interest.
The Footprints of Savannah Walking Tour is an excellent history tour that includes Native American and African American history. Noted specialist Vaughnette Goode-Walker leads tours and reservations are required. www.footprintsofsavannah.com
Not for the faint of heart is the Ghosts & Gravestones Frightseeing Tour. This immersive, interactive tour gives visitors an opportunity to use ghosthunting technology and seek spirits in some of the most haunted buildings in Savannah. As you are transported to locations your guide relates the city’s haunted history. This tour is good, scary fun and has been featured on the Sci-Fi and Travel Channels and the Today Show. Reservations are mandatory. www.ghostsandgravestones.com
The 1852 Gothic Revival Green-Meldrim House was Sherman’s Savannah headquarters and it is from this house that he sent the telegram to President Lincoln. It was also here that on January 12, 1865 Sherman and Secretary of War Stanton met with 20 African American leaders and issued Special Field Order #15, familiarly referred to as “40-acres and a mule.” www.stjohnssav.org/green-meldrim-house
Second African Baptist Church, founded in 1802, was the site of Sherman’s reading of Field Order #15. His speech was delivered from the church steps to large portion of the city’s 7,000 former slaves. www.secondafrican.org
One of the first things Oglethorpe did upon landing in Savannah was to start an experimental garden based on a botanical garden in London. A year later, in 1734, the Herb House was built to serve as a home for the gardener. The Herb House, the oldest house in the state is now incorporated inside the Pirate’s House Restaurant. The Old Pirate’s House dates from 1753 when it was an inn for pirates and sailors. The structure has been deemed a house museum because of its pegged ceiling with handhewn beams, heart pine floor and original brick walls. The restaurant is haunted by a variety of spirits. Free tours are given daily. The restaurant serves heritage cuisine in a historic setting. www.thepirateshouse.com
Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons Restaurant requires reservations and they can be made as much as a year in advance online. This is southern food at its best with the dishes you love cooked the way they should be. Their pot pie is a culinary masterpiece. www.theladyandsons.com
Join the line at Leopold’s Ice Cream waiting to make a selection from their hand made ice cream flavors. All the flavors are unique and all have been made on site from heirloom family recipes since 1919. Their Tutti Frutti ice cream is named in honor of the songwriter Johnny Mercer. The store is decorated with memorabilia and features the original soda fountain. Leopold’s Ice Cream has been designated the fifth best in the world.
Tybee Island’s Crab Shack is a phenomenal destination seafood restaurant. The complex consists of a museum, pond stocked with gators, shop and a maze of restaurant seating. The food is wonderful and specialties of the house include all the crab dishes and the low country boil. The Crab Shack is the winner of Trip Advisor’s 2014 Certificate of Excellence. www.thecrabshack.com
Some historians believe that Savannah’s cause was really lost in 1862 with the fall of Fort Pulaski, guardian of the city’s upriver access, said at the time to be impregnable. Construction of the fort on Cockspur Island began in 1829. It was completed in 1847 and named in honor of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish Revolutionary war hero. Pulaski was built using slave labor at a cost of more than $1-million. The brick fort was surrounded by a moat fed by the river.
Union forces landed on Tybee Island on November 24, 1861 without resistance. The Confederates had abandoned the area because they realized they could not defend it. Under cover of darkness and hidden by the tree line, federal troops began to move equipment and arms into an attack position. In the wee hours of April 10, 1862, a request was made for the fort’s surrender. At 8:15 AM, the troops launched a 30-hour barrage against the fort and on the 11th at 2 PM a white flag was raised over the fort and the Union took possession.
Fort Pulaski is part of the Underground Railroad Trail because US Major General David Hunter, an ardent abolitionist, issued General Orders No. 7 there on April 13th. They read, “All persons of color lately held to involuntary service by enemies of the United States in Fort Pulaski and on Cockspur Island, Georgia, are hereby confiscated and declared free, in conformity with the law, and shall hereafter receive the fruits of their own labor”. The order made freedmen eligible for military service in the Union Army. Abraham Lincoln rescinded the order. African American troops did eventually serve at Fort Pulaski.
The two-tier, truncated hexagonal, fort faces east with walls 35-ft. high and over 7.5-ft. thick. Tours of Fort Pulaski National Monument include 12 areas including the prison that was used in 1864 to house Confederate officers. Outstanding views of the Savannah River can be seen from atop the walls. www.nps.gov/fopu
Social Circle, Georgia was founded by one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence where two Creek Indian trails crossed. During the Civil War Sherman passed straight down the town’s main road, burning the entire railroad track between Social Circle and Madison.
Today, the town is best known as the home of The Blue Willow Inn Restaurant, winner of numerous awards including USA Today’s “Top 10” and Food Network’s “Top 5.” The Blue Willow is a spectacular Greek Revival mansion and patrons dine in individual antebellum rooms. The buffet offers every southern favorite prepared the old-fashioned way. The fried green tomatoes and fried chicken are often mentioned as items not to be missed. I vote for the peach cobbler. The Blue Willow shop gives visitors an opportunity to duplicate the dishes and learn the history behind true southern hospitality by purchasing their cookbook. www.bluewillowinn.com
Savannah’s award-winning Inn at Ellis Square provides perfect accommodations for this portion of the trip. This historic 1853 structure has 253 rooms and an ideal location adjacent to River Street. www.innatellissquare
This is the best time to make this historic journey. Many of the cities and towns are presenting re-enactments, lectures and special events for the sesquicentennial. Packages are offered and many activities are free. Planning tools are available online. www.exploregeorgia.org
I wish you smooth travels!
Get ready! Chef Kevin Sbraga will be returning his renowned pimento cheeseburger to the Fat Ham’s menu on August 22nd. As if that were not enough it will be paired with libations in his special Burger, Bourbon and Beer special. Guests can order all three items for only $18 Friday and Saturdays from 9-11 PM. 3131 Walnut Street. www.Fat-Ham.com
Don’t miss New York City’s Broadway Week taking place from September 1-14. Offering two-for-one tickets. This is an opportunity to attend the production you have been waiting to see with the official Broadway cast. Tickets go on sale August 18th at 10:30 am. Twenty-one shows are participating and include “Jersey Boys,” “Kinky Boots,” “Motown” and “Wicked.” www.nycgo.com/broadwayweek
On Saturday, September 6th at 10 AM, Alexandria, Virginia will dedicate the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial. It is a free public event that includes special programming and will be attended by descendants of those interred there. www.visitalexandriava.com