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Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Inevitable Question

iStock.com/Michael Turner (reenactors)

Today in Georgia: June 11 is the day, 152 years ago, that added a short but interesting event to the chronicle of our south Cherokee County history. 

Involved in the occasional Woodstock project, I constantly meet new residents. Often, they are from anyplace but the South. Michigan, California, Indiana, New York, Ohio and even England come to mind. I enjoy chatting with newcomers, learning their story. When they discover my interest in local history, a gleam of interest sparks in their eye and the inevitable question arises: "What happened in Woodstock, during the Civil War?"

iStock.com/     (A Confederate reenactor)

First I stammer a little, wishing I could relate a big Gone-With-the-Wind-type report. But I smile and press on with the more simple truth. Back then, Woodstock was a small hamlet dotted with farms and further anchored by a few cotton plantations with slaves. Those plantation homes, like Doctor McAfee's, resembled something much more rustic than the antebellum mansions usually pictured in our minds. McAfee's fields consisted of 400 acres along the old Alabama Road, named Highway 92 in current times. 

Woodstock men volunteered their service to the Confederacy and left their homes and families, and the war was a somewhere-else-fight until 1864. Union forces left Tennessee and began their campaign for Atlanta. Armed and ready contingents entrenched at Kennesaw Mountain where a great battle of bombardment and gunfire would take place on June 27. Daily, patrols zigzagged over the Cobb and Cherokee line. Tension added to the rising summer heat. Woodstock folk, who hadn't skedaddled south, must have simmered with anxiety as they waited to learn if they would see action.

iStock.com (Reenactor prepared for trouble)
Indeed, a clash erupted at a spot you probably know well: the junction of Highway 92 and Canton Road (Woodstock's Main Street). Doctor McAfee's home and grounds, central point of the skirmish, fell to ruin long ago. Today, a Sherwin Williams store has taken the spot. 

Drivers move along, unaware a 19th century conflict ranged over the spot.

Most of what I share, below, comes from a well-researched article, "Skirmish at McAfee's Crossroads," by Gerald Flinchum in the book, Cherokee County Voices From the Civil War.

Union Brigadier General Kenner Garrard had been working the area to the west, posting some of his men at Big Shanty in Kennesaw and, northward, at the Tyson Farm headquarters, positioned between Wade Green Road and Bells Ferry Road, on the old Alabama Road (Hwy 92).
iStock.com (A reenactor at encampment)
On the morning of June 11, Gen. Garrard sent the 1st Cavalry Brigade, under Colonel Robert H.G. Minty, eastward, over that same road, with the goal of crossing Noonday Creek near Woodstock and routing out the Confederates as the Union force proceeded to Roswell. A brigade comprises 500 to 1,000 men. Garrard strategically sent another brigade from Kennesaw, up the Big Shanty Road all the way to Woodstock where they were to attack the Confederate flank. After studying Garrard's map, I think the Big Shanty Road they traveled is present-day Cherokee Street to Shiloh Road to Shallowford Road to Jamerson Road to Hames Road that exits onto Highway 92 (My unsubstantiated guess!)

iStock.com (Union reenactors)

Near the crossroads of old Alabama Road (Hwy 92) and Canton Road (Main Street, Woodstock) breastworks protected the Rebel cavalry, who outnumbered their opposition and prepared to hold off the Union advance. 

iStock.com (Reenactors portray Confederate cavalrymen)

At first, the Union cavalry tangled with pickets, the rough line of guards meant to give warning to the main force. The fighting must have been brief but fierce. Mid-morning, Minty's men drove off the pickets at McAfee's. 


Then the real engagement began with charges and counter-charges. Fighting went into the afternoon. A lot of scrambling must have ensued. The Union forces had taken a line of breastworks but could not advance. Later, Minty discovers a large contingent of Confederates situated a quarter mile south on the Canton Road, and he orders the federal brigades to fall back.

Some Confederate prisoners had been taken. Sources vary, but it is believed only two or three were killed on each side.  I speculate that dismounted troops hid behind thick tree trunks. Fences, the high breastworks, and Doctor McAfee's framework house probably protected others. Although, General Garrard did not make the headway he wished that day, he was not held off long. He learned the Confederates were moving eastward. The Union sought a advantageous spot to cross the Chattahoochee. Roswell possessed a covered bridge.  Garrard followed on their heels and, 24 days later, entered Roswell. Rebels had burned the river crossing. Garrard found the three large mills in recent operation. Workers cranked out wool and cotton cloth, rope and canvas, supplying the Confederate army. The 4oo women who operated the machinery had not fled. General William T. Sherman called it treasonous and ordered Garrard to immediately send the workers and their children on foot to Marietta and then, by train to the North to find work there.
Unidentified girl in mourning dress, holding framed photograph of her father as a cavalryman with sword and Hardee hat. (image ID ppmsca26863) -- Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Today, I'm glad our newcomers from the North don't ask me to explain the antebellum mindset of that long ago time! I could not justify such thinking, although born and raised in the South. Weighing the arguments of economic impact and states rights, one still wonders how southerners didn't see the wrong of separating from the Union, the evil of slavery and the great folly their decision would become. 

Closing, I should mention anomalies existed on both sides. A New York Tribune article and one from the Philadelphia paper, The Patriot and the Union, protested the treatment of the Roswell women and their children. Few people realize that some southern plantations and their slaves were owned by northern businessmen. Roswell King, originally from Connecticut, established the town of Roswell and used his slaves to build his impressive mill complex. Pierce Butler of the Hampton Plantation on the Georgia coast near Darien, came from Philadelphia. In contrast, during the Confederacy, a number of Cherokee County people opposed slavery and supported the Union. They did so quietly. Some suffered physically and materially for their sympathies. Cherokee County Voices From the Civil War tells all about the subject, the good and the bad.    (The aforementioned book was produced by the Cherokee County Historical Society and Cherokee County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee)

Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock. She is also author of the contemporary Woodstock novels: The Heart of a Child and The Power of Her Smile.