By Kimberly Brigance
This is the first in an occasional series of articles on the Civil War in Sandy Springs.
When most people think of the Civil War in Georgia, they think of the battles of Resaca and Kennesaw or the Burning of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea. Rarely is the crossing of the Chattahoochee River and the subsequent occupation of Sandy Springs mentioned.
The monumental events that took place in Sandy Springs during the summer of 1864 have been nearly forgotten by history, but new research and the discovery of forgotten letters and lost maps is returning our community to its rightful place among pivotal places in Civil War history.
By the summer of 1864, Sandy Springs — or Oak Grove as it was known then — had already begun to feel the devastating effects of war. Nearly every family had at least one member in military service.
In spring 1864, Gen. William T. Sherman’s army was invading and heavy fighting raged across the north Georgia mountains. Superior in number, the Federal Army steadily moved closer to Atlanta.
There is no doubt everyone in Sandy Springs heard the battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Marietta. They would have seen smoke and dust clouds in the western sky. We can only imagine what they may have felt as they wondered if their husbands, fathers or sons were engaged in the fighting only a few miles from their homes.
Some, such as the Ball and Reed families, already had lost sons in battle. Those at home — mostly women, children, the elderly or invalids — waited for news of loved ones from sporadic letters or rare newspaper reports.
After Marietta fell to Federal troops, Atlanta was the next obvious goal. The river and Sandy Springs lay between the Federal Army and the city. Surely, every instinct of those left at home would have been to run to safety, but rural farmers didn’t have money to travel.
There was no information on where the armies were moving. The people of Sandy Springs simply had to wait in the no-man’s land between two mighty armies.
Perhaps they comforted themselves in the knowledge that Sandy Springs lay behind the natural barrier of the Chattahoochee River. No doubt the arrival of Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry and the Georgia Militia seemed like answered prayers.
Nellie Jett, writing from near present day Crossroads (Mt. Vernon Highway and Old Power’s Ferry Road), seemed optimistic in a letter to her husband June 10, 1864. John is an older son and C.E. is their infant.
I seat myself to drop you a few lines to inform you that we are all well, and truly hope you are well. I haven’t much to write as I haven’t heard from you since you left. This makes two [letters] I have written you. The wheat is turning. It will be ready to cut the end of next week if the army don’t fall back here. I am looking for them to fall back every day. The army is this side of Big Shanty. I can hear the cannon over the river a little piece.
John has worked at Burch Jett’s 2 weeks. I get corn there. I have made money enough to buy meat for 2 weeks. If the army stays away I could live. I think I heard this morning the army is within 3 miles of Marietta. I heard this morning the people is ordered to get off of the river. I wish you was at home. C E Jett told me to tell you to come eat dinner. He is always talking about you.
A note written sideways at top of page: I make 10 or 12 dollars a week washing for the soldiers.
In a little more than a month’s time, Nellie Jett and her home would be behind enemy lines.
Kimberly Brigance is the director of programs and historic resources at Heritage Sandy Springs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the historic and cultural identity of Sandy Springs. This article is based on materials in the organization’s collection. To contact Brigance, e-mail email@example.com.