By Kimberly Brigance, Clarke Otten and Michael Hitt
On a cool morning in 1865, the men of the 38th Georgia Infantry prepared to take the field of battle for the last time.
As they had dozens of times before, the men probably made sure their names were sewn into their jackets. In case they were killed, a comrade might identify their body and inform a loved one waiting at home. Final letters were written and no doubt prayers were said.
These hardened soldiers were veterans of such battles as Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam (or Sharpsburg), Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness, but only a few years before they had just been Georgia farm boys from a country crossroad near a sandy spring.
That morning, April 9, 1865, the 38th Georgia Infantry engaged and began scattering the enemy. By 10 a.m., it was over. They were at Appomattox Court House, Va., and news had spread through the lines that General R.E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses Grant. The long war had finally come to an end.
The next day, the soldiers were paroled by the United States and they began making their way home as best they could.
The wounded and malnourished would fall ill along roadsides and in fields as they struggled home. No doubt homes along larger roads were besieged by former soldiers begging for food and shelter. By then, most citizens had nothing left to give. The fighting had ended, but the suffering and dying wasn’t over.
Many years later, W.H. Mitchell would write down his memories of the war’s end and the long trek home he and his friends J.A.J. Reeves and J.J. Carpenter made together.
“…On the sixth day of April, we were captured at Sailor’s Creek. We were kept right up at the head of the enemy’s line; were in plain view when the surrender was made at Appomattox Court House, Va. We were sent back about one mile into a grove and a guard placed around about 400 of us as prisoners. This was on a Sunday morning. We had nothing to eat for eight days, only a pint of corn divided among four. He [Carpenter] got so feeble he could hardly get up when he was down and could not talk above a whisper. They kept us there until the next Friday and sent us by rail back 31 miles to Farmville, Va. Late the next evening, we got our parole.
Then they gave [us] a spoonful of coffee and one of sugar and three hard –tacks apiece. We started for home. Our progress was slow for a few days. We had no money and the army scattered over the country ahead of us. We had a hard time to get something to eat. We hardly ever got three meals a day. We lived mostly on milk and bread the trip home and we were thankful to get it.”
We can only imagine what they may have thought as they travelled home. The bridges and railroads were gone. Farmland and fields were muddy campsites and battlefields. Homes and churches, if left at all, were empty shells. Every face reflected loss and hopelessness.
Through census records, newspaper articles and other research, the lives of some Sandy Springs veterans can be pieced together .
John Heard, a member of the 9th Georgia Artillery Battalion was in Appomattox Court House, Va., when the war ended. He walked home to Georgia barefoot. He lived to be 96 years old and fathered 23 children. In addition to operating the famous Heard’s Ferry, he became a judge and championed education. He is buried in a neglected cemetery on Heard’s Drive, the same location that Federal troops claimed in 1864.
Obediah Copeland of the 38th Georgia Infantry had many financial struggles after he returned from the war. Eventually, he owned a home and successful blacksmith shop on Roberts Drive. His home was recently destroyed to build Dunwoody Springs Elementary School. A recreation of his well is on the school grounds.
W.H. Mitchell became active in rebuilding the community as well as veteran reunions. His home, although moved and much changed, still stands on Long Island Drive. His birthplace, the Mitchell-Tiller home, remains as well.
Charles Woodall served in the Cherokee Legions State Guards, Company B. In the 1880’s, his wife Caroline was listed as one of the founding members of Winter’s Chapel United Methodist Church. Their home still stands on Nesbit Ferry road. Their graves lie between a subdivision and a home off Happy Hollow Road.
By the 1880s, veterans of the war began to meet again at annual reunions. Some of the largest gatherings took place at the old Sandy Springs Camp Ground, near Heritage Green.
As the 1920s dawned, many who lived through the war had died and the reminders of what happened in our community began to be erased.
Today, miles of entrenchment still crisscross Sandy Springs. Those links to the past are plowed up and paved over nearly every day. Diaries and letters, firsthand accounts of past lives, sit in libraries, unread.
Graves and home sites, place names, schools and churches — the things that give Sandy Springs a sense of its past — are in the hands of our generation.
Kimberly Brigance is the curator of the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, 6075 Sandy Springs Circle. This article is based, in part, on materials from the museum’s collection. To contact her, e-mail email@example.com.
Clarke Otten, a resident of Sandy Springs since 1953, is writing a book on the history of Sandy Springs.
Michael Hitt, a Roswell police officer, serves as historian for the Roswell Preservation Commission and has published several local history books and articles.