Continuing with an emphasis on April as Confederate Memorial and Heritage Month and April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day, we look this week at two units that figured prominently in the war---Company K of the 23rd Regiment, Georgia Infantry Volunteers, Army of Tennessee, Confederate States of America, known as “The Choestoe Guards,” and Company B, of the 23rd, known as “The Union County Mountain Volunteers” (also known as “The Young Cane Volunteers”).
These units were formed in 1861 and went to Fort McDonald in Cobb County where they were attached to the 23rd Regiment in August, 1861. Joseph G. Souther who was only six years of age when the men signed up and went away to war recalled in his memoirs written many years later in 1937: “I saw the first soldiers of my township enlisting for the front, happy, content, saying the war would be over in six weeks and not a drop of blood spilt.”
But the anticipation with which the Choestoe Guards faced the war was short-lived, for Joseph Souther noted: “Thirty young men of my township joined the ranks, one-half of which never returned to once prosperous and happy homes.”
Who were some of these soldiers in Company K and Company B?
William P. Barclay was first Captain of the Choestoe Guards. Later he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. The 23rd Regiment was ordered to Richmond, Virginia on November 10, 1861, and shortly went into action at the Battle of Yorktown. It was there the men learned how cruel and terrible war can be. Private John Nix of the Choestoe Guards was a casualty there. His brother, James Bly Nix was near him and saw John cut down by a mini-ball “right in the midst of a roasting ear patch.” Fighting in the Peninsular Campaign of 1861-62, they moved on to the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1862. Lt. Colonel William Barclay was described as “cool and gallant” in every intense battle. In Maryland at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862, Col. Barclay was called “the hero of the battle” by General D. H. Hill and Colonel A. H. Colquitt in their written reports. On September 17 in the Battle at Sharpsburg (Antietam, America’s bloodiest day), Colonel Barclay and his troops underwent heavy bombardment. He was fatally wounded, but before his death he saw his unit victorious in the field. Four Barclay brothers served in the Confederate Army. The others were Elihu S. Barclay, Hugh W. Barclay, and Julius Barclay. Two of these, William P. and Julius (Captain of Company G, 52nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment) were killed. Julius lost his life in the Battle of Atlanta.
James H. Huggins, captain and enlister of Company B, the “Young Cane Volunteers,” likewise distinguished himself in battle. On May 29, 1862, Captain Huggins was in command of his unit at the Battle of Malvern Hill. Following this engagement, he was promoted to major. At the Battle of Sharpsburg at which his good friend, Colonel Barclay died, Major Huggins was severely wounded. After that battle, Huggins was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
Then came the forlorn march from Shepherdstown, Maryland back to Fredricksburg, Viginia in the dead of winter. Huggins’ unit was deprived even of shoes and had to march through the snow with such improvised footgear as they could tie around their feet to protect them in the terrible cold. They were assigned to guard a wagon train of supplies. Many of the men were taken captive but some were exchanged a few weeks later. Col. Huggins’ unit traveled much during the last several months of the war. They were at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At the latter battle, General Stonewall Jackson lost his life. There Colonel Huggins was taken prisoner of war and held at Fort Delaware, but was traded in a prisoner-of-war exchange.
His unit was ordered to Kingston, North Carolina, back to Richmond, Virginia, and then to Charleston, South Carolina where they spent the winter of 1863. They were fired upon as they were aboard the ship named Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor, but no casualties resulted for Huggins’ unit. They were ordered to Olustee, Florida, where they engaged in the Battle of Ocean Pond. Colonel Huggins was reported as “acquitting himself with honor” at that battle.
From Florida, Huggins and his men returned to Charleston and thence to Petersburg, Virginia and on to Drewry’s Bluff where they won a fierce battle in May, 1864. In June, 1864, they fought for the second time at the Battle of Cold Harbor where it is reported “they left the ground littered with Grant’s drunken rabble.” They met the enemy again at the final siege of Petersburg, Virginia located on the Appomattox River. The end was near at hand. A week after the final battle at Petersburg came the signing of the surrender papers on April 9, 1865, with the treaty signed three days later on April 12.
Space precludes a listing of all the members of “The Choestoe Guards” and “The Mountain—or Young Cane---Volunteers,” and the brave soldiers who lost their lives. Those with internet connections may access the muster rolls of these two and other units of brave Union County Confederate soldiers.
It is interesting to note that Colonel James H. Huggins, born August 22, 1828, was a lawyer by occupation. He served in the Georgia General Assembly both before and during the war. He signed for Georgia to secede from the Union. He was a slave owner, having two slaves in the 1860 listing who helped him in his farming operations.
Regardless of our leanings, whether North or South, we can but salute the bravery and persistence of the units from the mountains as they defended their homeland. A Confederate Memorial Day marker in Kingston, Georgia declares the South’s men “gallant Confederates—greatest fighting men of all time.”
Historian James M. McPherson stated: “A blend of triumph and tragedy, courage and cowardice, heroes and knaves, selfless sacrifice and selfish profiteering, the war shaped and defined the America that has emerged in the (now 140) years since the guns fell silent.”
c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 28, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.