Thursday, April 28, 2005

Considering the Civil War: Choestoe Guards and Young Cane Volunteers

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.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

April--Confederate History and Heritage Month

I read with interest the Proclamation signed by Union County Commissioner, Honorable Lamar Paris, designating the whole month of April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. Coupled with the Confederate Memorial Day April 26 throughout Georgia and other Southern States, the joint emphases are geared toward learning more about and understanding events of The War Between the States (known as the Civil War) and their far-reaching effects upon our history.

The conflict began in April, 1861 with shots fired upon Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor and ended in April, 1865 with the treaty signed at Appomattox Court House. Within the intensive four-year period, the face of America and its people changed. Volumes have been written and hundreds of films produced to try to get at the heart of the conflict. As I consider writing about the war from the perspective of Union County, I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the subject, even before I begin.

Many see slavery as the major cause of the War Between the States. Although that institution played a part in secession, there were deeper underlying differences in ideologies and culture. The mainly agrarian South was pitted against a strongly industrial North. If slavery had been the issue in Union County, Georgia, it would have been miniscule. According to the 1850 listing of slaveholders in the county, twenty-four citizens owned 100 slaves. Disregarding the issue of slavery, those from Union County who fought for the Confederacy did so because of loyalty to a region and to the state of Georgia.

For interesting details and a listing of soldiers from Union County by regiments, I recommend that you find copies of these resources and read them: “The Civil War,” pages 29-60 in Sketches of Union County History, Volume 2, by Jan H. Devereaux and Bryan Webb, 1978; “The Civil War in Union County,” pages 41-56 in Mountain Relic, Spring Edition, 1980; and “The Story of Two Soldiers,” pages 35-36 in Sketches of Union County History III, edited by Teddy J. Oliver, 1987. Numerous resources are available online such as Muster Rolls by Companies, Regiments and Counties in Georgia. It takes patience to access and read them, but the effort is worthwhile for those desiring a listing of men who served from Union County.

Union County’s stately War Memorial lists the names of ninety-one men who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy and three who died while serving in the Union Army. These ninety-four casualties from the War Between the States comprise a larger number than the combined total of casualties from all other wars listed. A Confederate memorial service is planned to begin on Saturday, April 23 at 11:00 a. m. at the Old City Cemetery in Blairsville and then move to the War Memorial. The David W. Payne Camp 1633 of Sons of Confederate Veterans will lead the service commemorating the men who gave their lives for the South.

The words of poet Sir Walter Scott are appropriate as we remember the sacrifices of fallen soldiers:

“Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battlefields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.”

“All gave some; some gave all.” May they rest in peace.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 21, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

In April, National Poetry Month: Featuring Local Poet, Barbara Ruth Sampson

As we celebrate during April the art of poetry, a local contemporary Union County poet deserves the limelight.

She is Barbara Ruth Nicholson (Collins) Sampson who lives on Nottely Shores. She merits accolades for her excellent poetry. In 2004 she was named National Senior Poet Laureate. She could have submitted most any of her poems to vie for this coveted title. The poem that won the title for her was “Return in the Spring.” She is equally at home in traditional forms and free verse. This poem is of the latter style. Here are her lines:

Spring in the mountains,
but you are not here.
Yet, somehow, my eager eyes discern you
faintly profiled against darkening clouds,
hear your voice echoing in sky-shattering thunder
above the splintered silver waterfalls,
feel you in the profound absence of footsteps
along the leaf-padded trail bordering
the lavishly blossoming rhododendron thicket.
I sense you in the profound grandeur
of this unpeopled wildness,
relax with utter satisfaction in this spot
exclusive to lichen on boulders,
protective moss on northside of trees,
and the drama of an eagle launching himself
into vastness of sky above rugged mountains.

You are here in this eden
that prohibits raucous, man-made noises
within its sacred solitude,
and comes your voice to my depth of yearning
a luminescence of all past glory.
The cadence of your robust laughter,
profound and sincere, makes me smile,
my heart to sing.
So good there is nothing to intrude,
here in the mountains of spring,
with you.

Who is this wordsmith, this maker of verse? Would you believe she has already celebrated her four-score and tenth birthday? Spending most of her time now in a wheelchair, she is not bound by its physical limitations but allows her mind to soar, to grasp ideas that challenge and cajole, words that send imagination on flights of beauty to climb to heights of solitude, where there is “nothing to intrude” save for the very pleasure of writing.

This retired educator—high school English teacher for many years---is herself a daughter of educators: Dr. James M. Nicholson was her father, inimitable principal of Union County High School from about 1930 until his retirement in the mid-1940’s. Her mother was Flora Maynard Nicholson, also an English teacher. She grew up with siblings James Frank, George Truett and Flora Nelle. Her sister, called Nelle, is also a word-crafter and a poet. Barbara Ruth proudly traces her ancestry back to her great, great grandfather John Nicholson, a Revolutionary War soldier whose grave is in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Union County.

Barbara Ruth Sampson and I have been pen pals for many years. Her letters are literary gems, delightful to read and saved among my treasures. It was my distinct pleasure, as a fellow member with her of the Georgia Poetry Society, to review her book of poems published in 2000 by Sparrowgrass Press, Sistersville, West Virginia. The Society meeting in Athens, Georgia in April, 2001 was the scene for my oral review of her book entitled “Earth Is a Splendid Place”. I was delighted that Mrs. Sampson was able to attend the review, thanks to her daughter Sylvia Sampson-Haney who took her. In all the years I reviewed books of poetry for Society members, Mrs. Sampson by far showed the most appreciation. Here was a poet not only proficient with words but one with a deeply ingrained sense of gratitude.

She and Union County poet, Byron Herbert Reece, were friends. He inscribed on his book, “Three Lyric Poets,” published in 1942 by Decker Press, Prairie City, IL: “To Ruth, With admiration and affection.” I noted in her poetry a similarity to Reece’s in her adroit use of traditional forms, her appreciation of nature, her ease in using poetic devices of metaphor, simile and personification. Maybe “something there is in the hills” that draws poetic expression from those with skills of observation and introspection such as she and Reece display.

Like Reece, she is adept at the quatrain. Her “On Planting a Crocus Bulb” states a tremendous amount of truth in four lines: “I planted a crocus bulb today/under the leaves, under the clay;/ I planted a bit of purple hope/in a chilly wind, on a barren slope.”

In “Mortality” she feels and touches the splendor of earth and leads the reader to explore our own time and space in the world. The questions posed in the poem lead the reader to contemplate answers:

Why has pulsing spring so early come to earth
in this the growing winter of my days;
what primal instinct stirs less certain steps
to seek among more rough and youthful ways?
Now surely should I pull the fleecy shawl
around the shivering bones of age,
nor face the freshened breeze that challenges
beyond the spirit now grown pale and sage.
What is this pang within my very core
that makes me laugh yet wish to cry,
envisioning all that will come more
when empty of the world am I?

In reading her book, “Earth Is a Splendid Place”, one identifies with her love for natural beauty and her zest for life. Though age, an expected part of life, rolls upon us with the passing years, she encourages our welcoming the seasons as friends and the accrual of years as a blessing. During this month for poetry and poets, her poetic philosopy is well-expressed in another quatrain that gives her book its title:

High the sky to the edge of heaven,
bright the sun as a smiling face;
life is a treasured blessing given,
and earth is a splendid place.”

Congratulations, Mrs. Sampson, for your well-earned title of 2004 Senior Poet Laureate! Your stamina and wisdom are admirable; your love for and expression of words in poetry are exemplary. You make us think while giving us beauty.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 14, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.