Google+ Georgia On My Mind: August 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Confederate Courthouse

When we look at the Civil War era the war overshadows everything else. As a teacher I taught the causes, the battles and the aftermath, but generally due to time constraints I left something important out. I failed to teach about the life that went on during the war. I failed to teach about the folks back home. They still worked, planted their crops, shopped and went to school and church.

Life went on for county governments, too. In fact, two Georgia counties managed to build courthouses during the war.
Brooks County is one of those counties. It was created in 1858 and named for Preston Brooks who is best known for beating Senator Charles Sumner unconscious in 1856 due to his anti-slavery stance.

The folks in Brooks County decided to build a courthouse, and apparently they had the money early on to build a very ornate building. Brooks County historian Folks Huxford states, “The undertaking to build such a pretentious and costly edifice in that day and time excited much surprise with some of the citizens…especially in the adjoining counties most courthouses were small affairs of rough timber and unpainted.”
County leaders hired John Wind, and English architect who had been brought to nearby Thomasville by a wealthy planter to design their courthouse and several large plantation homes including Susana. For his troubles John Wind was paid one hundred dollars.

There were challenges to build something so important during a time of war. There were shortages regarding skilled labor and materials, but later on county leaders were probably glad they proceeded with building a more expensive edifice.

You see, the original building was built entirely with Confederate dollars - $14,958 to be exact.
Confederate dollars were bills of credit which means they were backed not by tangible assets such as gold or silver but by a promise to pay the bearer after the war. Of course, the promise was based on the Confederate States of America winning the war, and we know how that turned out, right?  I’m fairly certain that Architect Wind who was paid one hundred dollars for his design, didn’t hold onto his Confederate pay. He probably spent it the next week as did most of the others who received pay for the construction of the courthouse, but it is a little unique fact I find interesting.

Due to shortages certain elements of Wind’s plan were dropped. Historian Folks Huxford advises, “The parapet, cupola, balustrade on the roof and certain ornate columns in the courtroom and porticos on the ends of the building were dispensed with on account of the war.”
Unfortunately, we can’t get a true representation of what Wind’s finished design looked like because the Brooks County Courthouse underwent a major renovation in 1892. The picture I post here is the renovated building, however sources state the original building bore a resemblance to Wind’s other courthouse design in Thomas County which I’ve posted an image of below.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Clubhouse for Bobby

Way back in 1896 a group of men formed a club to honor their favorite poet, and by 1907 they wanted to build a clubhouse.

What else is new, right? It begins in childhood – groups of boys want a hut or a fort excluding the girls so they can go about their “guy” business without any bossing from the females.  Just because the boys grow up doesn’t mean they are over the fact that they want “boy” time.
The Burns Club of Atlanta was no different. It was men’s only club, and they needed a permanent place to meet all their own.

Club member Joseph Jacobs of Jacob’s drugstore fame told the members if they found a suitable plot of land he would make the purchase, and over time the club could pay him back.  Mr. Jacobs had a little income due to a successful drugstore, and it was Jacobs who had made the suggestion to add a little carbonation to some newfangled drink called Coca-Cola.

The club had been meeting around Atlanta in various hotels. They wanted to find a place that was outside the city, but still close enough in that they could catch the last train after dinner to head home.
They finally found ten acres off Confederate Avenue in the Ormewood Park area, a suburb of Atlanta that was originally developed in 1892.  It’s a little hard to wrap my head around the idea that Ormewood Park was not in the city of Atlanta, but during the early 20th century it wasn’t.

The club members set about building a replica of a cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland which happened to be the home of Robert Burns, the 19th century poet the club members honored.
Come on, you remember Robert Burns from your high school and college literature courses, right?  Burns is famous for poetic lines such as, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June…” and every New Year’s Eve we all remember Burns when we sing the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne

Club member Thomas H. Morgan, an architect set to work on building a clubhouse that was an exact replica of the Burns’ home in Scotland.
This website states…..

The interior of the house is also a close replica of the Scottish cottage, and was divided into the traditional four areas: but, ben, barn, and byre. At the far end is the but, which would have been the kitchen, dining room, and parents' bedroom. Next to the but is the ben, which would have served as the living room and childrens' bedroom. These two rooms are decorated with memorabilia from the life of Robert Burns. The assembly room, which replaces the barn and byre, is used for club meetings. The three fireplaces in the cottage are constructed of random stones with mortar joints raised and rounded. The fireplace in the center of the cottage has an inset stone plaque in memory of the poet. The only remaining outbuilding is a one-story stone caretaker's house, originally a log cabin. It was redesigned in 1969 to bear a closer resemblance to the cottage. The grounds once covered 10 acres and included a dance pavilion, barbeque pit and shed, a tennis court and putting green for club use and for rental to other groups. Changes to Burns Cottage include the rear addition of small, functional kitchen, porch and restrooms. The assembly room's original stone-flagged floor was replaced with a concrete one, a fireplace was added at the far end, and some of the small windows were closed.
Early on the cabin had a thatched roof, but eventually the Fire Marshall determined the roof should be replaced.

Since the clubhouse was finished in 1911 the Burns Club of Atlanta has used the building for their meetings. Once a year on January 25th they hold a special super to celebrate Robert Burns’ birth.
The Burns Club of Atlanta is said to be the city’s oldest continuing social, literacy and cultural organization. The club is private. There are no tours. The only way I could attend a dinner or meeting is if I’m invited by a member.

So, are there any members out there?
 The photograph with this post is used via the Tracy O'Neal Photography Collection at Georgia State University Library. It dates to 1944

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Facing North

If we are really honest with ourselves we all have a few enemies.

Some are real, and some are imagined.

Some enemies are bad habits while others are thoughts and feelings, too.

Sometimes we have a collective enemy like William Ezra Curtis of Carroll County, Georgia.

His enemy happened to be the United States of America because Curtis was a solder in the Confederate Army.

The Curtis family goes way back to the earliest thoughts of Carrollton. William Ezra Curtis' father, Henry, provided the land where Carrollton's town square is located today. Henry Curtis was also the trustee of Carrollton's first school, the Carrollton Academy, and served with the Interior Court as the reviewer of roads. Today the Curtis home is the location of the Carroll County Historical Society.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, William Ezra Curtis joined the Carroll Guards, one of the first volunteer units to be organized in Carroll County. Curtis was placed in Company F of the 19th Georgia and was sent to Virginia early in the war.

By March, 1862 Curtis was appointed Lt. Colonel, and he was given the 41st Georgia Regiment to command. The group was sent to the Army of the Mississippi. Curtis was captured at Vicksburg and paroled there July, 1863.

Rather than just giving up and returning home Curtis decided to face his enemy once more and head back into the thick of battle. By this time the 41st was in Georgia and William Ezra Curtis faced his enemy on home territory and watched folks on the home front scatter before Sherman's onslaught towards Atlanta.

Curtis was wounded somewhere at Mill Creek Gap on February 25, 1864. He was taken to his in-laws home near Newnan, Georgia where he died March 24, 1864.

William Ezra Curtis had one last request. He wanted to be buried facing the enemy, so that is why his is the only grave in the Carrollton City Cemetery that faces north to south rather than east to west.

The human journey through life is an interesting one full of happy moments, sad moments, moments of great success and devastating failure, but one of the most important aspects of our character, I think, has to do with facing our enemies.

Have you identified your enemies?

Devise a plan, and face them!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Chattahoochee Isn't Just a River

The subject of the Confederate Navy is not generally touched on during history courses in our high schools, middle schools, or even the history curriculum I used to teach fourth and fifth graders a few years ago. The only scant mention involves the match-up between the CSS Virginia (Merrimac) and Monitor, but even then it's given drive-by treatment since the Confederate Navy isn't tested, and quite frankly there is other content to introduce.

I would hope Georgia history teachers at the 8th grade level discuss Georgia's part in building the Confederate Navy, but then again, I'm not so sure it's done for many different reasons.

The Confederate States of America established their Navy on February 21, 1861. From the outset the goal was not to match the size of the United States Navy. Instead, the Confederates planned on using innovative technological advances to gain tactical superiority utilizing new ideas such as submarines, torpedo boats, mines, and ironclads.

The Confederate goals were simple. They wanted to hinder the Union efforts by attacking U.S. merchant ships world-wide, and break the Union blockade along southern coasts that had put a strangle-hold on the southern economy.

While I could write volumes regarding the Confederate Navy, I want to touch on a little known part Georgia had to play regarding naval development.

First, we look to Columbus, Georgia along the Chattahoochee River. The Iron Works in Columbus had been in operation for a long time making farm equipment, stoves, and decorative iron pieces, but by June, 1862, the Confederate Navy leased the Columbus Iron Works, and led by John H. Warner, a former U.S. Navy engineer, the Iron Works grew into the largest manufacturer of naval machinery within the Confederacy.

One of the gunboats commissioned was the CSS Chattahoochee.

The CSS Chattahoochee?

Yes, it's not just the name of a river that winds it's way through points north of Atlanta and far south. It was also the name of a Confederate gunboat built on the river of the same name.

The story surrounding the Chattahoochee took place in Saffold, Georgia. Today, Saffold, located in Early County is about as far south as you can travel in Georgia without being in Florida. It's as remote today as it was back in 1862 when the ship was built even though there are some houses on the property today. Saffold is 175 miles south of Columbus and 140 miles upriver from Apalachicola.

In the Fall of 1861 Confederate Navy officers and the chief engineer for the Columbus Naval Works selected Saffold as the spot to build the Chattahoochee because it was so remote, plus the area had an abundance of timber. In fact, several of the sources I have reviewed state as many as five thousand board feet of lumber a day could be had from the local sawmill. 

Another reason for choosing the Saffold location had to do with David S. Johnston, a planter living in Saffold. I like to think of him as Georgia's answer to Noah. Johnston had a strong desire to help the Confederacy, but other than the location of his plantation, the fact he had access to the lumber, and had a ready-made labor force of 90 slaves, Johnston had absolutely NO experience building a boat of any kind.

Johnston's contract with the Confederate Navy called for the ship to be delivered in 120 days at a cost of $47,500.

This website has a few pictures of the Saffold site and describes the Chattahoochee as a three-masted steam vessel armed with four smoothbore 32-pounders in broadside, a 9-inch Dahlgren on a front pivot and a 32-pounder rifle on the rear pivot.

Some sources have described the Chattahoochee as a riverboat and ocean sailing craft all rolled into one equipped with steam engines and sails. The mission plan for the CSS Chattahoochee was simple - steam downriver, break the blockade and open the port of Apalachicola in order to return supply ships and trade to the region.

But there were problems, of course.

First, the deadline for Johnston to deliver the ship came and went which is not really a surprising detail since Johnston and his slaves had no ship building experience.

Realizing skilled workers were needed for certain aspects of the ship's design Johnston placed an ad in the Columbus Daily Sun touting "steady employment and good wages for ship carpenters, joiners, caulkers", etc.

To further entice folks a line at the bottom of the ad said, "All hands employed at the Confederate States Naval Yard are exempt from military duty and anyone in the army can be furloughed to work there."

Navy officers also began suspecting Johnston was using the yard at Saffold for personal business rather than completing the contract, so a strict timetable was put into place.

Finally, ten months past the original deadline the CSS Chattahoochee was delivered on December 8, 1862.

It's clear that originally the Confederate Navy had great plans for the Chattahoochee based on the fact that Lt. Catesby ap Roger Jones was chosen to command the gunboat. Jones had become a famous southern hero when he commanded the CSS Virginia (Merrimac) against the USS Monitor. In case you are wondering.....the "ap" in Jones' name is Welsh meaning "son of".

The Chattahoochee was finally launched in February, 1863. Unfortunately, it ran aground and seriously damaged its hull its first day out.

By the time it was ready to go again the Confederates had sunk obstructions in the Apalachicola River to keep Union ships from venturing up the river. Those same obstructions dashed the hopes of the Chattahoochee's crew from engaging the enemy. During most of 1863, the ship remained  above the obstructions basically serving as a glorified gun battery occasionally holding drills, but that's about it.

It was safe duty, but also boring duty.

Jones moved on to another post and Lt. J.J. Guthrie took command. In late May, 1863 the Chattahoochee steamed down the Apalachicola to aid the schooner Fashion that had taken on cotton and was planning to run the blockade. It had been captured by the Union below the obstructions, but many historians believe Lt. Guthrie intended on ramming the obstructions, but many historians believe Lt. Guthrie intended on ramming the obstructions to give the Fashion assistance.

This site advises further:

Tragically, neither the captain nor his crew knew that a severe early season hurricane was about to move in from the Gulf. The wind and rain increased through the night and by the morning of May 27, 1863 when Guthrie returned, the vessel was already feeling the brunt of the approaching storm. These conditions probably contributed greatly to what happened next. As the crew prepared to raise steam for the trip upriver, an argument broke out over how much water was in the boiler. Reportedly, a gauge was not working and before the ship's chief engineer could intervene, a massive steam explosion rocked the vessel.

It is widely believed this malfunctioning gauge caused the crew to unknowingly allow the boiler to grow red hot before filling it with water. When water poured in hitting the red hot metal casing, it instantly vaporized and burst through various sections of piping attached to the boiler. Sixteen members of the crew were killed within minutes, through being scalded by the steam. Another was mortally injured from a large lump of flying metal ripping upwards through the deck. Two more men were severely wounded and another four received minor injuries. Panicked into believing the ship's gunpowder store adjacent to the magazines might explode, the remaining crew opened plugs in the ship's hull and let her sink to the bottom of the muddy river. Descriptions of what conditions on the deck of the Chattahoochee were like vary; but most confirm a total loss of order by her officers, with men running about frantic with fear and in pain from their wounds. Many jumped overboard and at least three bodies were recovered downstream some days later. The dead and wounded were eventually taken ashore despite an increasing and raging storm.....The ship was quickly recovered and towed upriver to Columbus where she was again refitted.

Refitted again?

Yes, but again the ship didn't see any service. As the Union gained ground in April, 1864 and got closer to Columbus the crew of the Chattahoochee sank their ship in the Chattahoochee River to prevent its capture by the Union.

It would be one hundred years before the ship saw the sunlight again when it was located and raised. 

Part of the hull and the original steam engines are on display at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia.

Yes! Columbus, Georgia has a naval museum....

Instead of blowing through the town on my way to Florida next time, I think we need to spend the night and investigate Columbus a little.
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