Maconites already planning for 150th anniversary of Civil War

Macon’s Bill Elliott will tell you that the Civil War didn’t end at Appomattox but in Macon with the surrender of Confederate Maj. Gen. Howell Cobb at the Macon City Hall building.

Cobb and four subordinates surrendered to Union Gen. James H. Wilson after a Confederate sentry was shot and killed on the front porch 11 days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

The surrender in Macon on April 20 also happened four days after what is referred to as the “last major battle of the Civil War” in Columbus.

“A lot of people don’t know that,” said Elliott, who is working with about a dozen people trying to garner support for Georgia’s Civil War Heritage Trails.

The organizing committee is working to beat a January 2011 deadline to have trail markers in place for the sesquicentennial or 150th anniversary of the War Between the States.

“This is a way to inspire interest in the trails, and the trails are an excellent way to commemorate the sesquicentennial,” said historian Jim Barfield, who has served on the trail organization’s board.

In the coming months, the group will be soliciting stories from Middle Georgians to share during the four-year sesquicentennial commemoration.

During an organizational meeting Tuesday at NewTown Macon, supporters expressed interest in telling the little-known facts about Macon’s past.

The Civil War Heritage Trail project has identified six trails across Georgia, and four of them touch Macon.

“No other city in Georgia will be involved in that many of the trails,” said Steven Longcrier, executive director of the nonprofit organization Georgia Civil War Heritage Trail.

The first marker in Macon is already in place at Macon City Hall. The Macon-Bibb Convention and Visitors Bureau raised funds for that marker, which details the building’s Civil War history in a drafting-table-type design that slants at an angle. The poster details Macon’s brief history as the capital of Georgia, its role as hospital center of the South and the sentry’s death that led to the surrender.

Two other locations have been approved and funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Markers will be erected on Mulberry Street across from the site of the old Lanier house, with another at the Baber-Lamar house on Walnut Street that was occupied by Union forces.

Now the committee will prioritize a number of other sites that could be included on the trails if funds are raised.

“It’s a tough time to raise money for markers,” said Juanita Jordan, who attended the meeting as director of the Peyton Anderson Foundation. “People are concentrating on human needs right now.”

“Writing the history is the easy part,” Barfield said. “I think we need to do all the markers we can. The money is the hard part.”

Washington Memorial Library genealogist Muriel Jackson is certain the trails will bring more people to Macon, which would reap economic benefits from the increase in tourism.

“Last year, we had a gentleman who came from England whose ancestors were in the Civil War,” Jackson said.

Jackson is particularly interested in highlighting the little-known achievements of black men and women she’s uncovered in her research, such as the black Confederate soldier buried in the Seventh Street cemetery.

Trail sites will be considered if they are accessible to the public and have parking nearby.

Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails are planned for the Atlanta campaign, during which wounded soldiers were sent to Macon; Sherman’s March to the Sea; Jefferson Davis’ capture, escape and recapture, which brought him to Macon; Wilson’s raid from Columbus to LaGrange to Macon; Andersonville and the south Georgia “bread basket” for the Confederacy; and the northeast Georgia region that will tell the story of Union sympathizers and other Confederate points of interest.

“We just need to get the stories told, and that will get people coming,” said Conie Mac Darnell, who is on the committee.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.