On a cold, dreary day 150 years ago, the Civil War came to Milledgeville.
Until then, when Gen. William T. Sherman and 30,000 troops marched into the city, the war happened from afar, said local historian Rick Joslyn. He portrayed a Union officer in a commemoration of the event held Saturday at the Old Governor’s Mansion.
The troops marched in with musicians playing and colors unfurled. That wasn’t an ordinary way of taking over a city, Joslyn said, but scouts sent ahead had already determined that there was no resistance. Milledgeville was the state capital then, and the governor, legislators and many citizens had fled the city.
Joslyn, a Civil War re-enactor, told the story of that day to a crowd at the Old Governor’s Mansion. Other re-enactors recreated the placing of the Union flag on top of the mansion.
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A few blocks away, a similar re-enactment was also held at the Old Capitol Building, where almost five years earlier legislators voted to secede.
Sherman and his officers occupied the mansion for two days before pushing on to Savannah. The rest of his forces camped out across the Oconee River near Kings Road.
Eric Saul, his wife, Amy, and their friend Abigail Bingham Endicott drove all the way from Morgantown, West Virginia, to attend the commemoration. Amy’s great-great-uncle was Maj. Gen. Henry Warner Slocum, who was one of Sherman’s top commanders.
“I was very proud of that and we have been commemorating him,” said Eric Saul, who was a Civil War buff before he found out about Slocum. “We have been retracing the steps of his military career.”
They plan to come back for the commemoration of Sherman’s arrival in Savannah. Saul said he also hopes to dispel the notion that Sherman was a heartless marauder who burned everything he saw. He said thousands of slaves were liberated by Sherman during his March to the Sea.
Bob Wilson, a history professor at Georgia College, said Sherman burned some strategic locations in Milledgeville, such as the train depot, but otherwise he left it intact. There was quite a bit of vandalism by the troops, however, particularly in the looting of local businesses.
Endicott had ancestors on both sides of the conflict.
“I’m very moved by all of the suffering on both sides and all of the joy from the liberation of the slaves,” she said. “I’m hoping by remembering this we can build a sense of our unity.”
Some female volunteers at the Old Governor’s Mansion wore antebellum dresses for the event. They posed for photos with Joslyn, who noted that is not a scene that would have taken place when Sherman was on the grounds.
“Young ladies were some of the most forceful secessionists, and to be seen with a Union officer, that would never happen,” he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.