The Union Occupation of Bartow County

by Trey Gaines

Throughout the summer and fall of 1864, Bartow County experienced firsthand the devastation of the Civil War.  Just weeks before, in May, Union and Confederate forces cut a path of destruction through the heart of the county, when over 150,000 troops marched and fought across the county as the push toward Atlanta continued.  By summer, Bartow County became occupied territory by much of the 100,000 Union troops, and months of chaos, fleeing families, local resistance, and destruction of property followed.

Through journals, diaries, letters, official records, memoirs, and family stories, we can glimpse the changes that occurred to the landscape and the emotions of the populace throughout 1864.

One such description of the landscape came from the diary of Private Jenkins Lloyd Jones of the 6th Wisconsin Battery.  His unit remained in Bartow for months during the occupation.  On July 12, 1864, he wrote, “Passed through Cassville at 10 a.m.  A very pretty country town hid away among the hills.  A large college used as a general hospital by the [rebels] here.  Ascended to the observatory, had a splendid view.  A large library filled with books going to waste.”  By the end of 1864, much of Bartow County’s communities and farm land lay in ruins, and the county seat of Cassville was destroyed.

Communities were disrupted and citizens struggled to survive as resources were pillaged.  Many churches in the county had suspended services by the summer of 1864.  In her wartime reminisces, Frances Gaines wrote, “Ours was a miserable existence, in the power of a cruel enemy, cut off from all communication with friends, no social gatherings, no Sabbath bells, no preaching and the Sabbath scarcely observed at all.”  Families remained in constant fear of foraging soldiers and other encounters with the Union army.  Gaines recorded, “Late one evening three cavalry men from Illinois rode up and threatened to burn us out because we could not furnish them with whiskey and tobacco.  It frightened us very much and we sat up and kept a light all night….We were in constant fear of being burned out or murdered.”

In 1922, Joe T. Jolly submitted a letter to the Tribune News describing an encounter with Union soldiers when he was 10 years old.  “…a squad of General Kilpatrick’s men came to our house, and they were after food, whiskey and tobacco….  Father told them he had neither whiskey or tobacco.  They found a rope…(and) got it around father’s neck, led him off into the woods, found a tree, and even the limb to throw the rope over.”  Attempting to scare the information out of him, they eventually let him go.  As this was happening, other soldiers robbed the Jolly house of utensils, clothing, and provisions, including “all the sweet potatoes they could well carry on horses.”

While more stories of pillaging exist, encounters with more fair minded Union officers also occurred.  Again, in her journal, Frances Gaines wrote, “[o]n the 23rd (July) several ladies walked to Kingston, a distance of six miles.  Col. (Jabez) Dunbury treated them with marked politeness, said he was sorry we had been disturbed, and while he remained in command we should not be molested, tho’ his time would soon expire.  (On) Aug 2nd the old men that were left (three in number) went to Gen. Smith and told him how we had been treated.  He was very angry, and said they were acting without orders, and gave us permission to remain at home.  We had been (so) harassed and perplexed of late, that we felt by no means secure.”

Many Bartow families left their homes to seek refuge with family and friends.  Some packed up what possessions they could and fled, while others had to make hasty retreats, leaving behind their belongings hoping to return one day to find them intact.

Members of the Young family of Walnut Grove found refuge in North and South Carolina.  In a July 1864 letter, Louisa Young wrote to her mother, “[p]rovisions here are very scarce… I have been trying to find out where I can purchase some meat or chicken, but so far have been unsuccessful.”  Months later, her mother responded, “God only knows what will become of us… I fear our army is not sufficient to contend with the enemy.  I fear we will lose all our men or the greatest part of them.”  And, finally, in December, Mrs. Young wrote to her son, Brigadier General PMB Young, “[w]e are still here (in North Carolina) …, the country is filled with thieves & deserters… I am glad you are in Georgia but tremble for you all the time…  I do pray that every Yankee may be made to surrender to our Army…, provisions are scarce & very high here(;) we cannot obtain it here with Confederate money.”

Some of the destruction wrought on the county during the occupation was the result of local resistance.  For example, on October 11, 1864, ten Union soldiers were killed by a band of guerillas, and their bodies were discovered thrown on the grounds of the Cassville Female College the next morning.  In retaliation, the Cassville Female College, the Cherokee Baptist College, a boys’ college located in Cassville, and several residences were burned by Union soldiers.

Guerilla activity in Bartow County had become such a problem for the Union Army that in early November General Sherman, after several Union soldiers were taken, ordered Brigadier General John E. Smith to “arrest some six or eight citizens known or supposed to be hostile.  Let one or two go free to carry word to the guerrilla band that you give them forty-eight hours’ notice that unless all the men of ours picked up by them in the past two days are returned, Kingston, Cassville, and Cartersville will be burned.”

Cassville suffered its final burning on November 5, 1864.  Frances Gaines again described the scene.  “They commenced firing the place between 2 and 3 o’clock.  All our tears and prayers availed us nothing.  We begged to hearts of stone.  In a short while the public square was one vast sheet of flames.  It soon spread all over town, and in a short time nothing was left but the smoky ruins and chimneys.”

In a number of telegraphs between General William T. Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant in November, Sherman finally convinced Grant to allow his proposed campaign to march through the remainder of Georgia toward Savannah.  Grant wanted Sherman to focus his efforts on the Confederate forces under General John Bell Hood.  On November 1, Grant asked, “Do you not think it advisable…to entirely ruin (Hood) before starting your proposed campaign?”  Sherman responded the next day.  “We cannot remain on the defensive.  With twenty-five thousand infantry and the bold cavalry he has, Hood can constantly break my road.  I would infinitely prefer to make a wreck of the road and of the country from Chattanooga to Atlanta…and with my effective army move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea.”  Grant ultimately agreed and wrote, “…I do not see that you can withdraw from where you are to follow Hood, without giving up all we have gained in territory.  I say, then, go on as your propose.”

Sherman’s March to the Sea had been approved.  In his memoirs, Sherman recalled, “On the 12th (of November), with a full staff, I started from Kingston for Atlanta and about noon of that day we reached Cartersville, and sat on the edge of a porch to rest, when the telegraph operator… got the wire down from the poles to his lap… About that instant of time, some of our men burned a bridge which severed the telegraph wire and all communications with the rear ceased thenceforth.”  As they left Cartersville, his troops set fire to the depot.  Just a few short weeks later, Sherman reached Savannah on December 21, 1864.


The author wishes to express a sincere appreciation to Mr. David Archer for advice and use of his personal research materials to make this article project a reality. Also, a special thank you to J. B. Tate for his reviews and notes. Among other references the author wishes to acknowledge a number of works used in researching the article series including: Lucy Cuynus’ History of Bartow County Georgia, Official War Records, William R. Scaffe’s Allatoona Pass: A Needless Effusion of Blood, Frances Thomas Howard’s, In and Out of the Lines , Papers/letters from the Bartow History Museum, Joseph B. Mahan, Jr., A History of Old Cassville 1833-1864, Dr. Keith Hebert’s dissertation, “CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION ERA CASS/BARTOW COUNTY, GEORGIA” and Joe F. Head’s, The General – The Great Locomotive Dispute.