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Forgotten Union Guerrillas of the North Georgia Mountains

By Robert S. Davis, Jr., with assistance from Bill Kinsland.

Though it has received very little attention over the years, opposition to secession was very real among the people of extreme north Georgia during the Civil War, despite the fact that support for the Southern cause was also very strong.

The major resistence to the Confederacy centered among the hardy, independant, isolated, north Georgians who simply opposed the intrusion of elements of the war which brought unwanted hardships. Life was difficult enough in the mountains as it was.

The lack of economic necessities coupled with a period of severe climatic droughts that plagued the region during the war years, made the hiding of live stock and foodstuffs from Confederate impressment officers a matter of survival for many mountain families. The additional hardships such as taxes, impressment of private property, and the war's draft, only added fuel to a smoldering resentment.

Problems such as these existed everywhere in the South, but the mountain vastness substantially increased one's capabilities to avoid the unwanted impressments brought on by the war effort.

The most common resistence to the Confederacy in north Georgia and elsewhere in the South, was draft evasion and desertion from the Confederate forces. In mountainous terrain and among sympathetic mountain families, "hiding out" was accomplished more easily than in other parts of the Confederacy. The State of Georgia was occasionally forced to make massive round-ups of these deserters.

The bloody Confederate victory at Chickamauga in northwest Georgia in 1863, was the final straw for many war weary rebels. Of the north Georgians at Chickamauga, many simply quietly returned home without orders. They soon learned that a loosely organized "underground railroad" was already in existence to guide them to the Union lines in Tennessee, should they desire to flee from the South. Once out of Confederate held territory, deserters and draft evaders could join the Union Army or Navy or even travel north of the Ohio River to work for the U.S. Government as cowboys and civilian contractors.

The state of Georgia fought back against deserters by forming what came to be known as Confederate "Home Guards" units from the state militia. These men were authorized to obtain draft animals and supplies for the Confederacy and to deal with draft evasion and desertions.

Tactics used by the Home Guards included torture, executions without trials, and retaliations against families and friends of the resisters. The folklore of north Georgia includes numerous tales of corpses found after the Home Guards had departed, and of men having their Achilles' tendons cut on their feet and being made to walk or crawl for miles before finally being hanged.

Many north Georgians claimed that the Home Guards were nothing more than officially sanctioned murderers and horse-thieves. Pro-Confederate families suffered too. Some men deserted the Confederate Army in order to return home to protect their families from the Confederate Home Guards!

When General Sherman's Union Army invaded north Georgia in 1864, they found that the same people who had been helping men to evade the Confederate draft or desert, were willing to act as spies and guides for the Union, including helping Sherman's foragers seize property from the pro-Confederate families.

The Confederate Home Guards responded by increasing their raids and executions. Sherman, in turn, answered by sending Union troops to Pickens county and elsewhere to rescue the families opposing the Confederacy, and to suppress the Home Guards. Union forces burned Canton, GA, in retaliation for atrocities committed against north Georgia families.

Federal officials believed that resistance to the Confederacy and the Home guards could be channelled into practical support for the Union. On November 18, 1863, twenty-four-year-old Major Dewitt C. Howard of the 103rd Ohio infantry was ordered to form Georgia units for the Union Army. Howard was a Georgian, and judging from the streams of refugees he witnessed daily coming into Federal camps in Chattanooga, he was convinced that he could raise an entire brigade. After several months of detached duty however, he failed to enlist more than a handful of men.

The attempt to recruit a Georgia unit for the Federal forces was revived in 1864 by James G. Brown, civilian chief of scouts for Union General George H. Thomas. Brown had organized a spy ring in north Georgia and often would conduct his own personal reconnaissance missions, sometimes disguised as a member of the Confederate Home Guards!

On August 9, 1864, Brown was ordered by General James B. Steedman to enlist as many men as possible for use in protecting General Sherman's supply Lines in north Georgia. In response, Brown arranged for six companies of north Georgians to gather near their homes in Pickens, Dawson, and Union counties on or about July 1. They included men brought to Cleveland, Tennessee on July 10 by Dr. John A. Ashworth of Dawson County and a Union Home Guards company organized in Pickens County by Federal troops.

At the request of Ashworth, his brother-in-law Iley T. Stuart, raised a company, and in Morganton, William A. Twiggs rallied enlistees with a stirring speech calling for the removal of the Confederates out of north Georgia.

By the end of August, 1864, James G. Brown had approximately 300 enlistees but far from the 800 to 1,000 men he needed for a regiment. As a result, one of the companies raised by Stewart went to Tennessee, and became Company C of the 5th Tennessee Mounted Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army, on September 23, 1864. Others who had answered Brown's call served in an independent company in Fannin County under William A. Twiggs that on February 1, 1865, became Company H of the 5th Tennessee.

Brown organized his remaining four companies as the 1st Georgia State Troops Volunteers, with himself as Colonel, Ashworth as Lieutenant Colonel, and Henry L. Carroll of Union County as acting Major. The men were promised a bounty of $300.00, army pay, and clothing in exchange for enlisting for three years to serve exclusively as guards for the railroads in Georgia. They were provided food, ammunition, and probably weapons, but apparently were compelled to take horses and mules from pro-Confederate families.

Despite the circumstances, Brown's unit was never actually accepted into the U.S. Army. The official reason was a precondition of the unit's existence - that being that the unit would only serve in Georgia. However, a more likely reason for this nonrecognition was the unsavory reputation these men earned for themselves in the months between when Brown first recruited them, and when they were finally released from their duties.

Col. L. Johnston, commanding the largely black garrison at Dalton, later blamed his surrender to General Hood's Confederate Army on October 13, 1864, upon the men of Brown's 1st Georgia State Troops. Johnston claimed that the men of the 1st Georgia failed to do their duty as scouts, and when Hood's army approached, they fled to the mountains, as they had done upon the approach of Wheeler's Confederate cavalry on October 2.

On November 5, while on a raid to obtain horses and mules, Lt. Col Ashworth, Capt. McCrary, and nineteen other members of Brown's command were captured by Col. James J. Findley and his 1st Georgia State Cavalry Home Guards at Bucktown in Gilmer County. Three others of Brown's command were wounded and four were killed. Captured with these men were papers that gave the names of their local supporters, including such prominent men of Dawson County as Sheriff George R. Robinson, justices Cleveland Andrews and John Fouts, Lindsey Vaughters, and Hiram Brooks.

As Findley took his command through Dawsonville, these civilians were arrested. A dozen of the men captured turned out to also be deserters from Confederate units. They were executed at Gainesville on November 7, 1864. Their bodies were transferred to the National Cemetery at Marietta, GA, inJuly, 1867. They are today buried in Section E, Numbers 6012-6023.

Col. John Azor Kellogg & a union escapee from a Confederate prison in South Carolina, had more positive experiences with Brown's men. A group of the 1st Georgia found Kellogg and his companions in Pickens County and, under Capt. McCrary, escorted them safely to the Union lines. Kellogg would remember these men as "generous, hospitable, brave, and Union men to the core." He described them as effective guerrillas, providing armed protection for local farmers against the Confederate Home Guards.

However, if Kellogg's report to his superiors was as accurate as his memoirs, he must have also added that Brown's men were hiding a Union deserter, conducting raids to plunder pro-Confederate plantations in other counties, and refusing to accept offers of a truce by Capt. Benjamin F. Jordan's Cherokee County Home Guards. Hit and run ambushes between Brown's men and the Confederate Home Guards were apparently happening almost daily.

Col. Kellogg was sympathetic to Brown's men, but it is doubtful that his feelings were shared by the Union officials camped safely behind their own armies. Brown's men were not trained, equipped, or led as regular soldiers. They could not be scouts and guides at Dalton while their own families were left unprotected, nor could they allow themselves to be captured at Dalton (or anywhere else), since many of them were also Confederate deserters.

The men of the 1st Georgia however, regardless of the circumstances, could not be prevented from seeking revenge upon the Home Guards, now that they too were armed and organized. They were fighting a mercilous guerrilla war against men who had abused them and their families and friends for several years now, and it had almost become a way of life for many of them.

After the Secretary of War and General Sherman finally decided not to allow the 1st Georgia to be admitted into the United States Army, Brown's men were ordered dismissed on November 5, 1864, and they formally disbanded on December 15, 1864. They received no pay, bounties, or compensation for their months of service, sufferings, and fighting.

Shortly thereafter, Brown again contacted his commanding officer - General Thomas - informing him that 600 or 700 north Georgians could still be raised for the Union Army. Thomas offered to allow them to be formed as an independent battalion or regiment with Brown in command, if they reported to Chattanooga. Nothing ever came of this idea, however.

Many of Brown's men did enlist in the previously mentioned 5th Tennessee United States Mounted Infantry, particularly in Capt. William Twiggs' Company H and Capt. Martin V. Woods' Company K and other Tennessee units. Several of the men of the now defunct 1st Georgia who were captured at Bucktown and elsewhere, were subsequently parolled byBrigadier General William T. Wofford, Confederate commander for north Georgia.

A few of Brown's men however, joined a new 1st Georgia. Dewitt C. Howard created his own 1st Georgia Infantry Battalion (at least on paper), at Marietta on October 31, 1864. Some of the men from Dawson County enlisted in Company A. and some from Pickens County joined Company B. The two companies were filled out with men recruited from Confederate POWs in Atlanta, after the city fell to Sherman. They guarded Sherman's rail lines in the northern part of the state until disbanded on July 19, 1865.

The problems of Brown's men did not end with the war. Civil War related revenge killings continued long after Appomattox. For forty years, the families of Brown's 1st Georgia unsuccessfully petitioned Congress for financial compensation to which they felt they were entitled as a result of their affiliation with the Union cause. They were largely unsuccessful due to the fact that so few of their leaders had survived to help with the petition. James G. Brown remained a scout for General Thomas to the end of the war, and died in late 1866. Dr. John A. Ashworth died in Raleigh, NC ("by reason of starvation and ill treatment whilest a prisoner of war in the hands of rebel authorities"), shortly after General Sherman's army released him from the Confederates. Capt. George W. McCrary was killed by Confederate guerrillas on November 10, 1864. Ironically, he was not serving in Georgia at that time, contrary to the terms of his enlistment, but was in Tennessee.