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Day 510: The Savannah Campaign

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's 45 degrees here this morning, with a blustery, gusting wind that makes it feel even colder. You can see how April in Dixie appealed to me!

I left off with Waynesboro and Wisteria Hall:

I found it on the internet, and never thought we'd be able to afford it. But we were just under the wire for off-season rates, and while it was nearly twice as much as we pay at the chains, it was still less than $130. I don't normally discuss prices, but in this case, oh, was it ever value for money!

So many of the nicer B&Bs start in the $200+ / night range that my next concern was - is Wisteria Hall as good as it looks? There were a few reviews on TripAdvisor - all of which were five-star - but the newest one was nearly a year old, and I was a little concerned. I needn't have been.

Our hostess greeted us at the door, and right from the entry hall the place bowled me over.

The owner was kind enough to give us a grand tour and allow us to photograph at will. I'm wary lest this turn into some kind of advertisement, so I'll post the photos with minimal comment. I hope they do it justice, though.

The sun porch:

There are two parlors:

Next morning our breakfast was in the dining room - the chairs were comfortable as well as pretty, not always an easy thing to pull off:

We had pictures of virtually every "guest" area of the house other than two of the bedrooms which were in use, but many of the photos don't show up very well. That's a shame, as the decor is outstanding. Even the landing is beautifully decorated:

There are at least four bedrooms, and our hostess gave us our choice of two. We took pictures of both:

Which did we choose? The one with the large canopied bed!

I think of myself as someone not easily impressed, but by golly, I was impressed with this place. And as much as anything by its cleanliness: not a speck, and I mean, even a speck, of dust anywhere. Everything was sparkling and polished. No heavy perfume / potpourri type scents to the air, just - fresh. It was lovely. Nancy cleans and maintains it all herself, with no outside help - and she cooks a delicious breakfast, to boot!

I asked her about the house in some detail. It was a fixer-upper when she and her husband Ralph bought it, one of those grand mansions where the last member of the family had no heirs and ran out of money. By the time Nancy owned it, the roof had deteriorated badly and water was leaking in so much that some of the rooms had been closed off.

This house might've been written off, demolished and something newer built on the site. Instead, it's a shining example of a success story, with much of the work having been done by the Lynns themselves. I've scraped ceilings and torn up old linoleum and sanded floors, having owned an old farmhouse at one point in my checkered home-owning career, so I know what it must've taken - in time, effort, and commitment, not to mention funds - to restore this house.

We hadn't stayed in a place this posh since our honeymoon. What a find!

Our destination this day was Savannah, so we reluctantly headed up the road. Much as we had the day before, we stopped when we found something that caught our interest, and drove past with a quick look when we didn't.

We passed several houses that were pretty, and almost no matter where you looked there were masses of blooms, from azaleas to wisteria to dogwood to bulbs and annuals:

We were lucky to hit this area at just about the peak of the spring season. Some year I'd love to follow one of the "Azalea Trail" celebrations: several of the southern states have annual routes with open houses and gardens you can tour. Entire towns join in these festivals. I'm sure they must be packed with people, but catching one when the azaleas and other shrubs are in full bloom must be gorgeous.

Not far from Waynesboro is Magnolia State Park. During the Civil War it was the location of Camp Lawton, a CSA prison for captured Yankees. Lesser-known than Andersonville, it was apparently as gruesome, though on a smaller scale. Today, it's been turned into a landscaped park, complete with picturesque lake:

Like so many of the places we saw, it was one we would've gladly lingered, if we'd had more time.

The highway rolled through farm country, for the most part. I was surprised that there isn't a lot of suburban sprawl, because much of the piedmont area in central Maryland where I grew up has sprouted more developments than corn. While there were the occasional crossroads hamlets, more often than not it was mile after mile of green fields. Now and then, we'd pass a family cemetery.

The next photograph is representative of them, in many respects. This one was well-tended, with the last burial being (so far as we could determine) before World War II. There were no houses nearby, no big farm I could've pointed to as the one this family "belonged" to. And yet, someone must be looking after the graves:

Notice the Confederate flag. There were four or five of them dotted about this little cemetery.

I don't know how much cotton - or tobacco, for that matter - is still grown in Georgia, or even in the US as a whole. When I was elementary-school age, my parents would take us to Nags Head, NC, each summer for a week or two. The drive from Maryland would seem to take forever, especially once we hit southern Virginia / North Carolina, as we would pass through endless tobacco fields, with an occasional cotton field thrown in.

Since we always went for our summer holiday during Labor Day, we were at the harvest end of the growing season. Thus, while I've seen mature cotton and tobacco, I don't know what the young plants look like, nor how the fields are prepared, so we might well have passed them unknowing. But we drove past quite a few of these, and I'm pretty sure I figured out what they are:

If I'm wrong, you Southern Belles set me straight, but I'd just about bet money that's a pecan grove! The trees were big, much bigger than peach trees, and set out in neat, tidy rows, acres and acres of them. None of them were in bloom or showing any leaves yet, so I don't know what they'd be like, but I have a hunch we're talking pecans.

Yesterday I said that the second half of Sherman's march would take us through Millen, Sylvania, Ebenezer Creek, Port Wentworth, and Pooler. Of those, there was only one we picked as a don't-miss stop - Ebenezer Creek.

I don't remember Ken Burns's documentary covering the tragedy that happened here, though it might well have. Not until I saw a program that focused entirely on "The Savannah Campaign," as it was called, did I hear of Ebenezer Creek. Both Himself and I were taken with the story.

As the Union troops made their way through the South, many of the newly-freed slaves began to follow them, knowing that if they stayed near their former masters they might well end up being put back into slavery.

In December 1864 one branch of the troops making their way south was within thirty miles or so of Savannah - the target - when they came to this broad creek:

The army engineers set up a pontoon bridge and while the troops crossed between 600 and 700 now-freed slaves who'd been following were held back, deliberately led to believe they would cross after the soldiers were done. As soon as the last troops were on the other side, however, Brigadier General Jefferson C Davis* ordered that the pontoons be cut loose, destroying the temporary bridge.

*The coincidence of name! The CSA president was Jefferson Finis Davis; this man was Jefferson Columbus Davis.

Not far behind the Yankees was a regiment of Confederate cavalry who had been in pursuit of the US troops. As these men approached the creek bank, the former slaves panicked, knowing they would either be killed outright or captured and re-enslaved.

Many, unable to swim, chose to dive into the creek to try to get across; the creek is not fast-flowing, but it is deep, and most of the non-swimmers drowned. For those who could swim, bear in mind the date was December 9, 1864, and while it may be warmer in the South than it is in the North, the almost-freezing water caused many of them to drown as well. I have yet to find information that any made it across and survived.

The Confederates attacked the freedmen still on the bank, with the number of dead and wounded unknown - the cavalrymen then went upstream to try to find another crossing point. Before long, as I understand it, they came back and rounded up any of the former slaves they could find, re-enslaving them.

Many in the North were horrified when they learned what had happened, and there were calls for Davis to be court-martialed. Publicly, General Sherman defended Davis's actions, stating that such things are inevitable results of war - today, the term "collateral damage" would probably be used.

Privately, however, Sherman and most of the other Union officials were appalled by what Davis had done. I wish there had been some sanctions taken against him, but not only was Davis never court-martialed, he went on to a relatively distinguished military career. However, he was never really promoted after the war, so perhaps that was the punishment (if you can call it that) he received.

There is a German cemetery not far from the site, and recently historians discovered there are "numerous African-American graves... located in the area south of the fenced cemetery." These graves have a perimeter marked by granite posts, but there are no individual markers; current supposition is that any original markers were probably wooden, and have long since disappeared. They are located to the lower right of this picture:

Are these graves - or at least some of them - the graves of some of the people who drowned? It would be nice to think that the German immigrants either allowed survivors to use part of their cemetery, or even perhaps gathered the bodies and gave them decent burials.

Regardless, both the cemetery and the Ebenezer Creek location are quiet, rural places with no houses or villages nearby, and very little traffic. I don't think more than one or two cars passed the afternoon we were there - I heard no sounds beyond birds and the occasional rustle of leaves in the gentle breeze. The words "at peace" are fitting.

Not to leave you on a sombre note - tomorrow, we go to Savannah.

Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!

Magnolia State Park, Early in the AM
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