This is one of a series of articles recounting the history of the Civil War in Sandy Springs.
By Kimberly Brigance, Clarke Otten and Michael Hitt
The summer of 1864 brought changes to Sandy Springs that no one living at the time could have imagined.
For a time, during the first weeks of July, the fields and farms of Sandy Springs became the location of the second largest city in the South. Under Gen. William T. Sherman’s command, nearly 80,000 men, their equipment, supplies and support flooded into a community of only around 1,000 people. Only New Orleans could boast a larger population.
Once Sherman’s three armies were across the river, rested and re-supplied, the majority of them marched onwards towards Atlanta and Decatur on July 17 and 18, 1864. Gen. James McPherson’s army left Roswell and followed the newly graded bed for what would become the Roswell railroad after the war. It headed towards Decatur to cut the railroad line between Atlanta and Richmond, Va., the capitol of the Confederacy.
Gen. Kenner Garrard, after crossing at McAfee’s bridge, headed for the train lines between Decatur and Stone Mountain, to choke Atlanta by cutting the supply lines.
Gen. John M. Schofield’s troops marched from the crossroads the area now known as Heards Ferry and Holy Innocents Episcopal School through Sandy Springs, headed for old Cross Keys (now the intersection of Johnson’s Ferry and Ashford-Dunwoody Roads).
Some of Schofield’s troops went south from Mount Vernon Highway along Long Island Drive to Mount Paran Road, where they camped for the night near Burdett’s farm. They then headed east to rejoin Schofield’s other troops, who had gone eastwards on Mount Vernon Hwy. past the Sandy Springs Methodist Church and Campgrounds and through the very heart of Sandy Springs. At the intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Johnson’s Ferry Road, they turned south.
The 4th Corp, led by Gen. Oliver O. Howard, left Crossroads and headed south on Power’s Ferry Road, across Long Island Creek, closely passing Nellie Jett’s home, and on towards Buckhead. They also passed the home of William Sentell, another settler of Sandy Springs. Confederate soldiers unsuccessfully tried to stem the advance at Seaborn, now the intersection of Mount Paran Road and Power’s Ferry Road.
While the majority of the troops headed for Atlanta, Sherman left units behind to protect the river crossings and guard his rear. The troops left behind occupying Sandy Springs become marauders who would terrorize the few remaining citizens until many of them were forced to flee.
Swept up in the terror and confusion of enemy occupation, the families of Sandy Springs tried to endure the best they could. As the siege of Atlanta wore on, Nellie Jett wrote to her husband who was serving in the Confederate Army:
My Dear Husband
…I have wrote and wrote until I haven’t anything else to write unless I could get a letter from you. I will have to send part of the family off. Fanny starts next Monday for Gwinnett. They want me to send the children. I will send Charity and Steve. I can’t stay here among the yanks by myself. I intend to live if I can. The people is moving off. The yank went up to Gwinnett foraging. The rebs keep cutting off their supply. Soon they will go back. I hope they will go. You don’t know how glad I would be to get a letter from you. You surely have forgot us. If you knew how I want to see you, you would come to see me. I have just heard the yank have took Barnesville. Write, please write.
… I received your two letters. They are the first since the 12th of June. I haven’t much to write only it is hard times here. For something to eat we have to go to Gwinnett for corn. Meat is so high I can’t buy it, I haven’t the money. I am afraid we won’t get bread. I have never known hard times before. I am going to sell the mule. I can’t feed him. I would sell him for corn. I want you to come home if you can. If you come home I will tell you a heap. I can’t write.
The exodus of the majority of the Federal Army brought no relief to those remaining in Sandy Springs. Hunger, death and desperation became part of every family.
Few first-hand accounts remain to piece together how families were able to imagine a future in the midst of such destruction, but from Census records, wills and other documents the stories of brave, resourceful and sometimes scandalous individuals and how they rebuilt their community is starting to emerge.
Kimberly Brigance is the curator of the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, 6075 Sandy Springs Circle. This article is based, in part, on materials from the museum’s collection. To contact Brigance, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarke Otten, a resident of Sandy Springs since 1953, is writing a book on the history of the community.
Michael Hitt serves as historian for the Roswell Preservation Commission and has published several local history books and articles.