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Election Consequences: April 6, 1865, Sailor’s Creek, Virginia

144 years ago today, the last real battle of the Civil War on the Virginia front was fought.  Lee’s desertion and privation racked Army of Northern Virginia had abandoned its massive works around Richmond and Petersburg and was attempting to make its way southward to join with Johnson’s Army of Tennessee and continue The War.  That forlorn hope ended three days later when Grant’s troops cut Lee off from supplies and ran the mortal remains of the Army of Northern Virginia to ground near Appomattox Courthouse.

Sailor’s Creek is important to me because that was the day that my last remaining ancestor whose record I’ve been able to find left the Army of Northern Virginia.  His name was Wiley and he was one of the younger members of the clan from my mother’s side of the family that served in Company F, 48th Regiment of Georgia Volunteer Infantry. 

Georgia Governor Joe Brown at times seemed more at war with Jefferson Davis than with Abraham Lincoln.  Brown vehemently opposed the Provisional Government of the Confederate State’s Conscription Law which became effective in April of 1862.  Rather than have Georgians be subjected to a draft, Brown instituted a state draft to meet the CSA’s troop requirements.  All men of military age were as a matter of law members of the Georgia Militia.  Brown ordered the militia to muster at each county seat and men would be “invited to volunteer” for Confederate service and if sufficient men did not “volunteer” they would “then and there be subject to a draft.” (Georgia Adjutant General’s General Order 1)

On 4 March 1862, ten members of the clan “volunteered” to join what became Company F.  They organized at Camp Davis near Savannah and then moved by train to Grahamsville, South Carolina, near Charleston.  The only three pictures of men in the 48th Georgia known to exist date from this seemingly happy time at Grahamsville.  The 48th Georgia then travelled by rail to Richmond just in time for the Seven Days Battle under Gen. Huger.  In Lee’s reorganization after his assumption of command of what became the Army of Northern Virginia, the 3rd, 22nd, and 48th Regiments and the 2nd Battalion became Bg. Gen. Ambrose Wright’s Brigade of Gen. Anderson’s Division, of Gen. Longstreet’s Wing of Gen. Lee’s Army, which is the way the unit would have been described at the time, few men would have even known the military division and corps designations.  Wright’s Brigade was in every battle of the Army of Northern Virginia from The Seven Days until the end.  The 48th was the largest single unit under command at Appomattox, though it was commanded by a Captain.

By Sailer’s Creek less than 30% of Lee’s Army were still in the ranks.  The 48th Georgia like the units around it was a mere shadow of its former self and Wright’s Brigade had passed to Gen. Girardey, Wright’s Adjutant, who was KIA almost immediately on the Petersburg works.  Then it came under Gen. Moxley Sorrel who had been Gen. Longstreets aide until Sorrel was himself badly wounded.  At the end the Georgians were commanded by and Alabamian, Col. Tayloe, who’s government didn’t last long enough to make him a Brigadier.

More personally, Wiley was the last of the ten kinsmen still serving and one of only three still living.  The other two were my g/grandfather Amos who was wounded on the Second Day at Gettysburg but who returned to the ranks and served through the Overland Campaign.  He last shows on muster in December of 1864 and it is clear that the pleas of the homefolk who had been directly in Sherman’s path had induced him to just go home.  Officers generally gave men from the counties in Sherman’s path the benefit of the doubt as to their ability to return to service so they weren’t usually counted as deserters unless they took the oath to the Yankees.  The other survivor was Amos’ brother, James, who had been wounded and captured at Manassas Gap on the retreat from Gettysburg and spent some time as a guest of the Yankees at Pt. Lookout before being paroled and exchanged.  Parolees technically were not allowed to return to the ranks and James did not, though many did.  All the rest were dead of disease or wounds somewhere in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania.  None are in a marked grave.  Wiley had been wounded in the Seven Days and thereafter can be found near battles but not precisely in them.  It is fair to say that he managed to become something of a bombproof but he stayed in the ranks and he stayed alive.

Sailor’s Creek was a disaster for Lee’s exhausted and hungry Army.  Significant units threw down their arms and ran, Ten general officers were captured as was Gen. Lee’s son.  Somewhere in the chaos, bloodshed, and privation Wiley decided not to “study war no more.”  He surrendered to the Yankees and took the oath.  Thus, the longest serving of the ten goes down as the only deserter of the clan.

The clan lived together in a small community that took their name, mostly on land acquired in the Creek Cession land lottery in 1795.  They were prosperous as that word was applied to smallholders in The South and had been independent and secure freeholders for almost seventy years.  At the end of the war all but three of the men of military and thus productive age were dead.  Wiley drops off the County census after 1870 and I don’t know what became of him.  The families lost the places in the aftermath of The War and by the  ’80s both Amos and James were tenant farmers to the man who came to own their old places and most of the rest of the area.  He had served in a cavalry unit that never left Georgia and never heard a shot fired in anger.  Interestingly, his is the largest and most conspicuous monument in the old cemetery where the epitaph on his monument waxes eloquent about his gallant service to the Confederacy.  No male member of either Amos or James’ families ever owned the place they lived in again until the 1960s.  Elections do have consequences.

(Somebody’s post yesterday about starting a “Red” country got me thinking about this stuff.  This is an illustration of the cost of that sort of thinking.)

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