Monday, May 4, 2015

Yankee band plays 'Dixie' for Athens damsels

ATHENS, Ga.
This arch was the gateway to the
University of Georgia when Yankee

cavalry camped on campus 150 years
 ago. Nowadays, only graduates are

privileged to walk through the arch.
     Weren't we just at war?
     You could hardly tell it May 4, 1865, in Athens. Trains were once again running between Atlanta and Augusta, with Yankees and Confederates riding peaceably together. 
     Confederate Gen. Alexander Reynolds invited Union Col. Brazilliah Stacy and his staff to have lunch at his home in Athens. 
     The only place lead was flying was in the composing room of The Southern Watchman newspaper, where the Yankees published an "extra" to proclaim their conquests and warn the Athenians against fighting. "In the four small pages of that unique journal," Ohio Capt. Frank Mason wrote, "there was given a concise account of the surrender of General Lee, the assassination of President Lincoln, the destruction of Salisbury, and other important recent events, and the editorial page bristled with original verses, and a stately appeal to the Athenians to accept the result of the war, and renew their allegiance to the Union of their fathers."     Our war correspondent, Capt. Henry Weand, felt refreshed by a full night's sleep and enjoyed the morning ride from Danielsville into Athens. He wrote in his journal:
     This is another beautiful town; the fine weather, roses in full bloom, and the air filled with their fragrance make a happy resting place. In this place 500 rebels were encamped, but not a shot was fired at us, which seemed strange. Plenty of rebel Generals were here, and all mingled with us with the greatest freedom.
     There is nothing exultant about our men. The people treat us kindly and appreciate the treatment we accord to them.
     In this town, yesterday Confederate money had some value, but today it has none. In the town barber shop, which was well-patronized, a Confederate officer offered a twenty-dollar Confederate bill for a shave, and the barber refused it, on which the officer twisted the note into shape, lit his pipe with it, and stalked out of the shop.
     Mason's book explains another reason why the troops enjoyed their sojourn in Athens. 
     The local institution which most interested the invaders was the Young Ladies Seminary, where bevies of attractive-looking pupils in white dresses and palmetto hats were seen walking in the grounds during the afternoon under the watchful guard of their teachers, and venturing occasional glances at the dusty invaders outside the seminary fence. The band of the Twelfth Ohio*, dusty and battered from its long and tuneless wanderings, was stirred out and posted in front of the school, where it played a various programme, in which national airs were interspersed with "Dixie" and "My Maryland.” At the first note, the young ladies were hurried into the building by their indignant teachers, but they retired to their rooms and showed their appreciation of the serenade by furtively waving handkerchiefs from their windows. Theoretically, they were loyal to the Confederacy, as all Southern women were; practically, they were tired of the war and glad it was over.
     Stoneman's raiders camped May 4 in what is now the North Campus quadrangle of the University of Georgia. Union Gen. William Palmer was a forgiving sort, and his troops were not in a burning mood, which is why the Georgia campus still has antebellum buildings such as Old College and Waddel Hall
     A month earlier, the University of Alabama was not so fortunate. A Union raid under the command of Gen. James Wilson torched the Tuscaloosa campus April 4, 1865. Yankees ignored pleas to spare the Rotunda and its library. Care to guess what one book was rescued from the library? Insert your Alabama joke here, or click here for the amazing truth. It was an 1853 English translation of the Quran.
     One hundred and fifty years ago today, Wilson and Palmer established communications between Macon and Athens and began to coordinate their efforts to capture Jefferson Davis, the elusive  Confederate president. "Between the two of us," Capt. Weand wrote, "we expect to bag Jeff Davis."
     Meanwhile, Davis was in Washington, Ga., just 40 miles from Palmer, where he held one final meeting with a few of his cabinet members before they all scattered in their efforts to escape. Two of members of the Confederate cabinet eventually did make it to Cuba. Tomorrow, we'll have the story of how Davis got awayat least temporarily.
* The band of the 12th Ohio included an 18-year-old bugler named William Allen Magee, who lived to 106 and was one of the last three living veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic before his death in 1953. 


Davis disbanded what little was left of the Confederate government May 4 in Washington, Ga.

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