“I hope we will never have to shoot at such men again…”
Having grown up in the South and being obsessed with Civil War history as a kid, I have always known about Griswoldville. Not many folks have heard about the place, which doesn’t surprise me, it’s a memory on the map. The train tracks, which brought people here in the first place, are really all that’s left. There are a few houses, but it is nothing more than a normal rural area you find throughout the South. What makes Griswoldville different is what happened there. It is know as the Gettysburg of Georgia.
One hundred and forty nine years ago, a tragedy occurred in this sleepy hamlet, located ten miles east of Macon. At the time, General Sherman and his army of 60,000 Union troops, were marching through Georgia. The state was truly at the mercy of the Union forces. The only real deterrent to Sherman was General Joesph Wheeler’s cavalry, which numbered only 3,500 troops. The rest of the able bodied men of the state were fighting in Virginia or Tennessee.
On November 22, 1864, a rear guard stationed in Griswoldville was surprised to see a strong Confederate force marching into town. The Union forces consisted of six infantry regiments and a battery of artillery, around 1,500 soldiers. They had taken up a strong defensive position on a crest overlooking the Ducan Farm. Their flanks were anchored on each side by swamp and before them was a large open field. The Confederates, who numbered roughly 3,000 soldiers, immediately formed three compact lines of battle and advanced towards the Union position. Once in range, the Union soldiers opened up with a devastating volley of musket and canister fire. Many of the Union troops had newly issued Spencer repeating rifles, which were able to produce an astonishing rate of fire compared to the rifles of the time. The Confederate forces were able to advance to within 45 yards of the Union position. At this point they faltered and had to reform their lines. In the face of the heavy volleys, they would proceed to advance towards the Union position seven times. The Confederates retired from the field at dark, leaving the field littered with their dead and wounded.
The Union forces were ecstatic with their easy victory, until they advanced out into the field and learned that the Confederate forces had been composed of old men and boys under the age of 15. The Confederates had hastily gathered the militia, old men and boys being all that was available, and had placed them under the command of untrained officers. The field was littered with close to 600 casualties. The Confederates had lost 51 killed and 471 wounded. The Union forces had lost only 13 killed and 79 wounded.
After the battle, Union Colonel Charles Wills wrote in a letter home: “Old gray haired men and weakly looking men and little boys, not over 15 years old, lay dead or writhing in pain. I pity those boys. I was never more affected at the sight of dead and wounded before. I hope we will never have to shoot at such men again. They knew nothing at all about fighting and I think their Officers knew as little or else certainly knew nothing of our being there”.
Another Union soldier recorded after the battle, “There is no God in war. It is merciless, vindictive, un-Christian, savage, relentless. It is all that devils wish for”.
The battle is considered by many historians to be one of the most tragic mistakes of the war. It is amazing that these untrained men and boys, against such one sided odds, would charge seven times into such withering fire. It is brave and foolish at once and should never have happened.
Anna and I visited the site yesterday for the first time since I was a kid. It was overcast, misty, and windy. It is a beautiful spot, very peaceful. It’s hard to grasp the event that happened there. It’s hard to imagine something like that occurring practically in your backyard. It is now a 17 acre State Historical site. Not many people visit it. As I set up my 8×10, I was struck by the sense of remorse here…