Colonel Spencer's Kindness
—Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails —
In 1864, Sylvan Grove Plantation was located just outside Jackson. Its owner, Asa Buttrill, built an impressive 14-room plantation house in the 1830s for his bride, Lucy Manley. The house stood slightly south of the large stone covering a wellspring that supplied water to the estate.
On Wednesday, November 16th, as more than 11,000 Federal soldiers of the 17th Corps in the Right Wing" of Major General William T. Sherman's army approached, Asa Buttrill filled two wagons with food and valuables and fled south for Macon. Lucy Buttrill remained at home in her room. Early the next morning Asa and Lucy's 22-year-old daughter Mary, her aunt Emma Manley, and two slave maids named Martha and Mandy, also left Sylvan Grove for Macon in a loaded phaeton-style carriage. Their driver, Ben Drake, was a crippled Confederate soldier. Along they their way Asa's overtook overloaded wagons and had a chance meeting with two Confederate scouts one of whom was Taylor Buttrill, Mary's 17-year-old brother. Suddenly, Federal cavalry appeared. The men of the Buttrill party fled with the phaeton, abandoning the women (Asa Buttrill was later captured, and subsequently released, although his wagons were plundered). One of the Federal soldiers asked Mary, "Madam, where are those damned rebels that were here with you?"
After a brief conversation Mary inquired, "Is there a gentleman in this vast crowd who would take us to an officer where I could ask for protection for my Aunt, the two maids and myself?
The women were led to a two-room cabin and soon to the attention of Colonel George E. Spencer of the Federal 1st Alabama Cavalry. Spencer's
regiment was scouting for the 17th Corps. He provided the women with clothing and food, and stayed three hours while the 17th Corps passed, marching toward the Ocmulgee River at Seven Islands. The women were eventually taken home in an ox cart. Spencer was smitten with Emma Manley. After the war he sent her letters with gifts of books and flowers,
but she rejected his efforts.
By the afternoon of November 17th, Union Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr. and his staff briefly occupied Sylvan Grove. Blair commanded the 17th Corps, one-half of the "Right Wing" in General Sherman's army. Federal stragglers looted the estate. Following their devastation there was little to eat at Sylvan Grove except scraps of potatoes and a little corn. The only furnishings remaining in the house were in Lucy Buttrill's room plus three chairs and a sofa in a parlor used by General Blair. Most furniture and clothes had been thrown out windows and Mary Buttrill's life work of art was completely ruined, including paintings, oils, watercolors and India ink. Sylvan Groves barns, stables, cribs and fences, cotton and gin house were all burned, while all cows, chickens, horses and mules were killed or stolen. Two weeks later an uncle from an unaffected area west of Atlanta arrived at Sylvan Grove with provisions. The Sylvan Grove Plantation house survived the war but no longer exists.
Top left: Sylvan Grove Plantation
Bottom left: Union Colonel George E. Spencer
Middle top: A phaeton-style carriage
Middle bottom: Stone covering a wellspring that supplied water to Sylvan Grove Plantation
Top right: Union Major General Francis
P. Blair Jr.
Bottom right: The "March to the Sea" through Butts County
(Lloyd's Topographical Map of Georgia, 1864)