"We had fought for the town and it was our plunder."
—Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails —
On Thursday, November 24, 1864, the 14th and 20th Corps of Union Major General William T. Sherman's army began entering Washington County. By November
26th the 28,000 soldiers of the two corps arrived in Sandersville, marching on separate roads that converged at the town's cemetery. General Sherman entered Sandersville early in the day riding with the 20th Corps.
The first units to arrive were the 17th New York and 16th Illinois infantry regiments. These Federals and others skirmished for 30 minutes with elements of Confederate Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry. The Southern troopers fired from within the courthouse, from street corners and behind houses but quickly retreated. For the 600 inhabitants of Sandersville, mostly women and children, it was a terrifying spectacle. There were few casualties on either side.
Captain James Ladd of the 13th Ohio Infantry recorded in his diary "Sandersville...contains 2 churches, several fine stores, large hotel buildings and several fine residences. The boys were allowed to do just as they pleased. We had fought for the town and it was our plunder."
Sandersville resident Ella Mitchell and her family were at breakfast when they heard a clattering of horses' hooves. "In a few minutes our house was filled with the surging mass [of Federal soldiers]. In a little
while there was not a piece of china, silver, or even the tablecloth left and the food disappeared in a second."
I. W. Avery wrote, "...a piano was butchered to fragments, books and pictures destroyed, and for days the female inmates of the house lived upon corn gathered from where horses of the Federal troopers had been fed." And Mrs. S. B. Jones reported, "locks were broken and our houses were filled with Yankee soldiers who ripped our beds open, cut our carpets, and carried off everything that they could lay their hands on, not leaving even a dust of flour or a pound of meat."
Yet some Northern officers paid for meals and lodging. Union Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis, commanding the 14th Corps, upon hearing the cries of Mrs. Jones' baby sent her a "silver waiter full of nice things to eat."
After using a nearby residence (the Brown House) as his overnight headquarters, General Sherman left Sandersville on November 27th riding south toward Tennille. Before leaving he ordered the burning of the Greek Revival style Washington County Courthouse in retribution for its use by General Wheeler's Confederate cavalry the previous day. County Ordinary, Haywood Brookins, had earlier ordered the courthouse records brought to him then hid them between his bed's mattresses. The courthouse's reconstruction was completed in 1869 on the same foundation. It was remodeled in 1900.
On Saturday, May 6, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his party passed through Washington County. They stopped briefly for Postmaster General John Reagan who was also acting Secretary of the Treasury, and Captain M. H. Clark, acting treasurer, to conduct the last official transaction of the Confederate treasury. The group then continued south toward Tennille and Ball's Ferry.
Top left: Washington County Courthouse prior to its accidental burning in 1855. Rebuilt then burned by Federal troops on Sunday, November 27, 1864.
(Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia collection)
Bottom left: Federals skirmishing with Confederate cavalry in Sandersville's Courthouse Square
Map of right: Approximate routes of the March to the Sea (November 1864) and Jefferson Davis (May 1865) through Washington County and surrounding region
(adapted from the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies)
Background watermark: Skirmishing in Sandersville's Courthouse Square