Sherman Strikes Three Times
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
On Friday, July 22, 1864, while the Battle of Atlanta raged about 25 miles to the west, Union Brigadier General Kenner Garrard and about 3,500 cavalrymen were in Covington. They had been ordered by Major General William T. Sherman to disrupt the railroad between Atlanta and Augusta by destroying its bridges over the nearby Yellow and Alcovy Rivers. In Covington they burned the railroad depot many commercial buildings and warehouses full of cotton.
59-year-old Presley Jones, who lived on Washington Street, vowed to shoot the first Federal soldier he saw. Grabbing his squirrel rifle he ambushed two of Garrard's scouts, Privates John Williams of the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry and William Travellion of the 4th Michigan Cavalry. Jones mortally wounded one, took cover then quickly reloaded and shot the other. Jones himself was killed by other Federal scouts. Another Covington resident, George Daniel, a Confederate soldier home on sick leave, was found by Federal soldiers following the Jones incident and was executed as a reputed bushwhacker.
Covington was raided a second time on Thursday, July 28th by Union Major General George Stoneman's cavalry division. Mrs. S. E. D. "Grandma" Smith, a local nurse reported "Chickens, eggs, turkeys, ham, and in fact every available article they could possibly find to steal, they
had on their horses."
Stoneman's visit was not long as he pushed south with a goal of liberating Federal prisoners at Macon and Andersonville.
General Sherman arrived in what he later described as "the handsome town of Covington"
on Friday, November 18th during his army's march to the sea. He accompanied Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis's 14th Corps. Federal troops entered town via the Decatur road (now Old Atlanta Highway) with flags unfurled and bands playing. They proceeded east to Railroad Street (now Emory Street) and south to the Madison Highway (now Clark/Floyd Street) before reaching the courthouse then located on the square. Many slaves crowded around the troops in jubilation, calling them saviors. A Federal band that began playing on the square enticed local citizens out to listen to "Dixie." But all returned to their homes when the next tune was "Yankee Doodle."
Allie Travis, a resident of Floyd Street, reported, "The street in front of our house was a moving mass of blue coats...from 9 o'clock in the morning to a late hour at night. All during the day squads would leave the ranks, rush into the house and demand something to eat."
The soldiers did not remain in town, instead continued to march east on Floyd Street past many impressive homes before camping for the night on Judge John Harris's plantation about four miles from
town. Sherman traveled through Covington on a side street to avoid the crowds.