A Tranquil Community Touched by War
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
In the early 1860s Rutledge was a community of about 200 citizens. It was named for a local family that had owned property through which the Georgia Railroad was built. Farms and plantations dotted the area around the railroad station and small village. For a brief period Rutledge was the railroad's terminal point before its completion in 1845, stretching from Augusta to Atlanta (then named Marthasville).
Federal Soldiers first visited Rutledge in the late afternoon of Monday, August 1, 1864. Several hundred cavalrymen, led by Colonel Horace Capron, were a remnant of Major General George Stoneman's Cavalry division. They feared capture after their defeat and harrowing escape the previous day at Sunshine Church north of Macon. Capron's troopers rode quickly through Rutledge without burning the town's railroad depot. Only a small number of the Federal horsemen eventually reached the safety of Major General William T. Sherman's army that was then besieging Atlanta.
More, than three months later, at noon on Friday, November 18th, during the "March to the Sea," the first of three infantry divisions in Union Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams 20th Corps marched into Rutledge. Brigadier General John W. Geary remembered that his division "passed through Rutledge Station...near which place we halted for dinner."
approximately 14,000 men in the 20th Corps, plus hundreds of wagons, horses, mules and cattle, stretched for miles when on the march. As General Geary's lead division entered Rutledge the division of Brigadier General Nathaniel J. Jackson was still a two-hour march west of Social Circle, more than ten miles behind. The 20th Corps was accompanied by Major General Henry W. Slocum, commander of the "Left Wing" in General Sherman's army.
Colonel John Flynn's 28th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in General Geary's division put the torch to much of Rutledge. They "destroyed the depot, water tank, and other railroad buildings, and tore up and burned the track."
The destruction included several warehouses containing bales of cotton.
Foraging on nearby farms and plantations yielded an abundant harvest. Just two companies in the 150th New York Infantry Regiment, about 100 men "procured 1,530 pounds of fresh pork, and 10 sheep, and 6 head of fat cattle—average weight dressed, 300 pounds a head, aggregate, 1,800 pounds—and 42 bushels of sweet potatoes, [plus] about 64 gallons of syrup,"
reported their commander, Major Alfred B. Smith. The principal 20th Corps loss of the day was a detachment of 44 men in the 107th New York Infantry Regiment. They strayed much further away from the main Federal marching column than the prescribed one-half mile
in search of whiskey and were ambushed by Confederate cavalry. Most were killed or captured.
The last Federal regiment to leave Rutledge before sunset on November 18th, was the 46th Pennsylvania Infantry commanded by Major Patrick Griffith. Continuing to march east on Hightower Trail the entire 20th Corps camped for the night just west of their next destination, Madison.
Left: Union Colonel Horace Capron
Sixty years old when the war ended, hew as the oldest cavalry officer in the Federal army.
Top middle: Federal March Routes,November 17 & 18, 1864
(adopted from the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies)
Middle bottom: Union Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams
Commander of the 20th Corps (after his promotion to Major General)
Middle right: "A Railroad Station...is Destroyed"
(Frank and Marie Wood Print Collection)
Top right: Union Major Alfred B. Smith 150th New York Infantry Regiment
Bottom right: National Colors - 46th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Union Major Patrick Griffith - 46th Pennsylvania
Background watermark: "Destruction of Railroad Track by Federal Troops" (Frank Leslie)