Union and Confederate “soldiers” fight each other in this undated photo from a Battlel of Jonesborough re-enactment. (File photo)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This weekend is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Jonesborough. The sources for this article are taken from a special section produced by the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus. The complete package of articles, photographs, illustrations and columns can be found online HERE.
JONESBORO — It’s rare that events unfolding in the Southern Crescent have an impact on an entire nation, but it did happen in August and September 1864.
The Battle of Jonesborough — as the town’s name was spelled at the time — is not as well remembered as other Civil War battles, such as Gettysburg or Antietam. However, its outcome did help to shape what would happen to Clayton, Henry and Butts counties in the months to come afterwards.
Its influence even had an indirect influence on the presidential race that year.
“Abraham Lincoln was not going to get re-elected — he had already cleaned out his desk,” said local historian Peter Bonner, owner of Historical and Hysterical Tours. “And so Jonesborough’s capture allows Atlanta to fall.
“Atlanta’s fall causes the people up north to say ‘You know, Abraham Lincoln may be doing the right thing so let’s stay with him.’”
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the battle, which signaled the end of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. The fighting took place Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, first in the area between the town and the Flint River and, eventually, in Jonesborough’s streets.
Atlanta in the 19th century was considered the railroad hub of the South, with a wealth and production scarcely touched by the Civil War. But that changed Sherman led his legion of Union soldiers through the Deep South.
He wrote about its brutality in a letter to the city.
“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will,” Sherman said. “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.”
In September 1864, Sherman brought Atlanta to its knees. Having evidence of the effects of psychological warfare in taking Atlanta, Sherman endeavored to “March to the Sea,” Nov. 15 - Dec. 21, with this proven means to an end. He sent troops to Macon and Augusta, but they bypassed those cities and headed to Milledgeville, which was the state Capital, and Savannah.
On Aug. 18-19, 1864, Union Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick led a cavalry raid in Jonesborough, aimed at destroying the last rail line leading into Atlanta. Rails were dug up and bent and Kilpatrick is also believed to have clashed with Confederate forces around Nash Farm in a separate raid. The rail lines were repaired and operational again by the following morning.
In late August, Sherman sent his forces en masse to Jonesborough to cut off the rail line. About 70,000 Union troops were sent, but Confederate Gen. John B. Hood, who got word that troops were moving towards Jonesborough, believed it was a small raiding party. He sent Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee and Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee with a combined 24,000 troops to defend the city.
On Aug. 31, Confederate forces begin firing upon Union troops camped out along the Flint River. Both sides traded fire in this area throughout the remainder of the day. That evening, the remaining Confederate forces pulled back into Jonesborough and begin digging in along the eastern and northern sides of town. Sherman arrived in Jonesborough in late evening.
On Sept. 1, Lee and about half of the Confederate forces at Jonesborough were recalled to Atlanta by Hood, who was unaware of the previous day’s fighting. Lee begins his trek about 2 a.m., leaves about 12,000 Confederate troops to defend Jonesborough.
Shelling and picket fire began before sunrise. By afternoon, Union forces break through the Confederate lines at The Warren House. Troops from both sides resort to hand-to-hand combat in the house’s front yard. About 600 Confederate troops and their commander, Brig. Gen. Daniel Govan, were captured.
Hardee and his forces retreated to Lovejoy Station after nightfall. With Jonesborough in ruins — and in Union hands — Hood evacuated Atlanta. Lee begins a counter-march southward. He and Hood eventually meet up with Hardee at Lovejoy Station.
On Sept. 2-6, the Battle of Lovejoy Station takes place around the Crawford Plantation, which is a few hundred yards north of the Clayton-Henry County border. The Crawford Plantation house is now known as the Crawford-Talmadge House. Hood stayed at the house after he evacuated Atlanta.
In early November, Sherman begins his March to the Sea. Forces under the commands of Kilpatrick and Maj. Gen. Oliver Howard begin by moving through Clayton and Henry counties. Howard moves through Morrow Station and fights skirmishes around Stockbridge. Kilpatrick moves along the Flint River and fights skirmishes around Lovejoy Station and Bear Creek Station (present-day Hampton) before turning toward McDonough, where he meets up with Howard at Walnut Creek.