|Date(s):||December 16, 1864|
|Tag(s):||African-Americans, Slavery, War, Women|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
It was the morning of December 16, 1864 and the rumors were rampant. Sherman was in Savannah. And it was true. But it was not until the sixteenth of December that many of the residents of Liberty County, Georgia realized this first hand. Sent out on a foraging party, twelve to fifteen Union troops from General Kilpatrick's camp stumbled upon the plantation of Cornelia Jones Pond and her family as they scoured the surrounding countryside in search of any food or useful goods. At the Pond plantation the horses had been hidden in the woods once it was learned that Union forces were close by. But when the foraging party arrived, the family's slaves led the Union troops to the exact spot where the horses were located, sparing no loyalty to their master. The troops did not stop there. They raided the main house and the smokehouse and took everything of value, especially making sure not to leave any alcohol untouched. The damage done to the Pond family plantation, however, paled in comparison to what occurred in the rest of the county. The rail road bridge over the Altamaha River was burned later that same night by Union troops.
However, the incident went a long way towards changing some Southerners' perceptions of northern Union soldiers. After interacting with Union troops, Chloe, an African American slave cook owned by the Pond family, was quoted in Life on a Liberty County Plantation, saying, Why Miss Nela, I thought a Yankee was lak de debbul but de ones I cooked for was nice gentlemens as I ebber saw.
What happened in Liberty County in the face of Union soldiers was not a completely uncommon occurrence throughout the South during the latter part of the Civil War. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea was one of the most well documented and vicious campaigns towards common citizens that was catalogued over the course of the war. It took Sherman and his 60,000 men only 24 days to complete the march from Atlanta to Savannah, leaving in their wake a 50 mile wide swatch of destruction. Innocent citizens' crops were burned, their houses were looted and many of their livelihoods left destroyed.
While the border states of the Upper South had been dealing with battles and warring armies for close to three years, when Sherman arrived on the coastal plains of Georgia, it was the first time residents had any significant contact with Union troops. Until that point, the war had been something that was only accessible through letters from friends and family away fighting and newspaper articles. In December of 1864, the war became a complete reality for the citizens of coastal Georgia, not just for the white plantation owners, but also for their slaves.