Women in Chattooga and Elsewhere During the War Between the States

A capacity crowd gathered in the freight room of Summerville’s 1918 Depot on Sunday afternoon, April 12th, for the regular spring meeting of the Chattooga County Historical Society. The organization’s president, Gene McGinnis, presented an important milestone for the group. After many months of work, the Historical Society is launching a new website focused on Chattooga history. McGinnis reiterated the organization’s thanks to the Tillotson-Menlo Charitable Foundation trustees, who provided a generous grant that helped to fund the website launch.

McGinnis stated, “This is a perpetual work-in-progress. It will never be complete. We want to keep making it better—and we appreciate the contribution of your photos and records for the site.” McGinnis went on to elaborate on the site, which features online membership and publications purchase, brief histories of communities within the county, news stories about group activities, helpful links and a growing photo archive.

“We need your pictures! Our photographic archive is a complement to the work that Greg McCollum has already done with his Chattooga Photo History site. You can reach us by going to chattoogahistory.org.”

Robert Jones, Featured Speaker

The guest speaker was Robert C. Jones, a regional Civil War history enthusiast who is president of the Kennesaw Historical Society and has been instrumental in the founding of the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Jones has written numerous books on the various wars in which the United States has been involved since and including the American Revolution. His topic for Sunday’s presentation was the “Top Twenty Most Influential Women” of the Civil War period.

Jones presentation highlighted ten women of the Confederacy and ten of the Union. Among the memorable Confederates, he talked about the flirtatious spy Belle Boyd, who is said to have shot a Union soldier for cursing at her mother. He also talked briefly about Mary Surratt, the only woman hanged for a role in the Lincoln assassination plot. Historians today still debate whether Mrs. Surratt was directly involved. Another memorable female spy was Rose O’Neal Greenhow, who was able to extract very useful information by hosting dinner parties for U.S. government leaders. She would then pass the information to her Confederate contacts. Rose, in 1864, was an unfortunate passenger on the capsized Condor, a blockade runner returning from Europe. Rose is said to have sunk immediately because of all the gold—intended for the Confederate treasury—that was sewn into her petticoats.

Among the Union ladies discussed was the groundbreaking nursing leader Clara Barton, who would later found the American Red Cross. He talked about Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Lincoln, upon meeting Mrs. Stowe, was said to have said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
He also talked about the dynamic Harriet Tubman. Born a slave, by the 1850s she was one of the most active participants in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves reach freedom in the north. Completely devoted to the Union cause, Harriet was used as a spy and even engaged in active combat on occasion.

Local Women Highlighted

Jones went on to site four of the many examples of extraordinary women who lived in Chattooga County during this great conflict. He talked first about Martha Dickson McConnell who, along with her daughter and daughter-in-law, was hauled away from her home north of Teloga (today the home of Dr. and Mrs. Max Baldwin) to spend the remainder of the War in a Yankee prison in Nashville, simply because of their outspoken support of the Confederacy. Just down the Broomtown Road from the McConnell place was the home of Mary Roberts Atkinson. Mary was the octogenarian widow of Rev. Irvin Atkinson, considered the father of Methodism in Chattooga County. Her sympathies lay with the Union but her farm was ravaged repeatedly by foraging parties from both armies.

He talked also about Naomi Shropshire Bale, daughter of Wesley Shropshire. Wesley was one of Chattooga’s two representatives to the 1861 Secession Convention in Milledgeville. Both voted against secession. Naomi kept a Chattooga County wartime diary that makes for riveting reading. Among other exploits, she recounted saving her father from hanging. After marrying, she moved to Rome where she was a frequent and respected correspondent for the Rome paper. The final Chattooga woman discussed was Elizabeth Parker Harlow. Like many women during this time, Jane’s family was hit particularly hard by the War. All six of her sons fought for the Confederacy in the War Between the States. Four of them lost their lives, any mother’s nightmare.

The Bell and the Trail of Tears

McGinnis announced that the Historical Society has been given, for safekeeping and eventual exhibit, the bell that was a part of the Summerville Presbyterian Church since 1858, when the congregation built a new frame church. Subsequently the bell has hung in two brick churches, one built in 1889 as well as the lovely 1924 structure on West Washington now occupied by the SonRise Community Church. A wonderful 1890s picture of the second building shows part of the belfry where the bell was then hung.

News from Bill Barker, local contact for the Georgia Trail of Tears Association, indicated wayside exhibits are in production. These detailed exhibits will be placed at or near the sites of the Indian villages of Chattooga (Chattoogaville), Island Town (Trion) and Dirt Town. Details will follow on dates for placement and dedication.