Friday, July 19, 2013

Arson and Treason in Milledgeville

Webster's Dictionary of 1828 defined a traitor as one who "betrays his allegiance to his country" and "who aids an enemy in conquering his country." Lt. Snelling (below) could not live among his own people in the postwar period, and his Northern friends would treat him as a suspicious and easily-bought alien if he lived among them.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Arson and Treason at Milledgeville 

"Sunday, November 20, 1864 was a day of unprecedented excitement in the capital of Georgia. Members of the legislature had already departed in haste for their homes. The governor and Statehouse officers were in flight, and many citizens of the town were following the example set by them.  In the afternoon distant cannon fire was heard in the direction of Macon, some thirty miles away.

Just before sunset a small group of blue-coated cavalrymen were seen lingering on the outskirts of the town . . . They cut telegraph wires, seized a few horses, and then made a hurried exit.  They were the first of more than thirty thousand enemy soldiers who were to enter Milledgeville within the next four days.

With flags unfurled, the band at the head of the column playing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and other martial airs . . . [the enemy army occupied the town and Sherman] learned that he was occupying a plantation belonging to General Howell Cobb and forthwith issued orders for its complete destruction.

On the same evening he ordered a special guard to protect the property of Andrew J. Banks whose farmhouse stood a short distance away. Banks, a North Carolinian by birth, was known to be of strong Unionist sentiment.

It is doubtful if Sherman's intelligence channels had ever been more effective than on this particular occasion.  His knowledge of the country which he had entered, and of the varying sentiments of the inhabitants, he owed largely to David R. Snelling, the twenty-six year-old cavalry lieutenant who commanded his escort.  Snelling had been born a few miles from Cobb's plantation and, until the war began, had always lived in the community to which he was now returning as a conquering enemy.

He had left the county early in 1862 as a member of Captain Richard Bonner's company of the 57th Georgia Regiment.  Never an enthusiastic rebel, he deserted at Bridgeport, Alabama, in July.  Later he became a member of a Unionist regiment made up of defecting Southerners.  He was now a first lieutenant in the 1st Alabama (Union) Cavalry and assigned to Sherman's personal escort where his knowledge of the people and of the country through which they were marching made his services invaluable to the commanding general who kept him close by his side.

While [Sherman and Snelling] were seated around the [evening] fire, a Negro slave . . . recognized Snelling and greeted him as "Massa Dave."  According to [an observer], the slave fell on the floor, hugged the lieutenant around his knees, and expressed mixed feelings and astonishment and thankfulness at seeing his former master in the uniform of the invading army.  The slave who greeted him had belonged [to David Lester, Snelling's] uncle, in whose home the lieutenant had lived as an orphan since boyhood.

That evening Sherman granted . . . Snelling's request to ride six miles ahead to visit his relatives at the Lester plantation. In his memoirs, the general noted that Snelling returned that night on a fresh horse from his uncle's stable [and that the visit had been] social in nature. The David Lester plantation book, however, indicates that Snelling was accompanied on his visit by a squad of Federal cavalrymen and the group conducted a raid on the plantation, burned the ginhouse, and pillaged the premises. 

Whether Snelling's unusual conduct was an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Union army or the result of an old grudge he bore against his affluent uncle perhaps may never be determined."

(Sherman at Milledgeville in 1864, James C. Bonner, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXII, Number 3, August, 1956, pp. 273, 275-277)