Augustus Longstreet Hull, one of Athens, Georgia’s most respected citizens, chronicled much of Athens and Clarke County history in his well-known book, Annals of Athens. His testimony of the Civil War years in the area is very valuable, because he himself witnessed these years and Reconstruction that followed.
Trying to delineate the anger, grief and wracking Civil War changes in the lives of the residents of Athens and Clarke County is a difficult task. Almost every family had a member who fought, died, or was wounded in many of the most horrific battles fought between the North and the South. Few men were left at home who did not see military service from 1861 to 1865.
A compilation of the deaths of Clarke County troops shows they suffered heavy casualties fighting in many of the major battles fought. Lists of those killed in action in some major battles are as follows: Seven Days Battles, June 25-July 1, 1862, 23; Crampton’s Gap, September 14, 1862, 10; Sharpsburg, Sept. 17, 1862, 9; Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, 5; Chancellorsville, May 2-3, 1863, 12; Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, 3; Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, 18; Knoxville, November 29, 1863, 3; The Wilderness, May 4-21, 1864, 14; and Siege of Petersburg and The Crater, June, 1864-April, 1865, 20. This list is in Kenneth Coleman’s Confederate Athens.
Athens and its county suffered no damage by military action, although there were a few close calls, as Union units operated near the town. Sherman’s march of devastation from Atlanta to Savannah and into the Carolinas missed Athens. But the loss of life in military action, the wounding of many others and the death by disease or imprisonment in Northern prisons left the majority of Athens and Clarke County families shattered. On the home front, deprivation of supplies of food, goods and services took a severe toll on the population. And many well-off families sank into poverty. Not only did most of the county’s men serve in Confederate units, but their families made great sacrifices to supply the fighting forces with supplies, clothing, and food.
Many books could be written solely about the war and its effects just on Athens and Clarke County, but this blog will deal with some questions commonly asked by those seeking to know the cost to those serving in various Athens area Confederate units—the numbers killed in battle or by disease, or wounded.
Augustus Hull wrote in his Annals that listing the names of those killed or wounded might seem “not interesting” to some of his readers. But, as to most residents, it was a personalized war in which they knew well their fathers, sons, and brothers who sacrificed in a heart-felt cause, he said.
“Many of those men I knew and the mention of their names bring up memories of other days which throw a halo about them. I recall how they looked as they marched, new uniformed, with alert step, full of life and vigor, and how they stopped to speak the good-bye word; how, afterwards, they toiled on the forced march tattered, half-shod, half starved; how they went bravely into battle and how some came out bloody and faint, and some lay dead,” Hull wrote.
The casualty totals make it achingly clear to us even 150 years later the catastrophic losses of the Civil War. These numbers aren’t precise for the totals, but estimates are accurate enough to show the magnitude of battle. It’s estimated that somewhat more than one million men fought for the Confederacy. Of these, about 94,000 died from wounds, while disease killed off an estimated 164,000 more. Those wounded came to approximately 100,000. The Union put more than 1.5 million men into battle. Of this number about 110,000 were mortally wounded; almost a quarter of a million died from disease, and more than 275,000 received non-fatal wounds. These figures come from the respected site at the University of Houston, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/us20.dfm.
We can be somewhat more precise when we look at the fearsome cost involving troops from a specific area such as Athens and Clarke County, Georgia. Thorough rosters have been compiled of the units from this area seeing Civil War service. Military records, accounts in local newspapers and personal knowledge of the families have been used to keep track of the casualties from here. One of the most thorough casualty tabulations has been done by Joseph H. Kitchens, Jr., preparing the listing for Prof. Kenneth Coleman in his readable Confederate Athens, re-issued in a 2009 paperback edition by the University of Georgia Press.
A total of 1,649 men were on the rosters of military units from Athens and Clarke County. Of these, 197, or 11.9 per cent, were killed in battle. Disease was even more deadly than battle, killing 214 or 13.0 per cent. Of the men serving from Athens and Clarke County 364 were wounded, or 22.1 per cent. All told, approximately 46 per cent, or nearly half of those listed on the rosters were killed in battle, killed by disease or wounded.
The table below, based on Kitchens’ work, shows the figures for those from Athens area units killed in battle, dying from disease or wounded. It doesn’t include 10 men who were termed “missing.” He based his work on Athens newspapers, The Watchman and The Banner 1861-65 issues, and rosters in a manuscript, “Roster of Companies Furnished by Clarke County Georgia, to the Confederate Army in the War Between the States, 1861-1865,” compiled by Albert L. Mitchell by authority of Clarke County Commissioners T. P. Vincent, W. H. Morton and S. M. Herrington, in 1903. A similar list is used by Hull in his Annals.
Military Unit Total Killed in Battle Dying from Disease Wounded
Athens Guards (143) 30 30 63
Troup Artillery (287) 15 34 59
Clarke Rifles (150) 28 35 77
Johnson Guards (145) 27 19 69
Cobb’s Legion Cav. (316) 30 30 28
Mell Rifles (136) 31 25 42
Highland Guards* (136) 15 9 23
Other Units **(75) 20 9 28
Factory Guards*** (110) 1 4 3
Lumpkin Artillery*** (151) 0 0 0
Grand Totals 1649 197 214 364
* The Highland Guards had troops from Athens, Northeast Georgia and Western North Carolina. Casualties may have been heavier, but were not all reported in local Athens newspapers.
** Athens area men serving in Confederate units other than those from the immediate area.
*** The Factory Guards and Lumpkin Artillery were “home guard” units and did not participate in any major fighting.
Although it’s difficult to believe, Athens area residents apparently only learned of the April 9 surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 26, 1865. Issues of The Watchman and The Banner for that date carried details of Lee’s surrender and of the assassination of President Lincoln. If residents knew earlier, there is no public record of it that we can find.
Union troops from the 13th Tennessee Regiment raided the town on May 3. Brigadier General William J. Palmer and his troops stopped the raiding and stayed in Athens for several days in May as they hunted for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. The official occupation of Athens by a small number of Union troops began on May 29—the 22nd Iowa Volunteers under the command of Capt. A. B. Cree.
Kenneth Coleman puts it quite bluntly in his book: “Henceforth Confederate Athens existed only in the memories of her people.”