This new marker honors Green and Nancy Pilgrim, mill workers at Roswell, GA, arrested by General William T. Sherman and forced to go to Kentucky and Indiana during the Civil War. Photo by Al Hester
In the springtime, thoughts of many Southerners turn toward the "Lost Cause" when the Confederacy lost the long and bitter armed conflict between the North and the South. Some know of the war as The War Between the States. Others term it the Civil War. Some Northerners term it The War of the Rebellion.
With Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox , VA, in April, 1865, most of the fighting ended. What followed was mainly a mop-up operation and a long military occupation of much of the South by the victorious Yankees.
Confederate Memorial Day still draws thousands in the South to commemorate the gallantry of a rag-tag, last-stand army, fighting bravely for an independent South. The day is celebrated at various times in the South, but typically includes visits to cemeteries where the Confederate dead lie by the thousands. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans lead in the ceremonies and rituals to keep their history of the war alive and vivid. Typically, the fighting qualities of Confederate officers and enlisted men are remembered.
But south of Watkinsville, Georgia, in the well-kept Huff Family Cemetery at 3071 Colham Ferry Road, the Laura Rutherford Chapter of the UDC and other patriotic groups on April 21 honored a civilian couple—Green A. and Nancy Ann Pilgrim. The Pilgrims were residents in what was then the southern part of Clarke County, not far from the Huff Cemetery. Later that part of Clarke County would become Oconee County. Green Pilgrim was born in South Carolina. He moved to Georgia and married Nancy in 1855 in nearby Greene County. Green was born in 1818 and Nancy in 1831. By 1858, the Greens had a baby girl and named her Mary E. Pilgrim. In 1859, a son was born, Isaac Bartow Pilgrim.
In just a few years, war would turn the lives of the Pilgrim family upside down. Green was about 43 years old when the Civil War started. During the war, the Confederacy could have conscripted him for military service. Green was on the muster roll of the 16th Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Georgia Militia. But he was exempted in 1862 from military service to work at the Roswell Mills in Roswell, GA. Nancy was also a mill worker. The mills on Vickery Creek were a big operation and made cloth for military uniforms, tents and other materials desperately needed by the Confederate troops. Basically, the Confederacy took over these mills at Roswell and mills at New Manchester, Georgia, about 15 miles west of Atlanta, and the ruins are in the Sweetwater Creek State Park.
On April 21, Confederate Memorial Day was celebrated at the Huff Cemetery, bringing together about a hundred persons. The highlight was the dedication of a large grave marker for Nancy and Green Pilgrim. On the front side is an account of what happened to them and their children in July, 1864, when they were among about 400-600 workers arrested for "treason" by Gen. William T. Sherman and forced to leave Roswell for the North for the duration of the Civil War. On the rear side of the Green's attractive grave stone are their names and dates of birth and death. Previously the only marker was a rugged field stone with Nancy's initials crudely carved on it. The Laura Rutherford Chapter of the UDC erected the tombstone. Most of the workers were women, sometimes accompanied by children. A few men also were employed because of rare skills, disabilities or old age which limited their use as soldiers.
Workers at the New Manchester Mills were similarly engaged in producing goods for the Confederate armies. All told, probably about 600 workers were mill hands at the Roswell and New Manchester establishments.
Led by General Sherman, the Union troops were on the verge of capturing Atlanta. He sent Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard and his cavalry on a flanking movement , and Kenner burst into undefended Roswell on July 5, 1864. Mill hands had been instructed to work until the last possible moment to turn out military necessities. General Garrard saw the strategic value of the Roswell Mills. After removing workers, he burned the entire operation, with General Sherman's approval. The New Manchester mills were likewise destroyed.
General Sherman took a highly unusual step, giving orders that all the mill workers and supervisors and their families should be rounded up and arrested for treason.
"The women, their children, and the few men. . . were transported by wagon to Marietta and imprisoned in the Georgia Military Institute which had been abandoned," wrote Caroline Matheny Dillman for The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encylopedia Companion." The prisoners were then given nine days' rations, ". . . loaded into boxcars that proceeded through Chattanooga and Nashville en route to Louisville, Kentucky, the final destination for many of the workers. Others were sent across the Ohio River to Indiana," she wrote.
Thus General Sherman not only destroyed the mills but dispersed the workers so they could do no harm to Union operations. Information differs as to what exactly happened to the displaced mill employees. Some apparently were forced to be indentured servants, and some worked for farmers. None were tried for treason. But women workers were separated from their husbands fighting in the Confederate armies, and from their other family members, unless they were all herded together in the North as mill workers.
One-eyed Green Pilgrim and his wife Nancy were in the forced move, along with their children. Both Green and Nancy got small pox but survived.
"First housed and fed in a Louisville refugee hospital, the women later took what menial jobs and living arrangements could be found," said writer Dillman. "Those in Indiana struggled to survive, many settling near the [Ohio] River, where eventually mills provided employment.
Not only Southern newspapers, but also Northern publications reflected outrage against General Sherman's actions. Union General George H. Thomas had written to General Sherman about what to do with the mill employees. "The Roswell factory hands, 400 or 500 in number, have arrived in Marietta. The most of them are women. I can only order transportation to Nashville where it seems hard to turn them adrift. What had best be done with them," he asked General Sherman.
Sherman replied: "I have ordered General Webster at Nashville to dispose of them. They will be sent to Indiana."
Author Mary Deborah Petite has written a well documented book about the Roswell mill workers' ordeal, The Women Will Howl: the Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers.
"It is difficult to rationalize the arrest and deportation of innocent women and children, but there can be no rationalization or justification for sending them to the fate that awaited them north of the Ohio River. The mill workers were not spies or traitors, nor did they pose a serious threat to the Federal army, particularly now that the mills were destroyed," she wrote.
Many of the displaced workers never made it back to Georgia, marrying in the North and bearing children there. But quite a few made their way at the end of the war. Petite's extensive research turned up a number of their names, stories and photographs. At the end of the war, the Pilgrims were fortunate to return to Marietta, Georgia, on the train, but they had to walk back to what is now Oconee County and renew normal lives. In 1866 they had a third child, George Thomas Pilgrim. Green Pilgrim took the loyalty oath to the federal government in 1866 and farmed in the county. He was a respected citizen and was elected several times as county coroner. He died in 1893, but Nancy lived until 1931, when she died at 100.
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At the ceremonies in the Huff Cemetery, the Pilgrims were honored. Trumpeter James Edwin Bush, Jr. of the 37th Regiment, Washington, GA Confederates, played "Bonnie Blue Flag" and twice played "Dixie."
Presentations by members of the Roswell Mills Camp #1547, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Brig. Gen. T. R. R. Cobb Camp #97, Sons of Confederate Veterans were made. The colors were presented by the 18th Georgia Volunteer Army Color Guard dressed in Confederate uniforms. They led the Pledge of Allegiance, and fired a salute to honor the Pilgrim family. Elaine Collier Neal, president of the Laura Rutherford Chapter, played a leading role in organizing the unusual ceremony honoring civilians and in obtaining the memorial stone for the graves of Nancy and Green Pilgrim, survivors of the "Roswell incident." Dozens of other lovers of Civil War history helped organize the marker dedication and included cemetery officials, a minister and many members of several organizations
Participants and spectators ended the ceremony by joining hands and singing "Blest Be The Tie That Binds."
An Honor Guard fires a salute honoring the memory of Green and Nancy Pilgrim at ceremonies south of Watkinsville, GA on April 21, 2013. Photo by Al Hester
This old photo shows Nancy Ann Green on her 100th birthday in 1931. She died that year. She was a Civil War mill worker at the Roswell Mills near Atlanta. She and her husband and children were forced to go to Kentucky and Indiana, arrested, but never tried for treason, by the Union Army.
Leaders of the Laura Rutherford United Daughters of the Confederacy Chaper, Athens, GA, lead ceremonies at the Huff Family Cemetery. Photo by Al Hester
Ruins of the Roswell Mills in Roswell, GA. These mills were primer furnishers of cloth for Confederate armies. The mills were captured and burned in July, 1864.
Application for military headstone for Ulysses S. A. Hawkins, buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, GA. Pvt. Hawkins enlisted in the 9th Cavalry, a famous "Buffalo Soldiers" unit during the period of the Spanish-American War. (National Archives via Ancestry.com)
Sgt. Wakefield Brunt served in World War 1 in France and is buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. His military headstone is partially obscured. A VFW post in Athens has taken his name. (Photo courtesy of the Wakefield Brunt VFW post)
Veteran Edward D. Burns of Athens, GA was killed in action in World War 2 as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division, an all-black division. Here are division members landing in 1944 at the River Arno in north Italy, where they took many casulaties. (National Archives)
Part 1 of this article explains that U. S. military veterans are entitled to a free headstone at the cemetery if they were honorably discharged and have no grave marker. At least 57 veterans' headstones are listed on applications from 1925 through 1963, indicating the headstones were ordered for placement in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. This list is in Part 1 of this article.
The Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery is at Fourth and Bray streets in East Athens and was founded as an African-American burial place in 1882. Most of its approximately 800 identified burials took place prior to the 1960s. Although the headstone applications available on Ancestry.com are not a complete list, they do include most of the headstones erected in Gospel Pilgrim.
The headstone applications are a rich source of genealogical and historical information, including the name of the veteran, who applied for the headstone, dates of the vet's birth and death and what was his military unit and rank. There are official lists of enlistments and casualties in National Archives files. some of these files are online and give additional information about some veterans. Ancestry.com contains many of these records.
Gospel Pilgrim's headstones listed on the applications haven't all been found in Gospel Pilgrim. Some probably are hidden by undergrowth or soil. Some of the marble markers are flat markers that are easily covered with soil, leaves and plants. Not all of the nine-acre cemetery has been cleared as of 2013.
Part 2 will deal with more details about some of the veterans with military markers at Gospel Pilgrim. The markers were issued for veterans serving from the Spanish-American War period, World War 1, World War 2 and Korea. The headstone list is almost exclusively made up of male enlisted men, although one marker was given to an officer, Capt. William Walter Saphloe of Athens, of the 64th Quartermaster Battalion in World War 2.
No women veterans are in the Gospel Pilgrim headstone applications from 1925 to 1963. Capt. Saphloe's enlistment papers indicate he joined the Army in April, 1941, in New York City, although he said he was born in Georgia. He enlisted as a private. He had four years of college and was a clerk in publishing and printing. He was divorced with no dependents. A Willie W. Sapp was one of several Sapp family members living in Athens with Richard and Laura Livingston at 540 W. Hancock Ave. in the 1930 census.
Capt. Saphloe of Athens was born in 1911 and died in 1948. His headstone is in the Sapp family plot. Applicant for Capt. Saphloe's headstone was Katherine Saphloe, living at 540 W. Hancock Ave. in Athens. In the 1940 census a "Kate Sapp" is listed as a lodger at that address, but no other Saphloe is enumerated. Apparently Captain Saphloe changed his name from Sapp to Saphloe. He was not listed in the Athens, 1940 federal census. A photo of his grave is included with this blog. Capt Saphloe enlisted in New York City, and documents indicate he had four years of college and worked in publishing and printing.
We find headstone applications for two black Athenians who were killed in action and buried at Gospel Pilgrim. One was PFC Edward D. Burns. He enlisted in World War 2 in 1941 and died while fighting the Germans in Italy in November, 1944. He was in Co. D of the 371st Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division, the only African-American division seeing heavy combat during World War 2. A younger brother of PFC Burns, James L. Burns, applied for Edward's headstone in 1949. James lived at 290 Vine St. in Athens. A photo of PFC Burns' headstone may be found with this article.
A Korean War veteran from Athens, PFC Jessie Odom, was killed in action fighting as a member of Co K, the 8th Cavalry, as a light weapons infantryman. His death occurred on Oct. 4, 1951, in what is now North Korea. He was born Feb. 2, 1933. PFC Odom's headstone application was made by his older brother William Lanier Odom. His mother was Sarah Laster Odom. His military marker hasn't been found yet in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, although we know the marker was ordered.
Many of the veterans with headstones at Gospel Pilgrim fought in World War 1 in segregated military units. Frequently their military service involved harsh labor in support groups hauling supplies and ammunition to front lines—their work was absolutely essential in supporting combat troops.
One of the most unusual veterans receiving a headstone at Gospel Pilgrim was Ulysses S. A. Hawkins, sometimes known as Eula Hawkins. I have searched without luck to find all his military service records, but we do know he served in the famous 9th Cavalry, a regiment of the famous Buffalo Soldiers. These black soldiers fought against Indians in the West and gave a good account of themselves in the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Hawkins was a private in Co. G of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment. Records available to me don't show whether he fought in Cuba or the Philippines or had duty elsewhere.
We do know from the May, 1902, returns of the regiment that he was discharged honorably on Valentine's Day, 1902, at Fort Walla Walla, Washington. His conduct as a soldier was evaluated as "good." His widow was Mattie M. Hawkins, who received a pension for his Cavalry services. He and his wife lived in the 500 block of Hull Street in Athens.
The military service of African Americans from Athens was seldom a matter for big stories in the local newspapers, although we occasionally do see short articles about them. For instance, Willie Ed Binns lived with his grandparents, the Lees on Hull Street, and served in World War 1. His headstone application indicatied he served as a private in the 514th Engineers. So far I haven't found his military records, other than the headstone application, and his grave in Gospel Pilgrim has not been located. We do know he was a veteran, from a story in the April 16, 1919, issue of The Athens Banner, which follows:
"Colored Discharged Soldiers Honor Wm. Ed Binns of Athens
Willie Ed Binns, a well known young colored man of this city who enlisted in the army during the war and who saw active service in France, died while enroute home on the high seas, and the funeral services were held at the Pierce Chapel Sunday morning at eleven o'clock.
Over one hundred and fifty honorably discharged colored soldiers as well as the Negro Boy Scouts under command of Captain R. E. Smith acted as an honorary escort in paying respect to this young soldier."
No cause of death on the troop ship was indicated.
A rather mysterious veteran is Wakefield C. Brunt, a sergeant in World War I, who saw service in France, according to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Athens, named for him. An unreadable military marker is partially visible at his Gospel Pilgrim gravesite, and another plain marker is there, too. The military headstone applications for Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery veterans' markers don't list Wakefield C. Brunt. The VFW post, however, has kindly given us a photo of him in his uniform. Some persons have indicated he died in France in the war, but his non-military tombstone indicates he died in 1927, as does his death certificate. His photo is included here.
It becomes obvious that Athens African Americans fought hard to defend their country, even when the military units were segregated, as was life at home. The defense forces weren't integrated until 1948, but many thousands of African American found ways to fight the nation's wars long before that.
This marble military marker indicates PFC Edward D. Burns died in combat in 1944. His division, the 92nd Infantry Div., was the only black division to see combat as a large unit in World War 2. (Photo by Al Hester)
This flat marble marker is for Capt. William W. Saphloe, who is buried with the Sapp family members in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, GA. He was in a Quartermaster Battalion. (Photo by Al Hester)