Civil War comes home in lectures
Dr. Charles Evans, retired Professor of Psychological Science, will be discussing two Georgia Civil War battles during lectures Tuesday at Frank and Laura Lewis Library. The first will be at 11:15 a.m., and the second talk will be at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
Dr. Evans said he's always been interested in the Civil War, but it was a discovery he made after graduate school that sparked his passion.
"I read about my great-great-grandfather William Hannibal Weeks who served in the war," he said. "He was captured in the Battle of the Wilderness, a huge battle in Virginia, and shipped to a prison camp in Elmira, N.Y., where he died. That camp was known as Andersonville of the North."
Learning about Weeks's experiences and putting them into the context of the entire war brought everything to life for him.
"My great-great-grandfather was captured at dawn," Dr. Evans said. "The troops weren't ready. Supposedly (General James) Longstreet's men were going to come and take over the positions, but they didn't get there in time. It was so powerful, just thinking about him waking up in the morning and seeing the enemy infantry coming at him. He was overwhelmed and sent away from everything he'd ever known. And there he died."
Dr. Evans has the only photograph of Weeks that is in the extended family.
"It was probably made about 1858," he said.
Although he is fascinated with the entire war, Dr. Evans said he is much more familiar with the eastern campaigns.
"It's hard not to be fascinated with some of the eastern battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam."
However, Dr. Evans will be concentrating on two cavalry raids that occurred in Georgia – McCook's Raid that led to the Battle of Brown's Mill near Newnan and Stoneman's Raid, which was stopped at the Battle of Sunshine Church near Hillsboro.
"George Stoneman and Alexander McCook were two cavalry generals who were commanded by (General William) Sherman to cut the railroads that supplied Atlanta," Dr. Evans said. "Sherman had come down from North Georgia and wanted to avoid a siege of Atlanta. He thought if he could cut the railroads, he could force the Confederates to evacuate Atlanta."
Stoneman was supposed to link up with McCook when they got south of Atlanta, but he decided to go on his own special mission.
"He headed immediately toward Macon to liberate a prison camp there and then maybe on down to Andersonville to liberate that camp."
McCook, however, kept to the plan. He destroyed 12 miles of the Macon railroad and 500 wagons before making the ill-fated decision to turn back toward Newnan. His cavalry ran into Confederate forces at Brown's Mill.
"Both Stoneman and McCook's efforts were dismal failures," Dr. Evans said. "McCook and some of his men escaped and tried to cross the Chattahoochee River to try to get back to Atlanta. Some of them crossed at Philpott's Ferry, just nine miles from LaGrange."
Tuesday's lectures will cover more than historical facts.
"I'll be sharing some human-interest stories that are connected to those battles," he said.
There is the story of the young soldier who collapsed while trying to escape the Battle of Brown's Mill.
"He was taken in by local people who tried to nurse him back to health, but he died a few days later. A local citizen marked his grave with two slabs of concrete that featured a poem etched into the stones – by hand."
And then there's Betty Hunt.
"She was known as the Angel of Sunshine Church because of her efforts to minister to the injured," Dr. Evans said. "Although the men were very grateful for her care – one served as a pallbearer at her funeral and another married one of her daughters – her story still ended in tragedy."
July 2014 will mark the 150th anniversary of both battles. During his years of research and reading about the war, Dr. Evans said there is one thing that stays with him.
"There were fewer people back then," he said. "You start reading, and you realize how many people knew each other and married into each other's families, both North and South. Their lives and stories were so intermingled."
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