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GUEST COLUMN: A diary from Cave Spring

Mike Ragland

Mike Ragland, Cave Spring city councilman

I love local history. We recently wrote a piece on Mary Noble. It seems we get a lot more information from the ladies that stayed home, and suffered, than from soldiers in the field. This is some bits and pieces from Edith France Simmons diary during our Civil War, from Cave Spring. You can get a glimpse of what life was like during that time, and the worry that went with it. Put yourself in their place for a few minutes:

“July 18, 1863… I went to church this morning and once again heard Uncle Glenn preach. It was a funeral sermon dedicated to the memory of William Russell, who died far away, amid the brave ones who left home and friends to fight for the sunny South.”

“July 23, 1863… There has been considerable excitement about the Yankees coming here. I don’t think they will come. I can’t imagine what would induce them to come to poor little dried up Cave Spring.”

“July 24, 1863… We have not heard from Uncle ‘Cape.’ Oh, that we could hear! This cruel war has caused so much anguish and suffering. Would to God that it would end!”

“July 28, 1863… I had just gotten down the hill when I met Major Hamilton. I spoke to him very pleasantly, never dreaming his errand. He asked if Ma was home. I told him yes. He said he was on his way to see her with bad news. Your Uncle Cape was killed at Vicksburg. A bitter wail broke from my heart and I turned to go with him back home. How I dreaded to tell Ma that her youngest darling brother was dead. I went to her and burst out crying, Oh, Ma, Uncle Capers is killed.”

“August 1, 1863… received a letter from cousin Fletcher Denton. He was with Uncle Capers when he died. He was wounded on May 30th, and lived to June 4th. All through the dreadful siege of Vicksburg, I thought he was there, but no! God, for some reason, had taken him away. Uncle Fletcher and Uncle Capers! Oh, we were so happy before this hateful cruel war.”

The little town spent most of the year of 1863 wondering if the Union Army was going to visit them, and hearing notices of their kinfolk and friends that were killed. Then in 1864, the Yankees came.

“October 15, 1864… Yesterday, General Wheeler and a portion of his command came through town, on their way to Lost Mountain. He met General Hood at Van Wert with his army. We have seen plenty of soldiers, for all of Hood’s army has passed through Cave Spring but one corps. I have seen a number of my old friends and relations. Cousin Fletcher Denton and Uncle Tom Leak spent one night with us. I have had company all the time since the soldiers came. Hood’s army has crossed the river. Jackson’s cavalry is on this side. The General’s headquarters is not far from town. There was a right sharp fight about five miles from here the other day. The asylum is used now as a hospital. I went down yesterday evening and saw some of the patients, Capt. Frost of Armstrong’s staff and Capt. Wheeler among them.”

“November 15, 1864… A great evil has befallen our little town. Sherman marched the greater part of his army through here a few weeks ago, and the vile vandals destroyed nearly everything in the country. I do not believe they will come again. They have evacuated Rome and I hear they are leaving Georgia.”

“December 3, 1864… Ma got a letter from Aunt Jane, and in it was the sad intelligence that Uncle Armstead had been sent to the Army of Virginia. He is so deaf I thought he would be exempted. God grant that Ma may not lose a third son during this dreadful war.”

“December 22, 1864… Uncle Gill came up this evening and brought a paper, the first I’ve seen in some time. I think the Yankees have gone through our state. I don’t know, however, where they are now.”

The war winds down as the Union juggernaut rambles through South Carolina, and into North Carolina. With misinformation and rumor of the war running rampant, Edith and the residents of Cave Spring have no idea what is happening. Then in April she writes:

“Lincoln has been assassinated!”

“When I think of the things I must write, a horror of darkness gathers over me. The banner we so loved. The banner that is crimsoned with the blood of heroes, our darling ones, is trailing in the dust today. First, came the surrender of General Lee. The brave leader was surrounded and felt that he must surrender. Then, after the surrender, came a few days of happiness, as we heard that the French were on southern soil and fighting for us. Slowly we have come to the knowledge of the worst, nearly all our troops on this side of the Mississippi River have been surrendered and are being paroled. We are completely overpowered! God help us!”

Before the dust would settle and the men that lived were able to find a way home, the guerillas plundered many Cave Spring residents.

A final word on Edith Frances Simmons, she married W.O. Connor, who was the diarist of the Cherokee Artillery, and was later the Superintendent of the Georgia School for the Deaf for many years. He did a lot to make it a top notch school. Their home in Cave Spring has been completely renovated by Eric and Dianna Haney. No doubt, the Connors would be proud.

Mike Ragland is a Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com.