In the summer of 1845, Julia Barnsley came down with tuberculosis and died. Godfrey Barnsley was so grief stricken that construction of Woodlands was halted for a year. The exterior of the house he was building for her was finished in magnificent fashion but the interior remained unfinished.
Then, in 1846, Barnsley claimed he encountered his wife’s ghost. (More about that next week.) It is said that she scolded him because the mansion was unfinished and told him to finish the estate for their children. Driven by the belief that Julia was guiding his steps from beyond the grave, Barnsley moved forward with the work.
War Between the States
In 1861, two of Barnsley’s sons enlisted in the Confederate Army. George Barnsley, and Lucien Barnsley joined Company A, The Rome Light Guard, of the 8th Georgia Regiment. George was in medical school at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta when the war broke out. He served on the medical staff throughout the war. He and Lucien returned home after the war.
On May 18, 1864, the Battle of Adairsville raged all around Woodlands because the mansion was situated directly in the path of Sherman’s advance. Barnsley’s friend, Col. Robert G. Earle, rode to Woodlands to warn him that Sherman’s troops were approaching. Col. Earle was part of the Second Alabama Light Cavalry. He was shot and killed, not far from the mansion, by a Union sharpshooter. Col. Earle’s body was buried at Woodlands. His ghost has been seen drinking from a spring located in the rear of the house.
Federal troops occupied Woodlands, and the rest of Cass County, from May to November 1864. They were commanded by Gen. James McPherson, who ordered his troops not to destroy the Barnsley estate. They ignored his orders. Woodlands suffered lasting damage during the federal occupation.
Mary Quin and the Yankees
Woodlands was staffed with white servants, as was the custom of Barnsley’s native England. Mary Quin was the Barnsleys’ feisty Irish housekeeper. She sat helplessly by while Union troops smashed priceless china, stole fine linen sheets and raided the wine cellar at Woodlands. Then one day something happened which, for Mary, was the last straw.
A federal soldier asked Barnsley what time it was. When Barnsley took out his watch, the solider seized it and ran. Mary chased him and caught up with him. There was a scuffle and Mary was knocked down by a blow from the soldier’s musket, but not before she scratched his face considerably.
In his haste to escape from Mary, the soldier dropped a letter. Mary found the letter and the next day she walked six miles to Gen. McPherson’s headquarters in Kingston. She presented him with the soldier’s letter and told him she wanted Mr. Barnsley’s watch which the solder had stolen. The general looked at the soldier’s address on the letter and ordered the man’s entire company to fall in so Mary could identify the thief.
Mary was confident she would be easily able to identify the thief because of the scratches she knew would be on his face. Those scratches would provide powerful evidence against him. Mary promptly pointed out the thief and the stolen watch was returned to her.
Mary arrived back home to Woodlands and Barnsley was delighted to have his watch once again.
The Barnsleys wanted to hear all about Mary’s adventure to retrieve the watch. With rapt attention they listened to her story about Gen. McPherson assembling an entire company of Yankees and how she identified the thief.
Mary saved the best part of the story for last when she told them Gen. McPherson said, “The man that strikes a woman is not fit to live. Shall I have the fellow shot?” The Barnsleys could not wait find out her response. Mary said she told the general, “No. I don’t want no more of his dirty blood on me hands than I got yesterday.”
I have often wondered what happened to Mary Quin. Did she return to Ireland? Did she remain in Georgia for the rest of her life? What was her family like and where were they? Are you wondering what happened to the soldier who stole Mr. Barnsley’s watch? Genl McPherson sent the thieving soldier to Chattanooga where he worked on fortifications until the war was over.
This series on the Barnsleys and Woodlands will culminate next week with what happened to Godfrey Barnsley after the war. There will be tales of ghost sightings at Barnsley Gardens, as well as the murder of one of Barnsley’s great-grandsons at Woodlands.