Through spring and early summer 1864, William Tecumseh Sherman and Joe Johnston conducted their side-stepping campaign that brought Sherman’s Union army to the Atlanta outskirts. Commanding the Army of Tennessee, Johnston discovered that almost every natural defense position he tried to hold, Sherman outflanked the defending Confederates, who withdrew deeper into Georgia.
Angry that Johnston constantly surrendered territory almost to the gates of Atlanta, Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced him with the war-crippled John Bell Hood, a catastrophic mistake that would destroy the Army of Tennessee at Nashville in mid-December.
On Friday, July 22, Hood attacked Sherman’s troops in what history calls the Battle of Atlanta.
Some 35-40 miles to the east, “we have heard the loud booming of cannon all day,” noticed Dolly Lunt Burge, a widow living on her plantation between Covington and Social Circle with her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, also called “Sadai.”
Born in Bowdoinham in 1817, Dolly followed an older, married sister to Georgia and started teaching school. She met and married Thomas Banner Burge, a wealthy plantation owner. Sadai was born in 1855, Thomas died within a few years, and Dolly managed the plantation with an overseer’s help throughout the Civil War.
Cannons thudded far westward on the hot Friday. Dolly thought little of the noise; then a minister whom she knew and his “wife, and daughter drove up with their wagons, desiring to rest awhile. They went into the ell and lay down, I following them, wishing to enjoy their company.
“Suddenly I saw the [black slave] servants running to the palings, and I walked to the door, when I saw such a stampede as I never witnessed before,” Dolly wrote in her journal. “The road was full of carriages, wagons, men on horseback, all riding at full speed. Judge Floyd stopped, saying: ‘Mrs. Burge, the Yankees are coming. Hide your mules and carriages and whatever valuables you have.”
“Oh, Mama, what shall we do?” Sadai asked.
“Never mind, Sadai,” I said. “They won’t hurt you, and you must help me hide my things.”
Summoning her house slaves (described throughout the journal as “servants”), Dolly had them hide clothing, meat from the smokehouse, and even “a jar of lard.” The “china and silver were buried underground,” and Sadai put “a part of a loaf of bread” into her pocket in case Yankee raiders cleaned out the larder.
“And, verily, we had cause to fear that we might be homeless, for on every side we could see smoke arising from burning buildings and bridges,” Dolly observed.
The Yankees did not come that day; in fact, the war drifted away from Covington for over a week, but Dolly endured “sleepless nights. The report is that the Yankees have left Covington for Macon … to release prisoners held there.
“They robbed every house on the road of its provisions, sometimes taking every piece of meat, blankets and wearing apparel, silver and arms of every description,” she noted. “They would take silk dresses and put them under their saddles, and many other things for which they had no use.
“Is this the way to make us love them and their Union?” Dolly asked. “Let the poor people answer whom they have deprived of every mouthful of meat and of their livestock to make any! Our mills, too, they have burned, destroying an immense amount of property.”
The threat had apparently receded. Suddenly, “just as I got out of bed this morning [Tuesday, August 2], Aunt Julia [a house slave] called me to look down the road and see the soldiers,” Dolly said. “I peeped through the blinds, and there they were, sure enough, the Yankees – the blue coats!
“I was not dressed. The servant women came running in. ‘Mistress, they are coming! They are coming! They are riding into the lot! There are two coming up the steps!’” Dolly recalled.
She told Rachel, a house slave, to lock the bedroom door and go out and stop the Yankees from entering the house. Meeting Rachel at the front door, the two raiders blew past her, “but came in and asked why my door was fastened.
“She told them that the white folks were not up. They said they wanted breakfast, and that quick, too,” Dolly recalled.
Hurriedly dressing, she instructed Sadai and Minnie Minerva Glass, the “little girl” visiting her, to stay out of the way. Then “I hastened to the kitchen to hurry up breakfast. Six of them were there talking with my women. They asked about our soldiers and, passing themselves off as [Joseph] Wheeler’s men (Confederate cavalrymen), said: ‘Have you seen any of our men go by?’”
“Several of Wheeler’s men passed last evening,” Dolly replied. “Who are you?”
“We are a portion of Wheeler’s men,” a Yankee replied.
“You look like Yankees,” Dolly said.
A soldier walked up to her. Whether or not she felt frightened, Dolly did not say.
“Yes, we are Yankees,” the soldier state. “Did you ever see one before?”
“Not for a long time, and none such as you,” the insouciant Dolly responded.
By mid-1864 she likely had a soft Georgia accent, and the Yankees would not have “heard” from her speech that Dolly was a native Mainer. Neither did she mention that fact.
While serving the Yankees breakfast, Dolly determined that were “Illinois and Kentucky men of German origin.” Their tummies finally full, the soldiers left the house, stole three valuable mules, and vanished.
That same night Dolly rejoiced as a Confederate “Captain Smith of an Alabama regiment, and a squad of twenty men … camped opposite in the field. They have all supped with me, and I shall breakfast with them. We have spent a pleasant evening with music and talk.
“They have a prisoner along. I can’t help feeling sorry for him,” Dolly Burges commented.
Atlanta fell to Sherman. Davis and Hood developed a military strategy that the latter promptly abandoned not long after the former returned to Richmond from Georgia, and life resumed some semblance of normality around the Burge plantation.
Then William Tecumseh Sherman decided to march to the sea.
Source: A Woman’s Wartime Journal, Century Co., New York, N.Y., 1918
Next week: W.T. Sherman marches his XVI Corps through the plantation
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.