After Union soldiers stole three mules from Burge plantation near Covington, Georgia on August 2, 1864, Dolly Lunt Burge could only wonder if the Yankees would return.
Born in Bowdoinham, Maine in 1817, Dolly had moved south to teach school in rural Georgia. She married Thomas Banner Burge, a wealthy plantation owner, and gave birth to a daughter, Sarah, in 1855. Nicknamed “Sadai,” she became Dolly’s sole comfort after Thomas died circa 1857-1858.
July 1864 faded to September, and September to October, and Covington (located about 35 miles east of Union-occupied Atlanta) remained Confederate-held territory. In her journal that would not be published until 1918, Dolly skipped September and October altogether and resumed writing only on November 8, the day when the Loyal States elected the next American president.
His and the Republican Party’s reputations battered by the bloody, seemingly endless war, Abraham Lincoln ran against Democratic candidate George Brinton McClellan. He ran on a peace platform, essentially pledging to stop offensive action against the Confederacy and to end the war, even if the Southern states ultimately got their independence.
McClellan’s star rose as the Overland Campaign cost the North 50,000 men and as siege lines appeared at Petersburg. Pundits predicted a Democratic victory at the polls on November 8; then Sherman captured Atlanta, and Admiral David Farragut and his fleet steamed full speed ahead with all guns roaring into Mobile Bay, and Northerners realized the Union was winning after all.
“To-day will probably decide the fate of the Confederacy,” Dolly told her journal on November 8. “If Lincoln is reelected[,] I think our fate is a hard one, but we are in the hands of a merciful God, and if He sees that we are in the wrong, I trust that He will show it unto us.”
She then talked about slavery, the South’s “peculiar institution,” a subject she had probably heard condemned while growing up in Bowdoinham. Born Ann Matilda Sumner, Dolly’s mother was closely related to abolitionist U.S. Senator Charles Sumner, and Ann likely agreed with his passionate opposition to slavery.
“I have never felt that slavery was altogether right, for it is abused by men, and I have often heard Mr. Burge say that if he could see that it was sinful for him to own slaves, if he felt that it was wrong, he would take them where he could free them,” Dolly commented.
“He would not sin for his right hand. The purest and holiest men have owned them, and I can see nothing in the scriptures which forbids it,” she noted, disagreeing with Northern abolitionists who quoted anti-slavery biblical passages.
“I have never bought or sold slaves and I have tried to make life easy and pleasant to those that have been bequeathed me by the dead [her husband],” Dolly stated. “I have never ceased to work. Many a Northern housekeeper has a much easier time than a Southern matron with her hundred negroes.”
The Burge plantation lay some nine miles east of Covington, the Newton County seat, easily accessible today from Exit 90 of Interstate 20. On November 15, with a slave named “Mid” at the reins and a mare named “Beck” in harness, Dolly rode in her buggy “to Covington … to pay the Confederate tax.”
She found the town “very different … from what it used to be!” The next day, Dolly traveled to Social Circle (now off I-20’s Exit 98) to buy “dye stuffs, etc.” Enjoying the “pleasant ride as it was a delightful day,” Dolly saw that “where formerly all was bustle and business, now naked chimneys and bare walls [stand], for the depot and surroundings were all burned by last summer’s raiders.”
Dolly was unaware that Sherman had just launched his March to the Sea. He split his four army corps into a Right Wing (commanded by Maj Gen. Oliver Otis Howard of Leeds, Maine) and a Left Wing, commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum. The Left Wing comprise XIV Corps (Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis) and XX Corps (Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams).
The Left Wing advanced almost due east from Atlanta. Homeward bound from Social Circle with the food, coffee, and sewing materials she had purchased, Dolly ran into “Brother Evans” and “John Hinton.” The latter said “the Yankees were coming” and that “a large force was at Stockbridge” to the west, nearer Atlanta.
“Uneasy all day” on Thursday, November 17, Dolly briefly spoke that night with “neighbors who had to town … they said it was a large [Yankee] force moving very slowly.
“What shall I do? Where go?” she asked.
Dolly “slept very little” that night and “went out doors several times and could see large fires like burning buildings. Am I not in the hands of a merciful God who has promised to take care of the widow and orphan?”
Friday morning, Dolly dispersed some food stuffs to hiding places, told her slaves to “hide the wagon and gear and then go on plowing,” and then started packing her clothes and Sadai’s.
Slaves ran off their mules, and a slave coachman named Elbert “took his forty fattening hogs to the Old Place Swamp” to hide them, Dolly noted.
She “slept in my clothes last night [Friday], as I heard that the Yankees went to neighbor Montgomery’s on Thursday night at one o’clock, searched his house, drank his wine, and took his money and valuables.” Dolly and Sadai finished breakfast and walked to visit their nearest neighbor.
“Happening to turn and look behind, as we stood there” talking with the neighbor, “I saw some blue-coats coming down the hill,” Dolly realized. She and Sadai “ran home as fast as I could,” and “I could hear them cry, ‘Halt! Halt!’ and their guns went off in quick succession.
“Oh God, the time of trial has come!” Dolly Lunt Burge exclaimed.
Next week: W.T. Sherman marches his XVI Corps through the plantation
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Source: A Woman’s Wartime Journal, Century Co., New York, N.Y., 1918
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.