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Workhorse of the Confederacy

By Kathleen Walls

Augusta Canal
When most people think of Georgia during the War Between the States, Atlanta is the first city to come to mind. Sherman's march and the cities in his path also come to the forefront but there is one city that was of vital importance to the new country that most do not consider. From the day General P.G.T. Beauregard prepared to attack Fort Sumter and drive out the Federal forces "invading" the state of South Carolina and the Confederate States of America, Augusta played a key role in the War Between the States.
The Savanna River forms the Georgia/South Carolina border at Augusta

On April 10, 1861, President Davis ordered Beauregard to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter and if refused to immediately destroy it. Beauregard sent a obliquely worded reply that it was not yet feasible to attack. What he actually meant was that he did not have enough gunpowder to successfully take the fort. He was waiting for a shipment of munitions from Augusta's Arsenal which arrived the following day. The rest is history.

The Arsenal was built early in the 19th century and moved shortly afterwards to its present site, the campus of Augusta State University. Many of the original structures still remain for the history minded tourist to visit. Also on this site are two historic cannons from Semple's Alabama Battery.

The Confederate Powder Works viewed from Augusta Canal

Another facility that is important in the history of that war is the Confederate Powder Works. It was the only permanent structure completed by the Confederacy. It was built on a portion of the old United States Arsenal site between the Canal and Savannah River and at the time was the second largest gunpowder factory in the world. After the war, it was dismantled and only a single chimney left standing as a memorial. This Obelisk Chimney was designated to "...remain a monument to the Confederacy should the powder works pass away." It still stands today near the bank of the Augusta Canal. I found the best way to view the chimney is by kayaking or canoeing down the Augusta Canal, a lot of fun even if you have no other purpose. The canal which provided water power, nearby railroad facilities, and a central location safe from attack were the main reasons for the Powder Works' location.

Naturally, cemeteries are repositories of much history. Magnolia Cemetery is a blend of many burial grounds. It has five Jewish sections and one Greek as well as the Christian burial areas. The earliest interments began in 1818, so there are many Revolutionary War and Civil War figures interred in this cemetery. Over 300 Civil War graves, both Federal and Confederate, are here. There are seven Confederate Generals including Brigadier General Alexander Porter, who shelled the Union troops before Pickett's charge at Gettysburg.

A trail ride at Fort Gordon is a wonderful way to explore

Fort Gordon today is the home of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. It was named for C.S.A. Gen. John B. Gordon, a pioneer of the signal corps credited with first using semaphore flags from ships to convey messages on the battlefield.

The U. S. Army Signal Corps Museum located there has exhibits tracing tactical communications since 1860. The two Confederate 12-pounders in front of Alexander Hall were cast from church bells donated by the city of New Orleans and were used by Semple's Alabama battery during the War. Several other Civil War cannon are displayed in the immediate vicinity of the museum. I have a very personal connection to these cannon as they were possibly built by my great-great-grandfather, John Roy, who constructed cannons for the Confederacy in New Orleans.

A great way to explore Fort Gordon is on horseback. Riding the trails of the beautiful; wooded area takes you back to an era before motorized transportation. There is a wonderful stable, Hilltop Riding Stable, on the grounds where you can book a trail ride or an individual ride.

As is befitting a city that played such a part in the War, they have one of the tallest, oldest and best monuments to Confederate Veterans in the state. The monument was unveiled on October 31, 1878. The base is made of Georgia granite and the shaft and statues of pure Italian marble. Designed by Von Gunden of Philadelphia and carved in Carrara, Italy, it cost a whopping (for its time) $17,331.35

It is 76-foot tall with an obelisk rising from the second section featuring a private at the top and generals at the bottom. (What a nice change.)The kepi wearing soldier on top leans on his rifle and faces east from his perch. The private is modeled after the Sergeant Berry Benson who actually posed for the figure himself. Benson was a sharpshooter and Scout who was captured by the Yankees twice. Each time he escaped once by tunneling out of Elmira Prison in New York. The Generals at the base are General William Henry Talbot Walker representing Augusta, General Robert Edward Lee for the Confederacy, General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson representing Virginia and General Thomas Reade Roots Cobb representing Georgia.

Augusta's Confederate Monument
Credit Georgia State Archives

The inscription reads:

"No nation rose so white and fair,
None fell so pure of crime
Worthy to have lived and known our gratitude
Worthy to be hallowed and held
In tender remembrance
Worthy the fadless fame which
Confederate soldiers won
Who gave themselves in life
And death for us
For the honor of Georgia
For the rights of the States
For the liberties of the South
For the principles of the Union,
as these were handed down to them,
By the fathers of our common Country."

"Our Confederate Dead"

Erected A.D. 1878 by the Memorial Association of Augusta,

In honor of the men of Richmond County,
Who died in the cause of the Confederate States."

Another must see spot is the Augusta Museum of History. One exhibit there that has an interesting link to the monument's heroic Sergeant Berry Benson is displayed there. At Appomattox, Benson did not surrender but just left and walked home. Thus his musket, on exhibit in the museum, bears the distinction of being "un-surrendered."

A Confederate Sword on display at the
Augusta Musuem of History

Other exhibits that relate to the War Between the States can be found in the Augusta's Story exhibit. Transportation Corridor was a personal favorite that offers a fun look at different modes of transportation ranging from horse and wagon to streetcars.

There is so much to see that the museum is a treasure trove even if you are not a history or Civil War buff. The James Brown Exhibit traces the rise of the King of Soul.

The Sport of Golf exhibit showcases that which has made Augusta a household word. Golf and the Masters.

Woodrow Wilson's Boyhood Home

We think of Woodrow Wilson as a 20th century president but he is linked to the War Between the States . He was the first Southern president elected after that War. As a boy he lived in Augusta.

His father was Pastor of the Presbyterian Church that was first to consider themselves a church of the Confederate States. That church, just across from his home, was the site of a makeshift hospital where the youthful future president saw the wounded and dying soldiers from nearby battlefields pouring into Augusta, He was watching from his window when the captured Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, was brought through town under guard. He saw Confederate General Robert E. Lee during Lee's final tour of the state in 1870. He is a historic link that blends past and present in Augusta.

Augusta is a city that mingles past and present effortlessly. The result is a fun vibrant city that is enjoyed by all.



For more information:

For a wonderful place to stay while visiting Augusta, see Inn Roads in this issue.

Augusta CVB:

Augusta Museum of History:

Hilltop Riding Stable:

Augusta State University:

President Wilson's Boyhood Home:

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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