The largest Confederate state east of the Mississippi, Georgia reigned during the Civil War as the crossroads of the South. Thanks to Gone With the Wind and other popular references, Sherman’s March to the Sea is a familiar event, but the deep-seeded military, social, political, and economic aspects of the war in Georgia—as important as they are—may not be so well known. There are few better experts on the topic than historian Stephen Wise, who leads the upcoming BGES tour, “Sherman’s Infamous March to the Sea and a Tour of Confederate Georgia,” beginning on January 17, 2019. We caught up with Stephen and posed some questions about himself and the upcoming tour.
BGES Blog: What is your personal interest in Confederate Georgia?
Stephen: The more one studies the Civil War, the more one learns of the tremendous interconnection of the conflict between people, places, and events. Georgia sometimes is forgotten, yet it was the largest Confederate state east of the Mississippi. Only Texas was larger. It was second to Virginia in population and second to Virginia in the size of its slave population. Georgia furnished nearly 120,000 men to the southern armies. By war’s end, it had a massive industrial base that produced everything from uniforms to ironclad warships. It was home to numerous prisoner-of-war camps, the most notorious being Andersonville, and a railroad system that crisscrossed the state and supported numerous wayside hospitals. Its governor, Joseph Brown, was a thorn in the side of Jefferson Davis, yet he did a great deal to support the South’s war effort.
BGES Blog: Why this tour? What do you offer that others won’t?
Stephen: This tour has been developed over the last few years. Len [the Executive Director of BGES] was looking for something that would tie in activities in the Southeast that would attract people interested in more than just the major battles and who would appreciate a multi-level understanding of the conflict. We also wanted something that would tie in such well known, but not often visited, sites such as Andersonville, the Civil War Naval Museum, the Alexander Stephens home and museum, and aspects of Sherman’s march and Wilson’s raid. This tour will take us on a cross-country ride that will connect all these dots and more.
BGES Blog: What on-the-ground elements are you most excited to share with your tour participants in the upcoming tour?
Stephen: Every day we will see something special. Day one, the spot where Jefferson Davis was captured and Andersonville. Day two, the Confederate Naval Museum at Columbus Georgia, Fort Tyler, a reconstructed fort taken by Federal cavalrymen at the end of the war, plus some surprises. The third day we will go to the Griswoldville Battlefield, a rarely seen site where the Georgia militia encountered a portion of Sherman’s men; and next to Sunshine Church, where Stoneman’s raid on Macon ended with the capture of Federal cavalrymen; and then on to Crawfordsville, Georgia, to see the hidden gem of Alexander Stephens’ home and museum. On the final day, we follow elements of Sherman’s men from Milledgeville to Fort McAllister, with stops at various sites connected to the march. Throughout the entire tour, I will be doing my best to give an overview of Georgia’s role in the war and tie it together with Wilson and Stoneman’s raids and Sherman’s March.
BGES Blog: How would you sum up the importance of Georgia in the Confederate war effort in the Civil War?
Stephen: Georgia has been referred to as the crossroads of the Confederacy. It was also the anchor that held the nation together. It, not the Shenandoah Valley, was the breadbasket of the Confederacy. Its industries sustained the Confederacy, and its soldiers provided the nation’s armies with the manpower needed to resist the Federals. Without Georgia, there would have been no Confederacy.
BGES Blog: What do you hope BGES tours—and your tour specifically—add to the discussion about what the Confederacy means today?
Stephen: Our tour will offer a full overview of the Civil War Georgia south of Atlanta. We will discuss military, social, political, and economic aspects of the war in Georgia. We will visit the location of hospital complexes, battle sites, prison-of-war camps, and fabulous museums. We will cover the heritage of the state’s war effort from 1861 through the war’s final battle at Columbus, Georgia, and the capture of Jefferson Davis. The excursion will maintain the high quality of BGES tours and continue the organization’s legacy of explaining the importance of our nation’s greatest trial that even today offers important lessons for all.
And on the first day out, we will make a special stop that will test Len’s willpower.
>>Learn more about Stephen’s “Sherman’s Infamous March to the Sea and a tour of Confederate Georgia” tour here, which kicks off January 17-21, 2019.