Sherman, as his family called him, was a career military man. A staunch
Unionist, Sherman had been stationed in the South at various times
before the war. Born and raised in Lancaster, Ohio, Sherman found
Alabama to his liking and dreamed of marrying his hometown sweetheart,
Ellen Boyle, and settling in north Alabama. Just prior to the outbreak
of war, Sherman had been the head of Louisiana State University, a
military school at that time.
Atlanta, General Hood had a choice to make. He could continue to stand
before Sherman’s larger numbers and risk his army in an effort to
defend the rest of Georgia; he could try to gain access to Sherman’s
supply line at his rear and hopefully force him to retreat; or he could
lead the Federal army away from Georgia. He chose the latter. With hopes
of leading Sherman toward Tennessee, the Confederate Army moved west to
Gadsden, Alabama. The Union Army followed, moving into camps in and
around Gaylesville in Cherokee County. So it was here, at Gaylesville,
where a Yankee who knew the Southern heart as if he were a Southerner
himself determined the fate of Alabama and Georgia for generations to
to past residents and local lore, General Sherman set up his
headquarters in a house that still stands today. Dr. George W. Lawrence,
the first physician and one of the first settlers in this part of
Alabama, built the house on land near the Chattooga River after the
Treaty of New Echota in 1835 opened up lands previously inhabited by
Cherokee Indians. The house, now referred to as the Webb Chesnut House,
sits on approximately 160 acres. Mr. Chesnut operated Beechwood Farm, a
dairy farm, from 1917 until 1952 on the property. The dairy was shut
down due to a "severe dry spell, a loss of base price on milk and
the construction of Weiss Lake which put the dairy barn in a flood
plain." Elected in 1934, Webb Chesnut also served as an Alabama
State Senator. Today descendents Mark and David Chesnut own the farm and
operate a quail hunting preserve on the property after purchasing it in
the Gaylesville area, Federal troops enjoyed the riches of Cherokee
County. In the book Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Wiley Sword quotes
blue-coated soldiers writing while encamped there. One wrote, "
Been living on the country for the last month and it suits me
fine…" and another says "…yams, fresh pork, beer, honey,
molasses-no end to them." In addition to "eating up the
place" around Gaylesville, Yankee troopers burned houses, barns and
fences during the cold October nights trying to stay warm. In fact, the
Chesnut house is the only one remaining from that era, perhaps because
Sherman himself used the house or maybe because it was being used as a
hospital. In any case, the house survived and still stands today as a
reminder of those days.
Gaylesville, Sherman sent out numerous instructions and orders to Union
brigades in Alabama and Georgia. He also conferred by letter with Henry
Halleck, Army Chief of Staff in Washington commanding all Federal
forces, and General U. S. Grant, Sherman’s immediate superior. The
three Northern Generals contemplated the next move Sherman should make.
Sherman himself had made the statement that he would not chase Hood
further than Gaylesville. So now it was decision time. Halleck and Grant
favored a thrust to the gulf coast by way of the Chattahoochee River
along the border between Alabama and Georgia. A drive through Alabama to
Mobile, the important gulf port, was given serious consideration. Either
way the army would gain much needed supplies by hooking up with the
Yankee Navy along the gulf coast.
end it was Sherman’s plan that was agreed upon. He wanted to drive
across Georgia destroying anything profitable to the Confederacy thereby
demoralizing the South. Lessons learned over the past few months by
watching his men scour the countryside for all the poultry, beef and
pork they could devour had given him an idea.
familiar with Southerners’ devotion to their cause and knowing they
would fight on under deplorable odds, Sherman’s plan had to be
devastating to Georgia. History tells us that with Sherman’s decision
Georgia suffered the "March to the Sea." Everything within a
sixty-mile swath from Atlanta to Savannah was either eaten by the
Federal army or shot. Commercial buildings and many homes were looted
and burned. Georgia lay in ruin.
if you drive up Highway 68 approaching Gaylesville from the southwest
you will see a fine old six columned home sitting by the roadway. You
may want to stop along the road and sit for a moment. Reflect on what
you now know. This is where ole Cump Sherman was when he made a fateful
decision. A decision that led to one of the most famous episodes of the
War Between the States and sealed his fate for eternity as one of the
most feared and hated men in the hearts and memories of the South.
information on the Quail Farm, phone 256-422-3060.