"...lighting a continuous ﬁre..."
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
The land where you now stand was originally settled by Revolutionary War hero and statesman General Solomon Wood. To protect against Indian attacks Wood built a fort approximately one mile to the east for protection of his family and neighbors. Sometime before 1835, Wood's sons sold this land to James Speir, who built a home and store. Speir later granted the Central of Georgia Railroad the right of way for tracks which were laid in 1841. By 1849 a post office had been established by the tracks and a depot for Station Number 11 was completed in 1859. The settlement was named "Speir's Turnout" because of its turnout or side track allowing one train to pass another. The town was renamed Bartow in 1861 to honor the recently fallen Colonel Francis S. Bartow of Savannah killed during the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in Virginia. However, many military maps used throughout the Civil War referred to the town as "Spiers."
During the war, a train transporting Federal prisoners off-loaded the body of an unidentified Federal soldier at Bartow. The townspeople gave him a Christian burial in the Bartow Cemetery on Church Street about 300 yards to the north of the depot. Among the Confederate casualties buried there are James Speir's two sons. They were killed a year apart in Virginia and brought home in a mule-drawn wagon by a family
On Monday, November 28, 1864, Union Brigadier General Nathaniel J. Jackson's division of Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams's 20th Corps, part of Major General William T. Sherman's "Left Wing," destroyed the railroad east from Davisborough (Davisboro) to Bartow. One Federal soldier at Bartow described their work as "...lighting a continuous fire of pitch rails along both sides of the...rail to burn and warp them,"
which were then "...bent & twisted...very considerably."
The soldiers enthusiastically heated and twisted rails that passed by "Sandy Grove," the plantation home of Herschel V. Johnson.
Johnson, a former Georgia governor, United States Senator and 1860 Democratic vice presidential nominee running mate of Stephen Douglas lived just north of town. He was a political moderate and worked to prevent Georgia's secession. However, Johnson remained loyal to his state. He served as a Confederate senator from Georgia during the war.
General Williams and the 20th Corps headquarters, General Jackson and his division plus the brigade of Colonel Patrick H. Jones (guarding the 20th Corps supply wagons) in Brigadier General John W. Geary's division all camped the night of November 28th at Bartow in a grove of pines that stood just east of the depot. The next morning Williams and his command departed Bartow. By 1:00 p.m. the remaining
two brigades of Geary's division and the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics Regiment reached town with orders to destroy the railroad east to the Ogeechee River. During this same time General Sherman was traveling eastward just to the south of Bartow. He accompanied the 17th Corps of his army's "Right Wing" on the old Savannah Road.
Left: Francis S. Barrow
Middle top: Herschel V. Johnson (Library of Congress)
Middle bottom: Burning of Ties and Rails (Harper's Weekly)
Right top: Approximate routes of the "March to the Sea" through middle Georgia in November 1864 (adopted from the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies)
Background watermark: Troops Destroying Railroads