Lightning Strikes Twice
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
Originating in the 1820s, Social Circle became Walton County's rail center in 1845 as the Georgia Railroad advanced westward. Legend says the settlement received its name when a traveler, impressed by the hospitality of the little group of congenial pioneers, remarked enthusiastically, "This sure is a social circle!"
Second Lieutenant William L. Birney and the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry Regiment, under the direction of Union Brigadier General Kenner Garrard, charged into town in a cloud of dust about mid-morning on Saturday, July 23, 1864. They took several prisoners, captured mail and were "very insolent to the ladies"
according to one resident, going into houses and plundering them of "such things as they fancied."
The Hoosiers were ordered to burn the town's only hotel, allowing owner H.L. Spencer only enough time to move some of his furniture out into the street. They also set fire to the railroad depot, the wood station, a water tank, several Confederate wagons and a store filled with commissary supplies. Flames reportedly destroyed five nearby houses. "The Circle" was veiled in smoke before the cavalrymen galloped out of town.
After the fall of Atlanta in early September and the subsequent occupation and partial destruction of that city, Major General William T. Sherman's army undertook
its "March to the Sea." A wave of panic overtook the civilian population of Georgia. Hundreds of families who had no housing, many of them exiles from Atlanta, sought shelter in abandoned railway cars. Mrs. Margaret Ketcham Ward reported that she and her family took up residence in one such car. Her party consisted of two women, five children, one man and a slave named Caboose. Although accommodations were described as rough, most considered themselves fortunate to have boxcars for shelter. Social Circle was a temporary home for many of these victims of war.
On Friday, November 18, 1864, the Federal 20th Corps under Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams and accompanied by Major General Henry W. Slocum commanding Sherman's "Left Wing," entered Social Circle on Hightower Trail. Many local residents were taken by surprise and had no time to hide their animals or stocks of foodstuffs. "All residents looked alarmed to see the Yankees march through."
Some grabbed a few possessions and immediately took flight only to find they had to share the roads with the invaders. Federal soldiers captured a Confederate surgeon and $3,000 in gold. Sergeant Rice Bull of the 123rd New York Infantry Regiment resented the town's name because
he could find no one who would be sociable. But a joyous reception was given to the soldiers by the slave population.
the Northern troops found the area around Social Circle "overflowing with sweet potatoes, corn syrup, and hogs.
At 2:00 p.m. one division halted in town for dinner then resumed its march to eastward to Rutledge. They followed the other two divisions of the 20th Corps, which had departed Social Circle that morning.
Bottom left: The March to the Sea (Library of Congress)
Middle: Civilian Refugees
Top right: Sergeant Rice Bull 123rd New York Infantry Regiment
Bottom right map: Federal March Routes, November 17 & 18, 1864
(adopted from the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies)
Background watermark: The March to the Sea