This is the third in a series of articles published occasionally to recount the history of the Civil War in Sandy Springs. To see the first two articles, visit www.reporternewspapers.net.
By Kimberly Brigance, Clarke Otten and Michael Hitt
The Federal army’s crossing of the Chattahoochee River on July 8, 1864 signaled the fall of Atlanta and the Confederacy. It also marked the beginning of the end of hardscrabble farming for dozens of families in northern Fulton County.
Through newly discovered letters and accounts we can get an idea of what some of the unarmed people of Sandy Springs thought as they faced the enemy. Nellie Jett, writing from near present day intersection of Power’s Ferry Road and Crest Valley Drive, sent a letter to her husband who was fighting in the Confederate army in Virginia.
My dear husband
I will write few more lines to let you know we are all well I hope this finds you well. I haven’t heard from you since you left. I do want to hear from you worse than I ever did. It has rained off and on for a week so we can’t work. I don’t know if our work will do us any good.
The yanky is close by. We can hear them all the time fighting. I never heard such noise in all my life. I look every day for the soldiers to turn their horses loose in our fields. I know if the main army falls back here we will perish. I don’t know what to do. I ain’t got the money to take us off so we will have to stand the test. I ain’t going to run.
Further north, near the present day Huntcliff neighborhood, the Confederate cavalry reported seeing the enemy on the Roswell side of the Chattahoochee River, west of the present day Roswell Road Bridge. They were witnessing Federal troops cutting down trees for artillery to have a clear field of fire upon Sandy Springs.
On July 9, the Federal attack from the Roswell area began on two fronts, one at Roswell itself, and another further east at McAfee’s bridge, now known as Holcomb Bridge. The battle to cross from Roswell was successful and soon the area of what is now Huntcliff Riding Stables became the staging area for Federal soldiers, supplies, and equipment.
At McAfee’s Bridge, Confederate forces were able to repulse the attack at first, but the bridge would fall by July 10.
The Federal army had overrun and occupied the house and land that belonged to Judge James Powers on the Cobb side of the river in early July. James’ son, Samuel was not at home to protect his aged father. He was away fighting with the Confederate army. On July 12, Federal forces crossed the river at Power’s ferry and started working their way up the original Powers Ferry Road towards the current intersection with Mt. Vernon Highway, where Crossroads Primitive Baptist is currently located.
The same day, Nellie Jett wrote to her husband again.
About the yanky, we will soon be in the yanky lines. The yanky is all around Cagle (located near present day Mt. Vernon Highway and Northside Drive). The yanky picket stands on that ridge above Mandy Cook’s (located near present day intersection of Crest Valley Road and Powers Ferry Road).
Our picket lines are near Burch’s farm. The pickets are fighting this morning. The next time the picket falls back we will be with the yanky. They say there is about ten thousand yanky behind Cagle’s and the river. They will have to pass by us if our men take a stand round Atlanta. So many yanky I don’t know what we will do. Some says our men won’t stop them.
Fanny says the soldiers has took all of her oats and soon will have all of her wheat. Fanny said she never was so bad scared.
Our community was not to be quickly passed through en route to Atlanta. Virtual cities would be created in the fields of Sandy Springs below Roswell and around Powers Ferry and Heards Ferry Drive, with thousands of men and horses crushing beneath their feet the crops meant to sustain struggling families through the hard times ahead.
As the hot summer of 1864 dragged on, the people of occupied Sandy Springs became increasingly desperate for survival. Some, like the Ball family would lose most everything, yet survive.
Others, like the Jetts and Atwoods would be forced to make decisions about life and death that would change their families and Sandy Springs forever.
Kimberly Brigance is the director of programs and historic resources at Heritage Sandy Springs, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the history and cultural identity of Sandy Springs. This article is based, in part, of materials in the organization’s collection. To contact Brigance, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clarke Otten, a resident of Sandy Springs since 1953, is writing a book on the history of Sandy Springs.
Michael Hitt, a Roswell police officer, serves as historian for the Roswell Preservation Commission and has published several local history books and articles.