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A gripping history of the Civil War through the eyes of the soldiers in one of its most legendary regimentsthe Eighth Georgia Infantrywho fought on the forefront of the Civil War's most major battles.
The Confederate soldiers of the 8th Georgia Regiment came from all walks of life. They included upstanding men like Melvin Dwinnel, a teacher and a publisher, as well as the likes of James Potter Williamson, whose listed occupation was "loafer." They met in Rome, Georgia, in May 1861, and became the first regiment to enlist for the duration of the hostilitiesmost others held together for a single season.
United by a deep love for the land left behind and a fierce determination to fight for their homes and way of life, the men of the 8th persevered through brutal battles, miserable conditions, and dimming prospects of a Confederate victory.
Using diaries, letters home to loved ones, and other historical documents, Steven E. Woodworth follows these brave men from the red clay of Georgia, through the Battle of Bull Run, to Maryland, into the bloody battle of Gettysburg, through Tennessee and the brutal Battle of Chickamauga, and finally to their ultimate defeat at Appomattox. Through every struggle, he reveals their motivations and sometimes painful decisions, telling a story of human hopes and fears and ultimately showing this most divisive war at its most personal.
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About the Author
Steven E. Woodworth agreed to finish the work Wilkinson had begun. He is an associate professor at Texas Christian University and the author of nine previous books about the Civil War.
Read an Excerpt
In Defense of Southern Rights
Cannon roared. Half a mile off came the long rattling volleys of musketry that told where rival lines of desperate men were trying their best to blast the life out of each other. Dense clouds of white, sulfurous powder smoke rolled across an undulating countryside green with clover, golden with ripening wheat, and checkered with patches of woodland. A shouted order from close at hand cut through the roar of distant combat, and a long line of gray-clad men scrambled to their feet in the late-afternoon shadows that reached out from the edge of a forested rise. Like good soldiers they formed their ranks and then, on command, marched forward with steady tread toward the inferno that awaited them across the way. One who saw it wrote that “a more splendid line of brave men never moved on to deadly combat.
Enemy gunners had the range and soon were dropping shells into their ranks. Men disintegrated under direct hits. Shrapnel from other bursts would knock down three or four men at a time, but the gray line closed up its gaps and marched on. Stout rail fences lined a dusty road across their path, and as the men broke ranks to climb them the distant artillery pounded them mercilessly. Smoke, dust, fence rails, haversacks, rifles, caps, and bodies sailed through the air, but even some of those tossed about like rag dolls by the exploding shells scrambled to their feet again and formed up with the others on the far side of the fences to continue their advance.
A few score yards farther and the order came, “Double-quick!” Shoulders hunched forward against thestorm of shot and shell, the men in the long gray line trotted toward the far wood line. Somewhere in those woods was the enemy, and as the men ran, shoulder to shoulder, toward the unseen foe, something welled up inside them and broke out in a high-pitched chorus of Rebel Yells'discordant, fierce, and rising above the roar of battle to make the short hairs stand up on the backs of their enemies' necks.
This was Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, and in the center of that long gray line was the Eighth Georgia Regiment, moving forward along with its brigade to join in the battle's decisive struggle along Bloody Run, across the Wheat Field, and to the Valley of Death.
They came from all over Georgia'these brave men of the Eighth from every walk of life. Planters, cotton factors, and shopkeepers, lawyers, teachers, and dirt farmers few could have foreseen the cataclysm that now made them all soldiers, and none could have predicted the winding course of events that had brought them from the peaceful scenes of prewar Georgia to this bloody field and would carry them onward down the long, hard road to Appomattox. They were ordinary people, faced with extraordinary choices and challenges. This is their story.
The Elite of the Town
Flowing west past Cartersville, Georgia, the Etowah River joins the southbound Oostanaula River to form the Coosa River muddy and slow-moving. The Coosa, in turn, flows south and west through the forests and fields of nearby Alabama and on past Mobile into the far-off Gulf of Mexico. At the confluence of these three streams, Etowah, Oostanaula, and Coosa, in the rich river-bottom land bordered by the low hills at the southern end of the Piedmont of the Appalachian Mountains in northwestern Georgia, lies the city of Rome, in the ancient Cherokee country of Floyd County green, shady, and lovely. In 1860, fifteen thousand people or so lived in the little town and the surrounding county, with about a third of that number being slaves. Commerce thrived in the Hill City, as Rome was then known locally, and the town boasted cotton trading, real estate, hotels, mills, and the Noble Brothers Foundry, which would later produce cannon for the Confederacy. Steamboats plied the rivers, their decks loaded with all sorts of goods, and wagons lined the streets bearing every manner of abundant farm products, chiefly the bulging white cotton bales, ready to ship to Northern mills and European textile factories. The city was well laid out, with pleasant houses and handsome red-brick commercial buildings lining its wide downtown streets. At night, gas lamps glowed along its main thoroughfare, Broad Street, lighting the fronts of grocery stores, livery stables, jewelry shops, clothing stores, bookstores, and drugstores. A railroad spur, the Memphis Branch Railroad and Steamship Company of Georgia, linked the town with the Western & Atlantic at Kingston, Georgia. For most of its population, Rome was a pleasant and attractive community in which to live.
To teach school in Rome in 1853 went twenty-eight-year-old Melvin Dwinnell. Born in the Green Mountains of Vermont, Dwinnell had taken his A.B. in 1849 at the University of Vermont and then gone on to earn an M.A. In 1855, two years after coming to Rome, Mose, as he was known to his friends, took advantage of an opportunity to buy the local newspaper, the Rome Weekly Courier, and soon became its owner and editor. He also grew to be an ardent and vocal defender of the Southern cause, completely and forever forsaking his Northern roots.
During the late fall of 1860 and the winter that followed, Dwinnell found plenty of momentous news to fill the columns of his newspaper. In November, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was duly elected president of the United States on a platform that pledged him not to tamper with slavery in states like Georgia, where it already existed, but not to permit its spread to new territories in the West. In December, South Carolina responded by declaring itself no longer a part of the United States. Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama followed the next month. Georgia was not far behind. Immediately after the November election, Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown asked...A Scythe of Fire. Copyright © by Steven Woodworth. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.