Civil War Wednesday: Nancy Harts

A painting depicting Nancy Morgan confronting Federal Colonel Oscar LaGrange.

A painting depicting Nancy Morgan confronting Federal Colonel Oscar LaGrange.

The town of LaGrange, Georgia, sat alongside the Atlanta & West Point Railroad; this line served as a vital artery in moving matériel throughout the Southland and presented a military target for invading Northern forces. In 1861, after most of the able-bodied men had volunteered for service, the women, children, and the aged left behind grew increasingly concerned over the safety of hearth and home. A group of local ladies, most from the social circles of middle to upper-income families, and many of them alumni of the LaGrange Female Institute, decided to take action. If possessing a strong will, one can usually find a way, and these women discovered theirs in the form of Dr. Augustus C. Ware.[1]

An initial meeting in an old schoolhouse resulted in the assembled ladies electing Nancy Hill Morgan as captain. Drawing inspiration from a Georgia heroine during the American Revolution, the newly formed militia unit decided to call themselves the “Nancy Harts.” During the fight for independence, Nancy Hart had stubbornly refused to allow British soldiers to sup on the family turkey they had killed and forced her to cook. As the redcoats prepared to enjoy their bounty, they suddenly found themselves staring down the barrel of one of their own rifles. Hart took advantage of the soldiers’ focus on the table to pick up a stacked musket and thus bring a swift close to the banquet. This spirited inspiration lived on in the ranks of her nineteenth-century counterparts in LaGrange.

Twice each week, the “Nancy Harts” would hear a horn blowing through the streets of town. These signal calls served notice for them to assemble, and under the tutelage of Dr. Ware, drill, and hone their firearm skills.[2] When the male residents of LaGrange departed for war, weapons of more contemporary design went along, thereby leaving behind a collection of old flintlocks and perhaps a sprinkling of smooth bore muskets for the female volunteers. In between time spent in drill, the women served as nurses in one of four hospitals, which had sprung up in the area.[3] Several of the “Nancy Harts” also had children, so they faced a strain in balancing their time between domestic responsibilities, tending to wounded soldiers, and martial drill. Despite the increasing hardships as the armies and fighting drew closer, the “Nancy Harts” remained resolute in their duties.

Nancy Hill Morgan, captain of the “Nancy Harts.” Image from: Troup County Historical Society.

Nancy Hill Morgan, captain of the “Nancy Harts.” Image from: Troup County Historical Society.

The day of trial finally occurred in April 1865, when a body of Federal cavalry troopers, with several Confederate prisoners in-tow, approached the town. A nearby engagement at West Point resulted in a Northern victory and brought more wounded into LaGrange. While many of the townspeople sought shelter against the approaching blue-clad soldiers, the “Nancy Harts” formed their battle lines. Colonel Oscar LaGrange, (irony never ceases) the leader of the mounted Federals, continued to close the distance between his force and the line of defense Morgan, and the other ladies had established. Once the prisoners started coming into view, the women began to recognize familiar faces, and quickly determined they could not fire upon the Federals without hitting their boys in gray.

Colonel LaGrange’s force took possession of the town, and a looting and burning spree ensued. Many of the town’s buildings lay in smoking heaps, as the colonel sarcastically remarked, “The Nancy Harts could probably use their eyes with better effect than their old guns.”[4] He evidently believed the militia unit stood a greater chance of flirting than fighting. Several other communities North and South witnessed a gathering of women determined to fight for their respective beliefs, yet most of the units proved short-lived. The true mettle of these female soldiers we will never know, but we do know, for a period of four years, while others on many home fronts shirked their duty, the LaGrange Female Institute, along with the town, could proudly proclaim the sacrifices and war-long dedication of the “Nancy Harts!”

[1] Anne J. Bailey, “The Defenders,” in Confederate Women, ed. Mauriel Phillips Joslyn (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1996), 48.

[2] Thaddeus Horton [Mrs], “The Story of the Nancy Harts,” The Ladies’ Home Journal, November, 1904, 14.

[3] R. Chris Cleaveland, “Georgia’s Nancy Harts,” Civil War Times Illustrated, June, 1994, 45.

[4] Ibid.`

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center , a Civil War historian, newspaper columnist, and author of ‘Washington County, Virginia in the Civil War.’ He is a member of the Society of Civil War Historians, Historians of the Civil War Western Theater, Georgia Association of Historians, and the Civil War Round Table of Atlanta. Michael also serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and as a Civil War consultant for the Friends of Camp McDonald.

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Civil War Wednesday: Battle of Chickamauga

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A future company of the 5th GA on parade ground.

During the fighting along Chickamauga Creek in September 1863, the soldiers of the 5th Georgia Infantry Regiment epitomized the stream’s English translation “The River of Death.” These Georgians, part of Brigadier General John K. Jackson’s brigade, in Major General Frank Cheatham’s division, saw action twice on September 19 and finished the battle the following day with a brave charge under heavy fire. Fighting under the command of Colonel Charles P. Daniel, the 5th opened their involvement on September 19 with an advance toward the Federal brigade of Colonel John Croxton positioned above Winfrey Field.

Brigadier General John K. Jackson.

Brigadier General John K. Jackson.

Jackson’s brigade moved astride the Alexander’s Bridge Road aligned left to right as follows: 5th GA, 2/1 CSA, 5th MS, 8th MS, and 2nd GA Sharpshooters. Overcoming initial confusion about the exact location of the Federal position, the Confederates rallied and fought until virtually extinguishing all of their ammunition. A runner sent to carry additional rounds to the front received a mortal wound. When Southern reinforcements arrived, Croxton’s new line rested roughly three-quarters of a mile rearward from his original position, and the Georgians had captured three Federal artillery pieces. The day had not yet ended for the men of the 5th as they received orders to advance a second time. With darkness settling over the fields of Chickamauga, the blood of additional members of the regiment would stain the north Georgia soil. The rapid firing of minié balls, combined with artillery shell and canister, ignited a fire in the thick brush. Private W.K. Pilsbury of the 5th later recalled, “…the cries of the wounded were dreadful to hear…as the battle waged to and fro that fateful autumn night…an impression upon the minds and hearts of all those who were engaged…will last as long as life.”[1]

Sadly, life would not prove long for many of the soldiers in the 5th Georgia, as day two of the battle produced even heavier casualties. Daniel made note in his post-battle report of the “…heavy enfilading fire of shot, shell, and grape,” which greeted his regiment as they advanced in support of Major General Pat Cleburne’s attack.[2] The Georgians continued to press, the men fighting and dying until finally repulsing the remaining Federals from the field.

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5th GA soldiers in camp

Jackson recapped his casualties in the after-action report and lamented that his “…greatest loss was in the Fifth Georgia Regiment.”[3] Among the 317 soldiers of the 5th Georgia present for duty at Chickamauga, 194 lay dead, wounded or numbered among the missing at the conclusion of the battle. In amassing a casualty percentage of 61.1, the 5th Georgia ranks 15th among all Confederate regimental losses during the entire war.[4] As one battle observer commented, “Gen. Frank Cheatham’s command was the greatest evidence of the terrific effect of artillery fire.”[5] Chickamauga proved a field of death for the men of the 5th Georgia Infantry.


[1] W.K. Pilsbury, “The Fifth Georgia at Chickamauga,” Confederate Veteran, January, 1895, 330, http://ia700405.us.archive.org/3/items/confederateveter03conf/confederateveter03conf.pdf (accessed August 14, 2103).

[2] United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 30, pt. 2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 89.

[3] Ibid., 85.

[4] William F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 (1889; repr., Gulf Breeze, FL: eBooksonDisk, 2002), 556.

[5] Christopher Losson, Tennessee’s Forgotten Warriors: Frank Cheatham and His Confederate Division (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 107.

Images from: The Photographic History of the Civil War.

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center , a Civil War historian, newspaper columnist, and author of ‘Washington County, Virginia in the Civil War.’ He is a member of the Society of Civil War Historians, Historians of the Civil War Western Theater, Georgia Association of Historians, and the Civil War Round Table of Atlanta. Michael also serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and as a Civil War consultant for the Friends of Camp McDonald.

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Civil War Wednesday: The Battle of Brown’s Mill

Major General William T. Sherman issued Parajumpers Jacka Herr Special Field Orders, No. 42 on July 25, 1864, once again communicating his plans for taking the city of Atlanta. Sherman’s horse soldiers received special mention in the orders, which indicated the troopers’ main mission rested on destroying portions of the rail network lining the city.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Saddles began filling on the morning of July 28; soon, two brigades under Brigadier General Edward McCook left a dusty trail as they rode toward the Macon and Western Railroad. After destroying large sections of this line, the horsemen turned their sights toward the Atlanta and West Point Railroad. A surprise awaited the riders as they traveled the Ricketyback Road when Southern iron of a different form – the cavalry soldiers with Major General Joe Wheeler – twisted the Federals’ plans, much as they had intended to warp the tracks of the Atlanta and West Point.

Hard fighting, often hand-to-hand, took place along the Ricketyback Road, and when Confederate reinforcements, in the form of the 1st and 9th Tennessee Battalions blocked the intersection onto the Corinth Road, the battle turned into a rout. Wheeler smelled blood, rose in his saddle, and encouraged his soldiers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas to “Follow me! My brave Men!” McCook, shaken with the sudden onslaught, sat in his saddle, almost as if in a daze, mumbling, “What shall we do? What shall we do?” Colonel James Brownlow, son of Tennessee’s infamous “Parson” Brownlow had the answer. Escape! As Brownlow maneuvered toward the Chattahoochee River, at a position near Franklin, McCook and company rode toward the New River. The brave soldiers of the 8th Iowa fought a strong rearguard holding action, which allowed several Federal troopers to avoid a trip to Andersonville’s Camp Sumter. Local African-Americans served as guides for both fleeing forces, as they attempted to navigate through the unfamiliar territory.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Early on the morning of July 31, lead elements of Wheeler’s force caught up with Brownlow’s command and took several prisoners. Crossing the Chattahoochee proved a very slow process, and those boys in blue remaining on the “wrong” side of the river became prisoners. In his after-action report, McCook stated, “At Brown’s Mill…I was surrounded by an overwhelming force.” A fitting summation for a costly defeat, one Sherman echoed in a communication to Washington, “The loss of this cavalry is a serious one to me.”

One bright moment for the Federals did emerge from their suffering at Brown’s Mill, when Private George Healey with the 5th Iowa Cavalry received the Medal of Honor for assisting in the capture of five Confederate soldiers. Federal casualties during the action numbered 1,400 with almost 1,300 taken as prisoners; Wheeler lost around 700 dead, wounded, or missing.

[1] David Evans, Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 261.

[1] Ibid., 264.

Images courtesy Library of Congress.

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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