Local News

March 8, 2014

Civil War anniversary: A visit to the Dalton front

In 1892, Mary Ann Harris Gay of Decatur published “Life in Dixie During the War.” It was acclaimed as an extraordinary personal account of a Southern woman’s struggles during the Civil War. One captivating story described her visit to the Dalton front in April 1864.

During the winter of 1863-64, Gen. Joseph Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was encamped in and around Dalton. One of the thousands of soldiers in the area was 27-year-old Lt. Thomas (Thomie) Stokes, Co. I, 10th Texas Infantry, of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s Division.

Originally enlisting in Texas in 1861, Stokes had been captured in Arkansas early in 1863, sent to  Camp Chase Prison in Ohio, exchanged, then temporarily assigned to other units in the Trans-Mississippi Department. Stokes remained displaced until March 4, 1864, when he was reunited with his unit in Dalton.

Stokes’ half-sister Mary Ann Harris Gay was a woman of great conviction and determination. She was a strong supporter of the Southern cause, even regretted she could not fight in the Confederate Army. Instead, she raised money to feed destitute mothers and children, provided information for Confederate forces, supplied warm clothing to soldiers and offered support in countless other ways.

In April 1864 she resolved to go to Dalton to visit Thomie, to whom she was devoted.

 “This trip,” she declared, “was taken for the purpose of carrying provisions and articles of clothing to my brother and his comrades in General Joseph E. Johnston’s command. In vain had our mother tried to send appetizing baskets of food to her son, whose soldier rations consisted of salty bacon and hard tack; some disaster, real or imaginary, always occurred to prevent them from reaching their destination.”

Mary planned to transport the provisions personally. “Jugs were filled with good sorghum syrup, and baskets with bread, pies, cakes … and sacks of potatoes, onions and peppers.” She would travel the Georgia Railroad from Decatur to Atlanta, then the Western & Atlantic to Dalton. Round-trip rail fare was $16.

The Decatur Depot was always a favorite source of war news, and when Gay departed April 23 for “the front,” she was the center of attention. “Every mother,” she explained, “who had a darling son in that branch of the army hoped that he would be the first to greet me on my arrival there, and give me a message for her.”

In Atlanta she boarded the cars for Dalton. “I … soon found myself on familiar terms with all on board; for were we not friends and kindred bound to each other by the closest ties? Every age and condition of Southern life was represented in that long train of living, anxious freight. … The great bond connecting them rendered every other consideration subordinate, and the rich and poor, the educated and ignorant, met and mingled.”

In Dalton, Gay was met by an old friend whose wife would provide room and board for $20 for her three-night stay. Thomie was notified of her arrival, but was on duty. “A soldier’s time is not his own,” she observed, “even in seasons of tranquility.”

When finally they met, their reunion was warm, joyful, and memorable. The two passed long hours exchanging news of family and friends. They continued their visit over a fine meal of squab pie, fresh butter, buttermilk, cornbread, and baked apples. She shared news of his wife and son, and of their mother’s failing health. They discussed his younger sister’s “quaint and innocent peculiarities” and his older sister’s ability to “paddle her own canoe.” At day’s end, they said their fervent goodbyes and gentle blessings, not knowing when, or if, they would meet again.

Stokes fought at Resaca in May, Kennesaw in June, and Atlanta in July-August. Following the fall of Atlanta, the 10th Texas was assigned to Brig. Gen. Hiram Granbury’s Texas Brigade, Maj. Gen. Cleburne’s Division, Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee.

Mary saw Thomie once more, in September, just southwest of Atlanta. This time, as they said their goodbyes, she sensed he knew his days were numbered. Shortly thereafter, Hood’s army moved into Tennessee.

On Nov. 30, 1864, near Franklin, Hood ordered numerous frontal assaults against strongly fortified Union positions. Sometimes called “Pickett’s Charge of the West,” the attacks resulted in the slaughter of more than 6,000 Confederates. Among the dead were Gens. Granbury and Cleburne and Lt. Stokes.

Mary would grieve for her brother all her life. After his death, and that of her ailing mother, she cared for Thomie’s widow and son and her half-sister. Her book of memoirs, “Life in Dixie,” paid tribute to all soldiers, but was written for Thomie’s son, that he might appreciate the father he never knew.

Mary Gay died in 1918, shortly before her 90th birthday, and was buried in Decatur. She is remembered today for her courage, energy, and conviction. But she is also remembered for her detailed personal stories, her vivid descriptions, and her perceptive insights into the sentiments, passions, and emotions of ordinary citizens during the war. One was her brief glimpse of Dalton.

For her accomplishments Gay was named in 1997 a Georgia Woman of Achievement.

This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or robert.jenkins@robertdjenkins.com.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Little library 1 mlh.jpg Little Libraries, big goal

    Whitfield County just received a new library.
    And better yet, 26 more are on the way to the region.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Picture 3.jpg Rock solid

    A great number of things have come and gone since 1974.
    One that hasn’t: a small Dalton school founded by parents wanting a unique learning environment for their children.

    July 27, 2014 2 Photos

  • Vann House Day '14 6 mlh.jpg History comes alive at Vann House

    SPRING PLACE — In the early 1800s, the 1,000-acre plantation belonging to Cherokee Indian leader James Vann was a bustling place.

    July 26, 2014 5 Photos

  • Local officials agree with Deal

    Regarding news last week that approximately 30 unaccompanied minors from Central America, who had crossed the southern border into the United States, were sent without warning to Dalton last year and enrolled in Dalton Public Schools, Republican politicians representing portions of Murray and Whitfield Counties agree — state and local school officials deserved to know in advance, they say.

    July 26, 2014

  • Former chamber location 2 mlh.jpg Plan could cut flooding, stormwater damage in Dalton

    On a recent day, McClellan Creek flowed gently through Harlan Godfrey Civitan Park. But some park goers who live near the area say that even a mild rain can turn the creek into a torrent that eats away at their property.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Civil War anniversary: The Battle of Crow Valley, May 9-12, 1864

    The Atlanta Campaign began during the first two weeks of May 1864 in and around Dalton. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s strategy was to target two of his armies, about 80,000 men, against Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton. Then, while Johnston’s attention was diverted by these forces, he would secretly send his third army, about 25,000 troops under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, in a flanking movement to the southwest through Snake Creek Gap. Sherman’s goal was to break Johnston’s railroad supply line some 15 miles south at Resaca and trap Johnston’s Confederates in Dalton.

    July 26, 2014

  • New church being  built mlh.jpg Church construction continues

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Avans.jpg Three arrested in arson plot to claim insurance money

    Three people have been arrested for their role in a fire at a Chatsworth home as part of an insurance scam to collect money, officials said.

    July 25, 2014 3 Photos

  • Investigation into MFG chemical accident continues

    An investigation is still ongoing after a MFG Chemical employee was injured earlier this month at a plant on Kimberly Park Drive.

    July 25, 2014

  • Judge sets $100,000 bond for Cohutta man accused of incest, molestation

    A Cohutta man charged with incest, aggravated sodomy and child molestation was granted a $100,000 bond over the prosecutor’s objection on Friday.

    July 25, 2014