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History comes alive: Tour to stop locally on Sherman's March path

CONYERS - History buffs and Civil War enthusiasts will have the chance to learn about Sherman's March to the Sea by walking the same ground as Union troops did - and more - in a Civil War Ramble tour organized by the Rockdale County Historical Society.

Registration is open for the mobile tour set for Nov. 7, but seating is limited. Call Susan Vaughn at 770-922-4547 for more information or to register.

The tour will follow the "Left Wing" of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea from Conyers to Madison. It will be led by Steve Longcrier, executive director of Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails. The day-trip will begin at the old Conyers Depot on Railroad Street and travel via bus to Madison for lunch before returning to Conyers.

Harriet Gaddis of the Historical Society explained the Ramble will highlight local sections of the planned Georgia Civil War Heritage Trail leading up to the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in 2011.

Interpretative historical markers are planned to be placed at the stops of the Ramble as part of the Heritage Trail. In all, 88 markers will be installed between Atlanta and Savannah to provide a unique tour of Sherman's 1864 march.

Gaddis added that having Longcrier talk about the stops will be an added benefit to the riders.

"He's birthed these trails, so this is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who wants to know more about the Civil War," she said.

Stops along the Ramble will include the Conyers train depot, which was burned twice during the war and once when Sherman and his men marched through Conyers. Another stop will be at the Philadelphia United Methodist Church on Hightower Trail.

Sherman traveled with the 14th Corps of his army through Conyers, while the 20th Corps followed Hightower Trail. Gaddis said the Ramble at Philadelphia United Methodist Church will highlight how the Union Army used the "total war" concept of fighting with the goal to eliminate foodstuffs and supplies vital to the South's military operations, as well as to strike a blow at Southern civilian morale.

Though destruction of military and civilian infrastructure is a typical outcome of warfare, Sherman is credited as being among the first to deliberately and consciously use total war as a military strategy.

Susan Vaughn of the Historical Society added that interest in Civil War history is high in Rockdale County considering all of Sherman's army passed through the area. The Union army's right wing traveled by Panola Mountain in the south end of the county.

"Each corps contained 20,000 men, so just in Rockdale County we had, at least, 50,000 Union soldiers and that is just amazing to me," Vaughn. "They didn't march in a straight line, they foraged 'liberally,' as Sherman said, and it was just devastating to our community and our state."

Stops in Newton County include the Old Church at Oxford College, which served as a military hospital during the war and the Burge Plantation in Mansfield.

The Burge Plantation will not be included in the Civil War Heritage Trail, but Gaddis said it offered a unique look at local history. The plantation was home to Dolly Sumner Burge, whose diary personally recounted the horror and devastation of the day Sherman's men "paid a call" to her home.

"The fact that it's a piece of literature on the Civil War, Dolly Burge's diary is very popular," she said.

SideBar: If you go

· What: A Civil War Ramble tour that will follow the route of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's left wing in the Union Army's March to the Sea in 1864. The tour is organized by the Rockdale County Historical Society.

· When: The tour will begin at 8 a.m. and conclude with a drive back to Conyers at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 7.

· Where: The tour will begin at the Conyers Depot on Railroad Street with stops at Philadelphia United Methodist Church, the Old Church at Oxford College and the Burge Plantation in Mansfield.

· For more information: Registration is $35 and includes meals. All reservations must be made by Nov. 4. Call Susan Vaughn at 770-922-4547.