Marching Through Georgia
Our first stop in Savannah was the Colonial Park Cemetery, on the edge of what is now known as the Historic District (every town over 100 people now has an Historic District). It was here that the Union army encamped after it’s long march from Atlanta, in which it torched a path 300 miles long and 30 miles wide. So it was here that my great great grandfather would have pitched a tent and rested for the first time in over a month.
Cyrus Baird served as a captain in Company E, 129 Illinois Infantry. In his diary he reported that he was “selected Captain by a unanimous vote.” He took a minie ball in the foot in Atlanta, and contracted a disease which resulted in his being sent behind the lines for several months.
You can search the Colonial Park Cemetery from one edge to the other for signs that the Union army encamped here. There are plenty of plaques honoring this or that Revolutionary War hero or grand poet, or describing the many duelists that rest under the earth here, but no mention of Cyrus and his blue-clad comrades. Various histories tell you that the Union soldiers desecrated and looted graves in the cemetery, even sought respite from the elements by crawling in the tombs. Others point to tombstones where the dates have been mischievously changed, so that, for example, the inhabitant died a year before he was born, and blame it on the Yankees.
I sat on a bench on the edge of the cemetery and tried to feel the presence of Cyrus and the other soldiers who had camped here. Cyrus was a small, wiry man, who fought in ten battles in the war. He wrote a diary describing his experiences in some detail. He showed very little animosity toward the South or toward the soldiers he was fighting. It was simply a job that needed to be done. Until he came to Columbia, that is. Sherman had spared Savannah (and later Charleston) from the match, but when he swung toward the capitol of South Carolina the soldiers’ attitudes underwent a marked shift. This was where the terrible war had started. The capitol of the first state to secede and kick off all the misery. A little retribution seemed in order. A strong wind blew the night they arrived, and Cyrus and his men tore open bales of cotton stacked in a barn and stuck chunks of the stuff on the tips of their bayonets. They set fire to the cotton, and held their bayonets up in the wind. Burning cotton whipped into town and the city burned to the ground.
I wondered what Cyrus would think now of the cemetery in which he and his men had camped. It is so well-kept and civilized with all of the brass plaques and wrought iron arches. He would be grateful, I think, for the many memorials and gatherings that are being held around the country to recognize the cause he and his comrades fought for. I suspect, however, that he would be greatly amused by the reenactments of the major battles in which he participated.
After the war, Sherman took care of the officers under his command. When U.S. Grant was elected president, Sherman suggested he give many of them plum government jobs. Grant appointed Cyrus postmaster of Lincoln, Nebraska. His wife wrote an endearing diary of pioneering women. The two had, among other children, a daughter, Mamie, who along with her husband Art Raymond had Ruthie, my grandmother.
Cyrus’ men so admired their captain that toward the end of the war they carved from a piece of cherry wood a long stemmed curved pipe in which the names of all the battles they had fought in together were cut. They presented it to him around a campfire in the last few weeks of the war. We have the pipe today.
The first picture is of Cyrus as a young man. In the second, a bit older, he and his wife are in a horse and carriage in front of their home in Lincoln.