Desperate Spring:  the War Ends for Dalton 


By John Hutcheson

Dalton Civil War 150th Commission

When and how Dalton learned of the great events of April 1865—Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln’s assassination, and Johnston’s surrender in North Carolina—are not precisely known, but on each occasion Union army communications likely brought the news within a couple of days.

Nevertheless, security in Northwest Georgia troubled Federal officers well past the Confederate capitulations in the east.  West of the mountains sizeable Southern units were still in the field, and in mid-April George H. Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland,  heard from the Unionist Governor of Tennessee and other sources that Confederate General William Wofford was fitting out a force in Northern Georgia to raid the railroad between Chattanooga and Knoxville.  Thomas ordered IV Corps commander James Steedman to inform Wofford that if he attempted the operation, Thomas would “so despoil Georgia that fifty years hence it will be a wilderness.”  The rumor proved to be false, but “bushwhackers” and other marauders preying on meager civilian resources were an undeniable and pressing concern.  Their numbers grew as Confederate armies dissolved, parolees returned home, and a real prospect of starvation confronted many of the area’s people.   For his part, Steedman proposed sending additional forces to Dalton and Rome and extending the list of occupied places to include Adairsville, Kingston, Cartersville, Summerville, Calhoun, the Etowah bridgeheads, Cassville, Tilton, and Spring Place.

On the other hand, one of Thomas’s cavalry officers who had completed “somewhat extended marches through Northwestern Georgia” in late April and early May concluded that “it is the earnest desire of the people and the Confederate soldiers to return quietly to their homes, and give all aid they can to the Federal authorities in restoring the supremacy of the Federal civil authority, and to reorganize their civil courts, and put down with all their might all disturbers of the peace and violates [sic] of law.”  Such reports seemed to vindicate Thomas’s order of April 13 requesting the citizens of Northern Georgia and other areas under his control to return to their allegiance to the United States, establish new courts, and uphold the law “as far as practicable.”

Thomas noted that since these districts had been “overpowered by the tide of secession” and “were among the last to desert the cause of the Union,” he was confident they would “be among the first to return to their allegiance and to assist in the restoration of peace and enforcement of the laws.”   In response, a citizens’ meeting in Dalton on May 6 formally renounced all ties with the Confederacy, declared Whitfield County’s loyalty to the Federal government, and arranged for new elections to offices deemed vacant because they had previously been held under Confederate authority.

While these actions clearly moved toward restoring normal circumstances, they did not lead to an immediate departure of U.S troops from Dalton–some were still present in early July, when an Ohio regiment of light artillery was withdrawn.  These may well have been the last of the occupiers, however, for by then thousands of volunteers and conscripts were mustering out of the service.  The remaining Regular Army was stretched thin across the entire South, and in Georgia it soon shrank to a few thousand men, stationed at Augusta, Atlanta, and Macon.  In Whitfield County, an order from General Thomas on June 16 authorized newly elected officials to assume and exercise their duties “until the civil government of the State resumes its legitimate functions.”

Legitimate government or not, daunting prospects faced the civilians who slowly returned to Dalton in the late spring and summer of 1865.  Much of the town lay in ruins and almost no surviving buildings were unscathed.  The Blunt family, for example, found their house on Thornton Avenue still habitable but heavily damaged, surrounded by demolished outbuildings and fences, trees and shrubbery chopped down or stripped bare, and an array of brush arbors which had sheltered patients during the house’s use as a Union army hospital.  Ainsworth Blunt’s beloved Presbyterian church had been razed, its timbers and other materials shipped to Chattanooga for use in a hospital there.  The congregation’s Session, comprising some of the community’s most prominent personages in one of its more prestigious bodies, had not met since April 25, 1864 and would not convene again until March 11, 1866—a lapse which tellingly reveals how completely ordinary routines had disintegrated.  After spending two days in Dalton, a correspondent for the Boston Journal “thought it had the most desolate look of any place I had ever seen.  The depot is partly burned down, the offices are shut, and there were no signs of trade. . . .  It was a brisk business place once.  There is a long street of stores, but they are all open, empty, dirty, the shelves without a single article on them.  The counters are hacked, sometimes broken down. . . .  It is the same with dwellings.”

Despite Dalton’s dismal situation at the end of the war, some outside observers foresaw a hopeful future.  As early as mid-June 1865, a New York Times writer reported that Dalton was “the most flourishing place, in my estimation, between Chattanooga and Atlanta. . . .”  He extolled the town’s scenic location, railroad connections, and prewar productivity, concluding that “this would be a grand place for the combination of capital and labor.  The country about would support fifty thousand men.”

By the decade’s end at least a portion of the local people shared his optimism.  The town’s population stood at 1,812—almost 200 more than in 1860–  and some impressive new buildings had arisen, such as the imposing Italianate residence on Thornton Avenue erected in 1867 by Judge C. D. McCutchen—the first house to be built in Dalton after the war.  In an introduction written for the program of the 1870 county fair, a group of civic leaders almost dared anybody to doubt how much had been achieved.  “If one, who passed along the track of Sherman’s march through North Georgia in the fall of 1864 should see it now, he would be surprised to find houses rebuilt, fences replaced, and all the evidence of thrift and prosperity taking the place of the charred ruins he left behind him,” the authors declared.  “This has been done without capital, without banks, without anything like a currency to serve as a medium of exchange, and it is solely [due] to the energetic industry of the people aided by the productiveness of their soil.”   Physically and morally, Dalton had moved from Occupation to Reconstruction, and seeds were being sown for its modern economic development.

Glimpses of Northwest Georgia at War’s End

Edited by Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Hoole McArthur


By June 1865 the Civil War, for all intents and purposes, was over, the major armies having surrendered in April and May. Benjamin C. Truman, a correspondent for the New York Times, traveled by rail through northwest Georgia, recording his observations for his Northern readers. He covered a wide range of topics, from transportation and communication to agriculture and natural resources. His perceptive, candid, sometimes humorous descriptions reveal a land and its people deeply ravaged and distressed by war, but with promise for the future. Edited excerpts from his narrative “The South; Northwestern Georgia,” written June 9-11 and published in the Times June 18, 1865, are reproduced here.

“The railroad is in running order from Chattanooga to Calhoun, and will be completed to Atlanta in just six weeks from next Monday. [At the time the Western & Atlantic was under the control of the United States Military Railroad, and reconstruction of the track had begun as soon as the war ended.] The telegraph will be finished next Tuesday. The railroad between Kingston and Rome is also complete. So it is between Macon and Atlanta and Atlanta and Augusta. Nearly a hundred houses are in process of completion, and the immense freight depot at Atlanta is nearly rebuilt. The country commences to improve after leaving the Etowah River, and there are some very [fine homes] in the neighborhood of Marietta, the latter being a very charming town, and uninjured.

“The [Chattahoochee] River divides Georgia into two sections of country. West of the river not one-hundreth part of the land is under cultivation, while the people are the most…demoralized I have ever seen. There is no cotton of consequence raised on this side of the river, and very little of anything is raised for the market. On the eastern side of the river a very different state of things exists. The land is in good order, and the people are upright and intelligent. The cultivation of the land, the wealth and intelligence of the people improve in every direction, from the Chattahoochee river to the coast. Just now, however, thanks to the rebellion and its Georgia [supporters], a frightful state of things exists, which is alone confined to the citizens of Georgia. Murders are of the most frequent occurrence. Robberies prevail to an alarming extent….

“Dalton, 38 miles from Chattanooga, is the most flourishing place, in my estimation, on the Georgia Railroad, between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Before the war it contained nearly 3,000 population, a large proportion of whom were Germans, although the place was settled by a New-Englander named [Tristram] Dalton, in 1846, upon the site of what was known as Cross Plains.

“Its location is in a beautiful and fertile valley, environed by mountains of stately proportions, from the summits of which the eye is regaled with the grandest scenery. The soil is limestone, producing wheat and corn, and reputed to be the best wheat land in Georgia. The surrounding country is good, and in former times shipped large quantities of grain and produce from this point. The Germans residing about Dalton had succeeded well in the grape culture, and manufactured a quantity of wine, said to be unsurpassed by foreign brands. One individual, in 1859, manufactured three thousand gallons from a single crop. This would be a grand place for the combination of capital and labor. The country about would support fifty thousand men.

“Dalton is a great railroad centre, and contains, or can be made to contain, all the essentials in the way of trade and mechanism. Before the war there were several steam lumber mills, three or four flour mills, an extensive foundry, a Presbyterian female college, a newspaper, churches, schools, &c. The railroad depot, which is partially destroyed, was a creditable structure.

“As a railroad centre it had few equals in the South. On arriving at Dalton the traveler bound North is offered a choice of routes—by continuous railway through Georgia, South and North Carolina to Richmond, or by the great Southern route, through East Tennessee and Virginia, opening a most desirable, attractive and healthy route, with unsurpassed beauty of picturesque mountain scenery, to Lynchburgh, Richmond, all of the celebrated Virginia Springs and Washington City….

“Before arriving at Tunnel Hill, which is rather a pretty town, we pass through Buzzard Roost, which is really a couple of natural pyramids, close together, and at least a hundred feet higher than their neighbors. A year ago last month the [Union] Army of the Cumberland lost a thousand men, killed and wounded, at this point, many of whom were crushed to death by ponderous boulders rolled down the sides of the Roost.

“Tunnel Hill is 31 miles from Chattanooga, and stands in [Whitfield] County, where the mountains seem to come together, forming a very pretty amphitheatre, as though with a Titanic purpose of hemming in the railroad. The tunnel at this place is 1,447 feet long, 18 feet high, with a clear width of 12 feet. It is cut through solid rock, the lateral walls of the rock being six feet at the base and five feet at the top. The town is charmingly nestled, and contained before the war a population of 1,500 souls.

“[G]en. Judah commanded in this department, and was very efficient as a post commander. [Though the war was over, Georgia was still under military control and northwest Georgia was temporarily being administered by Henry M. Judah, stationed in Marietta.] During Judah’s absence Prince Salm Salm [Prussian-born Prince Felix of Salm Salm, today a part of France]…has been in command. Prince Salm Salm, who is generally called Slam Slam, or Slam Bang, is said to be a good officer, having served many years in European armies. He is a funny little fellow, with a shriveled face, made exceedingly hideous by a quizzing glass with one eye, which is kept in its place by muscular contraction. Slam Slam is very popular—or at least Mrs. [Agnes] Slam Slam is—which is all the better. She is a dashing rider, and terrifies her spectators by her daring and intrepidity. This lady is at present at Dalton, and will leave, in company with her husband, in a few days, who goes North, to be examined for a position in the regular army.

“Ringgold, twenty three miles from Chattanooga is situated in a romantic part of Walker County, and was named in honor of the gallant warrior who fell in Mexico [Major Samuel Ringgold, mortally wounded 1846 in the Battle of Palo Alto, Mexican War, near Brownsville, Texas]. The population before the war was over a thousand, and the town bid fair to become one of the most flourishing in Northern Georgia.”

As he neared the state line. Truman described Walker County as “a district abounding in valuable minerals, various watering-places and magnificent mountain scenery.” He then commented briefly on the little villages of Chickamauga and Boyce:  “The next town—if if I can swindle the reader into the belief that four houses constitute a town—is Chickamauga, the name given to the most sanguinary battle fought this side of the [Alleghenies]…. Chickamauga is ten miles from Chattanooga. The next town is Boyce, five miles from Chattanooga, and is no town at all.”


Truman concluded his article upon arrival at Chattanooga, his final destination, adding on June 11: “A terrific explosion took place here last Friday afternoon at the ordinance buildings, and I think through carelessness, which resulted in the complete destruction of the ordnance and commissary buildings, and a large amount of ordnance and quartermaster’s stores…. The post commandant here is Brevet Brig.-Gen. [Charles H. Grosvenor], who is a very efficient officer. He is a gallant man on a field of action, and a careful officer.”

Benjamin C. Truman (1835-1916), was a Rhode Island-born journalist, school principal, war correspondent, author of several books, noted story teller, playwright, composer of war songs, and, interestingly, authority on duels. After the assassination of Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson, with whom he had served during the war, appointed him staff officer and secretary. Truman traveled extensively in the South after the war, and his insightful letters to the New York Times are valuable eyewitness resources for the Reconstruction Era.

Captions and Image Credits


Left: Benjamin C. Truman. Image credit: Santa Clarita Valley (Calif.) Historical Society.

Middle: Capt. Felix Salm Salm during his service in the American Civil War. Image credit: photograph by Mathew Brady,   Library of Congress

Right: Agnes Elisabeth Winona Leclerc Joy, Princess Salm Salm, between 1862-1880. Image credit: Library of Congress.