COLUMN curtesy Everett Catts, News Editor
Northside/Sandy Springs/Vinings Neighbor
By Thornton Kennedy
May 10, 2017
The cause of the Civil War has been discussed in these parts ad nauseam, and those of us who enjoy a good history book or studied the subject, say in high school, can answer fairly easily.
This week I want to address the aftermath of the War Between the States, and one particular group of soldiers, who were the first in Atlanta into the war and the first in Atlanta to commit to a lasting peace.
Their story is as relevant today as it was more than 150 years ago.
Let me preface this by saying this is a Northside story because it was through Buckhead, and through this paper, that I became aware of the Gate City Guard and the Old Guard of the Gate City Guard.
By 1850, three railroads connected the new city of Atlanta to just about anywhere in the Southeastern United States. These were the Western & Atlantic, which connected to Chattanooga, Tennessee; the Georgia Railroad, which ran between Augusta and Athens, with a branch to Atlanta; and the Macon & Western, which connected Macon and Atlanta. For this reason, Atlanta earned the nickname “the Gate City of the South.”
This nexus also brought growth, which stretched the fledgling city’s resources fairly thin.
In 1857, a group of 100 prominent residents formed the Gate City Guard, a volunteer militia that could step in if the police or fire services were overwhelmed.
They were similar to the Minuteman of the Revolutionary War. They were independently organized and well-trained. George Harvey Thompson served as the first commander. Gov. Joseph Brown awarded the Gate City Guard a charter in 1859.
When Georgia voted to secede from the Union in 1861, the Gate City Guard was the first militia to offer its services to the governor in the state. They were sent to Florida to help reinforce Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. They then went to Virginia and fought under Gen. Robert E. Lee. When their commitment in the Gate City Guard expired, many of the homegrown soldiers enlisted in the Confederate army and continued fighting.
Following the war, the wounds of the nation were slow to heal, and violent clashes between Southerners and the occupying Union armies continued.
The Gate City Guard, now under the leadership of Col. Joseph Burke, took it upon itself to attempt reconciliation. They organized a peace mission in 1879, traveling around the Northeast and meeting with Union veterans and leaders. They were greeted by cheering throngs everywhere they went, and newspapers reported extensively on the tour. It was considered a profound success.
By the 1890s, several members came to the conclusion they were getting too old to serve their community militarily, but recognized there was still work to be done through the Gate City Guard. They became the Old Guard of the Gate City Guard, a group that still meets monthly to this day.
I became acquainted with the organization through a great Buckhead resident, Alvis Weatherly, and his band of brothers, who were members of the Old Guard. I have their history – three volumes, “The Chronicles of the Old Guard,” on my book shelf.
There are several lasting vestiges of this noble group, which was the first in Atlanta to stand up and volunteer during the Civil War, and the first militia to visit the Northeast on a mission of peace after.
The most important is the Peace Monument at the entrance of Piedmont Park at 14th Street in Midtown.
An angel, wings outstretched, stays a soldier with a cocked rifle in one hand, and is a peacemaker in the other with an olive branch raised to the sky.