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Johnny Vardeman: 12 prisoners fleeing Civil War hanged in Hall
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Jimmy Anderson could be considered Lumpkin County’s attic. The retired postmaster and businessman has accumulated so much history and artifacts of the area it fills several rooms in his house on Crown Mountain.

His research into Lumpkin County’s people and their history also has spilled over into other counties, including Hall, whose connection to its neighbor to the north dates back into the gold rush days of the 1800s.

As postmaster, Anderson would receive information and artifacts from people who came to him knowing his interest in area history. Some of it he had to buy; others came from people just wanting to clear out their attics or barns.

As publisher of the North Georgia Journal, he wrote and edited numerous articles about this area’s history. He maintains a collection of that magazine, which he sold several years ago, and another, Georgia Backroads. Anderson has a multitude of fading photographs from the past: old newspapers, reference books, various documents, letters from Civil War soldiers, etc. He is most proud, however, of a database he has compiled of more than 180,000 names of people whose roots are in Lumpkin County.

Over the years, all of that has filled him with stories that he enjoys relating to interested listeners.

One of those names with a Hall County connection is J.J. Findley, a gold miner, Civil War officer, sheriff, legislator and lawyer. Findley had lived both in Lumpkin and Hall counties. His Gainesville home was the former Vickers Funeral Home that overlooked Broad Street, also formerly Lawrenceville Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway, in the vicinity of East Avenue.

The famous Findley Ridge in Dahlonega bears his name because it was the site of much of his and others’ gold mining. Evidence of that can still be seen around the ridge.

Findley’s Lumpkin County home behind Dahlonega’s Methodist Church stood until a few years ago when it was torn down. Anderson owns the Findley family photo album and Findley’s Civil War sword.

Findley referred to himself as a Confederate brigadier general, but Anderson says his research showed his highest rank was a colonel. His obituary listed him as a major in the Confederate Army. After the war, he commanded the Home Guard in Lumpkin County with his office in the old courthouse, now the Gold Museum. Findley also had served as Lumpkin County sheriff and as a state legislator.

During the Civil War, Findley made raids into Union, Fannin and Gilmer counties, where there were numerous Union sympathizers. Anderson said the raiders brought three Confederate Army deserters back to Lumpkin County, where he ordered a firing squad to execute them. The story goes they were taken five miles from Dahlonega, shot, then their bodies thrown off a cliff.

In another incident, Findley is said to have taken 15 prisoners to New Holland in Hall County and hanged them. Union sympathizers or Confederate deserters, they had been trying to escape to Cleveland, Tennessee. They were buried in New Holland, Anderson said, but later their bodies were exhumed and buried in the national cemetery in Marietta.

A story in the Gainesville Eagle in 1873 told about Findley’s involvement in a fracas in Forsyth County. He was among a party of federal officers who raided a liquor still and arrested several men.

They were headed to Atlanta with the prisoners when they stopped for breakfast at a place near the Chattahoochee River. Four armed men approached the officers, apparently intent on rescuing the prisoners, and a gunfight ensued. Both sides shot at each other until they ran out of ammunition. The gunmen fled, but not before one of them, Ira Hansard, had been fatally wounded. Two of the officers also had been wounded, including Findley’s son, James, but not seriously. The officers continued on with their prisoners, holding them in the Forsyth County Jail until they could resume their trip to Atlanta.

Col. Findley died at about age 60 in March 1888 at the home of his son, James A. in Gainesville. Cause of death was reported as “malignant cancer of the face.”

He is buried in Gainesville’s Alta Vista Cemetery.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326; vardeman1956@att.net.

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