By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Johnny Vardeman: Civil War left many families divided in Georgia mountains
Johnny Vardeman

In the discussion about Civil War monuments these days, Union County has a unique tribute to those who fought in the war.

The War Memorial Veterans Park in Blairsville has monuments to veterans of all wars, including the Civil War. Unusual is the Civil War monument contains names of 92 Confederate veterans, but also three Union soldiers from Union County.

Bud Akins sets the record straight right away. The Union County lifetime resident says there’s a misconception that the county’s name had something to do with the Civil War. Instead, he said, a group of “unified” settlers in 1832, long before the war, decided on the name at the suggestion of a state legislator, John Thomas.

Union County, however, was divided during the Civil War. Ethelene Dyer Jones, a Union County native, writer and historian, says few families owned slaves, farms were smaller, most residents were against slavery anyway and fiercely independent in their thinking.

Her research indicates the county was about 60 percent against Georgia’s secession from the Union, probably about the same in other mountain counties. Union County delegates to Georgia’s secession convention voted against secession as did those from Towns, Gilmer, Rabun, Lumpkin, Hall and Dawson. Delegations from Banks, White, Fannin and Forsyth split their votes for or against. Total statewide vote was 208 to 89 to secede.

Two of Hall’s delegates, Davis Whelchel and Phillip M. Byrd, were among six of the state’s delegates at the secession convention to sign a protest against the vote to secede. E.M. Johnson, a third Hall delegate, also opposed secession.

Feelings against the Civil War were so intense among some residents that they attempted to deed their land to Canada. It didn’t happen, but the “Canada” name to that area stuck in the name of a creek and militia district in Union County.

Duncan Dobie illustrates the division in his book on U.S. Forest Ranger Arthur Woody of Suches in Union County. Those against the war often would hide in the mountains to escape being forced to serve in the Confederate Army. Some who were conscripted would desert.

John Wesley Woody Sr. was 80 years old when the war began and was an ardent supporter of the Union. His son, John Woody Jr., and grandson, Aaron W. Woody, opposed the war, but the Confederates conscripted them. 

John deserted. Woody Sr.’s other sons sided with the Confederacy at least at first, but some deserted because they didn’t like the treatment of blacks.

One of the brothers, Josiah Askew Woody, enlisted in the Confederate Army and was regularly promoted, but left the battlefield to pursue the ministry. Returning to the mountains he helped organize a volunteer renegade group to chase down Confederate deserters. Josiah even had his father and brother arrested and tried for treason, though they were cleared of the charges.

But Josiah continued to pursue them, intent on hanging them before they escaped and joined the Union Army in Tennessee. After the war, John Wesley Woody Jr. became Dahlonega postmaster, and Aaron Woody became Lumpkin County sheriff. Woody Gap, north of Dahlonega, is named for John Wesley Woody Jr.

Dobie said many of the Woodys never reconciled, some of them moving from the area. Many other mountain families were impacted by serious disagreements over whether they supported the Southern cause or believed in maintaining the Union.

Bud Akins’ ancestors supported the Confederacy. His great-great-grandfather, Tom Coke Hughes, was a second lieutenant in the army and became a Methodist minister and state legislator after the war. A circuit rider on a mule, he is buried in the Blairsville Cemetery.

Another great-great-grandfather, Adam Franklin Rogers, also fought for the South and is buried in Antioch Cemetery in Union County.

Dade County, in the northwest corner of the state, not only seceded from the United States, but Georgia as well. The county’s action took place before the state’s secession convention. It was not officially recognized, so in reality the county seceded from the Union along with the rest of Georgia.

In a listing of Georgia counties on the quarter coin, Dade County was inadvertently left off. President Harry Truman in 1945 recognized the county as having rejoined the United States, though officially it had never left Georgia or the Union.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; e-mail.

Regional events