Hall County and some other Northeast Georgia counties for the most part were reluctantly pulled into the Civil War.
Many of their delegates to the convention calling for Georgia’s secession from the United States voted not to secede, though most eventually went along with other delegates voting in favor.
The Airline Eagle was a newspaper printed in Hall County at the beginning of the war. It later suspended publication during the war, but eventually reappeared under new ownership.
Just a week before the first battle of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the Eagle, predecessor of today’s Times in Gainesville, published news as if secession had not happened, and no war was pending. Its publisher, W.H. Mitchell, announced that the paper “will have little to do with politics except as news … independent in all things and neutrality in nothing.” However, he supported secession, opposed President Abraham Lincoln, and died in 1862 fighting for the Confederacy.
The paper listed post offices set up by the Confederate government: Argo, Chestnut Mountain, Gainesville, Gillsville, Hog Mountain, Polksville, Poplar Springs, Shoal Creek, Skitts Mountain, Sugar Hill and War Hill. W.H. Quillian was postmaster at Argo, J.D. O’Connor at Gainesville and A.B.C. Dorsey at Gillsville.
An indication that business was pretty much as usual, Mrs. C.A. Fielding opened her store on the southwest corner of the Gainesville square, selling bonnets, ribbons, flowers and custom-made dresses. W.G. Fielding simultaneously announced the opening of a confectionary and fruit store, selling candies, nuts, pickles, fish and tobacco. He also operated an ambrotype gallery, a collection of photographs on glass.
E.N. Gower opened a carriage factory, and in nearby Pickens County, the marble industry was getting started, advertising monuments beginning at $20.
Weddings went on as usual, one of the most prominent brides, Sue W. Banks, “the diamond of Hall County,” daughter of the late noted pioneer physician Dr. Richard and Martha Banks, for whom Banks County was named. Sue married Confederate Lt. Walter S. Brewster of Charleston in the Methodist-Episcopal Church.
The Hall County grand jury presentments recommended “a lock on the door of the dungeon of the jail,” repairs to the courthouse, a tax for support of the poor, but “no percent of tax on the county for school purposes.” Grand jurors at that time earned $1 per day.
The Airline Eagle listed elected officials: Superior Court Judge N.L. Hutchins, state Sen. A.J. Poole, Rep. W.P. Smith, Ordinary R.S. Law, Sheriff Richard Walters and various school commissioners. But when it came to the Gainesville City Council, the newspaper wrote, “There seems to be considerable doubt about the existence of this august body.”
While no major battles were fought in Hall County, there was considerable unrest among holdouts against the war, those supporting the war and military deserters. In addition, as the war wore on, times got harder, provisions shorter, and crops lacked enough labor to work them.
As the Civil War wound down, the Eagle resumed its flight with W.J. Sloan as owner. John E. Redwine became publisher by 1867 and wasn’t bashful about politics, declaring the paper a supporter of the Democratic Party. Redwine said he had favored the state’s secession from the Union.
He also was a supporter of a railroad coming through Gainesville. Calling Northeast Georgia “a neglected section,” he pointed out 20 viable counties in a 10,000-square-mile area that cried for rail service. He cited the availability of minerals, fertile valleys and waterfalls. In September 1869 Redwine was proud to announce a contract had been awarded to build the first 20 miles of rail line from Gainesville to “Tugulo,” then a community near Toccoa, connecting it near fruit orchards that would supply northern markets. Today’s Tugaloo River and State Park are spelled differently.
The Eagle continued to play an important part in the area’s history and development, but under several different owners, publishers and editors. It was still publishing as a weekly newspaper in Gainesville in 1947 when the Gainesville Daily Times acquired it, eventually evolving in today’s Times.
Descendants of Dr. Richard Banks continued his legacy playing important parts in the medical, financial and philanthropic aspects of Hall County history. Two parks in Hall County are named for the Banks family. Likewise, the Redwines made their mark. Redwine United Methodist Church near Oakwood is named for William E. Redwine, father of the Eagle’s one-time publisher, John E. Redwine. The Eastern Star chapter also carries the Redwine name.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org.