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Native North Georgia Union Sentiments

Sion Darnell, age 40+/-Sion Darnell (1845-1906, photo at about age 40, about 1885) was founder of two posts and became president of the Georgia Department of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1901. He made the following address to the membership on April 19, 1901.

For more on the war in the North Georgia mountains see:

Robert S. Davis, Jr., Forgotten Union Guerrillas of the North Georgia Mountains, A North Georgia Journal of History, Woodstock, GA: Legacy Communications, 1989.

Robert S. Davis, Jr., Memoirs of a Partisan War, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Spring 1996, from which Sion Darnell's remarks are taken.


Proud of my whole country; proud of its great achievements, and the place it now occupies in the policy and diplomacy of the great nations of the world; proud of my comrades, as part of its heroic defenders in war, and its noble auxiliaries; proud of our present government, with its comrade Chief, and esteeming, as the richest legacy to future ages, the perils, the courage and sacrifices of a great and magnanimous people; in the natural units and national authority, I approach, and fully appreciate, the opportunity your partiality has afforded me, to present some facts, relating to the native Union soldier of North Georgia, in the late civil war.

After the Presidential election of 1860, a fierce contention of thought, representing two opposing and contending forces, was precipitated in this State, and in that geographical division of the same, north of the thirty-fourth parallel, known as North Georgia, was to be found the storm-center of this opposition and contention. A State Convention was called by the Legislature, the purpose of which was to consider the question of secession from the Union of States and the formation of a Southern Confederacy, and those of our people who did not participate in the struggle which ensued do not know, nor can they conceive, of the bitterness of feeling, which prevailed between those who favored separation from the Union and those who believed in its perpetuity. Happily for the country and its great destiny, that feeling has long since abated; but memory remains. Comparatively, there were few slaves in that region, and the people knew but little, from any actual experience, of the dominating character and purpose of the slave power, except that they were not the objects of its solicitude; were not its beneficiaries, and were practically excluded from all participation in the conduct of public affairs. They were, in a sense, vassals of a system of obedience.

But, like the inhabitants of all mountainous regions—for example, Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, North Alabama, Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia—they had imbibed sentiments of freedom, and a patriotism high enough, broad enough, and deep enough, to embrace the whole and the whole Union—not of certain States, but of all the States. They believed, with Henry Clay and other great leaders in patriotic thought, in the doctrine of the paramount authority of the National Government, as against the pernicious contention for separate State sovereignty—that the whole Union, was greater than a part of it, and that all integral entities must be subordinate to National supremacy.

Descended from Revolutionary heroes—the mountain riflemen— who fought with Cleveland, Shelby and Campbell at King's Mountain, with the brave Morgan at the Cowpens, and with the cautious, but courageous Greene at Guilford Court House, they cherished, with a priceless devotion, that heritage of liberty, so rich in its common blessings, and so worthy, as they believed and still believe, of their highest and best efforts for its preservation.

They venerated the Constitution of the United States and all the institutions under it, except slavery, and they loved the flag, which had never cast a shadow upon any land, as the emblem of National authority and glory. Through all the vicissitudes of the years that have come and gone since the struggle of arms was ended, they love that flag still.

In my native town stood an old building, called the court house. It was antiquated and antebellum, and has long since given place to a modern and more convenient structure, but about the spot where that building stood clusters a memory. In front of this old building a flag of the United States was erected by the Union men of that vicinity, my honored father being one of them. The flag was placed on a staff, sixty feet high, conspicuously shown to all of the surrounding country; and it was guarded there, with the utmost fidelity, by the men who erected it, until it was beaten to pieces in the winds and disappeared from sight: and that, too, after the act of secession had been proclaimed.

Appeals were made by the secessionists to the Governor of the State, to send troops to cut this flag down, but the Governor said, "By no means, let it float. It floated over our fathers, and we all love the flag now.... If the people of Pickens county desire to hang it out and keep it there, let them do so. I will send no troops to interfere with it"

This was a generous tribute from the war Governor of the State, who was an ardent secessionist himself, but who was willing to recognize the manhood of a people, who had convictions and dared to maintain them. The flag was gone, but the sentiment that inspired it remained and remains to this day.

Inherently and naturally, these men and the class of which they were types, were opposed to the attempted dismemberment of the Union, and gave by their votes a large and emphatic majority against secession and war. But war came, as the result of the ill-fated purpose to establish an oligarchy, founded upon the proposition that a small part of the country should be greater than the whole and the corner-stone of which was to be slavery, the slavery of human beings and the enslavement of human minds. The specter of disunion, like that famed ghost that would not stay clown, stalked abroad in the land. It was at all feasts; in every household- and the air was surcharged with its disturbing and baleful presence.

On the 19th day of January, 1861, the Act of Georgia's secession passed by the decisive majority of 208 yeas to 89 nays, the delegates from North Georgia voting with the helpless and hopeless minority.

With this Act, Pandora's Box was opened, and the "bloody harvest of war" was at hand. The whirlwind of passion swept all before it, and the Union men of the State were in the shadows of an impending trial, the contemplation of which suggested a feeling of the utmost despair; but they kept their faith, willing to wait, watch, pray and fight, if need be, that the old flag, and the government it represented, might come back to them and their children.

They were called upon to volunteer, and when they refused "pressure" was used. All knew what that meant. Some of them were prevailed upon to enter the Confederate service, by the operation of that Pressure, unknown to any system but the law of force, while others refused to yield their convictions or their actions to the misguided and wasted eloquence of road-side orators, who depicted to them, in glowing terms, the justice of their cause, the glory awaiting them and the fanciful claim that the Northern people would not fight; that they could be whipped with cornstalks and blow-guns; that this could be done any morning before breakfast, and that every man who dared to refuse to fight for the Confederacy should be branded as a traitor to his country, forgetting that the very North they were disparaging and denouncing was as much our country as Georgia.

Other subtle influences were industriously and domineeringly exerted, which could be more keenly felt than seen; and those who refused to enlist were soon to be given over to public hatred, and, in many cases, to public vengeance. There was not only no liberty of speech, but the very thoughts of men must, if possible, be suppressed. Ministers of the gospel were regarded as disloyal to the cause of the Confederacy if they failed or refused to pray for its success. And they were required to do more than that. They were expected to make fervent and persistent application to a throne of divine grace for the destruction of the Union armies, and the government for which they fought. The whole country has long since returned thanks that these prayers were not answered, and has recalled, with much satisfaction and happiness, the reassuring thought that "God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives," and that the delusions of war are no more.

It was held to be a crime, approaching treason, to the cause of the Confederacy, to refuse the depreciated currency, or to use, or possess, the paper money of the United States, called "greenbacks." Gold and silver had disappeared; nearly all issues of State banks were dead, and the very uncertain promises of the Confederate Treasury to be redeemed "six months after the ratification of a treaty of peace between the Confederate States of America and the United States," with some state issues, equally uncertain, were the currency upon which the people had to rely.

At the end of the first year of the struggle, the enthusiastic and unreasoning ardor of Confederate orators and dreamers had perceptibly abated, and some drastic means must be adopted to fill up the depleted regiments and to reorganize and equip others. The dress parade was over. Stern and desperate realities were at hand, and equally stern and desperate measures must be employed.

On the 16th day of April, 1862, the Confederate Congress, following the French system, passed a "Conscription Act," and with the enforcement of this act began the oppression and exodus of the Union men of North Georgia, which placed in the ranks of the Union armies from that portion of the State, about three thousand soldiers, besides many hundreds who escaped into the Union lines, but who, from age and other disabilities, did not enter the military service. Conscript officers [from the Confederate government], usually selected for their special fitness to pursue and harass, and for their well-known indisposition to fight in the armies of the Confederacy, were everywhere, making arrests, and with their numerous staff subordinates, holding drum-head courts, and driving whole neighborhoods of the Union men along the highways and through mountain passes and streams, to the nearest conscript station, or camp, there to be enrolled, arbitrary, in some organization, about the selection of which they were not, in many cases, permitted to have the slightest choice, but from which these men would escape at the first opportunity, and if not again arrested, or killed, "went through the lines," and accepted the first musket offered them, to fight for the Union and the flag they had been taught from their youth to love. These men have been called deserters, but the charge is not warranted, for the reason that they simply escaped from custody.

Those who exercised authority in that region appeared to have lost all sense of reason and humanity, and a veritable reign of terror prevailed for two years over all that part of the State. War, with many of its hideous barbarities, was made against men, women, children, the young and the old, and with a merciless indifference, against every condition of dependence and helplessness.

Old Union men, whose hands had never done aught but deeds of kindness, and whose hearts had never responded to any other thought but to stand by the flag and to minister to the afflicted and distressed, were arrested or slain. or carried in chains along the highways to prison in Atlanta or elsewhere, by armed guards, claiming to be authorized soldiers. Murders of such men occurred in nearly, if not quite, every county in that division of the State, and especially in the more northern portion of it. In the county of Pickens alone twelve such murders were committed, and one of the victims was, or had been, a judge of the County, or inferior court, and from another county a number of men, among them an old man 75 years of age, were arrested and driven through the country to prison barracks in Atlanta.

Few counties in that part of the state escaped these conditions. Young men, the sons of Union fathers, and doting mothers, were hunted down, arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases, destroyed, under circumstances of the most aggravated cruelty. The homes of these people were repeatedly plundered by armed bandits, calling themselves soldiers, and the defenseless women and children were often reduced to conditions of extreme suffering for want of bread and other food.

There were some reprisals, because the limit of human nature had been reached and passed. One of the privations to which all were subjected, in the midst of their other trials, was the want of salt, and to obtain even a small quantity of which, the ground occupied by smoke-houses, where the family meat had been salted, was dug up, and by the process of dripping and boiling, a little salt of a very poor and dirty quality might be procured. Coffee, to which the people had always been accustomed, could not be had, and various substitutes were used, among which were parched rye, wheat and sweet potatoes.

It was, by Act of the Legislature of the State, passed in March, 1864, declared sufficient ground for divorce a wife from a husband, if that husband, refusing to fight in the armies of secession, took up arms and dared to fight for the Union. But it may be said, to the everlasting credit and glory of the wives of such men, that no such case is known to have been recorded in the courts of North Georgia; they were faithful to their husbands' cause, and imbued with the same spirit of devotion which animated them.

In one remarkable instance, the wife and daughter of an officer in the Confederate Army, both being excellent horse-women, rode, time and again, through the hills and mountains, to warn Union men of approaching danger, and for which these Union men elected the husband and father to an important county office at their first opportunity after the war. It was their chivalric way of expressing gratitude to these heroines, both of whom are still living.

It was recommended by the Governor of Georgia, in a message to the Legislature, dated March 10, 1864, that the property of persons "in the position of our State adjoining East Tennessee," who were charged as being disloyal to the Confederate cause, should be confiscated and the proceeds divided among the loyal; and also, "the enactment of such laws as shall forever disfranchise and decitizenize all persons," of the class named, "should they attempt to return to this State." This was the incarnation of war and terror to a people who had committed no crime but to believe in the integrity of a common country, and in the maintenance of a Government for that country, the best devised by man in any age.

And it was out of such conditions the mountain Union men were compelled to make their choice; and when the crisis came they did not hesitate. All the avenues of escape from the State were closely guarded by armed bands of the most blood-thirsty and irresponsible men who ever disgraced the soldier's name, and often mounted on the horses of the men they sought to apprehend and destroy. These armed bands were, while operating there, quartered, or at least subsisted, on the Union people of North Georgia, and, without pity or regard for age, sex, conditions or circumstances, robbed, plundered and destroyed, until nothing was left but the most abject desolation and wretchedness that particular class of people against whom the wrath of war was directed.

But the Union men, always alert and determined, were thoroughly organized, and yet much strategy had to be employed to elude the vigilance of these guards. In one county, the Clerk of the Superior Court, who had been elected by his Union friends, and who afterwards became a Union soldier himself, would give them passes to hunt stolen horses that were supposed to have gone in the direction of East Tennessee. This was done under some military regulation, but as these men had lost no horses, the passes had been used for emergencies, and when these had been overcome, the men were in the Union lines and safe. This was one of the schemes employed to get through, and usually involved a single, individual, because it would have been unsafe to have more than one, or at most two going in a suspicious direction to hunt stolen horses. In making their escape through the lines, bands of five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty- five, usually traveled together, without arms, except revolvers, which could be concealed.

They made their way in the greatest peril through the mountains to Kentucky and East Tennessee, and were often many weary days and nights in reaching places of deliverance. They were sometimes captured and shot on the way and their bleaching bones left in some mountain gorge as their only monument. In the spring of 1864, twenty-three of these men, making their way through the guarded lines, mounted, and armed, were overpowered by seventy-five fierce Confederate Rangers and were instantly condemned to be shot, taken out into the woods for that purpose, stripped of all their clothing, worn out Confederate uniforms being given in exchange, and were then drawn up in line for execution. But their captors, becoming alarmed from the near approach of Union cavalry, desisted, and the doomed men were soon after released and their guards made prisoners.

These twenty-three men, when captured, had in their custody as prisoners twelve men of the Ninth Kentucky Confederate Cavalry, with the intention of guarding them to the Union camps and there delivering them up; but being captured, they were released, these guards, their former prisoners, were prisoners again, and in the hands of a detachment from the Third Kentucky Union Cavalry, from the same part of that State from which the men of the Ninth Confederate Cavalry had come. All this happened within the space of three hours, and all of which my own personal recollections remain. to this day, exceedingly vivid and impressive."

All the prominent Union men were known to each other, and in going through the line, in groups, there was a perfect system of travel, and co-operation in purpose. Certain Union men along the way were known and could be approached with safety for all needed information and there were relay stations from which guides went to the next resting place. These guides were called "pilots," and they were always loyal and true. The system was known as "the grape-vine telegraph."

As early in the war as the autumn of 1862, some of the men known as the "Andrews Raiders," and who had escaped from jail in Atlanta, after seven of their comrades had been hung, were assisted and aided through the mountains of North Georgia by this system, and were enabled, finally, to reach the Union lines in Kentucky.

Of the three thousand men—the number being approximately stated—who went into the Union army from North Georgia, more than two thousand served in commands organized in East Tennessee, and mainly in the Second, Third, Tenth, Twelfth and Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, and in the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Mounted Infantry regiments of that State. The Tenth and Twelfth Calvary and Fifth Mounted Infantry, regiments were composed largely of North Georgians, nearly every one of whom had thrilling and dangerous personal experiences, and all of whom had escaped from their homes to avoid service in the Confederate army, or a worse fate.

They were always ready to march at the "head of column," and to fight in the foremost lines of battle, but notwithstanding their many provocations, they were always humane and generous to the vanquished. Many of them lost their lives in battle and from disease, but some remain, most of them broken in health and infirm from old age.

There were two Georgia organizations— the First Georgia Infantry (for additional information and roster go to 1st GA Inf. ~ USA) and the First Georgia Troops — in the Union army from that part of the State, the latter organization being intended for the cavalry arm of the service. The First Georgia Infantry was mustered into the service, and the First Georgia Troops was organized, and rendered valuable service, but was not mustered, for the reason that a portion of the command, including its Colonel, J. H. Ashworth -- was captured, and those not captured were dispersed, and many of them afterwards hunted down and slain.

Of the fate of Colonel Ashworth, and some of the men captured with him, nothing definite is known, except that they were reported to have been sent, perhaps to Florence, S.C., and imprisoned there, with some of the ill-fated prisoners from Andersonville, who had been removed to that place by the Confederate military authorities, on the approach of the army under General Sherman. As they, never returned, it is highly probable they shared the fate of so many other brave men, whose bones rest in the National Cemetery of Florence, or possibly at Salisbury, N.C. Twelve of the captured men were, soon after their capture, shot at Gainsville, Georgia, and their remains were removed by the Government after the war and buried in the National Cemetery at Marietta Georgia, where their graves are now designated by regular numbers.

There are two native Union soldier Posts in North GeorgiaBlue Ridge Post, No. 6, at Jasper, Ga, and W. T. Sherman Post, No. 16, at Blue Ridge [For information regarding John Henry Dunn, one time Commander of the William T. Sherman GAR, please contact Michael Dunn,], -- and the members of these Posts have made it their special and sacred duty to decorate the graves of these men on every recurring Memorial Day, and with flowers brought. in some cases, from the homes from which some of these men went to their death. Many of the men of this command, who were killed, left families, and their old widows and their children are now residing in nearly all the mountain counties of the State.

A remarkable coincidence of this capture is the fact that it was made by the First Georgia Cavalry — Confederate — and many of the men from both commands were from the same locality, and had, before the war, been neighbors and friends. A bill is now pending before Congress for the relief of the survivors of Colonel Ashworth's command, and the widows of those who were killed, or have died since the war. Favorable action on this bill, it is understood, will be urged at the next session of Congress, and it is hoped that long delayed justice may be done to this worthy and neglected class of claimants.

On June 30, 1900, there were 3,661 pensioners of all classes on the rolls from Georgia, many of whom are in North Georgia, but there are also in that part of the State many deserting veterans of the late Civil War who performed brave, faithful and honorable service for the Union, but who, on account of service in the Confederate army they could not avoid, are either excluded or dropped from the rolls. This applies only to pensioners under the laws to that date.

I know an old man -- a veteran -- who fought bravely in the Union army for two years or more, and who is now diseased and dependent. He was in the Knoxville campaign fighting the Confederate army under Longstreet, out of East Tennessee, and has a record for devotion to duty in which any soldier might feel pride. He now lives in the mountains of one of the North Georgia counties, and was on the rolls at the rate of $6.00 per month under the law of June 27, 1890. Early in 1862, after the conscription law was passed, he was arrested by conscript officers and armed guards, put in jail, and thence carried to a regiment of the Confederate army, and by actual physical force enrolled. He escaped; was again captured and carried back to Confederate service, from which, with about thirty others, with all their guns and accouterments, he again escaped, and reaching the mountains of Western North Carolina, where he then lived, he went from there, with others, through the lines, joined the Union service, and from which, at the end of the war, he was honorably discharged.

His enforced service in the Confederate army was charged against him in the pension office; he proved the facts as stated relating to the Confederate service, and by a witness, among others--a woman now living near him--who has on her person saber cut scars, made by conscript guards while she was carrying food to this man and those with him, hiding in the mountains, awaiting an opportunity to escape from the State. This poor woman was thus assaulted and wounded, as the penalty of her refusal to disclose the hiding place of these men. After all this proof had been made and submitted to the pension office, to overcome the charge of voluntary service in the Confederate army, this poor old man was informed by that office that the evidence was not sufficient, and his name was stricken from the rolls.

In another case, a man now reported to be a pensioner under the old law, served voluntarily about two years in the Confederate army and only a few months in the Union army; and yet that law does not question his right to a place on the rolls because of his Confederate service, while another man in his neighborhood, claiming pension under the law of June 27, 1890, who served only a few months in the Confederate army and probably two years in the Union army, and though he is helpless, a cripple, and unable to walk except on crutches, he is denied a pension because of his Confederate service.

In view of the liberal policy, and the generous conduct of the Government, which all must approve as fraternal, national and pacific, towards those who were prominently identified with the Confederate military and civil service, many of whom have, since the war, occupied, and now occupy, responsible and lucrative places in the civil service and in the army, under the government of the United States, this inequality of treatment, amounting, as it would seem, to unjust discrimination against the old Union soldier, would appear to be the irony of a fate, of which he little dreamed when he was devoting his youth, his physical manhood, and his best years to the preservation of the national life.



Source: Terry Riley Lawson (1938-1999) of Georgia, is related to CSA ~ Jesse M. Harben, Co F, 65th GA INF Regt, and USA ~ Sion A. Darnell.

Sion A. Darnell (1845-1906), a native of Pickens County, Georgia, was in his mid-teens at the outbreak of the WBTS. His father, John Darnell (1818-1877, see photo in uniform), his brothers and their kin remained loyal to the Union. They, along with many other mountain men, both Union and Confederate, fought a partisan war from their homes. The Darnells later joined the 5th TN MI. The enemy were often neighbors and former friends and sometimes relatives.

See Harben Family Lore for more information.


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Published on April 28, 1997. Changes last made on February 10, 2002.

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