About Mary Elizabeth Watson (Buttrill)
The Buttrill Family book ID: 2H-84.
THE STORY OF SYLVAN GROVE
As General Sherman's Army Marched Into Central Georgia, A Family at a Plantation House Prepared for the Worst .
Descendant Remembers Hearing Grandmother Tell the Tale
During her youth Mrs. Robert C. Edwards listened with fascination each time her grandmother told the story of the family's 10-day ordeal near the end of the Civil War.
Mrs. Mary Buttrill Watson had vivid memories of the Yankee troops occupation of the plantation house, Sylvan Grove, and the capture of her father as he was trying to flee to Macon. The little girl was spellbound hearing about the Union general who brought food to Mrs. Watson, an aunt and two servants who remained in a heavily guarded log cabin until General William T. Sherman's vast Army had passed on it march to the sea.
Mrs. Edwards, 72, the former Annadawn Watson, a retired college teacher has resided since 1942 in the three-story, 14-room house where she was raised.
Mrs. Edwards showed me a beautiful silk shawl that two slaves had woven by hand for her grandmother's 16th birthday. She carefully turned pages of an Episcopal prayer book, printed in 1813, that her great grandmother Mrs. William Buttrill, used to conduct worship services in 1815-1818 for the family and slaves in a log cabin, Jackson's first Methodist church. Today, Mrs. Edwards stores stacks of books and mementos of her teaching career in the first floor room where a Union general spent 10 nights in November 1864. At the request of her granddaughter, Mrs. Watson in 1935 wrote in beautiful longhand her memories of the Civil War experiences at Sylvan Grove. She died at the age of 99 in 1941.
(Her maiden name, Mary Buttrill, will be used to avoid confusion in references to family members.)
Her story began November 17, 1864, as General Sherman's army advanced into central Georgia, and the Buttrill family tried to prepare for the worst. The previous night Mary's father, Asa Buttrill loaded two wagons with silk, other valuables, food and clothing, and left for Macon. Her brother, Zachery Taylor Buttrill, and five other 15-year old boys in a Macon calvary company arrived at the plantation that night to eat a meal and rest before attempting again to learn what route General Sherman was taking.
As they ate breakfast at 3 a.m. on November 17, Sherman's approaching wagons were heard, and the boys left for Macon. Zachery and his uncle, however, hid in an orchard to wait for Mary, her Aunt Emma Manley and two maids--Martha and Mandy--to finish loading a phaeton for the journey to Macon.
Mary's father gave her the phaeton and two black Kentucky horses, Sam and Henry, when she graduated from Synodical Female College in Griffin with a degree in art. Ben Drake, a crippled Confederate soldier nursed back to health by Mary's mother was to drive the phaeton.
As Mary told her mother goodbye, about 5000 Yankee troops, wearing gray uniforms to deceive the Georgians reached the plantation's front gate. A soldier told the butler, Stephen, to call his mistress. When Mrs. Buttrill appeared, an officer asked, "Madam, where are Forrest and Wheeler (Confederate Calvary units)?"
"I do not know, sir," she said.
The officer responded, "Madam, don't tell me a lie."
Mrs. Buttrill declared, "Sir, I'd have you to know I am a Southern lady."
This remark abruptly ended the conversation. Mrs. Buttrill advised Mary, Miss Manley and the two maids to be on their way, and the Union troops filling the grove were silent as the handsome phaeton passed them.
Near the Ocmulgee River, 10 miles from the plantation, the carriage overtook Mary Buttrill's father on horseback beside two wagons. He continued toward Macon, while Mary's phaeton proceeded a mile to the home of Stephen Johnson, accompanied by her brother and uncle, and the Georgians stopped to eat lunch and water the horses.
After lunch Mary walked into the road, glanced toward the river and was startled to see several hundred Yankee troops on horseback. Her brother and uncle fled, and she pleaded with the driver, Ben Drake, to take Henry, a saddle horse, and escape.
"No, ma'am", he yelled as he jumped into the phaeton and grabbed the reins. "If this war ever ends, you'll see Ben with Sam and Henry drive up to Sylvan Grove. Moments later the Union troops reached the road where Mary, her aunt and two maids stood, and an officer asked, "Madam, where are those damned rebels that were here with you?"
Mary replied, "Sir, they are gone."
Near where they stood, the road forked, the north branch going to Covington, the other to Macon. One of the maids, Mandy, suddenly ran up the north fork yelling, "Come back, Master, come back and give up. These men are shooting everywhere. Come back! Come back!"
The Yankee troops rode several miles up the north fork before realizing the maid had deceived them. She surely saved her master's life, for they were shooting as they went, hundreds of shots, Mary would recall years later.
The northern troops returned, and the women asked for protection. A soldier offered to help them.
"If you please, take us to the highest officer you can, and ask protection for us," said Mary.
The soldier led them on a mile walk through mud in the woods to the tent of Union General George E. Spencer on the Ocmulgee bank.
"Our silk traveling dresses were torn in shreds by our walk through the woods," Mary said later. General Spencer bowed kindly to us and said, "Ladies you look as if you needed dresses as well as protection."
She was to learn later that Yankee troops captured her father, Asa Buttrill, and seized his two wagons on the river flat near Nutting's factory.
The soldiers also took her trunks and packages keeping some items and gave the rest to factory hands. General Spencer, who had been watching, entered the house and demanded that the clothing be returned, but the workers denied having it.
Saying "it takes a rogue to catch a rogue," the general searched the houses and found the women's dresses, cloaks, shawls and other apparel and loaded them onto a wagon. Then General Spencer told the women to get into the wagon, and drove it himself to find a house where they could stay.
Within minutes they arrived at a two-room log cabin, where a Mrs. Fears, two little children and an old woman resided. The Fears family was afraid troops would burn the cabin if the women were allowed to stay.
The general said, "I will burn it damned quick if you don't take them in." General Spencer told Mrs. Fears, "I will put a guard of 40 men around your home. I will have the fire kept up day and night. Your fowl in your chicken house and your two fat hogs shall not be taken. I will feed the two ladies and their two maids." For 10 days the general and his cook brought the four women delicious meals three times a day, and they wondered why he was so kind and what their fate would be.
After the Union troops captured Asa Buttrill and seized his wagons they threatened to hang him but finally let him go.
Several times Mary heard troops ride by the cabin and yell, "That old white devil of a judge from Jackson is dangling from a limb over the Ocmulgee river."
She thought he was dead until one night at midnight when she sat beside the cabin window and saw an old man approach and stand in the chimney corner, then suddenly drop a note into her lap.
Asa Buttrill wrote in the note, "Dear Mary, they have turned me loose after robbing me. Knowing the country as I do, I will go through the woods back home to your mother. I saw the advance guard of Sherman's army coming and gave my watch chain and pocketbook to the old man who is taking you this note."
Although she still was unsure of her own fate, Mary Buttrill was very relieved to know her father was alive. Back at Sylvan Grove, Union General Blair and his staff took over the parlor of the plantation house, and hundreds of troops with horses and wagons pitched tents on the grounds. Mrs. Buttrill was safe in her room, but the yankee troops destroyed everything in the other rooms, throwing furniture and clothes out of windows.
"He (the general) let my life work of art be destroyed," Mary Buttrill said. "The parlor walls were covered with my paintings, oils, water colors, and India ink. Not one was left."
My mother's loyal colored women were in her room with her. Mother looked out her window and said, "Rose, it is snowing."
Rose replied, "No, Mistis. The men upstairs ripping open your pillows and feather beds to see the feathers fly."
The soldiers burned the cotton and gin house and killed hogs, sheep and cows, on the plantation, and in Jackson, Union troops burned the courthouse, jail, mercantile houses and farming implements and took what they wanted from our houses.
From Jackson to the Ocmulgee River, the soldiers killed several hundred horses and livestock and burned wagons and buggies.
"While at Sylvan Grove, they took from my mother's little 5 year old adopted daughter the only article she had that belonged to her dead mother, a handsome ebony work box fitted with solid gold accessories," Mary wrote. "Though Katie pleaded for it, a rough man snatched it from her arms, dashed it against a tree, breaking it to splinters." The soldier put several gold articles into his pocket and walked away.
In the log cabin where they had been kept under guard for 10 days, the women saw Sherman's army pass, and General Spencer, his buggy and driver at the door, visited three hours.
"We were so alarmed wondering what it meant," said Mary. "He gave us a beautiful horse to get home with, and when he rose to go, he offered to shake my hand." And he said, "Madam, I was captivated at first sight. Your aunt is the most charming, beautiful lady I ever met." He asked Auntie if she would answer his letters. She said she would. He wrote her for two years begging to come to see her, sent her lovely books and flowers, but he never won her.
Soon after the general left, a Georgian named Captain Watson, wounded earlier in the war, arrived in an ox cart from his plantation on the river to take the women home.
"We gee-hawed for seven miles over dead cows, horses, sheep, goats, hogs lying in the road." wrote Mary. At the end of seven miles, we met two Confederate boys who were home recuperating and had hidden out and saved their horses and buggies and were hunting for us.
They were Dr. Tip Wilkerson and Wiley Goodman. We bade Captain Watson goodbye with thousands of thanks and were soon at home at Sylvan Grove.
Mary Buttrill was saddened to observe the Yankee soldiers had burned the barns, cotton houses, stables, cribs and fences, and they had destroyed all furniture except that in her mother's room and the parlor where General Blair stayed.
"No beds, no cover, no dishes, no cooking utensils, all broken and lying in the yard," wrote Mary. "We had no things to eat for the next 14 days except scraps of potatoes picked up in the Yankee camps by the faithful servants and washed and roasted, and a little corn."
The gardener, Uncle Mose, dug dirt up from the meat house ground, boiled and strained it until he got a little salt. At the end of 14 days an uncle from Heard County (most probably Burwell Buttrill) came with provisions. Friends who had escaped the invading army helped.
Mary Buttrill learned later that her brother, Zachery, and the other five boys arrived in Macon to find the city in Yankee hands. Zachery said, "Boys, you can do as you like, but no Yankee will ever take me alive." The six youth groomed and rested their horses, then managed to ride safely out of Macon and sped back to Sylvan Grove. For two weeks members of the Buttrill family sat by the fireplace day and night and took turns resting in three chairs and a sofa that the Union general spared in the parlor. Asa Buttrill had come home unharmed and the family was reunited.
Years later, Mary was to write, "Our good servants lived and died with us. A big number of young men went with Sherman's army, but after arriving at Savannah, wrote back to father, 'Please, Master, send us money to come home.'"
Printed in the ATLANTA JOURNAL WEEK OF APRIL 17, 1977
Mary Watson's Timeline
October 25, 1842
Griffin, Henry, GA, USA
July 10, 1860
Jackson District, Butts, GA, USA
1860 U.S. Census
November 15, 1866
March 25, 1942
Jackson, Butts, GA, USA
Jackson, Butts, GA, USA
Buttrill family members who were buried in Butts County, GA, before 1875 were buried in the Old Bethel Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Jackson. Family members buried in Butts County after 1875 were buried in the Jackson City Cemetery in Jackson. It is not known why. (See http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gsr&GSfn=&GSm....)