Savannah and the Civil War - The Night that Changed Everything
Savannah was the blessed end to Sherman’s March to the Sea. The General preserved her on a whim - some say because he was captivated by the city’s transfixing beauty - others say it was because of a lover who made her home here - others say he was tired of pillaging and looking for a comfortable place to rest and let his soldier recuperate in relative peace.
There are many legends. What we do know is that Sherman gifted the city of Savannah to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present.
Not long after, a single discussion on a winter night changed the course of history.
As described in our book, Hidden History of Savannah,
“On January 12, 1865, a meeting was called to the Charles Greene House on Madison Square. It was 8:00 p.m.. In the cold darkness of night, twenty men entered the home - twenty black ministers and pastors, eleven of them freed. eleven freemen, all former slaves. nine still owned [last few lines are unclear and the punctuation is off; how should this paragraph read?]
They were greeted by General William Sherman and Edwin Stanton, secretary of war and President Lincoln’s counselor. Edwin Stanton asked a series of questions sent down to Savannah straight from President Lincoln. One question in particular changed everything: “State on what manner you think you can take care of yourself, and how can you best assist the government in maintaining your freedom?”
According to Steven Miller’s Newspaper Account of a Meeting Between Black Religious Leaders and Union Military Authorities, sixty-seven-year-old Garrison Frazier, a free man who purchased his and his wife’s freedom for $1,000, responded first: “The way we can best take of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor…that is, by the labor of the women, and children, and old men…and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare.…We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own.””
Special Field Order #15 was proclaimed on the steps of Savannah’s First African Baptist Church on January 16th, 1865 - an order penned by Sherman, ordained by President Lincoln - it decreed that forty-thousand freed slaves would be granted 40 acres per family along the Georgia and South Carolina Coastal Islands.
It was the beginning of a vibrant shift, profound and fundamental change to what it meant to be an American. Freedom was coming for all.
And, as they say, the rest is history.