The Georgia Military Institute Cadets at the Oconee River
Nov. 24, 1864
Upon the zeal and honor of this battalion rests the good name of their state and the safety of Augusta.
This article details the part the Georgia Military Institute Cadets played in the defense of the bridge crossing the Oconee River south of Milledgeville on November 24, 1864. The defending force consisted of the 4th KY mounted infantry (the Orphan Brigade), commanded by acting Major, Capt. John Weller, a group of convicts in prison garb from the Milledgeville penitentiary on one flank and a battalion of cadets from GMI on the other.
Quoting Capt. Weller:
The southerners were vastly out numbered but acquitted themselves proudly and succeeded in delaying Sherman's march to Savannah. The cadets were outstanding in their part and performed with great valor. This is an excerpt from the rather lengthy report of Maj. Gen. Henry C. Wayne, found in the Official Reports (OR's) reflecting upon, amongst other things, the cadets of the GMI.
S. C., S. GA., MID. & E. FLA., & WEST. N. C. [ChAP. LXV.]
Report of Maj. Gen. Henry C. Wayne, Adjutant and Inspector General, Georgia Militia.
STATE OF GEORGIA, ADJT. AND INSP. GENERAL’S OFFICE
Milledgeville, February 6, 1865.
To Major Capers I am under the greatest obligations. His qualifications for military command are of the highest order, and entitle him to a prominent position. They have been brilliantly illustrated by the Corps of Cadets, whose gallantry, discipline, and skill equal anything I have seen in any military service. I cannot speak too highly of these youths, who go into a fight as cheerfully as they would enter a ball-room, and with the silence and steadiness of veterans.
Four Cadets were wounded in the Oconee bridge action:
Despite their efforts Savannah fell in December. The cadets formed the rear guard between the Louisville Road and the Savannah River. This special duty hampered them and forced them to leave behind their two brass howitzers from the Institute. Colonel Orlando M. Poe, Chief Engineer of Sherman’s army, noted one brass six-pounder howitzer among the Confederate guns captured at Savannah having upon it the arms of the State of Georgia with the words “Georgia Military Institute.” He suggested to Captain Thomas G. Baylor, Chief Ordnance Officer, that this cannon be sent to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Guns for GMI were manufactured by Cyrus Alger. This 6-pounder bronze cadet gun has a total length, 50.5 inches; weight, 570 pounds. Four of these guns were produced for Virginia Military Institute in 1848, two for Arkansas Military Institute in 1851, and four for Georgia Military Institute in 1852. Of these ten, seven are known to survive. These guns were intended only for drill and instruction; however, a shortage of fieldpieces in the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War resulted in their being commandeered for active duty. When Sherman’s troops burned the campus of GMI, they took this cannon with them. Since they had been marked with Georgia Military Institute on the barrel they kept it as a trophy of war. The cadets lost another of their guns near Savannah. This one was returned to the state of Georgia and is now located in the Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. In 1999 the carriage was replaced and the barrel remounted.
Both guns finally made it back home to Marietta. One of them was mounted in the Marietta Confederate Cemetery and the second was mounted as a memorial on the site of the Georgia Military Institute campus. It was dedicated on Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, 1928. Former Cadet Frank S. Loftin made the principal address:
The GMI battalion spent the remainder of the war acting as guards in Milledgeville and Augusta. At the battle of Aiken on Feb. 11, 1865 they were positioned as the last line of defense across the Savannah River from the action in Aiken. They knocked two holes in the brick wall at the Magnolia Cemetery and positioned their guns in the holes facing the Sand Bar Ferry. Today the holes have been bricked back in, but are readily detected. It is unknown whether these marked the last known use of the other two guns belonging to the Institute or if they had acquired other guns from the Augusta Arsenal.
The Georgia Cadets were the last organized Confederate soldiers on duty east of the Mississippi river, and their last service, as the first, was on provost duty, guarding the city of Augusta, Ga., and the Confederate arsenals and army stores of that city. They obeyed the last order of a Confederate officer, Major-General Lafayette McLaws. That order was issued after the surrenders of General Lee and General Johnston and was dated May 1, 1865, and they served under that order till the 20th of May 1865.
SPECIAL ORDER Headquarters Augusta, Ga May 1, 1865.
The battalion of Georgia Cadets will proceed at once to the city hall, in the city of Augusta, taking one day's rations with them, and will bivouac there until further orders, for the purpose of preserving order in said city. They will suppress all disturbances and will make such details for the preservation of order and property as may be called for by Major Henry Bryan, Inspector general. Upon the zeal and honor of this battalion rests the good name of their state and the safety of Augusta.