LOUISVILLE, Ga. — A long-awaited marker has been erected just off Georgia Highway 24 outside Louisville where nearly 28,000 soldiers crossed the Ogeechee River about 152 years ago.
It is the last of three local plaques marking route of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s five-week March to the Sea that played a major role in crippling the Confederacy near the end of the Civil War.
“While they were trying to cross the river here it took them two days, between all the marshes and the Confederate Cavalry taking pot shots and slowing them down, plus they had 1,200 head of cattle and all the wagons with them,” said Steven W. Longcrier, the founder and executive director of the Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails.
The marker, written and designed in collaboration with Jefferson County historians, depicts the crossing and tells how the soldiers built pontoon bridges after Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry burned at least eight bridges locals used to cross the river, swamps and lowlands.
While the regiment of bridge builders was working at the Ogeechee, another group of Union soldiers split off and rode to Bartow.
“You know the railroad runs through Bartow,” Longcrier said. “Part of the left wing actually tore up the railroad. Gen. Sherman and the right wing rode on what was called the Old Savannah Road, very, very close to Bartow.”
A marker was placed in the park there about a year or so ago, Longcrier said. The first of the three local markers on the March to the Sea Heritage Trail was placed on Broad Street in Louisville near Queensborough Bank.
“There are two trail routes through Jefferson County,” Longcrier said. “One is following the historical route of Sherman’s army’s left wing and the other is the right wing. Basically, the left wing came through Louisville and the right wing came through Bartow and Wadley. There was some cavalry that rode up as far as Wrens.”
The March to the Sea Heritage Trail was designed as a driving route that follows Sherman’s route that ended with him presenting Savannah to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present.
Longcrier said the organization that organized the driving trail received its nonprofit status in 2000.
“We have been working actively, full-time on this, since then,” Longcrier said. “Because there are over 100 markers and well over 100 communities involved, it has taken a tremendous amount of time.”
The project is supported by federal, state and private funding and agencies as well as small communities.
“The next phase of our educational tourism program in Jefferson County will be to complete the installation of the two dozen roadway trailblazer directional signs marking the historic routes of the March to the Sea Heritage Trail through Jefferson County,” Longcrier said.
“We anticipate these installations will be completed by the end of 2016.”
He said that the entire trail across the state is about halfway completed.
Lil Easterlin, the president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, said that the markers help the county promote historical tourism.