The Harrison Freshet

Way back a hundred and eighty years ago, at Troupville, GA which was then still the county seat of old Lowndes county, there stood an old cypress tree. This old tree weathered many a Wiregrass storm and its roots held steadfast. Passing under its boughs, pioneer settlers like Levi J. Knight came to Troupville to conduct the governmental, commercial and social affairs of the county.  The town was built right in the fork of the Little River and the Withlacoochee.  “Troupville only suffered one inconvenience, wrote Montgomery M. Folsom. To get to town three-fourths of the population had either to cross the river of the east or the river of the west and half the time, during the winter and spring, these rivers were raging with freshets, the bridges were afloat and were frequently swept away.”

When the flood of March, 1841 inundated the town the residents noted the high water level by a mark on the old tree. 

The height of that flood, known as the Harrison Freshet, became the standard by which all subsequent floods were judged for a hundred years thereafter.   The flood was associated with William Henry Harrison, who carried the presidency in 1840, in an election which lasted 34 days. Levi J. Knight’s nephew, Henry Harrison Knight, was born November 17, 1840 smack in the middle of the election.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

There has come to be some confusion over which flood is properly known as the Harrison Freshet, some histories placing the so-named flood in 1840 and others in 1841.  Congressional records state the Harrison Freshet “occurred in 1841, lasting from the 11th of March to the 19th.” Newspapers all over the state of Georgia reported rising waters and washed-out bridges during this period, just days after the inauguration of William Henry Harrison as the ninth President of the United States. But parts of Georgia had also been awash in the  flood of 1840, which saw waters rise as high.

The freshet of May [1840] continued while the convention at Milledgeville that nominated General William H. Harrison for the Presidency, was in session, and it was, therefore, called by the people east of the Oconee river the Harrison freshet. In that portion of the country, and beyond the Savannah river and in Carolina, the rivers and streams were higher, and the overflow and destruction greater than by any other freshet since the Yazoo freshet in 1796. The cities of Augusta and Hamburg were submerged.

In the early part of March, 1841, after President Harrison’s inauguration, the big fresh occurred west of the Oconee, and the Ocmulgee, Flint and Chattahoochee rivers, and all other smaller streams, contained more water and produced greater damage than ever known. In this section the last inundation was also called the Harrison freshet; hence the confusion that arose many years afterwards in distinguishing which was the proper Harrison fresh. The discrimination was, however, distinctly recorded at the time of the occurrences. The fresh of May and June, 1840, while the convention was held at Milledgeville, was named by the Democrats, “The Nomination Freshet,” and the fresh of March, 1841, was also named by the same “unterrified” authority “The Harrison Inauguration Freshet.” An iron spike was driven into the western abutment of the city bridge by Mr. Albert G. Butts, denoting the highest water ever in the river down to that time, March, 1841. The spike still remains, and is inspected at every freshet in the Ocmulgee. – Historical Record of Macon and Central Georgia

At Troupville, it was the same; The mark remained on the old cypress tree, and it was inspected at every freshet. The flood of 1897 precipitated such an inspection.

Troupville, GA flood of 1897 described in the New Orleans Times Democrat

Troupville, GA flood of 1897 described in the New Orleans Times Democrat

New Orleans Times Democrat
March 28, 1897
Bridges Washed Away and Railroad Traffic Stopped.

Special to the Times-Democrat.
       Atlanta, Ga., March 27. – All of the streams running into the largest rivers of Southwest Georgia are flooded to such an extent as to have almost suspended travel on the east and west line of the Plant system, as well as on the Georgia and Alabama Railroad Line. The Georgia Southern Railroad is washed out in many places, and no trains have passed in the last twenty-four hours. In the neighborhood of Valdosta the floods have risen to such an extent as to cover almost the entire country. The Willacoochie rose at the rate of two feet an hour at first, and is still rising. It has covered all the railroad tracks from view, though the trestle is a high one, and half a mile long. All the bridges in Lowndes county have been carried away.
      At the old cypress tree at Troupville the high water mark of the Harrison freshet has been covered. The Allapaha river is also on a rampage, and every bridge on the Flint, from its source down to its junction with the Chattahoochee, has been carried away. The Central Railroad branch running from Columbia, Ala., to Albany is so largely under water that transportation has been abandoned. Americus also has been cut off by the overflowing of the Muckalee for a week, and travel is done by boats. It is the most general flooding that part of the country has ever received.

Of course, Troupville is gone now, but whatever happened to that old cypress tree?

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Isbin T. Giddens Dies of Brain Fever at Guyton Hospital, Georgia

Isbin T. Giddens and Matthew O. Giddens were the two youngest sons of Isbin Giddens, a pioneer settler of the Ray City, GA area.  The Giddens brothers served together in the Civil War.  They joined Levi J. Knight’s company of Berrien Minute Men, Company G, 29th Georgia Infantry at Milltown (nka Lakeland), GA.  Neither men would survive the war.

Gravemarker of Matthew O. Giddens, Camp Chase, Ohio

Mathew O. Giddens, a subject of previous posts (Matthew O. Giddens ~ Confederate POW), fought with the Berrien Minute Men for more than three years before he was taken prisoner on December 16, 1864 near Nashville, TN. He was imprisoned at Camp Chase, Ohio where he died three months later. Federal records of deaths of Confederate prisoners of war show that M. O. Giddens, 29th GA Infantry, died of pneumonia on February 7, 1865 at Camp Chase. He was buried in  one of 2,260 confederate graves at Camp Chase Cemetery.

Isbin T. Giddens became a corporal in Company G, 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment, the Berrien Minute Men.  He was enlisted at Savannah, GA on August 1, 1861. From August 1, 1861 to Feb, 1862 confederate military records show he was present with his unit.

Whether in the P.O.W. camps or in regimental camps, Confederate soldiers like Mathew and Isbin Giddens were under constant risk for disease.  In early December of 1861, soldiers of the Berrien Minute Men wrote home that there was an outbreak of measles in the camp of the 29th Regiment. In late December,  the measles outbreak was even worse. By July of 1862 letters home from the Berrien Minute Men told of diseases spreading throughout the confederate camps: chills and fever, mumps, diarrhea and typhoid fever.

That summer, Berrien Minute Men Company G (formerly Co. C) was at Battery Lawton on the Savannah River. Isbin T. Giddens had made the rank 2nd Sergeant,  but by July he was gravely ill.  He was sent to the Confederate general hospital at Guyton, GA about thirty miles northwest of Savannah. (Note: This community was also known as Whitesville, Georgia. See Guyton History.)

Soldiers of Berrien County  helped in the construction of the hospital at Guyton.  In a letter dated May 18, 1862, Sergeant Ezekiel Parrish wrote to his father James Parrish (1816-1867) that a construction recruiter had visited him in Savannah, GA:

“Father I think now that I shall go up to Whiteville at No three on the C R R to help build a government hospital.   There was a man here this morning that has the management of that work after hands and for the improvement of my health which is growing bad I think I shall go and work there a few weeks.  The water here is very bad and brackish and a continual use of it is enough to make anybody sick.  [If] I  do not go up to No 3 I shall write to you soon…”

Ezekiel Parrish  made it to Guyton hospital at Whiteville. His Confederate service records show he was among the Berrien County men he was detached in May 1862 for carpentry work at the hospital. Another was Matthew A. Parrish,  of Company I, 50th GA Regiment.

But within three weeks time Ezekiel Parrish’s health took a turn for the worse.  He was himself admitted to the hospital and died of measles pneumonia, June 5, 1862 at Whitesville, GA.  Matthew A. Parrish would not long survive him; he died October 21, 1862 in Berrien County, GA.

The Savannah Republican, August 14, 1862, wrote,

Guyton Hospital, located at Whitesville, No. 3, Central Railroad, is now a very important point, being (together with Springfield, where a convalescent camp is located) the headquarters of the sick from every point.—Here preparations are being made on a large scale for the accommodation of patients from the other Hospitals and camps, and daily accessions are being made to the large number already there… Springfield, six miles from Whitesville, is a beautiful location, where several hundred convalescents, still unfit for duty, are rapidly improving. Thanks to the wise forethought of those who originated and executed this admirable plan in connection with Guyton Hospital. There is a hospital attached to this camp also; there is a want of proper nurses and nourishment there. We trust that want will soon be supplied by the people of the surrounding country”

The assignment to Guyton hospital perhaps gave the men  a better than average chance of surviving his illness.  In Surgical Memoirs of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 2, issued 1871, Guyton Hospital was described as one of the most effective of the general hospitals in Confederate Georgia.  Patients at Guyton were far more likely to survive gunshot wounds or disease than soldiers sent to other Georgia hospitals.

The excess of mortality in the general hospitals of Savannah and Macon, Georgia, over that of Guyton, was clearly referable in great measure to the hygienic conditions and relative locations of the various hospitals…In the crowded hospitals, the simplest diseases assumed malignant characters; the typhoid poison altered the course of mumps and measles, and pneumonia, and was the cause of thousands of deaths; and the foul exhalations of the sick poisoned the wounds of healthy men, and induced erysipelas, pyaemia, and gangrene.  Who can estimate the suffering inflicted, as in the celebrated case of the Augusta hospitals, by the development and spread of hospital gangrene in overcrowded hospitals situated in the heart of towns and cities?
     As a rule in military practice, the wounded should never be placed in wards with patients suffering from any one of the contagious or infectious diseases, as small-pox, measles, scarlet fever, typhus fever, typhoid fever, erysipelas, pyaemia, or hospital gangrene; and these various diseases should not be indiscriminately mingled together. The voice of the profession is unanimous as to the exclusion and isolation of small-pox, but we know from extended experience that sufficient care was not exercised in the isolation of other diseases.

Despite the hospital’s better record with disease, Isbin T. Giddens died of “Brain Fever”  on July 17, 1862 at Guyton Hospital. The term Brain fever, no longer in use, described a medical condition where a part of the brain becomes inflamed and causes symptoms that present as fever.   In modern terminology, conditions that may have been described as brain fever include Encephalitis, an acute inflammation of the brain, commonly caused by a viral infection, or Meningitis, the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.  Giddens died with no money in his possession.  His effects, “sundries”, where left in the charge of W.S. Lawton, Surgeon and later,Surgeon-in-Chief. His place of burial was not documented.

Isbin T. Giddens, register of deaths by disease, Confederate Archives

Isbin T. Giddens, register of deaths by disease, Confederate Archives

 

The historical marker at Guyton bears the inscription:

In May 1862 the Confederate Government established a General Hospital in Guyton, Georgia. This hospital was located on a nine acre tract of land between Central Railroad, a determining factor in locating hospitals, and current Georgia Highway 119, Lynn Bonds Avenue and Pine Street. The end of May saw five people on the medical staff at this hospital. Five months later the number had reached 46 people including surgeons, assistant surgeons, contract physicians, hospital stewards, ward masters, matrons, ward matrons, assistant matrons, nurses, cooks, and laundry workers.

The Savannah Republican, September 6,, 1862, wrote,

Covering for the Sick Soldiers.
We are in receipt of a letter from the Surgeon of the Guyton Hospital, to which all our
convalescing soldiers are sent, stating the fact that the patients are wholly unprovided with
blankets, comforts and other covering to protect them against the approaching cool weather. The
government cannot purchase blankets on any terms, and it rests with private citizens to prevent
the suffering that must surely ensue without such aid. Will not our citizens take a review of their
bed clothing, and send us what they can possibly spare? Anything that will keep out the cold
will answer, and we hope to receive a prompt response to the appeal, both from city and country.
The inmates of the hospital have relatives and friends all over the State, who should do what they
can for their comfort. All packages sent to this office will be promptly forwarded.

♦ ♦ ♦

By May 1863, this hospital had a medical staff of 67 people. Confederate documents reveal that this hospital had 270 beds and 46 fireplaces. When the hospital was filled to capacity the Guyton Methodist Church was used to take in patients who could not be placed in the hospital. Surgeon William H. Whitehead was the Surgeon-in-Charge from May 1862 until February 1863, when Surgeon William S. Lawton took charge and served in this capacity until the hospital was abandoned in December 1864, when the 17th Army Corps of General Sherman`s Federal Army approached. From May 1862 to December 1864, this hospital provided medical care, food, clothing, and lodging for thousands of sick and wounded Confederate soldiers. – Historical Marker

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