Drawing Strength from the Land

Gerald O’Hara was onto something when he told his daughter Scarlett, “It will come to you, this love of the land.” Like good humor, good fiction must be rooted in the truth. Mr. O’Hara understood what it was like to leave everything behind and start over in a new place. A place to build and plant, living on the fruit of the land.

My great great grandfather, John Wiggins was such a man as Gerald O’Hara. Along with his wife Sarah and their young children, he left his home in Burke County, Georgia in 1849 to clear a spot in the piney woods of northern Emanuel County, the next county due south of Burke. The Wiggins family sustained their life on the land, the fields, the pines and the water in the area that would first become known as Wiggins Station and, today, as Blun Community. That way of life would be turned upside down by the arrival of Sherman’s Army in November of 1864.

To Preserve Family and Farm is the historical account of the encounter between the Army of Major General William T. Sherman and the Wiggins family during the “March to the Sea” which occurred in November 1864 and the continued adventures of the Wiggins family that lasted until November of the following year. Originally, this story was handed down for decades in our family via the oral retelling. However, in 2002, I discovered an official record detailing some of these events in Sarah Wiggins’ claim before the Southern Claims Commission which included a shocking statement by Sarah Wiggins that she was a Union loyalist and willingly assisted Sherman’s Army. I label this news as shocking because the story handed down in our family had never mentioned such a scenario. 

As the direct descendant of John and Sarah Wiggins, the main characters in this story, I felt convicted at a young age to research and capture in writing as much of this story as could be known. Over the course of the last 40-plus years, I have done just that. This blog in the accumulation of my research with some analysis thrown in for good measure. I have made every attempt to be as historically accurate as possible and provide supporting citations where available. However, many of the events and circumstances of this story continue to be clouded by over 150 years of retelling.

There are currently 16 chapters (located under “The Story” tab at the left) that I continue to update on a regular basis as more information becomes available. For ease of reading, I recommend you start with the Introduction before heading for Chapter 1. Also, new information about the Wiggins family and related characters is posted under the “Recent Posts” tab at the left.

I always welcome any comments or information you can provide about any of the events or characters in this account. While I’m happy to share this info with anyone, I would ask that you obtain permission prior to reprinting any of my original work in this blog. Please feel free to contact me and enjoy the adventure of the Wiggins family as they encounter the blue wave of the Union Army!

41 thoughts on “Drawing Strength from the Land

  1. David Gambrell says:

    As indicated, I am David H. Gambrell, , Atlanta, GA. My wife of 56 years is the former Luck Flanders of Swainsboro, Georgia. While recently pursuing one of my Emanuel County hobbies, I stumbled on your blog “To Preserve Family and Farm” and have found it fascinating and have shared it with my wife. As you probably know, there, there is a good deal of mystery about the “Right Wing” of Sherman’s Army as it passed through Washington, Johnson and Emanuel Counties, right after Thanksgiving in 1864. Part of the mystery is the location of “Sutherland’s Mill”, the identity of Sutherland, and the exact route followed on the Army’s passage between Sutherland’s Mill and “Summerville” while crossing Emanuel County. This is the march that brought this army in contact with the Wiggins family at their home place in Blun. My “google” of “Sutherland’s Mill” put me in touch with a chapter of your story.

    My interest in this subject is a long story which I will summarize by saying that I wrote several articles for the Swainsboro Forest Blade in November 1989 memorializing the 125th anniversary of Sherman’s March. Among other things, my research produced, from the National Archives, “Route Maps” generated by Sherman’s engineers as they progressed on the march. These maps are remarkably accurate although based on “dead reckoning” in the absence of established base points. The maps for the 17th Corps along the Old Savannah Road are the ones used by Dr. John Derden of East Georgia College for his annual bus tour of Sherman’s March along the Old Savannah Road between Wadley and Midville.

    The route of passage of the 15th Corps south of the Old Savannah Road, generally following the “Lower Savannah Road” is displayed in Sherman’s Route Maps, but it strays from today’s roads at several points and the exact route has never been traced to my knowledge. You have mentioned a map as a part of your work but I have not seen it in the chapters of your work that I have read. The route posted by Schwabe in his map is accurate in a general way, but is not as precise as the “route map” which I have used.

    It seems clear from comparing the engineers’ route map along the Lower Savannah Road that the Army left that road somewhere east of present day U. S. Highway 1, bearing northerly, either as a shortcut to “Summerville”, or to avoid the Canoochee Swamps further down toward Hawhammock. Names appear on the map referring to residents, such as Scott and Scarboro (?) and locations are noted such as “Summerville Steam Saw Mill”. In the vicinity of Summertown, the route clearly follows the Old Swainsboro-“Summerville”-Midville Road, and that part of the route brought the Army in direct contact with the Wiggins Place.

    The exact route of this shortcut, and certain other variables from today’s road system, could be clarified by some precise engineering and map work which I have considered having done.

    One reason this subject has been of interest to me is that on the previous night the same Army camped near and passed through the Flanders Place in western Emanuel County along the Old Mount Vernon-Louisville Road (now called the Pinetucky Road) just east of the Sutherland’s mill site on Sardis Creek. This was the home place of my wife’s ancestor, W. A. Flanders, and where her grandfather and father were born. Incidentally, my wife claims a relationship with the Wiggins Family, through her Moring ancestors.

    Both she and I have been fascinated by your family’s story and its relationship to the subject of Sherman’s March in Emanuel County.

    Is there any possibility that we might further compare notes? I will be glad to send you copies of the articles which I wrote for the Forest Blade, including the 15th Army Corps route map, and I would be pleased to have a copy of your map, and any further information which you may have on this subject. If your book has already been published, please let me know as I would like to have a copy for my Emanuel County archives. I was also interested in the story about Henry Blun. Over the years, I have heard a number of references to him and other Savannah bankers regarding their interests in Emanuel County properties, including the “Emanuel Farm Company” near Blundale, and in other locations, predecessors I think to large paper company holdings in that area.

    I will look forward to hearing from you.

    David H. Gambrell, Atlanta, GA

    • David Johnson says:

      By my map estimation, Sutherland’s Mill was located at the pond (east side of N Main Street; about 5000′ NNW of Swainsboro town center) at the intersection of Mudoc Rd and N Coleman St. Shows on Google street map but not aerial.

      David W Johnson
      LTC, US Army, Retired

  2. arrowandbow says:

    Mr. Gambrell,
    Thank you so much for your comments. It is exciting to find someone else with interest in this topic. I will send you a detailed response via email and look forward to sharing more info.

  3. Delmer Ellis Rachels Jr. says:

    I am the grandson of Emily Add Wiggins Davis and John West Davis I would like to read the history of my family. I would appreciate it if you can send me a way of viewing the document from the diary that was written by you. I am having trouble getting getting with the website.

    • arrowandbow says:

      Thanks for writing. If you can click on the CHAPTER you want to read on the right side of the title page, it will open a new page. After the new page opens, click on the title to read the chapter. If that doesn’t work, please let me know.

  4. I found it very interesting when reading this about the Wiggins family and the Barbers (who are my family, Thomas Holden Barber having been my gg grandfather’s cousin) to see that Mr. Gambrell who commented above is married to a Flanders from Emanuel Co., because my husband is descended from Capt. Alexander Chestnut Flanders of Emanuel Co, who was born in 1828 and fought in the Civil War. I believe he had an uncle William, not sure if that was the W.A. mentioned above. I have noticed several times in trying to trace my Barber family that his Davis relatives would turn up, and also in tracing my Dekle ancestors from Emanuel Co, his Flanders relatives would turn up in the same area at the same time.

  5. Thomas N. Monroe says:

    I live in Scotland, Ga in a building reported to have been the
    retail store of some descendants of Alexander Chestnut Flanders.
    In tracing my lineage, I found that I am descended from
    Alexander’s brother,William A, who enlisted within one day of
    Alex. I remember stories that my mother told of hiding livestock and other valuables in the wood so that the Yankees can’t get them.

  6. Thomas N. Monroe says:

    Her grandmother was Roxie L Wiggins and her grandfather was J Frank Flanders.

    • Pat Collins says:

      My dad Thomas J Wiggins had an aunt Roxie and he did mention the Flanders family when I asked him about his family

  7. Thomas N. Monroe says:

    Correction: her mother was a Wiggins ; her father was John Frank Flanders.

  8. Bummer says:

    Robert Moore posted in regards to your blog. Great read and will add to daily reads. Good luck in your continued dynamic research.


  9. Thomas N. Monroe says:

    Are you the author of this piece?

  10. This is great !! I was born in Twin City, and plan on moving back soon,

  11. Bill Lanier says:

    John Rogers, I was referring to John Frank Flanders

  12. Charles Bishop says:


    Thank you for sharing this story. I am the great-great-great-grandson of John and Sarah Wiggins. Their daughter Sarah (Sallie) Rogers was my great great grandmother. Because of her early death their hasn’t been a great deal know about her or her family within our family other than the legend of her death. This is a fascinating insight into her family history.

    • Nina Davis says:

      This story NEVER gets old to me……I don’t care how many times I hear it! You have found the right man if your family is connected to ours John Paul can tell you how……My father actually has a US Army brass stirrup found while plowing our fields many years ago…

  13. Steve Kite says:

    Excellent work and a great treat to read! As I suspect you know, the Stevens family lived north of y’all on the old Savannah Road (before establishing Stevens Crossing) and have their own family stories of Sherman and the Masonic pass. I’d enjoy sharing with you some bits and pieces from their stories one day.

    • Thomas Monroe says:

      DNA doesn’t lie.

    • Seeker says:

      I’d love to hear those stories from the Stevens family, my great great grandparents were James Stevens & Roxie Ann Hall Stevens(Stephens) who lived near Stevens Crossing. I understand there were two groups of Stevens from that area and they were related somehow, but haven’t pinned the connection down as of yet.

      B.L. Stroud

    • John Rogers says:

      Thanks Steve…would love to read them!

      • Steve Kite says:

        The best, most succinct bits are in two letters to the Blade, one from my mother and one from a cousin of hers in Atlanta who was keeping up with Emanuel County doings via the Blade. Each was printed and commented on in Bill Rogers’ columns in December/January 1990/91. I have scanned copies of them, but cannot post images here; if you would get a hold of me at my email, I would email them to you and then we could chat about what factual basis the tales might have.
        BTW, my parents and yours were great friends at Summertown Baptist Church. After my dad died, we enjoyed many a pint of speckled butter peas and garden tomatoes from Helen and Oneal’s garden each time we visited Mom. I would look forward to meeting you sometime when we’re both back there.

      • John Rogers says:

        Steve…that’s great. I would love to read them. I remember your Mom and Dad very well. Maybe we can link up sometime back in Emanuel Co. My email is rogersjp64 at gmail.com


  15. Robert Wayne Wiggins says:

    John and Sarah Wiggins was my great great grandparents.

    My grandfather Robert Alexander Wiggins took me on a train from Atlanta to Augusta in 1954 to visit family when I was around 9 years old. He and his brothers were born there but moved to Atlanta with his mother Kate Wiggins.

    I have really enjoyed reading the history of the Wiggins family.

  16. Calen Smith says:

    Mr. Rogers, My name is Calen Smith and I’m the 4th great-grandson of Simeon H. Hampton through his son John. I stumbled across your blog while researching Simeon for my genealogy and am shocked and fascinated by this account. As a proud, unreconstructed Southerner, and a direct descendant of nearly 10 other Confederate soldiers, this tale is hard for me to swallow. My family today knows absolutely nothing about it. I just wanted to commend your meticulous and highly detailed researched. It has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. Best Regards from one descendant to another, one historian to another, and one soldier to another.
    Calen Smith
    Seville, FL

    • J.P. Rogers says:

      Great to hear from you and I appreciate the kind words. I completely understand your shock as I could hardly believe it as I transcribed the documents. The story is absolutely captivating and is part of a much larger fantastic story of the Wiggins family during and after the war. Thanks again for reading and sharing. It’s good to know the research is helping other families uncover their stories!

  17. Patricia W Collins says:

    My Wiggins family:John Wiggins born 1811 married Amey Kent.Their son Jesse Arlanda Wiggins married Amanda Bennett.They had a son named Tom Watson Wiggins.He married Ada Joiner.They are the parents of Thomas Jefferson Wiggins my father.I am beginning to think that John Wiggins may have had two families or one of his wives died and he remarried.Please let me know what you think. Pat

  18. Terrell Wiggins Iii says:

    I am W. Terrell Wiggins lll of North August, SC. l was born in Augusta May 17,1938. My father born in Augusta in 1909
    .Grandfather, Terrell Sr. was born in Augusta in 1882. His father was Amos P. Wiggins, born in 1837 in Emanuel County. My understanding is that Amos was the son of John Wiggins. Funny that I shown the Wiggins cemetery by JD Fields of Blun. I spent about 31/2 years living in Swainsboro from 1966 to 1970.l dearly enjoyed my time in Sswainsboro and got to know some fine people there. I was a sales rep for International Minerals and Chemical sellin fertilizer I about 6 counties in the area.
    Honed my golf game at Swainsboro golf club. Best Jaycee chapter in the country when I was there. Good food was in Swainsboro and area when we were there
    John Wiggins knew what he was doing when he moved to Emanuel County.

    • J.P. Rogers says:

      It is wonderful to hear from you cousin! John Wiggins is my g g grandfather by his son George from his second wife Sarah. I grew up in Blun and was there during the time you were living in Swainsboro. I only recently became aware of the extent of your Amos Wiggins line of the family. I live in Richmond Hill GA and would love to exchange family information with you. My email is rogersjp64@gmail.com. JP Rogers

  19. Wendell Wiggins says:

    I am from the Wiggins from Statesboro Ga. I know we had relatives from Swainsboro Ga. I live in Atlanta GA. My Grandfathers name was Chester Wiggins. He married my grandmother who name was Laura. I’m not sure about her last name. He had a small farm and was a moonshiner. I am trying to trace my roots back as far as I can. They had 7 children. My dad was one of them. His name was Johnnie T. Wiggins. He was born inn 1925. Chester Wiggins was born in 1898. I am told the his father and brother fought for the confederant army around 1864. His name John Wiggins. Any information you could give me would be highly appreciated. My name is Wendell Wiggins. Thank you.

    • J.P. Rogers says:

      I don’t believe our Wiggins lines are connected. There was another John Wiggins in Emanuel County in the 1800s. That is possibly your line of the Wiggins Family.

  20. Pat Collins says:

    My dad Thomas J Wiggins had an aunt Roxie and he did mention the Flanders family when I asked him about his family

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