Note: This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery
We’ve all heard the tale of Paul Revere, the brave Boston silversmith whose midnight ride alerted patriots that “the British are coming!” The lesser known part of that story is that Paul Revere was actually captured before he completed his mission and two other riders went on to warn the Minutemen of the Redcoats’ advance. But did you know that Georgia had its very own version of Paul Revere?
It happened on May 2, 1863, during the Civil War, when Union troops under Colonel Abel D. Streight began moving toward the town of Rome, Georgia with the intent of seizing the Confederate arsenal there, then cutting off the South’s supply line between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Mail carrier John Henry Wisdom was at Gadsden, Alabama when he saw Streight’s men moving forward for the impending raid and took off to rally resistance.
Setting off by horse and buggy in mid-afternoon, Wisdom made it to Gnatville, Alabama, a distance of about 22 miles, before his horse gave out. The only mount to be had was a lame pony owned by a local widow woman. Borrowing the pony, the brave rider continued on his mission. But the poor animal could only make it another five miles before Wisdom had to abandon it and ride off on another horse he managed to borrow.
Through the evening and on into nightfall Wisdom continued, riding one horse until it collapsed and then begging another wherever he could. Some farmers refused to loan him their animals and he continued on foot until he could find another farmhouse to stop and ask for help. At one point he stumbled on for miles before finding a mule he could use. Sometime late at night, an exhausted John Wisdom arrived at the tiny settlement of Vanns Valley, Georgia, where he was able to get two fresh horses and race the final seventeen miles into Rome, completing a journey of nearly seventy miles on foot and horseback in just over eight hours.
It was after midnight when Wisdom arrived in Rome, but his night’s work was still not done. Rousing the citizenry, he helped organize a hasty defense. Since Rome was 60 miles south of the Confederate lines, there were no troops on hand to protect the town. Assembling a motley collection of wounded soldiers, old men, and young boys, a battle strategy was formed.
Knowing the Union troops would have to come across a covered wooden bridge over the Coosa River to enter town, the defenders chose the span to make their stand. Filling the bridge waist deep with straw soaked in oil and barricading it with cotton bales, the plan was to hold out as long as possible in the hope that reinforcements would arrive, and as a last resort, to set fire to the bridge to hold the invaders at bay.
Meanwhile the call went out for help, and planters and farmers began pouring into Rome from the surrounding countryside, armed with squirrel guns and muskets, much as the Minutemen had at Lexington and Concord nearly a century before. But unlike events in New England, this time bloodshed was averted.
At about 9 a.m. an advance force of 200 men led by a Captain Russell arrived at a hill overlooking the town and saw the defenses awaiting them. Unwilling to risk his men against such stubborn resistance, Russell withdrew and reported back to Colonel Streight that Rome was not to be taken easily. Streight began to move his force westward and they soon ran into Confederate General Nathanial Bedford Forrest and were captured. John Henry Wisdom’s midnight ride had succeeded in saving Rome!
As a reward for his gallant actions, the citizens of Rome presented John Wisdom with an award of $400 and a beautiful silver service. Though there is no evidence that the silver service was created by that other midnight rider from Boston, it did not matter to John Henry Wisdom, local hero. His long ride was done and Rome was safe. That was reward enough.
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Congratulations Deb Heen, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Fly Paper Soup, the first book in my friend Cleve Sylcox’s David Winters mystery series. We had 82 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.