A Brief History of the 1st Georgia Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry
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The 1st Georgia Volunteer Infantry served its term of service within the continental U.S.

Unit History:

The First Georgia Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service at Griffin, Georgia between May 11 and 14, 1898 under the command of Colonel O. R. Lawton. It was reputed to be the first regiment mustered for service south of the Mason-Dixon line. At the time of being mustered, the regiment consisted of 46 officers and 960 enlisted men.

On June 17, the regiment was ordered to at Camp Thomas, the large training camp on the old Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga, Georgia, arriving the following day. At this time the regiment was assigned to the First Brigade, Second Division of the First Army Corps. On its arrival at the camp, it was noted that “…the magnificent physique of the men is remarkably noticeable but is accounted for by the fact that the regiment is made up of men picked from three regiments of national guardsmen…” It was also claimed that Company H of Fitzgerald, Georgia, had representative in its ranks from every state in the union.

As time went on, Camp Thomas became increasingly unhealthy as it swelled to house over thirty thousand men, with inadequate hygienic facilities and inadequate water. As the amount of disease increased, the government found it advisable to move the troops from the camp to other locations. The 1st Georgia was relocated to Camp Poland, near Knoxville, Tennessee in August. While the regiment was at Camp Poland, the camp was visited by Secretary of War Russell Alger. During his review of the troops, the 1st Georgia thrilled the crowd by approaching the reviewing stand with its band pounding out “Dixie.”

Unfortunately, the regiment actually experienced a series of tragedies while at Camp Poland. Private James T. McAllister of Company A committed suicide at the camp hospital, apparently overdosing on morphine. Privates Harrison and Barrot, both of Company L went into town on September 12. Each independently got into a fight and got stabbed, with Barrot being quite seriously injured. Private Joe Gibbons was killed in a railroad accident. Company F Tentmates Arthur Burns and A.W. Sullivan got into some sort of dispute and Sullivan stabbed Burns five times, killing him. The two had been friends and tentmates since they had joined the regiment. Of the murder, Captain Hunter told the military court that:

“I went to the tent occupied by the soldiers immediately after the death of Burns. Sullivan was on the company street acting very much like an insane man. I ordered him to stop such conduct and he did so. He was not crazy, but was simply simulating. When I raised my company I hesitated a long time about enlisting Sullivan, because I thought him a bad fellow and I don’t believe I was mistaken.”

After the murder Sullivan was placed in jail where he was said to be “a raving maniac.” Sullivan apparently had previously “feigned fits” to avoid having to drill. It seems that he was not faking his illness since, eventually, “it was clearly proven that Sullivan’s mind was unbalanced.” He was released to his father who planned to take him to the insane asylum at Milledgeville, Georgia.

On September 23 the 1st Georgia departed Camp Poland, bound for Macon, Georgia, but not before one last tragedy would befall the regiment. After two thirds of the regiment had already left camp to march to the train, the report of rifle being fired was heard among the remaining troops, and Private Elijah A. Pate of Company A, fell, mortally wounded. Private W. O. Bryant of the same company immediately admitted that he had accidentally discharged his weapon. Before his death, Pate confirmed that it had been an accident.

Putting Camp Poland behind, the regiment arrived at Camp Price near Macon Georgia. While at Camp Price eight thousand people from the nearby city came out to watch the men drill.

Following a thirty-day furlough, the regiment was mustered out of service on November 18, 1898 at Macon, Georgia. At the time of mustering out, the regiment consisted of 46 officers and 852 enlisted men. During its term of service the regiment lost nine enlisted men to disease, two enlisted men to accidents, one man murdered and twenty-four of the men deserted.

When the regiment was mustered out, men were given the opportunity of being transferred to the 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry, which, coincidentally, was being given its own thirty-day furlough.

Busch, Birger - Photo of August Busch and associated data.

Correspondence relating to the War with Spain And Conditions Growing Out of the Same Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Island and the China Relief Expedition
. Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) 

“A Remarkable Georgia Regiment,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record. July 96, 1898, 3.

“Col Lawton’s Men,” Knoxville Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee). September 27, 1898, 2.

“Division Hospital,” Journal and Tribune (Knoxville, Tennessee). September 19, 1898, 3.

“Gen. Breckinridge Coming Tomorrow,” The Knoxville Sentinel. September 13, 1898, 1.

“Georgians Home-Going Made Sad,” Journal and Tribune (Knoxville, Tennessee). September 24, 1898, 8.

“Retention Order Has Been Issued,” The Atlanta Constitution. October 31, 1898, 5.

“Secretary of War at Camp Alger,” The Knoxville Sentinel. September 21, 1898, 1.

“Stabbed,” The Knoxville Sentinel. September 12, 1898, 1.

“Sullivan,” The Knoxville Sentinel. October 7, 1898, 8.

The Journal and Tribune (Knoxville, Tennessee). August 27, 1898.

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