The General's Boots
With the Civil War's end, life in Marietta began to creep back toward normalcy.
The spring of 1865 saw the great conflagration of the previous four years burn itself out. One by one, the various Confederate generals surrendered, and those soldiers who had not already deserted were now formally mustered out. Like the Hebrew remnant in the Book of Ezra, Mariettans who had dispersed before the Yankee juggernaut now made their way home from exile.
Much had been lost, yet much was to be found again: The grief experienced by those who found their town burned, their trees cut and their houses stripped bare was mingled with the profound, inexpressible joy of being reunited with friends and family.
Soon, people could be seen pacing off steps from this tree or that boulder, seeking the spots where they had buried their treasures nearly two years before. Some had been discovered and looted, but others had not. The latter were invaluable, often being little luxuries in a time of unbelievable scarcity.
Marietta came once again under Union occupation, this time under Brig. Gen. Henry M. Judah, a man who, having proved himself inept as a commander in the field, was reassigned to administrative duties. Judah made his headquarters in Marietta.
Whatever his competence as a wartime general, Judah accurately assessed the situation in Cobb County: The populace would starve if provisions were not brought in immediately, and the only way to bring them in sufficient quantities was to rebuild the railroad.
Thus, with the same urgency with which they had destroyed the line the previous November, federal troops began its hasty restoration. In the meantime, Judah requested (and was granted) 5,000 bushels of corn to feed the people of Marietta. A distribution center was set up on Mill Street from which corn, corn meal, and seed corn were rationed.
Judah’s actions undoubtedly saved many Mariettans from starvation, and citizens at the time were grateful (although there were many who not only refused to accept the “Yankee corn” but who would also deny, to the end of their days, that it had ever been offered at all). But, as welcome as a full belly and a planted field were, they did not suffice to mend the psychological hole that Sherman had made, as Judah would soon discover.
Judah was an Episcopalian, his father having been an Episcopal clergyman, so he attended Eucharist at St. James Church on Sunday mornings. Here he was outraged to discover that the rector of St. James, the Rev. Samuel Benedict, refused to lead prayers for President Andrew Johnson. When Benedict remained obstinate in his refusal, Judah had him arrested along with his associate, the Rev. John J. Hunt. The two men were held in a Marietta hotel room before being shipped north, as other “undesirables” had been.
With the offending clergy out of the way, another was brought in to take their place. But even as the new minister lead prayers for the president, the congregation refused to say “amen,” although they said it all the louder during the other prayers in order to make a greater point of their silence.
Perplexed, Judah ordered a detachment of soldiers to attend the Eucharist every Sunday for the sole purpose of shouting “amen” after prayers for the president. The rest of the congregation ignored them.
But not everyone was so uncharitably disposed toward the conquering Yankees.
John Sanges was a saddlemaker in Marietta – indeed, he was arguably the most skilled leatherworker in the county. When an occasion arose in which Gen. Judah’s favorite riding boots needed mending, he was referred to Sanges.
Sanges repaired the boots, returned them to the general, and then presented him with a bill for services rendered. Judah was taken aback by this, believing that, as he was a general and the pre-eminent governing authority in the region, the honor of doing the work should be payment enough. Sanges, however, insisted that his price was fair and that the workman was worthy of his hire. The disagreement ended with Judah personally and physically removing Sanges from his headquarters.
News of the incident did not sit well with Mariettans, and, if any of them had hitherto been grateful to him for the corn, they no longer showed it. Men and women glared at him as he passed on the streets, many of them crossing to the other side. “Shameful” they said to one another within his hearing, and, if he turned to face them, they would not look away. No matter what establishment he entered, the people made it clear that he was now persona non grata, and that they were merely tolerating his presence because they had no choice.
Sanges, however, showed no such chagrin. Following the affair of the boots, he made it a clear and specific point to pray openly for Judah. When his family objected, he reminded them that Christ had commanded his followers to love their enemies and to pray for the wicked as well as for the just.
It is purely a matter of speculation whether this show of piety or the iciness of the people can be credited with changing the general’s mind. But one thing is certain: he eventually paid for the boots.